Final Buzzer: Rask up to task in Brooklyn, B’s end skid

Tuukka Rask came up big for the B's in Brooklyn (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tuukka Rask came up big for the B’s in Brooklyn (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins did a nice job of bouncing back from a tough loss to halt the losing skid at three games with a plucky 2-1 road victory against the New York Islanders at the Barclays Center in a late afternoon game Sunday.

Ryan Spooner and Patrice Bergeron tallied for Boston, while Tuukka Rask played his best game of the season in making 36 saves to preserve the two points in a game made interesting thanks to a late 5-on-3 goal by old friend Johnny Boychuk.

The Bergeron line featured a tweak as Brad Marchand was moved down and Matt Beleskey brought up to play the left wing with Brett Connolly remaining over on the right. The BeBes- Bergeron and Beleskey- showed some okay chemistry together and generated some good moments up front. Beleskey plays with a lot of passion and energy, and on one memorable 2-on-1 in the third period, he made a superb pass over a sprawling Islanders defender and over to Bergeron who got his blade on it and put it on net, only to see Isles goaltender Jaroslav Halak in fine position to make the stop.

Boston opened the scoring with a 5-on-3 power play goal to extend the consecutive games with a score on the man advantage to seven when Spooner ripped a one-timer into the net from a David Krejci feed. Bergeron had started the play when he took the puck and walked down the middle of the offensive zone between the circles to back the defense in before dishing to Krejci, who wasted little time in taking advantage of the added time and space to find Spooner all alone off to the side of the right post. It was Spooner’s third goal and ninth point of the season.

Bergeron made it a two-goal game in the second period when he put a shot to the front of the net that appeared to be deflected in by Marchand but was later changed to Boston’s assistant captain when reviews showed the puck hit Islanders defenseman Nick Leddy and changed direction past Halak.

The story of the contest was Rask, who played the kind of shutdown game the B’s have come to expect from him. He did seem more active at times than he should have in leaving his crease to play the puck, but none of those adventures cost him. He gave up just the one goal to Boychuk late after Kevan Miller took a careless-looking high stick penalty to Casey Cizikas and then Joonas Kemppainen gloved the puck off of a face-off, giving the Islanders 1:47 of 5-on-3 play, that they took advantage when he launched a Johnny Rocket that clanged in off the post. It was the only power play out of seven chances the Islanders got, so the maligned penalty killing unit got a confidence boost, but  a perfect game on the PK would have been even better.

The Islanders launched a concerted attack late, but Rask stood his ground and the Boston forecheck made some nice plays in the neutral zone and Islanders end to prevent the home team from getting Halak out for the extra attacker earlier. The B’s did a nice job overall of containing Isles captain and superstar John Tavares from getting much going in this one.

The B’s will get a few days of rest through Veteran’s Day before taking on the Colorado Avalanche Thursday night at the TD Garden.

UP

Tuukka Rask- Boston’s. No. 1 goaltender brought his A-game tonight and had no real chance on Boychuk’s howitzer of a shot. His glove save on Cal Clutterbuck during a shorthanded breakaway in the second period was a crucial stop that could have had a devastating impact on Boston’s psyche, but he effortlessly snagged it to keep it a 1-0 game. Rask made the defense look better than it was today, which is what you’re going to get with a player of his caliber in net. However, this team is simply not good enough to rely on Rask’s heroics as we have seen on other occasions throughout the first calendar month.

Patrice Bergeron- It was an active game for him with a goal and an assist, seven shots on net, more than 21 minutes of ice time. He stepped up with he game-winner in the second period as Boston got a much-needed win, their first in seven days.

Frank Vatrano- For the second straight game, he impressed with his speed and hustle, pushing the offensive pace and getting some quality shots on the net. He didn’t find the twine, but he didn’t look like a kid in just his second career NHL game and showed some good stamina for playing the second of a back-to-back game. The adrenaline he’s feeling is no doubt still pumping in his veins after scoring in his first big league game Saturday night.

Joonas Kemppainen- He blew it by taking the penalty late for handling the puck on the face-off, but made up for it with a solid game defensively and a game-saving defensive zone draw that he won cleanly after Beleskey was sent to the box for a slash with 1.7 seconds left. Thanks to Kemppainen or “Kemper” as he is called, the Isles didn’t even get a chance to get a shot off.

Ryan Spooner- The even strength play has been at times rocky, but when the B’s go up a man, Spooner’s high-end skill and creativity come out. His goal was a bang-bang play, but he did what scorers do well- get to the one spot on the ice where no one else is and bury the pass when it came to him. Even if his overall game and play has not been perfect, Spooner is producing points, so as long as he can keep doing that, the coaches will work with him on the little things.

Johnny Boychuk- What more can I say? He is still missed and the reaction by the Islanders faithful when he scored brought back memories of how he used to bring the Garden crowd to their feet.

DOWN

Torey Krug- He played a season-low 16:25 and made one memorable gaffe that could have proven costly when he sent an errant pass while on the power play that resulted in Clutterbuck’s breakaway. He later took a needless cross-checking call against Clutterbuck in the third period, Boston’s fifth penalty of the day. Krug has been Boston’s best and most consistent defensemen all season, but this was not his night and it showed in the box score.

Kevan Miller- You try not to pile on, but the free agent defender’s play has been more down than up. He struggles with handling pucks under pressure, does not have the mobility to win a lot of races to loose pucks, and took that sloppy, undisciplined highsticking penalty late in the contest which helped contribute to Boychuk’s power play goal. The Bruins have room for one or the other other Adam McQuaid or Miller, but employing both of them on a regular basis will prove costly.

Player analysis: Colin Miller

Colin

Colin “Chiller” Miller has made an immediate impact in Boston despite the team’s early struggles.

It’s Sunday and with NFL games kicking off and the late afternoon hockey game in Brooklyn, here’s a breakdown of Boston Bruins rookie defenseman Colin Miller, who was acquired from the Los Angeles Kings hours before the first round of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft kicked off in exchange for Milan Lucic. The B’s also received goaltender Martin Jones (since traded to San Jose for Sean Kuraly and the Shark’s 2016 first-round selection) and the Kings’ top pick, used to select defenseman Jakub Zboril last June.

Miller has been one of the few bright spots on a beleaguered Boston defense corps in the early going of the 2015-16 season, so we’ll peel the onion back a bit on Miller and take a look at what he brings to the table as a two-way defenseman who appears to be just scratching the surface of what could end up being something special if he continues to develop his impressive physical tools and knack for generating offense. This post will attempt to assess his talents the way the Bruins like to- using their “5 S’s”- Size, Skating, Shot, Sense and Spirit (character), while also looking at his offensive and defensive play based on film study and live game viewing going back to his AHL time with the Manchester Monarchs.

