Haggerty: It'll take a lot more to slow down Bruins

604712.jpg

Haggerty: It'll take a lot more to slow down Bruins

The mark of a great hockey team is the ability to withstand the absence of key players without any interruption of concentration, effort or quality play on the ice.

Some teams are good largely when things are rolling and adversity is properly being held at bay. Some hockey clubs answer strongly when trouble is at the door while continuing to stand bedeviled by the consistency thing, and some hockey teams simply stink no matter whats floating around them.

The Bruins are none of those things.

They are instead a team thats put up a gaudy 19-2-1 record since Nov. 1 and weathered absences from their captain, their fourth line heart and soul and their intimidating leading scorer in the last two weeks to still reel off win after win.

Zdeno Charas tweaked left knee, Gregory Campbells fractured left foot and Milan Lucics one-game suspension were no match for the unbearable brightness of being the Bruins, and those brilliants Bs smacked the Habs by a 3-2 score at TD Garden for their fifth straight victory.

We can talk about depth all we want, but if we cant prove it or show it then its not really depth, right? asked Claude Julien following the victory. So this is whats been going on here the last little while. Weve been challenged with some injuries -- and obviously tonight a suspension -- and our guys keep stepping up.

Whoevers replacing ... the rest of the team just keeps going. We dont change our game and we dont change our game plan. We just try and play the same every night, no matter who youve got in the lineup. Thats just the simplicity of our hockey club.

Its sweetly simple and its finally yielded the results theyve been waiting for since making themselves a gigantic crap sandwich over the first month of the season.

The Monday night win over Montreal combined with the Flyers 3-2 shootout loss to the Colorado Avalanche means that the Bruins finally have sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference, and theyve built up a dominant 10-2 record in their own Northeast Division.

There was talk about the individual games accomplishments, and both Brad Marchand and Tim Thomas could take bows knowing they contributed mightily to the nightly chores. Benoit Pouliot had some revenge against his old Montreal mates with a goal in the first period courtesy of an insanely dominant offensive zone face-off by Rich Peverley, and David Krejci was the beneficiary of an uncharacteristically sloppy night from P.K. Subban.

But the bigger picture wasnt about one 60 minute show of HabsBruins supremacy. It was about putting on display a reigning Stanley Cup thats learned how to banish trouble into the corner when it inevitably comes calling.

The Bruins are adept at finding players willing and able to step forward when their stars stumble and fall, and that allows them to succeed when others will fail.

The defensemen corps and the Bs goaltenders filled the gap when Chara missed time against the Kings and Senators, and it was a collective effort that filled in for the hulking presence normally provided by Lucic in these games against the Habs.

When youre missing a big part of the puzzle like that, we all need to step up. I know I say that a lot when we are missing a guy but thats exactly what we need to do, said Patrice Bergeron, who created the play that led to the game-winning goal with a sneaky piece of fore-checking trickery. Everyone needs to chip in and the guys that are coming in are always doing a good job.

Guys that are coming in are filling the void, they arent trying to replace them, and they are just playing their game. I think the guys did that tonight. They played a good game, it was a tough game for us to win but we found a way.

Certainly missing Chara for two-plus games and suiting up without Lucic for one HabsBruins game isnt going to tear the team apart at the seams, but it didnt even slow them down aside from perhaps a few extra shots fired at their goaltenders. The Bruins collected Ws in each of those games and simply moved on with their freight train of momentum thats ripping through the Eastern Conference.

That ability to focus and concentrate on getting results amid all manner of sound, fury and bad breaks is something they learned on the way to the Cup victory last season and never did the lesson resonate more than when the Bruins carried on with the business of winning after Nathan Horton went down with a concussion.

It shows the depth we have in this room and I think its something we learned a lot during the playoffs last year, said Marchand, who ranked second among all Bs forwards with 18:18 of ice time and scored the winning goal in the third period. When Horton was out different guys stepped it up, and this year youre seeing guys stepping forward at all the right times. Not only that, but you can also expect all four lines to go out there and battle hard to do the job.

The Habs are an absolute mess reeling in the Eastern Conference dumpster far away from a playoff spot. The Bruins cant lose even when their best players are pulled out of the fold for games at a time. It might seem like a bizarro world to longtime followers of both teams, but its the new reality for the Bruins as they continue to find new and interesting ways to win despite the unavoidable regular season bumps start to crop up.

