Haggerty: Five things to shake Bruins slump

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Haggerty: Five things to shake Bruins slump

TAMPA So the Bruins have lost three of the last six games, including forgettable efforts against the Carolina Hurricanes and the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Bs coaches and players are touchy to words and phrases like slump, lull or rough spot, but any objective observer can see that the teams performance has dropped over the last two weeks. The Bruins are no longer the top-ranked NHL team in goals allowed (theyve dropped to third) and the trio of David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic has allowed five goals in the last two games. The Bruins have lost the third-period battle in each of their last three games, and have been outscored by a 6-2 margin in the final 20 minutes after serving as the best third-period closers in hockey over the first three plus months.

Things are going wrong in all directions like they did during the seasons first month, and the Bruins are prepared to work their way out of it.

Were a team that changes things just a little bit and it can make all the difference in the world both good and bad, said Andrew Ference. Its a little bit of everything. Its having position in front of the net and battling, and its also taking care of the puck when you have it so that chance doesnt even happen. Its a number of small things that combine to make a bigger mistake.

Nobody is going to be 100 percent on top of their game every game, but the good teams know how to do it more often than not. They dont lean on the schedule as an easy out. Thats the thing too: making mistakes and missing assignments here or there doesnt make the game any easier. It doesnt take any more effort to play a good game. Its not about taking nights off. Its about being mentally sharp and every individual just needs to focus on what has to be done when were good. Its the same thing as we did at the start of the year. Everybody kind of took it themselves to improve their game and it made us a greater team.

There will certainly be difficult stretches in the season with more road challenges ahead during February and March including an 11-day road trip next month but this is one of the first bumps in the road. Here are five things the Bruins can do to help get the overpowering mojo they featured up until this four-game road trip.

1) Plenty of rest. The Bruins look like fatigue is creeping into their game for the first time since October, and its no wonder why in the middle of a five-game-in-seven-days stretch that includes travel. The Bs had an extremely friendly home schedule over the first three months of the regular season, and only now are they really getting battered around with back-to-backs and plenty of road miles. The fatigue clearly manifests itself in mental errors on turnovers and positioning -- and in suddenly empty gas tank during the final 20 minutes of games. The best thing Claude Julien can do is give his players plenty of time to recharge their batteries, and thats what hes done with optional morning skates and an off-day on Wednesday. Well see if it works in New Jersey against a team thats gone 5-1 since the Bruins humbled them on their own ice two weeks ago.

2)Start riding Tuukka Rask a little bit more. With similar team efforts from the Bruins against the Panthers and Lightning, one of the big reasons for a different result was the play between the pipes. Rask managed to steer three out of four breakaways from harms way during his win against the Panthers, and has won six games in row dating back to early December. Meanwhile Tim Thomas looked uncomfortable against the Lightning and was beaten to his glove hand by a clean Dominic Moore shot in the third period in Tampa Bay. Meanwhile Rask is 8-1-0 with a .965 save percentage since the beginning of December, and is pushing for more turns in the rotation right now.

3)Joe Corvo has no points and a minus-5 in his last five games, and hasnt a plus game since the Jan. 7 loss to the Vancouver Canucks. Some of Corvos turnovers have led to goals in his own net as they did against an aggressive Tampa Bay team, and hes regularly been a defensive liability in front of his own net when the action gets heightened. So the Bruins limited him to 12:39 of ice time in the loss to the Lightning his second-lowest amount of ice this season and have juggled their defensive pairings to limit his exposure. The Bruins would do well to continue rationing Corvos ice time until he can repair his game and get rid of the costly puck errors.

4)The Bruins havent been the emotional aggressors since their loss to the Canucks two weeks ago, and havent had the same swagger or confidence after blowing out the Flames in the first game following Vancouver. Thats normally a sure sign of physical and emotional fatigue for the Bs, and that clearly seems to be the case against neutral opponents like the Hurricanes, Panthers and Lightning. The snarling emotion will be there when it matters and sometimes its dragged out by the antics of Brad Marchand whether they like it or not. But its been a problem over the last handful of games as the Bs have dialed down the attitude a bit. A fight or two leading the emotional pathway could do wonders to help the Bruins out of their little tailspin.

5)Simply wait it out. The Bruins are listless and searching for motivation in a four-game trip through the NHL Sunshine Belt that had trouble written all over it beforehand. But thats all going to change when this weekend when the Bs take on the Rangers and Flyers in back-to-back days, and face the kind of teams that will be there at the end of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins have unfailingly brought their A game in all of the big games this season, and the tilt against the Eastern Conference-leading Rangers will bring the Black and Gold out of their funk. Its as simple as that for a team that looks like theyre going through the motions.

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

Blakely: Tatum's character separates him from many of the other rookies

BOSTON – With his new head coach Brad Stevens and Boston Celtics ownership and front office officials surrounding him, Jayson Tatum’s mind seemed to be somewhere else briefly.

He looked ahead, way, way ahead to the other end of the Celtics’ practice court where there were banners, lots of banners, raised high above all else in the gym.

This wasn’t just a passing glance, either.

TATUM SPEAKS

It was clear that the newest Celtic was in deep thought as he stared at the 17 banners and the one left blank, a steady reminder of what this franchise is about, past and present.

Yes, it’s a lot to soak in for anyone let alone a 19-year-old kid whose career with the Celtics can be timed on a stopwatch.

But the soft-spoken 6-foot-9 forward has been here long enough to understand that success around here is about more than playing well; it’s playing to win a championship.

And that in many ways separates Tatum from his teenage brethren who made up the majority of Thursday night’s NBA draft which included an NBA-record 17 players taken in the first round who like Tatum, were just one year removed from high school.