Background: Miller is a late ’92-born player who was first eligible for the NHL draft in 2011, but was passed over that year after completing his first OHL campaign with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, his hometown team. The Kings invited him to their prospects and main camps that summer and he impressed them, but went back into the draft. After an uptick in offensive production in his second OHL season, the Kings spent a fifth-round choice on him in 2012. As he was a second-year eligible, there wasn’t a great deal of information on him leading up to that draft in Pittsburgh. 2012-13 was a major breakout for him, as he scored 20 goals and finished second to Red Wings prospect Ryan Sproul in scoring with the ‘Hounds, tallying 55 points in 54 games that year. A solid if unspectacular rookie pro season with Manchester in 2013-14 was again followed up by a breakthrough year, as Miller scored 19 goals to lead all Monarchs defenders in scoring, while playing a key role on his team’s run to the 2015 Calder Cup championship. In 12 games with the Bruins (he was a healthy scratch on opening night after making the roster out of training camp), Miller has a goal and seven points, and is also a +5. His scoring includes a current six-game streak (1g, 5 assists). He is tied with Zdeno Chara for second on the team in scoring from the blue line behind Torey Krug.

Size: At about 6-foot-1 (he’s probably a shade under that and closer to 6-foot), 196 pounds Miller does not possess ideal size for the position but he’s not undersized either. He’s pretty well in the middle of the physical range which allows him to handle some of the bigger, more powerful forwards in the league.

Skating: Miller is a fluid, effortless skater who generates above average speed in the open ice and demonstrates the lateral mobility required to excel at the position.

He is particularly adept at closing on opponents using a quick short-area burst to narrow and control his gaps, while also possessing the quickness and acceleration to carry the puck out of his own end and lead the rush.  Although it did not result in a goal, he made a memorable rush against Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby this past week in Boston’s 4-1 loss, leveraging his powerful stride to back defenders up in the neutral zone, while effectively and crisply edging to cut across the grain and open up a shooting lane as his opponents lost the containment on him.

More than ever, the modern NHL defenseman must have above average to exceptional skating ability not only to lead and join the rush, but to be able to get back in puck retrieval to beat the opposing forecheck and begin the breakout/transition back to offense. Miller has the skating bona fides in this regard, having won the fastest skater competition at the 2015 AHL All-Star Game, but also excelling in his footwork; pivots and changes of direction. This is particularly noticeable in the way he is able to walk the line on the point to open up shooting lanes for himself or passing lanes for better puck distribution into open spaces and better scoring chances.

Shot: This is one of Miller’s signature attributes, and is why he’s hovered at or around 20 goals in two of out his last three seasons.

As you can see from his first NHL goal, Miller can load up and generate tremendous speed and power on his shot. Again- he won the hardest shot event at the All-Star Game last year, so when Miller is able to step into a shot, it’s a screamer that requires a lot of courage for players to step in front of. He’s also got an effective snap shot, as he will get it off quickly and is able to put it on net through traffic.

Miller has also shown a penchant for identifying effective shot selection by not just putting his head down and driving the puck, but by reading the play and goaltender and making a better choice to hide the release point and get a shot to the net that will either force the goaltender to make a stop, or allow a teammate to deflect it on net for a better scoring opportunity. This plays into his next attribute, which is Miller’s instincts for the game.

 Sense: From an offensive defender standpoint, Miller has higher-end hockey IQ: he can see the ice extremely well and reads the play to react instinctively and make good decisions in moving the puck to an outlet or taking it himself. He plays a poised, mature game for one so relatively young and inexperienced at the NHL level.

On the defensive side of things, he’s still a work in progress, as he will sometimes be a little slower to anticipate where the puck is going when in his own end.  However, there hasn’t been a moment this season where Miller has looked truly lost in the defensive zone- he uses his instincts to make more positive plays than negative ones.

Spirit: After watching him play not only in Boston but in Manchester and even with clips out there from his major junior days, it is readily apparent why Don Sweeney and his pro scouts wanted Miller as part of the return package for Lucic. He plays a spirited, edgy game at times when he needs to, even if being a snarly, physical and even intimidating hitter is not a part of what he brings to the table. Miller has the ability to level a big hit (as evidenced from the preseason hip check above) and will drop the gloves to defend himself or teammates, but he’s much more of an above-the-fray kind of two-way defender who works hard and is a good guy in the room. He’s not an overly adept fighter, but is willing to give it a whirl when challenged. We’ll see his first NHL fight at some point, I’m sure.

Defensive zone play: While not exactly a strength yet, Miller is not a liability in his defensive play. At times, he’s got to remain cognizant of his gap control and stick positioning. Around the net, he has been caught watching the play instead of picking up his man. A lot of what he needs to improve revolves around experience and will likely manifest as he continues to learn and grow within the Boston system and get better with his read/reaction on defense. He’s already a solid 1-on-1 player, who uses his mobility and smarts to keep opponents from taking a direct path to the net. So far, he’s demonstrating effectiveness while partnered with Chara, which should only help him going forward if Claude Julien keeps the two together. In fact, giving Miller an expanded role on the penalty killing unit might help stop the bleeding. He may be young yet, but with his mobility and instincts, it’s worth a shot.

Offensive zone play: Miller is already above average and with Chara’s overall offensive play declining, will challenge Krug as the team’s most capable offensive player from the blue line in time. He is assertive, not afraid to handle the puck at 5-on-5 or on the power play, and skates with his head up, finding the seams in defenses that allows him to make clean passes and maintain puck possession. If one did not know he was a rookie, you would think he’s a 5-10 year veteran sometimes with the way he is able to dish passes off of either side of his blade while making it look effortless in the process.

Projection: “Chiller” has all the makings of a solid No. 2 defender in the NHL and long-term solution in Boston. He has both he physical and mental attributes to log big minutes and play in all situations. He’s in refinement mode, meaning he doesn’t have huge gaps to address in his overall package, but rather- just needs to develop through experience and shared understanding with his teammates and coaches.

In retrospect, it is hard to figure out why Dean Lombardi and the Kings allowed Colin Miller to depart as part of a pretty good package they gave up to Boston without his even being included, but the Bruins and their fans should be happy they did.

Final Buzzer: Krejci costs B’s in Montreal heartbreak

They thought had this one.

The Boston Bruins really thought they had it.

But in this day and age, coming close, especially when it happens against the Montreal Canadiens, isn’t good enough.

It was a game the B’s played well enough to win and had a Cinderella story in the making when Frank Vatrano, fresh off his recall and playing in his first NHL game fired home a bullet wrist shot for his first big league goal and a 2-1 lead.

Instead, it turned into just another nightmare on Avenue des Canadiens de Montreal.

That the road team ended up with a 4-2 loss thanks to a late David Desharnais power play that should not have even happened if not for an inconceivable meltdown by another David…Krejci… is going to take a while for this B’s team to wrap their heads around.

With the game tied at 2-2 and seemingly headed to overtime when anything could happen, the Boston veteran went after Canadiens forward and fellow Czech Tomas Plekanec not once, not twice, but three times- an initial attempt to go high on Plekanec went uncalled behind the Boston net as it probably should. We don’t know yet what happened to spark Krejci’s rage, but he then followed Plekanec as the Canadien headed to the bench for a change and cross-checked him from behind. The referee’s arm went up and Krejci then hit him again behind the head as Plekanec began to rise.

The resulting man advantage ended in predictable fashion when your team is sporting a league-worst PK rating. Montreal moved the puck around effortlessly, got a shot on net that Jonas Gustavsson kicked over to Desharnais just off the right post, and he put it in. A Max Pacioretty empty-netter was fait accompli at that point to make it 4-2. It might as well have been 10-2 after so crushing the disappointment of playing so well only to give the Habs a 12th win in the last 13 regular season matchups between these rivals.

