2015-16 Boston Bruins in Red Line over the years

I have every Red Line Report draft guide going back to 1999, the first year that the service issued the guide in its known format.

Periodically, I go back and look at what the draft year scouting reports and rankings looked like, so I thought that to help get the juices flowing in anticipation for the 2016 draft (as if the B’s draft strategy post from last night wasn’t enough, right?) I’d do the exercise for all of you here on the blog and take a trip in the wayback machine (or in the case of David Pastrnak– not so wayback) and see what you all think.

I’ll do it in numerical order on the Boston roster, so here we go:

11- Jimmy Hayes, RW Drafted: 2008 (2nd round- Toronto)

Red Line ranking: 146

Key comment: “Huge kid with good hands has wasted a lot of talent.”

2016 verdict: At the time, 146 was excessively low for where the Leafs drafted Hayes, but he hasn’t exactly proven RLR wrong, either. Few players did more to frustrate observers this season than Hayes. He’s huge but doesn’t play to his size, but the biggest issue was with how his offense cratered at crunch time. It’s tough to play with heightened expectations and pressures that come with coming home to be on the team you dreamed of skating for, but Hayes has the raw material to at least become a more consistent contributor going forward without the profound peaks and valleys he went through.

14- Brett Connolly, RW Drafted: 2010 (1st round- Tampa Bay)

Red Line ranking: 13

Key comment: “Great talent; only injury keeps him out of top-5.”

2016 verdict: Connolly has been anything but a “great” talent as a pro. It’s hard to fathom where the sixth overall selection six years ago went wrong, but he might be out of time in Boston, even though he only recently turned 24. If the B’s could figure out a way to get him going, it would be huge for them. He’s been a huge disappointment thus far, if not an outright bust given how highly regarded he was by just about everyone in 2010.

20- Lee Stempniak, RW Drafted: 2003 (5th round- St. Louis)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: Oversight! Stempniak has been a serviceable NHL winger since breaking in with the Blues in 2005-06 after Dartmouth. He’s played almost 800 career NHL games for 9 teams- the modern-era Brent Ashton.

21- Loui Eriksson, RW/LW Drafted: 2003 (2nd round- Dallas)

Red Line ranking: 59

Key comment: “Came on like gangbusters down the stretch.”

2016 verdict: Eriksson was one of Boston’s top players last season, and despite not being traded at the deadline, was a good Bruin after being the central piece in the disastrous Tyler Seguin return from 2013. At 31, he’s set to cash in on a free agent payday, which means it won’t happen in Boston, but he’s performed well ahead of the 59th overall projection from 13 years ago.

23- Chris Kelly, C/W  Drafted: 1999 (3rd round- Ottawa)

Red Line ranking: 78

Key comment: “Tenacious and relentless in puck pursuit.”

2016 verdict: Although a broken femur cost Kelly all but 11 games of the 2015-16 season, he has gone on to have a successful NHL career as a checking center who was a key contributor to Boston’s Stanley Cup championship in 2011. The veteran has been a Boston scapegoat because of the 4-year contract extension he got in 2012 coming off a career-best 20 goals, but he’s been pretty much exactly what RLR said he would be and has always brought character and leadership to any team he’s been on.

26- John-Michael Liles, D Drafted: 2000 (5th round- Colorado)

Red Line ranking: 159

Key comment: “Another small offensively-skilled d-man.”

2016 verdict: After being drafted 159th overall, the Avalanche took Liles exactly where RLR had him in their 2000 draft guide. 800 NHL games later, Liles has shown that the size bias that clearly existed 16 years ago had little impact on his ability to play at the highest level. He’s been a successful puck-moving, offensive defenseman over the life of his career, albeit one who is a complementary piece and more of a power play performer than a true difference-maker at present.

29- Landon Ferraro, LW Drafted: 2009 (2nd round- Detroit)

Red Line ranking: 38

Key comment: “Everybody like’s Ray’s kid more than we do.”

2016 verdict: Looks like RLR was onto something…Originally projected as a top-six scorer at the NHL level, Ferraro finally established himself at in the big show after Boston plucked him from the Red Wings off of waivers. However, seven years after being one of the first picks of the second round, he looks like a capable grinder, but has demonstrated none of the impressive upside he had in his draft year with Red Deer. Speedy and smart, Ferraro doesn’t have the high-end skills to be a top scorer, but looks like a solid role player who will likely bounce around.

30- Jeremy Smith, G Drafted:  2007 (2nd round- Nashville)

Red Line ranking: 29

Key comment: “Long, lean flexible netminder is the best of a mediocre crop.”

2016 verdict: Yikes! First-round billing even with that caveat for a player who has yet to play an NHL game. Although, for what it’s worth- Scott Darling is the only goalie of note to come out of the 1989-born class. Smith, who came to Boston as a free agent two years ago, has yet to suit up for an NHL game, although he’s been very good in the AHL.

33- Zdeno Chara, D Drafted: 1996 (3rd round- NY Islanders)

Red Line ranking: not available

2016 verdict: Future HHOFer and Stanley Cup champion has been Boston’s captain since the 6-9 d-man signed a decade ago, but Father Time has caught up to him. The great draft value pick (77th overall) by Mike Milbury 20 years ago turns 40 this season and Boston’s priority must be to surround him with a better supporting cast. Given how low he was out of the radar in Slovakia, it is doubtful he would have been high on anyone’s list back then.

37- Patrice Bergeron, C Drafted: 2003 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 71

Key comment: “Not big or fast but smart and productive.”

2016 verdict: Missed opportunity! When I was scouting the U18s with my Red Line boss Kyle Woodlief, the subject of Bergeron came up and he ruefully admitted that he missed on him rankings-wise. Woodlief really liked him (as evidenced by the comment above) but said Bergeron had two things working against him at the time: 1- he had only played the 1 season in the QMJHL in his draft year after spending his 16-YO year in midget AAA; and 2- Acadie-Bathurst is an out-of-the-way hockey backwater. No excuses- RLR got it wrong, but the Bruins and Scott Bradley didn’t, at the time “reaching” for Patrice when other sexier names were available (the team used the compensation pick they got from the NHL when Bill Guerin bolted for Dallas to take Bergeron, btw). He wanted Bergeron in the 1st round that year, but the team knew they could roll the dice and get him at 45 whereas Mark Stuart would not have been there for them in the 2nd. If they had known how important Bergeron would be to this franchise, they never would have risked it, but that’s the draft for you. Bergeron’s #37 will one day hang from the TD Garden rafters, and he’s got a shot at the Hockey Hall of Fame when all is said and done. As Chris Kelly likes to say, Bergeron is Boston’s “Mr Everything”- a modern-day Milt Schmidt if you will.

39- Matt Beleskey, LW Drafted: 2006 (4th round- Anaheim)

Red Line ranking: 122

Key comment: “Playing against him is like nails on a chalkboard.”

2016 verdict: Correctly projected for the draft, but a little low given what he provides as a solid third-liner. After signing as a free agent last July, the former Belleville Bull was arguably Boston’s most consistent player wire-to-wire last season, he delivered what the team was looking for. Obviously, you’d like to see more goals after he topped the 20-goal mark the previous year with the Ducks, but he set a new high in assists and points, provided a large amount of hits and was that gritty leader by example type the Bruins need.

40- Tuukka Rask, G Drafted: 2005 (1st round- Toronto)

Red Line ranking: 14

Key comment: “Wins our annual Mr. Gumby flexibility award.”

2016 verdict: The former Vezina Trophy winner had an up and down season but Carey Price and Rask were RLR’s top goalies in the 2005 draft and that’s how it’s played out in their careers as both have been recognized as the top player at their position (with Price earning a league MVP nod as well). When on top of his game, Rask is an elite puck stopper, but he’s also shown that like most, with a porous defense in front of him, he can’t carry the team on his back. It will be interesting to see what the Bruins do with him in the long term, as he turns 30 next March and will be in the fourth of the seven-year extension he signed in 2013 that is a $7-million annual chunk of change on Boston’s cap.

 

44- Dennis Seidenberg, D Drafted: 2001 (6th round- Philadelphia)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: It was a tough season for the game but rapidly declining German. He signed a four-year, $16M extension in the 2013-14 season, only to suffer a catastrophic knee injury shortly thereafter, costing him the rest of the campaign. He hasn’t been the same player since, losing mobility (he wasn’t ever a plus skater to begin with) and effectiveness as an aging defender who struggles to be the effective shutdown presence he was from 2010-14. The B’s could be looking at trading him or buying him out (he has two years remaining on his contract at $4M per), but he’s been counted on to log a lot of minutes on the second pairing without much effectiveness over the last two seasons.

 

45- Joe Morrow, D Drafted: 2011 (1st round- Pittsburgh)

Red Line ranking: 30

Key comment: “Few made bigger strides than this fine puck mover.”

2016 verdict: It looks like RLR had it right, as Morrow has made the NHL and shows flashes, but has not yet established himself as a regular. The Penguins made Morrow their top choice in 2011 (23rd overall) after he impressed with his skating, passing and shot as a member of the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. He was dealt to Dallas for veteran Brenden Morrow (no relation) in 2013. He was then moved to Boston as part of the Seguin trade a few months later on July 4. The skating and the passing are clearly evident, but Morrow has not asserted himself all that much in the Boston lineup, playing a relatively conservative brand of game. The more you watch him, the more you start to come to the conclusion that he’s essentially a complementary 4/5 defender who could thrive on a deeper blue line corps, but isn’t going to emerge as a top performer and one who can carry the mail.

