Saturday, December 9, 2017
Bigger picture, none of this would have been possible without Tuukka Rask (7-8-2) remembering who he was and how he could still consistently perform in the NHL. He was named the first star of the game after making 30 mostly routine saves. He has won his last four starts and in the last five games (he appeared in relief for Anton Khudobin on Monday in Nashville), he has allowed just five goals with a 1.10 goals against average and .955 save percentage. As Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy alluded to after the contest, the Black and Gold are at their best when Rask brings his A-game.
After a sleepy and scoreless first period, Bruins rookie Jake DeBrusk brought some energy to the Garden as he dropped the gloves for his first NHL fight with Islanders forward Casey Cizikas. Charlie McAvoy had been rocked by a clean Cizikas hit which still led to DeBrusk taking exception to it. Somewhere his dad-former NHL goon Louie DeBrusk-must have smiled and cracked his burly knuckles. New York had come in 10-0-0 when they scored the first goal so the Bruins were smart to grab the first tally. Brad Marchand (5-game point streak) scored a somewhat weak power play goal that Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak (30 saves) should have squeezed his pads tighter on. Torey Krug and David Pastrnak (8-game point streak) assisted on Marchand's 11th goal of the season.
Between an instigator penalty, not to mention his fighting major and 10-minute misconduct, DeBrusk had to ride an exercise bike in the Bruins' locker room for an excessive amount of time. No worries though as he potted a huge insurance goal at 6:45 of the third period. With his back to the Islanders goal, he spun around and fired a hard, high shot for his sixth goal of the season. Just like before, Krug and Pastrnak had the helpers. All that was missing from a Gordie Howe hat trick was an assist but sadly, it would have to wait for another time. Rask looked poised to notch his second shutout of the week but New York scored right after a power play had ended for them. Anders Lee (17th goal of the season) tapped in a feed from Josh Bailey (27th assist!) & gifted rookie Mathew Barzal at 16:52 to cut it to 2-1 B's. Rookie Danton Heinen sealed it for Boston with an empty-netter at 19:18, his sixth goal of the season was assisted by Patrice Bergeron (5 assists in his last 4 games).
There were two interesting penalties called on the Bruins in the third period: Marchand was tagged with a five-minute major for interference on his Team Canada homie John Tavares and David Backes apparently head-butted Andrew Ladd which also resulted in an obscure five-minute major. Marchand's hit was high and pretty iffy so given his checkered past with dirty plays, I wouldn't be surprised if he hears from the league about it. As far as Backes, nobody (outside of the refs) really noticed what had transpired along the boards and needless to say, that would be very out of character for a tough but honest player like himself.
This is a very favorable stretch for the Bruins in terms of tons of home games (6 of their remaining 10 tilts in December are here) where they currently own a 9-4-2 record. They earned a day off from practice tomorrow and they'll be back at Warrior Ice Arena for practice on Monday as they get ready for Wednesday's (8, NBC Sports) "Rivalry Night" matchup in Detroit (11-13-5). The Red Wings are still the definition of mediocre so that's a contest that they should win. On Thursday (7, NESN) they host the Capitals which promises to be a much harder battle. They close out next week against the Rangers (16-11-2) on Saturday (5, NESN) at the Garden. After such a turbulent start to the campaign, the B's are settling in nicely as a team and the mix of so many young guys and notable veterans is beginning to yield many positive results.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
In case you haven't been paying attention (and who doesn't love the NHL in October, November and December?), Backes had colon surgery and returned way sooner than anyone could have reasonably expected. His assist in Monday's 5-3 loss at Nashville (18-7-3) was the 500th point of his NHL career and his pair of goals tonight were his first of the season (his last one was on March 28 vs. Nashville). Backes is a very likable guy to begin with so this admirable return gives you even more reason to root for him. Did I mention that he loves animals and does tons of charity work for dogs?
The Coyotes were 5-3-2 in their last 10 games coming into this tilt but they couldn't be bothered to put up much of a fight this evening. What else can you conclude when Brad Marchand made it 1-0 B's just 15 seconds into the contest? David Pastrnak (7-game point streak) and Patrice Bergeron assisted on Marchand's 10th goal of the season. Thanks to Brandon Carlo's rough turnover, Christian Dvorak (4th goal of the season) tied it for Arizona at 17:07 of the first period.
