Bruins still can't find winning formula

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Bruins still can't find winning formula

BOSTON -- The Bruins have been searching all season for an identity and that feel for the team dynamic that made them so indescribably good last year.

Tuesday nights frustrating it was the word of the night for the Black and Gold, trust us on that 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes at a sleepy TD Garden was further proof the Bruins still havent found what theyre looking for.

The Bruins were roundly critiqued for failing to show proper emotion in the seasons early going, and never consistently played with that edge that elevates them to a different level. They actually tapped into some of the proper edge and emotion needed to defeat Chicago over the weekend when Gregory Campbell picked the exact right time to drop the gloves -- and Johnny Boychuk meted out punishing body checks all night long.

It was good, hard hockey for the Bruins, and they were rewarded with victory.

But that was missing from the early portion of the midweek defeat to the Tropical Storms, and then it spiraled out of control late in a game that saw four misconducts whistled on Bs players, one misconduct and ejection for the head coach and 72 total penalty minutes in a game that was practically screaming for discipline.

Its not what we are at this point, said Claude Julien, who got the gate in the third period with the rare game-misconduct call for shaking his head at the refs. Its what we are not right now.

Were not focused for 60 minutes. Were a frustrated team. Right now, I would rather we look at ourselves and take the responsibility to fix that. The referees didnt lose the game for us tonight. We lost the game ourselves. We got ourselves back in the game and then we end up with a four-minute penalty and other penalties followed after that -- and it just got worse.

Many of the gaudy PIM totals and penalty calls were justified, of course, and Zdeno Charas attack on Jay Harrison in defense of Nathan Horton actually worked from an emotional standpoint. It earned the Bs captain an instigator penalty and an early exit from the second period after being slapped with a 10-minute misconduct but it was also the kind of team-building moment revealing the actions of teammates caring about each other.

It was in stark contract to the first-period hit by Brett Sutter on Joe Corvo that sent the Bs defensemen to the dressing room, and apparently didnt arose the ire of either Horton or Milan Lucic while they were on the ice watching the whole thing happen.

But Charas forced donnybrook with Harrison triggered Cam Ward to get in the Bs captains face which in turn got Tuukka Rask involved while challenging the Hurricanes goaltender. Rasks actions in turn got Eric Staal chasing after the Bs goaltender as he returned to his crease, and watched as he was called for a minor penalty for leaving his crease during the scrum. It was a constant flow of angry words, nastiness and hockey violence that the Big Bad Bruins love best.

So the Bruins were invested emotionally at that point.

But thats exactly when things started to turn for the worse.

Instead of harnessing that energy into a fierce forecheck, mighty positional melees in front of the net, or a few good, old-fashioned body checks against the boards, the Bruins continued to pick fights with Carolina hockey players uninterested in engaging while holding a lead.

Its definitely a little more challenging to score taking penalties in the third period, said Andrew Ference. Sometimes penalties happen and sometimes its better timing than others. It has to happen in the first, second and third period where youre hitting, getting involved in battles from the start and in line within the rules so youre not sitting in the box all night.

The sport is designed where youre allowed to hit, youre allowed to be physical and be pretty tough. The rules allow you to do that, but it doesnt mean that youre punching guys in the head all the time. Its solid hits, fore-checking and all those parts of the game. Its not always about punching guys in the head. Theres more to that in being a tough team.

Chara was a little more succinct in his assessment of Bostons moral compass in the third period.

I thought on some occasions it was questionable, said Chara of the teams discipline against the 'Canes without naming names.

Tim Gleason was in the middle of countless skirmishes all night long that drew Boston penalties, but was unwilling to drop the gloves with Shawn Thornton or Lucic when challenged. It was also Gleason in the middle of the games turning point sequence of events in the third period.

Just 31 seconds after Rich Peverley and the Bruins potted a power-play goal to narrow the deficit to 2-1 in the third period, Gleason and Horton got into a tussle in front of the Carolina net. Rather than reading the game situation, and Gleasons motives behind his actions, Horton flew into a rage, wildly throwing jabs at Gleason as the Carolina blueliner crumpled to the ice without fighting back.

