Neely, Sweeney need to step out of shadows and make a move

Neely, Sweeney need to step out of shadows and make a move

BOSTON -- So when exactly is anything going to change with these Bruins?

Give Patrice Bergeron credit after the Bruins dropped a 4-3 decision to the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night and couldn’t muster the will needed to actually win on the night they remembered the recently passed Milt Schmidt: He wasn’t going to pass the puck or foist off blame someplace else after it was all over.

“I think we’re the only ones that can really find the answer and turn this around, I guess. It’s up to this dressing room to do it and to all look at ourselves in the mirror -- I said that before -- and be better,” said Bergeron, who scored his fourth goal in seven games to keep the Bruins into the game headed into the third period. “You can’t wait for anyone to do it. It’s up to us. We’re the ones that are playing on the ice, and we have to be better.

“When you don’t get the result, you’re definitely not happy with anything. It’s definitely frustrating to see what’s going on and to have the type of game that we had tonight. I thought we had a lot of good looks and a lot of good zone time in their zone. But then, the breakdowns that we’re giving up, like I said, shouldn’t happen and it’s been happening a lot, especially lately, and it’s been hurting us.”

But one has to ask themselves a couple of question at this point if you’re running the Bruins?

At what point is it clear that this hockey club is too similar to the underachieving, disappointing groups from the last two seasons? When does a change to the existing mix (be it coaching or players) become something that has to happen in order to reverse what’s now been a month of struggle where the B’s have lost 10 of their last 15 games?

A casual follower of the Black and Gold tribe might have thought any one of a number of recent deflating losses in overtime might have been the final nail before a big move was engineered, executed and brought to the fore to at least show some resistance. It’s a recurring, annoying problem when the Bruins continue to lose games where they aren’t ready to play at the drop of the puck, and then continuously resist the need to crash the front of the net as opponents are doing to them while outshooting teams in losing efforts.

That doesn’t even take into account the wimpy efforts that the Bruins continuously put forth on home ice for the second season in a row. Give Zdeno Chara credit for doing he felt was needed to spark his team by challenging Patrick Maroon to a first period fight, and it worked for most of the rest of the next two periods.

“I just wanted to create some momentum and emotions, and I felt it was the right timing,” said Chara. “I wanted to get us in the game and be more emotionally attached.”

Unfortunately these short bursts of “emotional attachment” are never sustainable for the Bruins, and things fell apart on cue in the third period.

There was the comeback in the third period to make it a one goal game and perhaps give some Bruins players a false sense of moral victories because they didn’t lie down after falling down by a pair of scores in the third period. The time for those sorts of moral victories has passed, of course, and the Bruins just need results as both the Maple Leafs and Lightning sit just two points behind them in the Atlantic Division with games in hand.

“Obviously we want to recognize where we’re at and what the situation is, but I think we’ve shown that we’re very capable of playing good hockey against good teams and we just have to make that a habit,” said Tuukka Rask. “A lot of times it’s been play two good games and then you kind of fall back, and maybe play one good game and then fall back. We don’t want to be that roller coaster team, and we have to get on a good rhythm here and get some points.”

The fact that the Bruins have shown some good things against good teams makes it all the more damning, and leads one to believe this comfortable hockey club needs to be shocked into a winning stretch of hockey. This kind of seismic shock paddle to the Bruins hockey club could take one of a couple of forms: the firing of Claude Julien, or a big trade.

Certainly it needs to be something bigger than the window dressing move of waiving Anton Khudobin to make room for Zane McIntyre on the NHL roster. That’s where Don Sweeney and Cam Neely need to come in after both upper management leaders have been just about entirely radio silent during the last month. Times of struggle are usually when the front office types are expected to send some kind of calming message, challenge their reeling club if it’s needed or give their head coach a vote of endorsement if that’s what’s needed.