Backes' goals came in succession in the second period: first he tipped in Riley Nash's shot from the point with Matt Grzelcyk picking up the other helper at 13:54. Alex Goligoski saw Carlo's error and matched it with an equally egregious mistake that led to Backes' unassisted goal with 54 seconds left in the frame. The veteran American skated in on a breakaway which needless to say, doesn't happen too often for a slower player like him. This marked the second time this season that Boston hasn't been called for a penalty (also Nov. 15 at Anaheim) and Arizona faced the brunt of four whistles.
David Krejci put it out of reach 45 seconds into the third as he finished a pretty passing sequence with Marchand and Bergeron for a power play goal (his 4th tally of the season). Poor Scott Wedgewood (26 saves)-great name!-had no friends that wanted to help him out as he was continually under fire by the Bruins' normally average offense. Two rookies rounded out the scoring for Boston as Danton Heinen (5th goal of the season) put in a juicy rebound at 17:56 from Nash and Kevan Miller than Anders Bjork was on the end of a rush that looked straight out of practice or better yet a preseason game with 1:09 left in garbage time. Bjork's fourth goal of the season was also assisted by Zdeno Chara.
You never talk about the goaltender in a 6-1 victory but Tuukka Rask (20 saves) won his third start in a row, remember when there was a legitimate goalie controversy a few weeks ago? Unlike the miserable Coyotes, an actual living, breathing NHL team visits the Garden on Saturday night (7, NESN) as the Islanders (16-9-3) come for their first game against the Bruins in 2017-18. Highly coveted free-agent-to-be John Tavares (17 goals, 14 assists) is playing the best hockey of his life and we'll also be able to see some old friends in Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg who are defensemen for New York. The Isles lost 4-3 in Pittsburgh (16-11-3) tonight but they are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games while Boston improved to 7-3-0 in their last 10.
Wednesday, November 29, 2017
Rask's most recent win was November 6 vs. Minnesota so needless to say, this was a long time coming. Given the quality of the opponent and the way that it played out, the B's have to hope that this is the kick-start that he's been looking for basically all of this so far bizarre season. Boston also received a boost since David Backes (missed 12 games) and Brad Marchand (missed 6 games) returned from injuries and immediately had an impact on the tilt. Marchand assisted on the first two Bruins goals as they took a 2-0 lead in the first period. Charlie McAvoy opened the scoring with a goal at 7:27 that originally was called off for goaltender interference on Andrei Vasilevskiy (33 saves) but eventually the refs overturned it. David Pastrnak and Marchand had the helpers on McAvoy's third goal of the season.
Boston got some always appreciated secondary scoring to double their lead as Riley Nash sniped a shot by Vasilevskiy at 17:13. Danton Heinen and Marchand assisted on Nash's second goal of the season which also extended his point streak to three games. Cedric Paquette crushed Torey Krug along the end boards early in the second period which led to Frank Vatrano tripping Paquette. Little guys stick together! Shortly after that, Mikhail Sergachev was nabbed for interference on Marchand who simultaneously was called for embellishment (which only him and a few other guys around the league would have been charged with in that instance). No matter as Krug exacted some revenge with a one-timer at 5:59 from Ryan Spooner and McAvoy when the teams were skating 4-on-4, his fourth goal of the season.
Lightning defenseman Andrej Sustr scored his first goal since March 30 of last season when his shot from the point through traffic found a hole into Boston's net. Braydon Coburn and Chris Kunitz assisted on that fluky goal. It could have been worse for the B's since Tyler Johnson broke in on Rask but his shot somehow hit the post and skimmed along the goal line but never went in before he ran into the embattled Finnish goaltender. Boston escaped the frame with a 3-1 advantage which was trimmed to 3-2 at 2:10 of the third period as Steven Stamkos scored his 11th goal of the season and NHL-leading eighth power play tally of the season. He crushed a one-timer from Alex Ovechkin's office (left side half-wall), assisted by Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev. Rask clinched the win with a key stop on Dan Girardi's shot that was tipped by Ryan Callahan.
As far as we know, the Bruins made it through a complete game (including McAvoy who played a career-high 28:11) without sustaining another key injury. Their next game is Saturday (1, NESN) at Philadelphia (8-10-7) who is a woeful 1-4-5 in their last 10 games. It shouldn't matter who gets the start in that contest, either Rask or Anton Khudobin (7-0-2) should be able to beat the Flyers who are currently a dumpster fire with their fans booing them off the ice and calling for their head coach's head. Haha what else is new for that silly team that still doesn't have a legitimate goaltender of its own?
