Haggerty: Right now Bruins seem to have all the answers

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Haggerty: Right now Bruins seem to have all the answers

BOSTON -- In the grand scheme of all things NHL hockey, the Bruins werent facing too many questions coming into this season.

They boast the young, talented nucleus of a team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago and they were considered one of the Eastern Conference's best teams this season no matter what happened to them.

But there was some uncertainty coming off last years first round exit in the playoffs, and a fair share of unknowns dropping into a lockout-shortened 48-game schedule that has thrown everybody off their normal routines.

But the Bruins 4-2 win over the New York Islanders on Friday night underscored just how handily the Bruins have found quality answers for any questions that dogged them coming into the year. Finding answers at every street corner has allowed the Bruins to jump out to a 3-0-1 start in their first four games including two tilts against a fellow Eastern Conference powerhouse in the Rangers.

That means the Bruins are already atop the Eastern Conference after the first week of play, and theyve penciled in some regular season answers to their burning preseason questions.

Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand were all viewed as unknown commodities because none of them played in Europe during the lockout, and Horton hadnt played in an NHL game in nearly a year due to concussion woes.

Instead Horton, Lucic and David Krejci have been Bostons most effective line through four games, and Marchand and Lucic have been Boston's leading goal-scorers through the early going.

The sixth defenseman spot was earmarked for a rookie after the failed Joe Corvo experiment last season, and that seems to have worked out remarkably well. Dougie Hamilton has three assists through his first four games and continues to wow all onlookers while looking like the coveted puck-moving offensive defenseman the Bruins have been on the hunt for since Peter Chiarelli was hired six years ago.

Tuukka Rask is sporting a 1.96 goals against average and .925 save percentage while playing four games in six days, and showing zero signs of fatigue or slowdown despite the healthy workload. That means so much for the Bruins crumbling without Conn Smythe goaltender Tim Thomas or a slow start from HortonLucic putting the Bs offense in the deep freeze.

If nothing else, the Black and Gold look even better than ever while appearing completely well-prepared for the quick camp and immediate season. That's a credit to Claude Julien and his coaching staff under trying circumstances.

With our team its been positive surprises. We talked about Nathan Horton not playing for a whole year and we didnt quite know what to expect from him early onhow long it would take to get back to normal. To me, hes been a real pleasant surprise and so has Milan Lucic, said Julien. We talk about big bodies and those big bodies sometimes take a little longer, but those guys have been great. David Krejci, whos played since the beginning of the year, hasnt missed a stride and has been a good player for that line.

Theyve been great surprises. Dougie Hamilton is opening a lot of peoples eyes, we knew what he could do, but not knowing how he would adjust to this level or how quickly he would adjust. His transitions been pretty smooth so far. And Tuukka Rask is Tuukka. There is a lot of pressure on him to replace the guy that left us, but hes doing the job. So far hes been really good for us.

Things could always be better, of course.

The Bruins had a lousy 20 minutes to start off against the Rangers on Wednesday night, and didnt look too inspired for long portions of the first 40 minutes against the Islanders on Friday night. The power play is still a confidence-sucking mess that alternates somewhere between frustrating and hopeless despite considerable talent, and is now 1-for-17 on the season.

Chris Bourque has one shot, zero points and a minus-3 rating through four games, and hasnt made much of an impact as a third linepower play hybrid among a talented group of Bruins forwards that are admittedly struggling right along with him.

Tyler Seguin is without a goal after the first four games, and was perhaps the unlikeliest Bruins player to struggle back in the NHL after completely dominating the Swiss League in Europe.

But none of those things are unsolvable mysteries to the Bruins, and none of those question marks will ultimately derail a team thats jumping out to an ideal start while their counterparts in Washington, Philadelphia and New York have royally stubbed their toes in the seasons first week.

Its the best start the Bruins have enjoyed since they won their first three games of the 2001-02 season, and its something theyve been focused on since before training camp even began.

Were playing hungry. When you have that much time off you kind of sit back and feel fortunate to be a part of this group. I think thats what has gotten us off to this start. Were just happy and feel fortunate to be back together again, said Lucic, who added to Friday nights festivities by dropping Isles tough guy Matt Carkner with a right handed bomb to the chin in his first hockey fight of the season. Lets hope that mentality keeps us going.

Clearly the Bruins will need more than four games to cement the answers to all of their preseason questions, and things can change quickly in an NHL world where injuries and the fickle hand of fate can damage teams that cant help but tempt it.

But for now theres a feeling that the Bruins have perfect answers to all of their big, burning questions before the season commenced last weekend. The hope now is that nobody decides to change the questions on a surging Black and Gold club that looks ready for a 48-game sprint to the end.

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t show anything on the ice in Monday afternoon’s 4-0 matinee loss, and that’s not really any kind of an overstatement.

The scoring chances were almost nonexistent despite 32 shots on net, the second period was dreadful as the Bruins gave up three goals over the course of a six minute span and there was zero added urgency in the third period once the B’s fell behind. The emotion was missing from the drop of the puck to open the game and it never showed up once the Islanders began taking control of the game.

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It was a bitterly disappointing result after the Black and Gold had played so well in their previous five games, and put in strong, winning efforts against the Panthers, Blues and Flyers.

On Monday afternoon, the passes were sloppy and errant all over the ice, there was zero physicality and the Bruins buckled once the Isles turned the intensity up just a little bit in the second period. The game was basically over once Nikolay Kulemin snapped one home wide open from the slot area with Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci all blowing their defensive assignments, and then Tuukka Rask followed it up by allowing a softie to Josh Bailey from a bad angle close to net.  

So Bruins head coach Claude Julien termed it a “flat” performance once it was all over with, and openly wondered whether it was fatigue-related result linked to the compacted schedule Boston has played through this season. Monday marked the seventh straight day that the Bruins held some kind of formal skate, though most of the veteran B's players stayed off the ice during last week's Wednesday off-day practice in Nashville.   

“We were flat tonight, obviously, flat from the get-go. I think that first half of the game, we didn’t give much until they scored that first goal. We were able to stay in, but we certainly weren’t generating much ourselves, from that point of view,” said Claude Julien. “His is really the first year, for me as well, going through a condensed schedule, and I’m certainly not using that as an excuse, is it fatigue?. . . But we were flat tonight. How do you explain it? I don’t know. I know that it’s frustrating. I know that it’s disappointing. That’s all I can say.

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever it is. We made some mistakes tonight like, from the goals you look at, we weren’t even in the position that we’re normally in. So we were totally out of whack, as far as even defending. When you give that first goal that much room in the middle of the ice, your D’s go on the wrong side, your weak-side forward is way on the other side, and you open up the slot area, that’s something I haven’t seen much of this year. I think it said a lot from our game tonight.”

The compacted schedule certainly could be a factor for a Bruins team that’s played more games than anybody else in the Eastern Conference to this point, but the B’s also had 48 hours to recharge after winning a Saturday matinee over the Flyers. So the fatigue excuse seems a little far-fetched for a hockey club that’s no-showed a few too many times this season, and did it again on Monday afternoon against one of the worst teams in the NHL.