Haggerty: Bruins show why they're NHL's best


Haggerty: Bruins show why they're NHL's best

PITTSBURGH So what do the Bruins do for an encore now?

Recruit Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Dominik Hasek, Ray Bourque and Paul Coffey to headline a team of retired All-Stars, and go head-to-head at an undisclosed barn in the Canadian countryside for 60 minutes.


Play for full periods of 5-on-4 hockey while down a man the equivalent of giving a long head start in a race that the favorite knows theyll eventually come back to win?


How about letting a beer league goalie man the pipes in road cities for alternating periods to let the lucky puck-stopper know what its like watching the NHLs best team play in front of him?

Why not?

All of these things might just be possible because the Boston Bruins are making things look way too easy since they activated the mechanism in the month of November and started their NHL demolition job.

Now the Bs have finally got the machinery going and its become a runaway victory train just piling up wins and points for a club that started the season on top of the hockey world.

The Bruins havent lost in regulation since two days before Halloween, and capped off their 14th victory in 15 tries in strong fashion with a 3-1 win over a Pittsburgh Penguins team leading the Eastern Conference.

The slim lead might not be for much longer given the way the Bruins have become a points factory, but the Pens still have a one point lead over Boston after getting outplayed in a competitive 60 minutes at CONSOL Energy Center. The Bruins talked before the game about testing themselves against the Penguins amid their torrid victory pace, and they aced yet another hockey pop quiz.

We dont know how were going to win every night, but were going to do it in different ways with different guys, said Tim Thomas. Its all of us together at the same time. Its been nice to be a part of.

The Bruins are rolling and theyve become the team to beat in the NHL above and beyond anybody else. Detroit and Pittsburgh are potentially great teams, and the Rangers, Panthers, Blackhawks and Wild are in the mix.

But theres only one champ and one hockey club thats taken 29 out of a possible 30 points while winning in every manner possible. Injuries and unforeseen adversity can always change things in a hot second.

The Bruins know that firsthand, but its difficult to envision the battle-hardened, diverse incumbent champs falling away from the top of the league.

The Bs plus-36 goal differential this season is more than twice any NHL team not named Detroit. The Bruins have outscored their opponents by a 64-26 margin in the 15 games played since the start of November, and it seems that only things like spaghetti legs on back-to-back nights or a steady diet of bad bounces could push them far off track.

There was so much to like in the gritty, playoff-style win, and the fact it comes after the Bruins have been on a roll for a month is making a statement.

Weve tried to go from game-to-game and just focus on the next one, said Zdeno Chara. We dont want to look too far ahead of us, but at the same time we dont want to get complacent or satisfied. Were in a place where we know every game is important and we need to show up.

Whats important is that were sticking with the game plan, and not trying to play like somebody else even if we have a better record. Were using the strong elements of our game, and not getting away from it even if were up a few goals or playing a different team. Thats the key.

The common sense thing to utter about the Bruins is this: the Bs werent as bad as the 3-7 start in October and they werent as good as their 12-0-1 month of November.

But the Bruins keep on winning and beating down their East competition, and showing theyre a lot closer to the NovemberDecember bulldozer than the October hunk of junk.

Tim Thomas made 45 saves for the Bruins in securing his career-high 10th win in a row, and looked perfectly impregnable until a defensive breakdown led to his one and only goal surrendered midway through the third period.

Third and fourth-line grinders like Gregory Campbell and Benoit Pouliot were the offensive difference-makers in the decisive second period, and the Bruins trumped the depth of a Pittsburgh team boasting Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal on its top three lines. The Bruins killed off a pair of 5-on-3 Pittsburgh power plays including a full two minute two-man advantage in the closing minutes of the second period.

The Bruins returned every chirp, stink eye and muttered expletive that the touchy Sid the Kid threw at them. The image of the night might just have been David Krejci leaning over the Boston bench to give No. 87 an earful during a war of words between the two benches.

There was no backing down by a Bruins team looking to make their own statement with a victory.

Thats a good hockey team in Pittsburgh. But so are we, said Campbell. Were both recognized as good teams around the league. We have to hold ourselves to a high standard of play.

The challenge for us is to not only compete against certain teams, but to compete every night whether its on the road, against a top team or a team thats out of the playoffs. Our challenge is to be consistent.

There will eventually be some slowdown to the Bs seasonal progress and there will be off nights. One could even be on the horizon Tuesday night in Winnipeg 24 hours after the Bruins played such an emotional, satisfying game against the Penguins.

But its also okay to say it.

The Bruins have won a Stanley Cup, and theyve come back the following season as the team to beat in an NHL. Theres no reason to speak about a Detroit or Pittsburgh with hallowed reverence anymore. The current winning streak is no mirage.

The Bruins are better than they were last season when they captured the Cup, and theyre not going anywhere.

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

So, what do the Bruins do now amidst a three-game tailspin that could easily devolve into a six- or seven-game losing stretch if they’re not too careful?

The goaltending has been predictably porous with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin out of commission with injuries. The Black and Gold allowed 11 goals in the past two games despite Zane McIntyre battling in tough conditions at Madison Square Garden. The bottom line is McIntyre and Malcolm Subban don’t look ready for NHL prime time and there are legitimate questions as to whether Subban ever will become an NHL goalie.

