B's lack playoff skill set

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B's lack playoff skill set

By Michael Felger

The preconceived notions about the Bruins' first-round playoff series with Montreal have been turned on their ear. Those picking Boston expected the B's to win on size, grit, depth and goaltending. But, to this point, it looks like you were all looking at the wrong thing.

The Habs are in control of this series right now because they have more skill.

Oh yeah, that.

It's an issue for the Bruins all over the ice, from the inability of the defensemen to move the puck effectively out of their own zone to the lack of finishing touch up front.

There is a great misconception that in the NHL playoffs, the bigger, tougher and more defensive-minded teams are the ones that typically advance. It's as if stopping the puck has become more important than scoring the puck, and that talent is somehow less important. And it's just not the case.

Certainly, soft teams won't go far. And, yes, you can steal games with a hot goalie or a big effort. You might even get by a round or two on those things. Upsets obviously happen. But most postseason series, and the overwhelming majority of Stanley Cup championships, are won on skill.

Just because a game ends in a 2-0 or 3-1 final doesn't mean it wasn't about goal-scoring or skill on the blue line. This Bruins-Habs series is a case in point.

The Canadiens have had a dozen clear scoring chances so far in the series -- and they've buried nearly half of them. The Bruins have had around that many chances as well -- and they've put only one behind Carey Price.

Example 1: Montreal winger Brian Gionta got the puck at the side of an open Bruins net early in the first period of Game One -- and he deposited it underneath the crossbar for a goal. Bruins winger Brad Marchand got the puck at the side of an even more open Canadiens net later in that same period -- and he whiffed.

Example 2: Montreal winger Mathieu Darche was fed a pass all alone to the side of the B's net in the first period of Game Two -- and he rifled it high and wide of a sprawling Tim Thomas for the goal. Boston winger Milan Lucic was fed a pass wide open in front of a sprawling Price later that same period -- and he shot the puck square into the pads of the prone goalie.

Those situations defined the first two games, as did a blown goalmouth bid by David Krejci in Game Two and numerous other Bruins shots sent square into the chest of Price. Those plays had nothing to do with size, grit, goaltending or depth. They all came down to skill. And the Bruins didn't have enough of it.

Same thing on defense, where the Bruins defense has morphed straight into their typical shaky playoff mode. All five Montreal goals this series have been the result of turnovers from the Bruins coming out of their own zone. All five. On Saturday, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg took turns handing the puck over to the Habs, and the result was three goals behind Thomas.

This is nothing new under Claude Julien. His passive, east-west breakout system works fine over the drone of 82 games, but it has been badly exposed over the last four playoff seasons. Maybe that explains the mantra around the Bruins the last few weeks to go "north-south." Unfortunately, after being instructed by their coach to go sideways for years, it's clear the players are ill-equipped to change direction.

This is about personnel as much as it is coaching. It would have been nice to have Zdeno Chara on the ice Saturday (a pretty big story to be flushed out later), but the sad truth is that even if the captain had been there the dynamics would have been roughly the same. Chara doesn't move the puck well himself, a deficiency that really comes out in these games. And it turns out the trade for Tomas Kaberle hasn't solved the problem, either.

The B's simply do not have the skill in back to handle the puck with poise and precision in the face of a heavy, playoff-style forecheck.

The Canadiens may not be blessed with a roster full of those kinds of defensemen, either (heck, they employ Hal Gill), but at least P.K. Subban and James Wisniewski bring some of it to the table. As a result, the Habs haven't had nearly the number of mistakes in back as the B's.

Then there's this mythical "depth" advantage the Bruins supposedly have. What a fraud that is.

Not that Julien doesn't still believe it. In fact, you have to wonder if someone somewhere in the Bruins' organization got to Claude after Game One, when the Bruins didn't have a single forward log over 19 minutes of ice time while the Canadiens made sure their top four forwards were all over the boards for at least that much time (Scott Gomez, Tomas Plekanec, Gionta and Mike Cammalleri all played between 19:13 and 20:52).

