Boston Bruins

Horton authors another timely goal to force OT

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Horton authors another timely goal to force OT

BOSTON -- All it took was health to revert Nathan Horton back to his clutch, game-winning ways.

The Bruins right winger racked up his third goal of the season at a perfect time with little more than four minutes to go in the third period, but seems to be a variation on a theme this year. Horton powered the only regulation goal for Boston in a 2-1 shootout win at TD Garden that was gritty, grinding and exactly the kind of heavyweight fight one expects between the Bruins and Devils.

It was the second time this season that Horton banged home the game-tying goal in the last five minutes of the third period after having just three of those total in eight NHL seasons.

The score was a breakthrough for a Bruins team that experienced difficulty finding open offensive space in a heavy game against the quality New Jersey club. True to form Boston's best players kept plugging until something broke for them.

Hortons goal also clinched that the winger has points in four straight games for the Bruins, and holds a very respectable five points (3 goals, 2 assists) in six games on his season ledger with the Black and Gold. The goal started with Krejci dipping deep into the B's defensive zone to lend support to Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg, and then the Bruins center turned up ice with speed.

Krejci hit Lucic with a pass in stride before the puck was dished back to him in the middle, and he found Horton moving to the net. The Bruins right wing pushed the puck between the five-hole opening in Johan Hedberg's for the score Boston had waited nearly 60 minutes to celebrate.

It was a great play by our linemates there, Looch Milan Lucic made a great pass to Krech David Krejci and Krech took everybody and left me wide open, said Horton. I just tried to get it to net, I just fanned on it but then it went in the right place.

I guess I shouldnt say that I actually missed my shot, but I did. It feels great to contribute and help the team, whether its anything, a hit. Im just trying to work hard and do the best I can and not let my teammates down.

Horton hasnt let one person down while playing tough, physical, productive hockey for the Bruins that makes him such a unique blend of physical power and streaky skill. He also had the only two shots on goal for his forward group, meaning both Lucic and Krejci finished without a single shot on net in 65 regulation minutes.

It was also only fitting the forward line of Horton, David Krejci and Milan Lucic were the ones to make it happen for the Bs in crunch time. After all those are some of the forwards that currently enjoy the multiple-game point streaks, and some have consistently been Bostons best skaters over the first six games.

I said it a million times already, this was a line that had a question mark on them because one guy hadnt played in a year and the other guy didnt play at all during the lockout, said Claude Julien. David Krejci was the only one having played. So being one of our top lines, you want to be able to rely on those guys. We have and theyve certainly given us exactly what we need right now.

It was a breakout shift for all three forwards where each of them touched the puck: Lucic skated it down the left wing side and centered a pass to Krejci streaking up the middle as the two-way center drew the attention of the New Jersey defense. The rush of the lines other two forwards allowed Krejci to feed Horton swooping in through the right face-off circle for the kind of chance a natural goal-scorer feeds on.

Knowing Hortons reputation as a Game 7 playoff hero and the clear evidence over the last six games that hes 100 percent back to his level of play prior to the concussions, there wasnt a question he would bury the shot. He did that just that by burying it between Hedberg's equipment.

With a guy with as much heart and leader on our team like Horty Nathan Horton is, seeing him do well really lifts everybody up, said Tyler Seguin. Hes definitely a true leader, so I think everyone here has a lot of confidence.

The Horton heroics allowed the Bruins to salvage at least a point by earning their way into overtime after trailing for most of the game, and it eventually pushed them to a full two points in the shootout victory.

None of that would have been possible without the help of Horton, who is ably playing the role of late-game hero for the Black and Gold while showing exactly how good he can be with Boston counting upon him.

Haggerty: Spooner deal represents his last chance with Bruins

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Haggerty: Spooner deal represents his last chance with Bruins

The Bruins and Ryan Spooner wisely came to a contract agreement on a one-year, $2.825 million deal just prior to the start of Wednesday’s arbitration hearing. Don Sweeney hasn’t yet taken a B’s player to arbitration during his three years running the Black and Gold, and it could have grown unnecessarily contentious with a player like Spooner if they’d been forced to point out his flaws as a player in the uncomfortable setting of an arbitration hearing.

“It’s a fair deal for both sides in our opinion,” said Spooner’s agent Murray Kuntz to CSN after the one-year contract had been agreed upon. 

