Boston Bruins

Haggerty: Still waiting for proper Bruins' response

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Haggerty: Still waiting for proper Bruins' response

This isnt about Shawn Thornton.

This isnt about John Scott.

Its not even about Zdeno Charas willingness to step up when one of the true fellow giants in the NHL decided to inflict some damage on the Boston Bruins.

The 7-4 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night was about a divisional rival and hated enemy waltzing into the TD Garden and basically announcing that they were going to set the tone for the series this year.

Thornton did his job and stepped up to the gusty task that he takes full pride in: protecting his Bs teammates from getting the same kind of blood sport treatment that he accepts and doles out as a trained fighter.

Thornton is a player that has had every single of his teammates backs over the last six years as a member of the Black and Gold, and even before that while working his way up through the Chicago and Anaheim organizations.

So Thornton took it upon himself to tussle with 6-foot-8, 270-pound Scott at least six inches taller and 50 pounds heavier on the scale than Bostons tough guy and got pounded down to the ice with a right handed punch to the side of the head and a finishing upper-cut blast.

Hes a guy who does everything for his teammates and his team, done it very well. Unfortunately theres always a risk in that job, said Claude Julien. He took on a pretty big man, as we all know 6-foot-8 and around 280 pounds. He handled himself as best as he could, but those things are going to happen.

At the end of the day, he still was willing to do it for his team. Not only do we lose a guy to a concussion that does it well, but hes a good teammate and hes great in the dressing room. Hopefully we get him back soon.

It was shocking to watch because Thornton normally wins every one of his fights, but this was like watching the hockey version of a hammer and nail play out on the Garden ice. Theres a very good chance that the Bruins enforcer knew this is the way it was going to go if Scott got the upper hand early, and it didnt turn into a grappling match as Thorntons fight with the equally massive Derek Boogaard turned out a few seasons earlier.

The upper-cut caused the Bs enforcers legs to buckle on his way down to the ice and had him inquisitively asking arena officials if hed just been in a fight when he was finally directed to the Bruins penalty box.

Its a difficult way to make a living, but its the one Thornton has chosen where hes risen to the top ranks of his profession while winning a pair of Stanley Cups. But there are times when even the mighty fall down and need a little help from their friends as they stagger back to their feet. Sometimes a player like Thornton needs other Bruins players to have his back as much as hes got theirs, and it seems that was a missed opportunity in the aftermath of the ScottThornton tilt.

It might not have changed the outcome of a game they lost to a pumped Sabres bunch, and it might have even put the 6-foot-9 Chara in harm's way against a player every bit as mammoth as him in Scott. But theres also a point, at least in this hockey writers opinion, where Chara needs to step in as the team captain and the most feared player in the league and tell Thornton that his back is covered.

There are times when the fear of injury or the potential downside of spending a five-minute major in the penalty box isnt the point. There comes a time when its about sending a message about the way the Bruins do business, and making an example of a team thats looking to punk them.

Thats what the Sabres arrived in Boston looking to do, and thats the mission they accomplished.

Instead, Thornton was downed early in the first period, and Buffalo felt they had a green light to take liberties with the Bruins over the course of 60 very uncharacteristic minutes for the Black and Gold.

Chara looked distracted in one of the worst games of his NHL career, and finished with a minus-3, zero hits and turnovers made all over the ice. For the NHLs most intimidating player in a hated rivalry game, it appeared almost as if he spent the rest of the game running through his mind what he should have done rather than doing nothing at all.

When asked by CSNNE.com whether hed considered going after Scott once hed bested Thornton, Chara didnt really address the question while leaving the door open for what could be done Feb. 10 in Buffalo.

Right now were getting (ready) for the next game, which is Toronto, said Chara. Those questions about John Scott you guys should save for when we play Buffalo.

Scott hopped out on another shift in the first period after the decisive win and elbowed Rich Peverley in the head right in front of the Bruins bench for good measure.

Scott was whistled for the elbowing infraction, but it was pretty clear the 6-foot-8 monster felt free to do whatever he wanted on the ice after his fists of fury in the third period. Daniel Paille and Patrice Bergeron both got dinged up in the hard-fought defeat, and now Paille is out as well after catching a high-stick late in the third period. Drew Stafford felt free to throw an elbow at the head of 19-year-old rookie Dougie Hamilton that forced the youngster off the ice for a few minutes.