Even though the B's were in the process of being shut out that night, Julien still played some of his pluggers more than his skill players. Namely, third-liners Rich Peverley (17:50) and Chris Kelly (16:39) were on the ice more than second-line center Patrice Bergeron (15:47). And this wasn't just a special-teams issue: Both Peverley and Kelly logged more even-strength time than Bergeron as well.

Brutal. Yet typical for Julien, who never met a third-line grinder he didn't like. If there's another coach alive who believes playing Chris Kelly more than Patrice Bergeron is the best way to win a playoff game, I'd like to know who it is.

So it changed for Game Two, when Kelly was on the ice for only 11:51 and Krejci (22:08) and Lucic (22:06) were way up. And there was also, if you can believe it, a lineup change, as Nathan Horton (aka, Michael Ryder, version 2.0) was moved down to the third line in exchange for Peverley for the final period.

It usually takes a crow bar to get Julien to make such a move. Maybe someone finally informed him that he was in the playoffs.

Still, Bergeron's ice time remained stuck in the mid-teens in Game Two (16:21). With Krejci's production down due to a variety of factors (poor play, no life from his wingers, blanket coverage from the Canadiens), Bergeron could be the guy to carry the offense right now. He and Marchand are the only B's forwards finding room to operate. Yet they find themselves fighting for ice time with the checkers.

This is where Julien's roll-four-lines approach really hurts the B's. In a series where the Habs make sure they get the most out of their best players (Plekanec played 21:34 on Saturday), the Bruins coach remains slow andor reluctant to identify and lean on his.

And I won't even get into the two shifts Julien gave to his fourth line (Greg Campbell, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille) in the final 6:30 on Saturday. I was watching the game with Tony Amonte when those players hit the ice and he remarked that he has never seen a coach put out his crash line -- not once, but twice -- while trailing by two goals late in a Stanley Cup playoff game.

I responded by saying that he obviously hasn't been watching Julien the last few years.

The question now is how much longer the rest of us will be subjected to it.

E-mail Felger HERE and read the mailbag on Thursdays. Listen to Felger on the radio weekdays, 2-6 p.m., on 98.5 the Sports Hub.

Sunday, July 24: Dominic Moore mulls NHL offers

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Sunday, July 24: Dominic Moore mulls NHL offers

Here are the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while marveling at how good the Justice League and Wonder Woman trailers were this weekend.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has veteran center Dominic Moore mulling a couple of offers as he looks for an NHL contract for next season.

*Jordan Eberle joined Canadian sports radio, and agreed that something needed to change with the Oilers after continually missing the playoffs.

*I will miss Jim Prior’s trademark “The Teams are ready, so let’s play hockey!” open to every game as a PA announcer, and I’ll miss his warm personality around the rink. It’s a sad day for the BU hockey program.

*The Arizona Coyotes continue to put together a very interesting D-men picture by signing Luke Schenn to a two-year contract. For my money, Schenn has long been one of the most overrated players in the NHL.

*The Hockey News’ Mike Brophy has some thoughts and observations about the NHL offseason as it continues to wind on.

*Good piece by FOH (Friend of Haggs) Dave Stubbs on Andrei Markov and his candid thoughts on everything from the Montreal traffic to the PK Subban/Shea Weber trade.

*Here’s a spot to track the travels and stories of the Pittsburgh Penguins amid their summer with the Stanley Cup.

*For something completely different: as mentioned above, here is the trailer for the Justice League that shows a much lighter, better touch with what should be a fun movie to watch. Hopefully this means it won’t be another pretty-looking, Zack Snyder funeral dirge.

 

Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

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Heinen looking to be dark-horse candidate for Bruins' roster

While much of the focus is going to be on the young D-men headed into Bruins training camp, it would be foolhardy to overlook a forward prospect Danton Heinen, who is in position for a real dark horse run at an NHL roster spot. 

The strong odds are that the former University of Denver star is going to be begin the season in the AHL for the Providence Bruins after putting up a couple of points in four games there at the end of last season.

