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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Bruins Notch First Home Win of the Season In Resounding Fashion, 6-0 vs. Coyotes

There are times in every professional sports regular season where one team has a distinct advantage in terms of rest and travel against their opponent. The key is to use those to your advantage and make the most out of them since everyone faces an impossible schedule at some point. Arizona (5-4-1) is an up-and-coming young team that is off to a surprisingly decent start to the 2015-16. However, they limped into TD Garden tonight at the tail-end (no pun intended) of a five-game road trip with their third game in four nights. Boston (4-3-1) had been off since Friday so you can guess the result: a 6-0 Bruins victory that was competitive for almost two periods before the Coyotes completely folded.

The win was extra meaningful for the B's for a couple notable reasons: first of all, they finally got their first win at home out of the way after starting 0-3-1 here. Additionally, Tuukka Rask (2-3-1; 24 saves) picked up his first shutout of the season and 27th of his career. David Krejci (2 goals) extended his NHL points lead and also built upon his point-streak to eight games, the most for a Bruin since 1992-93 (when Joe Juneau and Dmitri Kvartalnov went 14 games with a point to start the year).

Boston continued to get help from some unlikely sources: five different players had goals and 11 notched points. Jimmy Hayes led the way with three points (1 goal, 2 assists) while Loui Eriksson (2 assists), Matt Beleskey (2 assists) and Brad Marchand (1 goal, 1 assists) all had multiple points. Krejci started the fun with a beautiful goal at 17:22 of the first period. He skated in with Connolly on a 2-on-1 and you expected him to pass it but at the last second he instead chose to roof it over Mike Smith's (21 saves) shoulder. Eriksson and Krug assisted on his six goal of the season.

Hayes doubled Boston's lead at 6:51 of the second period when he knocked in a rebound. Beleskey and Ryan Spooner assisted on the Dorchester native's third goal of the season. You felt like the Bruins had this one in their skate bag when Joe Morrow of all people walked over the blue line and beat Smith with a beautiful shot. It was only his second career NHL goal, assisted by Beleskey at 17:29.

Connolly scored a goal for the third straight game at 10:22, a pea to the far corner on Smith's blocker side. Marchand and Bergeron assisted on his third goal of the season. Bozos John Scott (how the hell is he still in the NHL?) and Steve Downie had seen enough so they both got game-misconducts with 8:48 left in regulation. Boston's top-ranked power-play was able to cash in for its first power-play goal of the night (they were 1-for-4) as Brad Marchand put one by Smith who didn't seem to even know where it was headed. Colin Miller and Hayes assisted on Marchand's second goal of the season. Krejci fittingly put the bow on top with a garbage time tally with 38 seconds left in this laugher. Smith was still in there for some reason while Hayes and Eriksson padded their stats with another helper.

The B's get another break as they don't play again until Friday (7:30, NESN) in Florida (4-3-1). They are at Tampa Bay (5-3-2) the next night (7, NESN) on Halloween against one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. That Florida trip used to be an automatic six points but not so much anymore since the Panthers are a legit playoff contender now too. Jaromir Jagr left Florida's game tonight with a lower-body injury so let's hope the league's oldest player is healthy enough to return by then against one of his countless former teams.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Jekyll & Hyde Bruins Continue to Mystify Us

If you are trying to make sense of the Bruins through the first seven games of this season, don't bother because it'll only give you an ice cream headache. Boston (3-3-1) won 5-3 tonight at Barclays Center against the Islanders (4-2-1) who are supposed to be one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The B's improved to 3-0 on the road while backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (23 saves) earned his second win in as many starts. Haha trade Tuukka! (Just kidding of course).

What's more strange is that head coach Claude Julien shuffled up the forward lines for once and they paid immediate dividends as Ryan Spooner (1 goal, 1 assist) and rookie Joonas Kemppainen (1 goal, 1 assist) each had two points on the rejiggered fourth line. Another good sign for Boston is that they rallied from down 2-1 in the first period (when it could have been worse since they were outshot 18-8) but recovered to go ahead in the second period and then continued to build on that in the third period before New York scored in garbage time.