The game started well enough, with Montreal playing some undisciplined hockey and taking three first period penalties. The B’s cashed in, with Loui Eriksson tallying his fifth goal of the season to continue his tremendous power play work, as Boston still owns the best man advantage unit in the league- talk about extremes. Patrice Bergeron took a pass from Ryan Spooner and put a shot on net that Eriksson was able to redirect in past Massachusetts native Mike Condon to give the B’s a 1-0 lead less than 2 minutes in.

Montreal tied the game in the second period with a power play marker by Plekanec after he got a pass from Brendan Gallagher and snuck it into the net past Gustavsson at 1:09.

Vatrano fired up the Boston fans when he received a Colin Miller pass (who made it a six-game point streak), curled back towards the Montreal net out by the blue line, then ripped that hard, heavy shot- the one that has become a trademark so early in his pro career- to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.

With Gustavsson playing well in the second period and nearly half of the third, even weathering a disallowed Montreal goal after it was determined that Gallagher made contact with Gus in the crease, Lars Eller got his third goal of the season out of five total markers against the Bruins to make it a 2-2 game at 8:58.

That set the stage for Krejci’s egregious penalty and another missed opportunity for the Bruins, who have gone 0-3 since beating Tampa Bay last Sunday.

Some late-game ugliness occurred when Nathan Beaulieu hit Zac Rinaldo with a cross-check up high as Rinaldo came in on him behind the net to finish the check. Rinaldo caught the stick in the side of the head and went down, Beaulieu given a match penalty for intent to injure and then chirping at Matt Beleskey as he left the ice. There was no further spillover of what had to be some significant frustration for the Bruins as the game ended.

In the end, we are left with a pretty simple premise. The chances for Boston to not only steal a critical two points on the road but to get an important moral victory for the psyche were there: Torey Krug didn’t hit an open net in the second period on a power play when it looked like the play was there for him to make. Eriksson would have another nice deflection on a Zach Trotman point shot that Condon made an even more impressive save on to keep Boston off the board. But when the B’s look back on this one, Krejci’s inexplicable loss of control will be the major takeaway.

The team will limp off to Brooklyn to face the NY Islanders tomorrow, rested and waiting for a club that doesn’t have any time to dwell on this one.

UP

Frank Vatrano- It’s hard to believe that a year ago, the Western Mass. native was playing in just his first full season at UMass after having to transfer from Boston College due to academic issues and missing all but one game in the 2013-14 campaign. Since the B’s got wise to Vatrano’s willingness to forego his remaining NCAA eligibility last March and inked him as a free agent, the young winger has undergone an astounding transformation- losing significant weight and taking maximum advantage of every opportunity to show off his high-end offensive strengths. Playing on his “off wing” over on the right side tonight, Vatrano had a ‘welcome to the NHL’ moment in the first period when he tried to get past Montreal defender Alexei Emelin along the boards and was drilled with a hard, clean hip check. He then scored his goal in the second frame, and even made a nifty pass to Krejci in the third period that very nearly resulted in a goal and Vatrano posting a helper to go a long with his first NHL goal. The contrast between what Vatrano did with his opportunity and how Alex Khokhlachev looked this week against Dallas and Washington was striking: Vatrano leveraged what he does best and looked exactly like the AHL-leading goal scorer by playing aggressively and looking confident with the puck. He’ll make mistakes out there, but because he’s a dangerous player, you can live with those errors if he’s able to compensate for them by bringing offense to the table. The fact that he got 14:20 of ice playing with Krejci and Eriksson tells you all you need to know about what the Boston coaches thought of his fit on that line. Vatrano has not yet arrived, but even if he goes back down, there is every reason to think that much bigger things are in store.

Zach Trotman- Playing his first game since opening night, Trotman brought some physicality and played with a burr under his saddle. He did make one ill-advised pass in the third period that would have banished him to Siberia had Montreal capitalized, but overall, he played a strong game in place of Joe Morrow, who wore some goat horns after the loss to the Caps Thursday. He is what he is: a role player who is at his best when keeping things simple, but he did what the B’s needed to get out of him after missing so much time while sitting on press level over the past month.

DOWN

David Krejci- It’s hard to fathom how costly a penalty it was for the veteran leader to take even as you rewind the film and watch it. He went after Plekanec once and wasn’t called for it. At that point, he could have quit while he was ahead and skated back to the bench. Maybe the B’s still lose this game on a late goal, in overtime or in a shootout. But the reality is- he made a boneheaded decision that had a significant consequence. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he took all three Boston penalties tonight, two of which ended up with goals on the scoreboard. You give Krejci the benefit of the doubt because this is so out of character for him and he’ll no doubt take it hard once the emotions come down and the reality of how costly his actions were sink in. It’s on to the Islanders, but maybe a motivated Krejci seeking redemption isn’t such a bad thing.

Jonas Gustavsson- Some observers liked his play tonight, I thought he was out of position too much and did a poor job of controlling his rebounds, leading directly to the Eller and Desharnais goals. He gave the Bruins a chance to win, making 29 saves on 32 shots, but he was unable to make a stop when Boston needed it most. He doesn’t get the blame for this loss, but he didn’t do enough to make the difference, either. Back to Tuukka Rask tomorrow.

B’s Penalty Killers- They’re in last place for a reason. The PKers do not maintain their cohesion…they pressure and force at the wrong times, allowing teams to exploit them with puck movement. There is not enough speed and quickness across the board to win more races to pucks and battles along the boards than they should. Kevan Miller is probably not the best choice to kill penalties, but he’s what the coaches are going with. Finally, the last line of defense- the guys between the pipes- just can’t seem to pull out some stops. You feel for them because teams are able to collapse and disrupt the box and diamond with their possession game, but neither Rask nor Gustavsson seem able to stop the bleeding. This is Boston’s achilles heel, especially when the team takes bad penalties.

EDIT- For his part, Krejci took responsibility as expected he would. Here are some postgame quotes from him, which appeared on the Bruins Twitter feed afterwards:

“Stuff like that shouldnt happen…especially when it’s guys that have been in league and know better. Guys battle hard and I do something like that… It was stupid and it cost us the game. I feel bad for letting my teammates and coaches down.”

Koko down, Frankie Vatrano up as forward carousel goes round and round

The Boston Bruins announced today that Alex Khokhlachev has been returned to Providence of the AHL, with left wing Frank Vatrano summoned to Montreal for what could be the Bay Stater’s first career NHL appearance against the Canadiens on Saturday night.

Let me ask you- could achieving the dream of reaching the NHL get any better for a kid who grew up in Western Mass. cheering for the Bruins than by getting to take on the hated les Habitants?

Some folks are none too happy about Koko being relegated, but I have to be honest- I get that he’s played a total of 6 NHL games without ideal ice time, but the player I’ve seen do some impressive things at the AHL level is not the passive, tentative, mediocre forward I’ve seen for limited stretches in Boston. There is no doubt he’s skilled, but there seems to be an element of fans out there who so desperately want him to succeed that they’ve created this illusion of strong performances with the Bruins, and I don’t really see it at all. He’s just kind of been there- neither making egregious errors, but not asserting himself in particularly effective fashion, either.

