Haggerty: Bruins pass first test but more to come

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Haggerty: Bruins pass first test but more to come

BUFFALO One season ago the Bruins were reeling after staggering to a 3-7 start. The notion that it would be a disappointing season was already planted deep within the Black and Gold psyche.

The Bruins organization was determined not to hit the repeat button this season with a solid opening number that's made even more important because of the abbreviated 48-game regular season.

Teams like the Bruins needed to stockpile points in the early portion of the schedule in order to survive. Later in the season -- like when there's 17 games in the month of March -- points could come at a premium.

The Bruins accomplished their training camp mission on Sunday night when they capped off their first 10-game segment of the schedule by upping their record to 8-1-1 with a solid 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres at First Niagara Center. The win avenged Bostons only regulation loss of the season two weeks ago, and unveiled a team thats consistently put their best foot forward since Garry Bettman and Jeremy Jacobs yelled Game On! back in January.

That means the Bruins have amassed 17 points through the first 10 games of the season this year after it took them 16 games and more than a months worth of hockey games to get there last season. Missing out on only three of your first 20 points is the ideal way for any hockey club to start the season if getting into playoff pole position is the point.

We just need to keep playing the way were playing, said Patrice Bergeron, who slipped in the third period game-winner on Sunday night against the Sabres. Character has been a big part of it for us. We havent had our best games every time, but weve found ways to battle back and get the lead.

Montreal was a good example of that. We had a bad start and found a way to get the win in the third. But in the same time we cant be satisfied and we have to realize we need a full 60-minute effort because were playing some really good teams right now. In this shortened season we know that every game is important.

Sunday was a good sign for the Bruins, who have worked through their first few moments of adversity over the last couple of weeks. Injuries finally started to hit in their first game with the Sabres as a couple of players were knocked out for a few games. But Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Brad Marchand all returned this weekend in Buffalo giving the Black and Gold their full complement of players once again.

Whats the scary part for the rest of the NHL when considering Bostons start?

The Bruins arent even playing at close to their full capacity right now despite sitting atop the Northeast Division after their first few divisional battles got underway over the last two weeks.

Tyler Seguin has only two goals (one empty-netter) in 10 games played thus far this season, and seemed to be regressing to some of his earlier season bad habits against the Sabres.

The Bruins power play is 28th in the NHL with a 10.3 percent success rate and nearly cost Boston the game on Sunday before they came raring back in the third while snapping an 0-for-17 streak with Bergerons PP strike.

But the Bruins started the season with nearly the same team they ended last year with, and players like David Krejci have jumped out to ideal starts after keeping themselves ready playing over in Europe. Thats been a key while getting top production out of players like Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand (who has a team-leading six goals scored despite missing one game with an upper body injury) that worked diligently to catch up over the last month after idling during the four-month lockout.

But the Bruins are also just middle-of-the-pack in the NHL right now while averaging only 2.7 goals per game, and theyve been much better than over the last couple of seasons once things click in offensively.

While the aforementioned offense might not be rolling on all cylinders quite yet and their performance both five-on-five and on the power play would indicate that the Bs are still winning games in the third period when their depth and effort finally overwhelm opponents.

It is meaningful in the situation where the front part of our schedule is extremely light as compared to the back end of it, said Claude Julien. We just added another game to the back end with the Tampa game that was cancelled yesterday, so it was important to get off to a good start.

The way the schedule was made were going to be behind in games played by the end of this month. It is important to stay in the playoff pack and thats what were doing right now.

Rather than simply staying in the pack the Bruins are at the top of the Eastern Conference along with the New Jersey Devils, and in a prime spot while playoff teams from last year like the Flyers, Capitals and Panthers are outside of the top-eight teams looking on with envy.

There are still close to three months of NHL regular season remaining and the toughest part of the grinding year still remains for the Black and Gold. But theyve passed the first test -- about 20 percent of their season is now done -- and they did it with nearly perfect marks.

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

After back-to-back, soul-crushing losses earlier this week, the Bruins responded by doing pretty much what they've done over the last couple of seasons:

Nothing.

Claude Julien was not relieved of his duties -- as many expected after the Bruins blew a couple of three-goal leads in a shootout loss in Detroit on Wednesday night -- and there was no big shakeup for a reeling hockey club that certainly feels like it needs it.

Instead the Bruins will host the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night after going through a “nothing-to-see-here, everything-is-fine” morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena, then go to Pittsburgh for a Sunday afternoon matinee against a Penguins team that’s playing some pretty good hockey.

Maybe the Bruins will play better than they did in taking one out of a possible four points against two of the worst teams in the East -- the Islanders and Red Wings -- and perhaps that will tamp down some of the unrest among those that closely follow this organization.

But the fact is, the Bruins front office doing nothing in the face of stunning underperformance from its hockey club is the furthest thing from courage, bravery or doing the right thing.

This is the third straight year we've seen no-shows and a startling lack of emotional engagement from a team that collapsed down the stretch and missed the postseason in each of the last two seasons, and is now in a position where it may not even be in the playoff hunt at the end of this one. To sit still as it happens again feels, to this humble hockey writer, like willful indifference in the face of the obvious: Something is broken with the Bruins.

There's no single big trade that can fix it, not with the Coyotes and Avalanche as the only true sellers. And a Bruins management group with the true best interests of the hockey club in mind would look at the 'seller' option, dealing away some of the core pieces and starting a true rebuild around Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and the young players under team control that are beginning to filter into the NHL level.

