Haggerty: It's time for the Bruins to step up

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Haggerty: It's time for the Bruins to step up

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

WILMINGTON A word of caution to the Boston Bruins: Those Montreal Canadiens in their rear-view mirror are much closer than they might appear.

With the Habs crushing the Minnesota Wild, 8-1, Sunday afternoon, Montreal is only a point behind the Bs in the Northeast Division.

Boston still has a pair of games in hand on the Canadiens, but the hated Habs also come in for a gigantic visit to the TD Garden Thursday night thats going to be enormous on many levels given the rivalry, the standings, and the Zdeno CharaMax Pacioretty soap opera playing out over the last couple of weeks.

In many ways the Bruins simply havent been the same team since they were pounded at the Bell Centre and branded as the new Legion of Doom after Charas hockey play on Pacioretty in the treacherous stanchion area between the benches. Chara has certainly been a shadow of himself after getting cast as the mustache-twirling villain.

The NHL refs called a handful of questionable penalties on Boston in the first game after CharaPacioretty, and assorted NHL officials have awarded nearly twice as many power plays to Bostons opponents as to the Bruins (22-13) in the five games since the incident.

The quick whistles against the Bruins and the hesitation to bestow power plays with zero production when they actually do get penalties called in their favor -- on the new incarnation of the Big Bad Bruins has taken some of the teeth away from a Bs bunch that relies on physicality.

Lately there have been way too many scenes like the end of the first period Saturday night, when Milan Lucic was barking at ref Frederick LEcuyer on an uncalled high stick against the Maple Leafs.

But thats not the only factor.

The Bruins exhibited signs of mental and physical fatigue after embarking on the highly successful undefeated six-game road trip, and Saturdays listless loss to the Leafs capped off a stretch in which Boston played 12 road games out of 16 total games in February and March.

If you look at our travel over the last month-and-a-half, it hasnt been the easiest, said Mark Recchi. Weve been away a lot, on the road a lot, traveling late at night a couple of times and getting in really late. Eventually that is going to take a toll on your team.

Were over that now and we have a great opportunity here. We came out of it with a little bit of struggles, but at the same time we know we have a lot to build on. Were hitting the stretch drive, and I know we have the talent to do it.

While the Bruins have played their best hockey on the road this season, there is a limit to how long a team can sustain their legs, their fighting spirit and their compete level when long road trips pile up on one another.

The good news: the Bruins play 8 of their remaining 11 regular-season games at home and only embark on a quick one-day trip in their own time zone for each of their final three road games in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia.

We need to make sure by the time the playoffs start that were flying at full gear, said Mark Recchi. Every team goes through stuff like this, and were glad that were going through it now so we have 11 games to correct it. We take pride in our goals against and playing well defensively, and its almost like were trying to do too much.

"Were going to be fine. Everybody believes in each other in here, and everybody goes through these stretches. If you look at our 10-game segments, we havent gone through a single one under .500 this year. Weve got 11 games to build things up again with three big games at home.

Whether it was the road weariness or the misplaced nerve, the Bruins dont have a choice now this late into the regular season. Its the middle of March and every NHL team no matter how good or terrible has gone through epic streaks and slumps in the roller-coaster regular season. But the Bruins need to pull themselves out of their currentfunk before the hard-charging Canadiens pass them by, and drop theminto the bottom half of Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Coach Claude Julien has made his commitment to whip the team back into shape, and do whatever possible to calm some of the mental gaffes and communication problems taking place between the defensemen and goaltenders. Tuukka Rask apologizing to Dennis Seidenberg was a good first step after going berserk on the Bruins defenseman following a screen on Saturday night, but it revealed a defensive unit that isnt all on the same page.

Itll be about how we respond in this coming week; thats what is important, said Julien. It has to start from here on in where we find our consistency. When you see us playing the way we are, I dont think that were mentally ready to play. If you assume everything is going to be okay then youre going to miss the boat. Theres a lot of work to be done from here to the end of the regular season to be prepared and to be a good playoff team.

At times during the year you have to trust that your players are professionals, and when you give them a day of rest then theyll be ready to get back to work. If the players arent doing it, then its up to the coach to start making adjustments. Thats what were doing, starting now.

Coming to the rink mentally prepared and willing to compete is the bare minimum for the Bruins, but theyre expected to bring a lot more starting this week as they skate for their very playoff lives in a suddenly life-or-death situation.

The real Bruins team will stand up for these last 11 games for better or worse in a season they have to make count. It all starts Tuesday night against the surprisingly hot New Jersey Devils at TD Garden, when the Big Bad Bruins had better show up.

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

Morning Skate: Devils get a good one in No. 1 pick Hischier

Morning Skate: Devils get a good one in No. 1 pick Hischier

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while locking the name Urho Vaakenainen into my Microsoft World spellcheck.

 *The New Jersey Devils got a No. 1 overall pick that isn’t going to be a generational player, but he’s going to be one heck of a player.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has fired Arizona Coyotes coach Dave Tippett indicating that he needed a change after a long run in the desert.

