Haggerty: Bruins take a step back in Montreal

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Haggerty: Bruins take a step back in Montreal

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

MONTREAL Just when it seemed time to start discussing the Bruins as runaway Northeast Division winners and a potential top seed in the Eastern Conference, some old questions surfaced Tuesday after Bostons disappointing 4-1 loss to the Canadiens.

Tuukka Rask wasnt very good, the Boston defense was flat-footed, and the Bs power play once again looked pedestrian despite the presence of PP ace Tomas Kaberle.

Beyond that, the Bruins could have truly driven a stake through the Habs, all but ended the division race, and really pushed the Philadelphia Flyers for the top spot in the conference.

That they didn't -- or couldn't -- was disconcerting.

Because it wasn't so much about the loss itself as it was about how they played.

I dont think the Canadiens had to work very hard for those first two goals, said coach Claude Julien. The first one, the play comes out of the corner and a player is allowed to come right in and take a whack at the puck. We need to take care of that. The second one we leave a player behind us all by himself.

So its not like they really had to work hard for those first two goals in our mind and that really set us back. This is where its important to have good starts, and we didnt have a very good start giving up those first two goals. We cant say that were happy with the game we played tonight, and thats what were looking at.

And even beyond all that, there's the possibility of Zdeno Chara getting slapped with a multigame suspension for his hit on Max Pacioretty, which resulted in Pacioretty's scary-looking, head-first collision into the stanchion between the benches.

It seems virtually everything the Bruins did on this night fell flat.

Johnny Boychuk attempted to provide a physical spark early in the game with an open ice hit on P.K. Subban in the first period, as he did in last seasons playoffs. But he missed on the locomotive hit, and then lost a fight to Montreal enforcer Ryan White following the play.

Then there was the strange decision to start Tuukka Rask after Tim Thomas appeared to be shaking and favoring his left hand during the morning skate at the Bell Centre. Thomas never came into the game in relief despite an off night for Rask.

Julien insisted the decision to play Rask was based on the young goalies four-game winning streak and Thomas unimpressive career goals-against average against Montreal.

I think against this team Timmy has his worst goals-against average than any other team, and we felt it was an opportunity, after winning four in a row, for Tuukka to step up, said Julien. We made that decision and felt comfortable with it, so well live with it.

But why on earth would a team go away from one of its best players -- and a goaltender whos leading the NHL in goals against average and save percentage -- in one of the biggest games of the season if there wasnt some other underlying reason?

Rask wasnt terrible in the first period, but he wasnt great either.

It was the Bruins' defense that lost battles in front of the net that allowed Lars Eller to march toward the cage while popping in a Paul Mara rebound for the first goal. Then both Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley made weak plays in the defensive zone with the puck, and the napping Bruins defense practically invited Eller to sneak behind them for a score.

Rask had no chance at that one.

But the 23-year-old goalie got pretty good looks at goals by Brian Gionta and James Wisniewski in the second period, and did nothing to stop either.

The first period I can somehow understand giving up those goals, but those last two there shouldnt happen when you look at it as a goalie, said Rask. Its hockey. It happens sometimes. Youve got to shake it off and at least we won a period up here.

The surprising decision to start Rask, the missed chances early at some intimidating physicality, the defensive breakdowns and the wilting Bs power play all speak to issues that need to be addressed before they become problems.

In some ways, Tuesday's loss can be justified. The Bruins had taken 15 of the last 16 potential points, and were due for a stinker. The Canadiens are a bad matchup for the B's; they've won only 2 of the last 11 games against Montreal. Nor has the Bell Centre been a welcoming place for them. Their last two losses here -- Tuesday night's, and the Jan. 8 meltdown in which they blew a late 2-0 lead in a 3-2 overtime defeat -- were among their worst of the season. Plus, the Habs were fighting to stay alive in the division race, and were highly motivated after the literal beatdown they took in Boston last month.

But Julien put it best: "We cant say that were happy with the game we played tonight, and thats what were looking at."

