Bruins continue to find ways to stay hot

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Bruins continue to find ways to stay hot

GLENDALE, AZ. The Bruins continue to win even when theyre having difficulties executing. Somehow they still get results whenstraying away from the game plan mapped out before taking the ice.

That was the case again Wednesday night in a 2-1 overtime victoryover the Phoenix Coyotes at jobing.com Arena. The Bruins had a couple ofrusty excuses whilecoming off four days without a game around the Christmasholiday break coupled with the long trip out to Phoenix.

But, once again, as they've proven time and time againthis season while defying conventional hockey wisdom, they pulled out two points when they probably didn't deserve it. They're now 21-2-1 over the last 24 games since Nov. 1, and it doesn't seem fair to the other 29 teams when the Bruins are winning games they openly admit they don't quite deserve.Maybe that's Boston being tough on themselves given their Stanley Cup-high standards these days, or maybe they're just really damned good. Maybe they can just win even when they're at less than their best.

We are winning some games that we probably shouldnt be winning, admitted David Krejci after the triumphant extra session struggles over the Coyotes. But we dont want to get comfortable. We want to bounce back and correct the things we werent doing well the next time we play.

While the overall execution might have been a little murky and messy, the Bs did enough to pull out the eventual win in overtime by never letting things get out of hand.

As they've done throughout their hot streak, the Bruins combined sound defensive principles and elite goaltending to allow just one goal. The Bruins were a little more fuzzy in their neutral zone coverage, but had only one breakdown in their own end when Ray Whitney made everybody else look like a rented hockey player.But that's something he's been doing for 20 years.Only once in 11 games during December have the Bs allowed more than two goals in a game, which has kept them fightingin every single hockey game theyve played. Not just for this month, though. That's been a pattern for the entire season.Add to that the experience earned through winning the Cup, and the Bruins truly believe they will pull out games that are close headed intoa third period fracas.

We know if we get more than one or two goals in a game than we have a really good chance to win, said Krejci, who scored the teams first goal less than a minute into the first period. It was a big win even though it wasnt our best game. We battled hard and found a way to win the game. That was a big two points for us.

It wasnt easy in the first game after the holiday and the ice wasnt very good at all. Its not easy. We try to do everything as we usually do, but its not always your night. But we are pretty good at finding ways to win hockey games, and thats what we did tonight. It looks like weve got something good going here.

The Bruins had defensive breakdowns and allowed more odd-man rushes and partial breakaways than usual against a flying Coyotes bunch. But Zdeno Chara was quick to point it was more execution than effort, and Boston's most consistent area of struggle this season has been neutral zone coverage that wanes over time. There was no absence of emotion in what could have been a sleepy game in the desert. The B's willingness to fight for a "W"was clear when Adam McQuaid pounded Raffi Torres into a bloody pulp during the second period.

But just as the Bruins pulled out games against the Blue Jackets, Kings and Senators in recent weeks where they didnt play their best, they did it once again besting the desert dogs. Its one of the explanation for three Phoenix Coyotes players earning the Three Stars of the Game (along with the voters being raving Phoenix homers,of course)despite dropping the 2-1 overtime decision to the Bruins.Butall of these flimsy winscome with a downside if things aren't eventually corrected. All 82 can't be gems, but bad habits can pretty easily turn into losing streaks if attention isn't paid.

Claude Julien was happy with the two points following the road victory, but it sounded as if the Bruins had some work to do once the practice ice is prepped in Phoenix for a Thursday afternoon session. That was hammered home when Ray Whitney and Shane Doan continuously ripped through the Bs attempts at neutral zone coverage, and the B's defensemanflailed badly in breaking the puck out of their own end. Boston almost didn't make it into the extra session when Phoenix had them hemmed into their own zone with the B's best players on the ice.But the Yotes have their own problems.

The Bruins were aided by a Coyotes bunch that were missing Martin Hanzal, Boyd Gordon, Adrian Aucoin and Mike Smith and couldnt quite finish the dozen scoring opportunities a sloppy Bs unit dropped in their laps. Still when a coach addresses his own squad and uses the phrase Swiss Cheese its usually a time to reassess the situation and address potential holes in the team "cheese".

It was one of those games where they had some great opportunities. I thought we struggled again through the neutral zone. I thought we struggled a bit and they were really going through us like Swiss Cheese, said Claude Julien. We left a lot of areas there for them to skate through. It was our first game back from having three days off, so we werent as sharp as we could have been. We improved as the game went on and got the result that we wanted.

We take pride in our defensive game without the puck. Confidence grows with each game, and we believe 99 percent of the time, we will get great goaltending. However, we know there will be challenges ahead, so we have to guard against overconfidence.

Itll be a challenge to avoid overconfidence when subpar periods and shoddy execution cant stop the Bruins from winning, but thats the name of a game for a hockey club thats become a handful to everyone else in the NHL for two full months. In proper perspective the B's also allowed only 21 shots through an entire overtime game against the Coyotes, so it's not like the 50 shots per game Boston allowed with Chara missing from the lineup.

Where once teams might have been able to take advantage of the Bruins on an off night the Bs now hold the secret sauce to extract two points out of those games too. It almost doesnt seem fair but thats just the way it is these days with the Stanley Cup champion Bruins and their ever-expanding point total at the expense of everybody else.

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while thinking about and praying for the people of Manchester, England. It’s obviously an evil, cowardly act to bomb any public place, but to do it at a concert filled with women and children is the lowest of the low.

*The Capitals players are acknowledging that there’s some kind of mental block with the Stanley Cup playoffs. CSN Mid-Atlantic has all the details.

*It’s been a very odd postseason for the NHL where there are so many non-traditional teams still alive with the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Fina, and the Ottawa Senators fighting for their lives in the Eastern Conference Final. On that note, there is a ton of disappointment at the empty seats at the Canadian Tire Centre for Ottawa’s home games in the playoffs. It sounds like there are going to be empty seats tonight for a do-or-die Game 6 in Ottawa. That is an embarrassment for a Canadian city that’s supposed to pride itself on their love of hockey. Let’s hope the Senators fans have a last-minute surge to buy tickets and show some appreciation for a Senators team that’s given the Ottawa fans a totally unexpected ride through the postseason this spring. I mean, Erik Karlsson at the top of his game is worth the price of admission all by himself.  

*The Pittsburgh Penguins have the Senators on the ropes, and it’s been an impressive showing given that they’re doing it without Kris Letang.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the ownership for the St. Louis Blues giving their GM Doug Armstrong a vote of confidence.

*Another early exit from the playoffs is going to start making some players expendable on the New York Rangers roster.

*Here’s a good piece on how David Poile built the Nashville Predators, who have reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Give credit where it’s due: He manned up and made a big move dealing away Shea Weber straight up for PK Subban. It’s really worked for Music City as they’ve stepped to the next level.

*Speaking of Nashville’s rise this spring in a wide open Western Conference, Pekka Rinne has silenced the critics he might have had by carrying his team to the Cup Final.

*For something completely different: Boston law enforcement is on high alert after the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in the UK.

 

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right.