Final buzzer: B’s moribund at even strength in Columbus Day matinee- drop third straight

The good news in Boston on Columbus Day 2015: the Bruins scored 3 power play goals.

The bad news: The Tampa Bay Lightning scored 6 goals (2 with the man advantage) and dominated the B’s at even strength to drop the home team to 0-3 for the 2015-16 season, with all three losses coming at the TD Garden.

The B’s squandered a 2-0 lead in the first period in a 1:09 span late in the opening frame when the fourth line collapsed too deep in their own end and got caught puck watching (Torey Krug was also guilty of this) while former St. Sebastian’s and Boston College star Brian Boyle drifted to the front of the net, took a pass from the left boards and buried a high shot for his first ever goal against the Bruins. Boston then saw Patrice Bergeron take a goaltender interference penalty (the B’s would get whistled for three such infractions on Ben Bishop today and what do you know? The 6-5 goalie went down like he’d been shot with a machine-gun every time a guy in a black sweater made contact with him.) and Tampa evened up the game when Ondrej Palat  heeled a pass that deflected through Tuukka Rask’s five-hole. Just like that, all of the hard work and two goals worth of offense compliments of David Krejci and Loui Eriksson evaporated.

Boyle took full advantage of a David Pastrnak miscue while Boston was on the power play in the second frame, intercepting an ill-advised (this is the second time in as many games I have used those words to describe a Pastrnak decision) pass to the middle of the ice out by the Tampa blue line. Boyle took off then gave Pastrnak a stiff-arm to knock him back, going in alone on Rask, sliding the puck again through the five-hole to make it 3-2.

Eriksson and the Bruins battled back to tie it at 3-3 with his second power play goal of the game, redirecting a Krejci shot (he finished with a goal and two assists, Krug had three points- all assists- as well) into the net and giving the building life.

It was short-lived, however- as Bergeron took another penalty (hooking) and then while Boston was on the PK, the Bolts’ Tyler Johnson got away with an interference play of his own to prevent Chris Kelly from clearing the puck. As a result Tampa held the zone, allowing Steven Stamkos to get open and bury a shot for the 4-3 lead and his 500th career NHL point (500s are wild in Boston- Tomas Plekanec reached the same milestone on Saturday).

Boston needed a strong final 20 minutes to come back, especially improving their 5-on-5 play, but didn’t get it. Rask gave up a soft goal to Jonathan Drouin on an off-speed shot that a sliding Boston D got a piece of, and then Valtteri Filppula closed out the scoring with a shot he directed in off his skate. After review, the goal was upheld and the Lighting left town with 6 goals, the second club in three tries this season to do it.

We knew that this Bruins team wasn’t going to be all that good, but they’ve not gotten much puck luck thus far, and more calls have gone against them than in favor. You don’t want to make excuses, though- the defense, which did benefit from having captain Zdeno Chara back, is too young and unproven at this stage, and the Boston offense does not have the horses to provide consistent scoring. In net, Rask has been mediocre thus far, which, in a nutshell, accounts for 16 goals allowed and the 0-3 start, the equaling the 1999-00 Boston Bruins, a non-playoff club.

Instead of doing 3 up/3 down, I’m just going to switch to up/down, because I don’t want to force things that are not there. More guys probably deserved down grades than up today, but to be quite honest- Tampa Bay is one of the top teams in the league and the Bruins did some good things today, especially in the first 40 minutes. I particularly liked some of the pressure they put on Tampa in their own end, disrupting their breakouts and not letting the Lightning generate much speed in the neutral zone. Unfortunately, the wheels came off in the final period and Boston couldn’t sustain that.

Torey Krug has been consistent in the early going on a defensive unit that has had some tough nights. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Torey Krug has been consistent in the early going on a defensive unit that has had some tough nights. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Up

Loui Eriksson- He pounced on a Krug pass just outside the right post for his 1st goal of the season (he had one wiped out against Saturday night, I would add), then got his stick on a Krejci shot in the second period to tie the game at three goals apiece. He’s a smart player who works hard around the net and deserves more credit than he gets from rank and file Boston fans. Unfortunately, as a 30-year-old impending free agent, he’s far more likely to be traded at some point this season where he can help a playoff-bound club than to finish out his time as a Bruin.

David Krejci- He started the scoring with his second goal in three games, then assisted on both of Ericsson’s tallies. He won face-offs and provided an offensive spark. His day was not without mistakes- he coughed the puck up a few times, got hit with one of the Bishop interference calls (Bishop sold it pretty well) and overskated the play that resulted in Tampa’s final goal. On another tough day for a loss, it’s hard to find positives.

Torey Krug- With three assists and nearly 24 minutes, Krug has been Boston’s most consistent defenseman in the first trio of contests. Like Krejci, however, Krug’s day was not without its warts. He was out of position and did not pick up Boyle on his first goal to cut Boston’s lead to 2-1, focusing on the puck instead of his surroundings. But, when it comes to handling the puck and starting the breakouts from his own end, nobody is doing it better than the third-year player.

Down

Tuukka Rask- Yes, his team isn’t very good. Yes, some of the goals today were not his fault. But, there are times when a team simply needs their goaltender to make the basic stops to keep them on top or get them back in it, Rask was AWOL today. With the money he’s making, the Bruins deserved a much better performance than they got from the moody and often times mercurial personality. It will be interesting to see if Rask digs in and dedicates himself to being better or his attitude worsens. The Bruins cannot afford any petulance from the one guy they’ll depend on the most to steal them some games this season.

I’ll be honest- I am not a fan of the people out there who never seem to think the goaltender should be accountable for anything. It’s always a defensive breakdown or a forward who didn’t get back or some other excuse. I think after a day like today- if that’s what you’re bringing to the table in a debate about Rask’s performance, then you probably need to take a step back and reevaluate your knowledge of the game of hockey. At some point- there’s a certain level of performance from the guy between the pipes that everyone should expect and demand, regardless of agendas. Rask fell short today. But, he’ll get plenty of other opportunities to shine this season, and when he does- I’ll be the first in line to give him credit, because that’s how this should work. Today, however, he let his team down when they needed him to be just above average.

Joonas Kemppainen- You can tell the guy is mature and a smart hockey player, but he seems to be gripping the stick pretty tight and playing not to lose. Like everyone on that bottom unit and defense that got burned on Boyle’s first goal, he was nowhere near in position to defend, and as the center, Boyle was his man. He’s new to North America and still getting acclimated, but the B’s need him to play better going forward after a shaky first game against Winnipeg.

David Pastrnak- His play in the second period was a costly one and he did not have a great game overall. He is easily one of the most talented players on the ice on either team in the three losses, but the B’s are going to have to live with the mistakes he will make out of a desire to try and make too much happen. Claude Julien’s challenge will be to take the good with the bad and protect the kid’s confidence by not crushing him when the mistakes occur. The Bruins are better off with Pastrnak trying too hard to make something happen than doing too little for fear of getting stapled to the bench.

Patrice Bergeron- He had an assist and was strong in the face-off dot as he normally is, but with the Bruins up 2-1 after Boyle’s strike he went into the crease and made contact with Bishop, opening the door for Tampa to tie it. He was far from the only culprit today, but a second penalty he took proved to be the winning goal against.

