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

Spooner working on his draws to help become a more complete center

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Spooner working on his draws to help become a more complete center

BRIGHTON, Mass. – Ryan Spooner quickly ticked off face-offs as one big area that needed improvement headed into his second full NHL season with the Bruins and the speedy young center has most definitely put in the work thus far in camp.

Still, it didn’t translate in Spooner’s first preseason game in Wednesday night’s lopsided loss to the Red Wings as he finished 4-for-16 on the draw, and to add insult to injury: he also served a two-minute minor penalty for a face-off violation that led to a power-play goal. 

The skilled center made up for it at the other end by setting up a score for fellow speed-demon center Austin Czarnik as Boston’s only goal, but he was again back out on the Warrior Ice Arena sheet working on his draws again Thursday.

“I wasn’t great on my face-offs [against Detroit] trying to cheat a little bit too much. I think I just need to maybe just bear down a little bit more,” said Spooner, who finished at a very lackluster 42.8 percent success rate on face-offs last season. “[I need to] not try to win them clean, maybe just tie them up a little bit more. I was just trying to cheat on those [face-offs], and it didn’t work.”

Clearly, the draws were a contributing part of the problem in the rough loss to the Red Wings and it’s something Spooner will need to iron out before he’s fully trusted by the coaching in the nitty-gritty situations late in games. That was obvious at times last season. It’s something Spooner wants to change this season when there’s so much competition at the center spot, with Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Backes, Dominic Moore, Noel Acciari, Riley Nash and Czarnik all considered natural centers.

“When you start with the puck then the game is so much easier,” said B’s assistant coach Bruce Cassidy. “For Spooner [face offs] are important. I don’t want to speak for Claude [Julien], but he does have the luxury now of playing Spooner with guys that can take draws in his place if he wants to go down that road.

“At some point he’s going to have to improve [on the draw]. I think he wants to [improve on the draw] and he’s working at it, but the numbers aren’t where they need to be for him obviously. That’s the challenge Claude has going forward, but I think he can still get out on the ice and help you, even if he’s deficient in the face-off circle, and if he has some wingers that can help him.”

Spooner has employed veteran center Moore to give him some pointers while the two have worked out together in training camp and, in theory, it should be a big help for the young third-line center. Moore is one of those trusted veterans that is used in key face off situations with positive results, and is a left-shot player who can show the 24-year-old the exact techniques to help him.

Spooner said that getting face-off tips from Bergeron or Krejci had a limit to its helpfulness because those are right-handed centers doing the absolute reverse technique that a left-shot center would employ. Moore downplayed his role as a bit of a face off mentor, but the statistics, and his reputation on the draw would indicate he’s got plenty of knowledge to offer a second-year player.

“There are a lot of little things in the game, face-offs being one of them, that you learn through experience, and you want to try to pass it along to help make the team better,” said Moore. “[Spooner] is eager to try and improve a little bit every day. Part of face-offs is trying to get an edge any way that you can because they’re such a hotly contested thing.

“It’s definitely not easy, but if you have the right mentality then you try and build it up. You just have to approach it on a daily basis, commit to it and try to improve as best you can.”

Like so many things in life it would seem face-off ability is about putting in the work as much as it’s about natural-born skill and Spooner is putting in the hours to be a more complete center and trusted part of the team.

 

Bruins set roster for tonight’s preseason game in Detroit

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Bruins set roster for tonight’s preseason game in Detroit

The Bruins' lineup for Friday night’s preseason game in Detroit at Joe Louis Arena against the Red Wings will include players from both practice groups filling into a more veteran-laden B’s lineup in Motown.

The Matt Grzelcyk-Adam McQuaid pairing that wasn’t great on Wednesday night will get right back into it, and the John-Michael Liles-Brandon Carlo pairing that was so good on Monday night will get another look as well. Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Anton Khudobin, Dominic Moore, Joe Morrow, Riley Nash and Ryan Spooner will be the established NHL veterans along with McQuaid and Liles suiting up for Boston’s first road exhibition of the preseason.

Here’s the entire lineup, with Boston now serving as one of the last NHL teams that is yet to make any cuts from their camp roster: Matt Beleskey, Anton Blidh, Brandon Carlo, Colby Cave, Peter Cehlarik, Brian Ferlin, Alex Grant, Seth Griffith, Matt Grzelcyk, Jimmy Hayes, Danton Heinen, Anton Khudobin, Jeremy Lauzon, John-Michael Liles, Zane McIntyre, Adam McQuaid, Dominic Moore, Joe Morrow, Riley Nash, Zach Senyshyn, Ryan Spooner.

The Bruins will be traveling to Philadelphia for another preseason game on Saturday and that may perhaps be the first time B’s fans get to see returning World Cup veteran players David Backes, David Pastrnak and Tuukka Rask after they began practicing with the camp group on Thursday morning at Warrior Ice Arena.