 

46- David Krejci, C Drafted: 2004 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 130

Key comment: “Tiny but great hockey sense.”

2016 verdict: Like Bergeron, the B’s got outstanding value from a player who was ranked far too low by Red Line in his draft year. In fact, Krejci wasn’t really regarded by anyone- Central Scouting rated him just 21st overall on their Euro ranking behind such luminaries Rostislav Olesz, Lauri Tukonen, Kirill Lyamin and Sergei Ogorodnikov to name a few. Because Boston had traded their first- and second-round picks that year to Washington for Sergei Gonchar, Krejci’s selection at the end of the second round (from Los Angeles via Detroit for Jozef Stumpel in a deal made a year earlier at the 2003 draft) was met with a collective shrug, but 12 years later, he’s broken into Boston’s all-time top-20 scorers list and has been one of the team’s best offensive players during his tenure. Unfortunately for Krejci, his hot start cooled off considerably, aided by a hip injury that required offseason surgery. Because he’s got a small frame, the physical toll on him is starting to catch up, making his $7.25M annual cap hit and lengthy extension done by Peter Chiarelli in the 2014-15 season something to watch. On sheer achievement alone, however- Krejci’s career numbers (even better in the playoffs when Boston has gotten in) have made his draft rankings look silly. After Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin, who went 1-2 overall that year, Krejci is the third most productive player of the 2004 class.

 

47- Torey Krug, D Undrafted: 2012 (Free Agent- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: The undersized former Michigan State captain posted career highs for assists and points, but his goal totals fell off a cliff, finishing with just four tallies. Despite being a productive defenseman not only in the USHL, where he helped the Indiana Ice win a Clark Cup championship, but in three seasons at Michigan State where he was named captain in just his second year in East Lansing, Krug got nary a sniff on anyone’s rankings. In hindsight, he was dinged for size bias, but has become a go-to player for the Bruins since they signed him in the spring of 2012 and he burst onto the NHL scene against the Rangers in the second round of the 2013 playoffs. He’s due a new contract, but as currently constructed, no one else on the Boston defense can do what Krug can. With the right partner, he could be even more effective and productive than he’s been so far. The low goal totals were an aberration, but consider this- if he had scored his usual 12-15 markers this past season, he’d be in line to get a lot more on his next deal. The down season in goals might be a blessing in disguise for Boston when it comes to negotiations, but anyone who doesn’t think he’ll get $5M at least is fooling themselves. The B’s will pay the market rate and if Minnesota’s Jared Spurgeon got it, so will Krug- he’s a better player.

 

48- Colin Miller, D Drafted:2012 (5th round- Los Angeles)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: Swing and a miss for RLR on a player who was first eligible in 2011 and played very little for the Soo Greyhounds but caught the eye of the Kings after attending their development camp and was drafted a year later. Acquired in the Milan Lucic trade, Miller made the big club out of camp but had trouble staying in the lineup. He has some of the most impressive skills of any Boston defenseman but his defensive instincts and decision-making are a work in progress. Many fans wanted “Chiller” in the lineup over Kevan “Killer” Miller, but the Boston coaches saw things differently. The younger Miller has the ever-desired upside, but he’s also got a lot to learn about playing the position, as he was a healthy scratch down in Providence during the season after being sent down. This is the kind of thing that fans sometimes don’t pick up on- it’s one thing for the Boston coaches to pull a player from the lineup, but when the AHL coaches do as well, then there’s obviously something there that the player isn’t doing. Miller still has impressive potential as a late-born 1992, but he benefited from shiny new toy syndrome last year. Now, he needs to work to demonstrate his value and worth as a two-way D, not just someone who can bring the offense.

 

50- Jonas Gustavsson, G Undrafted: 2009 (Free Agent- Toronto)

Red Line ranking: 1*- on RLR draft guide’s top-10 European free agents list

Key comment: “Extremely flexible and smooth side-to-side.”

2016 verdict: “The Monster” was the top free agent target in 2009 and got a big ticket deal with the Leafs, but never really had the kind of anticipated impact given his tremendous performance in Sweden before coming over. Injuries have contributed to him never really establishing himself as a top-flight No. 1 in the NHL, but after being a training camp invite last year, he played well for the Bruins as a backup. It is unfortunate that in the last game of the season against Ottawa, when Rask couldn’t go due to illness and the B’s took a 1-0 lead, that Gustavsson ended up playing a pretty mediocre game. The team collapsed in front of him, but he didn’t do them many favors, either. Don’t expect a reprise for the 31-year-old in Boston this year.

 

51- Ryan Spooner, C Drafted: 2010 (2nd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 29

Key comment: “Creative playmaker was derailed by injury.”

2016 verdict: A power play weapon, Spooner had his peaks and valleys at even strength but completed his first full NHL season by establishing career highs in all categories. He was drafted 45th overall in 2010, and in retrospect, he should have been picked 32nd overall by Boston with Jared Knight going at 45 (well, if the team had a do-over Knight wouldn’t have been picked at all in the round, but spilt milk). Spooner has outperformed some ranked before him and many after, but it has taken him a while to establish himself in Claude Julien’s system. Truth be told- Bruins fans are fortunate that he’s still in the organization given the way things appeared to be headed in early 2015. He’s got the NHL talent to be a top-two center, but in Boston, he’s got to figure out how to be consistent and impactful as their third-line guy. T’s worth noting that when Krejci was injured in late December and Spooner moved to the second line for several weeks, he played the best NHL hockey of his career.

 

54- Adam McQuaid, D Drafted: 2005 (2nd round- Columbus)

Red Line ranking: 68

Key comment: “Nobody talks about him but he has good raw tools.”

2016 verdict: When it comes to toughness and rugged play on the back end, they don’t come much more game than “Quaider.” He was a surprise late second-round pick by Columbus but his skating was an even bigger issue then than it is now. Facing the prospect of not signing him and losing him to free agency, the Blue Jackets traded McQuaid to Boston in late May, 2007 for a fifth-round pick. That draft choice, subsequently flipped to Dallas, ended up being none other than Jamie Benn. Go figure. McQuaid is a great guy- one of the best I have covered on the Bruins in my 16 years with NEHJ, but he’s limited and has never played a complete, injury-free season. Oh, and he turns 30 in October, too. There have been whispers that at least one NHL team has expressed interest in him, so don’t be surprised to see a trade at some point this offseason. It would at least begin to explain why the Bruins locked up Kevan Miller.

 

62- Zach Trotman, D Drafted: 2010 (7th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Not ranked

2016 verdict: The final player selected in the 2010 NHL draft has appeared in games with Boston for each of the past three seasons, but this could be it for the Indiana native and Lake Superior State product. He has NHL size and skating, but found himself often the odd-man out on a crowded blue line with similar mid-to-lower tier defenders who all bring something similar to the table. Trotman worked hard to reach the NHL and is a solid citizen who could hook on in a different organization that has need for his ability as a serviceable role player.

 

63- Brad Marchand, LW Drafted: 2006 (3rd round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 115

Key comment: “Super skilled little waterbug with some jam.”

2016 verdict: Marchand was the team’s best success stories in a tough season after setting personal bests in goals and points. Red Line had him ranked lower than he went (early third round) and Marchand has been the most productive of any player selected in the same round that year. He’s a top performer and goal threat, despite his lack of height and stature. Some of what might have contributed to his lower draft ranking was off-ice/maturity concerns, but to Marchand’s credit, he’s established himself as a Boston regular and fan favorite, albeit one who still lets his emotions get the best of him on occasion, but who has become one of the team’s top performers in the clutch. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2017…cha-ching! Boston can begin negotiating with him this year on an extension to prevent that from happening, but it’s going to cost a lot.

 

64- Tyler Randell, RW Drafted: 2009 (6th round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 164

Key comment: “He will go higher than this but frustrates us greatly.”

2016 verdict: Actually, he went right about where RLR said he should, which is interesting. The late-rounder out of Belleville and Kitchener of the OHL. Randell made his NHL debut for Boston and provided more value for scoring vs. minutes played than anyone in the lineup. Although often a healthy scratch and relegated to bottom line duty, Randell made the most of his gifts: slick hands and toughness. He’s got heavy feet, but hits like a truck and is a good fighter. The knock on him in junior was motivation and consistency, but he put in the work and Boston stuck with him, finally seeing their late-round investment pay some dividends.

86- Kevan Miller, D Undrafted: 2011 (Free agent- Boston)

Red Line ranking: Unranked

2016 verdict: The former Berkshire School and University of Vermont captain (from California) is as tough as nails and willed himself into the NHL after showing little big league potential at the lower levels. When used in the right role, Miller is capable. The challenge for Boston is that injuries and declining play elsewhere in the lineup caused Julien to use Miller in significant situations, and some of his limitations were exposed. For an undrafted free agent, he’s been a pleasant surprise, but without a top skill set, he’s more of a depth player thrust into a bigger role than suits him. That’s an issue.

88- David Pastrnak, RW Drafted: 2014 (1st round- Boston)

Red Line ranking: 14

Key comment: “Smallish, but fiery and passionate. Lives to score.”

2016 verdict: RLR was ahead of the curve here, as Pastrnak slid down to 25th overall mostly because of a concussion that forced him out of the lineup during the key months of Jan-Mar. He made the NHL at age 18 and was a breath of fresh air for the Bruins and their fans in 2015. Last season was a bit of a step back for Pastrnak largely due to a fractured foot suffered on a shot off the skate in late October, but the foundation is in place for the future face of the franchise. He’s got a good attitude and is willing to work- the Bruins just desperately need Pastrnak to continue his upward developmental trajectory and blossom into the 30+ goal man he’s capable of becoming.