Still, that certainly hasn’t stopped Heinen from setting his sights on an NHL spot out of this fall’s camp, most likely in a third- or fourth-line capacity to start things off, or perhaps at the top-six right wing spots that have given the Bruins some problems filling permanently over the past couple of seasons.

Either way, the 2014 fourth-round pick knows that his clock to fulfilling his dreams as an NHL player has started and that it’s up to him when he can start making that a reality.

“It’s something I’ve wanted to work toward my whole life, so I’m just going to try to keep getting better, have a good rest of the summer and then put my best foot forward to see what happens,” said Heinen, who had an assist and a sweet goal in the Friday scrimmage at development camp when he twisted D-man Cam Clarke around like a pretzel on a nifty rush to the net. “I just need to continue to get stronger this summer, and working on my skating to get a bit quicker.

“[The AHL] was a lot of fun to get in there and see what it was all about. It was a lot different than college hockey, and it was definitely good to get a taste of it. [Bruins officials] told me to have a really big summer getting faster and getting stronger, so that’s what I’ve been doing.”

The 6-foot-1, 185-pound Heinen, 21, continued to show in development camp last week, however, that he has the playmaking skills and hockey IQ to flourish while surrounded by more accomplished players and in tighter situations. It’s exactly what he showed while posting 36 goals and 93 points in his freshman and sophomore seasons for the Pioneers and it was what he showed while finishing last week as one of the best forwards in camp.

“He’s looked really good at [development] camp. He’s a smart player, he’s committed and I think you’ll notice him in training camp. It will be up to him, but I think he’ll definitely be pushing some guys [for an NHL job],” said Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo, who was running the Bruins development camp. “He looked good [in Providence]. He fit in well. He’s the type of player that can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ, and he’s got really good skill.

“Anywhere you put him he’s smart enough to figure it out. You could tell in his first game there was a little bit of an adjustment for him, but the second time game it really looked like he’d been playing [at that level] for a long time. He’s a quick study, and he looked really good last year.”

The Black and Gold management hope he continues to look good at main NHL training camp in a couple of months, where he’ll undoubtedly be featured, and could be a lot closer than many people think as a polished skill forward coming out of a big-time college hockey program. 

Saturday, July 23: Hammer Time for VP pick Kaine with Caps

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Saturday, July 23: Hammer Time for VP pick Kaine with Caps

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while everybody is working for the weekend...or during the weekend.

*The vice-presidential candidate for Hillary Clinton, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, made quite an impression while hanging out a Capitals game with MC Hammer. They call this guy boring, but that doesn’t sound very boring to me.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Bob Stauffer has the news that the Edmonton Oilers are parting ways with fancy stats lad Tyler Dellow. Boy, it seems like some teams are reversing course pretty quickly on some of these smarter-than-thou advanced statistics types, aren’t they? I certainly wish Dellow well and hope he finds another gig. But Instead of baselessly wondering whether the Oilers are going to continue down the fancy stats road (which they most certainly will), perhaps this is more a referendum on nonsensical stats-driven decisions like handing out that long term contract to a perpetually underachieving Benoit Pouliot.

*The New York Rangers have locked up Chris Kreider to a four-year contract at a reasonable number, and now he has the time with the Blueshirts to see how good he can be.

*Brian Leetch opens up to the Players Tribune about his NHL experiences playing with the New York Rangers, and all of his favorite experiences from a Hall of Fame career.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker says that Carey Price’s injury from last season is no longer a concern, according to Habs coach Michel Therrien.

*The Chicago Blackhawks will appear a whopping 21 times on national television across the NBC Networks next season.

*Incoming BU goaltender Jake Oettinger is among the names to look out for at the 2017 draft, according to the NHL Central Scouting bureau.

*Travis Yost says that the Carolina Hurricanes are on the rise thanks to winning the shot differential battle. I think it’s because they have an outstanding cast of young defensemen, who are helping them control the puck and win that shot differential battle. But they still need to score more if they’re going to really be a team on the rise, so we’ll see what happens there.

*For something completely different: for those that think I’m a Democrat because I am anti-Trump, here’s a story on the DNC machinery attempting to torpedo Bernie Sanders during the presidential campaigning over the last year.