Haggerty: B's fourth line needs to bring more energy


Haggerty: B's fourth line needs to bring more energy

The barometer for the Bruins, on so many levels, is the energy, effectiveness and wrecking-ball nature of their fourth line.

When things are going well in the land of Black and Gold, Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille are breathing hot fire on the ice, pounding other teams with a relentless, punishing forecheck and reversing the momentum in games when things arent going well.

The fourth line was an unrelenting key to Bostons success last year, and never was that more obvious than Bostons Game 7 triumph over Vancouver. The trio of Thornton, Paille and Campbell set the emotional and physical tone in the first period with shift after shift of tone-setting energy that the more skilled Bs players followed to victory.

Its become a part of Boston sports radio shtick to chide the Bs coaching staff for his fourth-line adoration, but the proof was in the winning last season.

We always use Game 7 of the Finals as an example of their importance, said Claude Julien of his fourth line importance. In the first period they got us going when we put those guys out there, and we hemmed Vancouver in their own end. They did such a great job of forechecking and gave us all kinds of energy.

Thats the kind of role theyve played for us since theyve come together and we need them to continue to do that.

But those energy-altering shifts havent come with the same kind of regularity for the Bruins this season. The Merlot Line has been far from that this season along with the rest of a Bs team finding it difficult to get their motor started. Campbell, Paille and Thornton have accounted for one point in the first eight games, and have a combined for an aggregate minus-10 as a line.

Julien sees a group of skaters that are perhaps a tad too jumpy with their shots in the early going of the season. They need to take a breath, remember their positioning with and without the puck and start creating better scoring chances off the cycle.

The one thing they do so well for us is hold the puck in the offensive zone. It seems like theyre looking to shoot right away when they can hang onto it and make better plays, said Julien. Its about getting back into those good habits and cycling the puck well, and it seemed like last year when they shot the puck there was somebody around the net to jump on the rebound. Right now they just want to throw it right at the net, and thats not always the right choice.

They know they need to be better.

The Bruins simply need them to be better if theyre going to again develop that wave-after-wave attack rolling all four lines that typified their run to the Cup last season. The fourth line isnt going to completely lift the Bruins out of the offensive doldrums that have them scoring almost a full goal less per game than last season through the first few weeks.

But the fourth line can help bring some much-needed energy to once and for all help eradicate the hangover haze thats been hanging over the hockey team in October. Campbell was unceremoniously frank when asked if the fourth line is on the right track eight games into the new season.

Not really. I think we still have some work to do," said Campbell, who is scoreless with 5 shots on net and a minus-3 in eight games "Regardless of whether or not were scoring, its creating chances and having that puck possession time thats important for our line. The goals will come if we get the chances. We put a lot pressure on ourselves as a line, and its important for us to contribute.

When things arent going well you need everybody to step up and contribute. Ill be the first to say that we need more from me. Its a matter of owning the puck and creating chances for ourselves, and being smarter with the puck. Were always going to work hard, but it comes to working smarter to create chances for ourselves.

Judging by Campbells unflinching assessment of himself and the team, the Bs fourth line is acutely aware they need to be better.

Thornton admitted the trio conducted a little meeting amongst themselves prior to Thursday nights game against the Maple Leafs to get on the same page. They knew they needed to be more effective and got back to basics against the Leafs.

Thornton dropped the gloves in two straight games that helped his team tap into the emotional component, and their puck possession has been better in the offensive zone over the last several games. But it takes more than a couple of games to truly change the momentum tide, and they know theyre not there yet.

Thornton knows theres more potential to be mined out of the chemistry between the three forwards, and there have been some promising signs in a win over the Leafs and a near miss against the Sharks.

The last few games I think weve been in their zone a little more, said Thornton. Campbell hit a crossbar and I just nicked the top of Niemis glove. Were right there. It just hasnt expletive gone in. We talked about it a few days ago before the Toronto game, and weve gotten better.

But its obviously not good enough because were a minus-10 or whatever the hell it is. The first couple of games we were trying to get our chemistry back and werent hanging onto the puck as much. We just need to keep doing what makes us successful. We were working hard. Theres no doubt about that. But I think we were just a little too focused on only getting pucks to the net.

The line has fired off 24 shots on net in the first eight games, but its back to basics for the Bs pivotal fourth line.

Its time for Paille, Thornton and Campbell to help spark up the emotional fire thats become such an important part of Bostons success, and once again become the best fourth line in the NHL that they were all of last season. The Bs fourth line created expectations when they provided such a jolt of energy and attitude last season, but theyve embraced that challenge.

Its obvious the Bruins simply arent the same without them.

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.