Observations:

  1. The glaring thing that sticks out is a lack of production in the Bruins drafts to account for the current roster. Of all the B’s regulars, only one- Pastrnak (14)- carries a top-15 draft ranking by Red Line. Connolly was ranked 13th, but would have carried a higher grade if not for a hip injury that caused him to miss most of the 2009-10 season. Rask was ranked 14th overall in 2005, but he was drafted by Toronto at 21st overall- just one spot ahead of Boston (Matt Lashoff) and acquired in a 2006 trade for Andrew Raycroft. Of all the other players drafted by the B’s- only Spooner (29) was a projected first-rounder (Morrow at 30, but he was drafted by PIT). There are no top-10 draft-projected (by RLR) players anywhere on Boston’s active roster.
  2. Phil Kessel (2), Tyler Seguin (2) and Dougie Hamilton (5) are the highest-rated Red Line guys Boston drafted going back 10 years, but they’re helping other teams. Ironically, Seguin and Hamilton were both had for Kessel…all the B’s have left to show for moving Seguin to Dallas is Morrow and possibly Eriksson if he re-signs in Boston. As for Hamilton, the jury is out- Zach Senyshyn, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Jeremy Lauzon might all be a part of the future equation in Boston as the three players selected with draft choices acquired from Calgary for the 2011 first-rounder.
  3. Boston’s top players Bergeron (71), Marchand (115) and Krejci (130) weren’t even ranked in the top-50 of their draft seasons. The Bruins selected all three and cultivated them as homegrown stars- where would the team be without them?
  4. Only one player- Chara- had no record to consult with Red Line, but six roster regulars in 2015-16 were not even ranked by RLR: Stempniak, Seidenberg, Krug, C. Miller, K. Miller and Trotman.

Conclusion: The Bruins simply must get more production from their drafts. They’ve managed to make some value picks over the years, but management frittered away most of the high-end talent and it shows in the club’s current trajectory. No team escapes failure in the draft process to a certain degree, but when you look at how many undrafted players or guys who were not projected as impact contributors are on the roster and being employed in big roles, the importance of Boston improving their drafting and development efforts is even more critical.

I will continue the exercise with the Boston prospects to see if we have some similar trends, keeping in mind that there is no guarantee of success for them at the NHL, even if they appear to be on a solid developmental track. Watch for that post to hit in the next 24 hours.

Bruins news: Cassidy, Pandolfo join Boston coaching staff; Kevan Miller inks 4-year, $10 million extension

Tuesday brought some news out of the Boston Bruins’ camp with a pair of announcements.

The first was that Providence Bruins head coach (in his fifth season as bench boss) Bruce Cassidy and Jay Pandolfo, the B’s Director of Player Development, were both hired to replace Boston assistant coaches Doug Houda and Doug Jarvis to round out Claude Julien’s NHL coaching staff with Medford native Joe Sacco.

Cassidy is a polarizing figure among those fans who follow the development of prospects because there have been conflicts with certain players, while others have gone on to have success in Boston. Regardless of what you might think about Cassidy as Providence head coach, he’s got one of the sharpest hockey minds and I’ve always found his willingness to talk in detail about players…both the good and the bad…to be refreshing. In a hockey culture where many coaches either spout endless but empty platitudes about players or put out a word salad that tells you essentially nothing about how they feel about a particular individual, Cassidy is a guy who gives it to you straight and doesn’t mince words.

That doesn’t tell you how effective he’ll be as an NHL assistant coach, though I suspect he’ll do a fine job working with the defensemen (given his background I’m making that assumption). It is curious to me that Cassidy is one of two assistants (along with Sacco) with NHL head coaching experience and should the B’s move on from Julien at any point in the near future, he seems like a ready-made interim replacement. That’s probably putting the cart before the horse, but it’s interesting to note.

Pandolfo is getting his first NHL coaching job after hanging them up as a Bruin following multiple Stanley Cups with the Devils followed by a short stint with the Islanders. The BU product from Burlington was one of the best defensive forwards in his prime and he’s done good work with the prospects. He’s a solid add to the staff and I wish him well.

If this announcement was met with barely a ripple, the second release, which followed news broken by colleague D.J. Bean, had a decidedly different impact.

Bean tweeted out by around noontime that per agent Peter Fish, Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller had agreed to terms on a four-year, $10 million extension to avoid unrestricted free agency and remain with Boston- a $2.5M cap hit to retain the bottom-pairing defensive defender. (Cue the Jaws theme music please and voila!)

Mills

(Photoshop compliments of Greg Ezell aka Pez-DOY on Twitter- one of the voices of the most excellent Days of Y’Orr Bruins blog. I gave him the idea, but he did the nice work on bringing the concept to life.)

If you thought Cassidy was a polarizing figure… The former University of Vermont captain, who also played prep hockey with Berkshire School, was a fan fave as a whipping boy this past season. The Bruins also put in the Miller release that they brought back Seth Griffith on a one-year, two-way contract. (More on him in a future post)

Here are some quick thoughts on the Miller re-signing, with an attempt to be balanced, even though it is sure to draw criticism from both sides. In a vacuum, this signing does not look good. At age 29, he’s  coming off a year that was a nightmare collectively for the B’s blue line. Miller was one of the faces of a team D that was a known Achilles heel entering the year and a group that eventually came apart at the seams in the final weeks of an up-and-down 2015-16 season.

The one caveat I will throw out here is that this appears to be a transaction that is setting something else up. As long as this initiates the transformation of the B’s defense, there is no reason to be on the ledge over this. If not…well, uh…I got nothing.

Kevan Miller

The Good- As a bottom-pairing defender, Miller was a find as an undrafted free agent. He skates well and plays a physical, throwback style. His sudden emergence during the 2013-14 season as an injury replacement prompted Peter Chiarelli to sign him to a two-year extension at around $850k per, which was a bargain for a hard-nosed but limited player. In 2014-15, he missed much of the year to a major shoulder injury. This past year, he missed time for various injuries but did see enough action to post a career season in terms of production (he posted a respectable 5 goals and 18 points in 71 games- good for third on the Bruins in scoring among D). When asked to play the right role, Miller has proven to be effective. He’s tough to play against, will drop the gloves to defend teammates (and is a guy many NHL opponents have learned to steer clear of) and has better foot speed than Adam McQuaid (though he’s not as big with as long a reach). Like any player who is asked to play with more responsibilities than they are capable of, he struggles when going up against the top lines and with increased minutes and time on special teams. However, when you break him down purely as a third-pair, No. 5/6 defender, Miller is not the gongshow some would have you believe. He’s a game and gritty player who is always willing to take one for the team, and when you look at his injury history- he’s backed that up.

The Bad- As mentioned previously, the B’s and coaches gave Miller much more than just a bottom-pairing role on the B’s and he was exposed more often than not as a guy over his head at this level. He’s a pretty mobile skater, but he lacks the vision and instincts to be anything more than he’s shown thus far, and he often gets into trouble when he’s got the puck on his stick, in his own end and the F1 or F2 pressure get in his face. Like most players, Miller can make the requisite passes and plays with time and space, but with the faster, more skilled NHL- he was often under pressure and looked more a deer caught in the headlights. He was victimized on multiple memorable highlight reels goals for the other team. The one word you’re left with as an analyst when it comes to the decision by the Bruins to extend him is this: Why?

As an unrestricted free agent, Miller was in a similar position to Matt Bartkowski a year ago as someone who played a serviceable role at their lower-end cap hit, but once the contract was done, essentially priced himself out of Boston, allowing Vancouver and former B’s assistant GM Jim Benning, who’d had a hand in acquiring Bart from Florida in 2010, to step in. With Miller, I’m left wondering- what was the sense of urgency to re-up the UFA-to-be now? Don Sweeney and Bruins took some heat for offering a similar extension to McQuaid last year, announced over draft weekend in June. Now, you have an essentially redundant kind of player, and one who isn’t going to develop into something much more than he already is, under contract for another four seasons, but now at about triple his previous rate. Miller was more a part of the problem than the solution last year and now he’s back.

The Ugly-

The B’s have no shortage of lower-end defensemen who provide what Miller does. Now that he’s signed, what does that do for the openings on the blue line? Again- as it stands today- you expect another trade to happen to shed a veteran or three and their salary, because between three of the team’s least productive defenders, the Bruins currently have north of $9M invested. Dennis Seidenberg’s two more years at $4 million a pop is the obvious choice to jettison, and the B’s should be able to find a taker in a team that is looking to stay above the NHL’s cap floor. Of course, that any team that takes on Seidenberg and his surgically-repaired knees isn’t going to  pay much if anything at all for him.

McQuaid is another player who could be the object of a trade. He’s one of the best guys I’ve covered on the B’s in my 16 years of doing it for New England Hockey Journal, and I have the utmost respect for “Quaider” but he’s going to turn 30 in October (how is that even possible?) and the next time he plays 73 or more games in an NHL season (he’s been a regular for six) will be his first. Might McQuaid’s former GM in Chiarelli be willing to pay his $2.75M salary for three more years to bring him out to Edmonton? The Oilers need to get heavier, and he would certainly fit the bill for the Oil. If the B’s move Seidenberg and McQuaid, then Miller on the bottom pair for $2.5M isn’t a great cap figure, but it does become a little easier to swallow.