Most on Twitter who engage me about it seem to want to blame Claude Julien once again- as some kind of Hobgoblin to young players- a draconian taskmaster who employs a system that only the Chris Kellys and Gregory Campbells of the world can figure out. I think at some point- you have to raise expectations for a player as talented as Koko is, and its okay to ask- “where’s the beef?” when he comes up and flits around the ice but doesn’t get a whole lot accomplished.

Too harsh on the guy? Perhaps. As was said before- we’ve seen a completely different, more assertive Koko down in the AHL. He’s capable of more.

So, Frankie Vatrano, Bruins nation turns its lonely eyes to you. The wicked shot with an instantaneous release, pinpoint accuracy and heaviness that belies his lack of height (though he is built like a bowling ball with a thick, powerful trunk) is already well documented. What isn’t as well known to B’s fans is the natural instincts/smarts, the willingness to hustle over all 200 feet of the ice even if the innate ability to play a defensive game aren’t there and the overall body of work still needs to improve.

With 10 goals in 10 AHL games, Vatrano is getting his first shot at the big show. We knew it was coming at some point sooner rather than later, but just a month into the regular season? I’d say that’s worth raising a glass.

As for Koko- it’s not over. He needs to go down, keep scoring and working hard. Many of us thought we had seen the end of Ryan Spooner in a Boston uniform as late as mid-February of this year, and he managed to establish himself. It’s not all lollipops and unicorns, but Khokhlachev could do the same thing if he’s willing to keep his eye on the prize and not give into his frustration by going through the motions or demanding a trade. It’s okay to be disappointed if you’re him, but at 22, it’s doubtful Boston has given up on Koko- he just hasn’t given them a reason to keep him in the mix. For now. The real test is to see how he reacts to this latest setback. We’ll soon learn how he spells c-h-a-r-a-c-t-e-r.

Until then, Vatrano is living the dream- from undrafted free agent snub to Boston Bruin in just under eight months with the offseason thrown into the middle. That’s not too shabby. And while he could soon find himself back down on the farm as well, he’s earned this shot…with that shot of his.

Final Buzzer: Caps end Boston’s road streak in 4-1 victory

The Washington Capitals lately the nemesis of the Boston Bruins thanks in large part to the stellar play of goaltender Braden Holtby, gave the Black and Gold their first road loss of the season at the Verizon Center Thursday thanks to goals from Alex Ovechkin, Brooks LaichJohn Carlson and Karl Alzner (empty net).

Boston opened scoring in the first period, breaking up Holtby’s shutout streak against the Bruins of nearly 200 minutes when Jimmy Hayes drove hard to the net and banged in Brett Connolly’s shot/pass to the front of the net at 12:47. Defenseman Colin Miller got the secondary assist on the play, adding to his five-game point streak (goal, 4 assists).

The lead did not last, as a Kevan Miller turnover saw the puck end up on Ovechkin’s stick, who fought through traffic to get a shot into the net past Tuukka Rask.

Laich gave the Caps a lead they would not relinquish, as he deflected a Dmitry Orlov point shot down and past Rask just as Bruins defender Joe Morrow arrived to knock him down.

Boston came unglued in the second period, as Hayes took a needless neutral zone slashing penalty, and while Boston’s NHL-worst penalty killing unit was on the ice, Brad Marchand got into a physical battle with the Caps’ TJ Oshie in front of the B’s net. Both players went down, but as Marchand got up, he rabbit-punched Oshie in the back of the head. End result, a 5-on-3 power play for 1:18 that the Caps cashed in on.

With Nicklas Backstrom holding the puck on the right side of the Boston net just behind the goal line and K. Miller down on his knees and out of position, Backstrom slipped a pass to Carlson as he snuck in past the slot penalty killer and fired a shot home to give the home team a decisive lead.

In a mostly scoreless third period, with both Rask and Holtby trading quality saves, Alzner scored into the empty net to finish out the offense on the night in a 4-1 game.

Tyler Randell got back into the Boston lineup for this one and had his first NHL fight against Caps forward Michael Latta, a rival from their OHL days. It was a pretty even bout, with Randell getting the edge in punches landed and the takedown, but Latta got a couple of hard rights in to make it a no decision.

For the Bruins, a tough week that began with the home loss to Dallas was made a little tougher by having to face a goaltender that has essentially owned them in his career. With just 1 goal given up in 246:43, and four consecutive wins against the Bruins, Holtby’s mojo persists.

Colin "Chiller" Miller has arrived in Boston- a keeper. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Colin “Chiller” Miller has arrived in Boston- a keeper. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

UP-

Colin Miller- It’s hard not to like what “Chiller” is bringing to the table. He’s scoring points and carrying the puck with confidence, as evidenced by a third period rush, when he skated through three Capitals in the neutral zone, gained the offensive blue line and then put a low shot that Holtby had to squeeze the pads together quickly to stop. As with any defenseman in their first NHL season, there are things to work on, mainly in his defensive coverage and decisions with the puck at times, as he will make higher-risk passes or skate the puck into danger zones when there are better options. But overall, the former Kings prospect has come exactly as advertised and his tangible production and impact- six points in his first 12 big league games- are probably better than anticipated. He’s a keeper.

Braden Holtby- He’s a workhorse, All-Star and he absolutely has Boston’s number. In his last four starts against the Bruins, he posted games with 29, 32, 27 saves- all shutouts, then stopped all but one of Boston’s 28 shots in this one. As someone who used to live in the D.C. area when Holtby was coming up through Washington’s system after a standout WHL career with the Saskatoon Blades, I was always far more impressed with him than I was with the other higher-touted goalies in Semyon Varlamov and Michal Neuvirth. When Holtby showed up in April of 2012 to beat the defending Stanley Cup champs in a seven-game first-round playoff series, some mocked me on Twitter at the time for saying the guy was headed for the upper echelon in the NHL. Not too many would deny him his spot there today. “Holt-beast” indeed.

DOWN-

Brad Marchand- His lack of discipline hurt the team badly, and there’s absolutely no excuse for it. If the team didn’t need him so much, it might have made sense to send him a sterner message. Marchand has always been on the edge, but his selfishness tends to manifest at the worst possible time. I’m sure he’ll take accountability for putting his team in the hole like he did if he’s not on record already doing it, but talk is cheap. At some point, he’s got to wake up and stop taking bad penalties like this. That the referees made a ticky-tack call on Hayes to put the B’s down a man to begin with is not the point- Marchand inexplicably gave a head shot to Oshie in full view of the referee. That kind of stuff is unacceptable, and there are no more passes for Marchand- he’s a veteran enough player to understand that by now.

Boston defense- We knew this group of players would have a rollercoaster season given their relative inexperience with Dennis Seidenberg still out (though getting closer to a return). The youngsters have done well for the most part, but tonight, they were a step behind and not effective at doing the corner work or keeping the front of their net clear. Washington forwards did a nice job of pinballing off of checks and working pucks to the net. This kind of thing is going to happen, and fans will have to understand that, but in a game the B’s had the lead in, it’s a shame to see the kinds of breakdowns on the back end that led to Washington goals. Rask didn’t have a lot of help and deserved a better fate. Morrow and K. Miller in particular had forgettable performances and will need to shake that off going forward.

