Haggerty: Leafs-Bruins not a rivalry


Haggerty: Leafs-Bruins not a rivalry

Brad Marchand had his tongue planted firmly within his check when he let the words slip, but he couldnt help make a playful crack about the marquee players involved when asked about a budding rivalry between the Maple Leafs and his Boston Bruins.

Yeah, I think the rivalry is more between Phil Kessel and Tyler Seguin, said Marchand with a laugh. Toronto is playing great hockey right now and theyre a good match-up for us. We want to find a way to get a roll going, and playing teams that are hot and playing good hockey is big for us.

It was a joke about the SeguinKessel rivalry, of course. There have been some hard-fought, competitive tilts between the two Northeast Division foes over the last couple of seasons as the Maple Leafs have been on the steady upswing.

Kessel had a multiple point game at the Garden in a win that allowed him to snap a long personal slump in his old home rink, and the red-hot Leafs slapped the Bruins around last March in Toronto at the tail end of a long road trip.

But to call it a rivalry might be a little much by the very strictdefinition of the word.

Its truly not a rivalry until both sides have had the upper hand in the grand arena of competition, and the Leafs havent landed close to enough punches against a Bs team coming off a Stanley Cup season. The Bruins have put up a gaudy 11-4-3 record over the Leafs during the last four seasons, and "upper hand" is probably the only term to describe Boston's role in the burgeoning relationship between the two clubs.

A couple of wins over the Bruins and some fine Kessel performances are nice, but there wont be any true bad blood brewing until Toronto dominates the Bs during the regular season at the very least or knocks them out of the playoffs once Toronto actually finds its way back into the Stanley Cup tournament.

The Leafs might be the darlings of October this season and they certainly have put themselves in a good position with 19 points in their first 13 games.

But Brian Burkes hockey club still has plenty to prove over the long haul. Aside from Toronto and Boston existing as two unapologetic hockey teams that dont shy away celebrating their caveman leanings with flying fists and missing molars, the only real point of the rivalry is the trade of Kessel to Toronto thats irrevocably created imprints on both franchises.

The trade looks as positive as it ever has for the Maple Leafs these days with Kessel tearing up the NHL scoring categories with 10 goals and 21 points in 13 games, and the steady defenseman play of Dion Phaneuf has further cemented their teams good fortune in this young season.

Phil has matured just like any other player. Hes getting older, and hes matured as a person Im sure and as a player you can see it. Certainly hes a lot stronger hanging onto the puck than he ever was, and he shoots the puck, said Julien. He gets shots off every game and he gets opportunities for himself. Hes getting better with age and thats what were seeing out of him. Hes off to a good start, and right now the one thing everybody wants to see is whether he can sustain it or not.

Add Joe Colborne coming off AHL Player of the Month honors as he works to bust through from the minor leagues to Toronto permanently, and Burke can look himself in the mirror knowing hes extracted some value out of the Bruins' coffers.

But its difficult to call the main Kessel-for-draft picks swap as anything but a resounding victory for the Black and Gold despite Kessels meteoric start to this season.

Tyler Seguin has become a point-per-game player for the Bruins this year at 19 years old, and has consistently performed as Bostons best offensive player on a nightly basis. Hes been elevated to the No. 1 line for the Bruins alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and hes getting the ice time both five-on-five and on the power play to thrive in his second time around the league.

Both Kessel and Seguin are in the NHLs top five in terms of plusminus, and dont exactly lack for motivation when they suit up against each other. There should be a little more bounce in Seguins step Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre with his newfound confidence, and the ability to finally put on a show for his friends and family.

I cant say that Ive watched them too much this season, but I know theyve got a couple of guys that are leading the league in points, said Seguin when asked about the Leafs. Kessel and Joffrey Lupul are doing pretty well playing together and capitalizing on their opportunities. We have to be prepared for that.

Above and beyond the business of hockey on the ice, however, a trip to Toronto also means a visit home and to the NHL barn where Seguin grew up watching and learning to love the game.

Its not like playing another NHL game. Its about going home and having all of your family come out to watch, said Seguin. With everyone there its definitely a homecoming. I went to the ACC growing up at least a couple of times a year, so its still really special.

During warm-ups Ill look up in certain areas where Ive sat with my dad for games, and its pretty cool to be out on the ice. Its a whole different world down there on the ice. In warm-ups and during stretching my mom and my sisters will always be somewhere banging on the glass like theyve never seen me before.

But back to the Kessel deal, and the full components making up the trade.

Then theres the matter of 2011 first round pick Dougie Hamilton, who has put up 24 points (7 goals and 17 assists) in 15 dominant games for the Niagara Ice Dogs right in Leafs Nations backyard this season at the OHL level. Dont forget 2010 second round pick Jared Knight, who is likewise tearing it up with nine goals and 14 points in 14 games for the OHLs London Knights in his final year of junior hockey.

No matter how good Kessel becomes as a 5 million a year player for the Maple Leafs during his career, the Bruins won a Stanley Cup before the Leafs even managed to get back into the postseason and Toronto has set Boston up with three young cornerstone players that will be part of the Black and Gold solution plan for the next decade or more.

A true rivalry will materialize when Toronto finally gets the upper hand on the Bruins, and theyre not there yet no matter how good their first month of the season turned out to be.

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Dave Dombrowski is collecting stars and talent over at Fenway Park. I dig it.

*Interesting piece about switching teams in the NHL and leaving behind old allegiances when the job calls for it.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Harvey Fialkov looks at the connections between the Bruins and the Florida Panthers, and more specifically with the Panthers and the Boston-area.

*A rumor round-up across the NHL including the humorous nugget that the Bruins are looking to move Jimmy Hayes. Yes, they are looking to move Hayes. They are begging some other NHL team to take on the player and the contract for somebody that has one point since last February. It’s not happening.

*Escrow is at the heart of the next negotiation between the NHL and the NHLPA, and I really thought it was going to be years before I’d have to even think about the CBA again.

*Tough break for the Florida Panthers losing Keith Yandle for a long period of time after he was injured last night vs. the Bruins. FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford has the story at Pro Hockey Talk.

*Wild coach Bruce Boudreau talks his “bucket list”, which includes a lot of movies and even a stint as a movie reviewer for the Manchester Union Leader back in the day.

*Sounds like Pat Maroon might want to sit out the next few plays after calling hockey a “man’s game” among other things.

*For something completely different: Yup, I’m pretty okay with the Red Sox blowing up the prospect cupboard for Chris Sale.