Audio post: Bruins and the Expansion Draft (Also debating Colin vs. Kevan Miller)

Here’s an audio post (non-3 amigos) where your founder covers his thoughts on the Boston Bruins list of available to the Vegas Golden Knights in this week’s expansion draft.

We start with the available forwards and go down the list with points about each for your consideration.

Also engaged in a conversation on Twitter about wisdom of protecting Kevan Miller over Colin Miller, so the counterpoint of Killer vs. Chiller is presented here for your awareness and agreement or disagreement. Bottom line- building winning teams is not just about stockpiling talent, and there’s no guarantee that the B’s could get enough of a return to justify losing their perceived value K. Miller brings vs. the other Miller.

Here’s the audio file- It runs a little over an hour. Sorry, you have to listen to it on the site. Will try to post it to Soundcloud at some point for ease of download.

As always- thanks for reading/listening.

 

Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for the Bruins (Part 4)

So, here I am with another post with my 3 Amigos colleagues Kirk Luedeke (the founder of TSP) and Reed Duthie. If you missed the previous posts, look back not too far and you will find them. I hope (I’m sure) you will find them informative.

Decisions, decisions, decisions: That’s what is facing Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney, President Cam Neely and the brain trust of your Boston Bruins. The most critical decision dropped this week when the interim tag was removed from coach Bruce Cassidy. It was crucial for this to be done as early as possible because, despite being two months away from the expansion draft and the entry draft, some key decisions are going to have to be made by mid-June as to which players receive qualifying offers and contracts, and who moves on, potential buyouts and buried contracts.

This is what we’ll focus on today.

Continue reading

2016-17 Boston Bruins preview series part 3: the Left Wings

Brad Marchand is the team's top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Scouting Post is back with another attempt to break down what we might see unfold during the 2016-17 NHL campaign as it pertains to the Boston Bruins.

This time, we’re hitting the left wingers, and it all starts with Brad Marchand– the lil’ ball of hate & straw that stirs the goal-scoring drink for the B’s. He’s entering a contract year after coming off a career season, and I’ll break him down in detail for you in the accompanying podcast, so no real need to say more.

Frank Vatrano is the player we have high hopes for in making it as the second-line LW in Boston this year. The Springfield Rifle is talented enough to do it, but it will entail accepting risk on the part of Claude Julien and Co. Can the East Longmeadow native be trusted to shoulder the load- TSP is confident he can. His impressive AHL rookie season was just the tip of the iceberg- Vatrano has the skill and moxie to make it work as a top-6 NHL forward.

On the third line, Matt Beleskey is the guy, though I do go into more about his value contract-wise and what he means to the B’s. I’m sold on Beleskey for the myriad little things he does on and off the ice, but I won’t argue with those who feel that the team isn’t getting enough bang for the buck on his deal. Ultimately, they could do much worse, but if he can improve on his 15 goals and 37 points from a year ago, that would be welcome news indeed.

The fourth line is pretty wide open, and my guess is that Tim Schaller has the inside track. The Merrimack, N.H. native has the size and enough big league ability to be a capable bookend along with Riley Nash over on the right side. He’s listed as a center, but if he’s not going to play in the middle, LW makes a lot of sense for the former undrafted free agent out of Buffalo.

Zac Rinaldo…we hardly knew ye! Well, he’s still hanging around, but my guess is not for much longer.

That leaves a host of other aspiring young players vying for spots on this Boston Bruins club, and I run through just about all of them- from the young pros like Colton Hargrove and Anton Blidh, to new blood AHL options like Jake DeBrusk and Peter Cehlarik. Jesse Gabrielle will be fighting (literally?) to make an impression, and he looked jacked (in a good way) when I saw him in Buffalo for draft weekend. When he’s playing like someone possessed, opponents need to keep their heads on a swivel…he can wreck it on the scoreboard and on the physical side. He’ll have his hands full trying to win a spot on this NHL team given the lack of options the B’s have, but watch for Gabrielle to open up some eyes this month- he took a major step forward last year.

Ryan Fitzgerald isn’t there because he’s entering his senior year at Boston College, but he’s a Swiss Army Knife kind of pro projected player, and he’s going to do some impressive scoring work up on Chestnut Hill this season after breaking out as a junior.

