B's make defensive gains, offensive losses

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B's make defensive gains, offensive losses

BOSTON -- Its a slow road back to consistency once a hockey team has started coloring outside the lines.

Thats clearly what has happened with a Bruins team thats lost their sixth game in the last 11 tries after many anointed them the best team in the NHL.

But there was welcomed news within another defeat for the Bruins since the calendar turned to February. The Bruins reverted back to defensive basics and tightened up the vital neutral zone coverage against a dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins team on Saturday afternoon, but couldnt place the finishing touches on their offensive chances in a 2-1 loss to the Pens at TD Garden.

First things first: the Bruins appear to have their defensive house back in order and thats no small task. In fact its the bedrock of the Black and Gold team. Aside from one power play allowed on a very iffy Rich Peverley slashing call and another even strength score for much-maligned Matt Cooke when Joe Corvo couldnt clear a puck out of the defensive zone, the Bruins were back into the defensive swing of things.

The Penguins only managed 28 shots and the truly juicy scoring chances over 60 minutes against Tim Thomas could be reeled off on one hand.

The defeat was actually the first time in six games the Bs stalwart defense, which had dropped to fourth in the NHL in goals against, had held their opponent to less than three goals scored in the game.

That, my friends, is Bruins hockey.

I thought it was definitely a step in the right direction from where weve been. I think the effort was definitely there. Maybe with a couple of bounces that game goes either way, said Shawn Thornton, who was clearly displeased earlier in the week and sounded off with a not good enough tirade about the teams effort after Thursday nights loss to the Hurricanes. I guess that was pretty much the gist of it right there. I think everyone for the most part showed up to play tonight. I think we battled, I think we definitely were back to our game plan fairly consistently.

I thought for most of the game we were playing our solid game. It could have gone either way, so well keep working if we keep giving efforts like that. Keep playing to our structure and then things will turn around for us. But it definitely was a step in the right direction today.

The offense hasnt quite returned to the building, but at least the Bruins managed to snap a scoreless streak that had reached well past 120 minutes of hockey.

Tyler Seguin was kicking himself for air-mailing a perfect one-timer opportunity high over the crossbar in the first period, and then missing on an opportunity one-on-one against Marc-Andre Fleury after hed dangled his way through the entire Pittsburgh defense.

Brad Marchand was thinking about two backhanded chances in tight against Fleury, including one in the closing seconds of the game, that he couldnt get past the brick wall from Pittsburgh. Joe Corvo was lamenting the perfect cross-ice pass from Seguin that he wasted during a second period power play when he couldnt lift the puck high enough from the right face-off circle.

There were at least a half-dozen offensive plays that the Bruins left on the ice while struggling to finish off scoring chances.

But there was also a very willing admission that the Bruins need to work a little harder to score goals, and havent used the greasy goal method to open up the offense. When 18 of the teams 29 shots on net come from the teams defensemen, that means two distinct things: the defensemen are doing a good job snaking shots through the traffic in front of the net and there isnt nearly enough traffic or bodies in front of the cage. "I think thats a big part of our game. I think maybe tonight it was a little bit too big," admitted Joe Corvo. "I think our forwards definitely have to look us off occasionally; we dont need the puck that often. Its just something that our offense works off of, are shots from the point."

Its been the same story for two games as both Cam Ward and now Fleury enjoyed relatively easy nights because they havent been forced into dealing with chaos in their crease. That lack of traffic and active bodies around the net needs to improve if the Bs are going to snap out of a rut thats rewarded them with just one goal on 75 shots over the last two games.

Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Rich Peverley accounted for zero shots on net, and Patrice Bergeron was held without a shot while keeping the Evgeni Malkin line in check for most of the night. The Bruins simply need more out of their big name forwards beyond Seguin and Marchand, who each had their share of shots and scoring chances when the final score was in the books.

Some of our lines Krejcis line didnt have a shot on net after two periods. Bergerons line only had six shots. Those other two lines just had one. We had about 18 shots coming from the point which, two things: We need to generate it and we need to generate it more from our forwards offensively, but at the same time, we were getting our shots through from our back end, said Julien.

Fourteen shots in two periods is a good job from our Ds to get those shots through. We have to do a better job in front of the net. If were getting shots through, where were the screens, the rebounds and that kind of stuff? We had to do a better job there as well. I think when you look at tonight offensively well have to work on that part of our game.

The good news: the foundation of the team appears to be back in place after an encouraging 60 minutes against a highly motivated, tough Penguins bunch.

The bad news: it might take a few games for the Bruins to bust out of their offensive funk as the pressure to score goals begins to mount on them. Scoring goals in the NHL is about confidence and looseness around the net combined with the willingness to stand in harms way and force pucks into the net. The Bruins had none of those things on Saturday afternoon against the Penguins despite their reputation as the highest scoring team in the NHL.

The Bs will try again on Sunday afternoon in Washington, but theyll have to realize that the confidence and swagger doesnt return to the offensive end until the courage and work ethic bits are firmly in place.

Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority

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Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, after a busy morning celebrating my 3-year-old’s birthday at the trampoline park. Yee-ha.

*PHT writer Joey Alfieri says that adding toughness was a big offseason priority for the Montreal Canadiens.

*There’s at least one big fan of the Edmonton Oilers trade that brought defenseman Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils, and that fan’s name is Mark Letestu.

