Bruins looking to make the most of upcoming road trip

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Bruins looking to make the most of upcoming road trip

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Bruins have sailed through the first-quarter mark of the 48-game regular season. Theyve only lost once in regulation through their first 11 games and stand first in the Northeast Division while their closest competitors in Ottawa have been decimated by injuries to Jason Spezza and Erik Karlsson over the last few weeks.

So now the Black and Gold get their next test with a five-game road trip that will be broken up into two distinct parts. The Bruins will travel back to Buffalo and Winnipeg this weekend for a pair of cold weather showdowns, and then next week head to Tampa Bay and Florida for their Sunshine State swing before winding up the trip against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.

In between the two segments of the road trip, the Bruins will return to Boston to practice for a few days prior to heading off to Florida.

The Bruins are 4-0-1 on the road this season, and now might be as good a time as any to get away from Boston for a couple of weeks on the road. Its the kind of scenario thats always served the Bruins well in the past.

Weve made the most of our road trips in the past. Theres no reason we wont again this time around, said Andrew Ference. Some years the road has even better for us than at home. Its what you make of it. In this quick season its just playing games, and it doesnt even really matter where it is.

Last season the Bruins were tied for the most road wins in the Eastern Conference with a 25-15-1 record away from TD Garden, and two years ago their 24-12-5 mark was better than their record in 41 home games in Boston. Above and beyond that all five teams the Bruins will play on the road are out of the playoff picture, and the Lightning are the only team with a record over .500 at 6-5-1 after a hot start.

The five teams have a combined record of 24-32-6 on the season, so there arent any Eastern Conference world beaters on tap through the next two weeks.

Its fair to say the road trip is ripe for the Bruins to really leap out to a big lead in the division and conference if they play their cards correctly.

If you look at every game there have been points within it when things get a little scrambly, and you would hope that a dozen games into the schedule that will start to straighten out, said Ference. If you look at our penalty kill its been bang on, and thats usually microcosm of your defensive game in general. The creation of offensive chances has been there, but were still looking at completing the finish on those plays.

Things are certainly good with Boston as they have climbed out to an 8-1-2 record in their first three weeks of the regular season. But the Bruins now have five games on the road against middling Eastern Conference competition to truly find the high water mark in their game, and continue amassing the points as they have over the first month of the compacted NHL season.

Cassidy ‘proud, honored and privileged’ after getting Bruins' permanent gig

Cassidy ‘proud, honored and privileged’ after getting Bruins' permanent gig

BOSTON – Bruce Cassidy made just a passing mention of the 14 years in between NHL head coaching gigs, but there’s no doubt the newest head coach of the Bruins thought many times about a day just like Thursday morning. 

His general manager complimented the work he did to lead the Bruins to an 18-8-1 record after taking over after Claude Julien’s dismissal and guiding the Bruins back to the playoffs for the first time in three years.

“I think it was an important step and I think that our players, our core players in particular, some of them had tremendous seasons. Their demand to make sure our younger players sort of catch up and play the right way – we pushed the group,” said GM Don Sweeney. “I think Bruce, in particular, our staff and Bruce, they really pushed the group to get to a higher pace. I think our aggressive nature churned.

“I think something that I felt would be injected into our group right from Day One at practice because I know what his core principles are, and I think the group responded. The record speaks for itself.”

Cassidy embraced all of the defensive strengths of Julien’s existing system and tweaked things for chances to be more aggressive and creative in the offensive zone with a Black and Gold roster that clearly had more to give. 

Clearly, it came up short for Sweeney, Cassidy and the Bruins when their undermanned, injured roster fell to the Ottawa Senators in six games in the first round of the playoffs, but Thursday morning was a good day for the 51-year-old Cassidy after grinding his way back to the big leagues.

“I’ve made no secret that I grew up adoring this team and I’m very proud, honored, and privileged to be a part of it, and to be named the head coach [of the Bruins],” said Cassidy, who coached the Washington Capitals from 2002-04 and spent eight seasons coaching in Providence before joining Julien’s staff as an assistant coach this season. “To be quite honest, the core group, the veteran leadership, they gave me an opportunity to go in and earn their respect, and they bought into what we were selling for the most part…not for the most part, 100 percent.