Of course- there’s still the matter of other players that need signed. Torey Krug is a big one, and what kind of new deal will he command after leading the Boston blue liners in scoring last season? Granted, the goals didn’t come for him like in previous years, but with a hit of $3.25M, he’ll get a significant boost on that if the B’s commit to retaining him. And he’s not the only one.

In conclusion, I’ll hold off on my judgment until I see what happens next and ultimately, where we are going into September. The negativity is understandable, but there won’t be a knee-jerk reaction here until the transformation takes place and we see how Sweeney builds the defense. That’s a leap of faith some have a hard time with, but here at the TSP- there’s time enough at last for patience.

 

Thud! (And ideas on what the B’s need to address going forward)

That’s the sound of the Boston Bruins coming out of an important game last night against the Anaheim Ducks.

The reality is- you can’t win in any league without scoring goals, so this one was over just a few minutes into it- as long as it took trade deadline pickup Jamie McGinn to put the puck past Jonas Gustavsson at 2:51.

The Bruins outshot and outhit the Ducks, and after a rough 1st period, pulled things together until giving up a Hampus Lindholm goal early in the third period.  However, on a night that the B’s couldn’t get any of their 38 shots past starting netminder Frederik Andersen, no one should be all that surprised- the Ducks are one of the league’s top teams after a brutal offensive start. The defense and goaltending has been there for them all season, and when the scoring picked up, you just knew that Bruce Boudreau’s club would be a force. The B’s have been outscored 10-2 in their pair of games against the Ducks this season. In a head-to-head matchup like this one, it was evident that the B’s is not as talented, not as deep, not as strong, not as fast.

I know fans are disappointed, and there’s no doubt more is expected of this B’s club that went on an impressive hot streak after keeping Loui Eriksson and picking up John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak on February 29th’s NHL trade deadline. At the same time, it’s unfortunate that there still seems to be this sense of entitlement by so many out there who flood the airwaves and internet with negativity in the wake of a loss. No team has ever posted a perfect record in any regular season in NHL history and no one ever will. The B’s are far from a powerhouse team, so nobody should really be surprised that they came up short against the Ducks last night. Not giving a pass to the Bruins here, but they were overmatched against Anaheim last night and it showed- they put up a solid effort and had their moments, but their opponent is that much better. McGinn and Ryan Kesler scored in the first 5 minutes and while the game seemed closer than the final score, the B’s were unable to solve the defense and goaltender at the other end.

The honeymoon with Stempniak and Liles is ending. They’re solid veterans, but not true difference makers. Boston’s showing against San Jose and Anaheim give you an indication that while the team improved at the deadline, how much of an upgrade the duo represent looks to be relatively minimal compared to the strength and core of the recognized top clubs in the league, especially out West. Liles played poorly last night…it happens, but his -3 against the Ducks is probably more reflective of what he is at age 35 than anything else, but after infusing the B’s with a shot of energy after arriving, he’s coming back down to earth a bit.

The team should be grateful that they didn’t lose sparkplug Matt Beleskey to a serious eye injury after he got caught with a Simon Despres high stick on the follow through of a puck battle. Once again, there were missed calls on some blatant stuff that should have gone Boston’s way, but it didn’t happen and who is to say that the B’s power play could have made a difference? The good news for the Bruins is that their penalty killing has been pretty dangerous this season with 9 shorthanded goals, so perhaps it pays them to be without the man advantage. In any case- the fan frustration that Boston continues to be at the bottom of the league in power play chances is palpable, but I’m not sure we can do anything about it.

Last night wasn’t about the missed calls as much as it was about missed opportunities- the second period was much better and a goal or two could have changed the game entirely, but sometimes we have to take a step back and understand that Ducks are a superior team. They made their chances count and Boston didn’t. That’s life and hockey.

It doesn’t get any easier for the Bruins as they face a rested L.A. Kings team in their home digs tonight, the same club that demolished Boston in the Hub, and that word probably doesn’t begin to describe the one-sided drubbing the Kings gave them on their home ice in Milan Lucic’s return to TD Garden. They’ll go home briefly and then head down to New York to face the Rangers on Wednesday, so there is a chance they can salvage a point or three in the final two games of their roadie, but it won’t be easy.

With that in mind, here are some (obvious) thoughts for Don Sweeney and the team to ponder going forward:

  1. The defense must be the offseason priority.

No disrespect intended to Dennis Seidenberg, but serious thought should be given to either trading him for an inconsequential return or, if no NHL team is willing to take him and his $4 million cap hit, buying him out and moving on. Kevan Miller is a good teammate and has had his moments in Boston, but the B’s need to look at using his roster spot on someone else. He’ll land on his feet with someone else, but the B’s already re-signed Adam McQuaid to a questionable extension (and I say questionable in terms of pure economics- will always respect McQuaid for what he brings to the team, but he’s yet to make it through an entire NHL unscathed and the wear and tear on him appears to be showing)- they don’t need to add another one with a game but limited Miller.

Zdeno Chara can’t carry the team- that much is certain- but he still carries value in the right role. Trading him is the popular talking point by folks who don’t seem to understand that he has a no movement clause. I get that trading him makes sense on multiple levels, but the contract he signed makes that highly problematic, even if the GM was willing to move in that direction. Bottom line- unless he does a Ray Bourque and asks out, Chara isn’t going anywhere. Having said that, Sweeney and his staff understand that he simply cannot be an effective workhorse anymore. Not only does the team need a legitimate No. 2 defender to balance the three pairings, but they also need to seek out an effective defense partner for Chara. They weren’t able to find one this season.

Maybe Colin Miller can be that guy, but the more I see of him, the more I believe he’s just a middle-tier player who has some nice offensive tools and will be an above average power play specialist with 40-point NHL upside but is not instinctive enough of a player to be a bell cow 2-way threat who will be a dependable defensive presence. He’s still young and will develop into an NHL regular, but I’m not sure he’s someone the Bruins and their fans should be placing an inordinate amount of faith in as a top-2 or even 3 solution for the team.

It’s been a disappointing season for Torey Krug as far as the goals go- he has just three. It isn’t for a lack of trying but he’s gotten no breaks this year. He’s still one of Boston’s best options on defense in terms of his skating, puck-moving, smarts and energy/tenacity. He’s posted a career-best in assists and is an important character guy for the team. In a perfect world he’d have a lot more goals, but it might be a blessing in disguise- if he was lighting it up, he’d be looking at a bigger payday. As it stands, the B’s should be able to lock him into a reasonable, fair-market extension at around $5 million AAV, perhaps a little less, and considering what Seidenberg is getting, that’s about right. Some folks won’t like it, but those people are nowhere near the team and can’t even comprehend what Krug means to the club on and off the ice. Unless he’s part of some major trade and massive plan to re-shape Boston’s defense by bringing in multiple players, Krug should be a part of the solution going forward. He might not have the ideal size, but his oversized heart and hockey IQ mean he can be highly effective- he just doesn’t have a lot of help at present.

The Bruins need to make something happen at the position. Kevin Shattenkirk is the biggest name out there (and Boston might/should have their sights on a few other options), and he won’t come cheaply from the St. Louis Blues if they were to trade him. But should Boston land him, they had better have the ability to retain him for the long-term. If it’s someone else, so be it- but whomever the B’s are looking to bring in, it needs to be a player who can be part of a winning present and future.

2. Boston needs to upgrade Jimmy Hayes and Brett Connolly.

There’s no way around it- both have been major disappointments.

In Hayes’ case, you would think the local guy would have shown more consistent energy and desire but it seems like the pressure got to him. Although huge, the former Nobles prep star and Boston College product has always been more of a gentle giant than a premier power forward, and his skating is what prevented him from being a first-round pick in 2008- he struggles to play a consistent uptempo style. Hayes gets his goals and points by going to the net and boxing out defenders with his massive frame, but we don’t see it enough. The Bruins acquired him in hopes that after a 19-goal campaign in Florida (including a dagger game at the end of the season that essentially knocked the Bruins out of the playoffs) he would take it to the next level. That hasn’t happened and I don’t know if it ever will…he’s such a curiously passive player given what he could be with that pure size and the soft hands around the net. I can only imagine the coaches are even more baffled. Bringing him home to Boston hasn’t worked and a lot of this is on Hayes- the team has tried a lot of different things to get him going (and we’ve seen what he’s capable of bringing) but he’s not responded in any meaningful, consistent fashion. That’s one of the reasons why he watched last night’s contest from the press box. He’s on the books for two more years, so the B’s either have to remain invested in him and hope he gets the funk out (Extreme reference!) of his game or they’ll have to take pennies on the dollar (and perhaps retain salary in the process) to get some other team to take him off their hands.

Connolly is even more maddening.

The sixth overall pick in 2010 flashes all of those tools that saw him selected before some pretty damn fine NHL players, but we see it only in fleeting fashion. The size and speed combo catches the eye for sure, but it’s what he doesn’t do with it that leaves you often shaking your head in disbelief. The scouting reports on Connolly coming out Prince George of the WHL near unanimously praised him for his hockey sense and killer instinct around the net, but the NHL version of Connolly flies in the face of those observations. If he’s not doing fly-bys in front of the opposition net or missing shots from prime position, Connolly can’t seem to do the little things that matter- battles for loose pucks, a net-front presence, won foot races- he often seems to be a step behind.

That’s not to say Connolly can’t be an effective fourth-line winger, but the Bruins didn’t give up not one but two second-round picks for a bottom line player. The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t draft him where they did for a checking/energy guy. He’s not yet 24, so you don’t want to completely close the door on Connolly, but at the same time- like Hayes- the B’s have given him a lot of different looks and chances and he simply hasn’t done much with it. 9 goals in 69 games with some healthy scratches thrown in there simply doesn’t cut it for a player as talented as Connolly is. Where’s the beef?

