Haggerty: Bruins battling for roster spots

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Haggerty: Bruins battling for roster spots

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON With four regular-season games left until the playoff intensity starts percolating like water bubbling at a boil, an assorted group of Bruins players are making important final impressions.

With 7 wins in their last 10 games and the Northeast Division title in their back pocket after Saturday's 3-2 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers at TD Garden, the Bruins now have bigger items on their agenda.

They still have a shot at the Eastern Conference top spot. The B's are three points behind the second-place Flyers and four points (with a game in hand) behind the first-place Capitals, and first place overall -- with home-ice advantage throughout the conference playoffs -- is nothing to sneeze at. It would be the clearest path possible for the Bruins to make their drive toward the Stanley Cup, which has eluded them since the days of the Bobby Orr rock star Bs of 1972.

Thats why there is never any Korbel champagne popped in hockey dressing rooms after clinching division titles.

I dont know why there wasn't a bigger celebration. I really dont know," said Mark Recchi, who opened up Bostons scoring with his 14th goal of the season in the first period. "I guess its because we have another big game on Monday in New York against the Rangers. We still have things ahead of us. We know we still have some things to accomplish. We want to try and continue this thing.

We have four games left and want to make sure we play well. We are excited about it but hopefully we still have a few more months of hockey. Its the ultimate goal for all of us.

With the postseason approaching, some Bruins players are starting to feel the roster pinch while stepping up their games. Nobody wants to be the healthy scratch in the playoffs, and it would appear that Michael Ryder, Daniel Paille, Shawn Thornton and Tyler Seguin are all battling to avoid being that lone Bruin out.

Provided theyre all healthy and Thorntons head wound has sufficiently healed by the third week in April, one of those four players will be in the press box wearing an Armani suit when the postseason begins.

So its no surprise that several of them have had their hockey alarm clocks start blaring as of late.

After a sluggish start in his first training camp with the Bruins, Paille has come on strong down the stretch while skating on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and serving as one of Bostons chief penalty killers.

That continued in the closing minutes of the second period Saturday with the Bs down 2-1 and attempting to kill off a penalty. Paille stepped up and made a play to secure Bostons 11th shorthanded goal of the regular season.

He intercepted a lazy Zach Bogosian pass thrown in front of the Atlanta net, and roofed a laser wrist shot from the left circle before either Bogosian or Dustin Byfuglien could converge on him.

It was Pailles third point in his last four games, and the speedy fourth liner knows the grit and PK performances are the valued areas that will be his calling cards if hes tapped for the postseason.

I feel great. I think I feel faster and just more patient on a lot of plays, said Paille. I feel really happy with my play right now.

I focus on the penalty kill more than anything else. Coach Claude Julien trusts me out there, so I do whatever I can to not get scored against. Hopefully that continues as we keep moving on here.

Ryder hasnt put together such a solid recent body of work as Paille, but Saturday afternoon was undoubtedly the bounce-back game critics had been waiting for from the streaky winger after he was scratched for a pair of games headed into this week.

The 12-game goal-scoring drought and measly four shots in five games werent really screaming out urgency or desperation in Ryders game, but it finally started to come out against Thrashers.

Ryder finished with only a single shot on net, but he also made the play that served as the difference between clinching the Northeast Division or simply shrugging shoulders and muttering well get them next time.

That play was another steal from Bogosian near the blue line that resulted in a solo breakaway before he was hauled down from behind and awarded a rate penalty shot at TD Garden.

Where Ryder completely missed the net on the exact same shootout attempt two nights earlier in the loss to the Maple Leafs, this time he snapped a wrist shot just under the right side of the crossbar and gave the Bs their needed game-winning goal midway through the third period.

Ryder has played two games with the Bs energy line since Thornton suffered the 40-stitch slice above his right eye, and said the trio is collectively looking to make a big impression on Julien and the coaching staff with the playoffs looming around the corner.

One thing Ryder isnt worried about is anybody on the outside bashing him with perceptions about his effort or his skimpy production this season.

I dont pay attention to stuff like that. People always talk and say things like that when you arent producing the way you should and stuff, said Ryder. You just block it out. I know what I have to do to succeed and help this team out. I just need to make sure I do that night in and night out.

You have to go out and show the coaches that you want to be there and you want to help the team. Its what Ive got to do playing with Campbell and Paille right now. I thought we had a pretty good game out there. Anything we can do to help the team is good. Paille scored shorthanded and I got the penalty shot. But we talked as a line and said weve just got to try and make strong plays out there and show that we can help.

Recent big and helpful performances from Paille and Ryder will make Juliens job that much tougher with an enforcer like Thornton sometimes seen as something of a luxury on a playoff roster.

Thorntons toughness and leadership, along with Seguins power-play capabilities and game-breaking potential, should make them players worthy of playoff roster spots at the end of the day.

With four games left there is still plenty of time for any of the Bs quartet to make or break their chances of remaining in the lineup when the postseason dance begins, so let the competitive games begin.

