Haggerty: Bruins' youth gives them upper hand

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Haggerty: Bruins' youth gives them upper hand

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

BOSTON -- The one thing that might just save the Bruins in this Stanley Cup hangover season: The playoff-hardened youth that the Bs roster is built on.

The 22 players most likely to make up the Bs roster when the team breaks camp in the beginning of October averages slightly over 27 years old, and could be one of the many reasons the Bruins can buck a 14-year trend.

No team has been able to win back-to-back Stanley Cups over those 14 years, but its difficult to recall a defending champ with a nucleus as fresh-faced as the Bruins. Its hard to believe, but Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Tyler Seguin, Tuukka Rask and Nathan Horton are all 26 years old or younger and just entering the prime of their hockey careers.

That means the organization can still expect better performances from many of the players entering their athletic peaks, and should be locked in for at least another five years of elite performance in the Eastern Conference.

Certainly Tim Thomas is perhaps the single biggest singe factor behind Bostons run to the Cup, and the seasoned netminder is at an age (37) when most goaltenders have become coaches running goalie clinics. But if the Bruins are going to have continued success this season after capturing the Cup its going to be on the strength of the young skating legs up and down the roster.

It also means the rest of the young core needs to take ownership of the team within the dressing room, and become a big part of the leadership group policing themselves and each other. Bergeron is the most visible given his role as an alternate captain, and the fact that hes already been in the NHL for seven full seasons gives him the most gravity of any voice in the room.

I think we have to do it," said Bergeron. "We have to all find ways to be more vocal and grab some of that void that Mark Recchi left in that leadership role. We've just got to all step up and find a way to do it.

It's not about not being ourselves. Youve got to make sure you stay yourself and it comes out the right way. You can't just force it. That's the biggest thing when you make sure the message goes out.

Its certainly easier said than done, but the proof is in the performances moving forward. Horton was a playoff hero with Game 7 goals and an intimidating physicality, but the winger only scored 24 regular-season goals while adjusting to his first season in Boston. Krejci nearly matched his season goal production in 75 games with a team-best 12 goals in 25 Stanley Cup playoff games, and admits theres another level of consistency he can reach with the Bruins.

Lucic may be hard-pressed to again reach 30 goals this upcoming season as he did while breaking through last year, but theres no reason to think that Lucic and Marchand cant combine offense and tone-setting physicality for a team that thrives on both skills mixed together.

Rask is there to spell Thomas during the regular season and provide the 37-year-old netminder with a little bit of rest after the Vezina Trophy winner played in a whopping 82 games last year.

Perhaps the biggest X-factor is Seguin, who should be able to build on a promise-filled rookie campaign and could be the scoring catalyst that helps the Bruins pass right on by their hangover doldrums.

After all, hangovers were a lot less painful at 19 years old, werent they?

I think the one thing thats for sure is that weve still got a young team," Claude Julien said. "When you look at players on our top two lines they generally are all young. And it got a lot younger with Mark Recchi retiring. But somebody else is going to step in there and replace Recchi and its probably going to be a young player as well.

Theres no doubt that theres room to grow still and a lot of it will be experience. Last year with the experience from the playoffs it is certainly going to serve us well this year . . . if they want it to serve us well.

Older veterans like Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are still veterans capable of contributing heavily to whatever the Bruins do this season. But youth will have to be served if the Black and Gold are going to fare better than some of their fellow Stanley Cup champs over the years but the good news is that veteran youth is perhaps unlike anything the NHL has experienced in a long, long time.

Its going to be an interesting hockey season in Boston, and it starts with a group of homegrown young players that have grown to savor the taste of winning.

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

Acciari, Heinen called back up to Bruins

Acciari, Heinen called back up to Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins made a few roster moves after a slogging 4-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche earlier this week, with an eye toward getting some competition going among the forward group, and perhaps spark a team struggling offensively.

Danton Heinen and Noel Acciari were brought up from Providence to skate with the big club on Saturday morning at Warrior Ice Arena and gritty Anton Blidh was returned to the P-Bruins after a solid stint as a fourth-line energy guy for the Black and Gold. 

Heinen has been tearing it up for the P-Bruins lately with four goals and seven points in his past five games with a plus-2 rating, including a couple of two-goal games for a Providence team that’s starting to heat up. 

Otherwise, things looked fairly similar for the Black and Gold, who didn’t make any changes to the struggling top power-play unit that was a disaster on Thursday night in the first period. It was Patrice Bergeron in the bumper role, Ryan Spooner on the half-wall, David Backes at the front of the net and David Krejci and Torey Krug manning the point positions. 

