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

Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority

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Saturday, Aug. 27: Adding toughness Habs' priority

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, after a busy morning celebrating my 3-year-old’s birthday at the trampoline park. Yee-ha.

*PHT writer Joey Alfieri says that adding toughness was a big offseason priority for the Montreal Canadiens.

*There’s at least one big fan of the Edmonton Oilers trade that brought defenseman Adam Larsson from the New Jersey Devils, and that fan’s name is Mark Letestu.

*Here’s everything you need to know about the Ice Guardians movie premiering this fall that takes a long, balanced look at the NHL enforcers.

*Roberto Luongo has an alibi for the robbery in Winnipeg with one suspect getting away in goalie equipment, and it’s funny as you would expect it to be.

*CSN Washington takes a look at the New York Rangers in their season previews for the Metro Division.

*I’m not entirely sure whether this “RIP Harambe” thing is genuine or meant to be ironic by the largely millenial group that seem so enamored with it, but I think it’s just stupid. I think the same with the crying Jordan meme…also stupid.

*For something completely different: a look at how Triumph the Insult Comic Dog learned how to poop on Trump’s politics.

 

Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen

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Countdown to camp: Danton Heinen

Click here for the gallery.

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2016-17 Bruins. Today: Danton Heinen.

Danton Heinen exploded into a high-profile prospect for the Bruins after finishing among the NCAA’s top scoring players a couple of years ago as a freshman along with a couple of guys named Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin. 

Since then, Heinen has continued to produce offense at the University of Denver and continued to create offense that leads to points. Now, the 21-year-old Heinen will be entering the professional arena for his first full season with the Bruins and he’ll be attempting to transition from the prospect phase to a regular gig in the NHL. That’s the challenge for a talented player who appears headed into a very good opportunity in NHL training camp.

 

What happened last year

Heinen was every bit as explosive in his second season for Denver as he was in his brilliant freshman campaign. He improved on his scoring with 20 goals and 48 points in 41 games. Then Heinen signed with the Bruins at the end of his sophomore season and played in a couple of pro games in the AHL with Providence as a tune-up for this first full pro campaign with the Bruins organization. Heinen finished with two assists and a plus-1 rating in four games with the P-Bruins and showed the coaches in Providence that he was ready to play and produce with more talented players. If Heinen surprised a little bit as a breakout freshman two years ago, his sophomore follow-up in Denver last season proved to everybody that he wasn’t a fluke.

 

Questions to be answered this season

The real question surrounding Heinen is about his ceiling as an NHL player and just how good he can become as a player with the skills and playmaking abilities to be a top-six forward. He’s proven he can dominate at the collegiate level while admittedly playing with some pretty good teammates at Denver. Heinen showed at the end of the season in Providence that the pro scene might not be much different for him. At this point, Heinen simply needs to go out and prove it against the best players in the world and show that his speed, playmaking and hockey sense are all elite in the AHL or NHL. Heinen’s biggest obstacle might be his size. He'll need to survive as a targeted skill player despite not being much more than the 6-feet, 180-pound range for a forward. It’s about average for a playmaking wing in the NHL, but the hits and attention will be at a much more intense level than anything he faced in the NCAA world.

 

What they're saying

“He’s the type of player that he can play with good players because he’s got high hockey IQ and he’s got really good skill. I think anywhere you put him, he’s smart enough to figure it out. I think you’ll notice him during training camp. It will definitely be up to him, but I think he’ll push some guys.” –Bruins assistant coach Jay Pandolfo on Heinen during last month’s development camp where Heinen soared as a performer.

 
Outlook

While Heinen still has some things he’ll need to prove before he’s a regular contributor for the Bruins, he comes into the Boston fold as an experienced player following two very good seasons at the college level. So, Heinen should be a little closer to plug-and-play for Claude Julien than some of the other young players that have come through the system in the past couple of years. Heinen will still need to flash in camp while being handed a big spot to perform with high-end veterans Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand potentially off playing in the World Cup of Hockey. Heinen also has a much greater chance of winning an NHL job sooner rather than later after the Bruins lost out on the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes and still have a top-six forward opening that somebody is going to fill. Heinen and Frank Vatrano are the two biggest favorites to fill that position, which became vacant when Loui Eriksson departed for Vancouver. Whichever winger loses that battle should be also be a strong candidate for a role on the third line, as well, barring any late veteran signings by the B’s. That set of circumstances leaves a very good situation for Heinen to potentially walk into with the Black and Gold, but he'll still have to show he’s fully capable of seizing his good fortune and good timing. 

Bruins’ new Warrior Ice Arena practice facility to open Sept. 8.

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Bruins’ new Warrior Ice Arena practice facility to open Sept. 8.

The Bruins’ new practice facility has been years in the making and they will finally get to officially open the doors to Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton next month. 

The B’s players will start informal captain’s practice skates at the new facility on the New Balance property in these final days of August, but the team announced on Friday that the new facility will be officially opened to the public on Thursday, Sept. 8.

Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, Bruins CEO Charlie Jacobs, team president Cam Neely, general manager Don Sweeney and a number of players will be on hand for the opening ceremony and ensuing open house for the media. Also planning to attend from New Balance will be Owner and Chairman Jim Davis and NB Development Group LLC Managing Director Jim Halliday, along with Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo. 

Following the formal portion of the event, Warrior Ice Arena will host the “Boston Youth All-Star Game featuring Bruins Alumni” which will feature local squirt players from the Boston communities of Allston-Brighton, Charlestown, Dorchester, Hyde Park, South Boston and West Roxbury mixed in with members of the Bruins alumni. 

The Youth All-Stars will team with Bruins alumni and they will play the first official game before the ice is turned over to the current Bruins players for their training camp later in the month.

The Warrior Ice Arena gets its name from the Warrior brand of hockey equipment that is now a division of New Balance and comes with a 79-foot high Warrior hockey stick that greets visitors at the front entrance doors.

Warrior Ice Arena will be the B’s new and permanent practice home after the Bruins spent 25-plus years practicing in the suburbs of Boston at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington.