Boston Bruins

Haggerty: Sans Savard, power play lacks results

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Haggerty: Sans Savard, power play lacks results

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Its certainly not time to panic in a period of adjustment for the Bruins, but theres been a troubling trend since Marc Savard suffered a head shot two weeks ago in Colorado.

The man advantage maestro and power play passer extraordinaire has missed exactly five games since suffering the fourth concussion of his NHL career -- and the Bruins havent scored a power play goal in any of the games since Savard got dinged.

The Bruins are 0-for-12 in those five games sans Savard sandwiched around the All-Star break, and zero goals in their last 13 power plays dating back to the final chance of their blowout win over the Avs.

Our power play tonight had a tough time against the Sharks, said Claude Julien. Tonight was probably one of the tougher times that weve had at getting the puck in. When we did get it in we werent winning the battles for loose pucks and they kept shooting it back down the ice.

That was probably to me the biggest difference in tonights game.

Power play numbers can be deceiving in small sample sizes like the five games without Savard, but there was no mistaking how badly the Bruins were outcoached and outmuscled in the special teams area Saturday afternoon.

The Savard-less Bruins managing just a single shot on four power play chances in their 2-0 loss to the San Jose Sharks on Saturday afternoon.

I think we had a little bit of a problem with our breakout, said Krejci, alluding to the San Jose penalty killers disrupting the Bruins carrying the puck through the neutral zone during the man advantage. They did a good job with their PK. We had a couple of good chances.

Milan Lucic had the best power play chance of the night in the first period when he camped out by the left post, and had the rebound of a Zdeno Chara point shot land on his stick. The upper half of the net was wide open with Antti Niemi spread out between posts down low, but Lucic missed wide right with his shot.

It was a wrap for the Bruins man advantage following Lucics near miss in one of the more unimpressive showings of the season.

Looch had a good one at a tough angle, but it was a good scoring chance. So there were some good chances, but we need to play in the offensive zone way more than we did on the power play, said Krejci. We had a really tough time getting it in. Traffic could have been a little better. It was there at times, and then at other times we had good traffic and Kampfer just missed it up there and couldnt get it through.

Then there were some good shots from the point and we didnt have any traffic in front then. Thats got to change in the dirty areas. Some points we did it and some other points we didnt, but weve got to get to the point where were doing it all the time.

There were a series of valid excuses as to why the power play didnt anything accomplished, but all that matters is special teams stood as the main reason the Bruins couldnt take down a streaking Sharks team thats 7-0-1 in their last eight games.

The bottom line for the Bs is they couldnt produce momentum or points in an offensively lifeless battle.

Krejci is one of the players looked at to keep the power play thriving from the half wall position that Savard turned into an art form with his passing and vision, and both he and his teammates admitted they need to start providing a little more oomph and crispness to a power play. It was clear the San Jose coaching staff watched the Bruins play at the Garden in person on Thursday night, and the Bruins coaching staff need to adjust more quickly when they noticed the more aggressive fore-check that disrupted Bostons power play breakout.

That led to the Bruins putting up only one shot on net in four power play chances, and plummeting Bruins confidence on the PP once their final power play arrived in the third period in a one-goal game that was still winnable.

I think they kind of gave us fits on the power play sometimes. They were giving us pressure and were not really used to getting pressure, said Blake Wheeler. I think that kind of threw us off maybe a little bit.

But I think we were ready with our adjustments, we just couldnt get the puck flat and we couldnt move it the way we wanted to.

One thing is certain: Savard isnt walking through that door anytime soon with his skates and hockey bag ready to again inject life into the man advantage.

Thats an adjustment the Bruins wont be able to make.

So the Bruins need to find answers within the personnel and the dry-erase board if theyre hoping to be victorious in playoff-style battles against teams like the Shark down the stretch.

No power play equals no chance in the NHL once the competition meter has been dialed up down the stretch and into the playoffs.

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

Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries

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Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries

BRIGHTON, Mass – With the start of Providence Bruins camp bearing down on Monday, the Boston Bruins know their NHL training camp numbers will be thinning out very shortly. That won’t change some pretty established forward combinations that head coach Bruce Cassidy has been working with throughout camp thus far.

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have skated together consistently as they obviously should as one of the league’s most lethal duos, and they’ve been teamed with rookie Anders Bjork at right wing pretty consistently through camp. David Krejci and David Pastrnak have also been linked together for every practice, game and drill since the 21-year-old Pastrnak signed his new six-year contract, and it’s been rookie Jake DeBrusk with them for most of camp.
Matt Beleskey finished the night in Detroit with Krejci and Pastrnak, and one begins to wonder if that’s where the established, 28-year-old Beleskey finds himself when the regular season begins.

That may or may not change after the young left winger was taken off their line in Saturday night’s preseason debacle in Detroit, but the point stands that Krejci and Pastrnak are expected to be on the same line to start the season. The same would seem to be the case with Riley Nash and Noel Acciari as fourth liners that really established themselves toward the end of last season, and have had Tim Schaller and Jesse Gabrielle cycle through as candidates.

