Haggerty: How Bruins will replace Horton

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Haggerty: How Bruins will replace Horton

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Reality is setting in for the Bruins that theyve lost their Game 7 hero, Nathan Horton, for the rest of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Horton was released from Massachusetts General Hospital on Tuesday after suffering a severe concussion when he was rocked by a late hit from Aaron Rome in Game 3 Monday night, and the Bruins now have the unenviable task of replacing their No. 1 right wing. While the Bruins have better depth at the forward position than they did last season, it doesnt take too many brain cells to remember last years offensively-challenged bunch in the year in between Phil Kessel and Horton.

Horton finished with 34 goals in 101 games spread out over the regular season and playoffs, and that's something the Bruins simply cant pick up and replace with one single player. Worst of all, the 26-year-old had blossomed into an ice-water-veined playoff performer, becoming the only NHL player in Stanley Cup history to pot a pair of Game 7 game-winning goals in the same playoff run.

Though Horton had been scoreless against the Canucks after appearing to bang his knee in Game 7 against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the last round, he was still one of the team's best offensive threats.

I thought his second half of the season was really good, said coach Claude Julien. His compete level was extremely good game in, game out, played with an edge, which a lot of people said he wasn't capable of doing. He showed that on a regular basis."

Julien added: We just lost a real important part of our hockey team.

Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley both alternated shifts on right wing in the second and third period in Hortons absence, and they are the two main candidates to potentially take up residency on the top line with Milan Lucic and David Krejci.

Peverley brings speed and some offensive creativity to the first line if hes the choice, but it would appear Ryder would be the more logical choice given his similarity to Horton in terms of skill set. Like Horton, he has a deadly shot and the ability to heat up during the playoffs.

Consider Ryder a smaller, less physical version of Horton around the net, but just as deadly with his snap shot. In all Ryder has 15 goals and 32 points in 45 career postseason games with the Bruins, and he could certainly find a way to channel his goal-scorer's touch with Bostons top forwards.

Ryder didnt know or didnt want to admit to knowing the plan for Game 3, but he knows more will be asked of him with Horton out.

Horty is a big part of our team. He's been huge for us all season in the playoffs, said Ryder. We're definitely going to miss him. I'm not sure what is going to happen. I played with Krejci before and with Lucic on and off at times. Yeah, I feel comfortable there. I'm not sure what Claude has planned.

But if I get put in that position, I'll have to step it up and make sure I help those guys out as much as I can. I'm not Nathan Horton, but I can try to do what I can out there.

If Ryder falters or goes through one of his sleepy stretches, then Peverley would be the other easy choice to pair with the two remaining members of Bostons No. 1 line.

With Horton and Ryder likely lining up on the right side, Lucic took the set of circumstances as another clarion call to arms. The Bruins need Lucic to morph into the dominant power forward he was all regular season when he scored 30 goals, and now would be the perfect time for it to happen. Hes jumped in and out of effectiveness through the playoffs, but Lucic knows there are only four games left to empty the entire tank.

Its an opportunity for someone to step up and we need someone to step up. Nathan has been one of our best players and we still have to go out there and focus on what we need to do to have some success, said Lucic. Its tough. Its a big loss. Hes been a huge contributor to us getting to this point. He was a big reason I was able to take my game to another level and now Im going to have to step up without him.

Ryder and Peverley are both great players. Peverley last year had 55 points, so hes shown that he can produce in this league. Ryder has scored 30 goals a couple of times and hes scored almost 150 goals in this league, so hes proven that he can score. They both have good shots and know how to compete and play. We have to count on them to step it up and fill in for what were missing with Nathan.

The second set of dominoes in the Horton chain reaction will be a possible reunion of the Chris KellyTyler SeguinPeverley trio on the third line a combination with speed and offensive upside that would have to bear down to win battles against Vancouvers sandpaper third line.

With Horton gone now, there's a pretty good chance you're going to see Seguin in the lineup again. He's a good player for us. Yesterday was a tough decision to make him a healthy scratch, said Julien.

The lineup changes would seem to be obvious ones for the Bs coaching staff with Horton no longer an option, but that doesnt mean it will be easy to replace a power forward with a scorers touch. Bostons job gets much tougher against the Canucks without Horton in the trenches, and it will truly be a group effort for the Black and Gold if theyre able to pull things out after their first catastrophic injury of the postseason.

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

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

Haggerty: Bruins motto is don't just do something, stand there!

After back-to-back, soul-crushing losses earlier this week, the Bruins responded by doing pretty much what they've done over the last couple of seasons:

Nothing.

Claude Julien was not relieved of his duties -- as many expected after the Bruins blew a couple of three-goal leads in a shootout loss in Detroit on Wednesday night -- and there was no big shakeup for a reeling hockey club that certainly feels like it needs it.

Instead the Bruins will host the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night after going through a “nothing-to-see-here, everything-is-fine” morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena, then go to Pittsburgh for a Sunday afternoon matinee against a Penguins team that’s playing some pretty good hockey.

Maybe the Bruins will play better than they did in taking one out of a possible four points against two of the worst teams in the East -- the Islanders and Red Wings -- and perhaps that will tamp down some of the unrest among those that closely follow this organization.

But the fact is, the Bruins front office doing nothing in the face of stunning underperformance from its hockey club is the furthest thing from courage, bravery or doing the right thing.

This is the third straight year we've seen no-shows and a startling lack of emotional engagement from a team that collapsed down the stretch and missed the postseason in each of the last two seasons, and is now in a position where it may not even be in the playoff hunt at the end of this one. To sit still as it happens again feels, to this humble hockey writer, like willful indifference in the face of the obvious: Something is broken with the Bruins.