Here are some postgame notes and quotes compliments of the Washington Capitals media relations team:

Washington Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby on slowing down the Bruins…
“[The Bruins] still do one thing really well – that’s getting shots to the front with traffic, and that presence. They’re still really good at that. They have some good D-men that can get the puck on net with wrist shots or what-not and create havoc, and that’s where their toughest plays for us were…I thought we did a good job, especially in the neutral zone – didn’t give them anything really throughout the whole game. We stuck to our game plan, and the power play was huge for us too.”


Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien on how the game got away from the Bruins…

“The first ten minutes were good. I thought once we scored that goal, that’s when I thought we took our foot off the gas and let them get themselves back into the game. Second period was a matter of some real bad penalties that kind of hurts your team and gives them some momentum. Third period we had to claw our way back into it. They’re a good defensive team, and we didn’t get enough shots on net, and we didn’t get enough players in that area as well to be able to score some goals.”

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien on the effects of the Bruins’ penalties…

“All three penalties – you take a slashing in the neutral zone, you have too many men on the ice when your guy that you’re jumping for [is still on the ice] and the puck is coming – it’s like you’ve got to be smarter than that. So, it’s not just [Brad Marchand]. I thought the second period penalties were real bad penalties on our part.”

 

Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand on playing against Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby…

“He’s a good goalie. I think they have a really good team over there, too. We just have to get a few more bodies out front. He’s one of the really good goalies in this league. We just have to find a way to beat him and just get bodies in front.”

The Bruins get to face Montreal on Saturday, with another game Sunday in Boston against the Islanders. This week isn’t going to get any easier.

Steady as Loui Goes: Eriksson’s convincing case to stay

Loui Eriksson is proof positive that bad things can happen to good people, but the best of them can use that adversity as an opportunity to adapt, overcome and ultimately reinvent themselves. Back before the season began, I predicted that Eriksson would be a prime candidate to be traded at some point this season given his impending unrestricted free agent status next summer and the opportunity for the Bruins to move him in exchange for asset(s) that would benefit the team going forward.

With 11 games in the books and Eriksson contributing to his team’s fortunes in all aspects of the game, it might be time to revisit that position.

Eriksson was the centerpiece of Boston’s most controversial trade since Mike O’Connell shipped a 26-year-old, in-his-prime Joe Thornton to San Jose for three “JAGs” (just another guy) in Marco Sturm, Brad Stuart and Wayne Primeau. The JAG moniker is not meant to be disrespectful to Sturm, as of the three he provided the most impact and valuable service for the Bruins from late 2005 until the team traded his rights to Los Angeles for cap relief during the 2010-11 campaign, but when you measure his contributions against those of Thornton with the Sharks, you get the idea. Like Sturm, Eriksson has been able to establish himself as a regular contributor in Boston, but as an identified key piece of the 2013 summer deal between Boston and Dallas, has not produced at anywhere near the pace of the young star Boston gave up for him.

In Eriksson’s case, he was part of a futures package that came to Boston in the exchange for Tyler Seguin– the well-away-from-his-prime wunderkind who has since proven that the fears of him not living up to expectations as the second overall pick in 2010 were unfounded. Even if Seguin’s off-ice discipline and overall maturity are still a work in progress, the hockey product is continuing to improve as he has emerged as one of the NHL’s brightest scoring stars since the start of 2013-14.

However, the point of this post is not to revisit Boston’s decision to trade a 21-year-old Seguin, or to debate the return from Big D. For Eriksson, he became a victim not only of two concussions that essentially cost him his first and arguably most important season in Boston, but also of an expectation bias that based on his track record, he had little chance of overcoming.

Eriksson first year in Boston was during the 2013-14 campaign, when the B’s offense was near the top en route to the franchise’s first President’s Trophy as top regular season club since 1989-90. On paper, his statistics reflect the time lost to head injuries and the likely effects he had to contend with after completing the NHL’s concussion protocol after both events. In missing 21 games, his 10 goals and 37 points ranked 10th on that team in scoring, with David Krejci finishing on top with 19 goals and 69 points in 80 contests. Both Patrice Bergeron and Jarome Iginla tied for the team lead in goals with 30. His two goals and five points in 12 playoff games, added fuel to the fire that Eriksson was a player in decline and a poor return for Seguin.

In 2014-15, Eriksson provided more consistent offense on a non-playoff club, finishing second on the team in goals scored with 22 to Brad Marchand’s 24.

When looking at some of the more advanced analytics out there on Eriksson, the contrast between his 2013-14 even strength numbers and those of this season are pretty striking, and not in the way you might think. His goals and points/60 minutes in 5 on 5 play are actually higher in his first season- (0.63 and 1.73) than both last year’s 22-goal campaign (0.60 G/60 and 1.54 Points/60) and this season’s hot 11 points in 11 games (0.38 GF, 1.54 P/60). Eriksson was more effective offensively in that first year that many pointed to as an abject failure given Seguin’s offensive explosion (and ability to stay healthy).

Where Eriksson has raised the game is on the power play in 2015-16 compared to past seasons. In 37:48 on the ice with the man advantage thus far, he’s on pace to shatter his totals from his two previous seasons in Boston. His three goals and five points are already half of what he produced in 188+ minutes of 5v4 play a year ago, and he had a total of 11 points in 115 man advantage minutes in 2013-14. His goals and points/60 totals on the power play are 4.76 and 7.94 respectively, impressive when compared against the 1.91 and 3.18 from a year ago (remember he finished second on the team in goals, and his 47 points were second to Bergeron’s 55). Eriksson’s 5v4 numbers in 2013-4 are closer- just 1.04 goals/60 but his assist ratio was a significantly higher 4.66 giving him a 5.70 points/60 during that “failed” season. David Krejci’s numbers look like a guy at the top of Boston’s pay scale- his 5v4 goals and points/60 are even higher than Eriksson’s- 2.92 and 10.21.

Time will tell if Boston can sustain its blistering power play pace, but you figure Eriksson and his teammates will come back down to Earth at some point. For now, however, he is making his presence felt, which is important given that the man advantage is helping to offset the disastrous last-place PK for Boston.

Eriksson’s shots per game are down from what they were in the previous two seasons, but he’s making more plays to pass the puck to teammates who are finishing them off with goals. His individual Corsi rating is down because he’s simply not shooting as much as he has in the past, but expect that to balance out as the season goes on.

So, if you look at Eriksson’s consistent production across the two full seasons and early part of a third, he’s actually been a good value for his current cap hit of $4.25M. At age 30, he’s not getting any younger but when you compare him to Pittsburgh forward Patric Hornqvist, for example, his  points/60 at even strength are comparable, but on the PP, Eriksson’s 7.94 far eclipses Hornqvist’s 2.46 (Hornqvist has played about 13 fewer minutes with the man advantage as Eriksson has). Jakub Voracek and James van Riemsdyk both make the same coin and are well behind the older Eriksson in terms of their 5on5 and 5on4 production. Calgary’s Michael Frolik makes $4.3M and is well ahead at even strength P/60 with 3.00, but is a big goose egg on the PP.