And let the best Bruins win.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: Bruins putting a lot of their hopes in one roster fix

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Haggerty: Bruins putting a lot of their hopes in one roster fix

The improvement plan has become as clear as it’s going to be for the Bruins this offseason.

With Bruins general manager Don Sweeney locking up Kevan Miller to a four-year, $10 million deal this week and vowing to sign Torey Krug as well, the Bruins defensemen corps is going to look awfully similar to last season’s misbegotten group.

Almost identical, it would seem.

Sure, Sweeney said on Wednesday that the Bruins are actively seeking out “a transitional defenseman” that’s presumably a little better than 35-year-old journeyman John-Michael Liles, and can be paired with Zdeno Chara as a top duo for next season. It’s the No. 1 priority on the Bruins offseason shopping list just as it was last season once they shipped Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for draft picks and were instead saddled with a fearsome, crippling black hole at the top of their organizational D-man charts.

The trade market has been set to a degree by the Erik Gudbranson trade from the Florida Panthers to the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night with Jim Benning giving up a Grade-A center prospect in Jared McCann, a second-round pick and a fourth-round pick in exchange for the 24-year-old top-four defenseman. Per a hockey source with knowledge of the situation, the Bruins were not involved in any talks for the towering Gudbranso. It sounded like the Panthers and Canucks were pretty locked in with each other on making a deal.

That’s an unfortunate product of Boston not being able to match up with the available center prospect that might have interested Florida and having dealt some of those 2016 draft picks on fruitless deadline rental deals for Lee Stempniak and Liles.

So, how difficult will it be to land Kevin Shattenkirk, or Jacob Trouba, or Sami Vatanen, or Tyson Barrie, or any other mobile blueliner able to play big minutes, move pucks and survive against the other team’s best offensive players while being sheltered defensively by Zdeno Chara?

“Time will tell on that one, you know? Either through free agency or through acquisition, it’s a matter of finding a trading partner or finding a match in the marketplace. We’re going to be aggressive,” said Sweeney. “We certainly have identified, we had our pro meetings … I’m not going to give my whole plan out to you today. But we have areas that we want to address in the depth of our organization more likely in the forward position, either on the right wing or the center, or again on the backend. We’re exploring a bunch of different things trade-wise. It’s difficult in this league, but I think that we’re in the position with two first-round picks to be either selecting really good players or to be in the marketplace.”

The Bruins had better hope it’s a miracle-working puck-mover that they bring to Boston because otherwise they are on course for bringing back the same old sorry usual suspects from last season. Miller and Adam McQuaid will be taking up a combined $5.25 million on the salary cap, Krug will have a salary in the range of $5 million per season after watching the B’s largesse in the Miller deal and both Chara and Seidenberg will trudge on as proud, aging warriors well on the back end of their careers after outstanding service in Boston.

That means many defenders, including Joe Morrow and Colin Miller, return. Defense was the clear weakness on the team, which finished 19th in the NHL after being in the bottom third of the league pretty much all season. It was inarguably the worst defensive group of Claude Julien’s 10-year tenure with the Bruins and had major difficulties in all areas ranging from tape-to-tape passes, to coverage breakdowns and good, old-fashioned lost battles in all of the danger areas.

So, with the plan to add one high-caliber “transitional defenseman” already laid out, it’s clear the B’s belief is that will be enough to substantially improve things on the ice.

At least that’s the theory before the bullets start flying next season and Sweeney gave a few perfunctory lines about the team improving in every area.  

“This is a results-oriented business, so we have to get better in areas. We have to improve our roster. I’ve said all along that we need to continue to improve our roster. We’ll be in the marketplace in every different way, shape, or form to try and acquire players that will continue to help us do so,” said Sweeney. “Talking with Claude and going over the time he spent with Butch [Cassidy], through my dealings with Butch, and realizing the development of a lot of the players that have been a part of our roster and success is the transition game and stuff that Butch has brought to the table.

“[It’s] how he saw the game, how he expects players to play and move pucks and work on it every day, is an area that I think he’s going to be an addition to our [coaching] staff and how he sees the game. I think I identified that if Butch was playing in this day and age now, he’d be a very welcome addition to our roster.”

So that’s the plan, folks. The big move of the summer is getting a defenseman they badly need, filling in a few roster spots, signing a good deal of their own players and then hoping for a better result next time around.

Isn’t there some kind of line about insanity and expecting different results with the same cast of characters year in and year out? 

 

Thursday, May 26: Will going with Fleury haunt Penguins?

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Thursday, May 26: Will going with Fleury haunt Penguins?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while still laughing at the #TeamFrich movement.

*Dave Lozo says that the decision by Mike Sullivan to play Marc-Andre Fleury could still come back to haunt the Pittsburgh Penguins.

*Miracle on Ice goaltender Jim Craig marvels at the evolution of USA Hockey from the Miracle days to the current system that just keeps on producing top talent.