Let’s not forget a couple of undrafted camp invites in Matt Mistele (I pronounce it for you on the podcast)- a 6th-round pick of the Kings in 2014 who didn’t sign and has been a pretty major disappointment since potting 34 goals in the OHL as a 16-17-year-old prior to his draft year. He’s big and talented, but doesn’t use his size and brings inconsistent effort- sounds like he might just fit right in. Simon Stransky is the other as a WHL player this past season who put up a point-per-game with the Prince Albert Raiders and distinguished himself as a playmaking winger with top hockey sense, yet never got a draft call. Both will get an opportunity to show their potential and earn an NHL contract, but in the podcast- we’ll explain why just signing one or both is not as simple as declaring it a must on Twitter and Bruins internet message boards. There are other undrafted/unsigned/ forwards and rookie defensemen in Boston on an invitational basis for the rookie camp portion, but not going to cover them here.

Thanks for reading and listening…keeping this one short and pithy because the pod comes in at around 50 minutes. Enjoy the Winger intro and the Primus outro.

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp

Jesse Gabrielle has added some mass since draft day and is ready for his 2nd NHL training camp

 

A little more on Noel Acciari & why he’s impressing people

Exhibit A for stats not telling the story- I give you Boston Bruins center Noel Acciari.

(Acciari talks to reporters about his 1st NHL shift vs Calgary- when Landon Ferraro scored to take a 1-0 lead; Boston Sports Desk video)

The Johnston, R.I. native was an undrafted free agent signing after being one of the captains who led his Providence College Friars to the 2015 National Championship, stunning their Hockey East rival (and the favorite) Boston University with a third period comeback Acciari had a hand in.

Aside from his minor hockey days, Bishop Hendricken high and final year of prep with the Kent Lions (the Connecticut school that if I’m not mistaken produced one Billy Jaffe, esteemed hockey analyst and broadcast personality) under Jaffe’s fellow Michigan Wolverines alum, Matt Herr, Acciari has not been one to put up big offensive numbers. That’s not his game.

What is his game is what we saw from him last night, in his third NHL contest since being brought up from Providence this week when Zac Rinaldo was optioned to the AHL. In a hard-fought 2-1 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals, winners of seven straight games against the B’s going back to the 2013-14 season, Acciari stood out in a good way, even if he has yet to register a single point.

Besides, who doesn’t love a good underdog?

His signature moment, the one that created major buzz online among B’s fans last night, was when he dropped Caps defenseman and former BC standout Brooks Orpik with a big, clean hit along the boards. Many folks don’t like Orpik for some of the predatory hits he’s laid on players during his career, and he more recently (in December, 2013) took out Loui Eriksson, leading to Shawn Thornton’s retaliation and subsequent suspension, as he caused injury to Orpik when he pulled him down from behind and pounded him on the ice. Regardless of whether you root for Orpik or not, he’s a legitimate shutdown defenseman who is known for and experienced in playing a physical brand of defense- so when he’s out looking to make body contact, the veteran defender is usually the one who comes out on top.

Acciari, still playing with a jaw protector on his helmet after taking a slap shot to the face from Providence teammate Chris Casto earlier in the season, stepped into Orpik like a seasoned vet and used his lower center of gravity to drive the Washington player back and off his skates.

That’s the type of hard, but clean hit that has become Acciari’s hallmark over the years. He stands at just a shade under 6-foot, but he’s a stout 200+ pounds and understands how to give and take a hit.  Ever since he broke in with the Friars after taking a red shirt season in 2011-12, he’s done it. And while his offensive numbers grew in each of the three consecutive seasons he played in his home city, what was always consistent for him was how he finished his checks and forced opponents to think about how early or how late they held onto the puck, because they knew Acciari was coming.

He’s not a prolific scorer and won’t ever be that kind of guy, but he brings a well-rounded set of skills to the table: he’s a good skater who has the kind of short-area burst that is essential to thrive in a checking line role. To be able to do the job right, it’s about being more quick than straight-line fast and being able to change directions through a series of rapid stops and starts- Acciai’s excellent command of his edges allows him to be a disruptor on the forecheck and deny the opposing center time and space to make plays when the puck is in the Boston end. Watch the way he comes in behind unsuspecting puck carriers and lifts their stick to (legally) interfere with their possession. When you say that a player is smart- it’s not just about how creative he is at creating scoring chances. Making the right defensive play is just as commendable, especially when you’re in a 1-1 contest.