Jimmy Hayes- Three games and not a whole heck of a lot to talk about from the Dorchester native. You can see that he wants to be engaged out there, but his lack of speed hurts him on a line with someone as fast as Ryan Spooner is. The coaches perhaps need to look a little closer at what Hayes does well and figure out how to get him more involved. Without a strong puck possession game, he’s going to have his hands full in terms of keeping up with the play.

Next game- the Colorado Avalanche. Not exactly world-beaters, but with the B’s reeling and on the road in Denver, it’s going to be a tough matchup for them. The Bruins are dead last at 0-3 and have given up the most goals in the process.

It’s probably going to get a good deal worse before it gets better, folks. There are some things to be positive about, but the Bruins on the whole simply do not have the talent to stay with the big dogs in this league, and we’ve seen it with them going 0-3 agains three playoff teams from last spring. It’s a tough pill to swallow given where the B’s were just back in 2013, but they are where they are right now, and it looks like the team will need to sell off more veteran parts in order to commit to a true rebuild.

Trying not to be overly pessimistic here, but this club just does not seem to have it, and it’s hard to envision them suddenly turning things around based on what we’ve seen in the early going. Growing pains time, as the kids like Pastrnak and Colin Miller are going to have their ups and downs but ultimately will be some of the faces this team looks to in the future. That’s of little comfort in early October, but just calling it as I see it.

Final buzzer: Habs down the Bruins, 4-2…Marchand leaves game late

The Boston Bruins knew they would have their hands full against their hated rival from the North- the Montreal Canadiens- winners of 10 of the previous 12 contests between the clubs. Make it 11 of 13. The B’s gave up an early power play goal, had a man advantage marker of their own wiped off the board in the second period and had some more costly mistakes from a young (and pretty mediocre) defense to drop to 0-2 on the season.

Matt Beleskey found himself in the sin bin for a questionable high hit in the first period and David Desharnais knocked in a rebound to make it 1-0 on a play that was pretty much of a tone-setter, as Joe Morrow turned the wrong way on the shot and Kevan Miller was late getting to Desharnais.

The B’s dug in and finished the period with effective play to keep it a one-score game.

But, things came unraveled a bit in the second period when a bad neutral zone pass by David Pastrnak and bad decision to go for a line change allowed Alexander Semin and Lars Eller to break in on Tuukka Rask. When Matt Irwin and K. Miller converged on Semin, he hit Eller with a pass and he buried it to give the Habs a 2-0 lead. Ellen would strike again with his second goal on a feed from Alexander Galchenyuk (three assists) to make it 3-0.

A turning point in the game happened when the B’s and Loui Eriksson thought he scored his first goal of the season while on the power play on a nice play to redirect a shot past Price. Unfortunately, the referee closest to the play immediately signaled to waive off the goal, citing contact by Patrice Bergeron to goaltender Carey Price. Claude Julien issued a coach’s challenge- the first in Bruins history since the NHL instituted the rule change this season, but the NHL, citing incidental contact by Bergeron, upheld the original decision.

Beleskey later broke through against Price, when his attempted shot hit sliding Montreal defender Jeff Petry and deflected into the net. It was Beleskey’s first marker as a member of the B’s, giving him points in each of his first two games with his new team.

Alas, the B’s had a parade to the penalty box in the third period, including a match penalty and five-minute major assessed to Ryan Spooner on a hit from behind to Massachusetts native Brian Flynn. Boston killed the penalties, but could never really mount much offensive pressure and Tomas Plekanec scored an empty net goal to make it 4-1, his 500th career point. Some late silliness and a Torrey Mitchell slew foot gave the B’s a major power play of their own with less than a minute left and Bergeron tallied for his first goal of the season making it a 4-2 game for the books.

Of greater concern was a head hit that Brad Marchand took late in the third period from Boston nemesis Dale Weise. It did not look like an intentional hit, but Weise caught the shorter Marchand up high and he was down on his knees for a good 5-10 seconds before getting to his feet and struggling to the Boston bench. He did not return. If the B’s lose their top goal scorer and arguably most consistent forward at least in terms of finding the back of the net in the last four seasons, then this group is going to go deeper in the hole. We’ll hope for the best.

At least the B’s didn’t roll over and die as other Boston teams have done in the past, but they did not play well enough against a team that is clearly better than they are. Fans had best be prepared for more games like this as the season goes on.

And now here are our 3 ups and downs:

New arrival Colin Miller has skill to burn and looks like a keeper in Boston (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

New arrival Colin Miller has skill to burn and looks like a keeper in Boston (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

UP

Matt Beleskey- He scored his first goal in the black and gold and has played hard in his first two games. The guy is not a high-end talent, but despite having pretty average size, he plays bigger, hurling his body into opponents and going directly into traffic to make things happen. He chose Boston when in fact he could have stayed in Anaheim, a much better club on paper than the Bruins are at present. He wants to be here. Unfortunately, in a league where fans get far more up in arms over cap hits and economics, honest, gritty guys like Beleskey often bear the brunt of fan ire if they don’t come in and start scoring right away, so it’s nice to see that he’s been a consistent producer for a team that has scored just four goals in two games.

Colin Miller- The first player acquired in the trade for Milan Lucic to suit up for the Bruins is a keeper. He skates so well and has the vision and poise with the puck to make breakouts look easy. He’s a better defensive player than given credit for, and at least for one night, he looks like a real coup/get for Don Sweeney and Co. Julien would be foolish not to stick with C. Miller going forward and figure out ways to get him the puck. Yes, there will be some growing pains, but Miller does the things this Bruins defense as a whole is so lacking in- you can see it in the way he sees the ice and distributes the puck effortlessly. His first NHL goal/points are not long in coming.

Torey Krug- For the second straight night, Krug played 23+ minutes and played a solid all-around game. Krug is justifying the faith the Bruins have in him and they’ll need him. He posted his first point of the year- assisting on Bergeron’s meaningless late goal, but Krug has not made too many visible mistakes with the increased playing time. In other words, on a defensive unit that has struggled in going 0-2, Krug has been the least of Boston’s worries.

Honorable mention- Max Talbot- In the lineup because Zdeno Chara missed his second game with an upper body injury, Talbot played hard and with the energy of a veteran and a guy who knows he needs to demonstrate value added to this club. His play gave Julien food for thought. Yes, Talbot’s best years are clearly behind him, but he played with some intestinal fortitude tonight, going after Mitchell earlier in the game when he engaged in some shenanigans. The linesmen jumped in, but Talbot showed a willingness to stick up for his mates and this, given Mitchell was running around all night like a jackass.