Frank Vatrano is the obvious player to give a chance as the season comes to an end over the disappointing duo. He just turned 22 this week and has 31 goals in 31 AHL games, not to mention another six goals in 30 NHL games after an earlier stint with the big club this season. My personal feeling is that right now- Vatrano is better off playing top line, PP and PK minutes in Providence as opposed to being on a lower unit with limited ice time. Of course, the B’s are only allowed four recalls after the trade deadline, so it isn’t as simple as just brining him up.

Having said all that, the B’s could do worse than giving the Springfield Rifle a shot- he’s got speed and energy to burn and just might give the Boston offense a shot in the arm. He’s a left wing who could replace Eriksson in the top-six and then Eriksson could move over to the right allowing coaches to move out either one of Connolly and Hayes. The issue for Boston (other than burning the call up and concerns about the defense factor of a Vatrano-David KrejciDavid Pastrnak line) is that in order to bring Vatrano up, they would have to put someone else on waivers, so right now, it appears that the business of hockey and economics are playing a more prominent role. I can’t argue with those who say that exposing Connolly and/or Hayes to waivers is no big loss, but if Sweeney is convinced he can eventually move them for some kind of return, you begin to understand his reticence to put them on the waiver wire where any team can put in a claim.

Either way, I think we see Frankie “Vats” in Boston next season in some kind of full-time capacity. Natural goal scorers like him don’t grow on trees and the B’s will want to cultivate some returns, especially if the club sees a key roster departure up front, which leads me to my next point.

3. Loui Eriksson– caveat emptor!

Let me get this out of the way- I like Loui. Always have.

He’s been unfairly maligned in the wake of the trade that sent Tyler Seguin (btw- that achilles tendon injury he suffered was gruesome- luckily for him, he may have dodged a bullet by only being out a few weeks versus how serious it could have been) to Dallas. He’s not flashy, but is just smart and consistent- you always know what you’re going to get with Eriksson. But, he’ll be 31 soon, and with what he brings you, 5 or 6 years at close to $6 million per if not more is simply not money/term well spent, and the Bruins need to walk away.

For those who regularly read TSP  and listen to the podcasts (this blog for those who might not have had their coffee)- you know I was all in favor of moving Eriksson at the deadline and was surprised when the Bruins did’t. Of course- if you believe Cam Neely and the lackluster offers he claims were made for Eriksson, then it is understandable that the B’s would hold onto him and take their chances, and he’s continued to make timely contributions. Unfortunately, with two tough losses, it’s easy to revisit the wisdom in not moving Eriksson, especially when it stands to reason that he’ll either leave Boston in early July or the B’s will have to overpay significantly to keep him in the fold.

What to do?

The positives- even without the high-end foot speed, Eriksson is an ideal forward for Boston’s system. He’s smart, industrious, thinks the game at such a high level that he keeps the puck and makes the right decisions in every zone. Versatility is a plus- he’s proven he can play either wing. Eriksson is a smooth playmaker, goes to the net and finishes plays off in close, does good power play work, kills penalties and is a threat shorthanded (witness his shortie the other night against San Jose). He’s a quiet guy, but leads by example and has earned the trust and respect of his coaches and teammates alike.

On the downside- he’s a good player, not a great one. He’s going to get his money because teams out there with cap space to burn will give him what he and his agent are asking for. That means the B’s will either pony up or have to swallow hard and let him go, because unless Eriksson orders his agent JP Barry to stand down and decides to take a more team-friendly deal, they’ll get little in the way of a break. And honestly- why should Eriksson leave money and term on the table if he can get it elsewhere? I don’t begrudge him getting what he can, but that puts the Bruins in a tough spot.

Ultimately, I think that if the B’s are serious about getting a long-term but young enough defenseman to rebuild their blue line corps around, they need to trade Eriksson’s cap space to make sure they can invest that savings in a long-term deal. That means that if they aren’t willing to go beyond the four years they’ve already offered Loui (and that’s a risky proposition as it is with his concussion history), then they should offer him up to a team that wants the exclusive negotiating rights and is willing to give them a mid-round pick. It’s a far from ideal return, but if the Neely claims are true, getting a fifth-rounder for him isn’t that terrible. After all- Jamie Benn was a fifth-round pick once upon a time, right (it could happen again…yeah, right!)?

I guess we’ll find out, but at some point, the Bruins will need to see if the young crop of forwards in their system can play. Keeping a known (and relatively safe) commodity like Eriksson benefits them in the short term, but leaves them little wiggle room if he skates off a cliff at age 33 or 34 or something unforeseen happens to his health. Marc Savard and Seidenberg are recent reminders of just how rapidly a player and team’s outlook can change when devastating injuries happen.

But in getting back to Loui and why he wasn’t moved, I can only surmise it is because the team and coaches trust him to give his level best each and every night.  That trust factor is why keeping Loui made far more sense for Boston than dumping him for a mediocre futures return would have. It’s easy for fans to say- just take the second-round pick so he doesn’t walk for nothing on a team that has no chance to win! But fans don’t work, sweat, bleed for the team- they can make detached pronouncements on Twitter, internet message boards and over the radio airwaves and don’t have to be accountable for them. Dumping Eriksson would have sent a message to the team that in my mind would have been far more detrimental. If you’re a prospective free agent who might be considering whether to stay or go, or you’re thinking you might like to sign with the Bruins down the road, does your trust that the team is committed to winning go up or does it go down if management hurts a playoff-bound roster at the deadline? Players get the business of hockey, sure- but they also want to feel like the GM has their back. They are…after all…human.

TSP doesn’t have the definitive answers for what ails the Bruins and how to fix it.

Winning the Stanley Cup is hard- only 1 out of 30 teams can do it every year. This team deserves credit for fighting hard and exceeding expectations this season, but it’s hard to get past what we’ve seen in terms of how they match up against the better clubs around the league.

To expect the Bruins to win every night and then be angry when they don’t is a fool’s errand, but at the same time- management’s job is to make this team viable not just for this year but in the seasons to come. Last year, we heard about “passengers” and the B’s still seem to have a couple of those. The defense tries hard, but they don’t have the ability to seriously compete for a championship.

The Stanley Cup window is barely open for the B’s, but it isn’t shut. Whether they can force it open more to match up better with the NHL’s big dogs in the next 1-3 years is very much an unanswered question at this point.

This will be a pivotal couple of months for Sweeney and his legacy as GM in Boston.

 

 

 

 

Thoughts on Boston’s 2-1 loss to the Rangers

In a familiar refrain, the Boston Bruins dropped a close game late in regulation to the New York Rangers when a Jesper Fast deflection beat Tuukka Rask with less than two minutes left to break a 1-1 deadlock.

Despite the lack of offense, it was an uptempo game with both teams trading some good chances, perhaps none better than Max Talbot’s doorstep shot that Henrik Lundqvist somehow got his skate on while pushing left-to-right and essentially falling prone to the ice while his legs kicked up into the air in a fashion similar to a scorpion’s tail.

All in all, the B’s had just one goal by Jimmy Hayes (his 10th and set up by Ryan Spooner) on a heavy shot from high out in the slot to show for it. As was the case last year when Boston’s offense was among the league’s worst, that puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the goaltender to play a near-perfect game between the pipes.

The loss represented a missed opportunity- the Bruins carried the play in the second period but had only the one goal to show for it. As the cynics suspected, it was the Rangers who managed to capitalize when Claude Julien shortened the bench later in the third period, moving Landon Ferraro into David Pastrnak’s spot only to see defenseman Keith Yandle’s point shot sneak through when Fast got a piece of it and the puck changed direction.

We’re past the moral victories stage at this point of the season- every point counts and this is a game the Bruins should have had. To look for silver linings out of this one doesn’t get them any closer to the playoffs.

And, now- some thoughts and observations.

Designated scapegoat Kevan Miller had a rough night, on ice for both goals against and standing around when the winning goal was scored instead of clearing the much smaller Fast out of the crease. Miller has born the brunt of much fan angst and it is understandable- the undrafted free agent and former University of Vermont and Berkshire School captain has made some glaring mistakes throughout the season that get magnified because the puck has ended up in the net. However, much of the reason Miller is struggling is because he’s been put in a position to fail. The rugged, hard-nosed defensive defenseman is a serviceable 5/6 D when used correctly. Unfortunately, a lack of personnel and injuries have meant that the B’s have been using Miller as a 2/3 D for most of the year and he is simply not suited for that role- he’s in way, way over his head. This is not to absolve him of his errors- he’s had problems with his decisions and in basic execution, with gaffes that have cost the B’s in several instances, most notably in Boston’s 6-3 home collapse to Buffalo a few weeks ago. However, for anyone to think that Miller is not an NHL defenseman is a bit harsh: if he was on the bottom pairing and played somewhere around 17 minutes per night as opposed to the 20+ he’s been pressed into, there’s a good chance he’d be pretty respected because he plays the game hard, tough and works hard. Alas, for Miller, he’s limited and not capable of carrying the load, making him a magnet for fan frustrations. It happens to someone every year.

I wonder if Tuukka Rask has been checking the internet (10 years ago I would have said the Yellow Pages) for the numbers of good lawyers in Boston. He could sue the team for non-support after last night. He wasn’t able to do much on either the Fast winner or Derick Brassard’s rebound goal to tie it early in the third frame. But, Rask did what every good goalie must- gave his club a chance to win it.

