Boston Bruins

Offensive explosion propels Bruins

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Offensive explosion propels Bruins

BOSTON -- The Bruins' five-game winning streak isn't tough to figure out.

Goals, goals, goals.

"It's been great," Milan Lucic said Saturday after Boston's 6-2 win over Buffalo. "We're doing a good job in the neutral zone, in the defensive zone. We're getting opportunities. We're bearing down on them and you know . . . coming up as a five man unit and supporting one another. I think that's ultimately what's given us the success that we're getting."

The scoring surplus is a relief.

Boston began its NHL title defense with an underwhelming 3-7-0 record. The phrase "Stanley Cup hangover" was used and overused, but the team could do little to deny it. Through their first 10 games, the Bruins goals scored 22 goals, while their opponents scored 25.

Their goals foragainst ratio in the last four games? 24-to-3.

For perspective: Boston hasn't scored at least five times in five-straight games since 1986. Scoring six or more goals in four straight contests hasn't been done since 1978.

It's escaped no one that the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Tyler Seguin line, pieced together at the end of October, leads the offensive outpouring. Both wingers scored in Thursday's over a normally stingy Buffalo defense (2.36 average goals allowed going into Saturday's game).

Marchand spoke of their chemistry modestly.

"We are starting to click a little better here now. You see some plays where we are starting to find each other now. We know where to be. Seguin is obviously a pretty easy guy to play with because of his great skill-set. We are gelling a little better now, we just have to keep it going."

A "little better"?

Marchand's assist and third period goal on Satruday stretches his career-best point streak to five games (3G, 5A). The"clicking" was showcased in the second period on a Marchand breakaway. After picking off a Sabres pass in the neutral zone, he flew in on goalie Ryan Miller's right. Seguin hopped off the bench to fill the opposite lane. Marchand held off, showing great patience in waiting for Miller to commit before passing off to Seguin for the one-timer.

It was Seguin's 11th goal of the season.

Not only does he lead all Bruins, his 11th tally also matches that of his entire rookie campaign. His proficiency has inspired Boston's surge; Seguin's lit the lamp eight times (and has three assists) in the last six contests.

He's on pace for 61 goals.

"Whenever you score, you're never going to be disappointed," Seguin smiled. "You can never score too much and right now I'm burying most of my opportunities. But I feel like my two goals tonight, I don't know what I really did, it was really just the linemates work and me just finishing."

Claude Julien is thrilled with the production, saying Seguin has exceeded the expectations of the coaching staff. But he also credited the man centering his young, speedy wingers: Patrice Bergeron.

"I think Bergy's the guy that's the reliable guy on that line," Julien said. "He's always in the right spot, even defensively. Once in a while, one of those two guys are going to end up blowing the zone in a little quick, and that's where Bergy comes in and repairs the damage. That's the thing: they get the opportunities and they make the best of it."

Faceoffs wins -- often via Bergeron -- have been huge in creating chances.

Boston leads the NHL with a 54.5 percentage in the circle. Bergeron is ranked 8th in the league behind first line center David Krejci. The Bruins' third and fourth pivots, Chris Kelly and Gregory Campbell, are 27th and 41st, respectively.

As their success on the dot shows, the Bruins are deep. It's why they're is getting production up and down the lineup: 13 different players have registered a point and 12 have scored goals during the win streak.

Are the gaudy numbers good to last? Six goals per game would be an impossible clip for any team to sustain, and the Bruins know it.

"You go through spurts like this during the year," Marchand said. "And then you go through spurts like we did during the first bit of our season. We can't get too high and we can't get too excited about it. We have to make sure we stay calm and focused for each game."

Considering the rut Boston started in, the team appreciates experiencing the other extreme. Now they know what they're capable of: winning, and winning big.

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.