Bruins-Habs preview: It's all about the rivalry

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Bruins-Habs preview: It's all about the rivalry

MONTREAL Here is the MontrealBoston rivalry, same as it ever was.
While the Canadiens had a brief detour into the land of terrible last season due to injuries and some dubious roster decisions by former GM Pierre Gautier, it appears Montreal is back and as good as theyve ever been. The Habs are killing it on home ice with a 5-1-0 record and theyve been bolstered by some energetic young bodies (Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher) as well as the return to good health of franchise defenseman Andrei Markov.
That leaves the Canadiens just a single point behind the Boston Bruins in the Northeast Division with both teams already holding eight games in the books, and it leaves Wednesday night as a showdown first place in the division. That will add a little something to the stakes between two proud rivals that have tangled since the very beginnings of the NHL, but most players from both sides were expecting a pretty good tilt either way.
Its always a hard game against the Canadiens, said Andrew Ference. Its funny how teams can change and personnel can change, but its always a hard game with them. From year to year the feeling and the preparation doesnt change at all because you know its going to be a hard game.
Theyre always physical games. I know there have been times where we were supposed to come in as the big, tough team and they have out-hit us. Its funny with our two teams: whether teams are on hot streaks or losing streaks it always turns into a close game between us.
While its been great to the have NHL officially back from the lockout, it was never going to truly really feel like the NHL was back for the Bruins until they suited up against Les Habitants.PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Tuukka Rask is 1-6-1 with a 2.76 goals against average and a .908 save percentage in nine career appearances against the Montreal Canadiens, and struggled a bit against them in each of the last two years in backup duty to Tim Thomas. However in his one year of playing regularly when Thomas was struggling with a sore hip Rask posted a 2.05 goals against average and .929 save percentage in five games against the Habs in the 2009-10 NHL season. If nothing else Rask could use a big performance against Montreal to make that career record a little less unsightly and officially announce it to be the Rask Era in the rivalry between the Habs and Bruins. DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: No matter what the situation is and no matter where we are in the standings, there always seems to be good games between the two of us. There is a rivalry that exists that creates good games between the two teams, and its been like that forever. Claude Julien on the HabsBruins rivalry, which appears ready to return to full luster after being a little off with Montreals funk last year. KEY MATCHUP: The Montreal Canadiens power play is clicking at a 23.9 percent success rate this season, which ranks them ninth in the NHL this season through the first two plus weeks. Andrei Markov leads Montreal with four power play goals and eight PP points, so it will be up to an outstanding Bruins penalty kill unit to neutralize the Russian defenseman. The job becomes a little more difficult with two of their ace penalty killers and fastest skaters in Daniel Paille and Brad Marchand out of the Bruins lineup line-up due to injury. That means yeomans PK work by Patrice Bergeron and Gregory Campbell along with perhaps a new face or two added to the special teams mix.STAT TO WATCH: 6-5-1 the identical record for the Bruins and Habs against each other over the last two seasons in an evenly-matched series.INJURIES: The Bruins are without Shawn Thornton (concussion) and Daniel Paille (upper body injury as a result of a high stick) after both Bs fourth line players didnt make the trip to Montreal. Brad Marchand (upper body) is out after crashing awkwardly into the boards in Toronto over the weekend. The Canadiens are without center and former Bruins depth guy Petteri Nokelainen.GOALTENDING MATCH-UP: As mentioned earlier Tuukka Rasks career numbers against Montreal arent anything outstanding as his 1-6-1 record against the Habs would attest to, so hell be looking to up his performance for his eighth start in nine games played this season. Carey Price is 6-1 with a 1.70 goals against average and a .938 save percentage in seven games for the Habs thus far this season and has been arguably the best goaltender in the entire NHL. Rask and Price have always been intertwined as the two were coming up through the ranks as the top goaltending prospects in their age group, so this should be the first of many of these showdowns over the years.

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

The NHL trade deadline is now less than a week away, with plenty of movement expected despite the perpetual lack of sellers, and an expansion draft perhaps preventing some teams from taking on players they will then need to protect. 

The Bruins shouldn’t be much of a seller as long as they can continue their current good stretch for three more games before the March 1 deadline. The expansion draft shouldn’t be much of a scare either based on the players {Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Malcolm Subban) they might be in danger of losing to the Vegas Golden Knights this summer.

