Haggerty: Bruins come out flat and never recover

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Haggerty: Bruins come out flat and never recover

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Its never a satisfactorynight in Bruins-land when the postgame conversation in the dressing roomturns to passengers or whether guys are going.

But, alas, that was their fate Thursday night, when they blew two one-goal leads and wound up losing thethird period, which normally has been theirwinning playgroundthis year. There were some close calls with pucks they couldn't quite get past Sabres goalie Ryan Miller and even a post struck, but the result was much more about bad energy than bad bounces.

From start to finish, I dont think theres much to say here except that we were totally flat tonight -- from the first player to the last, said coach Claude Julien. So its not about pointing to one or pointing to the other. We came out flat tonight and never seemed to find our game.

Even in the third period, you are coming in there tied and you got an opportunity, twenty minutes, to seal your fate. It just wasnt happening tonight.

Mark Recchi is usually the conscience of the team in moments of strife and struggle, and that was the case againin the wake of their first flat-line effort since getting embarrassed in the third period against Montreal at the Bell Centre.

Maybe it was the tired legs after playing their seventh game in a staggering 11-day span, which included some travel as well, or maybe it was simply underestimating a Buffalo team that appears to be playing out the string while testing Millers endurance for consecutive games.

But whatever it was, it wasnt a very Bruins-like effort on a night when the Canadiens were off and the Bs lost a chance to do some damage with one of the games in hand they've holding over the Habs.

We didnt have everybody going and thats what happens when you dont have everybody going, said Recchi. And when we got twenty people going, were just really tough to play against.

When we dont have everybody going on all cylinders and competing at the level we should, you know it just makes it hard for us. And I think we know that and weve been a lot better at it lately and more consistent and we just have to keep learning from these ones that when we do have these, that theres reasons why.

Who wasnt going in an effort Julien called flat, from the top to the bottom of the Boston roster? So glad you asked. Lets do a roll call:

A confidence-challenged Nathan Horton, who has only one goal in his last 18 games, continues to miss on golden chances and pass up Grade A scoring opportunities which would have most natural-born goal-scorers salivating. Horton was stuffed on a breakaway opportunity in the first period off a great lead pass from Marc Savard, and he turned into the passive version of himself shortly afterward for the rest of the night. Never was it more evident than during a first-period sequence when Savard flipped a pass to Michael Ryder in the slot, who then redirected the puck to Horton wide open in the left faceoff dot. But Horton decided to try and pass back to Ryder, and the play was broken up rather than giving the Bruins the scoring chance they had earned.

Its clear to Hortons teammates that he needs a slump-buster of some kind.

He battling with his confidence right now, and that stuff happens, said Recchi. What he really needs is one of those dirty ones. He needs a puck to go off his ass and go into the goal. Something like that, and then that old confidence will come back. Because hes getting the chances and its all there for him right now.

Credit Horton for standing in front of the net and creating the screen that allowed Dennis Seidenberg to score the games first goal, but it was also Hortons giveaway on a weak play that set up Cody McCormicks first goal for the Sabres.

Then theres David Krejci, who registered a single shot in 16-plus minutes of ice time and is saddled into a slump that has many wondering if hes simply playing through an injury of some kind. Krejci had the burst of skating speed on a couple of occasions that would make one think he's feeling okay, but hes also managed only 12 shots on net in 11 January games while putting up five assists and a minus-2.

Krejci has been the ultimate passenger over the last few weeks after looking like hed become Bostons No. 1 center in the opening weeks of the season, and he became a spectator on the third period when he was on the ice. His linemates have to be factored in, as well. Theres no doubt pairing Krejci with a still-learning Tyler Seguin has slowed some of his offensive progress, and Milan Lucic was another non-entity in his third game from an upper body injury on the other side of the Bs center.

But its clear Krejci isnt bringing much, and hes lagging far behind Patrice Bergeron and Savard in terms of making plays.

No hits from Lucic, who has talked a good game about returning to the physical roots that help unlock his game. But talk is cheap and the results werent there for Lucic and Krejci a pairing of players who are still trending downward despite their importance to the Bs success.

At least one frustrating goal surrendered by Tuukka Rask in an off night. He punched the ice after Nathan Gerbes game-tying goal in frustration a sign that he was mad at himself for committing so strongly toward a Tyler Myers shot on the right side of the ice before the Buffalo defensemen moved it cross-ice to Gerbe.

I think it was a struggle, said Rask. I think I obviously could have stopped all four of them. Not that I really had a chance. I played bad, not the greatest game, but it just happens, you know?

A rare off night for many of the young Bruins players that have been so good. Seguin hit the bench in the third period during one of his lesser performances during a better month of January. Brad Marchand had three giveaways as he didnt manage the puck well and really didnt contribute in any other area aside from decent penalty-killing. Steve Kampfer had a couple of difficult giveaways in his own zone, and was caught deep in the offensive end on a pinch during Buffalos final goal that put things out of reach.

Recchi has seen many young players come and go, and he knows the mental battles that must be waged before any youngster can achieve consistency in the NHL.

Its learning to be a pro, said Recchi. But its more of a mental challenge than it is anything. Most young players have played 70-something games in juniors, so maybe you get away with a little bit more. You just cant get away with it in the NHL. You should want to compete every night. Not wanting to let down your teammates -- thats the biggest thing. And you learn that . . . youre not going to feel good. First of all, youre going to feel good maybe 30 out of the 82 games, and the rest of them are mental games where you got to be mentally strong to battle through things. Do the right things for your teammates and if you do those then youll become a good pro and a consistent pro. Youll become more of a consistent player that people can rely on. The good news: The Bruins go right back to work on the road against Colorado and Los Angeles this weekend to get things back on the winning track.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

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.