So- given the loss of Chris Kelly to a fractured femur and the fact that Eriksson is not only providing production, but quiet leadership as a respected teammate, don’t be so quick to advocate for his departure. It is entirely possible that by the end of the season, assuming he can continue to perform on a similar trajectory, talk of a modest AAV increase with a reasonable term of let’s say- three years- gives Eriksson an opportunity to be part of a better solution than what we have seen to date in Boston.

I realize that for some in Boston- there is simply no getting around the fact that Eriksson is not the player Seguin is and there will be a desire to move on and invest that cash on someone else perhaps a little younger with a more intriguing upside than the ‘Steady Eddie’ (Loui) No. 21 has been for the Bruins. That’s a fair point, but be careful what you wish for. At this stage of his career, Eriksson’s value can be measured in more than the statistics, and he’s probably less interested in cashing in than being valued and a part of a team that could be putting pieces in place to get back onto the road of contention in another 1-2 years.

Even in his “worst” year as a Bruin, Eriksson was a consistent producer who doesn’t get enough credit for his defensive play and willingness to do the little things to help his team have success. Some of those things come at the price of gaudier numbers and his mediocre open-ice speed is a point that critics can effectively argue against.

When all is said and done- the Bruins will be faced with an interesting choice this season. Trade him to a contender in the spring time and likely get a seller’s price for him, or invest in him continuing to be a solid citizen and contributor and make the effort to keep him in the fold come free agency. He’s proven that his play is not a fluke- he may not be putting up the pure production he did earlier in his career, but he’s providing balance and consistency, which is important to any winning club.This isn’t a Gregory Campbell situation here- if people are honest with themselves, it’s readily apparent that Eriksson is a superior offensive player who is not too old to continue his career trends for another 3 or 4 years if he can avoid any more TBI.

The case to trade Eriksson if Boston is selling at the deadline or keep him around for the next organizational iteration is something that my surface-level analysis of just a very few statistics can’t come close to effectively arguing for or against, but you can bet that someone out there is crunching the numbers.

 

 

Final Buzzer: Starstruck- Seguin hatty sinks B’s, Kelly fractures femur

Chris Kelly will be missed (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Chris Kelly will be missed Get well soon!(Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins welcomed Tyler Seguin to his old digs at the TD Garden just in time to see him net his seventh career hat trick against the club that traded him on July 4, 2013.

The home team (and Boston’s penalty killing effort) suffered a brutal loss not only on the scoreboard, but on its active roster as well when veteran two-way forward went down early in the first period when Chris Kelly’s left leg buckled under him in a non-contact situation. He stayed down a long time and was eventually hoisted up off the ice by Zdeno Chara and left the surface without putting any weight on his left leg. In the third period, Don Sweeney broke the bad news: Kelly is lost for the rest of the season as Don Sweeney announced he has a left femur fracture.

Kelly’s absence showed, with the Bruins surrendering three power play goals in a 5-2 loss, but it was a  game the B’s could have won with a more consistent performance across the entire 60 minutes after a solid start.

Seguin opened scoring with a missile off the rush from the left circle, beating Tuukka Rask in the 1st period to give Dallas the lead after the Bruins had gotten off to a hot start with six shots to none before he found the back of the net with his club’s first on net.

Colin Miller answered for the Bruins, rifling home his first career NHL goal from the point to make it a 1-1 game. “Chiller” has demonstrated a heavy shot that he can get off quickly and on net.

Loui Eriksson tallied a power play goal (his third of the season and 10th point in 11 games) off of a rebound of Torey Krug’s slapper from the left circle. Patrice Bergeron also assisted on the play, giving the Bruins a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes.

Seguin scored a power play marker in the second frame, stepping into the left circle and firing a heater past Rask with Jamie Benn set up in front taking away his sight lines.

Dallas took the lead with a point shot from Jyrki Jokipakka, who scored his first career NHL goal (in some 62 games) to make it 3-2.

Seguin tallied the hat trick again on the power play when Krug was whistled for a delay of game penalty after clearing the puck over the glass. Seguin took a Jason Spezza pass in the left circle once again and burying a one-timer before Rask could get across his crease. It was Seguin’s eighth tally of the year and gave the Stars a 4-2 lead.

Defenseman Alex Goligoski would add another power play marker to put the game out of reach.

The story of this one centers around the loss of Kelly, who was transported to Mass General Hospital and will have surgery tomorrow and then is expected to miss six to eight months. For all intents and purposes, Kelly’s season is done, and now one wonders if the team will look to Max Talbot to fill the void.

Seguin’s hat trick no doubt added some salt to the wounds in Boston, but credit the Stars for recovering from a mediocre first period after playing the night before in a loss to Toronto to turn the tables on Boston in the final 40 minutes. The Bruins outshot Dallas 39-19, but the scoreboard bore the message of Boston’s defeat: 5-3, visiting team.

Alex Khokhlachev showed some flashes of ability and hustle in his first NHL game of 15-16, but when the B’s found themselves on the PK, he didn’t get much time on ice.

UP

Loui Eriksson- Two goals tonight including a meaningless late-game score on a give-and-go with Ryan Spooner to make it a 5-3 game with a little over two minutes remaining. Eriksson has been a consistent bright spot on offense. His four goals this season have come in two games on a pair of two-goal efforts, but he’s added seven assists in 11 games as well. With Kelly gone, Eriksson’s value to the team as one of the more experienced and effective two-way forwards is even greater.

Colin Miller- The defenseman acquired in the trade for Milan Lucic continues to generate offense, scoring his first goal on a point blast. With his tools and knack for creating scoring chances from the back end, Boston fans have to be excited for this young man’s future.

Chris Kelly- B’s fans will now learn how much more the veteran did for the club that he didn’t get credit for. It is the ultimate in irony for a player of Kelly’s character to be lost on such a random play…he wasn’t blown up on a big hit. It was a freak injury with devastating effect. He gets an up because throughout his Boston tenure, he’s been a leader and gritty two-way performer. It’s a tough pill for Boston to swallow right now.

Tyler Seguin- What more can you say about his performance? The former Bruin and 2010 second overall selection used his wicked shot and high-end offensive talent to lethal effect tonight, overcoming the fact that Boston held the statistical edge in most categories except in the one that matters most: the final score. The trade that sent him to Dallas will continue to polarize B’s fans for years to come, but Seguin still needs to demonstrate he can perform at this level and higher come February and beyond when it gets tougher to score in the NHL and points are at a premium. He deserves full marks for his three goals in this one, and becomes the first former Bruins player to score a hat trick in Boston since Mariusz Czerkawski did it with the Edmonton Oilers on November 6, 1996.

Jamie Benn- He’s a tremendous player and the chemistry Benn has with Seguin is admirable. He not only gets the big-time points production and consistent scoring, but he does the little things, like go to the net and set up a screen as he did on Seguin’s second goal. These two have been dynamite together, but with the way things have gone this season, 2015-16 just might be the real breakthrough year by both players as they are on pace to raise the bar.

DOWN

Boston’s penalty kill- They gave up three goals on four Stars attempts and were at their worst when they appeared to stop skating on Seguin’s hat trick goal, thinking the puck left the zone. It didn’t, thanks a strong play at the blue line by John Klingberg and seconds later, the Stars were up by two. It’s not going to get any easier with Kelly now gone for the balance of the season. Watch for Max Talbot to come back up and try to fill those skates.