But luckily there was no permanent harm done, and the promising young defenseman was able to joke about it the next day after finishing out Thursdays game.

The final punch to the Bs gut was the Lindy Ruff timeout with 13.6 seconds left after he took Lane MacDermids presence on the ice as a message that the Bruins were headhunting. Never mind that third period message-sending has never been a trait of a Claude Julien-coached team, or that its basically been purged from the league because of automatic suspensions and hefty fines when it comes in the last few minutes of the third period.

It was instead about Ruff and by extension his Sabres players giving one last middle finger to the Bruins players and their coaching staff before getting back on a plane to Buffalo with a sense they accomplished their mission.

The message was clear from the Sabres after the game was over and the Bruins had been beaten: they came into Boston intent on making a point to the Bruins after the Milan LucicRyan Miller incident created some tension within the Buffalo dressing room and ostensibly sidetracked their entire season.

Scott admitted as much after the game.

Obviously going into this game there was a lot of hype around what happened last year with Miller and Lucic, said Scott. So I kind of just wanted to set the tone.

Regardless of the outcome I just want to be there for my teammates and let them know Im here to fight, Ive got your backlast years not going to happen like this year.

As previously stated, this isnt about one lost fight between two tough guys and the relative fairness of a massive human being throwing fists with a merely extra-large human being. Just as the LucicMiller collision was about much more than a forward skating into a goaltender last season for the Sabres, Buffalos fulfilled intentions of belting the Bruins straight across the face in their own barn Thursday night takes on bigger meaning for both hockey clubs.

Nobody is questioning the heart or toughness of a Bruins nucleus that memorably won a Stanley Cup two years ago, and the hope is that this is simply a blip on the radar screen of a crazy 48-game regular season.

But now everyone, including Shawn Thornton at home in Charlestown recovering from a dreaded concussion, waits to see when the Bruins will actually respond to Thursday in a way that's consistent with putting on the Spoked B Bruins sweater.

Bruins prospects Zboril, Senyshyn and McIntyre among camp cuts

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Bruins prospects Zboril, Senyshyn and McIntyre among camp cuts

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins had waited and gave a long look before making their first substantial cuts in training camp, but they have done that after Saturday’s mistake-filled preseason loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The timing clearly had more to do with the opening of Providence Bruins on Monday morning than a lifeless performance in the preseason, but it feels like for some players that their underperformance on Saturday led to them being cut from NHL camp.  Youngsters Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Jesse Gabrielle, Justin Hickman, Zane McIntyre, Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Zboril have all been sent to P-Bruins camp for its start on Monday morning, and they’ll be joined by fellow camp participants Chris Breen, Connor Clifton, Taylor Doherty, Colton Hargrove and Chris Porter that were in Boston’s camp on minor league contracts. McIntyre gave up four goals in the loss to the Red Wings before getting pulled in favor of Malcolm Subban for the third period, and talented young first-round talents Senyshyn and Zboril both showed in camp that they still need some development time in the AHL.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy went through the performances of a number of young B’s prospects in camp following Sunday’s practice, and slightly ahead of Sunday night’s announcement of substantial training camp cuts.

“We were hoping that we’d see the [young guys] separate themselves in camp, and we’re seeing some of them doing that,” said Cassidy, with young B’s prospects like Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen fitting into that category. “Let’s use [Saturday night’s] game as an example. [DeBrusk] is a young guy in that position and he had two or three good chances in tight and just part of that is finishing now. [Heinen] has had some pretty good games where he’s made some plays and scored. Bjork has been dynamic at times.  

“[Ryan Fitzgerald] has played well. [Gabrielle] has had his moments even though he lost his discipline a little bit the other night. JFK has been a tough one to evaluate being injured, so hopefully he’s ready to go later this week. We’re getting good mileage out of those guys, but we’re going to be playing against stronger lineups so the task gets a little more challenging. On the back end [Grzelcyk] has played in three games and he’s done some good things with puck-moving. He’s just trying to close quicker and do the things we’re asking him to do. [Robbie] O’Gara has been more consistent in his all-around game than maybe Zboril or [Jeremy] Lauzon where it’s all new to them. But we didn’t really expect those guys to come in on the back end and dominate. It’s about playing well, being consistent and getting better.”

Young B’s players like Grzelcyk, O’Gara and Lauzon are still hanging around in camp along with JFK as well, so their NHL audition continues as some of their peers get busy on their development in Providence starting this week. 

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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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