Acciari is a relentless ball of energy when he plays. As he gets more comfortable and experienced, he’s going to be able to assert himself a lot more in all three zones. Last night against the Capitals was the first of the three games he’s played (he was whistled for two marginal fouls against the Blackhawks) in which I’ve truly seen him start to morph into the wrecking ball that we’ve seen him be since his days at Kent and PC. Like most youngsters getting their first taste of NHL action- he was playing conservatively and skating more not to lose than to win. Against Washington, we started to witness that grinder who can wear opponents down and force players to think about what’s coming. Overthinking it equals errors that can be forced and exploited.

What’s best about Acciari is that he comes in with zero fanfare. He was a late-bloomer who was never drafted, but got the thrill of his young life when his favorite Bruins team came calling to offer him a job last June. Like Frank Vatrano, he simply could not pass that up, even though he was eligible to stay at PC under head coach Nate Leaman for another year. Also like Vatrano, the undrafted free agent that no team ever spent a pick on, can now say what a lot of guys who were drafted in each of the three years Acciari was available (2010-12) can’t: he’s made it to the NHL. Where he goes from here is still very much open to debate, but the B’s are no doubt pleased at what they’re seeing in his small audition. A team can do far worse than NA55 as a fourth-line center, and perhaps not a whole lot better.

We’re seeing things come together for Boston’s forward lines. A fourth unit that gives Claude Julien and his staff confidence and can do all of the things you want from the bottom-three, but also chip in with some speed and scoring to go with the physicality- that’s coming to fruition with Landon Ferraro and Brett Connolly flanking Acciari.

Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke, and for one Rhode Island kid who grew up in local rinks plugging away and envisioning himself putting on the Black and Gold for the big club that played in the shiny building about an hour up the road on I-95, that time has come.

Here’s to seeing continued growth and Acciari being that next good “hometown kid makes good” story for the B’s.

 

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.

 

Matt Beleskey- not quite your MVP but a key contributor

If not for the numbers, it would not be a stretch to argue that left wing Matt Beleskey is one of the Boston Bruins’ most valuable players over the first quarter of the 2015-16 NHL season.

The two goals and 10 points in 20 games is disappointing given he scored a career-high of 22 a year ago with the Anaheim Ducks and was expected to reach the 20-goal plateau at least this season after the B’s made him their priority target in free agency last July. Signed to a five-year pact that carries an AAV/cap hit of $3.8 million per season, Beleskey is currently the eighth-highest paid Bruin on the roster. However, this blog post will argue that he’s closer the top-five in terms of impact and importance to the team’s fortunes. That may not translate when it comes to pure production, but in terms of other traditional and advanced metrics, Beleskey has been one of the more consistent forwards on a team that has had other players provide the needed scoring impetus early on. Based on his role in Anaheim a year go, Beleskey will eventually bring more in terms of production, and when he does, his overall physicality, energy and grit will be even more significant in proper context.

Background: Beleskey was the 116th overall selection (fourth round) by Anaheim in the 2006NHL Entry Draft, spending his entire OHL career with the Belleville Bulls (2004-08). His best season was a 41-goal, 90-point affair for the Bulls in his final junior campaign in 2007-08, signing with Anaheim and spending the 2008-09 season in the AHL (he did have a two-game scoreless NHL stint with the Ducks that year.) Beleskey scored 11 goals in 60 NHL games the following season and established himself as a full-time NHLer in 2011-12. The lockout and injuries have conspired to deny him more than 70 games in a single season, but he hit a career best for goals and points last season in only 65 games. The Ducks attempted to keep him out of free agency with a contract extension offer before the regular season ended, but Beleskey opted instead to go the free agency route.

Traditional statistics: With just a pair of goals in 20 games, there is no denying that Beleskey’s production is way down from a year ago. He’s scored in a loss against Montreal and an October 31 win over Tampa Bay, so both of his goals have come against division rivals. However, his assist totals put him on pace for about 40 helpers, which will far exceed his career-best 15 assists from 2013-14. His points/60 min average is a little off from what it was a year ago, but is comparable, and he is on pace to surpass his top output of 32 points.

Granted- you expect more from your $3.8M than 40-50 points, but that’s not terrible value offensively. At even strength, where the B’s have not been the greatest this season, Beleskey is among the team’s leaders in points with a 1.89 points/60 rating. Compare that to David Krejci– 2.41; Patrice Bergeron– 1.23; Loui Eriksson– 1.73 and Brad Marchand– 1.70. That Krejci leads Beleskey by .52 P/60 5v5 is not a surprise, but would you have put money on him beating everyone else- and Bergeron by .66? Beleskey’s even strength P/60 are No. 3 on the team overall- behind Krejci and Tyler Randell (2.30), who has played a paltry 78 minutes at even strength. Beleskey’s  even strength 1.89 P/60 would be only seventh-best on the Montreal Canadiens (just ahead of Tomas Plekanec), but he would lead the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose best 5v5 player, Jonathan Drouin, has just a 1.88 P/60 to boast of.

