B’s losing skid hits 4 games

The heat is on.

The Boston Bruins went into Madison Square Garden after losing all three games on their California road trip last week and promptly got behind the 8-ball in a 2-0 hole (thanks to goals by Mats Zuccarello and Derek Stepan) before ultimately falling by a 5-2 score.

The game’s complexion changed when Lee Stempniak had a 1st period goal wiped off the board on a coach’s challenge when Brad Marchand was ruled offside on the initial zone entry. Although the play developed much later and Marchand preceding the puck did’t have much of anything to do with Stempniak’s eventual tally, the rule is the rule and replay clearly showed Marchand did not have control of the puck when he crossed the blue line before the puck did. Instead of 2-1, the game remained 2-0 after one period of play.

Milton, Massachusetts native and former Cushing Academy star Keith Yandle assisted on both Rangers goals to stake his team to the early lead, including a superb feed to Stepan on the second strike, looking one way then putting the puck on the forward’s tape for the two-goal lead. It didn’t help that the Rangers seemed to get the benefit of some early ticky-tack calls that always seem to go against the Bruins, but complaining about the inconsistencies in officiating is tired and worn out- death, taxes and the other guys getting more power plays than Boston has become so much background noise and the team has to find ways to overcome that. There’s no grand conspiracy by the men in stripes against the Bruins when it comes to penalties, but we’re not likely to get much in the way of consistent applications of the rules, either. For whatever reason- it is what it is.

Tuukka Rask started the game, though he had been battling flu-like symptoms. He took himself out of it after 20 minutes, leaving Jonas Gustavsson to try and keep the Bruins in it.

Gustavsson was in a tough spot when the Rangers made it 3-0 on a blistering shot by Derick Brassard (his 26th) before the B’s could answer with a goal of their own when Stempniak scored his second tally as a Bruin.

Patrice Bergeron started the play when he took the puck away from Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, who made an ill-advised attempt to try to chip the puck past the NHL’s top defensive forward. Bergeron forced the turnover then passed it over to Marchand on the left side. He then deftly put the puck to the far post where Stempniak was positioned for the easy tap-in.

That set the stage for another decision that would not go Boston’s way after it appeared initially that a sprawling Henrik Lundqvist had denied Stempniak with his glove on a brilliant goal line save. However, replay convincingly showed that Lundqvist’s glove was behind the goal line and in the net when the puck looked like it crossed the line and ended up inside the glove before he pulled it back on the right side of the line. The review went to Toronto and league replay officials ruled that there was no “conclusive evidence” to overturn the initial call on the ice of no goal. So, instead of a 3-3 game and Stempniak hat trick, the score remained 3-1.

Rangers forward J.T. Miller scored in the third period to make it 4-1, but Frank Vatrano responded with his 7th goal of the season and first since being called up this week from Providence. Unfortunately, the B’s had no more comeback magic and Rick Nash closed out the scoring with an empty-netter. He blew by David Krejci after the B’s won a faceoff in the Rangers’ end, but puck skipped by the veteran center near the offensive blue line and it turned into a footrace that Krejci lost.

The Bruins now find themselves squarely on the horns of a dilemma: they’ve lost four games in a row for the first time all season. It isn’t like they played poorly last night- they outshot the Rangers 41-24 but Rask was not 100 percent and if he wasn’t he should not have been in net- that’s on him and Claude Julien for making that decision. It might or might not have made a difference, but Rask left the game with his club in an 0-2 deficit after playing a strong opening period.

As for the wiped out goals, the B’s continue to come out on the short end of the byzantine replay processes that the NHL presides over. I’ve watched various games all season and I still can’t figure out how the decisions are made to uphold or remove goals from contest to contest. The entire process seems pretty subjective, but the Bruins are bound by the system the NHL has, not the one we’d like the league to employ. The negated goal is understandable and the Bruins have themselves to blame for allowing for a coach’s challenge which has served to bring games to a screeching halt and kill momentum. By rule, it was the right call to wipe out the first Stempniak goal because Marchand was clearly offside. However, his being offside had nothing to do with the actual play that resulted in the goal. Bottom line- since the zone entry was improper in the first place, the goal has to come off the board, but sometimes, linesmen miss calls like that and goals stand- the coach’s challenge, as constructed, does more harm than good. Law of unintended consequences- the self-imposed delays while referees review the various angles and replays aren’t good for the game. And, we’ve seen instances where, despite clear evidence to uphold or reverse the call, that they’ve made the opposite ruling. The challenge is flawed- the NHL should tweak and fix the gaps in the process or scrap it altogether.

