The Boston Bruins closed out their three-game Western Canada road swing with a decisive win over the fallen-on-hard-times Vancouver Canucks with a 4-0 win at the Rogers Arena Saturday night.
Brad Marchand continued his blistering scoring pace (8 goals in his last 9 games) by potting the game-winner just 2:54 into his 400th career NHL game. His 13th goal of the season has him on a 40+ goal pace, which would easily eclipse his personal best of 28 (in 76 games) which came during the 2011-12 season. To put it in perspective, Marchand’s best goals-per-game ratio happened during the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season when he tallied 18 markers in 45 regular season games. With 13 in 23, he is en fuego, and it could not have come at a more important time for the team as the defense collectively continues to be an adventure from night to night.
Torey Krug ripped a one-timer slap shot past Canucks starter Jacob Markstrom and high into the net to make it 2-0, and for Krug, you had to figure that some of the many pucks (74 shots in 25 games) he’s been getting on opposing goaltenders would start to go through. It was Krug’s second goal in three games after going the first 15 contests of 2015-16 before finding the back of the net against Detroit on Nov. 14. Krug got off to a very good start as one of the most effective defenders in Boston, but hit a rough patch last month, when it appeared he was trying to do a little too much and started coughing up pucks and making ill-advised decisions with his passes. Of late, he’s settling back in (though his ice time has gone down on average from the highs of 24-26 minutes a game in late October to hovering around 20-22), and has focused more on the defensive side of his game. He had a season-high five shot blocks in the loss to Calgary Friday and has registered a total of 13 in his last four games. As an undersized player, Krug is never going to have it in him to take on the majority of the NHL forwards he goes up against in a sheer physical contest, but he can play it smart positionally and by giving up the body to deny scoring chances on his net minders, he’s doing the little things.
Landon Ferraro has been a revelation. He wired a shot past Markstrom in the second period after taking a long lead pass from Zdeno Chara and using his speed to create a shooting lane. His drive from the right side was may have been deflected by a Canucks player on the way in, but his family including father Ray, and stepmother Cammi Granato (yes, that Cammi Granato and check out Landon’s younger stepbrothers all decked out in Bruins gear) were in the building to see him score his second goal as a member of the Bruins (he added an assist on Tyler Randell’s third period goal for his first career multi-point game in the NHL). Ferraro was an early second-round pick in 2009 who came out of the WHL with the reputation for speed and scoring, but not seen as all that accomplished in terms of playing a complete, 200-foot game. Well, the 24-year-old has addressed that, as he’s brought an energy, tenacity and diligence that Claude Julien and the coaches demand from the players. Ferraro was unable to carve out a niche for himself in the Motor City, but he looks like a real find for the Bruins to stabilize the bottom line for now, with a chance to develop and expand his role on the team going forward (two goals, four points in his six games with the B’s to date). When you consider that the team failed with their first rounder Jordan Caron, the fact that Ferraro and Randell are giving them life from the 2009 draft, it takes some (but nowhere near all) of the sour taste away from Boston’s failures in that arena from 2007-09. The name of the game in the modern NHL is to have the complementary, lower-cost but effective and productive pieces in place to offset higher veteran salaries to manage the available cap space. With a cap hit of about $452k this season, Ferraro is doing precisely that for his new team. Having looked at film of him with Red Deer and Everett of the WHL and Grand Rapids (AHL) and Detroit, I have little doubt that Ferraro has a chance to develop into a high-end third line forward and special teams ace. He’s not likely to be a legitimate top-six forward option, but getting those types off the waiver wire is hard to do. On a team that needed an infusion of speed and puck skills, he’s brought that. But Ferraro has also played with more jam than I thought he would. Give Don Sweeney and his pro scouts (Adam Creighton chief among them) credit here- they may have found themselves a keeper.
Zach Trotman is playing on the top line and doing well given the circumstances. He’s got the natural size you want from a defender and as a right shot, he’s the best one suited to play on the other side with Chara. I said before the season that Trotman is a solid, if unspectacular option who isn’t likely to ever develop into a true No. 1 or 2 at the NHL level. Pointing to his mere presence on the top pairing and calling him a No. 2 is not how it works, guys. Having said that, I believe he is a serviceable player who just needs to keep playing in order to get the best out of him, and Julien has done that after benching him early in the year. Trotman is at an interesting nexus between statistical performance and trends and the long accepted “eye test” with his play. He’s more Allen Pedersen or Hal Gill (and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that when employed properly) than he is a top two-way defender, but with his cannon and ability to make an effective first pass, he’s getting the job done with Chara. Trotman will still make poor decisions and giveaways in high danger areas in his own end- he’s got to cut down on that. But while I don’t agree with at least one supporter who sees him as a legitimate top defender at this level, I do not see him as a liability the way other critics do. He’s not as snarly as Kevan Miller is, but he’s a far more effective player in terms of his skating and the way he handles the puck and sees the ice. At the end of the day, both can play at this level, but if you’re counting on both of them in the top-six rotation at the same time, then the B’s are probably going to have issues being a real team in contention over the long haul.
Of course, with Adam McQuaid’s status up in the air after leaving last night’s game with what appeared to be a wrist injury, the team might end up doing just that. Here’s hoping we’ll see more of Dennis Seidenberg and Colin Miller, but you never quite know how the Boston coaches see things versus the rest of us.