Tuukka Rask- He’s gotten credit when he plays well, and he goes back on this list when he comes up short. The Bruins needed him to make the first save tonight and he wasn’t up to the task. Sure- the defense had some breakdowns in front of him, but he was off his angles and at times made it easy for Dallas, especially on the Goligoski goal, where he seemed to lose his poise and focus. Team effort tonight- and the Bruins lost as a team, but Rask needs to be better.

Zac Rinaldo- As the John C. McGinley Bob asked Tom “Leap to Conclusions Mat” Symanski on Office Space “What would you say…you do here?” Energy is good, hitting is fine, but Rinaldo is no threat to generate any kind of consistent offensive pressure, so what he brings to the table simply does not balance out what the team could better get from someone else on the roster.

Antoine Roussel- A slew foot AND a high stick on Zac Rinaldo? On the same play? If ever there was someone who could out-rat Rinaldo, it’s Roussel.

Tough loss in what was a winnable game for the Bruins in what is going to be a challenging week, as the team loses in regulation for the first time since the Columbus Day match against Tampa Bay.

Pastrnak out vs. Stars, Bruins recall Koko from Providence

Alex Khokhlachev gets first crack at replacing injured forward David Pastrnak when the Boston Bruins host the Dallas Stars tonight at TD Garden. The team announced today that it is recalling the Providence Bruins’ top scorer for a much-anticipated matchup featuring former Bruin Tyler Seguin.

The 22-year-old second-round pick in 2011 has gotten off to a fine offensive start in Providence, so the move comes as no surprise. He began the season on the right wing, but moved back to center when Austin Czarnik was knocked out of the lineup.

If Claude Julien slots him into Pastrnak’s spot on the right side David Krejci line with Loui Eriksson, then this will be a good opportunity to play and produce with some quality linemates.

Here are excerpts from the Bruins press release announcing his recall:

Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced today, November 3, that the club has recalled Alex Khokhlachev from Providence (American Hockey League). Khokhlachev will join Boston for Tuesday’s morning skate and be eligible for Tuesday night’s game against the Dallas Stars at TD Garden.

Khokhlachev has appeared in four games for Boston from 2014 to 2015, including his NHL debut on April 13, 2014 against the Devils in New Jersey.

The 22-year-old has skated in 10 games for Providence thus far this season, registering four goals (third on the team) and nine assists (tied for first in the AHL) for 13 points (tied for first in the AHL).

At the AHL level, Khokhlachev has appeared in 147 career games accruing 42-74=116 totals.

Pastrnak was not at his best in Sunday’s win against Tampa Bay after taking a hard shot off the foot in last week’s Bruins victory at home against Arizona.

Final Buzzer: Boston road greaters- B’s begin season a perfect 5-0 as visitors

An 0-3 start at home has been offset with five consecutive road victories by the Boston Bruins, the latest a 3-1 contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning to push the team’s overall record to 6-3-1 in the 2015-16 season’s first 10 games.

The B’s got goals from Matt Beleskey, Brett Connolly and Brad Marchand (an empty-netter) to earn two more points and move into second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Montreal Canadiens.

They fell behind to the home team when Nikita Kucherov took a nifty cross-ice pass from Vladislav Namestnikov and buried a high twine tickler to make it 1-0 on a power play tally after Ryan Spooner was sent off for hooking.

Beleskey got it back later in the period when he converted a rebound of a Colin Miller shot that squirted out to him in the slot. While on one knee, Beleskey fought off a Tampa defender to spin and put the puck past Tampa goaltender Ben Bishop low to the blocker side after it appeared that the shot changed direction. Jimmy Hayes started the play when he won a footrace to the puck behind the net and threw it out to the point where Miller was able to gather it in and put it back on net.

The teams battled to a second 20 minutes of scoreless hockey before the B’s took the lead in the third period with another power play goal to extend the league’s best unit with the man advantage. Connolly was positioned out to the left of the net and took a hot Marchand pass, then took an extra second to locate Bishop and fire a high shot over the sprawling goalie for his fourth tally of the season (in his last five games to boot). It was another goal scorer’s strike from Connolly, who appeared extra motivated to score what stood up as the winning goal against his former club.

Bruins backup Jonas Gustavsson played well, giving up the lone goal in the first period. Although he doesn’t always appear to be in control or in position, he’s a perfect 3-0 in his starts this season and is giving Claude Julien and the Bruins coaches the kind of confidence they need to balance out Tuukka Rask’s workload.

David Krejci’s 9-game point streak ended tonight, but you won’t hear any complaints from him, as his team continues to roll with a 6-0-1 record in its last seven games. If not for the third period meltdown against Philly at home, they’d have a seven-game string of perfection.

UP

Brad Marchand is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career amidst Boston's 6-0-1 run in last 7 games (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Brad Marchand is playing some of the best hockey of his NHL career amidst Boston’s 6-0-1 run in last 7 games (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Brad Marchand- He was not suspended for his hit from behind on Florida’s Dmitri Kulikov, and it was a good thing, as he was Boston’s top forward, playing with his trademark energy and pace. In addition to his quality assist and ENG, Marchand drew a penalty when he exploded on a breakaway, which probably should have been a penalty shot. This is the best stretch of hockey Marchand has probably played since the final two series of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Brett Connolly- Another game, another snipe. Bruins fans are starting to see why the Lightning drafted him so early in 2010, and why it took a pair of second rounders to pry him away from Steve Yzerman last February. At this rate, that price is starting to look like a bargain, and Connolly’s one-year, $1 million “prove it” deal with the B’s might result in a nice payday for him next summer if he keeps it up. Ever since moving onto a line with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson, the former WHL scoring star has been money.

Jonas Gustavsson- For people who like technically sound goalies, the Monster is going to fire up the nerves, but the veteran Swede is a perfect 3-0 and somehow makes the big saves when he needs to. Right now, he’s healthy and playing well- doing exactly what a top backup does, and his team has played well in front of him in his three starts. With all due respect to Jeremy Smith, the Bruins made the right call in signing ‘Gus’ and going with him.

Loui Eriksson- Another game, another superb three-zone effort from Eriksson. At this point, he’s Boston’s unsung hero as a winger who is bringing a lot more to the table than his scoring totals reflect. He’s forcing turnovers, creating scoring chances and making good defensive plays. His production won’t even begin to touch the player the B’s traded for him, but having him, Joe Morrow and Jimmy Hayes (acquired for Reilly Smith) takes a little of the sting out, as the trio is contributing a lot to Boston’s fortunes right now.

Adam McQuaid- This was a gritty, vintage McQuaid night, as he was blocking shots and making Tampa forwards pay for every inch of real estate in the Boston zone. Some won’t ever get past his cap hit, but when it comes to a shutdown defender who just goes out and does his job effectively, he’s getting it done.

Torey Krug- In retrospect he’s making anyone who doubted that he could play top minutes and a key role on defense foolish. Night in and night out, he’s one of Boston’s most valuable players, making plays at both ends of the ice and doing his part to get the puck out of his zone and up the ice. Tonight, he made a memorable defensive play while the Bruins were on the PP and allowed an odd-man rush the other way. He burned back on the rush, made a textbook defensive play to deny the pass and shot, then got off the ice because he expended every bit of energy to ensure the Lightning did not capitalize. Krug is here to stay and he’ll be worth every penny of that extension he’ll sign sometime after January.

