Bruins' McQuaid is a presence on the blue line


Bruins' McQuaid is a presence on the blue line

By Joe Haggerty

WILMINGTON, Mass. It raised an eyebrow or two when Adam McQuaid was signed by the Bruins to a two-year deal over the summer, while veteran defenseman Mark Stuart McQuaids closest match on the Boston rosterin terms of style, strengths and weaknesses was given only a one-year contractas he approached unrestricted free agency.

Its not quite as surprising now that the Bs are more than 50 games into the season. McQuaid has supplanted Stuart in the Boston lineup as the stay-at-home, physical blueliner ready to drop the gloves.

The 24-year-old gave some indications he might be ready for regular duty as a bottom-pairing defensemen last season. He filled in when Stuart suffered a couple of injuries last yearand immediately made an impression while throwing down with Raitis Ivanans in one of his first games against the Los Angeles Kings.

It was clear the Bs coaching staff had confidence in McQuaid heading into this season, and the young blueliner blossomed when he got regular playing time after Stuart suffered a broken right hand.

Stuart, recovered from his hand injury, has been a healthy scratch in the last seven games and is on the trading block as other teams around the league are putting up their bids for the blue-collar defenseman. It's no fault of Stuart's as he's been a good soldier about the entire situation true to his personality and leadership qualities, but it appears that the rugged Stuart will become another victim of the salary cap era.

The reason that has all happened for the Bruins: McQuaid has proven he belongs among the Bs top-six defensemen and has become an effective blueliner on a multitudeof different fronts for the Bruins. The Prince Edward Island native has a goal and seven assists in 40 games with the Bruins along with a plus-21, and has gained confidence in his offensive game as he continues to willinglydrop gloves withall opponents both big and small.

McQuaids easygoing nature and mop of curly hair underneath his hockeyhelmet might have fooled some into underestimating his toughness and thedevastating power of hisright hand punch, but his teammates have certainly noticed.

He has the ability to turn it up pretty good, said Andrew Ference. Its interesting because hes pretty cool and calm on the exterior, but he throws a really mean punch. Its funny to see him snap sometimes because he doesnt hold anything back when he gets in his fights. There are a few guys that have found that out the hard way.

McQuaids first goal of the season was a good indicator of where his confidence level is offensively as well. The 6-foot-5, 209-pounder didnt hesitate in the high slot when Nathan Horton got the puck to him.

It was in that sequence that we were going back and forth in the game, so it felt really good, said McQuaid. The first one always feels really good.

McQuaid simply fired the puck to the top corner, finally getting his first goal of the season and showing an above-average shooting ability that should come into play more often.

A bogus goalie interference call last week on Blake Wheeler in an earlier game wiped out what should have been his first score. But the Bs defenseman also showed some good shooting instincts in that sequence when he pulled back a shot destined to be blocked, moved to better shooting position and fired on the net. Whether the goal counted or not was immaterial in the long run as the play showed McQuaid has elevated to a different offensive plane this season as an everyday blueliner.

Hes ready to pinch and scrap to keep pucks in the attack zone, and getting a little less predictable and safe with his puck choices after settling for plenty of soft servevanilla last season.

It seems like things are coming along and Im getting more confidence with the puck. Im especially getting more confidence that the forwards are going to cover for me if I jump in on the play, and thats really opened things up, said McQuaid. I may have been . . . maybe playing too simple at times last year and a good part of this year. The game is still built on making the simple plays, but there are definitely times when you can be too simple.

Im just trying to make a play if I see something.

McQuaids shot from the point area is deceptively good, and he skates well enough for a big man to get the puck up the ice a pair of modest skills that will never make him Paul Coffey, but will keep him employed in the league as long as he has them in tandem with the physicality.

The one thing we knew about McQuaid is that he was a pretty steady defensive defenseman, said coach Claude Julien. But he continues to move the puck better every day he plays and every game he plays. Hes got the confidence now where hes a lot more than a defensive defenseman.

I dont think hes ever going to get away from his role, which is as a defensive defenseman with a really good physical edge to his game. But what hes done is added those other parts to it that make him even better.

Its all about comfort and the feeling that he belongs in the NHL, and McQuaid has become effectively safe on both counts while realizing his dream of becoming an everyday defenseman while also acknowledgingit can be taken away at any time.

It sounds like McQuaid has his head on straight, and could be in Boston for a good, long time.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Injuries have created a muddled picture with Bruins goaltenders

Injuries have created a muddled picture with Bruins goaltenders

It’s hard to believe that it’s already come to this, but it might just be Malcolm Subban between the pipes for the Bruins on Tuesday night against the Minnesota Wild, and perhaps again on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden.

The 22-year-old Subban has been pulled from two ineffective starts for the P-Bruins in four AHL starts this season (.846 save percentage and a 4.50 goals against average in four games) while coming back from last year’s fractured larynx injury. He's also a player the organization was uncertain enough about that they signed veteran backup Anton Khudobin to a two-year deal on the July 1 open of NHL free agency.

Subban attributed his start to a slow opening few weeks with a new P-Bruins roster of players, but that hasn’t stopped fellow P-Bruins goalie Zane McIntyre from putting up excellent numbers between the pipes in the early going.

But Khudobin went down with an injury mere minutes into Monday morning’s Bruins practice at Warrior Ice Arena, and Tuukka Rask been battling a nagging leg injury since the season opening win against the Blue Jackets.