But it doesn’t feel like this current B’s front office, or the ownership group, has the appetite for that, and instead wants to retool on the fly while also attempting to compete for the playoffs. That’s a delicate balance and it’s one that has caused the Red Wings to go sideways this season, putting them in danger of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1990-91.

That’s the same Red Wings team, incidentally, that somehow came back from deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 against the Bruins on Wednesday.

With a trade unlikely, the easiest way to a short-term spark continues to be a change with the head coach. Everybody knows Claude Julien has been the best coach in the modern Bruins era, and he’ll forever be loved and cherished in the Boston area for helping win the Stanley Cup in 2011. But the jarring comments from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand about the team not being ready to play, and collectively taking the Isles too lightly, can’t be ignored.

It feels like things are altogether too comfortable in the Bruins dressing room, and that can be a byproduct of the same coach with the same core group of players for the last 10 years. The sense here is that the Bruins need a short term butt-kicker who'd come in and challenge some Bruins veterans who haven’t been challenged enough in recent years, and will bring an edge to a group that’s look satisfied and happy lately while insulated with big-money contracts and no-movement clauses.

That kind of move could give the Bruins enough of a nudge to get them into the playoffs this season, and help ease the rebuilding pain until Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Zach Senyshyn and the next wave of Bruins prospects are ready to blossom.  

Instead the fancy-stats brigade will tell you that the Bruins are automatically going to turn things around because of the incredibly slim premise that it’s all based on shooting percentage, and Bruin apologists will tell you that the roster simply isn’t good enough right now. So riding it out with Julien is the right move because he's the MacGyver-like chewing gum that’s holding it all together right now.

Sorry, but many are not buying this Bruins-approved message.

They have two-thirds of the best forward line from the World Cup of Hockey in Bergeron and Marchand. They have a legitimate No. 1 goalie in Tuukka Rask. They have experienced, proven winners in David Krejci, David Backes and Zdeno Chara. They have bright, young talents in David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo. And they're about to get passed by the Senators and Maple Leafs in the playoff race once those other teams catch up to Boston in games played. Nobody can make the straight-faced claim that Toronto or Ottawa is superior to the Bruins in the overall talent department.

The Bruins are underachieving this season, and some players have been truly disappointing in big spots.

The simple truth is that Julien isn’t getting the most out of them. They settle for perimeter shots far too much in the offensive zone, which plays into the poor team shooting percentage, and they take opponents lightly far too often for a hockey club in the NHL’s middle class.

Those kinds of traits fall back on the coach, and, unfortunately, replacing Julien is the most readily available card for Bruins management to play when they finally begin feeling the desperation and urgency that’s been missing too much this season.

Perhaps some of it is a fear of removing a popular, accomplished figure like Julien, and then watching him have success somewhere else. Perhaps some of it is a hesitancy to turn things over to assistants Joe Sacco and Bruce Cassidy at such a delicate point in time this season. Perhaps some of it is that one of the few real alternatives the Bruins are facing would be general manager Don Sweeney or team president Cam Neely actually manning the bench as Julien’s replacement if they fired the head coach, a maneuver that hasn’t been seen with the Bruins since the Harry Sinden days when Mike O’Connell went to the bench in 2002-03 after firing Robbie Ftorek.

Whatever the reason, the Bruins still haven’t seen enough to decide that something needs to change with this group sputtering along to another playoff DNQ. The fans are decrying it while holding their hefty season-ticket package bills in their hands, the clear-eyed observer sees it without question, and there’s no doubt some hard-working Bruins players are hoping for it behind the scenes on a ship that’s taking on water.

But nothing of significance is going to change with this Bruins team until they make a change, and that’s something they continue to avoid.

Thursday, Jan. 19: Torts doesn't think LeBron could play hockey

Thursday, Jan. 19: Torts doesn't think LeBron could play hockey

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wondering if the Bruins are ever going to poop, or get off the pot.
 
*John Tortorella wants everybody to know that he thinks there isn’t a chance that Lebron James could play hockey.
 
*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s my radio hit with Toucher and Rich this morning about whether or not Claude Julien should be fired after back-to-back bad losses against the Islanders and Red Wings.
 
*How did Shane Doan arrive at an unhappy place with the Arizona Coyotes where he now is open to moving elsewhere ahead of the trade deadline?
 
*Henrik Lundqvist’s season is entering a crisis level based on what he’s done, and the diminished performance level he’s showing as a more mature goaltender.
 
*A nice piece with a Canadian hockey hero, Hayley Wickenheiser, who recounts some of the legendary moments of her career through a series of pictures.
 
*I totally respect the work that Travis Yost does, but stating the Bruins should stick with Claude Julien because their shooting percentage is bound to turn around isn’t good enough grounds to keep a floundering situation intact, in my opinion. You need to check where the shots are coming from and how many of those shot attempts are completely missing the net to get a better grasp on some of the reasons behind Boston’s dreadful 10-year low shooting percentage. That would also explain some of the reason why Julien needs to be replaced coaching a team that’s largely content on perimeter shots to do it for them while also only sporadically showing the effort required from a middle class talent type of team.

*The Lightning are struggling at Joe Namath levels right now without Steve Stamkos in their lineup, and they need that to change.
 
*For something completely different: congrats to the Boston boys in New Edition for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.