Brett Connolly opened the scoring with his second goal of the season and in as many contests. He actually beat Islanders superstar John Tavares to a loose puck and slammed in the rebound at 9:51 of the first. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron had the assists on their temporary linemate's tally (Matt Beleskey remained out with an upper-body injury). Marchand took a needless hooking penalty and New York cashed in on the power-play as Josh Bailey put in a rebound of his own at 14:08. Tavares and Ryan Strome had the assists on Bailey's third goal of the season.

A crazy sequence began at 15:27 when Casey Cizikas tipped in Johnny Boychuk's pass by Gustavsson for what turned out to be New York's only lead, 2-1. Matt Martin had the other assist on Cizikas' goal and after the play, he dropped the gloves with Adam McQuaid. This is where I'm supposed to bitch about fighting having no place in today's NHL but I'd say that it at least settled down the frazzled Bruins who had allowed two goals in 1:19.

Kemppainen fittingly was rewarded with his first NHL goal after some excellent backchecking caused a Bruins-style turnover in New York's end. Jaroslav Halak (21 saves) stopped Spooner's initial shot but the big Finn was there to score on the second chance at 16:13 of the second period. That turned things in Boston's favor as David Pastrnak made it 3-2 Bruins 2:03 after it. He showed off his creativity and impressive skills by kicking the puck with his skate to his stick where he shot it into the corner through traffic. Loui Eriksson had the lone assist on Pastrnak's second goal of the season (his 1st since Opening Night).

Spooner has often been in Julien's doghouse the last two seasons so it was nice to see him get a bounce to go his way rather than the opposite unintended consequence. He had a clear lane at Halak with his backhand but he chose to pass it to a trailing Kemppainen. The puck went off an Islanders' skate and into the net at 8:09 of the third period. Halak was pulled for an extra attacker with nearly three minutes left in regulation (why not?) but Krejci potted an empty-netter for his league-leading 12th point (5 goals, 7 assists). He has a point in every game so far in 2015-16. Eriksson and McQuaid had the helpers.

The Bruins get a couple days to relax in Boston before they host Arizona (3-3-1) on Tuesday (7, NESN) at TD Garden. The B's beat the Coyotes 5-3 last Saturday in Glendale, AZ. Since winning their first three games of the season, Arizona has predictably dropped its last four. Additionally, they are in Ottawa (3-2-2) tomorrow night and Toronto (1-3-2) on Monday so Boston is the last stop on a six-game road trip. In other words, they should be exhausted and the Bruins have no excuse but to beat them and pick up their first long overdue home win.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Serious Question: Will the Bruins Win a Home Game Before Halloween?

After dropping their first three games of the season-all at TD Garden-in humiliating fashion, the Bruins found some life on the road with a pair of wins in Colorado and Arizona last week. Boston (2-3-1) returned home to face the Flyers (3-2-1) who lost 2-1 to Dallas (5-1-0) in Philadelphia last night. For whatever reason, the B's continue to struggle at the Garden as they choked away another two-goal lead (this time in the third period) and fell 5-4 in overtime on Claude Giroux's power-play strike.

Once again, Boston's defense was a mess and Tuukka Rask (32 saves) didn't exactly help matters as he gave up another soft goal. He's allowed 19 goals in his first four starts at the Garden this season. Former Flyer Zac Rinaldo is likely headed for a suspension as he predictably took a run at an old teammate-Sean Couturier-and was called for charging with a game misconduct at the end of the first period. You could argue that it was a clean hit (something that he kept repeating in the dressing room after the game like he was Marshawn Lynch) but this seems to be a case of a bad reputation catching up to a dirty player. I'll never understand why the Bruins traded a third-round pick for this clown and actually thought that he'd change (he's been suspended three times in his NHL career).

