Haggerty: Bruins take a step back in Montreal

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Haggerty: Bruins take a step back in Montreal

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

MONTREAL Just when it seemed time to start discussing the Bruins as runaway Northeast Division winners and a potential top seed in the Eastern Conference, some old questions surfaced Tuesday after Bostons disappointing 4-1 loss to the Canadiens.

Tuukka Rask wasnt very good, the Boston defense was flat-footed, and the Bs power play once again looked pedestrian despite the presence of PP ace Tomas Kaberle.

Beyond that, the Bruins could have truly driven a stake through the Habs, all but ended the division race, and really pushed the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the conference.

That they didn't -- or couldn't -- was disconcerting.

Because it wasn't so much about the loss itself as it was about how they played.

I dont think the Canadiens had to work very hard for those first two goals, said coach Claude Julien. The first one, the play comes out of the corner and a player is allowed to come right in and take a whack at the puck. We need to take care of that. The second one we leave a player behind us all by himself.

So its not like they really had to work hard for those first two goals in our mind and that really set us back. This is where its important to have good starts, and we didnt have a very good start giving up those first two goals. We cant say that were happy with the game we played tonight, and thats what were looking at.

And even beyond all that, there's the possibility of Zdeno Chara getting slapped with a multigame suspension for his hit on Max Pacioretty, which resulted in Pacioretty's scary-looking, head-first collision into the stanchion between the benches.

It seems virtually everything the Bruins did on this night fell flat.

Johnny Boychuk attempted to provide a physical spark early in the game with an open ice hit on P.K. Subban in the first period, as he did in last seasons playoffs. But he missed on the locomotive hit, and then lost a fight to Montreal enforcer Ryan White following the play.

Then there was the strange decision to start Tuukka Rask after Tim Thomas appeared to be shaking and favoring his left hand during the morning skate at the Bell Centre. Thomas never came into the game in relief despite an off night for Rask.

Julien insisted the decision to play Rask was based on the young goalies four-game winning streak and Thomas unimpressive career goals-against average against Montreal.

I think against this team Timmy has his worst goals-against average than any other team, and we felt it was an opportunity, after winning four in a row, for Tuukka to step up, said Julien. We made that decision and felt comfortable with it, so well live with it.

But why on earth would a team go away from one of its best players -- and a goaltender whos leading the NHL in goals against average and save percentage -- in one of the biggest games of the season if there wasnt some other underlying reason?

Rask wasnt terrible in the first period, but he wasnt great either.

It was the Bruins' defense that lost battles in front of the net that allowed Lars Eller to march toward the cage while popping in a Paul Mara rebound for the first goal. Then both Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley made weak plays in the defensive zone with the puck, and the napping Bruins defense practically invited Eller to sneak behind them for a score.

Rask had no chance at that one.

But the 23-year-old goalie got pretty good looks at goals by Brian Gionta and James Wisniewski in the second period, and did nothing to stop either.

The first period I can somehow understand giving up those goals, but those last two there shouldnt happen when you look at it as a goalie, said Rask. Its hockey. It happens sometimes. Youve got to shake it off and at least we won a period up here.

The surprising decision to start Rask, the missed chances early at some intimidating physicality, the defensive breakdowns and the wilting Bs power play all speak to issues that need to be addressed before they become problems.

In some ways, Tuesday's loss can be justified. The Bruins had taken 15 of the last 16 potential points, and were due for a stinker. The Canadiens are a bad matchup for the B's; they've won only 2 of the last 11 games against Montreal. Nor has the Bell Centre been a welcoming place for them. Their last two losses here -- Tuesday night's, and the Jan. 8 meltdown in which they blew a late 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime defeat -- were among their worst of the season. Plus, the Habs were fighting to stay alive in the division race, and were highly motivated after the literal beatdown they took in Boston last month.

But Julien put it best: "We cant say that were happy with the game we played tonight, and thats what were looking at."

There were too many troubling patterns, and trends, on this night.

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

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.