Here are the Bruins projected line combos and D-pairings for tonight vs. the Maple Leafs based on the morning skate: 

 
Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

Heinen-Krejci-Backes

Spooner-Nash-Czarnik

Schaller-Moore-Acciari/Hayes

 
Chara-Carlo

Krug-McQuaid

Morrow-K. Miller

C. Miller

Rask

 

Bruins power play looking for some upgrade answers

Bruins power play looking for some upgrade answers

BOSTON - It would appear things can’t continue the way they are for the Bruins' power play. 

After a disastrous first period helped dig them a hole in a 4-2 loss to the lowly Colorado Avalanche on Thursday night, there was some pretty serious soul-searching going with a man-advantage that has been both toothless and mistake-prone on far too many nights. 

In the Colorado loss a couple of early power-play possessions, one that was completely ineffectual with zero meaningful possession or shots on net and then a second that turned into a Nathan MacKinnon shorthanded goal, dropped the B’s into a hole they couldn’t climb out of. The shorthanded sequence was particularly damning with a desperate Torey Krug diving to keep a puck in the offensive zone, and then watching helpless as MacKinnon beat him to the loose puck and then took off down the ice behind the last line of B’s defense. 

Krug placed the blame on himself for the high-risk play at the offensive blue line, but it’s hard to wholly blame somebody that was using hustle to try and make something happen offensively. 

“I thought they were tired, and if I could keep it in then we keep them hemmed in and get them running around. At the end of the day, it’s a 50-50 play, but maybe early in my career, I learn that now and probably won’t do it anymore. Sometimes you’ve got to go through those things to learn,” said Krug. “It’s just one of those plays I thought instinctively I could get there and keep him hemmed in, and you could even tell when he went in on the breakaway that he was tired.

So, if I keep that in and we keep them hemmed in, hopefully we get a couple chances. But we’ve got to be better, some of our better players on our team, and we’ve got to take the onus on ourselves to start capitalizing on opportunities and changing the game for our team.”

Nobody is going to reasonably suggest that a dangerous power-play guy like Krug be removed from the special-teams unit, but clearly something needs to change. The Bruins are tied for 25th in the NHL on the power play with a 14.1 percent success rate, and they can’t blame lack of opportunities because they’re middle of the road when it comes to power-play chances this season. 

Only the Flyers, Stars and Blackhawks have allowed more shorthanded goals than the Bruins (four) in 28 games played as well, so the Black and Gold essentially aren’t playing good defense or offense on the power play this year. Krug saie that it’s a mindset thing and that the Bruins need to get back to the confident, energetic way they attacked penalty kills last season. 

“We want to make plays, we want to help our team. It’s not like we’re out there not trying to make plays or anything, but we just have to be better,” said Krug. “We’ve got to have better focus, crisper passes, making quick plays to the net and making things happen. I feel like right now we might just be standing there, [just kind of] static, just hoping that things are going to happen and we’re not making them happen. 

“So, we’ve got to change our mindset, and like I said, those guys on that unit are the guys that will go to work and make sure we’re better next time for our team.”

But it goes beyond simple approach. The Bruins lost their second-leading PP goal-scorer last season when Loui Eriksson signed with the Vancouver Canucks. Other top unit PP performers like David Krejci,  Krug and Ryan Spooner haven’t been as good this season. Still, perhaps the biggest reason is the all-around offensive disappearance of Patrice Bergeron, who had 12 goals and 13 assists on the PP last season for a team-best 25 power-play points. This season, Bergeron has one goal and two points on the PP in 25 games and has been neutralized by opposing penalty kills from his “bumper” position roving up and down the slot. 

The Bruins are determined to ride things out with Bergeron both five-on-five and on the PP, and rightfully so, given his quality, productive body of work with the Bruins. He’s Boston’s best player and you don’t ever go away from those guys. 

But Bergeron has been ordinary for the Bruins on the PP after being extraordinary last season, and not much is going to change with the B’s man advantage unless No. 37 begins to find the range, confidence and short-term quick burst that’s needed for the B’s power play to flow through him like a well-oiled scoring machine. A greater impact by David Backes on the net-front power play could help and an uptick in PP production from Krug, Krejci and Spooner would obviously be welcome for the Black and Gold. 

But the Bruins power play is designed to play off Bergeron’s many qualities and strengths when he’s at his best, and a big part of the B’s troubles and Bergeron’s troubles are linked together because No. 37 has been less than his best in a season that’s been challenging for him from the very beginning.