DOWN-

Matt Irwin- For the second consecutive game, the off-season free agent acquisition played poorly on defense. He was on the ice for two goals against, but Eller’s first of the night was particularly bad, as both Irwin and Kevan Miller miscommunicated and converged on the puck carrier Semin, leaving Eller open for the one-timer into the open side. He was also too slow in getting to the puck when Rask was off for an extra skater, and when the initial Montreal shooter missed the net, it rimmed around to Plekanec who put the game out of reach. You can’t exactly blame Irwin on that one, but his lack of foot speed really showed on that play. You hate to say it, but the guy has been a total train wreck in two games- it’s time for him to take a seat. It might help him to watch a game from press level 9 and see if he can get his head right. Realistically, though, he’s a fringe NHL defenseman who does not look at all capable of an expanded role at this level.

David Pastrnak- His lazy, ill-advised neutral zone pass in a 1-0 game ended up in the back of his own net. Later on, he was guilty of another careless turnover, coughing up the puck to Galchenyuk behind his own net and forcing Rask to make a save in close. That kind of stuff is what Julien will point to when fans clamor for more ice time in Pastrnak’s case, but these are the things you have to live with when you roll with younger players. He’ll learn. On the plus side, when they put him on the power play at the end of the game, he assisted on the Bergeron goal.

Dan O’Rourke and Mark Lemelin- The referees were far too visible in this one for all the wrong reasons and were inconsistent in their calls. They wiped out a goal that probably should have counted, unless the NHL wants to go on record as saying that the defenseman shoving a forward into the goalie is now okay and constitutes valid goaltendender interference. No, we didn’t think so either. And, they blew it in the third period when they ejected Spooner for his hit from behind citing “intent to injure” but then curiously had no issue with Alexei Emelin’s earlier low-bridge (one could certainly call it dirty) hit on Bergeron, that could have been devastating if he connected with the B’s center’s knees. Fans just want consistency and these two didn’t really provide it tonight. Here’s hoping for better luck with the zebras on Monday when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town.

Final buzzer: Jets strafe B’s, 6-2

A night that began with promise for the Boston Bruins in their home opener in the 2015-16 season turned into a nightmare after the young, but talented Winnipeg Jets erased a 0-1 deficit with a three-goal second period.

The B’s defense, sans captain Zdeno Chara, struggled for much of the game, with the pairing of Matt Irwin and Zach Trotman standing out in particular (and not in a good way- more on them later).

Tuukka Rask gave up five (Alexander Burmistrov tallied an empty-netter with about 3:30 left after Claude Julien tried to get some offense going), but he was hung out to dry for much of the night.

The Czech Mates/Davids- Krejci and Pastrnak- provided the Boston goals, with Krejci’s coming compliments of a nice Pastrnak play behind the net, even though the second-year winger did not get an assist because Winnipeg’s Ben Chiarot had possession and lost the puck to Krejci for the score.

Overall, however- after a strong first period played with good pace and urgency, the Bruins’ inexperience cost them on multiple occasions as defenders got burned after bad turnovers, forwards were guilty of making poor decisions and despite some nice rushes, the home team couldn’t finish off the chances that the Jets cashed in on when the B’s opened the door for them.

Things will probably get worse before they get better, but this one served as a stark reminder of the challenges this Boston club will face this year. The Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning are next on the docket…oy.

3 Up:

  1. David Pastrnak- Boston’s future All-Star made the play behind the net in the first period that resulted in Boston’s opening goal of the season when he separated Chiarot from the puck and threw it out front. Chiarot grabbed it but didn’t sense Krejci’s backside pressure and the savvy veteran stole it and flipped a backhander into the net before Ondrej Pavelec could get to the far post. Early in the third frame, Pastrnak made it a one-goal game when he patiently held the puck as he improved the shooting angle before rifling it past Pavelec on the short side. It was a stoppable shot, but that’s what a goal scorer does- he beats goaltenders on shots that they should make the save on. This kid is really good already…and he’s only 19.
  2. Kevan Miller- He was engaged and active all night, playing his patented physical style and even getting involved in the offense, picking up a secondary assist on the Pastrnak tally. It probably isn’t saying a heck of a lot, but Miller was arguably the best Boston defenseman on the ice tonight.
  3. Tuukka Rask- When is a goalie with an 800-something save percentage an “up” player? When you look at how well Rask did in moments when he had no help from his teammates. Rask wasn’t perfect tonight, but he gave his team a chance to win, making several memorable stops including a brain cramp meltdown by Krejci when the B’s were on the power play to start the second period and a poor pass resulted in an Andrew Ladd breakaway. Some are going to disagree with my assessment, but I’d submit those are the folks who think that the guys between the pipes aren’t allowed to give up bad goals. Ever. Tonight, Rask could have been about perfect and the Jets still would have scored their goals.

3 Down:

  1. Matt Irwin-Zach Trotman- Yikes. Where to begin? The decisions weren’t good, the turnovers worse and the outcomes on those mistakes pushed the team over the edge. The trouble started with the game 1-1 and Irwin allowing Ladd to get in on him on the forecheck behind the Boston net. Irwin did not protect the puck, and Trotman moved away from the front of his net perhaps to create an outlet for Irwin when he was in trouble, but the resulting play left Blake Wheeler alone in the slot when Ladd separated Irwin from the puck and had an easy play out front. That score broke the tie and you could see the B’s visibly sag. When Drew Stafford put a rebound up and over a sprawling Rask to make it 3-1 late in the second period, Trotman and Irwin were running around again. The horror show continued into the third period when Irwin got caught too deep up the ice on a Chris Thorburn break the other way that Krejci finished off, making it 4-2 moments after Pastrnak had given his team and the TD Garden crowd  life. Trotman seemed to play more and more tentatively as the night went on, struggling with his gaps and letting Jets get around him and straight to the net. All in all- it was a night to forget for the duo and probably opened the door for Colin Miller, who was the odd man out tonight. I suspect we’ll see one of Irwin or Trotman sit out the next one when the coaches break down the film.
  2. David Krejci- David giveth and he taketh away. He started out great with the goal and was effective on the draws in the first 20 minutes, but he forced some plays in the final 40 that he’ll have to tighten up going forward. He tried hard to back check on Thorburn but ended up chipping the puck past Rask to make it 4-2 and effectively put the game out of reach even before Nic Petan– the little Portland Rainmaker- got a puck off the skate that hit Torey Krug before going in to make it 5-2, Jets and send the fans to the exits.
  3. Adam McQuaid- He’s a great dressing room guy and character leader, but the Bruins must get better play from him. He was another player guilty of some glaring mistakes and turnovers tonight and in fairness- he wasn’t alone. More than a few Boston forwards moved pucks carelessly and ultimately handed Winnipeg prime scoring chances- the hallmark of a young, inexperienced club. But- the B’s must have leaders by example and McQuaid’s turnovers hurt the collective effort.

Notes:

Matt Beleskey registered his first point as a Bruin, making the pass that sprang Pastrnak into the offensive zone for his goal. Beleskey was finishing his checks and playing with energy…but not sure how productive he’s going to be this season.