Sweeney and Neely have done none of those things, and need to close the deal on something to improve the hockey club if they’re not going to take ownership of the way the Bruins are playing. There’s been a lot of chatter about Gabriel Landeskog, and the Avalanche captain could be a really interesting fit for the Bruins given he’s a finisher and a power forward-type with youth and a cost-controlled contract on his side.

The problem here is that Avalanche GM Joe Sakic is going to want Colorado Springs native Brandon Carlo in return for a player in Landeskog that’s been 20 goals/50 points every year that he’s been fully healthy. That’s a difficult one for the Bruins to agree to even as the talented, perfectly solid Bruin Carlo is hitting his first rookie wall with the Black and Gold, and has struggled for an extended stretch over the last month.

But no matter what the Bruins do it’s going to be a painful, controversial move if it’s going to be something of significance.

That’s where Claude Julien comes in. It might not be fair, or deserved, for Julien to get fired after 10 brilliant years in Boston, but the Black and Gold are making the same mistakes with the same flaws as the teams that collapsed over the last two years. Some of that has to be a reflection of the coach right along with the collapses in each of the last two seasons that made the Bruins the worst team in hockey down the stretch each of the last two years.

The Bruins have changed some players on the roster, they’ve made management changes and they’ve changed up some of the assistant coaches on the Bruins staff. One of the few constants during that time of struggle has been Julien as he became the winningest B’s coach in the franchise’s Original Six history last season.

It’s time for Sweeney and Neely to step in and try some evasive maneuvers to avoid a repeat of the last two seasons, and it’s becoming increasing clear that replacing Julien might be the most impactful way to make that attempt. It won’t be popular and it won’t be a fun moment in Bruins history, but it won’t be as dreary as missing the playoffs for the third season in a row if B’s management does nothing about their current stretch of crap hockey.

Chara: 'A great honor' to be nominated for Masterton Trophy

Chara: 'A great honor' to be nominated for Masterton Trophy

It takes only the highest levels of perseverance and dedication to the game to log over 1,300 NHL games and to play past your 40th birthday. Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has both of those qualities in overflowing amounts as the fourth oldest player in the league behind Florida Panthers forward Jaromir Jagr, Arizona Coyotes forward Shane Doan and Pittsburgh Penguins forward Matt Cullen. Chara is also the second longest tenured captain in the league behind Doan, who has been the captain of the Coyotes since 2003.

For all those reasons and more, Chara has been voted by the Boston Chapter of the PWHA (Professional Hockey Writers Association) as the Bruins nominee for the Masterton Trophy given to the player that best exemplifies “the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey.”

The Bruins captain has also been the embodiment of good sportsmanship in his 11 years as captain of the Black and Gold while leading teams with his steady, hard-working hand through both epic highs and lows. Chara is always at the forefront of the Bruins charitable efforts and has shown his dedication to the game by nearly always participating for his Slovakian homeland whether it’s world championships, the Olympics or the World Cup as the setting for the International tournament.

It all comes back to Chara’s love for the game, his dedication to setting an example as a professional and his enjoyment of the hard work required to play in the NHL for 18 plus seasons.

“From my first day in the NHL until today it is an absolute thrill to play in the league,” said Chara. “It’s a great honor to be nominated. I always take a lot of pride in doing my job as a professional, and doing it right. Doing all of my work on and off the ice. I’ve always felt really humble about being a part of this league and this game. It’s a game that gives you so much in life, and helps you become a better person and a better hockey player each day.

“I’m just enjoying my time with team and my teammates, and cherish the memories of winning. I just try to work every day on my game and improve. I enjoy every day whether I was 20 years old or 40 years old. I love the game, and I love everything about it.”

Chara had missed only 41 games for the Bruins in his first 10 seasons with the team in a remarkable show of durability and toughness while playing the role a physical defensive stopper. He's never shied away from the big hits, the big players or the big ice time totals. The veteran D-man is having a banner season as a 40-year-old that started out by leading Team Europe to the World Cup Final against Team Canada, and it’s continued with his season-long mentoring job helping develop 20-year-old rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo.