*Here’s everything you need to know about the Ice Guardians movie premiering this fall that takes a long, balanced look at the NHL enforcers.

*Roberto Luongo has an alibi for the robbery in Winnipeg with one suspect getting away in goalie equipment, and it’s funny as you would expect it to be.

*CSN Washington takes a look at the New York Rangers in their season previews for the Metro Division.

*I’m not entirely sure whether this “RIP Harambe” thing is genuine or meant to be ironic by the largely millenial group that seem so enamored with it, but I think it’s just stupid. I think the same with the crying Jordan meme…also stupid.

*For something completely different: a look at how Triumph the Insult Comic Dog learned how to poop on Trump’s politics.

 

Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen

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Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen

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From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: Danton Heinen.

Danton Heinen exploded into a high-profile prospect for the Bruins after finishing among the NCAA’s top scoring players a couple of years ago as a freshman along with a couple of guys named Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin. 

Since then, Heinen has continued to produce offense at the University of Denver and continued to create offense that leads to points. Now, the 21-year-old Heinen will be entering the professional arena for his first full season with the Bruins and he’ll be attempting to transition from the prospect phase to a regular gig in the NHL. That’s the challenge for a talented player who appears headed into a very good opportunity in NHL training camp.

 

What happened last year

Heinen was every bit as explosive in his second season for Denver as he was in his brilliant freshman campaign. He improved on his scoring with 20 goals and 48 points in 41 games. Then Heinen signed with the Bruins at the end of his sophomore season and played in a couple of pro games in the AHL with Providence as a tune-up for this first full pro campaign with the Bruins organization. Heinen finished with two assists and a plus-1 rating in four games with the P-Bruins and showed the coaches in Providence that he was ready to play and produce with more talented players. If Heinen surprised a little bit as a breakout freshman two years ago, his sophomore follow-up in Denver last season proved to everybody that he wasn’t a fluke.

 

Questions to be answered this season

The real question surrounding Heinen is about his ceiling as an NHL player and just how good he can become as a player with the skills and playmaking abilities to be a top-six forward. He’s proven he can dominate at the collegiate level while admittedly playing with some pretty good teammates at Denver. Heinen showed at the end of the season in Providence that the pro scene might not be much different for him. At this point, Heinen simply needs to go out and prove it against the best players in the world and show that his speed, playmaking and hockey sense are all elite in the AHL or NHL. Heinen’s biggest obstacle might be his size. He'll need to survive as a targeted skill player despite not being much more than the 6-feet, 180-pound range for a forward. It’s about average for a playmaking wing in the NHL, but the hits and attention will be at a much more intense level than anything he faced in the NCAA world.

 

What they're saying

“He’s the type of player that he can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ and he’s got really good skill. I think anywhere you put him, he’s smart enough to figure it out. I think you’ll notice him during training camp. It will definitely be up to him, but I think he’ll push some guys.” –Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo on Heinen during last month’s development camp where Heinen soared as a performer.

 
Outlook

While Heinen still has some things he’ll need to prove before he’s a regular contributor for the Bruins, he comes into the Boston fold as an experienced player following two very good seasons at the college level. So, Heinen should be a little closer to plug-and-play for Claude Julien than some of the other young players that have come through the system in the past couple of years. Heinen will still need to flash in camp while being handed a big spot to perform with high-end veterans Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand potentially off playing in the World Cup of Hockey. Heinen also has a much greater chance of winning an NHL job sooner rather than later after the Bruins lost out on the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes and still have a top-six forward opening that somebody is going to fill. Heinen and Frank Vatrano are the two biggest favorites to fill that position, which became vacant when Loui Eriksson departed for Vancouver. Whichever winger loses that battle should be also be a strong candidate for a role on the third line, as well, barring any late veteran signings by the B’s. That set of circumstances leaves a very good situation for Heinen to potentially walk into with the Black and Gold, but he'll still have to show he’s fully capable of seizing his good fortune and good timing. 

Bruins’ new Warrior Ice Arena practice facility to open Sept. 8.

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Bruins’ new Warrior Ice Arena practice facility to open Sept. 8.

The Bruins’ new practice facility has been years in the making and they will finally get to officially open the doors to Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton next month. 

The B’s players will start informal captain’s practice skates at the new facility on the New Balance property in these final days of August, but the team announced on Friday that the new facility will be officially opened to the public on Thursday, Sept. 8.

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs, team president Cam Neely, general manager Don Sweeney and a number of players will be on hand for the opening ceremony and ensuing open house for the media. Also planning to attend from New Balance will be Owner and Chairman Jim Davis and NB Development Group LLC Managing Director Jim Halliday, along with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo. 

Following the formal portion of the event, Warrior Ice Arena will host the “Boston Youth All-Star Game featuring Bruins Alumni” which will feature local squirt players from the Boston communities of Allston-Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Hyde Park, South Boston and West Roxbury mixed in with members of the Bruins alumni. 

The Youth All-Stars will team with Bruins alumni and they will play the first official game before the ice is turned over to the current Bruins players for their training camp later in the month.

The Warrior Ice Arena gets its name from the Warrior brand of hockey equipment that is now a division of New Balance and comes with a 79-foot high Warrior hockey stick that greets visitors at the front entrance doors.

Warrior Ice Arena will be the B’s new and permanent practice home after the Bruins spent 25-plus years practicing in the suburbs of Boston at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington.