Haggerty: Bruins simply aren't the better team right now

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Haggerty: Bruins simply aren't the better team right now

BOSTON -- There have been a handful of teams that have jostled for Beast of the East status over the first five months of the season.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers had their moments early on before injuries begin picking away at their Cup-caliber rosters. The Florida Panthers even had a few moments of glory before reality set in.

The Bruins dominated November and December, when they ran roughshod over anyone in their way and made a claim as the best team in the NHL.

But the New York Rangers are on top of the heap now, having made a definitive statement with two road victories over the Bruins in the last three weeks.

The second of those two wins came Tuesday night, when noted Bs killer Henrik Lundqvist made 42 saves and his teammates blocked 22 more shots -- leading to plenty of ice bags in the visiting dressing room -- in a 3-0 win. The Rangers now have a nine-point lead in the Eastern Conference over the Bruins, who dropped to a mediocre 6-7-1 over their last 14 games.

Bruins coach Claude Julien seemed to recognize the hunger he saw from the Blueshirts on Tuesday night. It's the same one he's seen in the eyes of the Bruins, but that he isn't finding these days.

Theyre playing well, like we did last year when we were playing well, which is whats happening right now, said Julien with a wistful look in his eye. They grind you down, and they dont give you much. Whenever you give them an opportunity, they pounce on it. Right now thats kind of the identity were looking for again.

When the Bruins are on top of their game, the outcome's decided if they get ahead by two goals. And that's exactly what happened Tuesday night, only in reverse. The Rangers took a 2-0 lead in the first period and then clamped down on Boston's offense, stacking bodies in front of Lundqvist and forcing the Bruins to labor to simply get shots off from the point.

When Bruin attackers did manage to get behind the big-bodied defense corps and fearless shot-blocking forwards like Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle, Lundqvist once again proved to be the Bs daddy. King Henrik is 18-5-2 with six shutouts against the Bruins over his career, and he was at his best Tuesday night.

That looked like a good team that we just played tonight, said Tim Thomas, who allowed three goals on 22 shots in the loss. Just the overall way that they played together and . . . you know . . . theyre playing good defense with a good goaltender.

The defense and elite goaltending effectively frustrated the Bruins at their own game, and lured the Bs into the kind of gaffes they normally capitalize on. For a player who prides himself on playing that style, it was frustrating for Zdeno Chara to watch his team fall to a more effective version of themselves.

Theres a reason why the Rangers are where they are. At the same time, I thought that we didnt play our best, as well in either game, said Chara, referring to the 3-2 overtime loss three weeks ago to the Rangers. But I think that they deserve to be where theyre at."

Where they are is on top of the hill, playing some of their best hockey of the season. The Bruins have lost their bragging rights as the class of the East, despite their Stanley Cup pedigree, until further notice.

"We havent seen all the teams in the Western Conference, but theres no doubt right now the Rangers are playing the best," said Julien. "They play hard."They play hard, they play clean, they don't don't budge an inch and they're incredibly hard to play against. The Rangers are also seemingly at the top of their game in the middle of the season with four tough months ahead. All of that sounds like a hockey team people are used towatchingaround these parts, doesn't it?

Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

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Garoppolo: Get the little things corrected, or they'll bite us in the butt

 

This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo. 

The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?

Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area. 

"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."

Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman. 

Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.

The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.

"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."

Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis. 

Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.  

Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday. 

“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight. 

"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”

Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

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Running back D.J. Foster making a late push for Patriots roster spot

CHARLOTTE – D.J. Foster began making his case to stick on the Patriots’ 53-man roster Friday night against the Panthers.

An undrafted pass-catching back from Arizona State who’d missed almost all of training camp with an unknown injury was pretty persuasive. He caught three passes for 33 yards, showing nice burst, carried twice for 9 and returned a punt for 16. He saw his action late in the third with fellow rookie Jacoby Brissett in at quarterback.

Foster punctuated his first reception – an 11-yard screen that Brissett (9-for-9 for 85 yards and a touchdown) – by lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow that Foster said he wanted to “get that adrenaline going.”

“It felt great,” said Foster. “It had been a long time. I was telling some guys, that was the first time I’d gotten hit since college. It felt good to get back out there. The coaches gave me a chance to get out there and show what I could do.”

James White will be the Patriots sub-back (or third down back or pass-catching back or whatever you want to call him) until Dion Lewis returns from his knee malady. But Foster showed the acceleration and quickness that made him such a productive player for the Sun Devils. With 222 receptions for 2,458 yards and another 2,355 on the ground, Foster would fit nicely in an offense like the Patriots that uses the short and intermediate passing game so well.  

He hasn’t had much chance to make a case to stick and the Patriots – with White, LeGarrette Blount, Tyler Gaffney, Brandon Bolden and Joey Iosefa all in the mix – may have to take their chances with releasing Foster and hoping he goes unclaimed so New England can bring him back for their practice squad. It’s a risk, but other teams are encountering the same issues at cutdown time. Do they pluck a player they passed on in the draft and put him on their roster ahead of players they’ve been working with since the spring?

Bill Belichick wasn’t effusive in his praise for Foster but did indicate it was a good opportunity to at least see him in game action.

“We played a couple of guys that haven’t gotten much playing time so we got a chance to look at them,” he explained. “D.J. is one of those so we wanted to give him a few opportunities to handle the ball because he hasn’t done it this year. I thought he did some good things. There are a couple of things that he could do a little better but we’ll look at the film and see how it goes. He did a couple of things with his chances out there.”

To make the most of those chances, Foster said he avoided getting too hyped before getting on the field.  
 
“Just keeping my calm and hearing the playcall and just doing the mechanics and all the fundamentals of being in the backfield (was the focus),” said Foster. "Coach Ivan (Fears, running backs coach) did a great job of keeping me mellow. I felt healthy, I felt really good. I got some punt returns, some kick returns, some special teams. I was seeking contact to get that adrenaline going.

“It’s a long process,” he acknowledged. “Talking to the veteran guys, they said it’s a long process. I knew battling my injury and come back healthy, I came back strong and I felt ready.”

We’ll see if it’s enough to carve out a niche on the roster. The cutdown to 75 players comes Tuesday.