With Chara out, Thomas fails to step up

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With Chara out, Thomas fails to step up

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

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

Haggerty: Trouba deal is one Bruins need to get done

Haggerty: Trouba deal is one Bruins need to get done

Bruins management has been in a holding pattern waiting for something to “shake free” in the top-four defensemen department and that might have finally happened this weekend.

With the news on Saturday that Jacob Trouba won’t be reporting to training camp with the Winnipeg Jets and has asked for a trade, a player is becoming available that the Black and Gold have had their eyes on for months and months.

CSN was the first to report that the Bruins were putting together a plan for an offer sheet for the 22-year-old American-born defenseman back in June, but that never materialized. GM Don Sweeney eventually backed off that aggressive plan to nab a player they have tapped as a top-four, right-shot defenseman, but clearly there is still interest from a Boston team that literally did nothing to upgrade their back end over the summer.

Cam Neely admitted to CSN a couple of weeks ago that the Bruins were still positioned to make a move for a D-man if something opened up on the market.

“Basically from April to now everybody is talking about our back end, and not being able to land a top-four defenseman. We still have an opportunity as far as cap space goes if something shakes free, and I know Don [Sweeney] has been working hard trying to do something,” said Neely. “But I feel like as a group we can do better than we did last year.

“I think Tuukka [Rask] can play better than he did last year. If that happens we should be a better club. It’s going to be a challenge and it’s going to be competitive. But I feel like the changes we’ve made through the organization, and not just in player personnel, that there’s opportunity for our group to improve.”

Well, here’s a memo for the B’s brass on Causeway Street: things just opened up as high and wide as a vintage Rich Peverley shot off the high glass. The ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft is going to be made available and will undoubtedly be the best defenseman to move in trade between now and the start of the regular season.

He’d also go a long way toward providing the B’s with the kind of bridge D-man that could improve markedly in the present, and allow the back end to be much closer to good until young defenesmen Charlie McAvoy, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Brandon Carlo are ready for prime time.

This Saturday night statement from agent Kurt Overhardt explains the situation succinctly, but basically Trouba doesn’t want wind his career away stuck behind Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers on the right side of Winnipeg’s defense.

“Our client, Jacob Trouba, will not be attending the Winnipeg Jets NHL training camp. Since May, we have been working with the Jets management in an effort to facilitate a trade of Jacob’s rights. Both parties continue to work on this matter,” said Overhardt in the statement. “There has been no negotiation regarding the terms of a contract between our client and the Jets over the course of the last several months. The situation is not about money; it is solely about our client having the opportunity to realize his potential as a right shot NHL defenseman.

“To the Jets credit, the club has two outstanding right shot veteran defensemen and our client simply wants the opportunity to have a greater role. As a consequence of the Jets depth on the right side, we believe it is in both parties’ best interest to facilitate a mutually advantageous trade.

Our client has nothing but respect for the people and City of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Jets, its fans, management and ownership - our desire to get him moved has everything to do with opportunity. We will continue to work with the Jets in good faith to achieve this end.”

Clearly, Trouba will draw big interest around the league: he’s a 6-foot-1, 200-pound, right-shot defenseman who posted 10 goals and 29 points in his rookie season as a teenager and has averaged more than 22 minutes of ice time per game since entering the league. 

This is yet another chance for Sweeney and Co. to close a deal on a defenseman and finally start to address some of the damage done while shipping away Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton in successive years. It will undoubtedly cost a pretty penny in terms of assets, but there has to be a reason why Sweeney has been stockpiling centers headed into training camp.

A package of Ryan Spooner, Joe Morrow and a first-round pick would be considerable, but it also might not be enough to get a deal done for a high-demand talent in Trouba. Undoubtedly the Jets would also for a blue chip D-man prospect such as Carlo, or perhaps they’d be more interested in  veteran right-shot option Adam McQuaid, who could immediately replace Trouba in the Winnipeg lineup.

The worst-case scenario is Kevin Cheveldayoff taking a page from the Kevin Shattenkirk trade talks, and both starting and ending any conversations with David Pastrnak as the main trade chip. The Bruins have made it clear they’re done “sprinkling their talent around the rest of the league” as one B’s front office exec made clear to CSN.   

The bottom line: it’s not going to be easy, but this is exactly the kind of situation where Sweeney needs to become a closer rather than a lamenter who starts an explanation with “price are high” or “it takes two to tango.”

It takes a good manager to close a deal his team desperately needs. This Trouba situation is shaping up to provide the B’s with that opportunity. 
 

Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

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Rask: Last season 'something to rebound from' personally

BRIGHTON, Mass. – While David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask and David Backes are back from competing in the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto, that doesn’t mean you’ll see those players on the ice over the next couple of days. Perhaps the trio will practice on Monday in the fourth on-ice session at main training camp, but Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that none of those returning players will suit up against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the B’s preseason debut at TD Garden on Monday night.

“Yeah…absolutely,” said Sweeney when asked if those three players have been ruled out for Monday night. “They’re going to get through the weekend here. Next week, we’ll evaluate [them] when they get on the ice. But, all those guys will not be on the ice until next week.

“It might be case-by-case for each guy. Those guys have been playing for a while at a high level. It’s unique for David Backes coming into the organization, so he’d like to integrate himself. I talked yesterday with all three of them just to get a read of where they’re at. But, sometime first of next week, they’ll be on [the ice].”

Both Pastrnak and Rask have checked in with the Bruins media over the last couple of days after returning from Toronto, and the Bruins goaltender, in particular, has plenty of motivation coming off a down statistical season. The 2.56 goals against average and .915 save percentage were well below his career numbers, and people like B’s President Cam Neely have pointed to Rask as somebody that needs to have a better season for Boston to rebound back into the playoffs this year.

“There were a couple of years where the standards pretty high, so obviously when they go down there’s something to rebound from. You kind of know where you can be. That’s where I try to be every year and I’m working on being there this year, and taking us to the playoffs and moving forward,” said Rask. “But every year is a new year where you’ve got to work hard, and set your goals to be at your best. More often than not you hope [being at your best] is going to happen, and I hope this year is going to be a great year for us.”

Clearly Rask wasn’t alone in his struggles last season behind a mistake-prone defense that allowed plenty of Grade chances, and that could be a repeating phenomenon again this season for the Bruins unless the defense is substantially upgraded along the way.

As far as the other three B’s players still taking part in the World Cup, it could be a while for Patrice and Brad Marchand as Team Canada has advanced to the final best-of-three series that could also feature Zdeno Chara if Team Europe is victorious.