Villain of the night award goes to Alexander Burmistrov who took a first-period run at Patrice Bergeron that he finished off with a high elbow to Mr. Everything’s noggin. You may recall that he missed most of the 2007-08 season and parts of 2008-09 due to post-concussion syndrome that nearly cost the three-time Selke Trophy winner his career. He didn’t take kindly to Burmistrov’s dirty play and to his discredit, Burmistrov was penalized on the play, but just turned away when Bergeron went after him. It was gutless and cowardly for him to take the shot in the first place and then refuse to be accountable for it, but Burmistrov did not learn his lesson, later going back at another Bruin (Connolly?) later in the game but failing to make contact with his high elbow again. Burmistrov got the last laugh not only with the win but by putting the puck into the empty net to close out the scoring. I’m betting the B’s took his No. 6 down for future reference, but the bottom line is this: the NHL will continue to lose players to head injuries if the Burmistrovs of the world are allowed to operate like that. Here’s hoping the Jets will do some self-policing, but I doubt it.

Brad Marchand looks like he’ll lead the team in goals again this year. He was all over the place and created several memorable scoring chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Sometimes, less is more and you wonder if he just kept it simple he might have more luck, but Marchand won’t be held off the scoring ledger for long.

Around the NHL:

Jack Eichel scored his 1st NHL goal against Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators. It was a short side snipe on the power play and an absolute beauty. Once upon a time in October, 1987 I saw a Buffalo Sabre named Pierre Turgeon score in his first NHL game as well. Here’s to Eichel-mania in Buffalo- and the pride of North Chelmsford, Mass. justifying that second overall pick the Sabres made on him. Bruins fans had better prepare for him lighting the lamp against the home team for years (but for the record- he grew up rooting for the Montreal Canadiens).

Bruins to begin season without Talbot, Smith

Today, both Max Talbot and Jeremy Smith cleared waivers and were designated for assignment.

In Smith’s case, the B’s did as was suggested here previously and assigned him to the Iowa Wild, Minnesota’s Des Moines-based AHL affiliate.

There, Smith is competing with Wild prospect and former Harvard ( and Loomis-Chaffee Pelicans) goalie Steve Michalek, along with former 2006 first-round pick (Calgary) Leland Irving and University of Vermont netminder Brody Hoffman.

The assumption here is that the Wild plan to take advantage of Smith’s AHL experience, but goal crease is a little crowded.

In the meantime, the Bruins can recall Smith or option him back to Providence if they so desire- by assigning him to Iowa, they are not relinquishing his rights, but rather, moving him to a different club so as not to crowd the P-Bruins crease and keep the younger prospects in Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre closer to home.

As for Talbot, he was still with the big club, though he told reporters that he understands hockey is a business and would do what the team asks of him. For now, he’s acting like a consummate pro. The B’s have a month to reclaim him/bring him back up without exposing him on the waiver wire.

About two weeks ago, this blog predicted that Talbot was going to be a lock because of his veteran status, but he did not do enough to earn a spot at camp. This is a reminder of other NHL-experienced players who have come into camp but fallen short in exhibition play- former Capitals captain Chris Clark in 2011 comes to mind- and more recently, Ville Leino a year ago. Of course, neither player was under contract as Talbot is, and last year, Simon Gagne started the season after his successful PTO only to leave the team in a mutual parting of ways that included the passing of his father. Gagne retired officially from the NHL just days ago.

So, as things stand right now, here is your Boston Bruins club on the eve of the official start of the NHL’s 2015-16 regular season campaign, with the B’s set to take on the Winnipeg Jets at home on Thursday:

Forwards (13):

63 Brad Marchand- 37 Patrice Bergeron- 21 Loui Eriksson

39 Matt Beleskey- 46 David Krejci- 88 David Pastrnak

11 Jimmy Hayes- 51 Ryan Spooner- 14 Brett Connolly

23 Chris Kelly- 41 Joonas Kemppainen- 36 Zac Rinaldo

64 Tyler Randell

Defense (8):

47 Torey Krug- 54 Adam McQuaid

45 Joe Morrow- 86 Kevan Miller

52 Matt Irwin- 62 Zach Trotman

33 Zdeno Chara- 48 Colin Miller

Goaltenders (2):

40 Tuukka Rask

89 Jonas Gustavsson

(Is it me or do some of these numbers remind you of the Boston Celtics?)

 

Tryout no more: Bruins ink the Monster to 1-year deal

The Boston Bruins announced today that the team has signed veteran goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to a one-year pact valued at $700,000.

It’s interesting to me how much rage I got on my Twitter feed about the signing. A lot of folks are convinced Gustavsson can’t play at this level, but that’s neither here nor there. The B’s obviously felt that going with a player who has been in the NHL since 2009 made more sense than putting their faith into the game but completely unproven (at the NHL level) Jeremy Smith. Smith was okay in the preseason, but in order to give the Bruins confidence that he should be the one to get the nod as the Boston backup, he needed to play a little better than he did. It was close enough in the performance levels between he and Gustavsson that Boston obviously opted to go with the safer bet in the veteran Swede.

Now, what remains to be seen is what the B’s do with Smith.

Here are the options:

  1. The Bruins carry three goaltenders. With a maximum roster size of 23 players, this means they would either have to carry 12 forwards and 8 defensemen or 13 forward and 7 defensemen. Right now, Tyler Randell looks like he’s going to be odd-man-out if they go with eight defenders.
  2. Assuming he clears waivers (consistent on three of four options), Smith goes to Providence and the Baby B’s try to split time between Smith, Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre. This is the least beneficial option for the development of Subban and McIntyre.
  3. Smith and Subban play in Providence, the B’s option McIntyre to their ECHL affiliate, the Gwinnett Gladiators near Atlanta, Ga. On the plus side, McIntyre will likely get a good share of playing time, but it comes at a lower level. Some very good NHL goaltenders began their careers in the ECHL: Jonathan QuickDevan Dubnyk, Braden Holtby, Jaroslav Halak and Scott Darling to name a few all saw some action in the “East Coast League” before they found NHL success.
  4. Subban and McIntyre play for Providence and the B’s loan Smith to another AHL team that would welcome a vet of his ability and experience with open arms.

We’ll find out what happens next, but with final roster cutdowns due by Tuesday afternoon, Don Sweeney and company have some interesting decisions to make.

Zdeno Chara is still “day to day” but expected to be back by the start of the season if not soon afterwards, and with Joe Morrow having to go on waivers in order to go down, it makes more sense to put a player like Randell or Smith on waivers and risking losing them as opposed to Morrow.

In the meantime, Gustavsson isn’t an ideal option as backup, but he’s the best chance Boston has to rest Tuukka Rask by having a player that the coaches (at least initially) will trust to spell. There are 11 back-to-backs on the schedule this year, which is fewer than in 2013-14. The Monster is a better goalie than some give him credit for, but he never really delivered on the promise he showed after a dominant 2008-09 campaign in Sweden before signing with Toronto as a coveted free agent that spring. Still, he’s shown he can rise to the occasion in stretches and is at least someone with an NHL track record if he ends up being needed more than just the occasional start to spell the starter. Perish the thought, but the B’s are putting themselves in position to at least have some NHL games in net in a worst case scenario, but should that come to pass, the B’s are in much bigger trouble than any of us can imagine, and it doesn’t really matter who your backup is at that point.

