Boston Bruins

Mankins, offensive line cramming for Titans

621444.jpg

Mankins, offensive line cramming for Titans

FOXBORO -- With about 72 hours left before the Patriots' season-opener with the Titans, Logan Mankins knew that he and his fellow offensive linemen had a lot of work to do. It was time to cram.

After a preseason rife with injury and inconsistent personnel groupings, Tom Brady's personal protectors had just three days to round into regular-season form -- a difficult task to be sure.

Mankins missed a chunk of training camp as he recovered from knee surgery. Sebastian Vollmer nursed his ailing back for much of the preseason. Brian Waters, who had a Pro Bowl season last season, still hasn't reported. And second-year linemen Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon struggled very publicly during New England's first two exhibition games.

"It's coming together," Mankins said. "We've had a couple guys miss a lot of time so we're still working on it. We've got a lot of work to do between here and Sunday. Hopefully we can put our best on the field Sunday, play good together, trust in each other. We're going against a good defense. They're very athletic, very fast and they play hard so it's gonna be a big challenge."

For Mankins, Sunday could be particularly trying simply because he hasn't played much full-contact football since his return. He played sparingly against Tampa Bay in New England's third preseason game, and he didn't play at all against the Giants in their fourth and final exhibition. He's barely six months removed from surgery to repair a torn ACL, and even he's not 100 percent sure how he'll be feeling if asked to play four quarters in Tennessee.

"It's always tough," he said. "It goes for everyone in the league. Not everyone plays a full game in the preseason. It's different for everyone. Myself not having too many reps, I just gotta trust in my conditioning and hopefully it's good enough."

The guys on either side of Mankins -- Solder at left tackle and, presumably, Ryan Wendell at center -- are surely hoping the same. Mankins said that as long as the three of them are on the same page, they should avoid any major gaffes.

"It's just the three of us seeing through the same set of eyes on that side," he said. "There should only be one call and that's the right call. If we start making too many calls then guys are saying things we don't need out there, that gets guys confused. We gotta be on the same page and trust that call and everyone do what it says."

Seventy-two hours and counting for them to get it all straightened out.

Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

bruins_anders_bjork_092517.jpg

Haggerty: Bjork looking like he's ready for his NHL shot

BOSTON – At this point in training camp with just a couple of preseason games to go, Monday night’s performance might have represented the exclamation point on Anders Bjork’s impressive drive to win an NHL roster spot. The 21-year-old Bjork has scored other goals during this preseason, but Monday night’s tally in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks was his first while skating with prospective linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.

“I think we had more ice time together, which helped us get more comfortable and helped me kind of learn their chemistry a bit more,” said Bjork, who finished with 21 goals and 52 points in 29 games for Notre Dame last season. “Obviously, they have a ton of chemistry and they’re very easy to play with, of course, but you know, it’s nice to get more shifts with them and kind of pick up on their patterns and stuff like that.”

In fact, it’s become easy to see Bjork now winning the right wing spot with No. 37 and No. 63 after watching them work together in perfect concert for Boston’s third goal of the night.

Already up by a 2-0 score, Marchand turned over a puck in the Chicago defensive zone while on the forecheck hunt, and managed to work it over to Bergeron for a quick, backhanded saucer pass to the slot area. The alert Bjork stepped up into the high slot and one-timed the puck past Corey Crawford to give the Bruins a three-goal lead on Monday night, and allow all involved a sigh of heavy relief that Boston has found at least one rookie ready to hold down top-6 NHL job.

“He’s got that speed and the smarts to get open and then find the openings in the quiet ice. It was a great play by him just to get open, and for me to see him. He made it really easy,” said Patrice Bergeron. “He skates well, he made some great plays, we just need to keep talking and finding each other more and more on the ice.”

Given the overall scope of Bjork’s performance in camp, his steady presence on a line with Bergeron and Marchand during the preseason and his speedy skill set, the rookie is stating a strong case that he’s ready for NHL prime time. It would be a major training camp shocker to this humble hockey writer if Bjork is anywhere other than in the Bruins lineup when they drop the puck against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 5.  