No Chara, no Campbell and now no Lucic essentially means no problem for the Bruins.

Haggerty: Bruins would be foolish to deal away Carlo right now

Haggerty: Bruins would be foolish to deal away Carlo right now

There’s been smoke for weeks signaling trade talks between the Boston Bruins and the Colorado Avalanche, and things are reportedly heating up with the Bruins potentially reaching a tipping point with their subpar play on the ice. According to Bleacher Report columnist Adrian Dater, things may be progressing between the two teams because the Bruins are beginning to entertain the idea of trading away 20-year-old top pairing rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.

Bruins Director of Player Personnel John Ferguson Jrwas expected to be out in Colorado scouting the Avalanche/Blackhawks game on Tuesday night, and perhaps getting a long look at players like Gabriel Landeskog, Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie among others.

The expectation is that 24-year-old Landeskog is in the middle of these trade discussions, and that he would be one of the players targeted by a Bruins team that could use more size on the wing, and more players that can put the puck in the net. Certainly Landeskog has done that in his brief NHL career after being a No. 2 overall pick, and has four 20-goal seasons on his resume prior to a disappointing, injury-plagued current season in Colorado.

The word around the league was that talks fizzled between the Bruins and Avs previously when Joe Sakic asked about the availability of the Colorado Springs native Carlo, and those discussions hit the same crunching roadblock that Winnipeg did in discussions with Boston about Jacob Trouba.

Perhaps that has changed in the last 24 hours after Cam Neely and Don Sweeney watched their Bruins completely no-show against the worst team in the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders, on Monday afternoon. Now one would expect that Bruins management is getting desperate feeling that a third “Did Not Qualify” for the Stanley Cup playoffs could be in their future if they don’t make a bold, swift move to shake up their dazed hockey club.

But let’s not pull any punches here. The entire Bruins management group should be fired on the spot if they trade a 20-year-old, top pairing shutdown defenseman on an entry level contract like Carlo unless they are getting a bona fide superstar in return. Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak should all be young, untouchable assets for a Bruins organization that is years away from legitimately holding a chance at a Stanley Cup.

Landeskog is not a bona fide superstar. He’s a good player that’s topped out at 26 goals and 65 points in the NHL, but he’s also the Captain on a horrendous, underachieving Avalanche team over the last three years.

If the price were right for Landeskog it would make all the sense in the world for the Bruins to deal him, but it’s a giant honking red flag that Colorado is looking to unload a player like him that’s signed for a reasonable $5.5 million price tag over the next four seasons. Teams don’t trade young players like that with term unless there’s more to the story, and that’s something the Bruins would do well to consider before giving up a player that could be a top-4 shutdown defenseman in Boston for the next 10 years.

Teams like the Bruins that are in reloading mode also shouldn’t be trading 20-year-old players for 24-year-old players that have already cashed in on their second contract. That’s exactly how the Bruins can get right back into salary cap trouble, and do it with a team that’s producing far less than the Peter Chiarelli groups that were at least still making the playoffs.  

Certainly the Bruins have other young D-men like Charlie McAvoy, Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon coming down the pipeline, but none of those defensemen are in the mold of a true shutdown D like the 6-foot-5 Carlo. With Zdeno Chara in the final few years of his career with the Black and Gold, the B’s are going to need Carlo to slide into that defensive stopper role given his size, strength, wing span and willingness to do the dirty work the D-zone.

That goes beyond the simple fact that rebuilding the back end with ALL of those young stud D-men is the best way to actually build the Bruins back up into a legitimate Eastern Conference power. 

It would be a giant mistake for the Bruins to ship away a player like Carlo with the hope Landeskog can put Boston over the hump for the playoffs this season, and perhaps ease some of the intense pressure currently weighing on Sweeney and Neely. That kind of desperate move smacks of doing it for all of the wrong reasons, and that’s one way to ensure that the Bruins will never escape the web of mediocrity that they’re currently caught in. 

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

Haggerty: From top to bottom, still no urgency from Bruins

BRIGHTON -- The Bruins pulled the worst of their no-shows on Monday afternoon in the 4-0 shutout loss to the Islanders.

It was a lethargic, mediocre start in the first period that devolved into the bottom dropping out on the Black and Gold when they allowed three unanswered goals in the second. Then, to top it all off, they showed zero urgency or push to make a comeback in the final period. 