Sunday, November 26, 2017
Anton Khudobin (7-0-2) has won his last four straight starts and he hasn't lost in regulation this entire season (7-0-2). Still, Rask is the undisputed No. 1 (at least for the time being) so he had to get back in there at some point and the Oilers seemed like a good spot for him since they had dropped four out of their last five contests. Boston got off to a good start as David Pastrnak scored a power play goal at 14:03 of the first period for a 1-0 lead. Torey Krug and Rask had the assists on Pasta's team-leading 12th goal of the season. He finished the shot right in the nick of time before he got flattened by a pair of Edmonton players and Cam Talbot (23 saves)-who's had a miserable campaign himself-couldn't react to it in time.
Patrick Maroon apparently lives to play in Boston as he followed up his hat trick here last year with another goal, this one tying things up at 9:50 of the second period. Zach Kassian found him with a cross-ice pass and he was able to beat Rask up high to the top shelf for his seventh goal of the season. Edmonton took a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later at 14:20 as Adam Larsson (how's that Taylor Hall trade looking this season? Haha woof!) had a shot from the point deflect in off Charlie McAvoy's skate. Larsson's third goal of the season was assisted by the newly-acquired Mike Cammalleri and some nobody named Connor McDavid. The B's continued to get outshot at an alarming rate (17-5 in the 2nd!) but somehow it was knotted at two after two frames as David Krejci roofed one by Talbot at 15:31. Riley Nash, his temporary linemate, and Krug provided the assists on Krejci's third goal of the season.
With everything to play for in the third, Boston finally stepped on the gas-outshooting Edmonton 14-9-but it didn't really matter as a defensive breakdown allowed Ryan Strome to be wide open in the slot for an easy goal at 2:07 that Rask couldn't be expected to save in most instances. Leon Draisaitl had the lone helper on Strome's fourth goal of the season. Talbot came in with a horrid 3.13 goals against average so he tried his best to give away the lead but the Bruins couldn't take advantage of a shaky goaltender on the other end. Draisaitl ended it with an empty-net goal at 19:09: his first attempt was blocked but he stuck with it for his seventh goal of the season, assist by McDavid and old friend Milan Lucic (who earlier was mistakenly credited with Larsson's goal).
So where do the Black and Gold go from here? Well they are off tomorrow and then get back to practice on Tuesday before Tampa Bay (16-5-2)-the top team in the Eastern Conference and one point behind St. Louis (17-6-1) who has played one more game-is here for rivalry night on Wednesday (7:30, NBC Sports Network). Boston head coach Bruce Cassidy has been around for too long to be baited into committing too early to his starting goaltender for that tilt but I honestly would be surprised if he goes back to Rask in that one. I still have a hard time explaining the reason behind it (maybe just that some things in life are unexplainable, son) but the fact remains that the Bruins are a unquestionably better team when Khudobin is in the net and not Rask. Tuukka wasn't bad today but a shutout or perhaps stealing a win for the B's-which is basically what he had to do-would have gone a long way at least in the near future for the struggling Finn.
Friday, November 24, 2017
It's a little early to be projecting a playoff matchup this spring (and keep in mind that they meet twice more in the regular season with another game in Boston) but you have to admit that it would be fun to see the Bruins and Penguins meet in the postseason since Boston improved to 9-1-2 in their last 12 contests vs. the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions. For whatever unknown reason, they have given the Penguins more problems than any other opponent over these last few years. Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin (7 goals, 14 assists) missed today's action with an upper-body injury but Brad Marchand (8 goals, 7 assists) was also out for Boston so that's basically an even trade-off.
Besides Khudobin (who only had to make 17 saves), the key to Boston's resurgence lately has been the fact that they've consistently gotten off to better starts. It's no surprise that hockey (just like any other team sport) is easier to play with a lead versus playing from behind all the time. The B's were up 2-0 less than 11 minutes into the proceedings as David Krejci (2nd goal of the season) finished a one-timer from Jake DeBrusk and Peter Cehlarik at 6:13 followed by Sean Kuraly's (3rd goal of the season) similar one-timer at 10:51 from fellow rookie Charlie McAvoy. Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan (a South Shore resident and another BU connection) used his timeout after that and truthfully, he probably needed it more late in the game when the B's were hanging on but that's neither here nor there.
Pittsburgh trailed 2-0 after the first period but the Penguins cut it to 2-1 with a power-play goal by Jake Guentzel at 1:02 of the second, his team-leading ninth of the season. Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby-ever heard of them?-had the helpers as Pittsburgh cashed in on a cheap hooking penalty on Krejci (granted it was Boston's only infraction). It's tough to beat rookie defenseman Matt Grzelcyk's story just to get here: Charlestown native, BU alum and his dad works on the bull gang (the group that changes the ice, court and concert stages) at the Garden. He added another chapter to his hometown hero legacy with his first NHL goal at 10:31. Krejci and DeBrusk (2 goals and 4 assists in 5 games since he was a healthy scratch) had the helpers as Grzelcyk took his head coach Bruce Cassidy's sage advice and pinched up on the play before beating Penguins goaltender Matt Murray (29 saves) down low.
