Notes: Rask finds his rhythm on the road

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Notes: Rask finds his rhythm on the road

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

OTTAWA Tuukka Rasks confidence level shouldbe at an all-time high this season after pitching a 33-save shutout against the Ottawa Senators following a season thats been full of adversity.

The young Finnish netminder came out of the gate slowly this year, but has caught fire with a four-game winning streak over the last two weeks punctuatedby a 1-0 shutout of the Sens at Scotiabank Place on Tuesday night.

Rask captured wins during the first two games of the road trip against the Islanders and Senators, and finished off his week strong with back-to-back wins against the Oilers and Senators over thefinalthree days of Boston's last big road swing of the season. Its no coincidence that the second game of each of those consecutive pairs ofstarts turned out to be the better effort its a pattern thats manifested itself since he was tending the net for the Providence Bruins in the AHL.

Ive always been that way in my career, said Rask. Even in the AHL, I was always better on Saturdays than I was on Fridays. I dont know why?

I guess I cant really blame it on old age, so Ill just say that Ive got to get my engine going a little earlier.

Rask captured his second shutout of the season and improved his record to 9-11-1 on the season, and also has combined with Tim Thomas for an amazing nine NHL shutouts this season. Its no surprise that Bostons goalies lead the league in save percentage and rank second in goals against average, and the ThomasRask tandem has lived up to every bit of hype they garnered before the season started."For him it's great. He had a tough start to the season and the winloss column has not been in his favor, but lately he's been doing a lot better," said Claude Julien. "His game is obviously getting better, and I'm sure the shutout is something that's really going to help his confidence."

The game essentially turned over in the second period when Rask stuffed center Jason Spezza on a breakaway attempt in a scoreless game, and proved that Bostons netminder was up to the challenge in one of the few spots where the Boston defense broke down.

It seems that Tuukka Time is finally enjoying its very first prolonged run of the season, and it couldnt have come at a better point for a Bruins team needing to find some rest for Thomas. Claude Julien indicated he wasnt sure if Andrew Ference would quite miss the two weeks that Peter Chiarelli had estimated on Monday, and said the Bs wouldnt have any hard answers on the lower body injury until the team arrived back in Boston.

Ference was scheduled to see team doctors on Wednesday, but the Bs coach indicated that the Boston defenseman felt much better with 24 more hours of rest and rehab.

We dont need another defenseman right now, said Julien. I know what Peter said, but we need to get Ference evaluated in Boston because hes feeling a lot better today than yesterday and that four hour flight usually isnt very good.

Its hard to really tell at this point, but well know a lot more tomorrow. Itll be easier to be a little more definitive about it after that.

Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic and Bobby Orr were among the Bruins players and alumni involved in the new Dropkick Murphys music video for Going Out in Style that was premiered on rollingstone.com Tuesday afternoon. In the video Thornton is sitting at a bar with NESN's Heidi Watney while the band plays the song, and at one point he menacingly stares into the camera just as he might before a hockey fight. The B's enforcer had a great time filming the video, but said it was shots of Diet Coke and water for the 9 a.m. shoot during the All-Star break."We had a really good time. They asked me if I wanted to come down and be involved, and of course I was happy to," said Thornton. "Originally they were going to have me as thebouncer in the bar, but we went with this instead. I think the whole video was so good it came out even better than I thought it would, and I had some pretty high expectations."Thornton said that the video-makers got the angry look into the camera after Lenny Clarke went nose-to-nose with the B's tough guy, and started yelling in his face. It took three takes to finally get the shot that made the video."The first time Lenny's face was too far away from me," said Thornton. "The second time he got right in my face, and I couldn't help but start laughing. The third time was the one that they ended up using right after Lenny was done yelling at me."Amazingly, the Bruins power play went 0-for-2 on Tuesday night, and is 1-for-13 in five games since Tomas Kaberle has joined the Bruins. Despite the raw number, Claude Julien likes the increased puck movement and easily achieved scoring chances produced by Kaberle and the new-look Boston power play that time.The way Julien sees it, it's only a matter of time before Boston cashes in on the power play. The NHL War Room actually reviewed a Zdeno Chara one-time slap shot during Boston's first power play that appeared to cross the goal line, but it was eventually ruled "no goal" on the ice and in the review booth after Craig Anderson made the tardy glove save. Its been an interesting 24 hours for Steve Kampfer.The 22-year-old defenseman was scratched for a pair of early games on the current road trip after Tomas Kaberle arrived from the Maple Leafs, but hopped back into the lineup Sunday in Edmonton after Andrew Ferences lower body injury.Kampfer was a minus-1 in 13 plus minutes of ice time and appeared a little rusty in Sundays win after more than a week away from game action, but thats just the tip of the iceberg. Kampfer also got a call from his agent Monday morning that he was being sent down to the AHL, but it certainly wasnt as close to dire as it originally seemed.Kampfer was designated to the AHL during an entire afternoon spent in Ottawa, and then recalled at 5 p.m. in a paperwork move that now allows the young defenseman to qualify for an AHL playoff roster should Bostons season end sooner than Providences. The youngster is highly unlikely to spend any time in Providence through the rest of the regular season or during Bostons playoff run, but its a move similar to the paper transaction the Bs made with Phil Kessel during his rookie season in Boston.Kessel never ended up playing in any AHL playoff games during that 2007-08 campaign.Once Kampfer was assured the paper transaction didnt mean anything to his immediate future in Boston, he could instead concentrate on implementing the little blueline nuances he picked up while watching the game from up in the press box last week.It was great to get back into the lineup. You dont like sitting out at all. Its a relief to get back in, but you also know youve got to play well to keep your spot, said Kampfer, who was much better in Tuesday's win over the Senators. Right now Im just taking it day-by-bay and earning a spot back. When you sit out you see areas where you can make a play, or see you guys patience. You realize you were rushing when you could have really taken more time to make something happen.Kampfer said one of the biggest pluses while serving as a healthy scratch was simply watching the skill set Kaberle brought to the table as the puck-moving defenseman. Its something the young Bostonian hopes to develop into someday.One of the things that Claude talked to me about was really watching how some of the other guys on our team, and in particular how a guy like Kaberle handles himself in the defensive zone and moves things around in the offensive zone, said Kampfer. Its one of those things where you can really pick some things out from other guys that can help you out in your game.I couldnt ask for anything better. You can see how Kaberle moves the puck and the plays he sees. At the same time you want to be back in the lineup, and youre still learning by watching him whether its in practice or at other moments. There are so many areas he can make plays where you wouldnt see it otherwise.
Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: For better or worse, Bruins need to make a call on Julien

Haggerty: For better or worse, Bruins need to make a call on Julien

The Bruins coach and leaders in their dressing room spoke out this weekend, and their words all basically spread the same supportive message.

Claude Julien and his longtime players aren’t ready for a change at the head coaching position for the Black and Gold and they hope the longtime bench boss is in Boston for as long as possible after 10 mostly successful years on the job.

Still, it may not go down that way this season with real pressure on B’s management, coaches and the players to end a two-year playoff drought. Things are currently going pretty badly with the Bruins in the middle of a three-game losing streak before facing the reigning Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday afternoon.

The heat has been dialed up as high as it’s ever been on Julien in his 10 years of employment with Boston and everybody seems to know it.

“Right now we’re all confident in Claude, and we all want to be here and play for him. If [saving Julien’s job] is the extra motivation you need for the games then so be it,” said Patrice Bergeron. “But we’re all professionals and we’re here to win hockey games. I’ve said this before that I’ve been with Claude for 10 years, and he’s the guy that I believe in and that I want to play for.”

Similarly, the Bruins captain has been with Julien for the long haul in Boston and has worked closely with the coach keeping lines of communication open in good, Cup-winning times and bad, non-playoff times. Chara bestowed Julien with every bit the endorsement that Bergeron did, and it’s clear much of the core group wants to keep the longtime coach in place.

“We don’t pay attention [to the chatter]. Claude is our coach and Claude will be our coach. We have confidence in him,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “He’s proven to be a coach that does a lot of good things for this organization. We just have to come up with some wins, battle it and we’re all in this together.”

One thing that’s a legitimate question: Is the devotion of players like Chara and Bergeron toward Julien a defining reason to keep the longtime coach?

There isn’t a sense the Bruins have tuned out their coach, as can happen in dysfunctional NHL situations, but there is a feeling that longtime B’s players with status are pretty comfortable with iron-clad no-movement clauses in their contracts and a relationship with the coach where there’s a level they may not be getting pushed toward very often.

Comfort isn’t always a good thing in an NHL dressing room and it’s felt altogether too comfortable at times in some of those no-show performances from the Black and Gold over the past couple of failed seasons. 

For his part, Julien doesn't think that was the case and intends on continuing to work his way through the struggles with a mix of youth and veteran players who clearly have enough to be a playoff team.

“If we’re going with what we said we were going with and there’s going to be some growing pains along the way, so be it,” said Julien. “I think we put ourselves in a position earlier in the year where we could all of a sudden believe that we’re a playoff team...absolutely. I still think we’re a playoff team. Whether we can do it or not we’ll find out at the end of the year, but my job is to do everything I can to get us into the playoffs and that’s what I’m going to do.

“As far as the [firing] rumors are concerned, they’re out there and I know that. But I don’t worry about it because worrying is wasting a lot of my time. And my time is spent trying to fix things here.”

It would be ridiculous and pointless to compare this season’s Bruins roster to the groups that won Cups, made it to the Finals twice and even won a President’s Trophy in 2013-14. Clearly, this particular roster isn’t as deep, or as difficult to play against, as those talent-stuffed hockey clubs, but this team also has enough high-end talent that they should edge teams like Toronto, Ottawa and Philadelphia out of a playoff spot.

This is where the theoretical move to fire Julien comes into play.

The Bruins are at a critical stage of their season where things are slipping away from them and the team is showing some of the maddening characteristics of the past two seasons.

They are unprepared to play on too many nights. They take opponents lightly on too many nights particularly in the past couple of months. A tiring Tuukka Rask isn’t able to bail the team out as much as he was in the first couple of months. Because the Bruins are being strangled by a roster of immovable players with no-trade clauses and can’t even entertain trading their blue-chip prospects Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, the trade options just aren’t there for Don Sweeney and Cam Neely right now.

It would take a brilliant, creative GM to swing a hockey deal that could pump life back into the reeling Bruins. The B’s front office hasn’t shown those qualities in the past few years running the team. Instead, they have GMs from other teams lining up and making one-sided offers to the desperate Bruins in hopes that Sweeney/Neely will buckle under the pressure to push into the playoffs this spring.

So, the only impactful card the Bruins can play is firing a coach in Julien who probably isn’t the coach of the future when the next generation of B’s prospects is ready to go. The hope is that move can light a fire under their meandering hockey club if it doesn't start reeling off some wins in a row. An argument can be made that a coach such as current assistant Bruce Cassidy could get more out of some of Boston’s younger players they’re relying heavily on this season. The former Providence Bruins coach might fit a little better into the overall philosophy that management is looking to instill.

It might just be that making a coaching change is the best midseason card that Bruins management has to play given all of the circumstances.

Still, the one thing that B’s management can’t do is keep Julien twisting in the wind and answering all the questions about his future with no clear vote of confidence from his bosses. Julien is the winningest coach in Bruins history and led them to their glorious Stanley Cup run in 2011. He’s earned a wealth of respect around the league for the professional, classy way he’s always conducted himself on and off the ice and he won’t be out of work long if/when he is relieved of his duties on Causeway Street.

So, if the Bruins intend to make the move with their coach then they need to do it sooner rather than later.

People around the NHL are watching the Bruins intently to see how they handle this situation with a world-class coach in Julien, and Neely and Sweeney continue to be radio/TV silent, despite the Bruins media requesting to speak with them on Friday morning in the throes of their losing streak.

It’s high time for Bruins management to step up and make a decision on Julien for better or for worse, and treat him the way they’d undoubtedly like to be treated if it were them suddenly in the danger zone should they miss the playoffs again this spring.  

Sunday, Jan. 22: Jimmy Vesey's rookie wall

Sunday, Jan. 22: Jimmy Vesey's rookie wall

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while proud of my wife and daughter for taking part in the Women’s March on Saturday.

*The day-to-day NHL grind may be getting to Jimmy Vesey a bit, and causing him to hit a bit of a rookie wall after his Harvard career.

*Alex Radulov has gone from being an NHL headache to being an impact playmaker for the Canadiens in a quick pivot for the Russian player.

*Melrose native Conor Sheary seems to have found a home for himself on the Pittsburgh Penguins skating on a line with a guy named Sidney Crosby.

*The Chicago Blackhawks are always looking to improve, and they’ve reportedly kicked the tires on Gustav Nyquist and Tomas Tatar with Detroit.

*St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock is nearing another coaching milestone in what’s been a long, distinguished career behind the bench.

*P.K. Subban is slowly approaching a return to the Nashville Predators lineup from injury, and the Preds need him as soon as possible.

*For something completely different: Greg Poppovich hits the nail on the head here, and it never ceases to amaze me that he’s such a smart, well-versed human being.