That leaves the Bruins third line where the choices aren’t quite as easy for Cassidy, and where there are several different options for the Bruins coaching staff. Ryan Spooner and David Backes played together an ample amount of time last season, and would seem to be a good combo where their very different strengths can complement each other. Sean Kuraly and Backes would certainly give the Bruins a big, bruising, North/South third line dimension, and showed how effective they could be in the first round of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson got some early looks with Backes as well, but it seems a foregone conclusion he'll start in the AHL after getting dinged up earlier this week in preseason action. Backes hasn’t been shy about his preference to see where this combo could take them given his preference for a bit of old school smash-mouth hockey.

“It depends on usage, and that conversation has yet to be had. Are we going to be a checking line that’s going to get the matchup against the other team’s top line, or if we’re going to roll three lines that can responsibly play against any line then the makeup of [the line] changes a little bit,” said Backes. “I think another big body to get pucks in and have that grind really wearing things down, and kind of setting things up for the line after us, is first and foremost on my mind.

“I think there are certainly plays to be made on entrances, but there’s a lot of times when there’s not. But starting up that grind game that’s there at times, the more often it’s there the better we are. It can be overwhelming for teams to have to be in their end for minutes on end, and get a fresh line change, while you’re still in the offensive zone. That’s how goals are created that aren’t made on the rush. In the second half of the game [against the Red Wings] with JFK not feeling so hot, Sean Kuraly and myself felt pretty good with his speed, his ability and just the unselfish type of “let’s go in here and grind” to make space for the other guys. I don’t know how it all sorts out or if they’ve A, B, C and D type of choices, but there’s still a great deal of camp. So hopefully that all gets sorted out, so we’re able to build chemistry with whoever it is.”

There are other pieces to be worked in like Frank Vatrano or possibly Beleskey if both of Boston’s rookie wingers stick on the NHL roster, but it would seem that the Bruins are facing a major philosophical decision with their third line after bringing Spooner back into the fold. Do they go big, strong and “crash and bang” with Kuraly and Backes, or do the Bruins try to amp up Backes’ offensive production as trigger man with Ryan Spooner setting him as a speedy, skilled playmaker?

“[Kuraly and Backes] enjoy playing together, and in the playoffs they had some level of success,” said Cassidy of Backes, who finished with an underwhelming 17 goals and 38 points in his first season with the Bruins. “At some point we have to get a look at that. Noel was in that mix. Do we want to add skill on the left side if Kuraly is in to complement them, or do we want kind of three North/South guys? Those are the things that training camp is going to answer. It’s difficult because if you’re building a heavier line, and you’ve also got a Ryan Spooner who is more of a skill guy with Vatrano speed. Now the questions will come what’s your third line? We’re going to do whatever is best to suit the team, and we’ll number the lines as we see fit afterward.

“But I think it’s important that Backes has the right type of chemistry player [on his line]. We’ve addressed the top two with Krejci and [Pastrnak] and Bergie and Marchand, so now we’ve got to find the proper fit for Backes for him to be an effective player for us. He’s a very good hockey player and we’ve got to make sure he plays with people that complement his game too.”

So what would this humble hockey writer do if he were making the hockey decisions?

Probably start Spooner with Backes and Vatrano on the third line to start the season given Spooner’s considerable talent on the power play, and what’s been a bit more determined effort to battle for one-on-one pucks in the preseason. There’s no harm in potentially keeping Kuraly as the 13th forward on the NHL roster, and then going to him if A) Spooner falls back into previous bad habits or B) the B’s coaching staff determines they need more of a punishing fore-check presence as they did mid-streak against the Sens in the playoffs.

It may not be perfect and the surplus of third line bodies may result in an early season trade given the need around the NHL for talented bottom-six centers, but the Bruins need to do whatever is necessary to consistently squeeze more production and quality shifts out of that group, and particularly out of Backes, this season. 

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Morning Skate: Can BU's Keller break through with Coyotes?

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Morning Skate: Can BU's Keller break through with Coyotes?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while watching the worlds of sports and politics collide this weekend.

-- Can former Boston University standout Clayton Keller become the NHL’s newest rookie sensation for the Arizona Coyotes? The skills and the skating are certainly there, but we’ll have to see if he can remain in one piece all season with a middling team around him.

-- PHT writer Cam Tucker has Kris Letang returning to the Penguins on Sunday. It still blows my mind that Pittsburgh was able to win the Cup without him in its lineup last spring.

-- Speaking of the Penguins, they say they will accept the White House invitation to visit after last year’s Cup win, and offer a pretty non-committal statement about what’s going on in the other three major sports right now.

-- It was a tremendously successful opening of Little Caesar’s Arena for the Detroit Red Wings last night as they stomped the Bruins in preseason action.

-- The Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri is out to prove that last season wasn’t a one-year wonder.

-- For something completely different: Good to see another Stoneham guy getting some accolades for a dead-on impersonation.