With Chara out, Thomas fails to step up


With Chara out, Thomas fails to step up

By Joe Haggerty

BOSTON Zdeno Chara is the one and only irreplaceable piece for the Boston Bruins.

The 6-foot-9 behemoth on skates, chugging along with his 25 plus minutes a night, is the biggest Bostonweapon on the power play with his eight power play goalsand a regular participant on the penalty kill unit as well.He provides so much of the intimidating aura embraced by the Big Bad Bruins that it's not an exaggeration to say he puts the Big and Bad in the moniker.

So withChara unable to lace them up for Saturday nights Game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens due to flu-like systems and severe dehydration that had him sent to the hospital on Friday night, there was nobody among Bostons defensemen corps capable of stepping up and stepping in for the absent Chara in a must-win scenario.

There were plenty of careless mistakes and harmful gaffes all over the ice by an overwhelmed blueline staff without their fearless big leader, and it showed to ugly degreein Bostons 3-1 loss to the Habs on the Garden ice.

Whilebeleaguered defensemen like Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference all struggled with turnovers and shoddy net-front coverage while being force-fed ice time and wave after wave of speedy Montreal attackers, the struggles were to be expected.

When its impossible to replace one elite caliber player with a group of lesser hockey talents, its instead imperative that a teams second elite player pick up the slack for the missing Chara. Vezina Trophy favorite Tim Thomas had a challenge on his plate to really pick up his goaltending game with big Chara unable to answer the bell, and lead his Boston team to a victory on home ice.

But instead the 36-year-old Bs goaltender and three-time All-Starchoked on it. Thomas had a chance to steal the game for Boston while everything was flying around him in the crease, and he instead allowed three goals -- and two juicy, unforgivable rebounds -- on 26 shots in yet another defeat at the hands of the hated Habs.

Hes 6-foot-9 guy with an 8-foot reach that can skate really well and hits incredibly hard, and on top of that has one of the hardest shots in the league, said Thomas when asked how much the team missed Charas services. We know that. It was our job to step up for him tonight and we didnt do it."Correction: Thomas didn't do it.

Chara was the sick Bruins player, but Thomas basically puked all over his skates when he allowed a pair of juicy rebounds in the first and second period to open and close the scoring for the Canadiens. Though the Black and Gold are a very different team than either the Washington Capitals or the Pittsburgh Penguins fromlast season's playoffs, theyre really starting to take on the hang-doglook of those two exasperated hockey clubs while going up against the very-same Montreal unit this spring looking to spoil their fun.

It was up to Thomas to step into the void and play like a marvelousgoaltender that posted an NHL-record .938 save percentage during the regular season, and possiblypick up a scattered Bs defensemen corps for one single night. It was as big a must-win as a postseason game can be in a non-elimination scenario with Montreals Bell Centre looming in the immediate future, and Thomas once again came up woefullyshort when his team needed greatnessin the playoffs.

Claude Julien was trying not to throw his star-studded goaltender under the bus with Tuukka Rask chomping at the bit to jump into the fray, but it was clear the Bs coach wasnt happy with Thomas results. Instead Julien opted not to talk about his goaltender's performance when asked about an evaluation -- not exactly a ringing endorsement for Thomas as he scrambled through the opening minutes of the game and then couldn't pull off the big save at the big moment.

Ive said that all along in the playoffs were going to talk about our team, said Julien, who watched Thomas made 23 saves. Were certainly not going to talk about individuals in any negative way. If there is something that has to be dealt with, it will be dealt with internally.

I think its important for us to do those things in the playoffs. And right now is not a time to jump all over anybody. And Tim Thomas has been a great goaltender for us all year and we expect him to continue to be that for us in the playoffs.

The Bruins goalie was dancing around and scrambling frenetically in the opening minutes, and Thomas coughed upa rebound of a James Wisniewski shot directly to a hard-charging Mike Cammalleri. The Habs mighty mite beat a stumbling Johnny Boychuk to the loose puck and the keyspot on the ice after a Boychuk turnover in the neutral zone started the whole play, and it was 1-0 lickety-split.

Less than two minutes later Dennis Seidenberg was off for interference and Mathieu Darche converted a nifty Cammalleri cross-ice pass on the power play to make it 2-0 while Thomas was stillmuch too active around the net. Just as the B's skaters were jumpy and scattered in front of him during a tight opening minutes of Game 2, Thomas was just as guilty of it.

Both Thomas and the Bruins defense settled into the game after that despite being down by a pair of goals, and it looked like the Bruins goalie made the game-changing play when he stoned Tomas Plekanec on a lone breakaway midway through the second period. That was the Thomas that fearlessly led Boston all season, and had something to prove after losing his starting job between the pipes last season.

There was a palpable shift in the momentum following Thomas big doublesave on Plekanec's opening shot and rebound, and the Bruins capitalized on it with picture perfect passing that ultimately led to a Patrice Bergeron score to make it 2-1.

But then came the moment of uglytruth for both goalie and hockey club.The elite goaltender made a game-saving stop on Plekanecwhile stepping up in his teams time of dire need,but Thomas wasnt able to pull it off it twice in a row. A Dennis Seidenberg stretch pass was intercepted by the swift-skating Canadiens, and that turned into a Lars Eller shot that hand-cuffedthe Boston goaltender. Hecouldnt handle the initial shot after it skimmed off Seidenberg's thigh pad, and asecond damaging rebound bounced off to his right side. Yannick Weber once againbeata stumblingBoychuk to the puck for another Montreal goal, and that effectively ripped the heart out of Boston.

It left Thomas muttering phrases right out of the Bill Belichick handbook as he attempted to put the pieces together a good 10 minutes starting straight ahead and muttering to rookie goalie Anton Khudobinbefore reporters finally approachedhim. Thomas was curt with his words and guarded with his thoughts, and there was the rare look of defeat in the defiant goaltender's intelligent eyes.

"Well, its easy to accept because it is. It is what it is, said Thomas. Weve got our backs against the wall, and well see how we respond. The proof is in the pudding at this point."

The game was as good as over at that point with a power play thats 0-for-7 for the two-game series and top offensive line that isnt functioning with any kind of regularity. With so many players struggling and Chara ashen-faced and ailing, Saturday night was the time for Thomas to have his shining playoff moment with the Bruins at the exact right time in the series.Instead Thomas slipped into the tank right along with the rest of the Bs hockey club, and the end is nearing for a Big Bad Bruins team that wasteeming with potential and possibilities this spring.Thomas might only have the Vezina to look forward to this spring and summer if things don't reverse themselves in a big way next week in his house of personal horrors at the Bell Centre.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. 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.