Game preview: Bruins at Penguins

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Game preview: Bruins at Penguins

Just when the Bruins appear to be pulling out of their .500 funk, they sink right back into.

After a 4-3 loss to Washington on Saturday afternoon, breaking a two-game winning streak -- the first time they had won consecutive games in weeks -- the Bruins will be looking to split the weekend when they play their final regular-season game against the Penguins at 12:30 p.m. Sunday in Pittsburgh. And an easy task it won't be, as the Pens -- with Evgeni Malkin going super-nova and James Neal turning into an All-Star power forward --have won eight games in a row.

The Bruins team have turned their intensity and urgency up a notch over the last week, with the newly formed top line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin combining for 20 points in six games and 21-year-old rookie Jordan Caron putting together a four-game scoring streak.But a sluggish start along with a penalty-filled second period doomed the Bruins Saturday afternoon against Washington, and brought up some of the same bugaboos that have been bugging the Black and Gold for two months.
It was just flat. The first couple shifts werent the way we wanted to go, said defenseman Johnny Boychuk of the Bruins, whose slow starts prompted coach Claude Julien to call first-period timeouts in two of their last four games. Once we called that timeout, things started to roll the way we wanted it to. We just have to be ready right off the hop or else we either tie the game or win the game.

The hope is that the challenge of facing the steaming Penguins will be exactly whats needed to get the Bs engine moving. They won't be facing Sidney Crosby, however, as he's decided not to play Sunday afternoon. Its probably the smart move for Crosby after a particularly rough game against the Bruins and an inadvertent elbow from David Krejci during a battle for the puck put the Penguins franchise center back on the shelf with concussion symptoms.

That was disappointing to the Bruins players, who are always looking for the best possible challenge every time they step on the ice.

Its too bad that Sid wont be out there, said Milan Lucic. We always look forward to playing him, but its just good to hear that hes headed into the right direction with his health. Theyre still a tough team either way. It seems like Evgeni Malkin is on a mission this season, and both James Neal and Jordan Staal have become great players in their own right.

PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Greg Zanon continues to have a rough go of it for the Bruins. Hes a minus-4 in his last five games with the Bruins after a promising debut, and his roughing penalty in the second period of Saturday afternoons loss to the Capitals led to the game-winning goal. He had no blocked shots and no shots on net in 13:15 of ice time against Washington and ended up taking a pair of penalties in the middle 20 minutes. Zanons entry into the Black and Gold universe has been a rocky one indeed.

DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADING INTO THE GAME: We have to turn this around and realize the way we need to play to come out on top. Its about the start and keeping it going for the whole 60 minutes. The game against Pittsburgh is not going to get any easier. We are playing a good team, so you know we have to be ready. Patrice Bergeron.

KEY MATCHUP: Since the Bruins and Julien matched up the Patrice BergeronBrad MarchandJordan Caron line against Alex Ovechkin on Saturday, its likely that line will get the call against Hart Trophy favorite Evgeni Malkin on Sunday afternoon. The Bruins had enjoyed plenty of success holding Geno down over the years, but hes taken it to a different level this season while Crosby has been relegated to the sidelines with concussion issues. Itll be a tall order for Bergerons forward group, along with Zdeno Chara, when it comes to operation Shutdown Malkin, and dont forget Boston doesnt have the last change.

STAT TO WATCH: 4-7-2 the Bruins record this season in matinee games.

INJURIES: Rich Peverley (right knee sprain), Tuukka Rask (groin strainabdomen strain) and Nathan Horton (mild concussion) are long-term injuries for the Bruins, and both Andrew Ference (lower body injury) and Daniel Paille (upper body) are day-to-day while approaching a return. Benoit Pouliot had to pull himself out of Saturdays game following the pregame warm-up with a lower body injury, and the Bruins have recalled Max Sauve from AHL Providence as a potential replacement.

GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Tim Thomas could be appearing in his ninth straight game as the Bruins are looking to get things spinning in the right direction, since tossing Marty Turco in against the red-hot Penguins doesnt really sound all that appetizing. Thomas has a 1.51 goals against average and a .959 save percentage against Pittsburgh this season. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected to get the start against the Bruins on Sunday afternoon and boasts a 2.02 goals against average and .929 save percentage in two games against Pittsburgh this season.