Final Bruins exhibition game at Washington Capitals previews the 2015-16 NHL lineup

The Boston Bruins are in the nation’s capital tonight to take on the Washington Capitals and nemesis Braden Holtby (assumption on my part- have not seen confirmation he’s starting but given his history vs. the B’s, why not?) in what is the last of the team’s 7-game exhibition schedule. They are 4-2, having dropped their last two matches to Detroit and the NY Rangers after starting 4-0.

The “so what” to this is if I were a betting man (which I’m not, btw)- this is probably the closest thing to the opening night roster that we’ve seen as this is the final opportunity for Claude Julien and his staff to get a look at the guys they’ll put their hopes in at least to begin the year. With Zdeno Chara injured, it is as of yet unclear as to whether he will be back in time for opening night and if the team will carry eight defenders to begin the season.

Here’s the forward lineup (according to the Bruins Twitter):

Matt Beleskey — David Krejci — David Pastrnak
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron —Loui  Eriksson
Jimmy Hayes —Ryan Spooner — Brett Connolly
Chris Kelly —Joonas Kemppainen — Zac Rinaldo
Max Talbot — Tyler Randell

The defense pairings:

Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Matt Irwin-Kevan Miller
Colin Miller- Zach Trotman
Joe Morrow

Guessing that a rotation of Max Talbot and Zac Rinaldo will be how Julien plays it in the first 30 days or so, at least until injuries open up a regular spot for one of them or performance (lack thereof) forces a change. That likely means that Tyler Randell is odd man out and the team could try and slip him through waivers with the possibility that another team claims him after the years the B’s spent developing him. That will depend on how many defensemen the B’s decide to go with.

The video game set will sigh and groan that Matt Irwin is in the lineup over Joe Morrow, but he comes with the most NHL experience between the two if not the intriguing offensive skill set Morrow provides. You figured it was coming.

We’ll see how the squad fares at the Verizon Center tonight and get back to you.

 

More Bruins to Providence: Koko, Ferlin, Blidh make sense in AHL for now

The Boston Bruins announced their latest round of roster transactions on Thursday here.

To the surprise of very few, three young promising forwards were included in a group of more seasoned minor leaguers.

Alex Khokhlachev, who is entering his third full AHL campaign after finishing the end of the 2012-13 season in Providence after splitting the year between the KHL in his native Russia and the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL, was unsuccessful in earning a spot with the team, at least for now, as we are a week away from the start of the 2015-16 regular season.

Koko is a talented center who played with some hustle, but his inability to get on the score sheet resulted in his having to go down. The NHL isn’t a video game in which you take the players that have the highest number rating next to their names and load them up on four lines and away you go. While skill is very important, what also comes into play is how effective a player is in the role the team expects him to play.

Fans can sit on message boards all day long and talk about how they *feel* or *think* a player like Koko on the B’s fourth line makes more sense than veterans such as Max Talbot and Chris Kelly, but that is irrelevant. What matters is what the Bruins coaches and management *know* and that is- Koko is not ready for a full-time contribution in Boston. They make the decisions- right or wrong- and it wasn’t hard to see that Koko’s struggles to generate offense no matter his linemates or ice time in the preseason made it a relatively easy choice for Don Sweeney and Claude Julien to make. Koko’s time in Boston/the NHL will come. Or it won’t. People will disagree with management’s decision on this one. Or they won’t. But it’s pretty apparent that the 22-year-old just didn’t build enough of a case for himself to generate a robust debate.

Don’t be so sure that the B’s will trade him right off the bat, though. They were reminded of an important lesson last year with the handling of Ryan Spooner, and it usually doesn’t make sense to sell low, which is where Koko’s value is right now.

Anton Blidh was on the bubble and close, but again- with no shortage of gritty wingers on the Boston roster, it was a tough sell to expect him to stay up with the club as a spare part at this stage of his development when he could play a lot of quality minutes in the AHL. He’ll be back.

It was much of the same thing for Brian Ferlin– he scored a nice goal in Detroit last weekend, and showed flashes of his ability to chip in on offense, but he’s also young and still learning the game. As was the case last year, he’s on the short list of callups to Boston if players get hurt or underperform.

Still on the team- Tyler Randell. And good on him. The former Belleville Bull and Kitchener Ranger has never made it this far in an NHL camp with Boston and is making a case to stick, or at the very least, make the roster as the extra forward. The hard-nosed winger is legit tough- he won’t bring much offense to the table, but he at least has NHL-caliber hands so as not to be a total liability. The B’s would have to put him on waivers to send him down to Providence and there’s a good chance a team without as many lower-line depth forwards as Boston has right now would pluck him away much like what happened with Nate Thompson back in 2008. We’ll see if he can force the team to keep for now, but this has been a solid showing by Randell, who scored a goal in a win over the Rangers last week and fought gargantuan D Dylan McIlrath so that much smaller Zac Rinaldo wouldn’t have to.

Tommy Cross was waived and will likely pass through and report to Providence. He’s a top person and solid minor league defenseman. He impressed a lot of people with his camp effort- the former 2007 second-rounder is a good skater with a hard point shot and is one of the top character types around. Based on what I saw, if the Boston defense depth chart takes a hit this season, I could see Cross being given an opportunity at some point. He’s earned it.

Torey Krug, David Krejci and Tommy Cross at training camp. Photo by Alison Foley

Torey Krug, David Krejci and Tommy Cross at training camp. Photo by Alison Foley

Rangers down Bruins in spirited contest, 3-2

Brett Connolly scored a pair of goals including one just 40 seconds into Wednesday’s contest, but the Boston Bruins dropped their second exhibition game in as many tries after starting the preseason 4-0.

As pointed out to me on Twitter by several B’s fans, the Rangers were icing a lineup much closer to their NHL roster than Boston was, so there is room for praise for the job the Boston squad did in keeping the lead until the last 3 minutes or so of the second period and then coming back to within one goal late in the final frame. In the end, however, it wasn’t enough.

The B’s lost in regulation, but the teams played a 5-minute 3-on-3 overtime session that failed to generate a score, despite the Rangers getting a power play after Alex Khokhlachev was assessed an obstruction foul.

Fans will need to get used to these kinds of games going forward this season- yes, the team was without many of its top players last night, but even with a full roster, the Bruins will be challenged to score goals on the regular basis. They will have to cash in on the opportunities they do create (and those given them by opponents) and outwork other clubs in order to make the playoffs.

Having said that- here are some notes on some of the players:

Brett Connolly- He accounted for all of the offense last night, and it was the best of the three preseason games we’ve seen from him. His second goal was batted baseball style out of midair and into the net, displaying some excellent hand-eye coordination. On the downside, he’s still turning the puck over and making some mistakes to nitpick, but you could see last night why he was a top draft pick five years ago. Connolly is more than capable of scoring 25 goals this year for Boston, but Claude Julien will stress attention to detail with him to mitigate some of the mistakes he makes with and without the puck.