The third Stempniak goal gets back to inconsistency. I think even the most ardent Rangers fans would look at the replays and concede that was a goal, even if by definition, the NHL was able to invoke the “inconclusive” clause to uphold the call on the ice. The commentators (Pierre McGuire perhaps?) had it right when they talked about common sense showing that the puck was in the net before Lundqvist snatched his glove back over the line, and it’s completely understandable that the on-ice official would give him the benefit of that call- it was a tremendous play typical of King Henrik’s Hall of Fame-caliber career. However, that’s no consolation to the Bruins, who can make an equally compelling case that the replay showed that puck was in the Ranger goalie’s glove when his glove was on the wrong side of the goal line. If we have the technology and we aren’t going to use it, then what is the point of having replay at all?  Just give all the power to the referees in a game and don’t give false credence to a farce that the NHL is dedicated to making the right call when it’s right in front of them. Either rewrite the rule to allow for common sense to prevail in a situation like that or don’t have replay…it’s that simple.

Ultimately, though- the B’s now have to play the rested Florida Panthers at home tonight. The TD Garden environs have not been kind to them this season and this could get ugly if the B’s don’t put in a top effort. The way things have gone, an effort won’t be enough for the ever-growing-surly fans, who want to be rewarded with a winning performance. The B’s have had the effort of late, but don’t have anything to show for it. The offense, once clicking along at an impressive rate (third in the league before the road trip) has now gone south. The defense continues to be an adventure- they limited New York’s shots last night, but the Rangers capitalized on the quality chances Boston gave them, burying several goals from in close when B’s players didn’t cover the eventual goal scorers.

On one final note- Boston will recognize Claude Julien in a pre-game ceremony for becoming the team’s all-time winningest coach, passing Art Ross to sit alone atop the B’s coaching victories list as he closes in on 400 (but won’t get there this year). It’s a nice sentiment and one he deserves given the job he’s done with this roster and its limitations. The team needs to dig down deep to earn him a win and buy some breathing room as folks are getting antsy and looking back to last year.

I personally believe the Bruins will hold on and make the playoffs. They’re too hard-working to not eke out the points they need to get in. But as has been said all year, at some point, talent and depth will trump hard work and desire. Boston is on the right track and making the playoffs will be a good experience for the players, but Don Sweeney and the team understand the club’s shortcomings.

The sad thing about the loss in New York City last night is that the Bruins played well enough to win. They had plenty of chances to score and two goals that weren’t would have made all the difference. Vatrano, whom I thought would have been fine staying in Providence to soak up top minutes in all situations looks like he belongs in Boston. His snipe was vintage Vatrano- he slipped into a seam in the Rangers defense  and with no one on him, buried a laser beam just inside the short side post before Lundqvist could react. Kid’s a keeper.

The B’s left two points on the table in a game they most certainly could have had. It’s hard enough to beat the Rangers, but when you’re having to work agains the refs and the off-ice officials as well, you’re left with last night’s result.

That kind of a game can be a morale crusher, so it will be crucial for them to not come home tonight and lay an egg in a critical division game. If that happens, then we won’t only bear witness to a five-game losing streak but a snowball effect in Boston that will create an oppressive climate from now until the club’s next game in Toronto on Saturday.

The Bruins must find a way to get some wins.

Boulevard of Broken Dreams- Bruins drafts 2007-09

2009The While working out this morning I was listening to my sleaze rock/hair metal playlist and a song by Finnish glam band Hanoi Rocks provided some inspiration. Here’s what sprang up from one of Michael Monroe (Matti Fagerholm) and Co.’s signature songs.

Three years of draft futility didn’t have an immediate impact on the Boston Bruins’ fortunes, but after winning the Stanley Cup in 2011, the lack of production from 17 total picks from 2007-09 has caught up to the team. Blown drafts are nothing new to NHL clubs- every single team has had at least one in their history, with a surprising number of clubs faring poorly over a stretch. It happens. However, in the old days (read: pre salary cap era), richer clubs could at least attempt to buy back draft mistakes through free agency (didn’t work so great for the late 90’s New York Rangers). Now, with the importance of having impact talent on cheaper ELC deals and the necessity of building a quality supporting cast from within, nobody can afford to string together multiple busted drafts as Boston did early in former GM Peter Chiarelli’s tenure.

Here’s a quick look at three bad draft years with hindsight being 20/20 and who the B’s should have taken when they had the chance.

2007

Background: After striking it rich in Vancouver a year earlier with Phil Kessel and Tuukka Rask (Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand had yet to pay off, but that haul made 2006 the best single draft class in about 26 years when the team strung together two brilliant summers in 1979-80) the B’s regressed under coach Dave Lewis, missing the playoffs in Chiarelli’s first Boston season. The eighth pick put them out of range for the guys they reportedly wanted, but a top-10 selection nonetheless came with high expectations.