Beleskey has not had an opportunity of any significance with the man advantage or on the penalty kill, with just 6:39 of power play time (compared to his 285:38 and counting at even strength) and 49 seconds  on the ice while shorthanded. The lack of impact on special teams is both a ding on him in terms of how valuable he is and an example of how successful he’s been despite the opportunities that his higher-scoring teammates receive in the special teams game. When you factor in the Bruins P/60 rates in all situations- Beleskey (1.97) drops to 10th on the team, with every forward on the active roster save for Frank Vatrano, Landon Ferraro, Joonas Kemppainen and Zac Rinaldo ahead of him. Colin Miller’s (2.00) rating puts him ahead of Beleskey, the only defender in the top-nine. On the Toronto Maple Leafs, for example, Beleskey’s 1.97 P/60 puts him fourth on that team.

Where Beleskey is shining is in the hits department, where he is currently in the top-10 with 82 hits, more than 4 per game on average. By comparison, Milan Lucic, the Boston forward Beleskey was widely considered to have been brought in to address the lost production from, has 78 hits in two more games. Beleskey doesn’t have Lucic’s natural size or ability to be as physically dominant, but he’s a scrappy, physical guy for his 6-foot-and change size. He’s always willing to finish his checks and make a big hit. Just ask Derek Stepan. Ouch…too soon? Que dites-vous, Alain Vigneault?

Beleskey is shooting the puck more than he did a year ago and right now, not a whole lot is going in for him, but when he starts finding the back of the net, watch for him to get on a streak. Beleskey fired five shots on Henrik Lundqvist Friday and if he continues to get pucks to the net, he’ll raise the scoring bar. A year ago, he scored 18 even strength goals on just 124 shots, a shooting percentage of 14.5 percent- well above his typical numbers (he tallied 10.3 percent in his 11-goal season during 2009-10, but typically scored at under a 10 percent clip in his other years), but most analysts predicted (correctly) a natural regression from that 14.5 percentage this season. Admittedly, the B’s need more than his current 6.67 shooting percentage, and he’s a good bet to get that number up closer to his career average of about 9-10 percent by season’s end.

Advanced statistics: Beleskey is on the positive side of the ledger in terms of goals scored for his team when he is on the ice versus goals against (per 60 minutes), with a GF60 of 2.941 and GA60 of 2.101. good for a GF percentage of 58.3. Bergeron’s even strength offensive numbers for example aren’t as good- the B’s have scored just 2.255 GF/60 but his GA/60 average is better with a 1.845.  That gives him a 55.0 GF%. Bergeron’s iCorsi (74) is higher than Beleskey’s (66) because he takes more shots, but his even strength shooting percentage is lower.

Beleskey’s PDO (shot percentage + save percentage while player is on the ice- I like this stat because it tends to be a little more predictive versus some of the others) is 101.7, which is lower than his 103.8 and 103.0 in each of the last two seasons. Bergeron’s even strength PDO is 98.8- up two percentage points from the less productive 2013-14 season, when he posted a 96.8. Even in his 30-goal campaign of two years ago, his PDO was 102.4- just .7 points higher than Beleskey’s number as of today.

Bergeron significantly overtakes Beleskey on the power play where his production is tops on the Bruins with 9.88 P/60 (he has 11 of his 21 points against Beleskey’s 0.00. Bergeron’s PDO on the power play is 120.6 (compared to his 5v5 of 98.8), which gives you an idea of just how much his production with the man advantage skews the scoring totals in his favor. The bottom line for me when I look at the two players- at even strength, where the two have similar minutes on the ice, Beleskey is the more productive (note- I said productive not better) player. I won’t peel the onion back too much more in terms of Beleskey’s zone starts or how he does when close or trailing, but he’s been one of the more consistent performers at even strength- admittedly and area that the Bruins need to improve on going forward if they want to remain in the playoff picture.