Horton was whistled for a double-minor and a 10-minute misconduct, and the Hurricanes scored a pair of insurance goals on a 5-on-3 advantage to salt away a game that could have been a nice comeback story for the Black and Gold. The Bruins were amazingly killing off a 5-on-3 advantage for 5:28 during the game, and a team is never going to win getting suckered into those kinds of situations.

None of his teammates wanted to call out Horton after the game, but it was confounding that the No. 1 right wing ducked out and didnt want to tell his side of the story to reporters following a game that hinged a great deal on his actions.

There are too many individual players trying to do it by themselves, too many lapses in discipline and focus throughout the 60 minutes of a hockey game and too many players still unable to get the feel they enjoyed much of last year.

Julien called his Bruins a frustrated team following the loss to the Hurricanes that dropped them to 2-4 on the season, and thats an accurate description.

The Bruins know they cant win a Stanley Cup in October and November in the parity-filled NHL.

But they can certainly lose it if they dont start banking wins while playing a ridiculously home-heavy schedule in the first two months. Thats something they dont want with so much of the season still sittingin front of them.

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

When the hockey world grew tired of shootouts, the league took something of a half measure. Rather than eliminate the shootout, the league moved overtime from 4-on-4 to 3-on-3. It worked; games that were tied at the end of regulation were more likely to end in the five-minute OT period than before, thus reducing the frequency of shootouts. 

Now, the NHL is dealing with its latest cumbersome gameplay issue: the offsides challenge. A half-measure isn’t as desirable in this case. No more half measures, Walter. 

The offsides challenge was introduced with good intentions, but it’s simply too easy to abuse. And really, when the option is there with only a timeout at risk, why wouldn’t a coach roll the dice that maybe a guy was offsides entering the zone 29 seconds before the goal was scored? 

The option needs to be taken away. Rely on blueline cameras and automatically look at anything close on a goal that’s scored off the rush. It would take two seconds and would save the refs from another Matt Duchene incident while saving the viewer a lot of time. Let anything else go the way of the dry scrape. 

There’s the temptation to instead tweak -- maybe make offsides challengeable if the entry in question occurs within however many seconds -- but that would just mean more time would be wasted seeing if a play was even challengeable. 

It was proposed at the GM meetings in Chicago that if a coach loses an offsides challenge, his team will be assessed a two-minute penalty. That sounds great as a deterrent, but it won’t stop instances of the needless why-the-hell-not challenge. Late in games, coaches might be just as likely to take their chances in a tie game or a one-goal game. That goal allowed could likely be the deciding tally, so if they’re likely to lose anyway, some coaches might still go for the time-wasting Hail Mary. 

And of course, the loser there is the person hoping to catch their train out of North Station in time, or the person who might doze off during the stupid challenge, wake up four hours later on their couch and develop back issues over time. That was a friend, not me. 

Colin Campbell said at the GM meetings in Chicago ahead of the draft that the league is trying to "temper" the negative reaction the offside challenge has received from players and fans. 

There’s really only way to do that, and that’s to get rid of it.

See you in a year when we’re going through the same thing with goalie interference. 

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

Haggerty: Bruins need more than draft-weekend output if they want improvement

CHICAGO – With the 2017 NHL Draft officially wrapped up and the proverbial eve of NHL free agency upon us, there wasn’t anything to get particularly alarmed or excited about when it comes to the Bruins actions over the last few days.

The Bruins lost a potential-filled defenseman that might never actually realize any of it in Colin Miller, and they followed up the expansion draft subtraction with an average draft class where they addressed defense, goaltending and their depth up front. But at the same time, it didn’t really feel like the Bruins got anybody in the draft that they were particularly bowled over by, and the B’s lost a potential trade chip once they’d used their 18th overall pick in the first round to select smooth-skating defenseman Urho Vaakenainen.