Zach Trotman- Last pick in 2010 played a strong defensive game and assisted on Connolly’s second tally by denying a Rangers clearing attempt at the blue line and throwing the puck to the net. He may not be the most instinctive of defenders, but Trotman’s 6-4 height and 220-pound frame, along with his mobility allow him to make plays at both ends of the ice. Sometimes, you wonder about people’s expectations- it isn’t like Trotman was a first- or second-round selection and recognized talent to play a prominent role. He was a developmental project player from the get-go and has worked hard to put himself into the NHL picture in Boston- some of these same critics fall all over themselves to praise Koko who has yet to turn any of his flashy plays into production, yet Trotman came through with a statement game last night. It’s the internet and all, but my guess is that on opening night- No. 62 will be in the Boston lineup and No. 76 won’t.

Colin Miller- I think we’ve seen enough- the former Kings prospect is an NHL player, and the Bruins will benefit from his skating, puckhandling and big-time point shot. On one particular sequence in the second period, the puck was thrown to the net as he was cutting to the short side. It hit his skate, but even at speed, Miller was able to corral it with his stick and get a shot off. Henrik Lundqvist made a terrific save, but it was the kind of effortless-looking play that is much harder for most to pull off. Miller belongs on this team, end of story.

Joonas Kemppainen- The Finnish free agent has the look of a solid fourth-line center with his faceoff work and disciplined play in all 200 feet of the rink. He’s not a dynamic skater, but as a big guy, he doesn’t have to be. He uses his stick effectively to disrupt plays on the penalty kill and has been in the right position throughout the preseason. He’s not a player who will bring a lot of offensive production to the table, but his heavy game is well suited for the bottom line and with the right wingers, so long as that unit can chip in and play some quality minutes, the B’s are on the right track.

Jimmy Hayes- He was active and involved in the play all night. He’s not as skilled as younger brother Kevin, but he brings more tenacity and “want to” in my opinion. The team had him wearing the ‘A’ last night, and Hayes continued his solid if unspectacular play in the preseason, tallying a helper on Connolly’s first goal. He’s clearly enjoying being a Bruin, and he’s a valued addition on a team that is going to need every ounce of his talent and 6-6 frame to get some gritty, dirty goals on any given night.

Ryan Spooner- Boston’s third-line center showed off his ability to work the wall last night, at one point during a power play in the second period generating quality scoring chances from both sides of the ice. Koko just missed sending him in alone on a breakaway during the 3-on-3 overtime session, and he might have ended it right there. Spooner is at his best when pushing the pace of the offense and backing defenses up with his speed. Unfortunately, he also made a poor decision late in the second period to make a cross-ice pass after gaining the offensive zone that was deflected away and resulted in a rush the other way that saw J.T. Miller put the Rangers up 2-1 with about 37 seconds remaining on the clock. Those are the kinds of plays that will get any player a stern talking to from the coaches- it was risky and ended up being costly. He did have an assist on Boston’s second goal of the night, however.

Alex Khokhlachev- At some point the energy, hustle and skill plays need to amount to points on the board and it’s just not there. It seems to me that there is an element of fans who want him on the team no matter what, and I can understand that- everyone has an opinion, and he’s undoubtedly more talented than a couple of the veterans who are likely to beat him out for a spot coming out of camp. But one wonders if Max Talbot was showing the same kind of energy, would people go out of their way to praise him as seems to be the case for Koko? For a guy who made it clear that he sees himself as an NHL player, he sure hasn’t been able to find away to produce, and that’s going to be the difference when he is optioned to Providence to start the year. The B’s can and will almost certainly bring him back up at some point (unless Don Sweeney trades him elsewhere- but the kind of value Koko will get at this stage is anyone’s guess), but enough of the grasping at straws- potential is just that- potential…until it is realized through tangible results. It would be one thing if he was scoring a point or three each night he went out there, but he’s not doing that. In the end, it doesn’t matter what any of us on the outside think- Boston management and coaches have the power to decide, and in Koko’s case- it’s pretty simple: where’s the beef? There is no denying the skill, but the team rightfully expects more from him.

Adam McQuaid- The most memorable play of the night from him came on Miller’s late second period goal when he backed up too much in the Boston zone, giving the Ranger forward the time and space to rip a wicked shot into the net, taking the lead. You love McQuaid’s character and toughness, but his mobility and decision-making at times will result in plays like this one. During the course of the season he’s going to make some plays and give some up- if not for the AAV on his contract extension, few would have any issue with his presence. It’s the nature of the beast in this modern cap world.

Jonas Gustavsson- Playing in just his second contest since coming to camp on a PTO, it was a good news/bad news kind of game for the veteran. He was victimized on the first goal, which came on a screen and deflected in off of Trotman’s skate. But he was beaten cleanly on a shot by Miller to break a 1-1 tie, and in the third period, was unable to get across the crease when Rick Nash’s attempted pass was blocked by Matt Irwin. Nash, doing what top goal scorers like him do, grabbed the puck as it bounced back to him and popped it into the yawning open side as Gustavsson was caught by the shortside post. Neither Gustavsson nor Smith have been outstanding in exhibition play, but they have been serviceable. Gustavsson held the fort later in the game and in the OT when the Rangers were on a 4-on-3 man advantage, so flip a coin between the two for Boston’s backup spot. It’s close, and with Smith under contract, he just might get the nod.

Zac Rinaldo- Continues to play his high motor game and drive opponents crazy with his hitting and stickwork. He took a goalie interference penalty and then was reminded of that with a hard, borderline vicious hit from Dylan McIlrath that he bounced back from. With his speed, he creates scoring chances, ringing a shot off the post at one point in the final period, but the production has not and never will be there. Rinaldo is there to bring energy, agitate, draw penalties and get opponents off their game without hurting his own team in the process. There is a segment of Boston fandom that will simply not reconcile that role with his past transgressions nor the price Boston paid to acquire him, but that’s fine- as is the case with McQuaid- he’s here like it or not.

Tyler Randell- Drove to the net and worked the corners effectively. When McIrath tried to go after Rinaldo during a scrum in front of the Rangers net, Randell intercepted the New York defender and the two dropped the gloves. Both players got some shots in, and it looked like a draw, but given what Randell gave way to in terms of height and reach, the bout further enhanced his reputation as a nasty forward who can fight it out with the heavyweights.

Tommy Cross- I have to give the former BC captain and 2x NCAA champion credit. He played hard and smart last night. He’s a longshot given the players the B’s have on the roster, but his character has never, ever been a question mark. Last night, he played with effort, pace and got some good shots on net from the point. He’s an NHL-capable defender in a reduced role, but the question for him is opportunity- can he get it in Boston?

Brian Ferlin- Good player, but what on earth was he thinking in OT when he went to the bench for a chance with the Rangers in possession of the puck at center ice? That resulted in a 3-on-1 but somehow, the B’s survived it and transitioned back the other way, with Koko just missing sending Spooner in on a breakaway. But, Brian- yikes!

Kids go down, some vets come up as 2015-16 B’s roster comes into focus

The Boston Bruins announced that forwards Austin Czarnik and Frank Vatrano, along with defensemen Linus Arnesson and Chris Casto, were sent to Providence on Tuesday.

Interestingly, the B’s brought some previously relegated players in fowards Brandon DeFazio and Ben Sexton, along with minor league defenseman Chris Breen.