Both Millers missing from Bruins practice, but trending toward return

Both Millers missing from Bruins practice, but trending toward return

BRIGHTON, Mass – While both Kevan Miller and Colin Miller were missing from Bruins practice on Saturday morning, both injured Bruins defensemen could be rejoining the team soon.

Colin Miller skated on his own prior to Saturday’s team practice at Warrior Ice Arena for the second or third time since suffering a lower body injury in the win over the St. Louis Blues. Claude Julien said his presence on the ice was proof that the puck-moving defenseman is “definitely on the mend”, and could be nearing a return to practice soon with Sunday marking the sixth straight game that he’ll have missed.

Kevan Miller is out with a concussion suffered last weekend in the win over the Philadelphia Flyers, and the B’s current three-game losing streak has coincided with his absence from the lineup.

Julien said Miller has actually been away from the team for the last couple of days while dealing with a virus, and that his recovery from the concussion symptoms was good prior to being knocked down by the illness.

“Kevan was actually feeling really well and then he got hit by a virus that’s kept him in bed for the last two days,” said Julien. “It’s nothing to do with his original injury. There was a possibility he could have been ready very soon, but that’s set him back a bit.”

Both are obviously out for Sunday’s matinee against the Penguins, but a return to practice at some point next week seems like a good bet for both players. Here are the line combos and defense pairings from Saturday’s practice with the Bruins focusing on getting a good result in Pittsburgh with the hockey club on a “mom’s trip” with 22 of the players’ mothers traveling with the team to and from the game:

Marchand-Bergeron-Vatrano

Schaller-Krejci-Pastrnak

Spooner-Nash-Backes/Hayes

Blidh/Beleskey-Moore-Czarnik

 

Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

Morrow-Liles

 

Rask

McIntyre

Fast-break points aren't necessarily a good thing for Celtics

Fast-break points aren't necessarily a good thing for Celtics

BOSTON – Conventional NBA wisdom tells you that getting out to score in transition is a good thing, usually serving as easy points scored, which is what every team wants, right?
 
But bundles of transition points have been nothing but trouble for the Celtics this season.
 
They are coming off a game against the New York Knicks in which they scored 22 fast-break points, which was their second-best showing this season. But the final score, a 117-106 loss, wasn’t all that unusual from what has happened this season when their transition game has generated a decent amount of scoring.
 
Boston has a 2-6 record this season when they score 16 or more fast-break points. On the nights when Boston’s fast-break offense generates 10 or fewer points?
 
They’re 11-5.
 
While there are several possible reasons why this is, here’s what you have to remember.
 
The Celtics are a ball-movement, 3-point shooting team.
 
Often that means they’ll pass up potential shots in transition, to instead work the ball around from one side of the floor to the other, until they get what they deem is the best shot to take (usually it’s a lightly contested to wide open 3-pointer).
 
The Celtics average 329.6 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.8). Not surprisingly, that has led to them ranking among the league’s leaders in assists (24.9, third in the NBA).
 
And that has led to Boston being ranked among the top-3 in several other key passing statistics, such as secondary assists (7.1, 2nd in the NBA); potential assists (49.5, 2nd); and assists points created (60.8, 3rd);
 
Here are a few more stats to crunch on, courtesy of CSN Associate Producer Andy Levine.
 
PAINT BY NUMBERS: When the Celtics score 40 percent or less of their points in the paint, they are 19-5 this season. When Boston gets 40 percent or more of its points in the paint, they are just 7-11.
 
BROWN IN THE FOURTH: Jaylen Brown has been among the better rookies this season, especially in the fourth quarter. Among rookies who played in at least 20 games in the fourth quarter, Brown is second in fourth quarter shooting at 54.9 percent. With those same standards, he’s sixth in shooting 3’s in the fourth at 38.5 percent.
 
CROWDER BOUNCES BACK: The past four games has seemingly brought out the best in Crowder. In that span, he has averaged 18.5 points and 6.8 rebounds while shooting 57 percent from the field and 48 percent from 3-point range. Crowder’s 3-point shooting of late has elevated him to seventh in the league while connecting on 42.5 percent of his 3-point attempts (minimum 150 attempts).

OUCH! It has not been a smooth start for Evan Turner with his new team, the Portland Trail Blazers. This season, Turner’s plus/minus is -234, which is the fourth-worst plus/minus in the NBA.