There's no single big trade that can fix it, not with the Coyotes and Avalanche as the only true sellers. And a Bruins management group with the true best interests of the hockey club in mind would look at the 'seller' option, dealing away some of the core pieces and starting a true rebuild around Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and the young players under team control that are beginning to filter into the NHL level.

But it doesn’t feel like this current B’s front office, or the ownership group, has the appetite for that, and instead wants to retool on the fly while also attempting to compete for the playoffs. That’s a delicate balance and it’s one that has caused the Red Wings to go sideways this season, putting them in danger of missing the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since 1990-91.

That’s the same Red Wings team, incidentally, that somehow came back from deficits of 3-0 and 4-1 against the Bruins on Wednesday.

With a trade unlikely, the easiest way to a short-term spark continues to be a change with the head coach. Everybody knows Claude Julien has been the best coach in the modern Bruins era, and he’ll forever be loved and cherished in the Boston area for helping win the Stanley Cup in 2011. But the jarring comments from Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand about the team not being ready to play, and collectively taking the Isles too lightly, can’t be ignored.

It feels like things are altogether too comfortable in the Bruins dressing room, and that can be a byproduct of the same coach with the same core group of players for the last 10 years. The sense here is that the Bruins need a short term butt-kicker who'd come in and challenge some Bruins veterans who haven’t been challenged enough in recent years, and will bring an edge to a group that’s look satisfied and happy lately while insulated with big-money contracts and no-movement clauses.

That kind of move could give the Bruins enough of a nudge to get them into the playoffs this season, and help ease the rebuilding pain until Charlie McAvoy, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Zach Senyshyn and the next wave of Bruins prospects are ready to blossom.  

Instead the fancy-stats brigade will tell you that the Bruins are automatically going to turn things around because of the incredibly slim premise that it’s all based on shooting percentage, and Bruin apologists will tell you that the roster simply isn’t good enough right now. So riding it out with Julien is the right move because he's the MacGyver-like chewing gum that’s holding it all together right now.

Sorry, but many are not buying this Bruins-approved message.

They have two-thirds of the best forward line from the World Cup of Hockey in Bergeron and Marchand. They have a legitimate No. 1 goalie in Tuukka Rask. They have experienced, proven winners in David Krejci, David Backes and Zdeno Chara. They have bright, young talents in David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo. And they're about to get passed by the Senators and Maple Leafs in the playoff race once those other teams catch up to Boston in games played. Nobody can make the straight-faced claim that Toronto or Ottawa is superior to the Bruins in the overall talent department.

The Bruins are underachieving this season, and some players have been truly disappointing in big spots.

The simple truth is that Julien isn’t getting the most out of them. They settle for perimeter shots far too much in the offensive zone, which plays into the poor team shooting percentage, and they take opponents lightly far too often for a hockey club in the NHL’s middle class.

Those kinds of traits fall back on the coach, and, unfortunately, replacing Julien is the most readily available card for Bruins management to play when they finally begin feeling the desperation and urgency that’s been missing too much this season.

Perhaps some of it is a fear of removing a popular, accomplished figure like Julien, and then watching him have success somewhere else. Perhaps some of it is a hesitancy to turn things over to assistants Joe Sacco and Bruce Cassidy at such a delicate point in time this season. Perhaps some of it is that one of the few real alternatives the Bruins are facing would be general manager Don Sweeney or team president Cam Neely actually manning the bench as Julien’s replacement if they fired the head coach, a maneuver that hasn’t been seen with the Bruins since the Harry Sinden days when Mike O’Connell went to the bench in 2002-03 after firing Robbie Ftorek.

Whatever the reason, the Bruins still haven’t seen enough to decide that something needs to change with this group sputtering along to another playoff DNQ. The fans are decrying it while holding their hefty season-ticket package bills in their hands, the clear-eyed observer sees it without question, and there’s no doubt some hard-working Bruins players are hoping for it behind the scenes on a ship that’s taking on water.

But nothing of significance is going to change with this Bruins team until they make a change, and that’s something they continue to avoid.

Thursday, Jan. 19: Torts doesn't think LeBron could play hockey

Thursday, Jan. 19: Torts doesn't think LeBron could play hockey

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wondering if the Bruins are ever going to poop, or get off the pot.
 
*John Tortorella wants everybody to know that he thinks there isn’t a chance that Lebron James could play hockey.
 
*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s my radio hit with Toucher and Rich this morning about whether or not Claude Julien should be fired after back-to-back bad losses against the Islanders and Red Wings.
 
*How did Shane Doan arrive at an unhappy place with the Arizona Coyotes where he now is open to moving elsewhere ahead of the trade deadline?
 
*Henrik Lundqvist’s season is entering a crisis level based on what he’s done, and the diminished performance level he’s showing as a more mature goaltender.
 
*A nice piece with a Canadian hockey hero, Hayley Wickenheiser, who recounts some of the legendary moments of her career through a series of pictures.
 
*I totally respect the work that Travis Yost does, but stating the Bruins should stick with Claude Julien because their shooting percentage is bound to turn around isn’t good enough grounds to keep a floundering situation intact, in my opinion. You need to check where the shots are coming from and how many of those shot attempts are completely missing the net to get a better grasp on some of the reasons behind Boston’s dreadful 10-year low shooting percentage. That would also explain some of the reason why Julien needs to be replaced coaching a team that’s largely content on perimeter shots to do it for them while also only sporadically showing the effort required from a middle class talent type of team.

*The Lightning are struggling at Joe Namath levels right now without Steve Stamkos in their lineup, and they need that to change.
 
*For something completely different: congrats to the Boston boys in New Edition for a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.