This puts the current count of forwards on the roster at 20, defensemen at 11 and the B’s are carrying three goaltenders. Dennis Seidenberg is injured and won’t be available for about the first eight weeks of the season, so the D count is really at 10 right now, with Breen and Tommy Cross expected to go back down to Providence if the team opts to go with eight defensemen out of the chute (including the banged up Zdeno Chara).

The moves are not all that surprising- Czarnik, Vatrano and Arnesson all show intriguing promise, but they are all entering their first full pro season after all seeing limited action in the AHL last spring. I know that fans love their shiny new toys, but these guys need to be playing, and they weren’t going to be getting a lot of playing time in the NHL, even if they made the roster. And by the way- to keep a young forward on the big club means that the B’s would in most cases have to place another veteran on waivers. No big loss in Max Talbot you say? Well, he most likely would not be claimed, but the B’s value his experience and leadership more than a lot of the folks watching the games, so let’s just say that paying him nearly a million dollars to play in the AHL is not the best use of team resources, regardless of how he has looked in some limited preseason action.

As for the recalls, they’ll get a chance to play in the final couple of preseason contests and likely go back down.

The guys pushing for spots at forward need a strong push here at the end to make their case: Alex ‘Koko’ Khokhlachev has shown that he’s got some legitimate skills, but we’re still waiting on the production to take shape. Even when Ryan Spooner was trying to make the B’s in his previous two exhibition seasons, he was scoring goals and points in the preseason. Koko has done some good things, but the pucks haven’t been going in for him. At this rate, he’ll be one of the final cuts, but will go down to begin the year in Providence.

Tyler Randell is an interesting case. He’s a late-round pick from 2009 who never really stuck around in preseason much for fans to get a handle on, but has done the grunt work down in Providence as an enforcer. He’s a player with a good set of hands- he once scored 4 goals for the Kitchener Rangers during a 2012 OHL playoff game against the Plymouth Whalers (who featured Washington power forward Tom Wilson). Randell’s not much of a skater, but the guy can fight and he could find a spot for himself with his toughness. He wouldn’t be an every game player, but could slot in when the B’s needed to add some bite to their roster. I keep seeing Randell linked to Shawn Thornton as a comparable player and I won’t go there other than to say that they are two different players and fans have to understand that Thornton came to the B’s as an established NHL veteran who was added as much for his character as he was for the toughness he displayed. Randell’s not there yet, so temper the expectations- he’s still growing and learning as a player.

I’ve been impressed with Anton Blidh– he’s fast, gritty and energetic. He’s always moving his feet and qualifies as a grinding agitator type. It might be a situation where the B’s feel like he’s better served getting more minutes in Providence initially and then bringing him up when the inevitable injury happens up front, or he could very well make the Boston roster to start the season. These last couple of games will be critical for him, but because he can go down and not be subject to the waivers process, the team at least has options with Blidh. He’s on the bubble and close, but I predict he’ll start the year in Providence. Ditto Brian Ferlin, who has played well in preseason, but will find himself the odd man out on the right side with a chance to go back to the AHL and play top-two line minutes and in all situations.

Finally, I’m sold on Joonas Kemppainen to start the year as Boston’s fourth-line center. He’s mature, smart and does the little things for the position. I like his faceoff work and he does a nice job of making the right reads coming out of the zone and moving the puck to the open spaces on the ice. He’s not going to wow you in any one area, but I can see why the Bruins signed him out of Finland at age 27.

The final roster picture is coming into focus, but after the sluggish night against Detroit in the 3-1 loss Monday, that’s a harbinger of more nights to come. Loui Eriksson’s goal was too little, too late and the offense will have to overachieve to score regularly this season by the looks of it.

Would like to be proven wrong, but even in Boston’s victories, the cup of offense has not runneth over.

More cuts on Sunday as 4-0 preseason Bruins roster takes shape

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything" and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” and the team will need him to be that and more at age 30. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney announced today that eight players under NHL contract have been sent down to Providence of the AHL. Defenseman Chris Breen and forward Brandon DeFazio were put on waivers yesterday and designated for assignment- they both cleared today and will participate in the Baby B’s camp. Defenseman Ben Youds, on an AHL deal, was released from Boston camp (PTO) and sent to Providence. You can read the transaction announcement here.

Additionally, the B’s returned their remaining junior players to their respective teams, with Jakub Zboril (Saint John- QMJHL), Jake DeBrusk (Swift Current- WHL) and Brandon Carlo (Tri-City- WHL) all going back to the CHL. The B’s released Zach Senyshyn (Sault Ste. Marie- OHL) and Jeremy Lauzon (Rouyn-Noranda- QMJHL) prior to the weekend’s slate of games.

In the spirit of and with a nod to the always outstanding Mike Reiss and his Patriots blog at ESPN Boston throughout the NFL training camp leading up to the final cuts day before the start of the 2015 NFL season, here’s the remaining players- locks and bubble guys along with a little analysis on what it all means going forward.

Centers

Locks: Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner, Chris Kelly, Max Talbot (5)

On the bubble: Joonas Kemppainen

AHL-bound: Alex Khokhlachev, Austin Czarnik, Zack Phillips

Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci…Krejci and Bergeron…Boston’s 1-1A center punch is well entrenched, and I won’t fool around with the argument I see some people engage in over who is the B’s 1 and 2…it’s a pretty meaningless debate, because without one or the other, the team’s in deep trouble. Ryan Spooner hasn’t had a great deal of time to establish himself with new linemates, but he’s been an opportunistic scorer with the man advantage and is clearly the No. 3 man in the center pecking order. Even if the B’s might opt not to use Chris Kelly and/or Max Talbot at center, expect the team to retain both as veteran options for the bottom line with the ability to play the wings- they’ve done it before. Joonas Kemppainen has been a solid if unspectacular presence in the exhibition games he’s suited up for, and he’s effective on the draws, plays a mature two-way game, and has the size and strength to start the year as the team’s fourth-line center if that’s the plan. Austin Czarnik has been a revelation in his first pro camp after signing with the B’s last spring, using his speed, smarts and quick hands to make an impact in all three zones, but he’s better off playing on Providence’s first or second line and on both PK and PP units. If injuries take a toll on the B’s depth, don’t be surprised to see him get a chance at some point this season. If not, he’ll make it tough to cut him next year with a full season under his belt. Alex Khokhlachev, for all his talent, just hasn’t been able to find the production in his game. He’s without a doubt more talented than Kelly, Talbot or Kemppainen, but building an NHL roster isn’t just about plugging in the most skilled guys on the bottom line and expecting them to thrive. He’s improved his overall game, but if Koko had found a way to actually…you know…score some goals, then you might have more of an argument than the simple “SKILL!” that I have people hit me with onTwitter quite a bit. The B’s need to figure out how to best use him or trade him, but just because he said he doesn’t want to play in Providence forever does not mean he’s ready for primetime now. He’ll have  a few more chances before the final cuts come in, so if ever there was a time for him to impress the brass with a breakout individual performance, it’s now. Zack Phillips was waived yesterday (and cleared) but is still with the team, where he is rehabbing an injury.  Even if he had played in any of the preseason games, it’s hard to see Phillips being in the mix for a center job given how deep the team is at that position right now.

