Kampfer, McQuaid practice, close to returning

563774.jpg

Kampfer, McQuaid practice, close to returning

WILMINGTON The Bruins are a little banged up just five games into the new season, but they look like theyll be getting some reinforcements in the near future. Both Adam McQuaid who missed the Blackhawks game with a neck injury and Steve Kampfer who has missed all five Bs games with a sprained left MCL were back on the practice ice at Ristuccia Arena Monday morning, giving Boston eight defensemen.

McQuaids appearance on the ice seems to indicate that it was a neck injury rather than a concussion after he tumbled head-first into the boards against the Hurricanes last week, and coach Claude Julien said the towering blueliner was a possibility to play Tuesday night in the TD Garden rematch against Carolina if he can pass through some final tests Tuesday morning.

McQuaid made it through the biking and exertion tests previously, and Julien said itll be a well see about playing Tuesday.

You never want to miss too much time, said McQuaid, who indicated he skated on Sunday as well. But were just kind of evaluating things. Im feeling better each day; well see how the day progresses and then see how tomorrow goes.

I went through a similar situation before in last years Flyers series, so its one of those things where were just going day-by-day and see how it goes. Its been frustrating how the season has unfolded so far. Coming back after being sick for the first game, I still wasnt really feeling 100 percent like myself. So hopefully Im able to come back fully healthy this time around.

Kampfer, on the other hand, might need a few practices to get his conditioning back up to par and make sure hes ready for game action and that starts with the young blueliner likely getting cleared contact Tuesday morning. He looked as good as cleared for contact at the end of Mondays practice when he collided violently with Milan Lucic while the big power forward was carrying the puck with his head down.

I guess we were supposed to wait until tomorrow, said Kampfer with a laugh. But I guess it was good like that to get hit without expecting it. It kind of eases the mind to know you get hit and it didnt hurt anything.

Lucic skated away with everything pretty much intact, and Kampfer was okay after resting on one knee for a few seconds while making sure everything was in one piece. Kampfer assured after practice that he was pain-free in the left knee, and hes been attempting visualization exercises with the Bs training staff to help him pick up at the high level he was playing at just prior to the knee injury.

Im encouraged by how much Ive done in the first couple of games and how I feel walking and skating. It was a lot worse last season, said Kampfer. To feel as good as I do know is very encouraging. I still have to do a couple more things, get a couple more practices in and then well make that decision as we go.

The bottom line is this: Both McQuaid and Kampfer will be on the Bruins once they regain their health. It seems more likely that Matt Bartkowski is going to head back to Providence where he can get some playing time and build up confidence in his game. When asked about the defensemen on Saturday night, Claude Julien was specific in pointing out that he felt the five main defensemen were excellent against the Blackhawks while Bartkowski had a tough time getting out on the ice.

I would say five defensemen because Bartkowski only got out there for five minutes, said Julien. Bart was put in a tough position where he hadnt gotten much ice because of the situations, and then couldnt really put him into a close game in the third period. We feel it was judicious to use him there. Youre going to run into those situations where youre going to need to use the defensemen a little bit more.

We could handle it. We had two days before the next game and I thought they did a great job. Chara blocking those shots in the end. Johnny Boychuk blocking that one shot after getting run in the corner from behind. Then he goes down the ice and makes a big play on the game-tying goal. We really want our defensemen to be more proactive about getting down the ice and being part of the offense, and Boychuk was able to do that.

The need for offense is something stressed up and down the defensemen roster, and perhaps another reason why Kampfer should have the inside track on a roster spot once bodies start getting fully healed over the next few days.

Capitals acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from Blues

Capitals acquire defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from Blues

WASHINGTON - The Washington Capitals have acquired defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in a trade with the St. Louis Blues.

Washington sent a 2017 first-round pick, conditional 2018 second-round pick, forward Zach Sanford and minor leaguer Brad Malone to St. Louis in the deal that also sent former Capitals goaltending prospect Pheonix Copley to the Blues.

The teams announced the deal Monday night.

Shattenkirk, 28, is set to be an unrestricted free agent this summer. He has 42 points on 11 goals and 31 assists this season and has 66 goals and 218 assists in 471 NHL games

He counts $4.25 million against the salary cap this season. The Blues retained 39 percent of his salary.

