Consistent Boychuk makes most out of first goal

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Consistent Boychuk makes most out of first goal

BOSTON -- Throughout the Bruins' recent three-game losing skid in the midst of their underachieving 3-7 start, coach Claude Julien preached defense.

He preached it, because that is Boston's identity.

Quite simply, the defending-champion Bruins are a defensive team. From there, everything else falls into place.

As it did Tuesday in a slump-busting 5-3 win over Ottawa.

"Well, I thought we were better defensively," said Julien. "And I think it just kind of re-enforces what we've talked about the last few days. Our team's offense feeds off our team's defense."

Just not the way you would think, on Tuesday night.

The Bruins' defense improved, no doubt. But the offense got a lift from defenseman Johnny Boychuk.

Boychuk blasted a slap shot past Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson at 6:41 of the third period, giving Boston a 4-3 lead. It came just 1:37 after the Senators' Jared Cowen beat Tim Thomas with a shot from the point, which had tied the game at 3-3.

"We've been coming from behind a lot," said Thomas after the game. "This time was a lead where they tied it up, so it didn't seem to affect us that much. We just needed to respond. And we did fairly quickly."

Boychuk let go a blistering slap shot from the right point, with enough bodies out front to lead the puck past a screened Anderson and into the low-left corner of the net.

"There were a couple there where I just barely missed the net and then finally I got one through, and it hit the net and went in," said Boychuk after the win.

"I was just thinking, 'Hit the net.' Because I kept missing the net before that."

Boychuk was one of three Bruins players to finish the game as a plus-two. The others were fellow defensemen Zdeno Chara and Andrew Ference.

As a defensive partner with Chara, Boychuk's play can sometimes be overlooked. But Julien praised him after Tuesday's win, mainly because of his consistency . . . something most of the team has lacked all season.

"I think Johnny's been one of our best defensemen so far, since the beginning of the year," said Julien. "He's consistent. He hasn't had the highs and lows that maybe some others have had, but he's been pretty good for us.

"I know he's a player that, in my eyes anyways, is still growing every year," added Julien. "Although he's only in his third year with us, he's a guy that just keeps going and going. I like his discipline and his way of playing guys hard. But at the same time, he has enough confidence to move the puck well.

"The goal he scored was a typical Johnny Boychuk shot, that you'd like to see even more."

It was Boychuk's first goal of the season, and as he pointed out after the win, it came a whole lot earlier than his first goal came last year.

"Obviously it feels a lot better, getting that first one by you," said Boychuk with a sense of relief. "Now you don't have to worry about it. I think last year it took me until January. So, a little bit better."

And for the Bruins, a team that almost desperately needed to find a way to re-capture a lead in the third period on Tuesday night, Boychuk's first goal of the year couldn't have come at a better time.

"We needed to win," said Thomas. "I don't know if it was a must-win game, because there's time left in the season. But we needed to win. We needed to start somewhere. And we did that tonight."

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.