Haggerty: Bruins face tough road from here out


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.

Injuries have created a muddled picture with Bruins goaltenders

Injuries have created a muddled picture with Bruins goaltenders

It’s hard to believe that it’s already come to this, but it might just be Malcolm Subban between the pipes for the Bruins on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild, and perhaps again on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

The 22-year-old Subban has been pulled from two ineffective starts for the P-Bruins in four AHL starts this season (.846 save percentage and a 4.50 goals against average in four games) while coming back from last year’s fractured larynx injury. He's also a player the organization was uncertain enough about that they signed veteran backup Anton Khudobin to a two-year deal on the July 1 open of NHL free agency.

Subban attributed his start to a slow opening few weeks with a new P-Bruins roster of players, but that hasn’t stopped fellow P-Bruins goalie Zane McIntyre from putting up excellent numbers between the pipes in the early going.

But Khudobin went down with an injury mere minutes into Monday morning’s Bruins practice at Warrior Ice Arena, and Tuukka Rask been battling a nagging leg injury since the season opening win against the Blue Jackets.

So Subban was the last goalie standing on Monday as an emergency recall from Providence, and could be in line to play Tuesday night against the Wild if the Bruins medical staff can’t perform some Mr. Miyagi-style healing techniques on Rask or Khudobin.

“Khudobin got injured and couldn’t practice with us, but I haven’t heard anything yet [on an update],” said Julien following practice. “This is hockey. We deal with it on daily basis with the injuries. We wait for the news and then it’s about doing your job as it’s required. If we have to make some adjustments and have to have some different personnel, then we’ll deal with it when we have more of an update. Tuukka is still day-to-day, so nothing is changed there.

“We’re in a situation here where we’ll see what happens, and if [Subban] needs to go in goal then he’ll go in goal. It’s as simple as that. As a coach, there’s one thing that worries me and that’s ‘stop the puck.’ I’m not a goalie coach, so I’m just demanding on making the saves.”

Subban, of course, hasn’t been making the saves down in Providence early in the going there this season, and is entering the stage of his career where he needs to begin showing signs of being a potential No. 1 guy at the NHL level.

Fellow goalies from the 2012 NHL draft class like Andrei Vasilevskiy, Joonas Korpisalo, Matt Murray, Connor Hellebuyck and Frederik Andersen have all begun making their mark in the league, and Subban was selected higher than all of them except for Tampa’s Vasilevskiy. So in the final year of his entry level deal it’s high time for the 22-year-old to begin showing signs he can play in the league, whether it’s in Boston or elsewhere.

He admitted on Monday he might have been putting too much pressure on himself down in Providence while watching the injury issues play out with Tuukka Rask in Boston.

Subban was worried about the big picture of stringing together saves so he was the guy called up if the Bruins needed a goalie, and instead should have been focusing more on the present opponents at the AHL level.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think anybody that knows me well knows that. I don’t like to let in goals no matter what happens, whether it’s breakdowns or not it’s my job [to stop the puck]. If there were no breakdowns then you wouldn’t need a goaltender,” said Subban. “I want to make every save and get a shutout every game. I think the biggest thing is just relaxing and playing, and knowing that it’s okay to let a goal in every once in a while.

“So I think in my position right now I’m supposed to be playing really well down there, and I think that go in my head a little bit. I was trying to get a shutout every game rather than going game-by-game and shot-by-shot. I was overthinking it too much. But collectively as a team we’re a new team and we were trying to get the chemistry together, and once we do that the D-zone will be better and the offensive zone game will come.”

If Subban does indeed get the emergency start on Tuesday night against the Wild, the Bruins just have to hope that it’s a better outing than getting pulled in his NHL debut against the Blues two seasons ago after allowing three goals on three straight shots to start the second period. They also have to hope that Rask or Khudobin get well quick given Boston’s shaky situation on defense in front of the goaltender, and the stretch they’re in of playing six straight opponents that qualified for last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

If not then watch out below because every hockey person knows there’s no quicker way for a hockey club to really begin imploding than if the goaltending starts to become a major problem whether it’s because of injury, inconsistent performance or simply because of being a straight-up sieve.

McQuaid cleared to play, nearing return to Bruins lineup


McQuaid cleared to play, nearing return to Bruins lineup

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- It was a bitter pill for Adam McQuaid to sit out the first five games of this season, but it looks like the veteran Bruins stay-at-home defenseman is nearing a return to the lineup. McQuaid was cleared to potentially play in Saturday’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens after an upper body injury kept him shelved for the team’s first four games, and could be approaching a return in the next few days as Claude Julien mulls a number of possible lineup changes.

“It was obviously frustrating, but I’m where I’m at now and trying to move on from it. Looking forward to getting back into the lineup hopefully as soon as possible here,” said the 30-year-old McQuaid, who had a goal and nine points in 64 games for the Black and Gold last season. “The excitement level is high for me, and it is for everybody after a loss when you’re looking forward to getting back out there.

“It would have been nice to have started the season with the guys, but you can’t change that now. I’ve had some good practices, and I’m just trying to my game as simple as possible, and take it as it comes. Obviously guys have played some games and it’s been a couple of weeks for me, so I’ll just have to keep my game simple.”

The B’s bench boss indicated it was only a matter of time before McQuaid makes his 2016-17 regular season debut, but that he’s got plenty of things to decide prior to dropping the puck against the Wild.

“[McQuaid] was cleared last game. I haven’t made any decisions based for [Tuesday night vs. Minnesota]. There’s a lot of things that are up in the air, and I’ve just go to juggle those things,” said Julien. “Who knows? Hopefully tomorrow morning I’ve got a better picture [of injury situation], and if not then it will be game-time decisions. I wish I could have a better answer [on if McQuaid will play], but I’ve got no answers right now.”

With Colin Miller (minus-4), Joe Morrow, Torey Krug (a rough minus-3 against Montreal) and John-Michael Liles all minus players after the first five games of the season, there are ample options for Julien on which potential blueliner to bump up to the press box. McQuaid is just happy he’s getting closer to a return while skating with 23-year-old Rob O’Gara at practice, and he can get back to helping a B’s team that’s smack dab in the middle (ranked 15th allowing 3.0 goals per game) of the NHL for team defense this season.