Would like to see Julien give Pastrnak more of an opportunity to be a difference-maker late in games. Ferraro was not a terrible option to move up into his spot last night with a 1-1 game on the line, but the waiver pickup has cooled considerably since his first month as a Bruin.You live and you die by the talent you have, and when your team has only scored one goal in some 55 minutes of action, I’m not sure taking out the one guy who is arguably your most gifted scorer makes sense when you are trying to secure at least one point. Julien has coached 900 career NHL games, so there’s a reason he’s behind the bench and I’m not, but it’s about time to take the shackles off of No. 88. It’s really saying something about how woeful Boston’s offense was last night when Zac Rinaldo is in the conversation as your most effective forward. I don’t mean that as a slight because he’s been a pretty decent fourth-line option this season, but with just one goal and one assist- he is who we thought he is.

Frank Vatrano and Tyler Randell took a seat as healthy scratches last night after both being in the lineup against Ottawa Saturday night. Vatrano has a bright future ahead of him, but if this is to be his lot in life going forward for the rest of the season, then I suspect Butch Cassidy would love to have him back on the team in Providence. The undrafted free agent from Western Mass. has been a revelation, and his speed, dynamic shot and hustle are exactly what this Bruins team needs, but he had just 10 AHL games under his belt before going up to the big show, so there is more room for development on the farm rather than eating popcorn at press level.  Just saying.

Keith Yandle is a Milton, Mass. guy and former Cushing Academy star who had been linked to the Bruins in rumors for a couple of years before Arizona traded him to the Rangers last year at the deadline. There’s been some real grumbling in circles about how Alain Vigneault has used him this season, and let’s be honest- defense was never really Yandle’s strong suit. That said- with time ticking down and his team needing a play, they got one when his point shot was tipped in for the winner. He’s not the player a lot of people thought he would be early in his career when he showed signs of developing into something special, but a team like the Bruins sure could use him in a No. 2 role right now. Yandle only has two goals (on 88 shots) but his 23 points lead the Rangers from the blue line. He’s still a good offensive presence, even if the defensive side of his game isn’t there. He’s an unrestricted free agent this coming summer and will cash in- the question is where, and for how much/long?

Hayes netted his 10th goal last night, which puts him on the same pace as last year, when he established a career high 19 goals. It’s the inconsistency that has bothered Hayes this season, however- he had a brutal November, enduring a nine-game pointless streak at one point, and he went without points in nine of 12 December games. However, with his big body and soft hands, he’s capable of bringing more to the table. Last night’s goal was a rocket of a shot- scored from out near the tops of the circles when Hayes does most of his damage in close near the paint. He’s a good kid and wants to do well. I criticized him the other night because he stood around while Patrick Wiercoch worked over Vatrano after the diminutive forward crashed the Senators net. I felt that some kind of response- not necessarily fighting Wiercoch but at the very least, trying to restrain him so that Vatrano could extricate himself- was warranted, but many feel that he was right not to intervene and risk a penalty late in regulation of a tie game. Even if I don’t like it- that’s a fair assessment and with the way the NHL’s referees call games nowadays, any kind of intervention would be risky. That said- if Hayes is not going to bring much of a physical presence, then he’s got to keep scoring because he won’t be doing much else for this team.

It’s been a quiet couple of games for Patrice Bergeron (he was beaten by Mats Zuccarello on Brassard’s tying goal) and Brad Marchand since the latter returned from his three-game suspension. The B’s need those two to get it going.

Ryan Spooner continues to play well in David Krejci’s absence. Later this week, I’ll do a post dedicated to him and address some of the things he’s done behind the scenes to make himself a better all-around player, along with the help he’s gotten to get him there.
And that’s it. The B’s are 1-1-1 on their current road trip. They’ve been a good away team this year but they’ve got to find ways to get more points in the final two games at Philly and Buffalo before returning home Saturday to take on the Leafs with an ever-tightening Eastern Conference.

 

Bruins’ skid reaches three games with Buffalo, Ottawa losses

After entering last week on a high note, the B’s were blanked by the St. Louis Blues right before the Christmas holiday and then got slapped with a pair of losses to Atlantic Division foes Buffalo and Ottawa on back-to-back nights this weekend to miss out on a chance to take a lead in the division standings.

The Buffalo loss at home, which saw a two-goal lead evaporate on the strength of five unanswered goals and Jack Eichel’s first career four-point game in his homecoming, was particularly troublesome. One night later, they traveled to Canada’s capital and played a better game, but dropped a 3-1 decision to the Senators, thwarted by a very strong game in net from Craig Anderson (38 saves), so would have posted a shutout had not video replay awarded a goal to David Krejci that was originally not called a score by the on-ice officials.

Speaking of Krejci- he took a pass in the corner from Loui Eriksson, walked to the front of the net when Sens captain Erik Karlsson failed to seal off the far post and just watched him cut between the Norris Trophy defenseman and the net, and then put the puck into the far side. It ended up underneath Anderson’s left pad and skate, but replay, which was not absolutely conclusive, appeared to show that the puck (and skate) was behind the line. A call to Toronto and review awarded Krejci his 11th goal of the season (and 33rd point in 35 games).

Much of the goodwill that had built up with the team during their strong recent stretch from late-November up until last Tuesday’s loss to the Blues, is evaporating, as the B’s can’t seem to get out of their own way. Unforced errors and mistake-prone play opened the door for the Sabres, a rising young team but still an inferior one and below Boston in the standings, to mount a spirited comeback.

Injuries to a couple of key players- namely Torey Krug (who pulled up lame in the Buffalo game on a race for an icing call and is considered day-to-day with a lower body injury) and Krejci, who appeared to hurt his arm/shoulder and left last night’s contest in the second period- aren’t going to help Boston’s cause.

B’s coach Claude Julien, who was staunchly defended on this blog last week, has opened himself up to criticism with some of his personnel moves, especially on defense. Kevan Miller had a particularly bad outing against Buffalo, but Colin Miller paid the price instead, getting scratched in Ottawa. In fairness to Julien, “Chiller” had some miscues against the Sabres in what was not one of his better outings in a pretty good season for the NHL rookie. However, with Krug ailing and out of the lineup, it was strange for the younger Miller to get taken out of the lineup in favor of Kevan Miller and Zach Trotman, who returned to action after missing the previous seven contests as a healthy scratch. Trotman looked rusty at times and even tentative at others in a game where he played a pretty robust 21:32 worth of minutes- that’s what happens when you’re rotating in and out of a lineup the way the former last pick in 2010 is doing. K. Miller, who was a -2 in the Buffalo game (he was on ice for three goals against in the third, but assisted on the Boston tally to make it 3-1), played just 17:43 against Ottawa, which could be a sign that Julien’s patience with him is wearing thin. I guess we’ll see, but the B’s sure could have used Miller’s foot speed and puck-moving ability against the Senators last night.

Tuukka Rask played well against the Sens, but was victimized on a bank shot by Mark Stone off Dennis Seidenberg’s skate on one goal, and a net-drive rebound laser from Mika Zibanejad on the winner. Stone added an empty-netter for his second of the night and 10th of the season. His performance provided a solid contrast to that of Jonas Gustavsson, who was below average against Buffalo, doing very little to stop the bleeding in the third period Saturday. The Bruins need much better play from their veteran backup in a situation like that one, even if the defense didn’t give him much help.

Zdeno Chara’s play is failing the eye test. At 38, a decline was expected, but at times- he looks like’s he’s fallen off a cliff. He’s lost several steps and continues to turn the puck over in bad situations when pressured. You figured that opponents would exploit a loss in mobility- and let’s face it- he was never an agile skater to begin with- but he’s a step behind the play and making poor decisions with the puck that lead to odd-man rushes and quality scoring chances at the other end. Simply put, his minutes should probably be scaled back, not increased. However, with Krug leaving the game Saturday, Chara topped the 26-minute mark and he played another 25+ against his old club one night later. He was a -3 in the pair of games combined and has just four assists in his last  10 contests.

With Krejci out last night for the final period and facing uncertain status heading into tomorrow’s rematch at the TD Garden, Ryan Spooner moved up to the second line. The 23-year-old has stepped up his production (though he’s gone scoreless in the last four games- shootout winner against New Jersey aside) over the past month and will need to shoulder even more of the load if Boston loses it’s veteran scoring pivot for any length of time.

Here’s a modest proposal, but instead of recalling Alex Khokhlachev, why not try rookie pro and buzzsaw Austin Czarnik? The undrafted free agent showed off terrific chemistry with Frank Vatrano in the rookie tourney, Boston preseason and then in the first seven games of the AHL campaign in Providence. With his speed and energy/ability to push the pace, he might make perfect sense on the third line, and with Vatrano back on his wing, anything is possible. Depending on the severity of Krejci’s injury, Czarnik might make sense as an emergency recall, as the modern salary cap system and associated constraints do make personnel moves a little more challenging than simply dialing up Jay Pandolfo and Bruce Cassidy in Providence.

Brett Connolly probably needs to take another seat. A healthy scratch after ineffective play early, he returned to the Boston lineup with a burr under his saddle and played well with a four-goal streak, but with just five tallies all year, he’s not getting the job done. Nothing was more egregious last night than his weak flyby of the puck at center ice that allowed the odd-man break and Bobby Ryan shot/rebound that Zibanejad converted late in the second period for the eventual winner. Seth Griffith has been outstanding in Providence over the past month and deserves a recall to see what he can do. Griffith doesn’t bring much in the way of speed, but he might bring the energy and hunger that has been so lacking in Connolly’s game of late. To see this from such a high draft pick illustrates the challenges of scouting and projecting teenage players: the explosiveness, creativity and killer instinct that Connolly showed in his WHL career with Prince George has been nowhere to be found in Boston.