*Mike from Woburn hates the Kevan Miller contract almost as much as I do.

*Speaking of the Kevin Miller deal, here’s a scenario where the big overpay for Miller might help them land another talented young player.

*In other hockey news, the Vancouver Canucks landed legitimate top-4 defenseman Erik Gudbranson while the ink was drying on the Kevan Miller contract.

*Chris Phillips is expected to announce his retirement from the Ottawa Senators after a long career in Ottawa as a defensive warrior.

*PHT writer and FOH (Friend of Haggs) Jason Brough says some tough decisions await the St. Louis Blues after dropping the conference finals to the San Jose Sharks.

*The San Jose media has decreed that it was worth spending a first-round pick for Martin Jones after he helped carry them to the Cup Final. For the Bruins it means that their first round pick will be No. 29 or No. 30 in the first round, so whoop-de-do for that.

*For something completely different: 21 scientists say that Tom Brady is right and the NFL is wrong about Deflategate.

 
 

Pandolfo ready to jump from player development to Bruins assistant

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Pandolfo ready to jump from player development to Bruins assistant

Jay Pandolfo grew up a rabid Bruins fan as a native of Burlington, Mass, and got to live out his youth hockey dreams playing in the Black and Gold at the very end of an excellent NHL career that included winning Stanley Cups for the New Jersey Devils. 

Pandolfo then was hired as a Player Development coach with the Bruins and was charged with working with their young prospects. Pandolfo responded as he typically does with a great work ethic and an open-minded, success-driven attitude, and did some very good things with young players Frank Vatrano, David Pastrnak and Noel Acciari the past couple of seasons.

So, it was a bonus for both the individual and for the team when Pandolfo was added to Claude Julien’s NHL coaching staff this week and it also bodes well for the further development of young players on the NHL roster. Perhaps Pandolfo can even coax a little more production out of young veteran forwards Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly, who were both lackluster given ample chances to consistently produce last season.

Pandolfo was also a part of the interview process two years ago when Geoff Ward departed from Boston’s NHL staff and the Bruins eventually hired Joe Sacco as Julien’s top assistant.

Clearly, developing the young players was a mandate with the hires of both Pandolfo and Bruce Cassidy to the NHL staff, and getting the coaching experience in the NHL is something he wanted to try after his retirement as a player.

“Coming out as a player, Jay expressed interest from day one to get into coaching, had been a part of the search process [last season] that Claude referenced earlier. I’ve spent an awful lot of time with [Pandolfo] in the last two years while he’s transitioned into a development role. He spent a lot of nights behind the bench in Providence. He watches a lot of video with our players in a development role,” said Don Sweeney, who also added that Pandolfo’s move to coaching would open the door for former Devils forward Jamie Langenbrunner to become more involved in the B’s burgeoning Player Development Department. “I don’t really think it ever left him that he wanted to take a crack at this. I think it’s sort of in him as part of his fabric to want to teach, to want to impart upon the players the knowledge that he knows what it takes to win.

“He’s won. I’ve trained with him in the summer; he knows exactly what it takes. I think that it’s in his blood. It doesn’t mean that he can’t transition back out in a year’s time if it’s something that he doesn’t want to do. But it’s something that he wanted to jump into right from the get-go.”

Both Pandolfo and Cassidy have the unique position of having already coached many of the prospects, either in the NHL or on the cusp of breaking through from Providence. Take it one step further, Pandolfo also has the unique perspective of having played with many of the B’s core group of veteran players. That experience can be a vital conduit between those players and Julien when normal brush fires crop up or when the head coach is actively looking to gauge the true pulse of his team.

“I think it’s a huge benefit. I think working with especially some of these young guys who will be coming up in Providence. Even getting to know the prospects that hopefully will be making the jump and whether it’s a year or two years, having those guys feel comfortable with coming into a situation,” said Pandolfo. “I’ve played with a lot of guys that are still on the Bruins, so I think being comfortable with those guys [is important], and those guys knowing me and being comfortable with them being able to bounce stuff off me. As an assistant coach, you know, a lot of times you’re a bit of a sounding board too for those guys. You know they can’t always go to the head coach for things, so you know they like to sometimes talk to the assistant, and get a feel for what everyone’s thinking.

“It’s a good situation. I played for Claude so I’m very comfortable with him. Working with Butch the last couple years has really helped me a lot and we’re real comfortable together. So it's a similar situation. I’ve known Joe for a long time and also working with Goalie [coach] Bob [Essensa] as well down in Providence on a regular basis and having a really good relationship with Don Sweeney the last two couple years, it’s a very similar situation. For everyone I think it’ll allow us to get close as a group right from the hop. I think that matters a lot when you’re trying to build a winning team.”

Clearly, the Bruins are trying to make adjustments to the coaching staff in the hopes things will be different than they’ve been the past two seasons. It remains to be seen how many more changes need to be made before the truly positive results start to return for the Black and Gold, and things begin to stabilize on Causeway Street.