Haggerty: Is the NHL getting even with Bruins?

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Haggerty: Is the NHL getting even with Bruins?

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

TORONTO Perhaps the balance has now been paid in full by the NHL after a week of Bruins-related fines, suspensions and assorted supplemental discipline goodies.

The league has been under fire by crazed Montreal fanatics, Air Canada executives and even the Canadian Prime Minister among others since Zdeno Chara escaped official vilification for his collision with Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre two weeks ago.

The hockey play hit aside from being your garden variety interference call resulted in nary a suspension or fine for Chara a decision aided by his record of clean living within the NHL for the past 13 seasons.

That courageous, principled decision led to a firestorm of criticism and a ridiculously simplistic role for Chara as the NHLs version of Frankensteins Monster terrorizing the hockey hillside while abusing smaller, weaker hockey players.

Its actually pretty easy to imagine the more imbalanced Habs fans grabbing pitchforks and torches to chase around the 6-foot-9 defenseman after they burned police cruisers in the streets three years when the No. 1 seed Habs took down the No. 8 seed Bruins in a first round playoff series.

The NHLs Hockey Operations people seem to have responded to the criticism in the way only they can in the handful of games since the CharaPacioretty unfurled on the ice.

The league has called a lopsided ratio of penalties against Boston (20 power plays for the Bs opponents and only 11 for the Black and Gold) in the last four games since Chara and the Big Bad Bruins did the deed that evening in Montreal.

The NHL has also seemingly gone above and beyond their customary methods to show theres no favoritism toward the Boston franchise or from Colin Campbell toward the team his son skates for.

One wouldnt think the NHL feels the need to prove a guy like Jumbo Joe Thornton not to be confused with one of the great hockey MENSA candidates of our times wrong after he expressed an opinion that the league has always favored the Bruins.

After all Thornton cited a Milan Lucic cross-check in the playoffs two seasons ago that the Bs power forward was actually suspended for when referencing some fictitious double-standard in favor of Boston.

Jumbo was never one to let the actual facts get in the way of one of his half-baked philosophies, but Thorntons conspiracy theory does speak to a whispered perception around the league when it comes to the Bruins.

The NHL appears to have gone out of their way to strike at the Bs and show a little tough love when ruling on a pair of incidents in back-to-back games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and Nashville Predators.

Brad Marchand clocked R.J. Umberger in the back of the head with a blindside elbow earlier this week that momentarily dropped the Blue Jackets forward, and caused a minor skirmish in its aftermath.

No penalty was called at the time, Umberger walked away from the incident and he actually took a dastardly run at Rich Peverley on his very next shift on the ice for the Jackets.

For that the 22-year-old Marchand was slapped with a two-game suspension and over 6,000 in lost game checks, and the pesky Bs forward gamely accepted his punishment like a man. There was no crying about injustice or where he intended to hit Umberger, or where his elbow made contact.

Marchand simply served the time after doing the crime.

But this is where things get a little dicey.

The Bs were involved in another elbowing incident Thursday night in their overtime loss to the Preds.

Patric Hornqvist charged in on Tyler Seguin during the closing minutes of the first period and smashed his pointed elbow into the side of Seguins head as he finished his check. Seguin had little time to protect himself after flipping the puck away, and took the full brunt of impact behind his ear.

Hornqvist drove his elbow into Seguins head with such force that he ripped apart the bottom of the Bs rookies left ear lobe an injury that required seven stitches to simply put things back together again for Seguin.

The rookies gruesome ear looked like a Mike Tyson chew toy for the better part of three periods, but Seguin somehow avoided a concussion-type injury on the play.Predators coach Barry Trotz gave some mealy-mouthed explanation that Hornqvist kept his elbow in on the hit following the game, but numerous replays along with Seguins cauliflower ear seemed to indicate the exact opposite happened.

It was expected Hornqvist would get some kind of suspension similar to what awaited Marchand and Dany Heatley each of the last two days: a two-game suspension and a warning flare throughout the league that head shots were going to be closely scrutinized.

For reasons that NHL Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy hasnt made abundantly clear, the NHL opted to simply slap Hornqvist with a light 2,500 fine and a warning not to do it again.

Thats all well and good if the league is trying to breed uncertainly and confusion about head shots.

But this situation seemed tailor-made for supplementary discipline and will instead fuel speculation this whole week has been a weak NHL effort to make up for something people feel they missed with Chara and Pacioretty. Given the makeup mentality that the league has long practiced -- and the downright head-scratching manner they mete out justice -- it's a legitimate question to be asked.

The NHL continues to shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to making a clear and present stand against head shots and did it again by giving the kid gloves treatment to Hornqvist.

It was an elbow to the head meant to send a message after Seguin scored an early goal in the game, and those are exactly the kind of murky plays most players want the league to sanction right into extinction.

As always, Patrice Bergeron is the voice of reason on these situations after his career was almost snuffed out by one of those borderline hockey plays three years ago.

I thought Hornqvist certainly deserved the match penalty, said Bergeron. He led with an elbow instead of his shoulder, so it was clearly an elbow. I dont know what their take on the hit was. Maybe they thought the elbow hit Seguins shoulder and then went up into the head. I dont know.

But like Marchand said on his hit, theres nothing you can say about it. The league did whatever they had to do about that one, and on this hit it could have been either way. The fine is one thing. But maybe one game would have been nice to kind of right away send that message to everyone. Heatley got a two-game suspension and Marchand got a two-game suspension. But at least with the Hornqvist fine theyre being consistent in that theyre looking at way more dangerous plays than they used to. I think the NHL is going toward the right direction.

Bergeron is right.

The NHL is heading toward the right direction, but letting Hornqvist off easy after an elbow to the noggin of one of the NHLs brightest young stars proves theres still plenty of progress yet to be gained.

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

Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

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Acciari glad to be back with B's after missing a month

BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.

But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.

The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.

“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”

Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that. 

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

Backes: "Offensive frustration is warranted at this point"

BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.

Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.

But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.

“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.

But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.

Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.

Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.

“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”

The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.

Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.