Beyond that, the Bruins defense has been downright atrocious just as the goaltending situation has deteriorated. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug have struggled individually and as a pairing that the B’s coaching staff had hoped would complement Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in Boston’s top-four. McQuaid is a minus-3 in his first two games back from an upper body injury and Krug is a minus-4 with a surprising zero points in his first seven games this season.

In fact, every Bruins defenseman not named Chara or Carlo is a combined minus-16 on the season and, of that group, only currently-in-the-AHL rookie Rob O’Gara has a positive plus/minus for the season. Both the defensive zone coverage and the compromised ability to break the puck out of their own end have been problematic and Boston’s opponents have enjoyed way too easy of a time getting into the slot area for juicy scoring chances.

In other words, the defense looks very much like last season for the Bruins with – surprise, surprise – nearly the same cast of characters returning from that subpar crew.

Then there’s the forward group, which has enjoyed great production from David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in the early going and from David Backes before his elbow injury that was at least partially caused by the hard miles the 32-year-old brawny center has logged over the years. 

Patrice Bergeron has just one point in four games since returning from a lower body injury and opposing defenses in recent games have been able to key on that top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak while mostly neutralizing them. 

That’s because the other Bruins forward lines are doing nothing offensively from a production or puck possession standpoint. Sure, Austin Czarnik had his first NHL goal Wednesday night against the Rangers and Dominic Moore has a couple of goals for a fourth line that’s been decent for Boston this season.

But David Krejci has no goals and three points in seven games with a minus-4 rating while looking slow and tentative coming back from hip surgery, Ryan Spooner is off to a slow start bouncing between wing and center and the third line winger combo of Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have zero points and a ghastly combined minus-14 rating on the season.

So, basically the Black and Gold have nothing to hang their hat on with the goaltending, the defensemen and the forwards all working at far less than full capacity right now, and that’s making them hockey road kill for opponents. To make matters worse, the Bruins find themselves in the middle of a six-game stretch where they’re playing quality teams that made the playoffs last season, and can expose all of their weak spots.

A prolonged losing streak could knock the Bruins far out of the playoff picture over the next few weeks and leave them more than a handful of points out of the postseason cut by Thanksgiving. Once that happens, the odds would be against the Bruins turning things around and there would zero margin of error for a team that needs leeway based on the glaring roster weaknesses.

So, what are the Bruins to do right now?

There’s not much they can do aside from simply play better, hope that Backes and Rask can return rather quickly and avoid buckling and quitting in games like they did against the Wild and Rangers over the past few days. The Bruins will try to ramp Rask up potentially for this weekend against the Red Wings in Detroit and perhaps that will be enough time for his reported hamstring and groin issues to have healed up.

But if not, the Bruins will need to look on the goaltending market for possible answers rather than asking rookie goalies to thrive behind a struggling, substandard defensive group. Ondrej Pavelec out in Winnipeg would be too expensive in terms of cap hit and there may not be a chance to snag Mike Condon on waivers from Pittsburgh as the Penguins look like they want to hold onto the Massachusetts native with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury also in the fold.

That leaves the Bruins with a number of retread goalie options like Kari Ramo, Kevin Poulin, Ray Emery, Dan Ellis and Yann Danis, who might have to become a reality if Rask suffers a dreaded setback in the coming days. Bringing in a veteran goalie with NHL experience certainly makes some sense on paper if things are left to Subban and McIntyre, but the bottom line is that Boston will continue to resemble an imploding hockey club until some of their other deep-seated issues are fully addressed.

Gerry Cheevers isn’t walking through that door anytime soon, and if he did, he’d smartly walk back out rather than get hung out to dry by a Bruins team that’s playing embarrassingly poorly in front of a couple of young goalies that need their best.  

Thursday, Oct. 27: Chara top D-man on All-Graybeard team


Thursday, Oct. 27: Chara top D-man on All-Graybeard team

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while saying RIP Vine but not really feeling it since it’s a rabbit hole I never really delved down into. 

*Down Goes Brown celebrates the “NHL’s old guys”, and yes, that means a gratuitous shout out to Zdeno Chara as the top defenseman on the All-Graybeard squad. 

*Hampus Lindholm has signed a long term deal with the Anaheim Ducks, so now that deal leaves everybody to wonder who is leaving the Anaheim roster in the eventual salary cap crunch. It will be interesting to see if this hastens any Cam Fowler trade talk as far as the Bruins are concerned because it looks like they need the help.  

*Pro Hockey Talk has the Oilers off to their best start since the Wayne Gretzky Era and people in Edmonton finally getting to see the hockey they’ve been waiting for over the past few years. 

*In honor of the Halloween season that we’re in, here are a few cool and scary goalie masks with a bit of spooky flair. 

*Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is confident that his young team is going to rebound after a rough start to the season. 

*Speaking of creative uniforms, it’s a most wonderful time of the year for hockey when they bust out their Oktoberfest sweaters. 

*For something completely different: this matchup of Peanuts and Stranger Things hits all the right notes for fans of both.