All come into the NBA with lots to learn, as well as goals and aspirations for this upcoming NBA season.

During an interview with CSN on Friday, I asked Tatum about what in his mind would make for a successful season.

And his answer initially was to ask me a question, “Individual or team?”

So I replied, either one.

“To get back to where they were last year and get over that hump,” he said. “Championships, chasing that number 18, that would be the ultimate success for me.”

That served as a reminder as to why despite having a handful of players under consideration at No. 3, the Celtics did the right thing in selecting Tatum.

His words may seem like the politically correct response, but take a look at the kid’s basketball resume and you’ll quickly see he is indeed about winning and doing so in whatever way possible.

After missing his first eight games at Duke with a foot injury, Tatum gradually improved as the season progressed and wound up on the all-rookie team as well as being named to the All-ACC third team.

Once the Blue Devils got to the ACC Tournament, Tatum became a different, better, more dominant player.

Indeed, Tatum led the Blue Devils to their first ACC championship since 2011 and did so in historic fashion as the Blue Devils became the first ACC school to win the conference tournament with four wins in four days.

Late in the title game against Notre Dame, Tatum put together a sequence of plays that speaks to why the Celtics were seriously considering taking him with the number one overall pick had they not been able to trade it for the No. 3 and a future first-round pick.

With the scored tied at 65, Tatum made a free throw that put Duke ahead.

Moments later, he blocked a shot and finished off the play with a lay-up that gave Duke a three-point lead.

After a Notre Dame basket, Tatum connected with a teammate for a 3-pointer that pushed Duke’s lead to four points with around a minute to play.

And then there was the 3-point play Tatum converted after getting fouled on a dunk which secured a 76-69 Duke win over the Fighting Irish.

Free throws. Blocks. Getting out in transition. Passing.

When his team needed him most, he gave whatever was required at that moment which is one of the intangibles that makes Boston feel good about his future.

“He does whatever he has to do to help you win,” said an NBA scout who said he has seen Tatum play “at least a dozen times.”

He added, “Like all of these kids coming into the league now, he has some things he has to get better at, get more consistent with. But he makes winning plays, whether it’s for himself or others. He’s a lot more unselfish a player than he’s given credit for being.”

And he’s 19 years old, which is both a blessing and a burden when you’re an NBA team executive charged with committing at least two years and millions of dollars into a young man.

Part of the process when making a draft choice, especially when it’s one of the top picks, is character evaluation.

Of the players at or near the top of the draft board, multiple league executives contacted by CSNNE.com in the past couple of weeks said this was an area where Tatum stood out in comparison to all of the top prospects.

“He’s the kind of young man you’d love whether he was a basketball player or not,” one Western Conference executive told CSNNE.com. “If you’re ranking guys on character alone in this draft, he’s your number one pick.”

Danny Ainge, Boston’s president of basketball operations, acknowledged the challenge of differentiating between miscues made by a teenager as being problems of concern going forward, or whether that’s a teenager making the kind of bad/questionable decisions most teens make.

“It’s dangerous to play too much into a 19-year-old kid’s behavior,” Ainge told CSN’s A. Sherrod Blakely and Kyle Draper on Friday. “But I think that, with all the things we do, from physical, emotional, mental, character, work ethic and their skills … it’s just really hard at 19. You hate to just be labeled what you are at 18.”

But in regards to Tatum specifically, Ainge added, “Jayson is a high character guy. We know he will get better because of his character and his work ethic.”

Said Tatum: “It’s a great feeling. Being part of a great organization like the Celtics; think of all the great players of the past and you can follow in their footsteps.”

And in doing so, blaze a trail of his own in the pursuit of Banner 18.

David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment

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David Price improves command, indicates he's pitching through ailment

BOSTON — David Price and Rick Porcello showed improvement on back-to-back nights Friday and Saturday, important signs for the Red Sox after a difficult month for both pitchers prior to this homestand.

Price on Saturday night went six innings and allowed three runs, two earned, in a 6-3 loss to the Angels. He fanned five and his velocity has been consistently better this year than last year.

But the most important number was his walk total: one. He walked three batters in his previous start, and four in both of his starts prior.

“Two outings ago, the first start here in Fenway,” Sox manager John Farrell said. “There was better timing in his delivery and overall better separation over the rubber. And he carried that through I thought, even though there's a higher pitch count in Houston, and has been able to maintain it here. I can't say there was one specific thing. It's been more the timing over the rubber. And you're seeing him pitch out of the stretch exclusively. Just less moving parts in a better position to repeat it.”

After Price’s final inning, the telecast captured Price calling pitching coach Carl Willis into the tunnel. Neither Farrell nor Price detailed the conversation. 

“Yeah, everything was fine,” Farrell said of the conversation. “Everything is OK there.”

Price made it sound like he’s dealing with some sort of physical ailment, but was vague.

“There's a lot of stuff going on right now,” the pitcher said when asked about the desire to stay out there. “You don't want it to linger into the next start, or two or three weeks from now, and that's why we did what we did.”

Asked to elaborate, Price reinforced that the decision was to save his body for another day.

“You never want to come out of a game. But you have to look forward at the time,” Price said. “You don’t want today to cost you your next start or you know, the start after that. So that’s what happened.

“It has nothing to do with my elbow or anything like that. This is — you get past one thing and there’s another So that’s what it is.”

Price in New York in early June felt a blister develop on his ring finger. He missed an in-between start bullpen because of it.

Asked about the blister Saturday, Price said, “That one’s gone.”

Farrell indicated the blister was diminished, if not entirely gone.

“He's been dealing with that,” Farrell said. “I think while it's still present and maybe not as severe as it was when it first happened, I'm sure he's going to check on it occasionally."