The Flyers jumped ahead 1-0 at 9:28 as Canadiens wannabe Pierre-Edouard Bellemare poked in a rebound that Rask dropped right at his skates. Michal Neuvirth returned the favor as he allowed a rebound right to Brett Connolly at 13:28 for a goal after Patrice Bergeron took the initial shot. Connolly's first goal of the season was also assisted by Brad Marchand. Sam Gagner caught Boston on a bad line change and he used Kevan Miller's screen to beat Rask at 15:04. Believe it or not, the Bruins currently have the best power play in the NHL and once again, it came through as Bergeron batted a puck out of mid-air at 17:24 on the man-advantage. Loui Eriksson and David Krejci (who leads the NHL with 11 points) had the assists on Papa Bergeron's fourth goal of the season (his wife had their first child, a boy named Zack earlier in the day).

Neuvirth must have tweaked something on Bergeron's goal because Steve Mason replaced him to start the second period. Mason initially looked like a goaltender who had started last night and expected to have tonight off. Boston killed Rinaldo's five-minute penalty and also scored another special teams goal, this time a shorthanded goal that went off Chris Kelly's skate at 4:31. His second goal of the season was assisted by Eriksson and Zdeno Chara. The Bruins doubled the lead at 8:49 as BC's Jimmy Hayes scored his first goal on his new home ice (2nd of the season). He beat Mason shortside on a shot that many good high schoolers would have stopped, Krejci had the lone assist.

Everything was lined up for Boston to pick up its first home win and ditto for Rask. Instead, they suffered another terrible meltdown. David Pastrnak appeared to make it 5-2 with a one-timer but Mason stopped him with one of the best saves that you'll see all year (his glove snagged it right before it went totally over the line, or so said the replay officials). Giroux cut it to 4-3 at 7:48 after Kevan Miller coughed the puck up behind his net and Jakub Voracek fed him in front for an easy goal. Wayne Simmonds tied it less than three minutes later with a laser over Rask's shoulder into the far corner.

Ryan Spooner was called for hooking in overtime and even before that, you had a feeling that this wouldn't end well for Boston. Sure enough, Philadelphia's stars got it done as Giroux one-timed a pass from Mark Streit (3 assists) and Voracek. A loss is a loss and Boston got the cheap point out of it but make no mistake, this was extremely bitter for the Black and Gold. There is no reason that they should have fallen apart like that to an overmatched opponent like the Flyers (given their injuries and that they had played a good team the night before).

The B's head out on the road again, three of their last four games in October are all away from the Garden which is probably a good thing. They make their first trip to see the Barclays Center on Friday (7:30, NESN) to play the Islanders (4-1-1) who look like one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. Boston returns home to meet the Coyotes (3-2-1) on Tuesday (7, NESN) before they spend Halloween weekend in Florida: at Panthers (3-2-1) on October 30 (7:30, NESN) and at Lightning (4-2-1) on Halloween (7, NESN).

Thursday, October 15, 2015

As Expected, Things Weren't Quite As Bad As They Seemed In Regards to the Bruins This Season

It is only one game so while I'm not quite ready to get the Duck Boats ready for the Bruins next summer, you have to admit that facing a must-win in game 4 of 2015-16, they responded just how you'd want them to: with a resounding 6-2 blowout victory tonight at Pepsi Center vs. Colorado (1-2-0). Boston (1-3-0) had six different goal-scorers (including Tyler Randell in his NHL debut) while former BC star Tommy Cross also made his first appearance in the NHL. It'll take some time to erase their pitiful start to this campaign and conveniently this started at 10 pm here so probably many fans didn't catch all that much of it. Regardless, this was a huge step in the right direction for the Black and Gold.

Speaking of the Heights, Cross' old college roommate Jimmy Hayes (1 goal, 3 assists) finally showed up in a big way with a career-high four points. Also, backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson (20 saves) won his first start as a Bruin. The Avalanche looked like the Bruins of last week: disorganized, uninspired and full of mistakes. This was never really that competitive as Boston got out to a 2-0 lead in the first and 5-0 advantage in the second before Colorado scored the first of two shaky goals. No matter, the B's played so well for the first two frames that for a change, nobody will remember those brief lapses (aside from the coaches of course).

