The Weekend Wrap Up


The Weekend Wrap Up

It was an absolutely insane sports weekend in Boston and on planet Earth, so lets take a second and catch up on all that transpired . . .

First of all, the NHL is once again a thing. According to numerous reports, the league and its players have reached a tentative deal on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and will return to the ice as soon as Canadianly possible. In Boston, that means the return of the Bruins, currently the citys second-best chance at another title. It also, and more importantly, means that the restaurants, bars and other struggling TD Garden businesses are back in the saddle.

According to my impeccable hockey sources, the NHL schedule will kick off on January 19, with a 48-game regular season. That gives the B's less than two weeks to bring the team together and start building towards another Stanley Cup. It also puts Tim Thomas on the clock for his first Facebook bombshell of the new season.

Out in Vegas, "Pro NRA" is slated as the most likely topic at 3-to-1 odds. "The Al-JazeeraCurrent TV buyout" is 6-to-1. "An in-depth review of Zero Dark Thirty is at 15-to-1. The odds of Thomas playing hockey this season? Off the board.

Over in the NBA, the Celtics had their most productive weekend of the suddenly-not-so-young season. On Friday night, they took down the Pacers, who came in having won nine of their last 11 games. On Saturday night, they erased a 15-point halftime deficit and stole a win on the road against the much-hyped Atlanta Hawks.

Rajon Rondo had another triple double. (He now has eight since the start of last season, while no one else in the NBA has more than two.) Paul Pierce led Boston with 26 points, and after the game, revealed the details of a few halftime fireworks in the Celtics locker room.

"We were kind of bickering with each other at halftime about what to do defensively, and I just reminded the guys that the fight isn't against us, it's against the other team," Pierce said (Boston trailed 53-38 at the break).

He also suggested that some of the issues stemmed from players being unhappy with Doc Rivers: "I told our guys we have to accept coaching. Doc was telling us what to do, and guys were getting angry with him, and I told them the ones we need to be getting angry with is the other team."

Five quick points on that:

1. So, whos unhappy with Doc? I dont want to speculate, but I will say that whoever it is should be on the trade block. No questions asked. For the last five years, every ounce of Celtics success has been predicated on the team buying into Doc Rivers. That's part of the deal. You don't have to like what he says, but you have to respect and accept it, and trust that every thing is for the benefit of the team. And if you aren't feeling it? Then you're not a good fit. There are plenty of players out there who are ready and willing to run through a wall for a coach like Doc, and that's who the Celtics need to find.

2. This isnt the first time the C's have had a locker room altercation in Atlanta. Back in 2008, after Boston lost Game 6 of their first round series against the Hawks, James Posey and Kevin Garnett actually had to be separated during a heated post-game exchange.

The Celtics responded by blowing out Atlanta in Game 7, and went on to win the title. But that's not always the case. In fact, this kind of behind-the-scenes bickering only plays out in one of two ways: It brings the team together, or it triggers a collapse.

And while the second half of the Hawks game leaves you feeling good about which direction the Celtics are headed, the true test comes tonight at MSG, against Steve Novak and the Knicks.

3. Is it just a coincidence that the Celtics mini-revival corresponded with the return of Avery Bradley? Maybe. Either that, or it's time for everyone to finally come to grips with how essential he is to this team's success.

4. Regardless of what's going on with the Celtics, Boston can find happiness in the disaster that's unfolding in LA.

Mike D'Antoni is in way over his head, and is quickly becoming the Lakers' Bobby Valentine. Kobe and Dwight can't stand each other. The supporting cast (outside of Metta World Peace and (recently) Steve Nash) is non existent. But the biggest problem for the Lakers is that their defense is awful, and that's because Howard physically isn't the player that he once was. Not yet at least. He's not as quick; he's not as strong. It looks like he's lost at least five inches in shoulder width. And after re-aggravating another injury last night against the Nuggets, there's further evidence that Howard may be breaking down.

The Lakers still have a higher ceiling than the Celtics waiting for them on the other side of all this drama, but it's becoming increasingly unlikely that LA has what it takes to break through.

5. I'm in favor of trading any combination of players not named Rondo or Garnett for DeMarcus Cousins, but I have zero expectations of that happening.

In the world of Major League baseball, we saw the Red Sox continue their inspiring off-season with . . . nah, they didn't do anything. Except for maybe play a few rounds passive phone tag with Mike Napoli.

And then of course, there's the NFL. Wild Card Weekend. To be honest, the games were pretty miserable. I mean, I watched just about every minute and don't recall anything all that memorable. It was all just kind of blah. But now that it's over, the real playoffs can begin. THE ELITE EIGHT.

January 12, 4:30 pm: Baltimore at Denver
The Ravens showed a little extra something against the Colts, but not enough to make you believe that they'll pull off this upset.

January 12, 8 pm: Green Bay at San Francisco
Many have theorized that playing against Joe Webb will leave the Packers better prepared for Saturday's date with Colin Kaepernick. I don't see it making a major difference, but believe that Green Bay's still coming home with the win after Billy Cundiff misses a last second field goal for the Niners.

January 13, 1 pm: Seattle at Atlanta
Everyone will love the Seahawks here, and I totally get it. I think Seattle pulls off the upset, setting the stage for the ultimate Fail Mary rematch.

Seahawks at Packers, with a Super Bowl berth on the line. Just for fun, shouldn't they bring the replacement refs back for this one?

January 13, 4:30 pm: Houston at New England
And once again, the Patriots are in line for a trip to New Orleans.