B’s have a small window to get their game back on track this week before facing Montreal in the Winter Classic Friday at Gillette Stadium. It’s gut-check time.

 

Final Buzzer: Vatrano’s 1st NHL hat trick caps wild night of scoring

The Boston Bruins cruised into the Consol Energy Arena in Pittsburgh after winning the first of the home-and-home twofer against the Penguins on Wednesday and hung six goals on beleaguered goalie Jeff Zatkoff and company in a 6-2 victory.

It was a memorable night for a pair of former UMass Minutemen, however, as Bruin Frank Vatrano (first NHL hat trick) and Penguins forward Conor Sheary (first NHL goal plus an assist) shined for the Amherst faithful.

Patrice Bergeron also tallied a pair of goals including one shorthanded marker early in the second frame. Loui Eriksson’s power play goal (12th goal of the season) to make it 3-2  after Pittsburgh tied it on Trevor Daley’s first goal with his new team after the Pens’ power play expired stood up as the game-winner. Vatrano, who scored the first goal of the game for Boston on a nice pass from Ryan Spooner (four assists- a career best for him), scored Boston’s last two markers. Landon Ferraro continues to play well for the B’s and had a third period goal erased on a questionable goalie interference on Max Talbot.

Once again, Tuukka Rask was very good in net for Boston. He was beaten on two excellent shots, but settled in and denied Pittsburgh in the last 38 minutes or so. In his last 10 appearances, he’s posted a .959 save percentage (8-0-2)- (h/t DJ Bean), so it’s pretty safe to say that the B’s are getting their money’s worth from him after a brutal start. I broke it down on Wednesday night’s post, so I won’t give Rask too much more attention in this one other than to say that on his talent alone, he gives his team a chance to win each and every game. When he’s on top of his game, they’ll win more than they lose, and since mid-November, Rask has righted the ship and is playing some of the most consistently good hockey of his career.

What more can you say about Vatrano, who now has five goals in his young career since the Bruins brought him up to Boston after a scintillating start in Providence? His potent shot is well documented, but it’s the aggressiveness and his willing to shoot from anywhere that is so impressive.

The first goal he tallied tonight happened when he quickly wired Spooner’s pass over Zatkoff’s glove hand. It was a laser, and it hit a very small space in the net while using a defender as a screen that caused the goaltender to be a little late in picking it up. His second goal was pure hustle and refusal to quit- Zatkoff made an initial save, but flopped down on his back and was hoping the puck was underneath him. It somehow squirted out and Vatrano was able to locate it down around his feet, with a defender also battling for it, and then fire it into the net before either Pittsburgh player could locate it. The one-time Minuteman was able to complete the trick when he broke in on an odd-man rush with Spooner (who earned his fourth helper on the night), showed no shyness in shooting on Zatkoff on the break, then gathered his own rebound and put it in.

In so doing, Vatrano became the first Boston rookie since Blake Wheeler in 2008-09 to post a three-goal game. He’s feeling it, and even though there will be ups and downs, I’m revising my earlier statement that said we might see him returned to Providence when David Pastrnak returns to the lineup. Now, it looks like Vatrano may be here to stay. A lot can still happen over the course of the season, but with the speed, energy, and…oh yeah…the natural scoring abilities he brings, the Bruins should keep him in the NHL until further notice.

Dennis Seidenberg played a pretty good defensive game in shutting down Evgeni Malkin tonight. The Pittsburgh star didn’t have much room to operate, and Seidenberg gave him little time and space to create. He’s not been the defenseman he was before the grotesque knee injury in early 2014, but Seidenberg is playing some capable hockey right now. It’s probably not up to snuff with what a contending team would need from a guy with his minutes, but you never have to worry about the effort with him. He’s helping to stabilize the blue line group, which was the team’s Achilles heel in the first month and into mid-November.

The Boston defense on the whole has been better in the two wins against Pittsburgh and last weekend’s matinee over Florida. Torey Krug isn’t getting the goals but its not for a lack of trying and he’s using his mobility to good effect. We’re still seeing turnovers from Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller, but they haven’t been killing the team of late with those. Colin Miller has a wealth of talent and promise, so long as you resign yourself to being okay with some bad reads, pinches and risky plays that will culminate with the puck in his own net or at the very least- a quality scoring chance against. He more than makes up for it with his skating and pure ability to generate something at the other end. Adam McQuaid is what he is. Trying to justify his cap hit won’t get much traction with those who are opposed to the contract extension he got in June, but I’m more than happy with him in the lineup because of the sheer effort and toughness he brings. McQuaid is one of those guys where, if you lose him and you start to see things going south here and there, you might not realize it at first, but eventually it hits you that he means more to the team than most want to give him credit for. Super guy and tough as nails- let’s hope he can stay healthy.

Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand continue to make magic together. They’ve tallied 26 goals between the two of them, which is pretty darn impressive in a 31-game stretch. Both plays started with Marchand, using his quickness and evolving high-end hockey sense to beat Pittsburgh defenders individually to open up space for his linemate. The second goal was especially a thing of beauty, as Marchand beat his man off the wall to find Chara in the high slot. Chara’s shot went high and wide, but it bounced back down in front of the net, and Bergeron was able to bunt it back into the open net before Zatkoff could locate it.

And speaking of magic, it is all coming together for Spooner who had his first career four-point night and has seen his hard work pay dividends of late. There will be peaks and valleys with him because of the style of hockey he plays, but Claude Julien’s postgame remarks on Spooner were telling. Four helpers aside, Spooner went after Patric Hornqvist when he decked Seidenberg with a hard (but clean) hit and Spooner got the lone two minute foul, but Julien said that he didn’t mind seeing his young forward take that kind of penalty because it showed his mates he’s there for them. Claude translation: We’ve been trying to instill character, grit and all-for-one/one-for-all in Spooner’s play and tonight he showed it, even if his timing might have been a little off. Spooner gets an ‘A’ for effort- guys like McQuaid saw that and will have his back the next time he finds himself in a situation he’s not ideally suited for.

For the Penguins, it was more frustration, as not one of Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz or Malkin was able to get much of anything going. With all the money the team has invested in those guys alone, this is a complete disaster for the fans in the Steel City, and Mike Sullivan has the same look he wore behind the Boston bench in 2005-06 when he had a pretty talented group of players on paper, but didn’t seem to get much in the way of consistent and even passionate performances from them aside from a couple of guys. It’s an easy joke to make right now, but this team is the total pits.

And that’s all for this recap. The Bruins are back in action at home this Sunday agains the New Jersey Devils.

***

The Bruins had a wild night of scoring outside of the NHL team.

Vatrano’s linemate and AHL roommate, Austin Czarnik, tallied a hat trick tonight, as did Soo Greyhounds right wing Zach Senyshyn, his third hat trick over a two-week period (one of those was a four-goal game).

To have three players in the same organization tally three-goal games on the same night is pretty rare and gave Boston fans something to get excited about.

Czarnik is like Vatrano- an undrafted free agent who came into Boston during the rookie camp and opened a lot of eyes, making an extended run at making the team during training camp. Watch for the former Miami University standout and former Hobey Baker finalist to get his turn in Boston soon…it’s coming earlier than a lot of people think. With his speed, craftiness and energy/pace- I’m betting he’ll get a reward recall at some point this season.

Final Buzzer: Bruins, Gustavsson can’t overcome Predators

A Monday night matchup at home with the Nashville Predators ended in a 3-2 regulation loss for the Boston Bruins, who continue to play sub-.500 hockey at TD Garden this season.The play of Jonas Gustavsson, back in net two games after being yanked from action after surrendering three goals against the Calgary Flames, gave the team a chance but it wasn’t enough, as a Viktor Arvidsson goal in the final five minutes of the third period broke a 2-2 deadlock.

Defenseman Roman Josi near singlehandedly took out Boston with a two-goal performance one game after D partner Shea Weber tallied the first hat trick by a blue liner in franchise history. The B’s energy levels were up and down, but as the game went on, the visitors wrested control of the tempo and outshot the Bruins by a wide margin, 33-17.

Kevan Miller gave the B’s an early lead when his shot deflected off of Nashville defender Colton Sissons‘ skate and up under the crossbar behind backup goalie Carter Hutton. David Krejci and Matt Beleskey assisted on the defenseman’s second goal of the season, coming in his first game back after being on the shelf with an injury.

Josi tied the game with a power play marker in the final 25 seconds of the opening frame, getting some open space outside the left faceoff circle and placing the puck in a perfect shot over Gustavsson’s shoulder. The man advantage tally ended Boston’s string of 13 consecutive penalties killed.

Boston re-took the lead at 10:53 of the second period when Preds forward James Neal was  given a minor for embellishment and Loui Eriksson jammed a Ryan Spooner pass home for his 10th goal of the season.

The garden party was short-lived, however, as a poor Zdeno Chara clearing attempt was intercepted by Josi while the B’s were killing a Patrice Bergeron hooking penalty taken at 11:08.  It appeared that Chara was yelling at the referee for something that happened while he made the pass, and he compounded the situation by turning the wrong way and allowing Josi to skate by him with a direct path to the net. Cutting in from the right side, Josi not only evaded a weak stick check attempt by Chara, but then beat Gustavsson across the goalmouth to put the puck in on the far side, giving him his seventh goal of the season and second of the night.