It was “unacceptable” in the words of the Bruins players from beginning to end with careless, elementary mistakes in the defensive zone and absolutely zero sustained push in the offensive zone despite a deceiving 32 shots on net.

So, where was the urgency for a Bruins team that’s barely ahead of the Maple Leafs and Senators in the Atlantic Division despite having played six more games than each of those two?

Apparently the Bruins were feeling a little cocky after playing a solid five-game stretch where they’d gone 3-1-1 and taken down the Panthers, Blues and Flyers while elevating their level of play. Heart and soul team leader Patrice Bergeron admitted as much on Tuesday morning as the Bruins cancelled practice and turned their attention toward righting the ship Wednesday night in Detroit.

It was frankly a little stunning to hear Bergeron admit that his Bruins team thought they could win just by showing up on Monday afternoon, but that’s exactly what he copped to in something of an apologetic way.

Brad Marchand said Monday postgame that the Bruins “just weren’t ready [to play]” against the Islanders, and it sounded like his linemate agreed with him.

“It’s about realizing that you can’t take teams lightly, or take the foot off the gas pedal for a period, for a game, or whatever. It hurts us every time we do it, so we have to learn and realize that it just cannot happen. Teams are too good and the points are too valuable for us,” said Bergeron. “You never want to do that, but at the same time maybe it was something that happened because it was a terrible start, and to not respond when they scored the goals. Maybe that’s what happened yesterday.

“As much as you don’t want it to happen, maybe we thought it was going to be an easier game than it actually was against them.”

On the one hand, it’s somewhat shocking to hear that admission from a player that’s always played with full work ethic and an effort level that’s never been questioned. But Bergeron was also a minus-3 in the 4-0 loss and was every bit as guilty as everybody else up and down the roster for the team’s most pathetic loss of the season at a time when results are all that matter.

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising, though, because the lack of urgency on the bench is mirrored by the lack of urgency upstairs in the Bruins management office right now. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told the Boston Globe last week that he’s considering a move with the head coach along with a number of other things to spark a team treading water, but it doesn’t feel like a major move is on the horizon with this Bruins team.

Trade talks are still in the formative, discussion stages as GMs like Joe Sakic and John Chayka are overvaluing their players looking for a king’s ransom for guys like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Martin Hanzal and Radim Vrbata. While Claude Julien should be under the microscope with a team sleepwalking its way through perhaps a third season in a row without the playoffs, it also doesn’t feel like the Bruins are going to pull the trigger on that move until the offseason at the earliest.

This humble hockey writer still insists that this playoff-caliber Bruins team plays at times like a one that needs a swift kick in the backside. Perhaps Julien isn’t up for it after 10 long, successful years of battles with the same core group.   

So, what is there to do then besides make cosmetic moves like shipping underperforming Anton Khudobin down to Providence, or rearrange the deck chairs on a third and fourth line that it’s difficult to tell apart on most days in Boston?

If the Bruins front office wants to truly get to the bottom of their team’s lack of urgency on the ice, perhaps a look in the mirror might be in order. Because that same lack of urgency is playing out with a management group that’s watching their team sink into the Atlantic Division muck right now and seems gun-shy on making a move that could rattle cages.

“Right now where we are in the standings, we’ve got a lot of games to play but we’re still in a playoff spot,” said Julien. “We try and play with the expectations that we have, and that’s to do the best with what we’ve got. We’ve got a lot of new faces and we’re trying to build with what we’ve got here moving forward.”

Certainly nobody is talking about trading away their blue chip prospects like Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy, but there are veteran players on Boston’s current roster that aren’t cut out for battling into the postseason with a young team. It’s plain to see when a middling hockey team can’t find the inspiration to go out and take care of business against a bad Islanders group on a sleepy Monday afternoon just a month after they made the same mistake against the same team on home ice.

The Bruins showed in a five-game stretch leading up to the Islanders debacle that they should be held to a higher standard - that of a team that should qualify for the postseason. But one question arose again and again watching the poorest of poor efforts play out on Monday afternoon: why should the Bruins players show any feet-in-the-fire urgency on the ice when it doesn’t feel like there’s much feet-in-the-fire urgency from upper management to improve the flailing hockey club?

Until that organizational dynamic changes, it’s difficult to see things getting much better, or worse, for a Bruins team that looks destined for the mediocre middle once again this season.