Haggerty: Bruins face tough road from here out

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Haggerty: Bruins face tough road from here out

BEDFORD, MA. The Bruinscrushed their cushy home schedule over the seasons first three months, they had their time offat home during the holidays and they took full advantage while rocketing back up to the top of the standings.

The Bruins are first in nearly every statistical category and have been embarrassing teams since the calendar turned to November. It's not often that a hockey team rips off a stretch where they go 20-2-1, so it's to be appreciated andduly noted.Theyre on a pace to match the franchises best season when they won 57 games during a 1970-71 campaign that featured the best that the Black and Gold have to offer during the regular season with the caveat that blockbuster B's bunchcame up short when it mattered most during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The most robust, optimistic Bs fans couldnt be blamedwondering if things can only get worse from here. The Bostonhockey clubhas put together some of their best hockey over a two-month stretch, and it's a long way down from the top. First a couple of admissions before bursting into full alert mode: its not a hot streak when it lasts two months as it has for the Bruins in November and December.The Bruins are among the NHL's best teams this year, and their roster depth, toughness, talent and Cup experience makes them a monster on most nights. But the B's prolific two-month performancealso begs a perfectlypessimistic question: how much better can things get between now and the playoffs.The quick and dirty answer would be "not much."

Injuries, suspensions, the natural fatigue of an 82-game hockey schedule, trades and the inflated egos borne out of great success could all gnaw away at the Bruins between now and the end of April. Thats a genuine New Englanders view of things when they appear to be going too well, but its also the approach the Bruins are taking in a roundabout way by dominating right now.

The Black and Gold banked as many points as possible leading into the Christmas holiday because theyve looked at the schedule, and the players know it wont be nearly as favorable in the second half of the year. They're a team built on lineup depth and they've shown good organizational depth with Zach Hamill's emergency performance in December, but that will be severely tested over the next three months.

It starts with a Western road trip through Phoenix and Dallas that begins Wednesday night, and the Bs players acknowledged the pros and cons of hitting the road as they prepared to board the team charter at Hanscom Air Field Tuesday morning.

Were a team that plays pretty well on the road historically and we like being on the road. It felt like we were at home for pretty much the entire month of October, so now were getting into the thick of it over the next few months, said Shawn Thornton. So its back to eat, sleep, play hockey and thats about it.

My whole time with Claude Julien hes been really good about days off. Maybe there have been a couple more this year, but weve been home a lot more this year and theres been an opportunity for it. Were probably going to have to find days here in the second half, but were all aware that we played until mid-June last seasonand rest is important.

The Bs have 48 games remaining in the regular season schedule, and 28 of those will be on the road with largeroad trip chunks inboth the months of January and March. Its something the Bs knew was coming when they played 13 of the first 17 at TD Garden to open their Stanley Cup defense along with a schedule givingfew days off once the Bruins hit Dallas for a New Years Eve tilt.NHL All-Star weekend in Ottawa looks to be the only real oasis for most of the players as they get into the grind of the campaign.

So the chances are legs will start getting heavy, shifts will get laborious,raw emotions will be more difficult to summonand the results wont necessarily be there once the dog days of the season hit the Bs. Couple itwith the overlap effect from last years Stanley Cup run, and Boston has a good test coming up if they want to remain at the top of the conference. The Cuphangover is most assuredly over, but it will be interesting to see just how much gas the Bs have in the tankduringthe latter moments of the regular season.

It looks like a pretty tough schedule coming up here. It looks like they tried to give us some time at the beginning of the year to recover and rest up as much as we could, said Brad Marchand. Were just going to have to rest up as much we can to prepare for whats coming ahead.

Theres little doubt the Bruins will be one of the best teams if things remain as theyve been over the last 60 days, but there will be some very real challenges facing this team in the coming months.

Health and good fortune were on their side last season, and its going to take some luck from the hockey gods for that to happen once again for the Bruins. Theyve been the best team in hockey over the last two months, and the challenge nowis to sustain that over thelong haul from now until the playoffs.

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t show anything on the ice in Monday afternoon’s 4-0 matinee loss, and that’s not really any kind of an overstatement.

The scoring chances were almost nonexistent despite 32 shots on net, the second period was dreadful as the Bruins gave up three goals over the course of a six minute span and there was zero added urgency in the third period once the B’s fell behind. The emotion was missing from the drop of the puck to open the game and it never showed up once the Islanders began taking control of the game.

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It was a bitterly disappointing result after the Black and Gold had played so well in their previous five games, and put in strong, winning efforts against the Panthers, Blues and Flyers.

On Monday afternoon, the passes were sloppy and errant all over the ice, there was zero physicality and the Bruins buckled once the Isles turned the intensity up just a little bit in the second period. The game was basically over once Nikolay Kulemin snapped one home wide open from the slot area with Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci all blowing their defensive assignments, and then Tuukka Rask followed it up by allowing a softie to Josh Bailey from a bad angle close to net.  

So Bruins head coach Claude Julien termed it a “flat” performance once it was all over with, and openly wondered whether it was fatigue-related result linked to the compacted schedule Boston has played through this season. Monday marked the seventh straight day that the Bruins held some kind of formal skate, though most of the veteran B's players stayed off the ice during last week's Wednesday off-day practice in Nashville.   

“We were flat tonight, obviously, flat from the get-go. I think that first half of the game, we didn’t give much until they scored that first goal. We were able to stay in, but we certainly weren’t generating much ourselves, from that point of view,” said Claude Julien. “His is really the first year, for me as well, going through a condensed schedule, and I’m certainly not using that as an excuse, is it fatigue?. . . But we were flat tonight. How do you explain it? I don’t know. I know that it’s frustrating. I know that it’s disappointing. That’s all I can say.

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever it is. We made some mistakes tonight like, from the goals you look at, we weren’t even in the position that we’re normally in. So we were totally out of whack, as far as even defending. When you give that first goal that much room in the middle of the ice, your D’s go on the wrong side, your weak-side forward is way on the other side, and you open up the slot area, that’s something I haven’t seen much of this year. I think it said a lot from our game tonight.”

The compacted schedule certainly could be a factor for a Bruins team that’s played more games than anybody else in the Eastern Conference to this point, but the B’s also had 48 hours to recharge after winning a Saturday matinee over the Flyers. So the fatigue excuse seems a little far-fetched for a hockey club that’s no-showed a few too many times this season, and did it again on Monday afternoon against one of the worst teams in the NHL.