Haggerty: It's been a hard-knock life without Chara

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Haggerty: It's been a hard-knock life without Chara

OTTAWA So maybe it wont be so easy without the NHLs toughest defenseman.

The Bruins did their level best to play their same hard, defensive style without 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara over the last two games. But its been more difficult than originally anticipated for a team whose bedrock has always been structure and defense.

The Bruins surrendered a gaudy total of 90 shots in deceivingly solid scoreboard wins over the Kings and Senators, and got progressively worse when it came to protecting the areas immediately in front of the net. Coach Claude Julien flatly admitted the Bruins were outplayed by the Senators despite escaping with a 5-2 victory.

That meant both the players and the coaching staff werent fully satisfied despite a pair of wins in back-to-back games, and that needs to change above and beyond all else. The key for the coaching staff: Convince the Bruins their defensive woes in the last few games can be traced to simply not paying enough attention to detail rather than missing some unique personnel.

We need to be better and cant allow that many shots while relying on our goalies to carry us, said Patrice Bergeron. Its been like that for the last three games. We need to tighten things up. We need to especially pay attention to the neutral zone and not let guys come with so much speed into our zone.

Theres a not-so-tacit admission that work needs to be done, or the slippage in play will eventually catch up with them. Chara may or may not play against the Philadelphia Flyers as he rehabs from a lower body injury, but the Bruins need to patch up the holes either way. The Bruins captain skated for the second straight day on Thursday afternoon and is making steady progress from his knee issue, but his questionable status means the Bs need to look inward for improvements.

We came out really sloppy against the Senators with a lot of turnovers and we were light on our sticks, and they were just out-battling us, said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. We picked it up a bit and played a so-so game, but overall they were a better team.

We need to be more focused in our defensive zone positionally, we need to battle harder and we need to make sure we win pucks in those gray areas.

The Bruins were rescued by the goaltending excellence of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas in those two lackluster efforts as they stopped 88 out of the 90 shots tossed at them. So the leagues best goaltending tandem both statistically and anecdotally has masked some of the current deficiencies. That isnt likely to happen Saturday afternoon against the Flyers, who are averaging an NHL-best 3.66 goals per game and have the kind of firepower that could expose a weakened Bs defensive crew.

The Flyers -- who regained the Eastern Conference lead by moving past the Bruins with a victory over the Canadiens Thursday night -- are missing Claude Giroux and Chris Pronger, both of whom have concussions. But they still have Jaromir Jagr, James van Riemsdyk, Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen, among others, and can make a team pay for defensive gaffes and neutral-zone indifference.

That sets the stage for both teams and their attempts to make a statement in the second meeting of the season after the Flyers crashed the banner-raising party on opening night in Boston.

Its gonna be a big game, admitted Bergeron. Were aware of the standings and we know its going to be tough.

The Senators were no offensive slouches, with the 10th-best goals-per-game average in the NHL, but the Kings sit dead last in offensive production with a team featuring some talented offensive performers. So Boston survived despite not putting forth its best brand of defense, and the shots-allowed totals need to come back down to a respectable level Saturday against the leagues iron.

If not, those holes and wrinkles in their defensive game will become full-blown issues when the Flyers crank up their speed and skill game in front of their home crowd.

That isnt very difficult to imagine, given some of the Boston low points in the FlyersBruins rivalry over the last few seasons, and given the uphill battle the Bs face if Chara is once again watching from the press box.

Coyotes hire Craig Cunningham as scout

Coyotes hire Craig Cunningham as scout

The Coyotes have hired former player Craig Cunningham as a pro scout, keeping the 26-year-old in hockey after a cardiac episode ended his playing career this season. 

Drafted by the Bruins in the fourth round of the 2010 draft, Cunningham played 34 games for Boston over parts of two seasons before he was waived and claimed by Arizona. He totaled 19 games for the Coyotes, but served as captain of the Tucson Roadrunners, the team’s AHL affiliate. 

Cunningham was hospitalized after he collapsed during pregame warmups on Nov. 19. He was kept alive by continual CPR, but had his lower left leg amputated the next months due to an infection from the episode. 

Known as a high-character player who was popular with his teammates, Cunningham’s transition to scouting lets him further his career after a scary break. 

"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my life with the Coyotes," Cunningham said in a statement released by the team. "I'm very grateful to John Chayka, Dave Tippett, the Coyotes and Roadrunners organizations, and all of the great fans across Arizona for the incredible support I've received over the past year. I'm looking forward to helping the Coyotes and I can't wait to get started in my new role."

Said Chayka, the team’s general manager: ”We're thrilled to have Craig join our hockey operations department as a pro scout. Craig was a smart, hard-working player with an incredible passion for the game. We're confident that he will bring those same qualities to the Coyotes in his new role and that he will be an invaluable asset to our organization. We look forward to Craig helping us in several areas and are excited that he is staying with the club."
 

Morning Skate: Overreacting to the Oilers' window

Morning Skate: Overreacting to the Oilers' window

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while really enjoying what the CW does season in and season out with the Flash.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Don Brennan says that the Senators fans not showing up for Game 6 is their way of sticking it to Sens owner Eugene Melnyk.

*The talk is turning to the next captain of the Buffalo Sabres, and what they can do to help open up communication up and down the roster.  

*A guy that wore a Habs toque on his twitter avatar writes a glowing, praise-filled article about the performance of PK Subban during these Stanley Cup playoffs. He’s undoubtedly been good, but he just might have been wearing his Montreal Canadiens footie pajamas when he wrote this one, and rattling his fist at Habs management all the while.

*Interesting piece by Jason Gregor about the “window to win” for the Edmonton Oilers, and an odd notion that the window will close when Connor McDavid has moved out of his entry level contract. I’d say that’s kind of ludicrous.

*The Colorado Avalanche coaching staff has been let go after last year’s dreadful season, and that’s too bad for a really good guy in former Providence College head coach Tim Army. I’m sure he won’t be out of work long.

*Colin White made his Stanley Cup playoff and NHL debut for the Ottawa Senators in Game 6, and helped push Ottawa to a Game 7. It will be interesting to watch the Massachusetts native and former Boston College standout develop with the Senators as White was one of the players that the Bruins skipped over to instead draft Jake DeBrusk and Zach Senyshyn in the first round of the 2015 NHL Draft. The others, Mathew Barzal, Travis Konecny and Kyle Connor, are all either in the NHL or knocking on the door as well, and it’s going to be a challenging road for both of Boston’s forward prospects to live up the justification of the B’s drafting them first. Granted DeBrusk and Senyshyn are also both doing their thing for the P-Bruins as they push into the conference finals of the Calder Cup playoffs, and they’re both bright prospects in their own right. It’s going to take years to determine the rights and wrongs of that first round, but White getting into the lineup for the Senators is proof of just how high that organization is on him.

*Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan says that Sidney Crosby handled the targeted abuse well from the Senators in a Game 6 loss that will push to a Game 7 between the Penguins and the Senators.

*For something completely different: A great message from Brookline homey and former Sox GM wonder boy Theo Epstein in his commencement address to Yale University.