Boston Bruins

Haggerty: Right now Bruins seem to have all the answers

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Haggerty: Right now Bruins seem to have all the answers

BOSTON -- In the grand scheme of all things NHL hockey, the Bruins werent facing too many questions coming into this season.

They boast the young, talented nucleus of a team that won the Stanley Cup two years ago and they were considered one of the Eastern Conference's best teams this season no matter what happened to them.

But there was some uncertainty coming off last years first round exit in the playoffs, and a fair share of unknowns dropping into a lockout-shortened 48-game schedule that has thrown everybody off their normal routines.

But the Bruins 4-2 win over the New York Islanders on Friday night underscored just how handily the Bruins have found quality answers for any questions that dogged them coming into the year. Finding answers at every street corner has allowed the Bruins to jump out to a 3-0-1 start in their first four games including two tilts against a fellow Eastern Conference powerhouse in the Rangers.

That means the Bruins are already atop the Eastern Conference after the first week of play, and theyve penciled in some regular season answers to their burning preseason questions.

Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand were all viewed as unknown commodities because none of them played in Europe during the lockout, and Horton hadnt played in an NHL game in nearly a year due to concussion woes.

Instead Horton, Lucic and David Krejci have been Bostons most effective line through four games, and Marchand and Lucic have been Boston's leading goal-scorers through the early going.

The sixth defenseman spot was earmarked for a rookie after the failed Joe Corvo experiment last season, and that seems to have worked out remarkably well. Dougie Hamilton has three assists through his first four games and continues to wow all onlookers while looking like the coveted puck-moving offensive defenseman the Bruins have been on the hunt for since Peter Chiarelli was hired six years ago.

Tuukka Rask is sporting a 1.96 goals against average and .925 save percentage while playing four games in six days, and showing zero signs of fatigue or slowdown despite the healthy workload. That means so much for the Bruins crumbling without Conn Smythe goaltender Tim Thomas or a slow start from HortonLucic putting the Bs offense in the deep freeze.

If nothing else, the Black and Gold look even better than ever while appearing completely well-prepared for the quick camp and immediate season. That's a credit to Claude Julien and his coaching staff under trying circumstances.

With our team its been positive surprises. We talked about Nathan Horton not playing for a whole year and we didnt quite know what to expect from him early onhow long it would take to get back to normal. To me, hes been a real pleasant surprise and so has Milan Lucic, said Julien. We talk about big bodies and those big bodies sometimes take a little longer, but those guys have been great. David Krejci, whos played since the beginning of the year, hasnt missed a stride and has been a good player for that line.

Theyve been great surprises. Dougie Hamilton is opening a lot of peoples eyes, we knew what he could do, but not knowing how he would adjust to this level or how quickly he would adjust. His transitions been pretty smooth so far. And Tuukka Rask is Tuukka. There is a lot of pressure on him to replace the guy that left us, but hes doing the job. So far hes been really good for us.

Things could always be better, of course.

The Bruins had a lousy 20 minutes to start off against the Rangers on Wednesday night, and didnt look too inspired for long portions of the first 40 minutes against the Islanders on Friday night. The power play is still a confidence-sucking mess that alternates somewhere between frustrating and hopeless despite considerable talent, and is now 1-for-17 on the season.

Chris Bourque has one shot, zero points and a minus-3 rating through four games, and hasnt made much of an impact as a third linepower play hybrid among a talented group of Bruins forwards that are admittedly struggling right along with him.

Tyler Seguin is without a goal after the first four games, and was perhaps the unlikeliest Bruins player to struggle back in the NHL after completely dominating the Swiss League in Europe.

But none of those things are unsolvable mysteries to the Bruins, and none of those question marks will ultimately derail a team thats jumping out to an ideal start while their counterparts in Washington, Philadelphia and New York have royally stubbed their toes in the seasons first week.

Its the best start the Bruins have enjoyed since they won their first three games of the 2001-02 season, and its something theyve been focused on since before training camp even began.

Were playing hungry. When you have that much time off you kind of sit back and feel fortunate to be a part of this group. I think thats what has gotten us off to this start. Were just happy and feel fortunate to be back together again, said Lucic, who added to Friday nights festivities by dropping Isles tough guy Matt Carkner with a right handed bomb to the chin in his first hockey fight of the season. Lets hope that mentality keeps us going.

Clearly the Bruins will need more than four games to cement the answers to all of their preseason questions, and things can change quickly in an NHL world where injuries and the fickle hand of fate can damage teams that cant help but tempt it.

But for now theres a feeling that the Bruins have perfect answers to all of their big, burning questions before the season commenced last weekend. The hope now is that nobody decides to change the questions on a surging Black and Gold club that looks ready for a 48-game sprint to the end.

Czarnik trying not to be 'the forgotten man' in Bruins camp

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Czarnik trying not to be 'the forgotten man' in Bruins camp

BOSTON – With all of the talk about young forward prospects Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk, it would seem that Austin Czarnik wants to serve a reminder that he can play a little hockey too.

For the second year in a row, the 24-year-old diminutive forward is putting together a strong start to his training camp with a multi-point performance in a 4-2 exhibition victory over the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night at TD Garden.

Czarnik finished with a penalty-shot goal, two points and tied for the team-lead with four shots on net while playing with the energy, skating aggressiveness and in-your-face attitude that he’s going to need for NHL success. He also made his point that there are more than just a couple of young forwards in camp who can potentially help in Boston this winter.