The Penguins are banged up but they (cliche alert!) still have the heart of a (2-time) champion as they rallied for two goals before that frame was over. Former Bruins great Phil Kessel showed off what is still one of the best shots in the league as he sniped the puck past Khudobin at 14:07 to make it 3-2 Boston. Riley Sheahan and Justin Schultz had the assists on Kessel's ninth goal of the season. Crosby tied it up with a bizarre tally: he knocked the puck off of Khudobin's chest (it was just lying there) and it stood up for his seventh goal of the season after a lengthy review and subsequent reach of a coach's challenge by Cassidy. Patric Hornqvist and another former Bruin-Matt Hunwick-had the assists on a goal that showed off some of Crosby's numerous elite skills (hand-eye coordination, instinct, relentlessness, etc) that have all added up to make him an all-time great player.
Coming off an 11-round shootout in New Jersey on Wednesday (won 3-2 by the Bruins), not to mention it being the afternoon following the biggest eating day of the year (sorry Ramadan), the Bruins wanted no part of overtime or God forbid another shootout. They got all the remaining offense that they would need to put it in the win column as David Pastrnak finished off a breakaway from Riley Nash and Ryan Spooner at 5:06 of the third period. Pastrnak's team-leading 11th goal of the season was helped by Nash's long feed but then it was all Pasta's brilliance since he went backhand to forehand before flipping the puck over Murray's glove hand.
Boston will try to keep the good vibes going as they host the reeling Oilers (8-12-2) on Sunday (5, NESN) before the best team in hockey-Tampa Bay (16-3-2) comes to town on Wednesday (7:30, NBC Sports Network). Cassidy said they're taking the goaltender situation "day-to-day" so I have no idea if it'll be Khudobin or Rask vs. Edmonton. You can see it from both sides: when he has enough breaks in between games, why sit Khudobin before he loses in regulation but Rask will also have to start again at some point or you risk really losing him mentally this season. Wear your old Milan Lucic Bruins jersey on Sunday and silently cheer on Looch after you watch the Patriots (8-2) destroy the Dolphins (4-6) at Gillette Stadium (1, CBS).
Saturday, November 11, 2017
Is This The Start of the Inevitable Collapse for the B's While They Are Missing So Many Good Players?
With budding superstar (and American hero) Auston Matthews out for both meetings with an injury and facing the immortal Curtis McElhinney (38 saves) in net this evening for the Leafs, this was a game that the Bruins had to have and despite outshooting Toronto 39-25, they lacked any sort of finishing ability. Tuukka Rask (21 saves) fell to 3-6-2 as yet again he was not able to play like a true No. 1 goaltender that can carry his team or teammates when they are down. I still think that Rask can be a very good goalie but it doesn't help when Brandon Carlo turns the puck over right to Mitch Marner at 8:52 for an easy goal, his 2nd of the season.
James van Riemsdyk enjoyed his time against the B's since he had a pair of goals on Friday and he made it 2-0 tonight with a power-play goal at 14:16 of the first period. He tipped in Nazem Kadri's shot for his ninth goal of the season with Morgan Rielly picking up the second assist. The Black and Gold world might be collapsing (sorry for the stupid hyperbole) around them but at least Frank Vatrano has somewhat remembered how to do his one skill that got him here: score goals. He tipped in a shot from Torey Krug (7-game point streak) and Kevan Miller at 15:18 of the first for his second goal of the campaign.
Toronto led 2-1 after the first and Matt Martin laid a massive hit on rookie Anders Bjork early in the second frame at center ice. Both guys were shaken up but they each remained in the game, because hockey. Matt Beleskey might be nothing more than a fourth line plug these days but at least he stands up for his teammates: he fought Martin a few minutes later since who else would in this Swiss cheese lineup? With the Leafs up 2-1 after 40 minutes, Boston needed to conjure up something notable to avoid grabbing only one point out of a possible four this weekend against their Atlantic Division foe. Instead, their power play was blanked on four occasions overall and the Leafs put it out of reach with Rielly's goal at 6:52 that of course deflected off Carlo's stick. JVR and Marner picked up their second points on Rielly's third goal of the season.
To say that goal was deflating would be an understatement since right before it, Boston had a two-man advantage for 1:07 that they shamelessly flushed down the toilet. Head coach Bruce Cassidy used his timeout right after the second penalty was whistled but there would be no proper response by his club. Grandpa Marleau broke Boston's hearts with the overtime tally and he put this slopfest to bed with an empty-net goal with 1:47 left in regulation. His eighth goal of the season was assisted by Zach Hyman (fun name!) and Leo Komarov.
Dating back to last season, Toronto improved to 6-0 vs. Boston meaning that the B's have two more chances left to avoid another ugly fate: a season sweep at the hands of one of their sneaky biggest rivals these days. Hey no worries though, the Bruins won't return to the Garden until Black Friday (1, NESN) when they host the Penguins (9-7-2) in their annual day after Thanksgiving matinee. Between Now and Then (cheesy 90s movie reference, just call me Bill Simmons) they leave on the dreaded California trip and then they go to New Jersey (10-4-2)-the Eastern Conference's biggest surprise-the night before Thanksgiving (7, NESN).
Did I mention that the B's are 1-3-2 on the road thus far? Anaheim (7-6-3) on Wednesday is probably their best chance at a win on the road trip since the Ducks are super banged up just like them. At LA (11-3-2) the next night (10:30, NESN) is no picnic since the Kings are one of the NHL's best at the moment (who could forget their last second 2-1 overtime win here back on Oct. 28?) and finally, the Sharks (8-6-0) on Saturday night (10:30, NESN) will be looking for revenge after they lost here 2-1 on October 26.
Monday, November 6, 2017
When you have such a patchwork lineup, hell it feels like half of the Providence Bruins are currently here, you take regulation wins whenever you can get them. Tuukka Rask (24 saves) had arguably the play of the game when he stopped Mikael Granlund's penalty shot in the third period with Boston clinging to a 4-2 lead. Devan Dubnyk (20 saves, 4 goals allowed) wasn't anything close to the same guy from last season who blanked the B's both times that these clubs met. He was pulled after two periods by Angry Dad I mean Wild head coach Bruce Bouderau and replaced by Alex Stalock (9 saves).
Nino Niederreiter gave Minnesota a 1-0 advantage just 4:53 into the contest when the Bruins chose not to cover him for an easy putback on a rebound. His second goal of the season was assisted by that tireless American hero Ryan Suter (who skated a game-high 28:02) and Jared Spurgeon. Boston responded with two goals in the first period, both of the extra fluky variety. Jake DeBrusk tried to find Frank Vatrano with a pass from behind the net but it bounced in the net off of Suter's skate at 10:23. Zdeno Chara (team-high 25:48) and Jordan Szwarz (1st NHL assist) had the helpers on DeBrusk's third goal of the season. Later, Vatrano simple shot on goal from the blue line went off the post then Dubnyk's leg and in at 12:42. It was Vatrano's first tally of this campaign and first in 25 regular season games (he had 1 in the playoffs last season) with more assists to Szwarz and Chara. Matt Beleskey even made a contribution as he fought something called Luke Kunin shortly after Vatrano's go-ahead goal, good times!
At his post-game press conference, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy called the second period their best of the season as they outshot Minnesota 15-4 and potted two more goals to go up by three. Sean Kuraly put in a rebound from Danton Heinen and Tim Schaller at 5:34 for his second goal of the season. Boston's first line (which is basically all they have at the moment) finally got in on the action as Torey Krug (4-game point streak) one-timed a pass from David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron at 7:43 for his third goal of the season.
The B's have trouble putting games away (see the overtime loss to Buffalo a few weeks ago) and they certainly made their fans sweat on an unseasonably warm night as Pasta's brutal giveaway led to a one-timer by Granlund from Matt Dumba at 1:33. Eric Staal got a shorthanded breakaway after Pasta was stuck up ice on the power play and he beat Rask to cut it to 4-3 Bruins at 15:56. Cassidy took his timeout with 2:40 left and Stalock was pulled for an extra skater. Schaller caused a turnover and won a race for the loose puck, leading to the empty-net goal (his 3rd goal of the season) at 19:03 and his first multi-point performance in the NHL.
The Rangers and Bruins usually have entertaining battles and since it's Rivalry Night, you know that they'll pull out all the stops. Just kidding, hopefully it's a half-decent product in primetime. New York had gotten off to an awful start but they've reeled off four wins in a row to potentially save their season. It'll be only Boston's fifth game on the road where they have begun 2017-18 a little wobbly (1-2-1) while New York is 5-4-2 at Madison Square Garden-the world's most overrated arena.