Hnidy ready to keep defense corps rolling

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Hnidy ready to keep defense corps rolling

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON -- With the news that 6-foot-5 defenseman Adam McQuaid could be out temporarily because of a sprained neck after a face-first tumble into the Wells Fargo Center boards in Game 2, its up to the rest of the Bruins defensemen to pick up the slack.

The Bruins will replace McQuaid with the similarly rugged, but more experienced, Shane Hnidy if McQuaid cant play in Game 3 in Boston.

McQuaid's injury appears to be a storm the Bruins can weather. Elevating their game is exactly what the rest of the Bs defense corps has done since making some needed changes after dropping the first two games to the Canadiens.

Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg were paired together in Game 3 as minute-munching monsters, and theyve been dynamite together ever since.

Chara seems to have finally regained all his strength and tenacity after losing 10 pounds over the course of 24 hours while suffering through severe dehydration from a mystery virus that caused him to miss Game 2. Hes just started winding up for his signature slap shots again and its probably not a coincidence the Bs power play looked as good as its been in weeks in the second period Monday night.

A Chara bomb from the high point that Milan Lucic nearly forced through the pads of Sergei Bobrovsky was as close as the Bs have come to potting a power-play score in more than a month.

You have to do whatever it takes to win and its nice to find a way to win and come home with a 2-0 lead, said Tomas Kaberle. The only thing that was missing in the second period power play was the goal. We had like three or four pretty good scoring chances there. We just have to stick with it and believe that eventually its going to go in.

Seidenberg has been nothing short of a revelation while elevating his game in his first postseason with the Bruins.

Seidenberg has six points and a plus-5 in nine playoff games and rebounded nicely from a minus-4 in the first two games against the Habs. Seidenberg is averaging 28:34 of ice time while pushing up over 36 minutes of ice in the Game 5 double-overtime win over Montreal and the Game 2 o.t. victory over the Flyers.

I would say Seidenberg is a horse, said coach Claude Julien. Hes strong and you look at the minutes hes been logging as well. He doesnt get tired. He can take it. Hes a big, strong individual and he competes well.

When we acquired him, the one thing we really knew about him is that he was a really big-game player. Hes proven that and even more so. When you look at the way hes performed, you can see how much we missed him in the playoffs last year when he was injured.

Seidenberg isnt about to argue with the loads of ice time being heaped upon him, and his confident play in both zones helped save at least two goals during the crazy moments of the third period and overtime Monday night. After one play where Seidenberg contorted himself to coax a floating puck away from the Boston net, Tim Thomas grabbed the Bs defensemens helmet and thanked him for doing such a good job clearing things away from the cage.

If you ask anybody, theres nobody thats going to say no to more ice time, and if the coach wants you out there it shows that he has confidence in you, said Seidenberg. The more you play, the less you think and thats always a good thing.

Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference have been just as solid as the No. 3 and No. 4 defensemen behind Seidenberg and Chara.

Boychuk was a dominant force in the Game 2 win Monday night. He led the Bruins with seven hits, threw down five body checks and used his booming point shot on the power play to help generate a few offensive chances where they hadnt existed before.

His charging-bull body check on Braydon Coburn behind the Flyers net sent a physical message that the Bs were ready to battle, and it also helped loosen up the Flyers defenseman for the key turnover in overtime that led to David Krejcis game-winner.

The Bruins have realized that punishing physicality takes its toll over a game and series, and can wear down a team playing without their biggest blueline workhorse in Chris Pronger.

Im just trying to play my game, keep it simple and when I have a chance to make my hit then Im going to do it, said Boychuk. Theres such an atmosphere in the playoffs that you can feel it when you get to the rink, and it elevates your game.

Its an amazing phenomenon that Chara and Kaberle considered Bostons best two offensive defensemen have combined for four assists in 18 games during the playoffs, but Ference and Seidenberg have combined for 10 points and plus-11 in 18 games.

Hnidy is now being asked to keep up that whatever-it-takes mentality as he steps in for McQuaid. His task Wednesday night is made a little easier by the fact that only the fourth-line trio of Shawn Thornton, DanielPaille and Gregory Campbell are averaging less ice time in Bostonsnine playoff games than the 12:48 posted by McQuaid.

Hnidyplayed 4:13 and fought with Montreal defenseman James Wisniewski whilefilling in for an ill Zdeno Chara during Game 2 against the Canadiens. He playedthree games in the final two weeks of the season and averaged littlemore than 14 minutes per game while putting together a minus-2 in thosecameo appearances after missing the seasons first six months followingshoulder surgery.

Steve Kampfer also skated on the Garden icefor the first time in weeks on Tuesday after rehabbing from a kneeinjury, but Julien said the young defenseman is stilla while away from returning.

So it falls on Hnidy to fill the McQuaid spot.

Thatswhy Im here. There are a lot of people working behind the scenes tomake sure that were ready for situations like this and youve got tobe prepared, said Hnidy. Its unfortunate thats where were at, butits up to me to be ready to go.

Im thankful Ive been aroundfor a while, so I know what to expect and once I get out there, thegame will start taking care of itself. I know whats expected, I knowwhat the pace is going to be like and youve just got to elevate yourgame.

Just like the rest of his fellow defensemen.