“The veteran guys, they afforded me that opportunity and I can’t thank them enough. We’ve got some Stanley Cup champions in that room and it showed with the high character players and I was very thankful for that. From there, we’re trying to build something together now. That’s the process going forward.”

The numbers certainly didn’t lie. The offense went up in the post-Julien era and the defense actually performed better under Cassidy: The Bruins ranked first in the NHL in goals per game (3.37), first in the NHL in fewest shots allowed (741), tied for second in the NHL in wins (18), tied for second in the NHL in power-play percentage (27.8), tied for third in the NHL in goals allowed per game (2.30), tied for fifth in the NHL in face-off percentage (53.6) and tied for sixth in the NHL in takeaways (229).

Anecdotally, the Bruins also performed much more consistently on their home ice at TD Garden and pulled out of the kind of late season four-game losing tailspin that doomed the B’s in the previous two seasons under Julien. It was a challenge for Cassidy taking over midway through the season without the benefit of the training camp, but it was one that embraced and ultimately excelled at in earning the full-time gig.

“It’s hard to measure the degree of difficulty [taking over midseason]. You’re given an opportunity and it’s up to you to take advantage of it and be prepared. I’ve been a head coach before so, once you’re into that part of it, it becomes second nature. I was around since training camp, so I knew the players and some of their strengths and weaknesses, how we played, where I thought we could be better, where the players were looking for improvements after talking to them quickly in those first couple of days. So, we implemented a couple of things, and off we went,” said Cassidy. “You hope that you make the right call in those areas we talked about; right away, about being a team that would play – and the term “play fast” is getting thrown around a lot out there -- but, we were going to upgrade our transition game; how we were going to move the puck quicker and attack.

“I guess that was our description of playing fast. I think it worked. It got our D involved, so you start scoring and obviously, that helped. People get excited about that – scoring goals and getting on offense. I don’t think we lost a lot on the defensive side of things. As we went along, we tried to maintain that balance. That was the message right away. Players bought in and we had success, and that obviously helps. Winning solves a lot of problems and puts a lot of smiles on people’s faces.”

The biggest smile on a face on Thursday morning was on Cassidy, who has come full circle with life experience and a second chance to be the kind of NHL head coach he always knew he could be while working, growing and succeeding in the AHL. Now the Bruins have a president, GM and head coach all working in tandem with the same philosophies and world view when it comes to how their team should play and Cassidy gets another chance to prove how ready he is for the challenge of making good on his second NHL chance. 


 

‘No firm decision yet’ from Bjork about signing with Bruins

‘No firm decision yet’ from Bjork about signing with Bruins

BOSTON – The Bruins still hold out hope they’ll be able to sign Anders Bjork this summer as he prepares to play for Team USA at the World Championships.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney said there’s an active dialogue ongoing with the Bruins prospect’s family advisor since Bjork finished a Hobey Baker-level junior season at Notre Dame and he has yet to inform the B’s brass of a final decision. 

The 20-year-old is coming off 21 goals and 52 points for a Notre Dame team that lost in the opening rounds of the Frozen Four and clearly would be a fast-skating, offensively polished winger who could potentially be a top-six left wing candidate for David Krejci’s line.

Sweeney made it clear the ball is completely in Bjork’s court at this point, but there becomes a real danger he could follow the Jimmy Vesey route to unrestricted free agency if he heads back to college for his senior season. The B’s general manager made it clear that they would like the 5-foot-11, 183-pounder in the fold, and there are plans for him next season and beyond if he decided to sign an entry-level deal this summer.

“We’ve had discussions. We’ll continue to have discussions. He hasn’t made a firm decision, whether or not he’s leaving school. So it will be his decision,” said Sweeney. “The opportunity is there for him to join us, and we’d like him to. But again, that’s his decision to make at the right time.”

Bjork, a former fifth-round pick, has clearly elevated his NHL profile since he was drafted three years ago, and also holds strong ties to Notre Dame: His father Kirt was an All-American hockey player there and his cousin, Tampa Bay Lightning forward Erik Condra, also played for the Irish. So there might be real, genuine interest for Bjork to return to Notre Dame for personal reasons, and another chance at an NCAA title with a loaded group after falling a couple of games short this season.