(Statistical source: Hockey Analysis.com- David Johnson)

Intangibles: Going back to July 1, when Beleskey chose the Bruins in free agency, he’s said and done all the right things. He and his wife were active on social media and quickly traveled to Boston after signing, showing their excitement to be joining the organization at a time when the team’s outlook was anything but rosy. The B’s and Don Sweeney had just traded Dougie Hamilton and more questions than answers swirled around the B’s, even though Beleskey and trade acquisition Jimmy Hayes pumped some excitement into fans who had seen their contributions while wearing other team jerseys and envisioned good things from the new additions. Thus far, the two have combined for just six goals, which is well off of expectations given that they posted a total of 41 between the two of them with the Ducks and Florida Panthers a year ago.

Beleskey is hard-nosed- he’s had a couple of fights with Minnesota’s Brett Bulmer and NY Ranger Dylan McIlrath in the past seven days, racking up an impressive 10 total hits in both contests. He’s a gritty, willing combatant, which should endear him to Bruins fans as they warm up to him in Boston and see where his consistency and ruggedness comes from.

Against McIlrath, Beleskey was out of his weight class and took some shots and jabs from the much larger former WHL pugilist and first-round pick before coming back with a right cross and then went to the ice.

Beleskey did a lot better in his scrap against Bulmer, however…

What’s more- Beleskey wants to be here. Sweeney did a good job of moving guys who didn’t feel the same way out. If you’re going to invest millions in a player- at least pay for the ones who want to be a part of the solution. These guys are only human and sometimes we forget that if someone doesn’t want it as badly, we can expect them to be professionals, but without being able to see inside a person’s heart, we don’t know if they are giving it their all. One need not do any more than simply watch the way Beleskey hurtles around the ice on every shift, looking to to make a hit or force a turnover if he’s anywhere near the puck when someone with another jersey has it, to know that the guy is giving it his maximum effort.

Beleskey was in the news this past week when he and his wife purchased $2,000 worth of pies and distributed them to homeless veteran charities in Boston for Thanksgiving. It’s a nice gesture from a player who has backed up his words of being proud to be a part of the Bruins organization with the kind of gritty play the team values, as well as taking the time to give back to the community.

Summary: The Bruins are getting the guy they coveted from the West Coast. The goals aren’t there, but he’s brought a needed effort each and every night and plays hard, providing the all-important leadership by example. His 10 points in 20 games has him on pace for his best offensive season, and he’s creating space for his line mates with his physical brand of hockey. Beleskey doesn’t have the natural size to be a classic and even feared power forward, but he’s not shy about sticking his nose in and taking one for the team.

There are some who will just point to the $3.8M cap hit and draw a direct correlation to the downturn in goals, but when you consider that some pundits were predicting him to sign for upwards of $4.5 or 5 million last July, the Bruins are getting solid value. At age 27 and with four more years on the books, he’ll probably live up to the contract and then some so long as he can stay healthy. Because of his kamikaze style of play, it takes a toll on his average frame. However, when all is said and done, no one will ever accuse Beleskey of being soft.

In short, you win with guys like that, and this is why- as we look at Boston’s record after 22 games- they sit at a solid 13-8-1 overall. There aren’t many who would have put money on them being 5 games over .500 at the quarter pole with the team they had on paper coming into the season. Beleskey’s contributions, especially at even strength when the power play has not been there to carry the club offensively, are a big reason you can make a case that he’s right up there with the big guns- Krejci, Bergeron, Marchand, Eriksson as one of the team’s most valuable players during this stretch of the season.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UP

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

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

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

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

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

DOWN

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

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

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

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

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

Final buzzer: Bruins blow lead, still winless at home after losing to Flyers in OT

Captain Claude Giroux’s power play goal in overtime, his second of the game, gave the Boston Bruins their fourth loss at home this season in as many tries as the Philadelphia Flyers defeated them by a 5-4 score in sudden death.

Bruins and Flyers met at the TD Garden in NBCSN’s much-ballyhooed “Rivalry Night”, and although the B’s overcame a sluggish start and 1-0 and 2-1 deficits to gain a 4-2 advantage, quick third period goals by Flyers big guns Giroux and Wayne Simmonds evened the score with 8:39 left in regulation to set up the 3-on-3 overtime period.

The B’s once again got solid production from its special teams in the form of both power play and shorthanded goals (the second such shortie in as many games) from Patrice Bergeron and Chris Kelly respectively.

The Flyers struck first with a goal from Paris, France-born Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, who put in his own rebound after boxing out Joonas Kemppainen and getting to the puck when Tuukka Rask was unable to close his glove on the initial shot.

Boston evened the score with Brett Connolly’s first goal as a Bruin dating back to his acquisition at last February’s trade deadline. He swooped in and converted a Bergeron rebound after Giroux failed to pick him up, firing the puck into the net past starter Michal Neuvirth.

