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

570024.jpg

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.

Haggerty: It's time for Pastrnak to take a step forward

Haggerty: It's time for Pastrnak to take a step forward

BRIGHTON -- The third season is usually a pivotal one when it comes to an NHL player's development and trying to forecast exactly how high their ceiling will be.

So it is for David Pastrnak, who is expected to take a major leap forward in his third year after showing flashes of great promise in each of his first two seasons.

“The [World Cup] is done, so now all of my focus is on being as ready as I can for this upcoming season,” said Pastrnak, 20, who threw probably the biggest hit of his career on unsuspecting teammate Patrice Bergeron when the Czechs played Team Canada in the preliminary rounds. “I feel way bigger, very comfortable on the ice, and I obviously feel really good right now.”

Pastrnak has had moments of dazzling brilliance in Boston so far while riding the usual learning curve that every young player travels in Claude Julien’s system. In addition, injuries last season sidetracked his development process.

Pastrnak put up 21 goals and 55 points between Boston and Providence as the youngest player in either league as an 18-year-old rookie two years ago. Last season he had 15 goals and 26 points in 51 games for the Bruins while also missing significant time because of a fractured foot. The injury not only sidelined him for a few months but also made it difficult for him to jump onto the moving train of the NHL regular season once he was ready to return.

Just as the former first-round pick was really catching fire at the end of the year, time ran out on a Bruins team that had a few too many older veterans with empty gas tanks after being ridden hard throughout the season. Pastrnak scored goals in each of the final couple of games, and showed off the game-breaking ability that should be on full display if he's healthy and placed in a position to succeed.

His World Cup stint ended on a high note, as he played his best game of the tourney against Team USA, though he didn’t make a major impact in the elite international competition. He put on five pounds of muscle during the offseason and clearly looking bigger and stronger at 189 pounds after ending last season closer to 180.

Part of that is the natural physical maturation process for somebody Pastrnak’s age as he gain’s “man strength”, and some of it was a dedicated effort. He worked out in Boston with the B’s training staff for much of the summer for the first time in his career.

The expectation is that Pastrnak is going to be running on the right wing with David Krejci on Boston’s second line, and the search in training camp is for a left wing who can bring added playmaking ability and maybe a little size and strength to the mix. In a perfect world Krejci and Pastrnak will develop into the same dynamic, two-way combination of Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

Pastrnak and Krejci could be a lethal offensive duo to be sure, but they’ll also have to pay attention to the little details if they want to stay together playing for Julien. Perhaps with that in mind, Julien was looking to temper expectations for Pastrnak

“I don't know if [the World Cup experience] accelerates expectations. But it's certainly encouraging to see that a guy that's got that experience to go and play at that level, and made himself better,” said Julien. “We know he's skilled and we know he's fast, and he's also gotten stronger. He's taking steps in the right direction here. We can look at those guys that are first overall picks and say, wow, some guys are exceptional.

“Some of the guys, you've got to give them time to grow and develop. That's what we need to do with David Pastrnak. I think we've got to stop putting expectations too high for him, and allow him to grow properly. He's going to have some growing pains and there are still some things he's going to want to get better at. There are still some things that he's going to want to learn that we're going to want to teach him. Let's give him that opportunity to grow properly without the extra pressure and extra expectations that maybe are not realistic.”

One would argue Pastrnak put those expectations on himself when he posted the 21 goals and 55 points as an 18-year-old, but that’s neither here nor there. Instead, the Pastrnak development project can, and should, be one of the things considered when we evaluate Julien’s current ability to get the most out of his young prospect-type players.

The bottom line with Pastrnak and the Bruins is this: It’s his contract year and motivation should be sky high. The Czech youngster is one of the few people who can step up and help fill the offensive void left by the free-agent departure of Loui Eriksson. Expectations are much higher for an experienced, talented 20-year-old than they are for a wide-eyed 18-year-old, and Pastrnak needs to make a big stride forward. Now is the time for Pastrnak to show all he’s learned, and completely unleash the array of offensive skills that caught everybody’s eye in the first place.

The Bruins need Pastrnak, and young players, to step up and start taking ownership of the hockey team.

Beleskey, Spooner and McQuaid highlight Bruins lineup vs. Red Wings

bruins-beleskey-122715.jpg

Beleskey, Spooner and McQuaid highlight Bruins lineup vs. Red Wings

The Bruins announced their lineup for the second preseason game on Wednesday night at home against the Detroit Red Wings, and it was slightly more veteran-laden than the youthful Boston group tapped for Monday night’s opening loss to the Blue Jackets.

Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Adam McQuaid and Dominic Moore lead the grizzled group of Bruins players readying for the exhibition tilt against their Atlantic Division rivals, and 19-year-old Zachary Senyshyn will make his preseason debut after getting fully medically cleared from appendectomy surgery a couple of weeks ago.

The 2015 first round pick has had a bit of a rough summer after bouts with mononucleosis and appendicitis forced him to miss Bruins rookie camp, but Senyshyn has quickly regained his strength and the blazing speed that's his biggest asset as a player. 

Austin Czarnik, Peter Mueller and Sean Kuraly are the only players from the opening night roster that will be in again to show their stuff against the Winged Wheels, and undoubtedly to get another long look from the Bruins coaching staff. Here is the full Black and Gold lineup for Wednesday night’s home date against the Red Wings with the untelevised exhibition game to be streamed on bruins.com

 

FORWARDS: Noel Acciari, Matt Beleskey, Anton Blidh, Austin Czarnik, Brian Ferlin, Jesse Gabrielle, Justin Hickman, Sean Kuraly, Dominic Moore, Peter Mueller, Zach Senyshyn, Ryan Spooner.

DEFENSEMEN: Linus Arnesson, Chris Casto, Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, Adam McQuaid, Colin Miller.

GOALIES: Malcolm Subban, Daniel Vladar.