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.

Bruins lose third straight with 4-1 loss to Leafs

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Bruins lose third straight with 4-1 loss to Leafs

BOSTON -- The Bruins’ season has gone in extreme swings both up and down thus far through the first couple of months, and that was the case as they lost their third game in a row to the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

The Bruins couldn’t only scratch for one goal despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by a 32-20 margin, and fell by a disappointing 4-1 score to the young and talented Toronto club at TD Garden.

The Bruins never enjoyed a lead in the game against the Leafs, and were flirting with danger after failing to score in the first period despite out-shooting Toronto by an 11-2 margin in the game’s opening 20 minutes. Instead it was a David Pastrnak neutral zone turnover in the second period that was picked off by William Nylander, and ended with Auston Matthews firing a rocket over Tuukka Rask for his 12th goal of the season.

Toronto extended the lead with five minutes to go in the period when Zach Hyman tipped a wobbly Jake Gardiner point shot past Rask, and made it three games in a row that the Bruins have dug themselves a considerable hole. Brad Marchand got one goal back at the end of the second period on a nice hustle play as he sealed off Frederik Anderson’s clearing attempt and then stuffed the puck past the Leafs goalie on a second chance bid.

That’s the way the score remained until the third period when the Bruins couldn’t convert on a couple of offensive chances -- included a bang-bang shorthanded bid for Austin Czarnik in front of the net -- and then James van Riemsdyk scored in front as a Toronto power play expired. That was the backbreaker for a Black and Gold bunch that continues to scrap for goals, and has now scored two goals or less in 20 of their 20 games this season.

Connor Brown added an empty netter in the final two minutes of the game to truly put it out of reach for the Bruins. 

Heinen looking to show his offense in his shot on Krejci line

Heinen looking to show his offense in his shot on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins mixed things up with their roster a bit on Saturday after dropping a couple of games in a row to Washington and Colorado. 

Fourth-line energy winger Noel Acciari and playmaking forward Danton Heinen were called up from Providence and will be in the lineup against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on Saturday night. 
Acciari went to Providence the past couple of days to get some game action in after missing the past month with a lower body injury, but clearly showed he’s ready to go. 

So, Acciari is back to provide the same hard-hitting and energy he showed before he was hurt and Heinen is looking to show off a little more offense than in his first stint with the Black and Gold this season. He’ll be featured in a top role as left wing with David Krejci and David Backes and with marching orders to shoot the puck like he never shot it in his previous stint in Boston. 

For the Bruins, it’s about getting another look at a candidate to play left wing beside Krejci with both Ryan Spooner and Tim Schaller, with limitations to their respective games, unable to fully grasp that same opportunity. 

“My hope is that Heinen can come in and give us some good hockey. He’s a skill player and he’s been down there for a while, and he’s back up again because he’s been playing well,” said Claude Julien of the Bruins rookie, who had four goals and seven points in his past five games with Providence. “Hopefully he can play well here also. It’s about getting some confidence. When he went down to [the AHL] the pace of his game had to get a little bit better, and in the battles coming up with the puck along the walls. Those are the kinds of things we thought he could work on down in Providence.”

Heinen knows he needs to shoot the puck a bit more to show off his offense after a seven-game stint with the Bruins where he went scoreless, was a minus-2 and had just six shots on net.

“Being hard on the walls, playing fast and shooting the puck, those were all things I was working on [in Providence],” said Heinen, who has seven goals and 13 points in 13 games for the P-Bruins after being assigned to Providence. “I was doing what they told me to do [in Providence] and that’s shoot the puck. They were going in, and I was getting some good opportunities on the power play. It’s seriously tough to get chances [at the NHL level], so you can’t pass them up when you have chances. That was kind of my focus down there.”

Fellow fourth-line energy winger Anton Blidh has been shipped to Providence after three solid games with the Black and Gold. 

Julien said Blidh goes back to Providence having adequately shown that he can play in the NHL. He clearly showed the Bruins that he understands his role as a player that stirs things up a bit and gets his nose dirty on a regular basis.

“[Blidh] was fine. No issues there. He does his job. He plays with lots of energy and obviously he’s getting more experience. He’s a lot better at understanding his positioning within the game and what he has to do,” said Julien. “I thought he helped us out for the time that he was here.”

With Heinen and Acciari both in the lineup and Blidh back in Providence, that means Jimmy Hayes will be scratched after dressing for three of the past four games for Boston.