Game preview: Bruins at Penguins

662160.jpg

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.

Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

bruins_tuukka_rask_110315.jpg

Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask and David Backes are back from competing in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, that doesn’t mean you’ll see those players on the ice over the next couple of days. Perhaps the trio will practice on Monday in the fourth on-ice session at main training camp, but Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that none of those returning players will suit up against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the B’s preseason debut at TD Garden on Monday night.

“Yeah…absolutely,” said Sweeney when asked if those three players have been ruled out for Monday night. “They’re going to get through the weekend here. Next week, we’ll evaluate [them] when they get on the ice. But, all those guys will not be on the ice until next week.

“It might be case-by-case for each guy. Those guys have been playing for a while at a high level. It’s unique for David Backes coming into the organization, so he’d like to integrate himself. I talked yesterday with all three of them just to get a read of where they’re at. But, sometime first of next week, they’ll be on [the ice].”

Both Pastrnak and Rask have checked in with the Bruins media over the last couple of days after returning from Toronto, and the Bruins goaltender, in particular, has plenty of motivation coming off a down statistical season. The 2.56 goals against average and .915 save percentage were well below his career numbers, and people like B’s President Cam Neely have pointed to Rask as somebody that needs to have a better season for Boston to rebound back into the playoffs this year.

“There were a couple of years where the standards pretty high, so obviously when they go down there’s something to rebound from. You kind of know where you can be. That’s where I try to be every year and I’m working on being there this year, and taking us to the playoffs and moving forward,” said Rask. “But every year is a new year where you’ve got to work hard, and set your goals to be at your best. More often than not you hope [being at your best] is going to happen, and I hope this year is going to be a great year for us.”

Clearly Rask wasn’t alone in his struggles last season behind a mistake-prone defense that allowed plenty of Grade chances, and that could be a repeating phenomenon again this season for the Bruins unless the defense is substantially upgraded along the way.

As far as the other three B’s players still taking part in the World Cup, it could be a while for Patrice and Brad Marchand as Team Canada has advanced to the final best-of-three series that could also feature Zdeno Chara if Team Europe is victorious.