There were too many troubling patterns, and trends, on this night.

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

Tuesday, Aug. 23: What about NHLers in Olympics?

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Tuesday, Aug. 23: What about NHLers in Olympics?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while appreciating all the birthday wishes I got yesterday while turning 42 years old.

*With the World Cup of Hockey around the corner, there is still a decision pending on NHL players participating in the Olympics.

*With the Winnipeg Jets and Jacob Trouba still unable to agree on a contract extension, some are wondering about comparable contracts for the young D-man.

*In the strict interest of self-promotion, here’s my radio hit with Pete Sheppard and Jimmy Murphy on the Bruins from Monday afternoon.

*Marek Zidlicky is still a free agent option for teams seeking a cheap solution on their back end.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has the Ottawa Senators and Cody Ceci agreeing on a two-year contract extension after a summer without a deal.

*The Minnesota Wild do the right thing and officially change their goal song to Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” for next season.

*For something completely different: there will be a "Hamilton" documentary and the question will be whether I see that before I see the actual play.

 

Five best available free agents left for the Bruins

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Five best available free agents left for the Bruins

Click here for the gallery. 

The reality for the Bruins is that the Jimmy Vesey has signed with the New York Rangers and an entire menu of options for roster moves has been taken away from Boston with him choosing the Blueshirts over the Black and Gold.

Signing Vesey would have been like found money for the B’s, but losing out on him does still leave Don Sweeney with a couple of holes on the roster with training camp a few weeks away. The smart money says the Bruins attempt to fill those holes with young players stepping up in camp and that a move to bring in more veterans will only be out of desperation once the season gets going.

Still, there are still some free-agent options out there for the Bruins, so here are the five best potential fits for the Bruins should Sweeney opt to go the quick-fix route with the leftovers still kicking around. 

 

1)  Jiri Hudler 

Sure the 32-year-old Hudler really struggled in the playoffs for the Florida Panthers last spring, but he still posted 16 goals and 46 points in a “down” season for the Flames and Panthers. He’s only two years removed from 31 goals and 76 points for the Flames and seems a lock for 15-20 goals provided he can remain healthy for whomever he ends up playing for next season. If the Bruins had Vesey slotted in for a top-six role with David Krejci, they will most certainly have young players Frank Vatrano and Danton Heinen lined up for long looks in training camp after Vesey signed with New York. But Hudler has the kind of experience and offensive ability that could play well with a playmaking force like Krejci if they wanted to get an experienced hand for a top-6 role. After all it could be a tough spot for Krejci if he’s got younger players on both sides of him with David Pastrnak already lining up for the right hand side, and essentially a rookie on the left side in either Vatrano or Heinen. Hudler could be a very cheap option at left wing for a low, low price given that he hasn’t signed as a free agent with anybody this late into August. The bottom line is that the Bruins got 30-plus goals and 60-plus points from a guy in Loui Eriksson that played in that spot last season and they need to find somebody that can give at least a solid fraction of that production with the Swede now in Vancouver. 

Should the Bruins kick the tires? Absolutely, this would be something to consider strongly even if Sweeney and Co. would rather see Vatrano or Heinen develop into the answer this season.

 

2) Kris Russell 

The Bruins had explored things with Russell a bit back in July and the price should be way down on this D-man after he turned down a long term deal with the Maple Leafs after July 1. Unfortunately for Russell, it looks like he’s going to be this year’s Cody Franson as the D-man left scrapping for a shorter-term, smaller-money deal than he thought he’d be getting as a free agent. That’s a byproduct of the 5-foot-10, 170-pound frame for Russell. He’s another player that struggled with his new Dallas team after being traded from the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline. For the Bruins purposes, they’ve already got a couple of small-ish left-shot defensemen in Torey Krug and John-Michael Liles. So, signing on another left-shot defenseman in Russell would seem redundant, but Russell has also been a “no doubt” top-four defenseman for the past four seasons that hasn’t averaged fewer than 22:58 of ice time in any season over the past four years with the Flames. That’s the kind of minutes horse that the Bruins could use on their back end and certainly Russell is more adept at moving pucks than Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller. It’s hard to ignore the combined 63 points Russell put up for from 2013-15 and now the B’s could get him at a much cheaper price at the end of the summer. 