Right Wings

Locks: David Pastrnak, Loui Eriksson, Brett Connolly

On the bubble: Anton Blidh, Tyler Randell

AHL-bound: Brian Ferlin, Seth Griffith

David Pastrnak is not only a sure thing, he’s the most exciting combination of pure speed/scoring talent *and* character since…well…quite a long time. He’s similar to Bergeron in terms of the kind of impact he could have on this franchise, but he’s a higher-end scoring winger and will eventually put together some impressive numbers. I don’t know if he’s quite ready to bust out with the All-Star production this year, but he’ll give it his all. Loui Eriksson plays the off-wing and will go about his business being the smart, stealthy scoring presence he was a year ago when he finished second on the team in goals. However, if the B’s are going south in the standings, don’t be surprised to see Sweeney try and move Eriksson to a contender- his current contract is up next summer and it’s doubtful he’ll be back. Brett Connolly has not had a great preseason thus far, but the team gave up a pair of second-round picks for him and has high hopes. Unlike impatient fans who expect instant near-perfection, the B’s will give Connolly a chance to see if the 2010 draft hype was real or not. Listed as a left wing but shifting over on the right  side thus far, Swedish pest Anton Blidh has impressed with his speed, energy and grit. He’s the kind of guy who could start the season right away on the bottom line, but as a young player on the first year of his ELC, he can be sent down to Providence without being placed on waivers, whereas other players can’t, so he might need to bide his time in the AHL as a third-liner who can grind it out. Tyler Randell has yet to even come close to making the NHL roster since the B’s drafted him late in 2009, but he’s in the mix because of his sheer toughness and ability to make the odd offensive play. Randell’s feet are an issue and he’ll have to be waived to get sent down, so the B’s might carry him as an extra forward to spot play when facing the more rugged teams (which admittedly are decreasing rapidly in number). Brian Ferlin scored a nice backhand goal off a turnover against Detroit and impressed in a small sample size call up a year ago, but like Blidh, he can go down without waivers, so the B’s would rather have him playing a lot than the limited time he’ll get on the bottom line. He’ll be among the first to be recalled if injuries hit. Seth Griffith’s sprained MCL suffered in a preseason game essentially means he’ll rehab the injury but likely go down to start the year and work his way into shape and consideration to be brought up when that time comes.

Left Wings

Locks: Brad Marchand, Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Zac Rinaldo

AHL-bound: Frank Vatrano

Brad Marchand led the team in scoring a year ago and he’s going nowhere- will keep riding shotgun with Bergeron to consistent effect over the past several seasons. Boston’s big-ticket free agent Matt Beleskey hasn’t set the world on fire in his first couple of preseason outings, but he’s done and said the right things. Working with Krejci and Pastrnak means that he’ll have plenty of chances to find the back of the net, but expectations need to be tempered- the B’s need him to stay healthy more than anything else right now. Local boy makes good in the case of Jimmy Hayes, who has used his enormous 6-foot-6 frame to good effect and done pretty well skating with Spooner. He’s going to grunt it out in the trenches, but he looks like an ideal fit in Boston’s top-9, playing over on the left side after being a right wing in Florida. Zac Rinaldo was acquired with a third-round pick, so even the most ardent critics will have to grudgingly admit that he’s here to stay for now at least, and we’ll see how much of a role he’ll have on the team going forward. If the B’s opt to use Kelly on the left wing of the fourth line, then Rinaldo will have to move around. Thus far, he’s drawn more penalties than he’s taken and played his patented physical style.  Frank Vatrano, along with liney Czarnik, has been a revelation, but he’s not ready to take on a full-time NHL role. He’s better off playing a lot of minutes in all situations and building his confidence by unleashing that killer shot down in the AHL for now, but watch for him to get some looks if he’s productive and keeps playing hard in all zones.

Defense

Locks: Zdeno Chara (inj.), Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Zach Trotman, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, Matt Irwin, Kevan Miller *Dennis Seidenberg (inj.)– 8-week timetable for return (mid-to-late November)

On the bubble: Linus Arnesson

AHL-bound: Tommy Cross, Chris Casto

The Bruins are hoping Zdeno Chara is ready to begin the season after taking a hit the other night in action against the NY Rangers and leaving the game in the first period. Torey Krug has stepped up in his absence, scoring the OT-winning goal against Detroit and playing with the confidence and heart of a much bigger man. Adam McQuaid is safely entrenched on the Boston roster, and Zach Trotman is also a solid bet for now as a known entity, even if he does not possess the uptempo game and sexy upside that Colin Miller and Joe Morrow bring. Both offense-minded blueliners have impressed in the preseason and the injury situation means they will both likely make the cut. Matt Irwin and Kevan Miller bring veteran ability and know-how to the mix, and if Claude Julien was serious about carrying eight defenders to begin the year (he said that even before Chara got banged up) then these are your guys. Linus Arnesson has played very well- his ice time against Detroit was notable early for how much of the first 20 minutes was played on special teams and he did well in all situations. However, with more experienced options in play, the expected move is for him to go down to the AHL where he can develop and thrive in a top role. Experienced farmhands Tommy Cross and Chris Casto will help Arnesson form a nucleus of a relatively young but game defense corps in Providence.

Goaltender

Lock: Tuukka Rask

On the bubble: Jeremy Smith, Jonas Gustavsson

And then there were three…with both of Malcolm Subban and Zane McIntyre being optioned to Providence today, this leaves it between Jonas Gustavsson and Jeremy Smith to be Tuukka Rask’s backup. Gustavsson just returned to the team after dealing with a personal matter, so he hasn’t had much playing time outside of an 18-shot, 18-save half of work in Boston’s first preseason contest against the New Jersey Devils. Smith has been a little up and down, struggling to find his game against the Rangers, but digging in and making some key stops at crunch time to preserve a 4-3 shootout win after letting in some softies to fall behind 3-1. In Gustavsson (who is on a PTO and would still need to be signed if the B’s like what they see), the team gets an NHL-experienced backup who has proven he has the tools to be a capable starter should something happen to Rask (knock on wood, please). On the downside, ‘the Monster’ has had injury issues, so even if the B’s go with him this year, there is a chance he’ll end up on IR at some point, meaning the team has to go deeper into the bullpen. As for Smith, he’s a one-time second-round pick from 2007, so at one point, he was seen as an impressive pro prospect, but he has zero NHL experience, so the B’s are going right back where they were a year ago when they went with the unproven Niklas Svedberg, who could not win Julien’s confidence to spell Rask more than once in a blue moon. It would be one thing if Smith had completely shut everyone down thus far in exhibition play, but he hasn’t done that. He also hasn’t been as bad as some folks have shared with me online, either. At the same time, Gustavsson’s effort was in a very small sample size…but then again- you know he can stop pucks at the NHL level, at least. My guess: Gustavsson stays, Smith goes down to the AHL, and at that point, the B’s will probably need to either option McIntyre to the ECHL or figure out another AHL team for Smith- three goalies in Providence is not the kind of situation Boston wants.