With the Bruins currently outside of a playoff spot by virtue of the one game in hand held by the Florida Panthers (both teams have 66 points vying for the final wild-card spot), it would be no surprise if GM Don Sweeney wanted to be a buyer at the deadline for a Boston roster that could use a big top-six winger with finishing ability, a top-four defenseman that can move the puck and a backup goaltender should Anton Khudobin have any more struggles this season.

The Bruins and Avalanche had been talking steadily in recent weeks about a possible deal for 24-year-old left wing Gabriel Landeskog, but those discussions have hit a standstill with Sweeney refusing to part with either Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy in the trade package. That's the 100 percent right move for a Bruins team that shouldn't start trading away blue chip D-man prospects. 

Landeskog has made sense for the Black and Gold because he’s signed long term with a reasonable $5.7 million cap hit, and because he’d theoretically be a good, power forward fit alongside David Krejci.

It’s that type of trade Sweeney and the Bruins are looking to make for a young player with term that will be part of the long-term solution in Boston. They aren’t looking for a repeat of last season where they shipped off good future assets in exchange for pedestrian rental players Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles and missed the playoffs anyway after dipping into the trade market.

In other words, Sweeney doesn’t sound all that keen in dipping heavily into the rental market, for a Patrick Eaves or a Dmitry Kulikov for instance, as he did a year ago.  

“Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there’s no question this group has a chance to get in. Whether or not I can find a player between now and the deadline that sort of fills all those gaps, that does remain to be seen,” said Sweeney at the time of the Claude Julien firing, prior to the current four-game winning streak. 

“But I think it dovetails with the fact that I’m not going to be short-sighted. I’m going to stick to the longer term view as to what I have put in place with the intention of being able to bridge and bringing in players like David Backes and surround our guys that we get a chance to win now and be competitive now.

“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer-term. Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt in the same regard that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental. I’m not going to deviate from what I said. Are there players and we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”

Some of that may change after a current four-game winning streak with a Bruins team that looks much more playoff-worthy than the aimless group that struggled through the first 55 games. But it would have to be the perfect rental at the right price for it to make sense for the Bruins this time around and chances are that might not materialize for a team just looking to hang in there until McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Zach Senyshyn are ready to contribute a couple of years down the road.

So, would people be okay if Sweeney and the Bruins stand pat at the trade deadline if they can’t swing a big hockey deal for a young player like Landeskog who would be part of the long-term plan? Is it acceptable to just let it ride with the current group that has suddenly shown a different gear under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and bet on the core group rising to the occasion like they didn’t the last couple of years under Julien?

The answer from this humble hockey writer is that Sweeney should pass on anything less than a home run deal for the Black and Gold. The worst thing the Bruins GM could do is get in the way of the momentum that’s naturally starting to roll with his team, or make another severe misstep with his NHL talent evaluation. Right now, draft and development seem to be his strengths, and he should lean into those and away from being a wheeler dealer with wiser, more experienced managers around the NHL looking to once again rob the Black and Gold blind.

So, there’s a chance the Bruins do very little at the deadline and, after thinking about it, the fickle fans should be perfectly okay with that as they watch a newly transformed hockey club. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready for the February heat wave headed our way.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did on Tuesday talking Bruins with former Hartford Whalers great and current outstanding TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro, who is also a great FOH (Friend of Haggs).

*Good piece on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster that has already gained plenty of internet plaudits for his great, and now legendary, Nick Bonino goal call in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

*It’s never too early to look at this summer’s crop of NHL draft-eligible players. Right, Kevin Allen?

*Apparently Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has his own rap song, so he’s got that going for him…which is nice.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has James Wisniewski trying to revive his NHL career after a short stint in the KHL.

*There’s a call for Nashville backup Juuse Saros to get more playing time between the pipes for the Predators.

*Larry Brooks brings his always interesting take to the Bruins situation in allowing Claude Julien to take the head gig in Montreal, and said it all came down to money. Big surprise there. I think there was also a concern from the B’s about having another PR nightmare on their hands if it was perceived that they stepped in and didn’t allow Julien to gain employment someplace else, regardless of what waited for him in the offseason. It also tells me that the Bruins aren’t afraid of Julien coaching their arch-rivals, which makes perfect sense since they just fired him.

*For something completely different: the image of Woody Harrelson in the Falcon cockpit is both jarring and super awesome.