Haggerty: It's time for the Bruins to step up

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Haggerty: It's time for the Bruins to step up

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

WILMINGTON A word of caution to the Boston Bruins: Those Montreal Canadiens in their rear-view mirror are much closer than they might appear.

With the Habs crushing the Minnesota Wild, 8-1, Sunday afternoon, Montreal is only a point behind the Bs in the Northeast Division.

Boston still has a pair of games in hand on the Canadiens, but the hated Habs also come in for a gigantic visit to the TD Garden Thursday night thats going to be enormous on many levels given the rivalry, the standings, and the Zdeno CharaMax Pacioretty soap opera playing out over the last couple of weeks.

In many ways the Bruins simply havent been the same team since they were pounded at the Bell Centre and branded as the new Legion of Doom after Charas hockey play on Pacioretty in the treacherous stanchion area between the benches. Chara has certainly been a shadow of himself after getting cast as the mustache-twirling villain.

The NHL refs called a handful of questionable penalties on Boston in the first game after CharaPacioretty, and assorted NHL officials have awarded nearly twice as many power plays to Bostons opponents as to the Bruins (22-13) in the five games since the incident.

The quick whistles against the Bruins and the hesitation to bestow power plays with zero production when they actually do get penalties called in their favor -- on the new incarnation of the Big Bad Bruins has taken some of the teeth away from a Bs bunch that relies on physicality.

Lately there have been way too many scenes like the end of the first period Saturday night, when Milan Lucic was barking at ref Frederick LEcuyer on an uncalled high stick against the Maple Leafs.

But thats not the only factor.

The Bruins exhibited signs of mental and physical fatigue after embarking on the highly successful undefeated six-game road trip, and Saturdays listless loss to the Leafs capped off a stretch in which Boston played 12 road games out of 16 total games in February and March.

If you look at our travel over the last month-and-a-half, it hasnt been the easiest, said Mark Recchi. Weve been away a lot, on the road a lot, traveling late at night a couple of times and getting in really late. Eventually that is going to take a toll on your team.

Were over that now and we have a great opportunity here. We came out of it with a little bit of struggles, but at the same time we know we have a lot to build on. Were hitting the stretch drive, and I know we have the talent to do it.

While the Bruins have played their best hockey on the road this season, there is a limit to how long a team can sustain their legs, their fighting spirit and their compete level when long road trips pile up on one another.

The good news: the Bruins play 8 of their remaining 11 regular-season games at home and only embark on a quick one-day trip in their own time zone for each of their final three road games in New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia.

We need to make sure by the time the playoffs start that were flying at full gear, said Mark Recchi. Every team goes through stuff like this, and were glad that were going through it now so we have 11 games to correct it. We take pride in our goals against and playing well defensively, and its almost like were trying to do too much.

"Were going to be fine. Everybody believes in each other in here, and everybody goes through these stretches. If you look at our 10-game segments, we havent gone through a single one under .500 this year. Weve got 11 games to build things up again with three big games at home.

Whether it was the road weariness or the misplaced nerve, the Bruins dont have a choice now this late into the regular season. Its the middle of March and every NHL team no matter how good or terrible has gone through epic streaks and slumps in the roller-coaster regular season. But the Bruins need to pull themselves out of their currentfunk before the hard-charging Canadiens pass them by, and drop theminto the bottom half of Eastern Conference playoff teams.

Coach Claude Julien has made his commitment to whip the team back into shape, and do whatever possible to calm some of the mental gaffes and communication problems taking place between the defensemen and goaltenders. Tuukka Rask apologizing to Dennis Seidenberg was a good first step after going berserk on the Bruins defenseman following a screen on Saturday night, but it revealed a defensive unit that isnt all on the same page.

Itll be about how we respond in this coming week; thats what is important, said Julien. It has to start from here on in where we find our consistency. When you see us playing the way we are, I dont think that were mentally ready to play. If you assume everything is going to be okay then youre going to miss the boat. Theres a lot of work to be done from here to the end of the regular season to be prepared and to be a good playoff team.

At times during the year you have to trust that your players are professionals, and when you give them a day of rest then theyll be ready to get back to work. If the players arent doing it, then its up to the coach to start making adjustments. Thats what were doing, starting now.

Coming to the rink mentally prepared and willing to compete is the bare minimum for the Bruins, but theyre expected to bring a lot more starting this week as they skate for their very playoff lives in a suddenly life-or-death situation.

The real Bruins team will stand up for these last 11 games for better or worse in a season they have to make count. It all starts Tuesday night against the surprisingly hot New Jersey Devils at TD Garden, when the Big Bad Bruins had better show up.

