Haggerty: Bruins prepare for play without their giant

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Haggerty: Bruins prepare for play without their giant

WILMINGTON, Mass. Whether its two games or two-plus weeks, the Bruins are going to feel the absence of Zdeno Chara while he recovers from the lower body injury suffered when his left knee buckled in Columbus last weekend.It's only natural there will be a goliath-sized hole in Boston's lineup while their giant is missing. If you don't believe me then just watch the game film from the first round of last year's playoffs when Chara missed Game 2 with severe dehydration and the Bruins entire team looked like their strength had been sapped.

There is certainly both good news and bad news about the Charainjury, and how it will affect the reigning Stanley Cup champs in the middle of their seasonal battle. First, the obvious: The Bruins are going to miss their most indispensable player. Chara is arguably the most irreplaceable force of nature in the entire NHL, and nobody else comes close to matching his size, strength, skill and intimidation package in that 6-foot-9 frame. He seems as invulnerable as Ivan Drago on most nights, so it's a shock to everybody's system when No. 33 can't suit up. Rather than saying "If he dies, he dies" or "I must break you", Chara went through the odd sensation of suffering an injury that will keep him out of the lineup.It didn't keep Chara from working out off the ice on Monday, but it will keep him out of the lineup."You can't put a timetable on how you feel," said Chara. "It's in a stage where we can't talk about anything more than 24 hours ahead. Sometimes you could be themost fit guy in the league and you're still going to get hurt.It's just the way it isin the league with the speed and physical level."

Theres a reason the Bruins are 4-5-3 in the 12 games theyve played without Chara over the last five seasons. The Slovakian blueliner and Tim Thomas are the two most important cogs in the Black and Gold machine, and now the Bs will be without one-half of that duo for an unspecified amount of time.

Chara himself addressed the media on Monday and indicated he hasnt been ruled out of any games this week aside from Tuesday nights game against the Los Angeles Kings, but this isnt a situation where the franchise defenseman will get rushed back to play.

He is better today than he was yesterday, so thats good news, said coach Claude Julien. Hes improved, and the way our group is looking at it right now is that hes a day-to-day. Hes obviously doubtful for Tuesday, but after that thats what day-to-day is all about.

His endurance is good, obviously, and hes a big, strong individual. It takes a lot to get him injured and get him to miss games. Hes played through pain here, hes a pretty reliable player and its not too often you see him out of our lineup.

So the Bruins will be without their best penalty killer a fact made plainly obvious when the Buffalo Sabres scores a pair of power-play goals while Chara was sitting in the penalty box last month and their greatest power-play weapon. The 34-year-old defenseman was actually pacing to have his best NHL season: He was on track to approach 60 points and 25 power-play points over the course of a full season and his sizzling slap shot was creating offense on the man advantage in a dominant way.

Thats above and beyond the 24:48 of ice time that Chara was averaging and the shutdown form he continually shows against the league's best offensive playmakers. The Bruins can run Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Co. as much as theyd like, but theyre not going to recreate the intimidating presence that makes Chara rate as the most difficult player to play against each year when the NHLPA polls of the NHLs best are released.

We dont believe in changing our game because one guy is out. We play our game the same way, said Julien. We need some guys to step up and fill in some of the minutes that hed take during a game. Thats about as far as well go with an injury.

When you lose a key player its a big void. But other teams, including us, have dealt with that in the past. Theres nothing you can do about it. To say he leaves a big void doesnt mean that we cant fill it. What we feel right is that we have enough guys that will come in and do the job, and one thing we wont do is come out and say we didnt win this game because Zdeno isnt in the lineup.

But if the most conservative estimates are true and Chara misses at least the next three games and possibly the next five games leading into Christmas with his injury, then the Bruins might have caught a break at the right time. The injury occurred with the Bs in the middle of a stretch where they play six games over 21 days, and get a long-ish break leading into the Christmas holiday.

So the Bs wont actually play that many games without Chara, and therefore cant lose much ground at all even if they cant stop anybody defensively without their Tower of Power. Steve Kampfer will obviously fill in during Charas absence as the spare defenseman, but the Bs will most likely go with a five-man defenseman rotation depending on the game situations.

Dennis Seidenberg is already playing nearly as many minutes as Chara, so it wont be a steadier diet of minutes for the German defenseman. If anything, Adam McQuaid might be the recipient of more minutes given his sizestrength combo, and the Bs belief the young defenseman could have a bright future as a shutdown defenseman.