“Yes, it does [look like Bjork is NHL ready]. The competition will stiffen for him and we’ll keep evaluating that. Still, he’s got skill, speed, and courage. He gets to the dirty areas. He’s hard to play against [and gives] second effort on pucks,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s not one-and-done with him. And for a young kid, that’s special, to be able to hang in and there and battle for those turnovers. That’s usually the part of the game they have to continue to grind on them.

“But he’s got a lot of that. Maybe that’s Bergy and March’s influence, I’d like to think they have some of that, because that’s their game. Marchy never quits. Bergy never quits. They’re going to be a hard line to play against if they are that dogged on the puck every shift.”

There are still two preseason games remaining before the real thing, so it makes little sense for the Bruins to pronounce Bjork ready for NHL duty until the time comes. Bjork’s combination of blazing skating speed, decision-making and confident swagger on the ice have pushed him to the top of Boston’s prospect list when it comes to being closest to play in the NHL. All were on display in his 12:48 of ice time with a goal and a plus-1 rating to go along with two shots on net, a hit and a takeaway while playing the fast, aggressive hockey that Boston prefers these days.

Bjork could have even had a second goal after he intercepted an Erik Gustafsson outlet pass, but missed the net high with a shot in close while going for his second goal of the game. All in all, it was another hurdle cleared by a talented Notre Dame standout that certainly feels like he’s destined to make the opening day roster, and equally ordained to start in a top-6 right wing role with arguably the best duo in the entire NHL.

It will be interesting to see just how good Bjork can be on a daily basis at the NHL level, and if he can get into becoming the 20 goals/50 points range player that should be in his future.  

Now it’s up simply up to Bjork to finish up strong in the preseason when he’s paired with Bergeron and Marchand, and continue on the straight-ahead path toward cracking the Bruins roster for years to come. It would appear he’s poised to “pop” in training camp just as Brandon Carlo did a year ago, and stand as one of those talented youngsters ready to help bridge the gap between talented rookies and established core veterans.

CSNNE SCHEDULE

Kyrie Irving says details of relationship with LeBron is 'not anybody’s business'

Kyrie Irving says details of relationship with LeBron is 'not anybody’s business'

CANTON, Mass. – LeBron James has embraced the fact that Kyrie Irving has moved on, but you get a sense that there’s still a bit of ‘what if. . .?” that James is still thinking about.

"I was wondering if there was something I could have did better to make him not want to be traded," James told reporters during Cleveland’s Media Day on Monday. "Is it the way the season finished, or, was it me coming back in the first place? Was it the coaching changes or the GM change, or, I don't know. I had so many different emotions go through my head."

When told about James wondering if there was something he could have done better to not make him ask for a trade, Irving responded, “Yeah.”

Irving declined to get into specifics, saying, “If we ever have that conversation, I don’t think it’s for anybody but me and him.”

He added, “Even if there are things, it’s really not anybody’s business. It’s between two men. That’s really where it is.”

Irving, a four-time All-Star in his six seasons with the Cavs, asked for a trade request in July.

Cleveland talked to several teams, and were seemingly focused on trying to send him to a team in the Western Conference.

While there was considerable interest, the Cavs didn’t see any deals come across their desk to their liking which is when they rekindled conversations with Boston.

After initially coming to terms of a trade, Cleveland was concerned that Isaiah Thomas’ still-on-the-mend hip injury was more serious than they had initially thought and asked for additional compensation in the form of a first-round pick.

The Celtics indicated during their initial talks that Thomas might not be ready at the start of the season. His timetable still remains uncertain, but reports out of Cleveland indicate that he may be ready to play prior to January.

Both Boston and Cleveland found a happy medium with the trade eventually being Irving to Boston in exchange for Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic, a 2018 unprotected first-round pick from Brooklyn along with a 2020 second-round pick Boston got from Miami, that they conveyed to the Cavs.

CSNNE SCHEDULE