Haggerty: B's young defensemen need to improve

Haggerty: B's young defensemen need to improve
May 2, 2014, 11:30 am
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BOSTON – One of the keys heading into the second-round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens was the play of the Bruins quartet of young defensemen. Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski, Kevan Miller and Dougie Hamilton were all excellent against the Detroit Red Wings. They managed the puck with poise and intelligence and kept the turnovers to a minimum.

The steady play from 67 percent of the Bruins defenseman corps allowed the B’s to cruise by the Red Wings in five games, but it took a step back against the speedy, aggressive attack from the Canadiens in a 4-3 overtime loss in Game 1 at TD Garden. Tuukka Rask used colorful profanities to describe his lacking performance in a loss where the Bruins outshot the Habs 51-33 and he clearly was little better than average against Montreal.

Still, he wasn’t helped out by the two power-play goals from P.K. Subban on penalties taken each time by Matt Bartkowski, who had a shaky performance and nearly gave the game away on a turnover the shift before his double-overtime bear hug on Dale Wiese.

Bartkowski actually thought it was Brandon Prust that he hauled down, but who could blame him if he was a little confused afterward. It seemed like the second year D-man was a little shellshocked in the double overtime session.

“We got it going there a little bit, in the first overtime I thought we played pretty well. I thought we took it to them pretty good,” said Bartkowski.

“Then I don’t know, we kind of came out flat, or whatever you want to call it. It just...It sucks," Bartkowski said. "He shot it in front, and I’m just trying to get positioned so he can’t get to the puck. I couldn’t get it, so I just threw him down.”

Hauling down third- and fourth-line forwards on scoring chances in overtime sessions probably isn’t the best choice in the decision-making arsenal, particularly when it’s clear Subban is piping hot on the power play.

The Johnny Boychuk/Torey Krug defensemen pairing also struggled against Montreal and was on ice for a pair of goals in five-on-five play, where the Bruins are supposed to be the dominant team.

The first was an iffy pass from Boychuk between the skates of Krug, who kicked the puck right to Rene Bourque and started a scoring rush going in the other direction. Then an ill-advised Krug clearing attempt on a rim attempt up the boards in the third period landed on a Montreal stick, and the ensuing melee in front of the net turned into a Francis Bouillon goal.

Krug said it was the third- and fourth-line forwards that were hurting the Bruins, rather than the usual suspects, and that’s the domain of a bottom pairing defenseman such as Krug. The Bruins got back to work on Friday and watched the video from Game 1. They'll view the lost scoring opportunities and the defensive miscues that led to some unlikely Habs forwards in Rene Bourque, Weise and defenseman Francis Bouillon leading to their undoing.

“We’re going to look at some things, and fine-tune it," Krug said. "It seems like they were generating some speed, and not necessarily their top line either. It was, they had guys that were flying up and down the ice that are on their fourth line, so to speak. So, our whole team effort has to be a little bit better, and we’re going to look at things. We’ll see what the coaching staff has to say tomorrow.”

Dougie Hamilton didn’t have any major defensive gaffes and the Zdeno Chara/Hamilton defensemen pairing did such a good enough job that Michel Therrien started bouncing Thomas Vanek between a number of forward lines. The goal seemed multi-pronged to perhaps get Vanek’s attention after some disinterested defensive play early in the game, and free the prolific Habs forward from the Chara/Hamilton pairing on every shift.

It didn’t work as Vanek – the Vanek with 30 goals and 62 points in 55 career regular season games vs. Boston – went without a shot against the Bruins. That was part of a good B’s defense effort against Montreal’s top forwards.

Instead, it was the Habs power play and their bottom-six forward groups that hurt the Bruins badly on Thursday night, and that’s a clear sign that some of Boston’s young defensemen need to tighten things up moving forward.