*The Edmonton Oilers cleared cap space by dealing Jordan Eberle and immediately filled it up with a four-year commitment to Kris Russell. Peter Chiarelli must make sure he doesn’t paint himself into a salary cap corner like he did in Boston with signings like this one. Word is that Connor McDavid is going to command a massive contract, and that could make contracts like the Russell one tough to manage in Edmonton.

*Old friend Claude Julien is only a spectator at the NHL Draft, but he’s already juggling the Habs roster in his mind as it goes through changes. Both Julien and Shawn Thornton came over to shoot the breeze with the Boston media on Friday night as the first round approached, and showed once again why both men are on the All-Class team.

*The Winnipeg Jets took a guy that I thought made a lot of sense for the Bruins, big Finnish power forward Kristian Vesalainen. He was available for the Bruins at the 18th pick when they opted to go defense instead.

*The Washington Capitals decided not to let winger TJ Oshie get to free agency, and locked him up with an eight-year contract.

*Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka is in the middle of the storm right now as he blows up his team and begins to build it the way he wants to.

For something completely different: Everything you always wanted to know about Sammy Hagar but were afraid to ask.


 

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

Haggerty: Bruins playing it pretty safe at the NHL Draft

CHICAGO – As opening nights go at the NHL Draft, Friday night was a bit of a ho-hum affair for the Boston Bruins at the United Center home of the Chicago Blackhawks.

The Bruins went the safe route by drafting a smooth, defensive-minded defenseman with the 18th overall pick when they selected Finnish product Urho Vaakenainen, and in doing so left more dynamic forwards like Kristian Vesalainen and Kailer Yamamoto still on the draft board for other teams to claim as their own. It was a bit of a curious choice given how many defensemen the Bruins already have in the prospect pipeline, but the lack of strength in the draft class seemed to lead teams to carve their own paths looking for players.

MORE: Bruins select defenseman Urho Vaakanainen with No. 18 pick

The 6-foot-1, 188-pounder clearly has miles to go offensively despite his smooth skating and solid passing skills, but there’s also a consideration that the teenager has been playing in the men’s league in Finland for the last couple of seasons. It makes things a little more difficult to project for the Finn D-man, but the Bruins believe there is some upside to his offensive game given the skills, the hockey IQ and the considerable confidence that the player has in his own game.

“His gap control and skating ability are really good. He’s obviously played in the Finnish Elite League at a very young age for one and a half years now and he’s played on the big stage at the world juniors. We feel like there’s a lot of upside for a 200-foot player that gets back on pucks, and then can transition them back out. Being able to cover ice is an important part of the game, and it continues to evolve in that direction,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney, who indicated Vaakenainen will play in North America in 2018-19 after fulfilling his contractual obligations in Finland. “We tracked what he did on offense at the junior league level prior to him jumping to the elite league, and it lines up pretty well with other elite players that made the jump to that level.

“It’s a valid question and whether he gets put into those [offensive] situations this year is what we’re excited about with his [Finnish] team moving forward.”

While Vaakenainen sounded surprised the Bruins selected him after only a single meeting at the NHL scouting combine, Sweeney said that Boston’s head scout in Finland has enough history with the family to vouch for the kid’s makeup.

So while it’s far from a sexy pick and the Bruins could have tried to hit a home run with an 18th overall selection in a mediocre draft, the B’s will also get some time before anybody is ready to label the Finnish blueliner a boom or a bust.

The rest of the draft night didn’t add up to much for the B’s, however. They made the selection of Vaakenainen after strongly considering dropping down in the first round, and in doing so lost one of the better trade chips in the form of their 2017 first round pick. There were discussions with Minnesota about Marco Scandella and a few trade feelers to other clubs that might listen on a D-man, but the Bruins now have to hit the reset button on trade discussions for left-shot defensemen or top-6 left wings.

Perhaps Scandella’s $4 million per season salary was an issue for the Bruins, or maybe the Bruins didn’t want to give up their first round pick for a 27-year-old D-man coming off a so-so season with the Wild. Either way, there wasn’t enough momentum for the Bruins to get a trade done with a bevy of defensemen rumored to be available if the offer is good enough.

“I was on the record saying that 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 go through with it, so we went ahead with a player we wanted with our own pick. We continue to build what we think is a good group of guys moving forward.

“There are a couple of areas we’d like to address and get better. We’re trying to help our team currently. Certainly Brandon [Carlo] jumped into our lineup and we hope Charlie [McAvoy] will carry over what he did, and we have other players that will push. We have six returning defensemen we feel good about and we’ll certainly push from underneath, but it’s an area we’ll continue to address. We have some forwards that we also hope will come online, but we’ll never stop exploring and trying to improve our club.”

So let’s sum it all up after a week of additions and subtractions from the Original Six organization: The Bruins added a decidedly vanilla defenseman in the first round of the NHL Draft that might be a simple stay-at-home guy, and they weren’t able to muster any kind of deals for a D-man or winger to enhance the NHL roster. On the other hand, they didn’t give up much over the week as well and they didn’t do much at all to harm a solid roster that looked like they were finally on the right track pushing into the playoffs last season.

The Bruins could be in store for an action-packed Day Two of the draft on Saturday full of promising prospects and bountiful trades, but it sure feels like the 2017 NHL Draft in Chicago isn’t going to be a very memorable one for the Black and Gold.