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

Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

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Some questions and answers when it comes to Miller contract

BOSTON -- A day after the Bruins announced a much-maligned four-year contract extension for defenseman Kevan Miller, B’s general manager Don Sweeney held court with the media to equal parts explain/defend the $10 million deal. Sweeney pointed to the very high character of a hardnosed player in Miller, and the relatively low mileage given that he’s played only 159 games at the NHL level.

There was also mention made of the room to grow in Miller’s game, though it’s difficult to imagine a much higher ceiling for a 28-year-old player than what the former UVM produced showed in 71 games last season.

“Kevan brings incredible character. His signing provides us with the necessary depth on our defense that all teams need. His relative low-mileage, having just played 160 games, we identified that we think Kevan has room for continued growth and development,” said Sweeney. “We certainly saw that in his play this year when he had an expanded role. Relative to the free market place, very, very comfortable with where Kevan fits into our group, and this provides us with the opportunity to explore the marketplace in every way, shape, or form, in having Kevan signed.”

Here’s the reality: Miller is a 5-6, bottom pairing defenseman on a good team, and a top-4 defenseman on a team like last year’s Bruins that finished a weak 19th in the league in goals allowed. The five goals and 18 points last season were solid career-high numbers for a player in the middle of his hockey prime, but he barely averaged 19 minutes of ice time per game as a front top-4 defenseman. Miller struggles with some of the fundamental needs in today’s NHL if you’re going to be a top-4 D-man: the tape-to-tape passes aren’t always accurate, there’s intermittent difficulty cleanly breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and Miller was exploited by the other team’s best players when paired with Zdeno Chara at points last season.

Certainly Miller has done some good things racking up a plus-55 rating during his three years in Boston, but executives and officials around the league were a bit surprised by the 4-year, $10 million contract extension. It’s viewed as a slight overpay in terms of both salary and term, but it’s more the redundancy of the contract that’s befuddling to some.

“Miller is certainly a rugged guy, but you already had one of those at roughly the same value in Adam McQuaid. I believe that you can’t win if you have both McQuaid and Miller in your top 6 because they are both No. 6 D’s in my mind,” said a rival NHL front office executive polled about the Miller contract. “You look at the playoffs and the direction that the league is headed in, and you need to have big, mobile defenseman that can quickly move the puck up the ice. You have too much of the same thing with Miller and McQuaid, and I think you can’t win with that in this day and age.”

The one facet of the four-year Miller contract that might make it okay for some Bruins fans: the tacit connection to the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes. According to several sources around the league, the Bruins taking care of Miller now will very likely have a positive impact on their chances of landing Vesey when he becomes a free agent on Aug. 15, and makes them the front-runner for the Harvard standout’s services. Both Miller and Vesey are represented by the same agent in Peter Fish, and those are the kinds of behind-the-scenes connections that many times factor into free agent signings and trades around the NHL.

So many, this humble hockey writer included, may owe Sweeney a slight apology if paying a $10 million premium for a bottom-pairing defenseman in Miller now pays dividends in landing a stud forward like Vesey that’s drawing interest all around the league.

Sweeney: Bruins head to market seeking 'transitional defenseman'

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Sweeney: Bruins head to market seeking 'transitional defenseman'

BOSTON -- This isn't exactly a state secret: The Bruins are on the lookout for a puck-moving, top-pairing defenseman who can help their transition game, and aid them in more easily breaking the puck out of their own zone.

The B's basically had two top-4 defensemen on their roster last season -- Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara were the only two on the Boston roster who topped 20 minutes of ice time per game -- and tried to fill in the blanks with Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg and several other young blueliners. Their success, or lack thereof, is reflected in the fact they finished 19th in the league in goals allowed.

So general manager Don Sweeney said during a Wednesday conference call with reporters that the team is in search of a “transitional” defenseman, and will do whatever is necessary to acquire one.

In Sweeney's words, the Bruins will be “aggressive” and pursue improving the hockey club “in any way, shape or form".

There are plenty of signs that Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk could figure prominently in Boston’s trade pursuits this summer, and free agents Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski would be immediate upgrades in the “transitional defenseman” department. But the Bruins were also on a mission to get a “transitional defenseman” last season as well, and came up empty (aside from early season flameout Matt Irwin and 35-year-old journeyman John-Michael Liles acquired at the trade deadline).

They had grand plans to trade up in the first round of last year's draft and nab Boston College's Noah Hanifin. But -- after dealing Dougie Hamilton to the Calgary Flames for three 2016 draft picks -- they were unable to move into position to draft Hanifan.

So it’s clear that making efforts to land that elusive defenseman, and actually closing the deal, are two extremely different things.

Toward that end, Sweeney also talked about looking for defensive help from within the organization. 

“We’ve had talks with (Krug, a restricted free agent) and we’ll find, whatever term that ends up being . . . we’ll find a contract for him," said Sweeney. "But we’re looking for balance. We’re also looking for players like Colin Miller to take the next step. We’ve got younger players that will hopefully push, and that’s what you want.

“You want the depth of the organization to be there for the younger players to push somebody out because they’re ready to play . . . (young players such as) [Matt] Grzelcyk and [Rob] O’Gara. And [I] just came back from seeing [Jeremy] Lauzon play. You know [we're] very excited about the trajectory of that player and the possibility (of his making the NHL roster) down the road, depending on what his development curve looks like and when he gets in here and [starts] playing against the men.

“We’ve got pieces in place that will hopefully push the group that we currently have and that’s what you want. You want that internal competition that players feel like they better perform."

But, he added, "we’re also looking outside the marketplace because we need to continue to transition the puck better.”