Haggerty: Bruins offense at a loss without Horton, Peverley

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Haggerty: Bruins offense at a loss without Horton, Peverley

ST. PAUL, MN It was probably inevitable the Bruins would experience the kind of frustrated outburst that Milan Lucic put on display at the end of Bostons 2-0 shutout loss to the Minnesota Wild.

Lucic had previously lifted a shot from the bottom of the right face-off dot that seemed destined to hit the back of the net midway through the third period. It would have been a pivotal goal in cutting Minnesotas lead to a single goal, but instead Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom flashed to the post and gloved one of his 48 saves on the day. He had stoned a Daniel Paille breakaway and an Andrew Ference one-timer on the power play earlier in the loss, but that show-stopping number was the exclamation point.

Lucic simply looked up to the rafters and then tomahawked his stick down to the ice in a fit of pique.

But the Bs power forward wasnt done with his stick-swinging rampage by a long shot.

When it was clear the Bruins were getting shut out for the fourth time since losing Nathan Horton little more than a month ago, Lucic let it all out. The Bs power forward skated back to the Boston bench in the closing seconds of Sunday afternoons game and enacted the hockey version of going postal.

Lucic wildly swung his stick twice at the front of the bench as he skated off and then slammed it again twice inside the bench area for good measure. The blade of his stick snapped off from the force of the violent impact, and Lucic followed by disgustedly tossing the shattered shaft onto the ice as the third period buzzer sounded.

The Bruins were focusing on the positive post-game and attempting to talk about encouraging signs in the first and third period.

But nobody is going to buy that when one of their most influential players is clearly pissed off with the teams recent lackluster results.

Were struggling to make offense happen. Once we got over the hump and get some of those early goals youll see the confidence come back, said Claude Julien. Its taking it one step at a time right now. Frustration is something that can be dragged on for a long time if you let it.

Its like we told the guys we can be bitter or better, so lets work on getting better. So were going to work on that for the next couple of days.

For the Bruins its as much about simple player injuries as much as its about offensive ineptitude or an acute ability to finish off plays.

The numbers for the Bruins before and after the mild concussion suffered by Horton from a Tom Sestito head shot are stark and hard to ignore.

The Bruins were shut out only twice in their first 46 games of the year with Horton, and averaged a robust 3.7 goals per game while racking up 31 wins. In the last 11 games since Horton went down the Bruins have been shut out four times, their points per game have been halved to 1.8 goals per game and theyve only managed four wins.

Thats not even counting the compounded issue with the loss of Rich Peverley this week to an MCL sprain in his knee.

Citing injuries as a reason for losses is akin to excuse-making in the world of the NHL, but facts are facts: the Bruins are scuffling offensively without two of their top three right wings and its entirely understandable. Hortons big power forward frame is missing from its spot camped directly in front of the net.

The Bruins are getting little traffic generated around the cage, and that is one of Hortons specialties.

We got some shots once again, but I dont know how many second or third opportunities we had tonight. Goalies are good these days, and you need second or third chances to beat them, said Shawn Thornton. We dont want to make excuses, but at the same time Horton and Peverley are two pretty good hockey players. Youre obviously going to miss them.

But its also a chance for other guys such as our line to play a few more minutes and step up in that situation. Obviously were not doing a good enough job because were not winning games.

A gaudy total of 48 shots on net is nice against Niklas Backstrom, but it was far from an uncomfortable day between the pipes for a Minnesota goaltender riding a five-game losing streak. Combine that with the natural forward line chemistry thats been ripped apart with both players missing, and its clear why the Bruins offense has gone into hibernation.

Thats not expected to get any better against a defense-minded hockey team in St. Louis coming up next on the Bs road-heavy schedule.

It does have an effect. The injuries have disrupted our lines and our chemistry with each other. Weve had to move guys around and thats been a challenge, said Julien. You still have to overcome those things. Its not an excuse. Its reality. But were still a better team than the one thats been shut out lately.

The Bruins are still scouring for answers on the outside with Peter Chiarelli burning up the phone lines looking for healthy, impactful bodies. But its looking more and more as if the answers will need to come from inside the Bs dressing room with only complementary pieces expected to arrive via trades over the next week leading up to the deadline.

Peter Chiarelli has been adamant that Horton will return at some point this season, and everyone around the organization has to hope that its sooner rather than later. That hope is joined by the equal concern that Horton can avoid being gun shy despite his second significant concussion in an eight month span with the action expected to get nastier as the postseason nears.

The Bruins are finding out that life without Horton and Peverley isnt going to be easy. Theyve also got a thoroughly fractured Lucic stick to show as proof the frustration is growing with each passing offensive downturn.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him. 

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

Crowder on Cousins' style: 'Step up to the test or you get run over'

BOSTON – There was a point in the fourth quarter when Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled trying to score which brought about an automatic, intense and angry scowl from the all-star center. 

He raised his hand as he were going to strike back at the potential assailant. 

And then he saw the man was Jae Crowder. 

Cousins, who had a game-high 28 points, then went to the free throw line, incident-free. 

“I’m not one those other cats he be punking,” said Crowder with a grin.

That moment was one of many throughout Friday night’s game when Crowder made his presence felt when the game mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with whoever stood between him and helping the Celtics win – even Cousins. 

But as Crowder explained following Boston’s 97-92 win, that moment was about two physical players who have developed an on-the-floor rapport that speaks to their intensity and desire to win at all costs. 

“He’s going to bring the game to you; his physicality,” said Crowder who had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “He’s a very physical type of guy. If he senses you’re not physical at all, he’ll let you know. He’s a dog down there; he’s a bull. I love to go against a player like that. He’s going to give you his best shot each and every night. You either step up to the test or you get run over.” 

As soon as the two made eye contact, Crowder knew it was one of the many intimidation methods used by Cousins against opposing players. 

Crowder wasn’t having it. 

“That’s my guy; he’s my guy,” Crowder said of Cousins. “He plays a lot of tactics against a lot of other players. I’ve earned that respect with him. He knows I’m going to fight him just as hard as anybody else. We leave it on the court. He’s a good friend of mine. We’ve become friends, just playing ball, playing basketball the right way.”