Patrice Bergeron and Marchand are the best, most recognized center-wing combo in Boston since Adam Oates and Cam Neely– such a shame they only truly had just two seasons (one of them being the lockout year of 1994-95 at that) to make their magic together. I guess one could make the case for Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov or Glen Murray and that’s a fair assertion to make. Either way, when it comes to what the fans crave and respect, it does not get much better than what Bergeron and Marchand are doing right now, and have done in the past. Bergeron is at just below a point-per-game pace with 24 in 25- but his previous season best for points was 73 in 81 games way back when he was 20 years old in the 2005-06 season. Not sure if his current production rate is sustainable, but given he led the club with 55 points a year ago, we’ll certainly take it. Bergeron does the little things that often go unnoticed and the fact that Marchand is finishing off the chances he’s getting from his center feeds into that production. As long as these two stay hot, the B’s have a chance at staying firmly in the playoff hunt.
Speaking of sustainable paces vs. unsustainable…Tyler Randell’s shooting percentage of 34 won’t stay up there, but there is a lot to be said for a guy who gets as little ice time as he does having four goals in just 14 of his team’s 25 games. His skating is better…the hands/shot were always there…he’s got to keep working hard and moving his feet. If you had told me before the season to guess a player with no previous NHL experience who would have the same or more goals than either of Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey but in fewer games, Randell’s name would not have been on the tip of my tongue. He’s a tough bastard, too…he’s earned his limited ice time and should have an opportunity to get some more as the season goes on. His effort level is what will determine to a large degree how much of a role he can establish for himself, so that’s on Randell. He’s just got to keep grinding away, but so far, so good. And as for Hayes, he was a healthy scratch for the second time already this season- he’s on notice that when he doesn’t move his feet, he’s not accomplishing much. The team expects and ought to get more from him.
Speaking of the fourth line, even Zac Rinaldo got into the act of helping last night, coming up short in a quest for the Gordie Howe Hat Trick with an assist and his first fight as a Bruin against Derek Dorsett in one of the more spirited bouts I’ve seen this season. See for yourself if you like that sort of thing.
Tuukka Rask came in and gave his club a chance to win the Calgary game. Last night, en route to earning his third shutout of the season and 29th of his career (just two away from tying Timmy Thomas for third in franchise history) he wasn’t tested all that much (17 saves) by what is a pretty moribund Canucks team. Still, he’s trending upwards and has played much more of late like the former Vezina Trophy winner. I have always respected Rask’s talent, but his body language and attitude at times has been an area of contention for me. He’s certainly not alone in that regard when it comes to goalies over the years. Patrick Roy was infamous for this kind of thing when it wasn’t going his way, but he’s also a Hall of Fame player and four-time Stanley Cup champ. I was raised in a culture that the goalie is the last line of defense and even when the team in front of you screws up, you don’t show them up and jump on their case after a goal is scored against. Besides, most everyone watching who understands the game knew where the breakdown occurred, anyway. Rask has always been one of those guys where when he’s playing well, you hear him say “I…I…I…” a lot and “We…we…we…” when the club is losing or not playing well. Even the most ardent Rask supporters know that in their hearts he’s moody and tends to get surly when the good times aren’t rolling. On a team like Boston as currently constructed, where we all knew coming in that we were going to see peaks and valleys, that’s not necessarily a positive fit. So, I’ll just say that as long as he keeps playing like this, the Bruins have a chance. Good on him for shutting the Canucks down last night and allowing the B’s to maintain control throughout. That’s the type of play the Bruins need from their top goalie and proof that he doesn’t have to stand on his head every night to be effective.
Finally, Brandon Prust and his spear on Marchand’s “fun spot” (his words not mine) in the game’s final moments (he got a match penalty but the Bruins didn’t get a power play out of it) is a fitting coda last night and spotlight to the mess the Canucks are right now.
Their goaltending isn’t very good…their core players are aging…the young players, while skilled and impressive options for the future aren’t ready for primetime. Prust’s actions, while meet with jeers from Boston fans and cheers from everyone else who despises Marchand, demonstrate the hypocrisy that has become so ugly and prevalent in the modern age of the Internet. There is simply no excuse for that kind of lousy sportsmanship and blatant disrespect. As someone who did not ever once defend Milan Lucic when he did it himself while wearing a Boston uniform and has at times been critical of Marchand’s on- and off-ice antics that have distracted away from the professional pursuit of winning, I don’t want to ever see or hear any righteous finger wagging coming from Vancouver and their fans/analysts again. At some point, we have to get past the intellectually dishonest partisanship of justifying bad behavior and call things for what they are.
What happens to Prust is up to the NHL and its player safety department, but I’m disappointed in those who seem to think that spear was in any way justified or acceptable. You instantly lose any moral high ground you think you own when you resort to that kind of moral equivalence in your reasoning, and to be frank- it’s beneath contempt and shameful. Prust embarrassed himself, his team, the league and the sport. This from a guy who ranted at an opponent recently on Twitter for fighting one of his young teammates, too. The hypocrisy from Prust and his enablers over the entire course of his checkered hockey career going back to the cheapshot he delivered to former Bruin Matt Lashoff when the two were in the OHL, reeks.
I expect a lot more from a Willie Desjardins-coached team, and being around him during his time with the Texas Stars, I bet he wasn’t at all amused with Prust’s actions last night and the stain (however small) that put on Vancouver in what was a pretty putrid game for them overall. Enough with the moral outrage out of that lovely city (man, they’re such a riot sometimes)- that team and their fans have just given up the right to complain about anything for a while and maybe they should just shut up and worry about winning hockey games from now on? Just a thought. No Cups in 45 years. No Cups for that franchise, period. Let that sink in for a bit and one more thing: scoreboard, Vancouver- better luck next time.
Okay- off the soapbox. Bruins got four out of six points on the roadie. Maybe not enough to inspire another Meatloaf song, but good enough to get them back into the tight jockeying for playoffs in the East.