Obviously nothing's set in stone. They could very well lose to the Texans on Sunday or next week in Denver, but at this point, the Pats are just as likely destined for their sixth Super Bowl in 11 years.

It starts on Sunday, at home against Houston. And all things being equal, the Pats certainly have the edge. You really believe that Matt Schaub can successfully lead the Texans into Foxboro?

A win over Houston most likely sends the Pats to Denver, and in that case, who knows? But the bottom line is that the Patriots are only two wins away from the Super Bowl; two wins against a pair of teams that they've already beaten by double digits.

From here on out, waiting is the hardest part. The idea of sitting around for a whole week in anticipation of next Sunday is enough to make you crawl out of your skin.

But for one today at least, the events of last weekend were enough to keep us occupied.

Rich can be reached at Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

Haggerty: Bruins sinking fast with nothing to hang on to

So, what do the Bruins do now amidst a three-game tailspin that could easily devolve into a six- or seven-game losing stretch if they’re not too careful?

The goaltending has been predictably porous with Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin out of commission with injuries. The Black and Gold allowed 11 goals in the past two games despite Zane McIntyre battling in tough conditions at Madison Square Garden. The bottom line is McIntyre and Malcolm Subban don’t look ready for NHL prime time and there are legitimate questions as to whether Subban ever will become an NHL goalie.

Beyond that, the Bruins defense has been downright atrocious just as the goaltending situation has deteriorated. Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug have struggled individually and as a pairing that the B’s coaching staff had hoped would complement Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo in Boston’s top-four. McQuaid is a minus-3 in his first two games back from an upper body injury and Krug is a minus-4 with a surprising zero points in his first seven games this season.

In fact, every Bruins defenseman not named Chara or Carlo is a combined minus-16 on the season and, of that group, only currently-in-the-AHL rookie Rob O’Gara has a positive plus/minus for the season. Both the defensive zone coverage and the compromised ability to break the puck out of their own end have been problematic and Boston’s opponents have enjoyed way too easy of a time getting into the slot area for juicy scoring chances.

In other words, the defense looks very much like last season for the Bruins with – surprise, surprise – nearly the same cast of characters returning from that subpar crew.

Then there’s the forward group, which has enjoyed great production from David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand in the early going and from David Backes before his elbow injury that was at least partially caused by the hard miles the 32-year-old brawny center has logged over the years. 

Patrice Bergeron has just one point in four games since returning from a lower body injury and opposing defenses in recent games have been able to key on that top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak while mostly neutralizing them. 

That’s because the other Bruins forward lines are doing nothing offensively from a production or puck possession standpoint. Sure, Austin Czarnik had his first NHL goal Wednesday night against the Rangers and Dominic Moore has a couple of goals for a fourth line that’s been decent for Boston this season.

But David Krejci has no goals and three points in seven games with a minus-4 rating while looking slow and tentative coming back from hip surgery, Ryan Spooner is off to a slow start bouncing between wing and center and the third line winger combo of Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes have zero points and a ghastly combined minus-14 rating on the season.

So, basically the Black and Gold have nothing to hang their hat on with the goaltending, the defensemen and the forwards all working at far less than full capacity right now, and that’s making them hockey road kill for opponents. To make matters worse, the Bruins find themselves in the middle of a six-game stretch where they’re playing quality teams that made the playoffs last season, and can expose all of their weak spots.

A prolonged losing streak could knock the Bruins far out of the playoff picture over the next few weeks and leave them more than a handful of points out of the postseason cut by Thanksgiving. Once that happens, the odds would be against the Bruins turning things around and there would zero margin of error for a team that needs leeway based on the glaring roster weaknesses.

So, what are the Bruins to do right now?

There’s not much they can do aside from simply play better, hope that Backes and Rask can return rather quickly and avoid buckling and quitting in games like they did against the Wild and Rangers over the past few days. The Bruins will try to ramp Rask up potentially for this weekend against the Red Wings in Detroit and perhaps that will be enough time for his reported hamstring and groin issues to have healed up.

But if not, the Bruins will need to look on the goaltending market for possible answers rather than asking rookie goalies to thrive behind a struggling, substandard defensive group. Ondrej Pavelec out in Winnipeg would be too expensive in terms of cap hit and there may not be a chance to snag Mike Condon on waivers from Pittsburgh as the Penguins look like they want to hold onto the Massachusetts native with Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury also in the fold.

That leaves the Bruins with a number of retread goalie options like Kari Ramo, Kevin Poulin, Ray Emery, Dan Ellis and Yann Danis, who might have to become a reality if Rask suffers a dreaded setback in the coming days. Bringing in a veteran goalie with NHL experience certainly makes some sense on paper if things are left to Subban and McIntyre, but the bottom line is that Boston will continue to resemble an imploding hockey club until some of their other deep-seated issues are fully addressed.

Gerry Cheevers isn’t walking through that door anytime soon, and if he did, he’d smartly walk back out rather than get hung out to dry by a Bruins team that’s playing embarrassingly poorly in front of a couple of young goalies that need their best.  

THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars


THURSDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: Titans roll to 36-22 victory over Jaguars

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - There's nothing like a visit from the Jacksonville Jaguars to make the Tennessee Titans remember how to protect their home field.

Marcus Mariota threw for 270 yards and two touchdowns to end his home struggles and the Titans had their highest point total of the season in a 36-22 victory over the Jaguars on Thursday night.

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