Matt Beleskey- He scored a huge goal by doing the grunt work and that’s how most of his offense will come this year. He plays hard and is an opportunistic forward- he’s got to be feeling good about his decision to sign with Boston given the way the team has turned things around. Anaheim will get better too, but for now, he’s certainly not sitting around questioning why he made the decision not to accept the team’s offer to keep him in Southern California.

Nikita Kucherov- His goal was pretty much a layup, but man- this guy has a world of skill. The ‘Bolts are struggling with the offense right now, but you can bet that they’ll break out at some point and when they do, Steven Stamkos and Kucherov will likely be leading the charge. With his speed and hands, the best years are yet to come for this diamond-in-the-rough find by the Tampa scouts.

DOWN

David Pastrnak- He’s 19- there will be bumps in the road and tonight was one of them. He might be suffering the effects of a lower body injury suffered last night in Sunrise, but he was not effective tonight and only saw some three shifts in the final two periods. On the one hand- you don’t want to make too much of the struggles he’s bound to have as he continues to grow and develop at the very highest level, but at the same time- it’s a good message to by Julien to the youngster that when he’s not effective, he’s going to take a seat on the bench.

Tyler Johnson- Did not see a great deal from one of Tampa’s breakout players from a year ago. Yes, he’s banged up right now, but he did not display that dangerous element that he’s so capable of much at all. He’s the straw that stirs the drink on that “Triplets” line of Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, and he’s mired in a tough slump.

Kudos to the Bruins for giving their season a good, honest effort. Their fans are pretty consistent- they can handle losing, especially when they know their team lacks the pure talent to hang with the NHL’s powers, but the losing has to be accompanied with an effort. This B’s club played hard even with the tough three losses to open the year but they’ve been a gritty, opportunistic bunch since.

It’s still going to be a dogfight to get into the playoffs come April, but like the 2007-08 Bruins demonstrated- the effort can compensate for quite a bit. And credit Julien and his staff for getting the players to compete. He’s not just coaching like a guy on the hot seat- he’s trying different things and has these guys believing in themselves with a power play that encourages a lot of puck movement and a willingness to take chances. So far, the pucks are ending up in the net and the wins are coming with regularity.

There are 72 games left on the schedule, but if you had told us in August that this club would begin the year with a 6-3-1 record, most would take that and smile.

Final buzzer: Bruins extend road win streak in South Florida

Patrice Bergeron is Boston's "Mr Everything"  (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Patrice Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything” (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins kicked off a two-game road swing in the Sunshine State by beating the Florida Panthers by a 3-1 score in the first of back-to-back nights with the Tampa Bay Lightning up tomorrow.

Brad Marchand tallied a pair of goals and played a superb game overall, while Tuukka Rask continued his career dominance over the Panthers, posting his 16th win against just two losses in making 32 saves. Zdeno Chara also scored his first goal of the year, one of two power play goals as the B’s continued their red-hot play with the man advantage this season with 11 in just nine games.

David Krejci extended his point streak to nine games and 15 overall) with an assist on the Chara goal. His shot on net in the second period was kicked out to Chara, sneaking in the backdoor, and the captain put it in the open side past Roberto Luongo to give the B’s a 3-0 lead.

When the Bruins got into penalty trouble a short time later, Nick Bjugstad scored while Florida was on a 2-man advantage to make it 3-1. When Adam McQuaid cleared a puck over the glass and took a delay of game penalty, the Panthers had another 5-on-3 power play but couldn’t get any closer thanks to several tremendous stops by Rask.

Boston thought they added to the lead later in the frame when McQuaid blasted a shot home, but the referees waved it off due to incidental contact by Loui Eriksson with Luongo.

Marchand giveth, but he taketh away, too- as he was whistled for a five-minute major and game misconduct for boarding Panthers defenseman Dimitri Kulikov with a little under three minutes left. Assessed another match penalty after one earlier this season, he’s got an automatic suspension pending review from the league.

With Luongo pulled and the Panthers on a 6-on-4 advantage, they were unable to penetrate a solid penalty killing box, as the Bruins paid the price by blocking shots and collapsing back to deny the home team quality shooting lanes and looks. When the B’s needed a clear, they could just rifle it the length of the ice without an icing call and were able to bleed the clock down to secure the victory.

UP

Tuukka Rask- Give it to Boston’s No. 1. If he wasn’t tested all that much against Arizona, he certainly faced more quality shots tonight, making 17 superb saves in the final frame to frustrate the Panthers en route to a .970 save percentage for the night. He only stopped seven in the first period, but they were challenging and allowed the B’s to take a lead. He has righted the ship after a brutal start and this was a quality start for the 28-year-old. His confidence is back and so is that of his team, and for the Bruins it could not have come at a better time.

Brad Marchand- His final shift aside, this might have been one of the best games we’ve seen from Boston’s little buzzsaw in a long time. His first goal was a deflection of a Chara point shot, driving the puck down and past Luongo. His second goal was even better; after getting knocked down in the corner by Eric Gudbranson, he got up, beat Gudbranson to the front of the net, took a pass from Torey Krug and then sped around Luongo to tuck it into the far side.

Zdeno Chara- Scored his first goal of the year and assisted on Marchand’s first period power play tally. The Bruins are just a different team and defense when he is in the lineup and that’s a fact. Yes, he’s not as mobile or effective as he was in his prime, but with his size, reach and experience, Chara still gets the job done. On one sequence, he simply shoved Vincent Trocheck off the puck and then made the clear himself. Why? Because he can.

Patrice Bergeron- Boston’s veteran center had an assist, but his impact was felt everywhere that the game was won- primarily in the trenches as he won key defensive zone face-offs at clutch times, made the smart passes and plays when the B’s needed them and came back after a scare when he took an Alex Petrovic slapper off the thigh and immediately went down the tunnel. He’s the team MVP and while he didn’t have the productive night others did, this game might have a different outcome without him out there doing the little things.

Nick Bjugstad- You can see why NHL scouts were so high on his raw potential back in 2010. He’s so big and long-limbed that he gets up the ice effortlessly and has a real nose for the net. He beat two Bruins to the puck on his goal and nearly had a second goal on the night with a first period breakaway where he showed an impressive separation burst and forced Rask to make one of his best saves of the night.

DOWN

Brad Marchand- You can argue the validity of the call (and even then- good luck with that), but why does Marchand seem to put himself in these situations? It didn’t come back to haunt the Bruins, but e’s facing supplementary discipline from the league, and that will hurt the team because he’s playing some of the best hockey of his career.

Roberto Luongo- Remember when this guy was a Bruins killer? Ever since his 2011 Stanley Cup Finals meltdown when he whined about Tim Thomas not pumping his tires enough and was subsequently lit up in Games 6 and 7, Luongo has been a mere mortal against the B’s. He was pretty mediocre tonight, while Rask was outstanding at the other end. Bobby Lu just can’t seem to catch a break. And what’s up with that mask? Looks like Ms. Laroque’s third grade art class came up with the concept.