Zee is missing, so it leaves a big void. It means we all have to step up. He plays big minutes and he plays against the other teams best line, said Seidenberg. We just have to do a good job and shut them down.

We just have to do the same job on the ice and stop them from scoring. Its just that a huge piece of us will be missing. The matchups will be a little different on the ice, but I dont see anything else really changing about the way we play.

It should be an interesting next week or two as the Bruins get a glimpse of what life would be like without their titanic defenseman, but it could also be a painful one if Charas fellow defensemen corps cant make up for his absence.

Its a tall task both literally and figuratively for Boston without their giant, and that chore starts Tuesday night against the Kings.

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. 
 

Cassidy wants Bruins to break out ‘quicker and cleaner’

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Cassidy wants Bruins to break out ‘quicker and cleaner’

It was more than a decade ago that Bruce Cassidy had his one and only NHL head coaching shot with Washington Capitals, so the enthusiasm was predictable and genuine when the longtime AHL coach was named to Claude Julien’s staff this week.

Cassidy paid his dues in Providence with the Bruins the past eight seasons and posted winning records in all five seasons as coach with playoff berths in each of the past four years. He also did all of that while developing the young talent that’s come through Boston’s organizational pipeline and showed a particular penchant for working with young defensemen.

The hope is that the Black and Gold can break the puck out of their end with a little more speed, precision and confidence with Cassidy in charge of pumping some energy into the transition game. The one caveat: a hockey team also needs the personnel to be able to transition the puck no matter how good the coaching might be.

“Obviously there’s going to be some roles that those two new coaches are going to have. Bruce Cassidy will definitely be behind the bench taking care of the defense part that Doug Houda had. Bruce Cassidy being a former defenseman and one that was very successful, I think, in the transitioning of the puck and has done a great job also with the group that he had in Providence,” said Julien. “I think that’s going to be a good place for him and certainly a good area for him to help improve our transition game back there.”

The list is long of B’s players that also counted Cassidy as their head coach: Noel Acciari, Tommy Cross, Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith, Alexander Khokhlachev, Torey Krug, Colin Miller, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, David Pastrnak, Tyler Randell, Ryan Spooner, Malcolm Subban, Zach Trotman and Frank Vatrano. Cassidy and P-Bruins assistant coach Kevin Dean’s work with Krug, Johnny Boychuk, Miller and McQuaid among others in AHL has earned them plenty of plaudits in the Bruins organization.

Cassidy finished with a 207-128-45 as the bench boss for the P-Bruins and has said in the past that a return as an NHL head coach is the goal for him. There is a strong belief that Cassidy would be the choice for an interim head coach if an in-season change was ever made with Julien and that missing the playoffs  the past two seasons has dialed up the warmth levels on his coaching hot seat.

Cassidy was clearly avoiding that subject on Wednesday, and instead will dutifully work with the defensemen as fired assistant coach Doug Houda had done for the last 10 years in Boston.

“I’m excited about it. Obviously, to be able to learn from a coach with Claude [Julien]’s pedigree, a Stanley Cup champion, I know it’s a big honor for me. It’s been great down in Providence with me for eight years. To be that much closer to him is only going to make me a better coach, so for me it’s a very exciting time,” said Cassidy, who guided the Capitals from 2002-2004 with a 39-29-8-6 record. “I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself because the stamp of approval is always Claude’s first. Just meeting with him and having discussions, even previous years, I think what we’d like to grow in our game is the ability to move the puck out of the zone quicker and cleaner.

“That may involve a few more one-man breakouts. Players have the ability to beat the first fore-checker with their feet, make a good outlet pass, then you don’t have to always use your partner, so we’re not quite as predictable. So that’s how I’d like us to look on the transition part, where we’re a little more fluid coming out of our zone. That generally is a mindset that the defensemen have to buy into, that they have the ability to do that. Everyone’s is a little bit different. Every player on the back end has the ability to move the puck. They might not all be labeled necessarily puck-movers throughout hockey, but they’re NHL players, they all have the ability to move the puck and we want to sort of grow their game there and at least reach their ceiling.”

Cassidy will have his transition game work cut out for him with stay-at-home defensemen like Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller clogging up the Bruins roster, but there clearly could be later dividends for him in Boston if can work wonders with a defense that finished 19th in the NHL last season.