Boychuk hitting his stride as playoffs arrive

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Boychuk hitting his stride as playoffs arrive

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON There have been times this season that Johnny Boychuk didnt much resemble the playoff sensation he was last year.

Boychuk burst onto the scene in the second half of last year, paired with Zdeno Chara in the playoffs for the Bruins and really emerged as a top defenseman, an ice-time workhorse with some very real upward potential on the power play.

Through the first half of this season, though, there were constant defense rotations and none of the Bs blueline corps got truly comfortable. That kind of constant upheaval might have played into the 27-year-old battling consistency in his first full-scale NHL campaign.

The big, booming shot from the point, the physicality and highlight-reel hits, and the steady defensive presence were there in spurts, but not on a nightly basis as Boychuk tried to find his niche.

But Boychuk has scored a couple of big goals on the most recent homestand for the Bruins with successful bombs against the Canadiens and Blackhawks and ratcheted up the physicality with only a handful of games remaining until the postseason.

Were just trying to do the simple things, said Boychuk, who's still third on the Bruins with 108 blocked shotsand among the most frequent hitters when it comes to physicality andbody checks. Were just trying to get pucks deep and try to play it like a playoff-type of game, and thats what weve been doing. Its been working quite well lately.

The Bs defenseman has three goals and 11 assists on the season while logging more than 20 minutes of ice time per game, but theres been another step up for him.

Boychuk has four points (2 goals, 2 assists) in his last eight games along with a plus-5 over that time, and has benefited from getting reunited with Chara at just the right time of the season. Hes also been part of a defense renaissance in Boston over the last several games thats really allowed the goaltenders to shine. The B's have allowed only three goals over the last five games, with a pair of shutouts thrown in.

Plenty of the zeroes on the scoreboard have to do with Tim Thomas hitting another proficient stretch between the pipes but it also involves Boychuk and Co. getting to the right spots on the ice and avoiding problematic screens on their goaltender.

Thomas said the simple action of knocking a shooter off-balance before he releases a shot can really disrupt things for other hockey teams, and give the Bs goaltender the kind of weak offensive bid that they can gobble up with ease.

Those are the kind of subtle defensive actions a team can perfect once theyve pieced together consistent defensive pairings, and given those players time to really hone their chemistry together.

Thats the kind of sweet spot that the Boychuk and the rest of the Bs defensemen are headed toward now that the pairings seem to be getting set in cement.

Eventually as the year goes on theres a little bit of chemistry there. Thats what youre trying to build, a little bit of stability as you move on to the playoffs, said coach Claude Julien. And right now I think the pairs that youve seen have been pretty good together. Thats not to say there wont be other people stepping in, but we like our pairs right now.

That doesnt mean were not going to change and make adjustments as we move forward here in different situations of games, but I think were feeling more and more comfortable with the guys that we have playing together.

More importantly, the Bruins' defensemen are contributing offensively. And with that, Boychuk is also looking more and more like that difference-maker from last years playoff run in Boston.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.