That set the stage for a see-saw affair in the final frame, which saw Nashville enjoy the advantage in puck possession and scoring chances. Arvidsson took a Cody Hodgson pass, evaded Miller in the Boston zone, then deftly closed on Gustavsson, getting the goalie to bite on a failed poke check before putting the winning shot past him after skating around his prone form.

UP

Jonas Gustavsson- His 30 saves gave the Bruins a chance to win a game they could have been blown out in. The winning goal was scored on an aggressive but ultimately ill-advised play, but the rest of Gus’s mates weren’t there last night to give him better support. If he wanted to send a message after being off his game against Calgary, mission accomplished even if he didn’t achieve the desired outcome.

Patrice Bergeron- The assist on Ericsson’s second period PPG was the 575th point of his fine career. It tied him for 11th place on the team’s all-time list. 13 more points will move him past Peter McNab for 10th place and 591 points will jump ahead of Cam Neely. Bergeron is on pace to occupy eighth place, currently held by Terry O’Reilly with 606 points. On the down side, his hooking penalty in the second period allowed the Predators to tie the score on Josi’s second power play goal of the game.

Tyler Randell- Showed Eric Nystrom why he has a reputation for being one of the nastiest fighters during his tenure with Providence. One he got his right hand free during their second period bout, Randell began pistoning his fist into Nystrom’s head, at first making contact with his helmet, but then dropping him with two consecutive shots to the face. With four goals and the toughness needed for the bottom line, Randell is doing the tough work that the B’s need for balance in their lineup.

Ryan Spooner- His pass to Eriksson was vintage Spooner, and although he was denied on what should have been a layup goal after deking Hutton out of his jock in the second period, he impressed on a couple of hard-working defensive plays. For a player who receives significant criticism for his 5-on-5 play, Spooner skated hard and made one memorable back check deep in his own zone to separate the puck from Filip Forsberg and deny a quality scoring chance.

Roman Josi- His two goals made a big difference in this one, but he also engaged Brad Marchand in his first career NHL fight. It wasn’t much of a bout, but the Swiss defender killed the Bruins last night.

DOWN

Joonas Kemppainen- Suffered some kind of injury that kept him out of the lineup. Will be interesting to see how the lines look if he is unable to suit up Wednesday against Montreal.

James Neal- Called for a dive, which he may not have been guilty of, but this is what happens when you build a reputation for gamesmanship and embarrass on-ice officials. Tim Peel’s profanity-laced call was picked up by the microphones, which made it even more interesting. Neal is one of those players who generates a lot of schadenfreude, especially since it took the B’s just nine seconds to make him pay for it. When you talk  about players who don’t get the benefit of the doubt in those kinds of situations, Neal is exhibit A. But, he’s not the only one…ahem…Mr. Marchand.

 

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.

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.

Final buzzer: B’s are on a Mile High with first win, 6-2 over Avs

Tyler Randell netted his first NHL goal in his first NHL game in Boston's first win of 2015-16 (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tyler Randell netted his first NHL goal in his first NHL game in Boston’s first win of 2015-16 (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins posted their first win of the season in Denver by a 6-2 score by jumping on the Colorado Avalanche and racing to a 5-0 lead. They chased starter Semyon Varlamov from the net and by dominating the puck possession game by limiting the Avs to just 12 shots in the first 40 minutes.

The 3rd line made the biggest difference keyed by Jimmy Hayes (1g, 4 points) and Ryan Spooner (1g, 2 points), forechecking effectively, forcing turnovers and then capitalizing on said turnovers with goals by Chris Kelly and Spooner in the second frame.

The game marked a couple of first career appearances for defenseman Tommy Cross and winger Tyler Randell. Cross became the second player from Boston’s 2007 draft class (Zach Hamill) and Randell the third from 2009 (Jordan Caron, Lane McDermid) to skate in the big show.

Jonas Gustavsson got his first NHL start for the Bruins, and wasn’t tested all that much. He held Colorado off the scoreboard until late in the second frame when David Pastrnak took a double-minor for high sticking former teammate Carl Soderbergh. Fellow Swede Gabriel Landeskog spun around with the puck just outside the crease, and Zdeno Chara (2 assists) tried to poke it off his stick, but inadvertently pushed it past Gustavsson to make it 5-1 after two periods.

Fourth-line center John Mitchell made it 5-2 on a lazy outside shot that caught Gustavsson cheating. This is a shame because the Monster made some excellent stops while his team was on the power play earlier in the period, so to give up such a soft goal with a little under 9 minutes left took some of the shine off of an otherwise solid performance in net (he made a terrific breakaway stop on Avs top draft pick Mikko Rantanen in the first period to keep Colorado off the board).

Boston’s top two lines had a quiet night with no goals scored (save for David Krejci’s empty net tally at the end), but that’s how its supposed to work- the big horses had generated much of the team’s offense in the three losses- so to have the bottom two lines, plus Kevan Miller grab hold of the scoring load is a good sign. The team’s strength is up front, so for one night at least, things are back on track.

Up 

Jimmy Hayes- He was in the “down” section for the Tampa Bay game, but he bounced back with a career-best 4-point night in this one, tallying the second goal of the contest by batting a Chara rebound out of the air and into the net. You could tell by his celly that a huge weight was taken off his shoulders with that one. The added pressure that local boys feel when they put on that spoked B is real, but Hayes wasn’t done. He forced a neutral zone turnover i the second period, getting the puck to Spooner, who fed Kelly with a backhand sauce pass. The veteran then skated in, made a quick deke in traffic and put the puck past Varlamov to make it 4-0. Hayes then forced another turnover deep in the Colorado zone and got it to Spooner on a backhander, who roofed a shot for his first goal of the season to finish Varlamov’s night. Hayes added an assist on Krejci’s empty-netter to seal the win. He skated a more uptempo game, and just maybe- getting away from Boston and the TD Garden was good for him. On this night, Hayes looked like he was having a lot of fun out there, and let’s face it- even though these guys are professionals, that’s how it should be for the most part.

Ryan Spooner- Along with Pastrnak, Spooner is Boston’s most dynamic forward, so if he isn’t scoring, he’s probably not helping a whole lot. Having said that- tonight he was skating hard on the forecheck, creating problems for Colorado as they tried to gain possession in their own end and break the puck out. He’s never going to be a stalwart two-way center, but the Bruins don’t need him to be that. He has to give a good effort away from the puck, but as long as he’s making things happen on offense, the team can live with the occasional lapses that will happen. His assist on the Kelly goal looked effortless- it wasn’t- and his first goal of the season was a pure snipe to the top shelf that was off his stick in a blur.

Tyler Randell- He became the first Bruin to score in his debut since Blake Wheeler back in October, 2008- which was interestingly enough- some eight months before Boston drafted Randell in Montreal. That’s how long it has been, and if you had said smart money would be on Randell finding the back of the net in his NHL debut, you should go out and get your lottery ticket. The rugged, physical forward didn’t have to do much in that regard, but his goal was vintage Randell: he tipped Adam McQuaid’s point blast home, demonstrating his slick hands. The skating is what has kept him from the NHL prior to now, but you can see that he has value on the bottom line, especially when things get tough. He won’t thrive in an uptempo game, but he’s proving that in the right role, there’s a place for him on this club.

Chris Kelly- The veteran looks pretty good on the third line left wing with Spooner and Hayes. He’s not the fastest guy out there, but he’s smart, industrious and in scoring his first of the season, showed off the slick hands that he previously parlayed into 20+ goals. Anytime you can get offense out of Kelly it’s a bonus, because he’s such a key leader and sterling example for the younger players. He may not be the most skilled LW to put on that line, but he’s getting the job done.

Tommy Cross- It was a solid, unspectacular night. He played sheltered minutes and wasn’t asked to do a whole lot, but for a guy who was drafted nearly nine years ago, he deserves ups for getting here. Cross is an NHL player- no one can take that from him. What happens from here partly up to him and partly not, but for one night- he looked like he belonged, and there are a lot more folks out there than this columnist who are genuinely happy for a genuinely good guy.

Kevan Miller- He opened the scoring on an absolute bomb from the point that rang off the far post and clanked in. For a guy who missed the second half of last season to have shoulder surgery, he looked like a winner on that play.

Adam McQuaid- Forget about the assist on Randell’s goal- did you see that nifty little spin move he put on along the half-wall to shake the defender and maintain possession, then fed it out in front to Loui Eriksson, who was stoned on what would have been a highlight goal? Wow- where did that come from?! He then put the puck to the net on the ensuing play and Randell tipped it in…great shift for No. 54.

Down-

Brett Connolly- He’ll show it in flashes, but the consistent shifts where Connolly is working, creating and making an impact on the game are still lacking. The B’s need a lot more from him. If you didn’t see it at all, it would make for an easy call for the coaches, but the talent is there for the former sixth overall pick. He’s still looking for his first goal as a Bruin and he had a great chance in the first period (right before Miller scored) when sent in alone on Varlamov but couldn’t even hit the net.

Joonas Kemppainen- Another soft performance from the Finnish newcomer. He’s not strong enough on pucks to these eyes and seems to be around the play a lot, which is a sign of his good hockey IQ, but he has left me wanting more. Kemppainen looks like a player, but he’s got to get more engaged to make a difference.

The good news- B’s fans won’t have to wonder about any more losses to increase the winless streak, and you have to hand it to the team for cooling off a hot offense at home. However, there is still plenty of work ahead for this group- improvements are showing through in their play, especially in puck support along the walls, so there isn’t a whole lot to take issue with on this one.