Shattenkirk is a right-handed-shooting defenseman who adds more depth and offense to the Capitals' blue line.

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

Haggerty: Mark it down -- the Bruins WILL make the playoffs

The Bruins are going to snap their two-year drought and get into the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring. 

Sure, it’s going to be a tight race. And it'll come down to the last few games, befitting a team that's lived on the Atlantic Division bubble over the last three years. But in the seven games under interim coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins have shown they have the goods to get into the postseason. There's every reason to believe they’ll sustain their winning ways over the final two months of the regular season. 

There's a long way to go, of course, but a third-place (or higher) finish would ensure the B's a berth in the Atlantic Division playoff bracket, and they could conceivably advance a round or two based solely on the poor quality of clubs in their division. With 20 games to play, the Bruins are now third in the division and have a one-point cushion (70-69) over fourth-place Toronto, though the Leafs have a game in hand. If Toronto passes them, they currently have a two-point lead over the Islanders (70-68) for the eighth and final spot in the conference playoffs, though the Isles also have a game in hand. 

And that's not to say Boston couldn't climb higher. The B's are only four points behind the first-place but spinning-their-wheels Canadiens (20-20-7 since their 13-1-1 start), and they're even with the Habs in games played. They trail second-place Ottawa by two points, but the Senators have two games in hand.

All that, however, is another story for another day (even if it is a reason for Boston adding, rather than subtracting, at Wednesday's NHL trade deadline),

So how can we so stridently state that the Bruins are going to make the playoffs, and assure that this seven-game run isn’t just a flash in the pan?

Clearly they're playing with more urgency, higher compete levels, and a consistent focus that wasn’t there in the first 55 games under Claude Julien. They've now scored first-period goals in nine straight games and scored first in each of the four games on the highly successful Western swing through San Jose, Los Angeles, Anaheim and Dallas over the last week. 

To put that in perspective, the B's had gone 1-8 in California over the previous three seasons, when those late-in-the-year road trips spelled the beginning of the end for Boston.

But even more convincing is a simple look at the numbers, the production and the reasons behind the surge forward. 

The Bruins have long needed their two franchise centers operating at a high level at both ends of the ice, and consistently playing the 200-foot game that can cause major problems against teams not blessed with frontline talent in the middle. That wasn’t the case under Julien this year, but things have changed. 

David Krejci has three goals and eight points along with an even plus/minus rating in seven games under Cassidy. Patrice Bergeron posted three goals and nine points along with a plus-7 over that same span of games. With those two big-money, big-ceiling players operating at their highest levels, the rest of the team has shown its true potential . . . and the talent level is considerably higher than many thought.

It wasn’t long ago that many Bruins fans, and some major Julien apologists in the media, would have had you believe that Claude was keeping together a substandard NHL roster with a MacGyver-like combination of duct tape, chewing gum and an offensive system that only a dump-and-chase, trappist wonk could love. Now we’re seeing there's offensive talent on a group that’s been given the green light to create and produce. 

To wit, the Bruins' third line is now winning games for them after serving as a liability for the first half of the season. Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano have combined for 6 goals, 15 points and a plus-11 in the seven games under Cassidy after never getting a chance to work together under Julien because they weren’t in his defensive circle of trust.

There's also the elevated level of production -- across the board -- from Boston’s defensemen. Not to mention Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak continuing to produce offense at elite levels. Marchand just set a career-high with his 64th point on Sunday afternoon, and still has another 20 games left in attempting to become the B's first point-per-game player since Marc Savard (88 points in 82 games in  2008-09).

All of it amounts to a Bruins offense that’s now choosing quality shots over quantity: Boston is scoring 1.5 more goals per game under Cassidy while averaging a significant 4.5 fewer shots per game. The Bruins have finally ditched the weak perimeter attack that so entralled the Corsi crowd -- it was putting up 40-plus shots per game, yet only about 2.5 goals -- and are instead honing in their offensive chances between the dots and in closer to the net .

Should people still be wondering if this current B’s run of entertaining, winning hockey is sustainable? They certainly can if they want to wait until the season is over to decide, but the jury is in for this humble hockey writer.

Bruins fans should take the cue and start lining up for their postseason tickets. 

Because there is going to be playoff hockey in Boston this spring. Remember, you heard it here first.