So Subban was the last goalie standing on Monday as an emergency recall from Providence, and could be in line to play Tuesday night against the Wild if the Bruins medical staff can’t perform some Mr. Miyagi-style healing techniques on Rask or Khudobin.

“Khudobin got injured and couldn’t practice with us, but I haven’t heard anything yet [on an update],” said Julien following practice. “This is hockey. We deal with it on daily basis with the injuries. We wait for the news and then it’s about doing your job as it’s required. If we have to make some adjustments and have to have some different personnel, then we’ll deal with it when we have more of an update. Tuukka is still day-to-day, so nothing is changed there.

“We’re in a situation here where we’ll see what happens, and if [Subban] needs to go in goal then he’ll go in goal. It’s as simple as that. As a coach, there’s one thing that worries me and that’s ‘stop the puck.’ I’m not a goalie coach, so I’m just demanding on making the saves.”

Subban, of course, hasn’t been making the saves down in Providence early in the going there this season, and is entering the stage of his career where he needs to begin showing signs of being a potential No. 1 guy at the NHL level.

Fellow goalies from the 2012 NHL draft class like Andrei Vasilevskiy, Joonas Korpisalo, Matt Murray, Connor Hellebuyck and Frederik Andersen have all begun making their mark in the league, and Subban was selected higher than all of them except for Tampa’s Vasilevskiy. So in the final year of his entry level deal it’s high time for the 22-year-old to begin showing signs he can play in the league, whether it’s in Boston or elsewhere.

He admitted on Monday he might have been putting too much pressure on himself down in Providence while watching the injury issues play out with Tuukka Rask in Boston.

Subban was worried about the big picture of stringing together saves so he was the guy called up if the Bruins needed a goalie, and instead should have been focusing more on the present opponents at the AHL level.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think anybody that knows me well knows that. I don’t like to let in goals no matter what happens, whether it’s breakdowns or not it’s my job [to stop the puck]. If there were no breakdowns then you wouldn’t need a goaltender,” said Subban. “I want to make every save and get a shutout every game. I think the biggest thing is just relaxing and playing, and knowing that it’s okay to let a goal in every once in a while.

“So I think in my position right now I’m supposed to be playing really well down there, and I think that go in my head a little bit. I was trying to get a shutout every game rather than going game-by-game and shot-by-shot. I was overthinking it too much. But collectively as a team we’re a new team and we were trying to get the chemistry together, and once we do that the D-zone will be better and the offensive zone game will come.”

If Subban does indeed get the emergency start on Tuesday night against the Wild, the Bruins just have to hope that it’s a better outing than getting pulled in his NHL debut against the Blues two seasons ago after allowing three goals on three straight shots to start the second period. They also have to hope that Rask or Khudobin get well quick given Boston’s shaky situation on defense in front of the goaltender, and the stretch they’re in of playing six straight opponents that qualified for last spring’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

If not then watch out below because every hockey person knows there’s no quicker way for a hockey club to really begin imploding than if the goaltending starts to become a major problem whether it’s because of injury, inconsistent performance or simply because of being a straight-up sieve.

McQuaid cleared to play, nearing return to Bruins lineup


McQuaid cleared to play, nearing return to Bruins lineup

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- It was a bitter pill for Adam McQuaid to sit out the first five games of this season, but it looks like the veteran Bruins stay-at-home defenseman is nearing a return to the lineup. McQuaid was cleared to potentially play in Saturday’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens after an upper body injury kept him shelved for the team’s first four games, and could be approaching a return in the next few days as Claude Julien mulls a number of possible lineup changes.

“It was obviously frustrating, but I’m where I’m at now and trying to move on from it. Looking forward to getting back into the lineup hopefully as soon as possible here,” said the 30-year-old McQuaid, who had a goal and nine points in 64 games for the Black and Gold last season. “The excitement level is high for me, and it is for everybody after a loss when you’re looking forward to getting back out there.

“It would have been nice to have started the season with the guys, but you can’t change that now. I’ve had some good practices, and I’m just trying to my game as simple as possible, and take it as it comes. Obviously guys have played some games and it’s been a couple of weeks for me, so I’ll just have to keep my game simple.”

The B’s bench boss indicated it was only a matter of time before McQuaid makes his 2016-17 regular season debut, but that he’s got plenty of things to decide prior to dropping the puck against the Wild.

“[McQuaid] was cleared last game. I haven’t made any decisions based for [Tuesday night vs. Minnesota]. There’s a lot of things that are up in the air, and I’ve just go to juggle those things,” said Julien. “Who knows? Hopefully tomorrow morning I’ve got a better picture [of injury situation], and if not then it will be game-time decisions. I wish I could have a better answer [on if McQuaid will play], but I’ve got no answers right now.”

With Colin Miller (minus-4), Joe Morrow, Torey Krug (a rough minus-3 against Montreal) and John-Michael Liles all minus players after the first five games of the season, there are ample options for Julien on which potential blueliner to bump up to the press box. McQuaid is just happy he’s getting closer to a return while skating with 23-year-old Rob O’Gara at practice, and he can get back to helping a B’s team that’s smack dab in the middle (ranked 15th allowing 3.0 goals per game) of the NHL for team defense this season.