Who they wanted: London Knights forward Sam Gagner (Edmonton) and the Halifax Mooseheads’ Jakub Voracek (Columbus) both went off the board in the immediate picks prior to Boston’s selection. Gagner made the NHL at 18 but has stagnated, while Voracek was traded to the Flyers and has emerged as one of the league’s better offensive players over the past three seasons.

Who they took: Zach Hamill, C Everett Silvertips. Ouch. At the time, I felt Hamill was a solid pick because he had just led the WHL in scoring at age 18 while playing in a defense-heavy system under former NHL coach Kevin Constantine. What I and most didn’t know is that Hamill had some personality/off-ice challenges that made him a risky pick right off the bat. Suffice to say that his lack of speed and strength were big enough hurdles to overcome and he just didn’t have enough skill to overcome that. He finished his Bruins career in parts of three NHL seasons with just 20 games and four assists; he was traded to Washington for Chris Bourque in 2012, but never saw another NHL shift.

Who they should have taken: Logan Couture, C Ottawa 67’s. Double ouch. The San Jose Sharks knew a deal of the century when they saw one and jumped up to the ninth overall selection behind Boston to grab the OHL star. The All-Star has played in 379 games entering the 2015-16 NHL season with 139 goals and 287 points plus another 18 goals, 36 points in 56 career playoff games. Injuries have interfered with Couture’s production, but for the most part, he’s been everything you want in a top-10 pick and more. Couture here over Jamie Benn is based purely on how the players were projected in 2007, not now. More on Benn below…

The best available player (to Boston) of that draft:  Jamie Benn, C- Dallas Stars 5th round, 129th overall. Benn is exhibit A for how some players don’t hit their stride until after drafted at 17-18. In a re-draft today, Benn goes behind Patrick Kane, and maybe even edges him out for the top pick given his production of late- I’ll leave that debate to others. To know that the Bruins drafted Hamill, Tommy Cross before him is rubbing salt in the wounds. Hey- it’s not all bad, at least German bust Dennis Reul was selected with the pick immediately *after* Benn in the 5th round and not before (the Bruins didn’t have picks in the 3rd or 4th rounds).

The picks: 8- Hamill (20gp, 4 assists), 35- Cross (0 NHL gp), 130- Reul (0 NHL gp), 159- Alain Goulet (0 NHL gp), 169- Radim Ostricil (0 NHL gp), 189- Jordan Knackstedt (0 NHL gp)

The verdict: With 2 picks in the top-35 and just 20 games to show for six selections overall, this is one of Boston’s all-time poorest drafts. Yes, 2007 was not a great year, but imagine what this team would look like if they took Couture or Benn in the 1st and then P.K. Subban in the 2nd.

2008

Background: The B’s surged into the playoffs late and gave a good fight to the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round, going down in seven games but making it fun to be a Bruins fan again. With the 16th overall pick in what was considered a better draft in Ottawa than the year before, the team was looking at a pick with a longer-term payoff.

Who they wanted: Joe Colborne. The Bruins scouted the AJHL standout heavily that season, and so it was no real surprise that they ended up with him, as the team was essentially bidding against themselves. Not many clubs were reported to be as high on the talented but enigmatic center as Boston was.

Who they took: Joe Colborne, C Camrose Kodiaks. No surprise as said above– he was a talented gamble of a player who was controversial for questions over his fire and competitive drive because of his family’s wealth. I always felt that criticism was unfair and while Colborne has reached the NHL after being traded away from Boston and Toronto, he’s not anywhere near the player the Bruins thought they were getting. They moved him in spring of 2011 with picks to the Leafs for veteran defenseman Tomas Kaberle. In a good news/bad news scenario, the B’s won the Cup but in spite of Kaberle not because of him. He helped, but wasn’t the player Boston hoped for. Luckily, neither Colborne, nor the picks the B’s traded have come back to bite them.

Who they should have taken: Jordan Eberle, RW Regina Pats. Eberle’s star has fallen a bit in recent seasons, but he’s still the kind of speedy scoring forward that would have been a fine fit with the B’s.

The best available player (to Boston) of that draft: Derek Stepan, C Shattuck St. Mary’s. The Rangers got a steal with him at 51st overall…the B’s opted for speedy but hockey IQ-challenged Max Sauve instead in the second round. Capitals defenseman John Carlson (27th) is also in the discussion.