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

Bjork returns to Notre Dame after impressing at Bruins' development camp

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Bjork returns to Notre Dame after impressing at Bruins' development camp

Given that he’s a former fifth-round pick, he’s not a local guy with any Boston ties to speak of and that there isn’t a lot of fancy to his game, Anders Bjork might be a bit under the radar as far as Bruins prospects go right now. 

Still, the 19-year-old Notre Dame forward has been steadily rising among the ranks at the NCAA level and Bjork put on a pretty impressive show at B’s development camp right along with more hyped forwards like Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk.

Bjork showed great skating speed and a hard-nosed willingness to battle whether the puck was on or off his stick. Even better, he showed a finishing flourish with the puck whenever he was around the net. He was literally blowing by defenders with his speed throughout drills each and every day at camp, and it was hard not to notice. Time after time Bjork buried those chances earned through speed and tenacity and showed the offensive confidence that saw him lead Notre Dame in points (12 goals and 35 points in 35 games) last season as a sophomore.

“You can tell the guys that have been here. Grizzy [Matt Grzelcyk] has a great week and Anders [Bjork] has a great week because they’re just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “I mean they’ve played at the college hockey level for two, three, four years in some of these cases. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.

"In Anders’ case he gained a tremendous amount of confidence in the World Juniors last year and you can tell he’s carrying that over offensively. He also plays in a very tight system at Notre Dame, so the habits away from the puck are really ingrained in him. Now he’s looking to explore his offensive side.”

The good news for the Bruins: Bjork wants to keep improving on the offensive end and pump up the goal-scoring numbers in his third season with the Fighting Irish. If the week spent at Ristuccia Arena is any indication, Bjork should be lighting it up in Hockey East next season after being a second team All-Hockey East selection last season.

“I’m just working on trying to contribute a little more offensively, and really work on my goal-scoring and offensive abilities like that,” said Bjork, who is a bit of a legacy at Notre Dame with his father, mother, siblings and cousin NHL forward Erik Condra all having matriculated in South Bend as well. “Working on the little things in areas like goal-scoring and playing on the wall are what I’ve been focused on. The feedback from the Bruins has been really good, and really helpful.

“Sometimes they’ll check in after a game or after a weekend of games, and give really helpful feedback. Sometimes it’s even different than what my coach said, so it’s nice to get my viewpoint and sometimes they see things that my coach doesn’t notice. Stuff like that has been really helpful, and has helped me develop as a player definitely.”

Bjork said the Bruins have stressed consistency and greater focus in his game from shift-to-shift and game-to-game and that’s something he clearly took to heart in a dominant week at development camp. Given the rising number of college hockey players that are foregoing the teams that drafted them and become free agents following their senior seasons, one would expect that next season will be Bjork’s last at Notre Dame before signing with the Bruins.

The way that the 6-foot, 188-pound Bjork is improving his game each and every season after being projected a couple of years ago as a possible third-line player in the NHL, the Bruins should be looking to bring him into the Black and Gold fold sooner rather than later. 
 

Tuesday, July 26: Daley’s surprise visit with the Cup

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Tuesday, July 26: Daley’s surprise visit with the Cup

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while never getting tired of the Bernie Sanders/Curb Your Enthusiasm parallels.

*PHT writer Cam Tucker has Trevor Daley making a surprise visit with the Stanley Cup and talking more about his emotional moment hoisting the Cup right after the win by the Penguins.

*Don Cherry and Ron MacLean get their just reward with a star on the Canada Walk of Fame after years of great hockey entertainment.

*Adam Larsson has heard the fan reaction in Edmonton after being traded for Taylor Hall, and he’s downplaying it all.

*A lack of a deal for RFA defenseman Jacob Trouba with the Winnipeg Jets doesn’t mean Trouba trouble quite yet. But it sure doesn’t sound like things are all ducky in Winnipeg.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Dan Rosen sits down with Arizona Coyotes GM John Chayka to answer five questions about his new gig, and some big changes for the Desert Dogs.

*Scott Powers has Jimmy Vesey’s camp confirming that the Chicago Blackhawks will be one of the teams on Vesey’s “short list” when he speaks with teams on Aug. 15. Watch out for Stan Bowman and the Blackhawks, who have been out to see Vesey a couple of times in Foxboro over the last month.

*The Washington Capitals continue to build depth among their forward group, and have constructed a strong roster for next season.

*For something completely different: if you love baseball or have ever enjoyed some of the truly great Dan Shaughnessy columns over the years, you will enjoy this column from Shaughnessy about his Hall of Fame induction. Congrats to Dan, a true titan in our industry.