The Bruins jumped out to a 2-0 lead on the Lightning on Monday and we all know how that turned out. This was a change for the better since they basically put the Avs away before they could have a chance to respond. Kevan Miller made it 1-0 (his 1st goal of the season) at 5:49 of the first period with a blast from the point that went bar down on Semyon Varlamov. Brett Connolly had missed the net on a gorgeous feed from David Krejci but at least he tracked down the puck and gave it to Zdeno Chara who passed to Miller. Just 2:22 after that, Hayes was on the doorstep to put in a rebound. His first goal as a Bruin was assisted by Chara and Colin Miller.

The second period had been a major issue (like so many other aspects of their whole operation) in the first three games but Boston at least temporarily cleaned that up this evening. Randell tipped in Adam McQuaid's shot from the point at 3:46. The third line continued to gel as Chris Kelly finished a passing sequence with his linemates Ryan Spooner and Hayes after the latter had picked off the puck on a poor clearing attempt by Tyson Barrie. You know that things are going well when Kelly is scoring highlight-reel backhander goals. Spooner turned it into a laugher at 15:32 with a one-timer that beat Varlamov high and forced him to get pulled in favor of the immortal Reto Berra.

David Pastrnak got nabbed for a high-sticking double-minor and the Avalanche received another gift as Chara accidentally poked the puck in at 18:31 when he tried to take it away from Gabriel Landeskog. One of Colorado's fine young players (he's only 22), that was Landeskog's fourth goal of the season (not that he had to do much to get it). Gustavsson wasn't tested much besides an Avalanche power-play right at the beginning of the game but their second goal represented his only real mistake. He let a weak shot by John Mitchell (his 3rd goal of the season) beat him at 11:20 of the third period but no matter. Head coach Patrick Roy took Berra out with over three minutes left in regulation (as he likes to do) and Hayes assisted on Krejci's empty-netter at 18:31.

Normally I would completely dismiss the Coyotes (3-0-0), Boston's next opponent on Saturday night (10, NESN), but they have gotten off to a surprisingly great start to the season. Tonight, they blanked the Ducks (0-2-1) 4-0 thanks to rookie Anthony Duclair's 1st NHL hat trick. It's only a two-game road trip so the Bruins would like nothing more than to return home that much stronger with a pair of wins. Tuukka Rask will be back in net and hopefully his teammates can use the confidence they must have gained tonight as a springboard to put that awful start behind them as soon as possible.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Bruins (0-3) Are Off to Their Worst Start In 16 Years

The week to forget continued for the Bruins as they welcomed another top club to TD Garden this afternoon and limped away with an eerily similar loss. Tampa Bay (3-0) looked the part of defending Eastern Conference champions as they rallied from an early 2-0 deficit and fought off three power-play goals by Boston (0-3) to post a 6-3 victory on Columbus Day. This is the worst start for the Bruins since 1999-2000 and the 16 goals allowed in these three defeats is their most in 50 years.

It all started so well too as David Krejci (1 goals, 2 assists) scored on a power-play at 2:59 from Torey Krug (3 assists) and Patrice Bergeron. Loui Eriksson doubled Boston's lead after a tap-in at 11:02, another power-play strike that was preceded by slick passing from Krug and Krejci. Former BC star and Hingham native Brian Boyle cut it to 2-1 at 15:42 after the big man was somehow allowed to skate in the slot unimpeded than rip a wrist shot over Tuukka Rask (17 saves). It's been a shaky start for Rask and you can't blame all his troubles on the crappy defensemen in front of him. Ondrej Palat tied it at 16:52 with a weak shot that squeaked through Rask's pads.

David Pastrnak has been one of Boston's lone bright spots to this dark period but he looked like a child when Boyle came barreling through the neutral zone and bounced off him without breaking his slow stride. Boyle went in on a breakaway and scored on a backhander, four seconds after Tampa Bay had killed a Bruins power-play. Ben Bishop (27 saves) is another top goaltender in the NHL and he had an uneven performance although his acting ability led to a pair of goaltender interference penalties called on the B's. Eriksson added another power-play tally at 12:20 by deftly tipping in Krejci's shot with Krug getting another helper.

Tampa Bay ended Boston's 10-game winning streak vs. Lightning at TD Garden, this was their first road win here since March 25, 2010. Steven Stamkos was able to exorcise some personal demons as well since this was the rink where he gruesomely broke his leg two years ago. He picked up his 500th career point with his patented one-timer rocket at 15:17. Zdeno Chara returned today (Matt Irwin was rightfully sent to Providence after he cleared waivers) while Brad Marchand was out with a concussion but Boston couldn't muster another comeback in the third period. As good teams usually do, some fluky goals went the Lightning's way as Rask gave up a horrible goal to Jonathan Drouin at 5:38 and Valtteri Filppula sent most of the fans home early with a goal off his skate at 15:58 (it looked like he kicked it but it stood after a review).

For a team with so many problems, perhaps the best thing for the Bruins to do is get out of the area for awhile and try to regroup. They are at Colorado (1-1-0) on Wednesday (10, NESN) and Arizona (2-0) on Saturday (10, NESN). Their next home game isn't until a week from Wednesday against equally terrible Philly (0-1-1). Needless to say, for head coach Claude Julien's job security and numerous players, the B's need points starting as soon as possible.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Bruins Are Off to Their Worst Start Since 2005-06, So There Is That

Another game and another humbling defeat by the Bruins. All we can hope is that this isn't an omen for how things are going to go for the bulk of the 2015-16 season. Montreal (2-0) came to TD Garden on Saturday night and topped the B's (0-2) 4-2 in a contest that truthfully wasn't that close since Boston scored with 31 seconds left to make the final score appear a little less grotesque. Boston has started 0-2 just 13 times in their 91 years of existence, most recently in 2005-06. 0-3 is certainly a distinct possibility since the defending Eastern Conference champs-the Lightning (2-0)-pay them a visit on Monday afternoon (1, NESN).

First things first, the best rivalry in hockey has become very one-sided over the last few years. Montreal has won seven games in a row in Boston (dating back to Jan. 12, 2012) and six overall in the series that has seen the most meetings (730) of any NHL matchup. Tonight was more of the same as the Canadiens used their spectacular team speed and skill to draw six power-plays. They only cashed in on one of them (the first) but for whatever reason, the B's under head coach Claude Julien never seem to have an answer for this style for the most part. Boston's plodding and lack of creativity never looks as bad as it does when they face the Habs, every time it sticks out like a sore thumb.

It didn't take long for Montreal to jump ahead as they drew a bogus illegal check to the head penalty on Matt Beleskey at 1:14 then 11 seconds later, David Desharnais had an easy tap-in from Andrei Markov and Alex Galchenyuk. Boston should have had at least a goal or two later in the first as Torey Krug hit the post, Carey Price (20 saves) robbed David Pastrnak not once but twice on the doorstep and Brad Marchand hit the crossbar.

Lars Eller scored a pair of goals early in the second period, sandwiched around what should have been a goal by Joe Morrow that cut it to 2-1. Instead, the Canadiens basically clinched it by going up 3-0. With Boston's lack of goal-scoring against Price-the Vezina Trophy winner-that is an insurmountable lead in most instances. Morrow's goal was off a rebound but it was ruled no goal since Patrice Bergeron slightly bumped Price (because he was pushed by a Canadien). Julien used the new coach's challenge but still lost (thereby forgoing the timeout) even though it appeared to be an easy correction.

A bounce finally went the Bruins' way as Matt Beleskey's centering pass went off a Montreal skate past Price at 14:26 of the second to make it 3-1. The first goal of his Boston career was assisted by David Krejci and Pastrnak. Mild-mannered Ryan Spooner received a boarding and game misconduct penalty for a hit from behind at 3:30 of the third. Boston was able to kill a two-man advantage for Montreal that lasted 1:05. Dale Weiss hit the post but more importantly to Boston's season, Marchand jumped into his elbow (this is how it happened) and ended up very woozy (he went right to the dressing room and never returned). Tomas Plekanec scored an empty-net goal for his 500th career NHL point and Bergeron scored a power play goal in garbage time after Torrey Mitchell got a match penalty.

Julien made two lineup changes coming into this contest with Max Talbot and Colin Miller (playing in his first NHL game) taking the place of Joonas Kemppainen and Zach Trotman. Talbot's only stat was one hit in 12:18 of ice time so it's hard to quantify any contributions he might have made. Miller had a shot on goal and blocked a shot in 16:13. Claude was happy with his performance so I see no reason why he would be switched out on Monday, why not take Matt Irwin (-2) out and replace him with Trotman? I know that messes up the whole left shot/right shot thing but at this point, do the B's really have to worry about secondary stuff like that? How about the best players play while the scrubs take a seat or better yet, go to Providence or get waived.

Call me crazy but at some point, things will click for the Bruins this season and they will look like the playoff contender that most thought they could be, right? We knew it would be bumpy with Zdeno Chara (still no need to rush him back) and Dennis Seidenberg but these first two games have been downright ugly. Julien is probably coaching for his job and you'd like to see him get a fair shake with a legitimate defensive corps, not this slop. Nobody looks good when your team has this many holes already, Tuukka Rask (34 saves) says hello. One of their major downfalls last season, Boston lacked a real identity and they sure don't have a positive one so far this young season.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Safe to Say That Wasn't Quite the Start That the Bruins Wanted to 2015-16

With their top two defensemen (Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg) sidelined for the start of the season, the Bruins' most glaring weakness became even more bleak. Their 6-2 loss to Winnipeg tonight at TD Garden will only increase the panic for Boston fans with high-octane Montreal (on Saturday night) and Tampa Bay (on Monday afternoon) coming to town this Columbus Day long weekend. Would you believe that the B's actually led 1-0 after a pretty decent first period?

Yeah, it was all downhill from there as the Jets outscored them 3-0 and scored three more in the third after Boston briefly cut it to 3-2. Tuukka Rask (26 saves) wasn't at fault so much as his awful defense which time and again let him down. Conversely, Boston generated plenty of scoring chances but couldn't finish (a huge problem last season) and therefore made Ondrej Pavelec (29 saves) look like a quality NHL goaltender which is not the easiest thing in the world to do.

Things began on a good note for the home team as David Krejci scored just 5:36 into the first. David Pastrnak stole the puck behind Winnipeg's net then passed to Krejci (with the help of a Jets' skate) and he calmly finished on his backhand. The goal was determined to be unassisted but I thought Pastrnak should have gotten credit for his hard work, oh well. The Jets tied it at 5:26 of the second period on a one-timer by Mark Scheifele from Dustin Byfuglien. Matt Irwin did not have a good debut for the Bruins as he was stripped of the puck leading directly to Winnipeg's second goal by Blake Wheeler (his one-timer was assisted by Andrew Ladd) at 9:17. The Jets punctuated a strong frame with tic-tac-toe passing that ended with a goal by former Sabre Drew Stafford, assisted by Adam Lowry and Ben Chiarot at 17:39.

To Boston's credit they came out with some energy to start the third and were quickly rewarded as David Pastrnak scored on a sweet wrist shot that beat Pavelec up high from a tight angle. Matt Beleskey (his 1st point as a Bruin) and Kevan Miller had the helpers on what was the first of hopefully many goals by the young Czech winger. As fast as you could say we miss Johnny Boychuk, the Jets put it away with a pair of goals. Irwin got caught up ice leading to a 2-on-1 break for Winnipeg and Chris Thorburn's shot went in Boston's net off of Krejci's stick (similar to an own goal in soccer) at 5:17. If that wasn't ugly enough, rookie Nicolas Petan scored in his first career game when fellow rookie Andrew Copp's pass bounced in off the heel of his skate at 9:51. Burmistrov's empty-netter with 3:38 left in regulation sent the disappointed Bruins fans streaming for the exits.

Montreal kicked off its campaign with a 3-1 win at Toronto last night. They will be well rested and ready to go on Saturday against their bitter rivals that they have owned for the last couple years. If we're being positive, things can't get much worse for the Bruins than they were this evening. Then again, the Canadiens are expected to be one of if not the top team in the Eastern Conference yet again so it could very well be another blowout on Causeway Street on Saturday (7, NESN). Just in case, you better start drinking early this weekend to ease the possible pain.