Hit: Michael Hutchinson, G Barrie Colts- 77th overall pick in the 3rd round was a good one as he emerged to help lead the Winnipeg Jets to their first playoff berth since the club moved to Canada and overall since 2008 when they were the Atlanta Thrashers. In fairness to Boston, he was inconsistent, alternating in Providence between brilliance and profound mediocrity, and never established himself as a No. 1 at that level in three seasons as a Bruins prospect, but just think how different their season would have been last year with ‘Hutch’ as the backup instead of Niklas Svedberg.

The picks: 16- Colborne (160gp 19-43-62-83- TOR, CGY), 47- Sauve (1gp), 77- Hutchinson (41gp 23-11-5, .918), 97- Jamie Arniel (1gp), 173- Nicolas Tremblay (0 NHL gp), 197- Mark Goggin (0 NHL gp)

The verdict: Colborne at least made it and helped the Bruins acquire a small championship piece, but nothing to show for Hutchinson and lack of success anywhere else (Former OHL forward Rob Flick– acquired for Sauve- was not re-signed) makes this another draft failure for Boston.

2009

Background: As the B’s headed to Montreal for the draft they had plans to make a splash by trading disgruntled star Kessel, reportedly to the Leafs for Tomas Kaberle and a top-10 selection. Apparently Leafs GM Brian Burke didn’t get the memo about the pick and even thought the Bruins were going to give them their first-rounder (25th overall), but this is hearsay. Bottom line- the deal fell through though Burke would pay a higher price for Kessel a few months later, while Boston held their first and hoped to do something with it after a great regular season and second-round playoff flameout vs. the upstart Carolina Hurricanes.

Who they wanted: Rumors abound that the B’s would have used that Leafs first-rounder on OHL power forward Zack Kassian. At the time, he was being compared to Lucic as a player with the physical prowess and skill to make a difference in all facets of the game. It hasn’t happened for him yet, and B’s fans can be glad that Kaberle and Kassian were not the trade returns the team got for Kessel, though Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton and their ultimate fates as Bruins are a discussion for another day.

Who they took: Jordan Caron, RW Rimouski Oceanic. Sometimes, a player looks like absolutely the right fit and things just don’t work out. Anyone who says they questioned Caron at the time is probably writing revisionist history, because though his skating issues were documented, Caron also had some of the better hands and pure finishing skills of anyone in the draft class. He even made an early impact in Boston, coming up during the 2010-11 season and flashing some impressive scoring on a few plays. Unfortunately, he never seemed to put it together during his time in Providence, and when in Boston, his play (and Claude Julien’s confidence in him) regressed to the point that by 2014-15, he was a popular internet message board whipping boy. When Caron was dealt to Colorado for Max Talbot, most looked back at the pick and felt like he was the can’t miss prospect who did exactly that.

Who they should have taken:  Ryan O’Reilly, C Erie Otters. The 33rd overall pick made the NHL right away and developed into the gritty, two-way forward and heavy player that suits the Boston style so well. He has since been traded to Buffalo and landed in hot water with the law recently, but on the ice, he’s tough to play against and can provide timely scoring, something Caron was never able to do.

The picks: 25- Caron (153gp 12-16-28-78), 86- Ryan Button (0 NHL gp), 112- Lane MacDermid (21gp 2-2-4-36), 176- Tyler Randell (0 NHL gp), 206- Ben Sexton (0 NHL gp)

The verdict: Again, not much to show for the draft picks, though Caron, Button (part of the Seguin trade) and MacDermid (part of Jaromir Jagr trade) all fetched return assets for the Bruins, so it’s not a total wash. Still- teams don’t draft players with the idea of making them trade chips. Randell and Sexton are still in the Boston system, but neither flash anything more than potential as NHL journeymen/role players, so another missed year in 2009 looks like fait accompli.

Conclusion: It’s easy to go back and play Monday Morning GM 8, 7 and 6 years later, and the Bruins are far from the only ones who have hosed up drafts in multiple years (hey- Vancouver, Phoenix, Calgary and so on- here’s looking at you!), but this is what we tend to do. After the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the team began a natural progression downwards without fresh, young, skilled talent to replace aging veterans. To the B’s credit they got back to the finals in 2013 but could not beat a superior Chicago Blackhawks squad that had effectively re-tooled after winning it all in 2010 and captured another Cup this past June. The Blackhawks have done a great job of hitting on drafts, which was essential to their keeping enough talent in the system to off-set salary cap-driven personnel moves. They’ll be an interesting team to watch with their new look.

As for Boston- those missed years from 2007-09 forced the Bruins to play catch up and while the 2010-14 drafts have been more productive with talent yet to sink or swim, the team’s future may ultimately lie with how well the club did in 2015- with 10 picks, 6 of them in the top-52.

Here is Michael Monroe and Hanoi Rocks to bring it on home…