MORE: NHL shouldn't overthink offsides challenges any longer; they should just get rid of them

The sense at this address, though not confirmed by anybody inside either organization, is that the Bruins weren’t willing to trade a first-round pick as part of a package for Wild defenseman Marco Scandella, and would have preferred Jonas Brodin if they were going to give up that kind of asset. Don Sweeney confirmed that Boston’s first-round pick was in play, but stressed it was for “target specific” players that the Bruins coveted.

A deal was never worked out for one of those “target specific” players, so the Bruins continue to move on and hope that something breaks over the next few weeks.

“I was on record saying we’d be offering our first-round pick for target-specific players, and we did do that,” said Sweeney. “I don’t blame teams for not necessarily wanting to do it, so we went ahead with our own pick. I was target specific on a few players and there were other considerations being discussed.

“It’s an area we’d like to address and help our team currently. I’m not going to stop exploring areas where we can improve our club. It’s hard to tell [which way trade talks will go]. Maybe people will feel that picks from next year’s draft will be even better, or they like that pool of prospects a little bit better. It’s hard to tell [where trade discussions will go], to be perfectly honest.”

At least the Bruins were right on time with picking a Finnish player in the first round as a record six players from Finland were nabbed in the first round of the draft, and one would hope that means all will benefit from the hockey talent streaming out of that Scandinavian country right now. It will take years to determine how Vaakenainen, Jack Studnicka, Jeremy Swayman and the other members of the 2017 draft class ultimately pan out, but it sure doesn’t feel like the same outpouring of talent as in 2015 when Brandon Carlo, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Jake DeBrusk and the rest of the Bruins draft picks officially entered the Black and Gold system.

B’s assistant GM Scott Bradley admitted as much when discussing the entire draft class on Saturday afternoon at the United Center, home of the Chicago Blackhawks. The Bruins got good value, addressed organizational needs and felt good about the players they picked in each and every spot, but there isn’t going to be a Charlie McAvoy or David Pastrnak coming out of a really “meh” group of draft-eligible hockey players.

“Our first rounder is somebody we’re excited about. His skating is close to what we call a ‘5’ in our system. He’s a left-shot. You compare his skating to [Paul] Coffey at times, really mobile and transition defenseman,” said Bradley, who hadn’t run a draft board for the Bruins in roughly ten years while Wayne Smith and Keith Gretzky had been in charge of the Black and Gold’s scouting operations. “I think we addressed a lot of our needs. It wasn’t sexy, but I think we did well in addressing a lot of the organization’s needs.”  

So with the amateur draft and the expansion draft both in the rearview mirror, the Bruins must move on in the roster-building process while still facing a pair of big needs in top-6 left wing and top-4 left side defenseman. They may be able to nail down one of those needs by swinging a trade with their list of available assets including Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes, Jakub Zboril, Adam McQuaid and next year’s first-round pick.

A deal that would send a Spooner-led package elsewhere might be enough to land the big, skilled, young winger that the Bruins are currently in the market for, and provide top-6 insurance in case DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Anders Bjork all aren’t quite ready for full-time duty skating, passing and finishing off plays with David Krejci.

It might be that the Bruins have to begin thinking about free agency as a viable place if they want to land a solid, top-4 D-man for the next handful of years to pair with Charlie McAvoy. Karl Alzner headlines a list of players that would be a good fit for the Black and Gold, but they would absolutely have to overpay for a 28-year-old UFA that’s averaged 20:13 of ice time per game over the course of his 591 career games with the Washington Capitals. More affordable would be a young, free agent defenseman like Dmitry Kulikov, who is still extremely young as he comes off a rough year with the Buffalo Sabres after getting traded there from Florida. Or other potentially available left-shot free agent defenseman like Brendan Smith or Ron Hainsey could be stop-gap answers for the Bruins until the next crop of D-men in Jakob Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Vaakenainen, and others, are ready to step up just like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did last season.

The bottom line is that the Bruins did perfectly fine over draft weekend with no true idea until a few years have passed for these teenage prospects, but they need to aim higher than “perfectly fine” with their offseason if they want to be any better at the NHL level next season. A big move or two will be needed from the Bruins front office if the B’s are going to make the jump that everybody wants to see from them over the next couple of seasons.