“He was very good. I think the forgotten man, maybe, he was thinking [a bit] because we’ve talked about a lot of young guys. He’s still a young guy, and wants to make his mark and push for a job on the team,” coach Bruce Cassidy said of Czarnik, who posted five goals and 13 points in 49 games for the Bruins last season. “I thought he looked real good tonight. He won a lot of pucks. He’s always going to make plays in space, that’s his game. He won a lot of pucks and did a lot of little things well.”

It was Czarnik who really helped put the game away in the second period when he sped past a pair of defenders and forced them into hauling him down for a penalty shot with the B’s already up, 2-0. Czarnik patiently slowed his penalty-shot attempt before ripping one past Petr Mrazek’s glove hand in what ended up being the game-winning goal. Czarnik was in the middle of things again in the third on the insurance marker as he engineered a 3-on-1 rush before expertly feeding to Teddy Purcell for the sizzled one-timer.

Czarnik was downplaying the idea that he’s been overlooked in camp but show there was a strong need to remind the B’s organization how he can potentially help them as a fast, aggressive, pesky little center that can also make some plays.

“I’m not going to worry about [getting overlooked]. It’s part of life, you know it’s happened a lot? I’m not going to worry about that,” said Czarnik, who similarly won a job with the Bruins after a strong initial training camp last season. I’m just going to worry about myself and just try to do the right thing every single time and show them what I can do.

“I need to be an energy guy. There’s a lot of young talent now, you know, on the power play and everything now, so I need to try to create energy on the penalty kill and the fore-check. So that’s what my main focus is going to be.”

The energy really is the key to Czarnik’s long-term hopes with the Bruins and, consequently, the rest of the NHL. If he can play with the same skating legs, high energy and rapid pace that he’s consistently shown in preseasons, then there’s no reason to think he can’t help the Bruins. But there were far too many lulls in Czarnik’s rookie NHL season where the skating game wasn’t good enough, there wasn’t enough bite to his fore-check and there just weren’t enough plays being made on the ice.

Clearly, Czarnik is trying to change that impression in this camp with the B’s, but that could prove to be a much more difficult task with so many more quality forwards now battling for a few jobs on the roster in Boston. 

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Morning Skate: Sorry, Shaughnessy but young B's are on the rise

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Morning Skate: Sorry, Shaughnessy but young B's are on the rise

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while appreciating that Brad Marchand is willing to say something is “an absolute joke.” There are not enough candid players in the NHL like good, ol' No. 63.

*So FOH (Friend of Haggs) Dan Shaughnessy writes that the Bruins are “a lowly number four nowadays” in the power rankings of the big four Boston sports teams. Certainly, Danny is technically correct in saying that the Patriots, Red Sox and Celtics are ahead of the Bruins in terms of the Boston pro sports zeitgeist and that they dominate the sports conversation.

But Shaughnessy points to the Bruins doing nothing to improve themselves last summer as some kind of reason behind their low position among the other Boston sports franchises, and that’s not really a factor. The problem right now is that the Bruins are extremely young and still a couple of years away from returning to true Stanley Cup contention as a result. 
Once Charlie McAvoy is a few years into his career, some of the other Bruins prospects are in the NHL for good and Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask are still at the back end of their prime, the Bruins will once again be a Cup contender that’s pushing their way back into the championship conversation that commands the attention of the Boston fan.

Would Shaughnessy have been more satisfied with the Bruins if they spent bad money on a big free-agent contract as they did with Matt Beleskey and David Backes in back-to-back years, or if they traded premium prospect Brandon Carlo for hired gun Matt Duchene? That would be the kind of “big splash” move that a bad management group would make to appease the casual fans that don’t truly understand what the B’s are going with their draft-and-development plan.

This Bruins outfit is still a playoff team while they’re building back to that Cup-worthy level. They were playing a much more exciting, entertaining brand of hockey once Bruce Cassidy replaced Claude Julien last winter. This isn’t a lowly team unworthy of the fans’ attention, or more importantly their sports dollar. This is much more about the all-time greatness of the New England Patriots, the deserved excitement for a Celtics team that is truly going for it after being in the Bruins current “building it back up” phase for the past few years and a playoff-level Red Sox team that really has no competition in the summertime.

This isn’t about what the Bruins aren’t doing right now. This is about what the Patriots and Celtics, and to a lesser degree the Red Sox, are doing right now. It's as simple as that in a local sports landscape that’s cyclical and constantly in motion.  

*What a great Facetime hit here from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ray Ferraro with Jay and Dan now that they’re thankfully back to their rightful home in Canada. The technical difficulties really make the whole thing come together.  

*Congrats to Jonathan Drouin for making a commitment to the city of Montreal that goes well beyond being a player for the Canadiens.

*Lots of prayers and well-wishes to Hingham, Mass., native and New Jersey Devils forward Brian Boyle after his stunning cancer diagnosis. Anybody that knows the Boyle family knows how courageous they are, and how much love and support that Brian will have at a time when he’s going to need every bit of it. I also included a link to a New York Post Q&A with Boyle where he talks a bit about his father’s miraculous battle with cancer as well.   

 *John Chayka is trying to bring with him a new chapter to the history of the Arizona Coyotes, but it’s seemingly always an uphill battle there.

*Nobody should have any problems with the contract extension handed out to Mikko Koivu by the Minnesota Wild.

*For something completely different: Are we seriously living in a world where the Juggalos are marching for their rights?

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