Now that Spooner has been signed to the one-year deal, it represents the last chance for the 25-year-old to show some growth as a player if he wants to be a member of the Bruins for much. Spooner has averaged 12 goals and 44 points over the last two seasons as Boston’s third line center, and has amassed 35 PP points while serving as the trigger man on Boston’s power play from the right-side half-wall. 

But he dropped from 49 points two seasons ago to 39 points last year, and didn’t exactly flourish under the more offensive-minded coaching of Bruce Cassidy. 

Spooner is an excellent special teams player and has been one of the key ingredients in Boston finishing with the NHL’s 7th ranked power play in each of the last two seasons. But he tailed off badly late last season after suffering a concussion, and showed so much tentativeness in his overall game that he became a healthy scratch by the end of Boston’s first round playoff series against the Ottawa Senators. Spooner also continues to sit under a 40 percent success rate in the face-off circle, and shows little consistent interest in winning one-on-one battles anywhere along the ice.

The work on the draws is something, in particular, that comes down to hard work and diligence at practice, and should be an area Spooner can become at least average while practicing every day against a face-off maestro like Patrice Bergeron.  

All of this might be easier to overlook if he consistently utilized his excellent skating speed and considerable skill level to create offense during 5-on-5 play, but that hasn’t been the case enough over the last couple of seasons. A one-year deal for $2.85 gives Spooner one last opportunity to show some growth in those areas with the Bruins, and if he doesn’t then it should be fully expected the Bruins will rekindle trade discussions around Spooner. 

His situation is unmistakable: Spooner isn't going to be a top-6 center with the B's because Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are firmly entrenched at this spots, and Spooner really doesn't have the right skill set to be a fourth line center. So it's third line center or bust for Spooner as the internal competition grows around him. 

Spooner is now 25 years old and should no longer be viewed as a young player that’s still in the development phase. He should be close to a finished NHL product, and may not get demonstrably better in any area of his game if he doesn’t show it this upcoming season. He was one of the main pieces discussed when the Bruins talked trade with the Minnesota Wild prior to them dealing Marco Scandella to Buffalo, and there is clearly trade value for the former second round pick. 

But the Bruins also have a potential third line center replacement in Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson after signing him out of Boston University at the end of last season. Forsbacka Karlsson may need some AHL time to start this season after looking overmatched in his only NHL appearance late last season, but he’s the eventual two-way center replacement for Spooner in the long term. 

Forsbacka Karlsson may not be as fast or as flashy as Spooner, but he projects to be better on draws, better at winning battles and puck possession and better at being more difficult to play against while boasting his own set of offensive skills. 

It’s now up to Spooner to win that training camp competition with Forsbacka Karlsson for his current third line center position, and protect his own spot on the B’s roster by playing like his very job security depends on it. If he doesn’t show that kind of urgency and hop to his game right from the start of training camp, then it’s only a matter of time before he becomes trade fodder at a salary cap number ($2.825 million) that should be easy to move.

It’s no hyperbole to say that Spooner is entering his final chance with the Black and Gold after avoiding arbitration, and it’s wholly up to him to dictate exactly how long it lasts for.   

Morning Skate: Markov's time with Canadiens likely up

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Morning Skate: Markov's time with Canadiens likely up

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading while once again shaking my head reading the news headlines this morning. 

 

*Congrats to FOH (Friend of Haggs) Aaron Portzline, who is another esteemed hockey writer joining up with The Athletic’s Cleveland bureau

 

*Eric Engels says that the Habs signing Mark Streit to a short term deal means that Andrei Markov’s time in Montreal has come to a close. 

 

*The writers for the Pittsburgh Penguins have provided what they call “an Intimate Portrait” of Sidney Crosby from his closest boyhood friends. 

 

*Longtime NHL head coach Bruce Boudreau is trying something a little different out as an owner of a junior hockey team. 

 

*The Nashville Predators are expecting a decision to come soon on Mike Fisher as to whether or not he’s going to keep on playing in Music City. 

 

*Sounds like Mika Zibanejad is going to be filling a No. 1 center role for the New York Rangers after signing a big contract with the Blueshirts. 

 

*For something completely different: Jay Baruchel is looking to revive the Canadian superhero scene after growing up with Captain Canada and Alpha Flight.