Should the Bruins kick the tires? Only if they move out a defenseman currently signed to a contract and only if Russell is willing to take a short-term deal like the one Franson signed in Buffalo last summer.

 

3)  Jacob Trouba 

The 22-year-old restricted free agent still hasn’t signed with the Winnipeg Jets and by all accounts the Jets are far apart on term, money and Trouba’s role on the team with Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers both in front of him on the depth chart. It’s getting to the point where Winnipeg needs to consider trading Trouba if it’s going to be too difficult to sign him, and keep him, in Winnipeg. The Bruins were preparing an offer sheet for Trouba at the start of free agency, but backed off given some of the negative ramifications, and the potential cost for the player, involved with an offer sheet. He’s young at 22, he’s big at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, and he was a lottery pick back in 2012, so the potential is there for him to be exactly what the Bruins need as a right-shot, top-four defenseman. He’s the best option for the B’s if they could somehow be the team standing and waiting for Trouba should Kevin Cheveldayoff decide to cast him off, or should they really go bold and finally drop the offer sheet they’d prepared. 

Should the Bruins kick the tires? If they’re going to actually act on a free agent, this should be the one whether it’s through an offer sheet or trade. The sense is the Bruins aren’t going the offer sheet route, so they’ll simply have to wait and hope Winnipeg decides to move him. Trouba is still their best option by a safe margin, but it feels like they needed to act back in July if they really wanted him in a Bruins sweater.

 

4)  Brandon Pirri 

The 25-year-old Pirri scored 22 goals in 49 games for the Panthers just two years ago, and remains unsigned after posting a decent 14 goals and 29 points in 61 games for the Panthers and Anaheim Ducks last season. Pirri has scored 49 goals over the past three seasons with the Blackhawks, Panthers and Ducks, so he can put the puck in the net while not being afraid to shoot it in the least. Like the rest of the free agents at this point, Pirri won’t be expensive or a big commitment in terms of contract. He’s a lefty shooter and a natural center by trade, but yet another forward that could be flexible for the Bruins if they wanted to try him on the wing as a veteran option. 

Should the Bruins kick the tires? Possibly a PTO candidate, but it makes more sense for the Bruins to give Vatrano or Heinen a chance rather than signing Pirri to an NHL contract this late in the game. Presumably, the B’s can get at least that level of production from Vatrano, if not more, entering his first full NHL season in Boston with a lot of untapped goal-scoring ability. Hudler on the cheap is one thing, but the Bruins should probably pass on Pirri at this point.

 

5)  Marek Zidlicky 

He’s 39 years old and he’s coming off a down season with some injuries and an off performance for the Islanders, but it might be worth it for the Bruins to see if there’s anything left in the 12-year veteran’s tank on a PTO-type situation. The four goals and 16 points were decent enough for the Isles last season, but Zidlicky saw his ice time drop to a career-low 15:35 per game last season as he was shifted out of a top-four role. Only two years ago, Zidlicky posted four goals and 23 points while averaging 21:56 of ice time for the Devils while featuring his big, booming point shot and logging heavy minutes in all situations for New Jersey. He’s a right shot, and he’s sturdy enough at 5-foot-11, 190-pounds. Considering that Zidlicky is still looking for work in late August, this could be the kind of “buy low” option that could pay some nice short-term dividends for the Bruins as they wait for their younger options to mature into NHL players. What do the Bruins have to lose at this point with a B’s back end that still needs a lot of improvement while bringing back the same crew as last season?  

Should the Bruins kick the tires? If they can sign Zidlicky to a PTO and bring him into camp, there is literally no downside to a player that could fill a big hole for them if he can bounce back from a tough year in Brooklyn.