Chara has changed a bit from his Norris Trophy days while adjusting his game to reduced levels of physicality and out-and-out dominance, but the ability to still call on both of those qualities at 40 years old is unique for an intimidating 6-foot-9 force out on the ice. Equally impressive is his standing as a No. 1 defenseman at this point in his 18-plus year career while constantly dedicated to improving himself, and learning, both on and off ice. Perhaps Chara’s most underrated quality is his ability to move the puck and chip in offensively, a set of skills that will see him pass the 600-point milestone this season after a career built in part on a big slap shot from the point.

It’s also a great example of Chara remaking himself into more of a puck-mover and power play point producer when he was projected to be a good defense/limited offense shutdown defenseman all those years ago working his way through the Islanders’ ranks.

Chara continues to be a strong lead-by-example personality within the Bruins dressing room, one who demands hard work and total dedication to both the game and the team concept when it comes to his Boston teammates.

Cassidy quells goaltender controversy: 'Tuukka's our No. 1 goalie'

Cassidy quells goaltender controversy: 'Tuukka's our No. 1 goalie'

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While the sequence of events over the past couple of days could understandably lead one to wonder who will start between the pipes for the Bruins on Tuesday night vs. Nashville, interim coach Bruce Cassidy tried to quell any hint of a goalie controversy.

The vote of confidence was certainly needed after Anton Khudobin’s fifth consecutive win halted the B's four-game losing streak with a huge 2-1 victory over the Islanders on Saturday night in the wake of Rask’s absence while tending to a short-term lower body issue.  

“[Rask] had a good practice today. I spoke with him. We’ll see how he wakes up tomorrow and we’ll make our decision. He’s our No. 1 goalie, so there’s no way we can skirt our way around that issue. He’s our No. 1 and his health is very important. When he’s physically ready to go and he tells me that, then we’ll make that decision,” said Cassidy. “He’s a guy that’s played a lot of hockey this year...and he’s not a 240-pound goaltender that can handle all of the games, all of the workload every year. We know that. I’m not going to put limitations on him, but we probably overused him at the start of the year. At this time of year, it gets tougher and tougher with any player that’s been overplayed.

“That’s why we have two goaltender, and [Anton Khudobin] has really stepped up in that last stretch and done what’s asked of him. He’s fixed that area of our game. It’s nice to have a guy that’s your No. 2 that can win you hockey games and play well. It’s a great problem to have, to be honest with you. But Tuukka is our No. 1. But Tuukka is our No. 1. He’s our guy.”

Rask declared himself fit to play after going through a full Monday practice with no issues, but said he’s still waiting to hear the final word on whether he’ll play on Tuesday night vs. the Predators. The Bruins franchise goalie also said he isn’t worried about any recurrence of the lower body injury that “popped up” in the Tampa Bay loss Thursday night, which really doesn’t bring any clarity to the entire situation.

“It was a good day back on the ice. I feel good. We’ll see what the decision is [for the Nashville game], but I feel good today,” said Rask, who is 8-8 with a .892 save percentage and a 2.91 goals-against average since the All-Star break, compared to Khudobin’s 2-0-0 with a .920 save percentage and 1.98 goals-against average. “You need to put the best lineup out as possible, and I wasn’t in any shape to play. So, there are no easy decisions this time of year, but I’ve played a lot of hockey and injuries happen. We talked to the training staff and managers and came to a decision that [Khudobin] was going to play the game, and that’s it.

“It’s obviously tough from a personal standpoint, but it’s never about one guy or two guys. It’s a team game and I feel confident that we’re going to get the job done as long as we play the way we did. It was great to see.”

Clearly, it looks like Rask is going to play vs. Nashville and that’s the safe, easy decision when it comes to a No. 1 goalie getting paid $7 million a season and perhaps it all works out with a fired up Finnish netminder after sitting out Saturday night. But nobody is going to be faulted if they wonder what’s going to wrong with Rask ahead of the next gigantic game Boston will have to play with the Stanley Cup playoffs on the line.