The Flyers re-took the lead right after that when Sam Gagner capitalized on a bad line change by Boston to gain some extra time and space and beat Rask with a shot to make it 2-1 on his second goal of the season.

Boston tied it up when Bergeron batted a puck out of mid-air with the man advantage late in the opening frame. The NHL’s most lethal power play unit moved the puck with authority in the offensive zone and when Loui Eriksson worked the puck to the front of the net, David Krejci’s initial shot bounced up in the air with Bergeron right at the top of the paint to knock it in. Neuwirth slumped over after that play, which was a harbinger of things to come.

As the opening frame ended, Zac Rinaldo reminded everyone of the controversy that surrounded his summer acquisition (for a 2017 third-round pick) when he hit Sean Couturier hard at the buzzer, knocking the big center out of the game. At speed, the play looked like a head shot, but when slowed down, it appeared that Rinaldo went shoulder to chest, but Couturier had his head down, appearing to brace for backside checking pressure coming from Adam McQuaid. When Rinaldo ran him, his head snapped back and Couturier went down hard. Rinaldo was assessed a 5-minute charging match penalty (game misconduct) that will likely draw some form of supplemental discipline given Rinaldo’s history. The hit looked dirty, but the unfortunate outcome was that the Flyers player was lost for the remainder of the contest.

When the second period started, Neuvirth was out of the crease and not present on the bench with an undisclosed injury, giving way to Steve Mason.

While the Flyers were on the Rinaldo power play, the B’s rubbed some salt in the wounds on a breakout, with Eriksson throwing the puck to the Philly net with Chris Kelly driving straight in at Mason. The shot hit Kelly’s skate and deflected in the net to make it a 3-2 score.

Boston added to the lead when Jimmy Hayes broke in on the right side and threw a shot at the Flyers net from a sharp angle that somehow snuck over the goal line past Mason to make it 4-2.

Boston was cruising near the halfway mark of the final frame when Colin Miller found David Pastrnak all alone in the high slot with a yawning net to hit, but somehow, Mason got his glove hand across to deny the young B what looked like a surefire goal. The NHL reviewed it, but the call on the ice of no goal stood, leaving the score at 4-2.

That opened the door for Philly’s quick strikes to tie the game and eventually force overtime, especially after the B’s did not register a single shot on Mason in the final 12 minutes and change of regulation.

Ryan Spooner took a hooking call after Michael Del Zotto all but grabbed onto Spooner’s stick while hurling himself to the ice in spectacular fashion, but it worked to perfection. The Flyers went on the 4-on-3 man advantage with Bergeron-Zdeno Chara-MQuaid unable to clear the zone before the puck worked over Giroux for the one-timer that found the back of the net past Rask.

UP

Patrice Bergeron- On the day his first child, a son named Zack was born to him and wife Stephanie, Bergeron assisted on the Connolly goal and added one of his own. As Globe scribe Amalie Benjamin said- assist, goal and baby- thats got to be some kind of newfangled trick for the new dad, who couldn’t quite pull out the win for his boy.

Brett Connolly- For the former Lightning high-end prospect, this goal was a long time coming and he didn’t miss. He also displayed speed and quickness throughout the game, though that was all he was able to generate on the score sheet. If Connolly could put it all together, the B’s will benefit and for now- finding the back of the net is a good start for him.

Chris Kelly- He got one shorthanded goal and was instrumental on the Hayes tally with a hustling back check to diffuse a Philadelphia scoring chance then transition the play back the other way. The savvy veteran is contributing this season with his typical three-zone effectiveness while also adding some early production.

DOWN

Zac Rinaldo- C’mon, man. All that talk of turning over a new leaf…it doesn’t matter if the hit was technically shoulder-to-chest contact- it was unnecessary as Couturier did not have the puck and was looking away from Rinaldo as he came in. Fair or not- Rinaldo is not going to get the benefit of the doubt on plays like that, and so he’s getting hammered in the court of public opinion right now, especially since Couturier is out with what is believed to be a concussion. Not smart, but a lot of critics said this was coming and it only took six games. C’mon man.

Tuukka Rask- At some point, you have to quit making excuses for the guy. He’s off, and this was a game the Bruins played well enough to win, save for the fact that they didn’t get some key stops from him when they needed it.  Even if you allow for the fact that Kevan Miller’s turnover behind the net leading to the first Giroux strike was not on him, he was off the angle on the Simmonds goal and simply isn’t playing like the All-Star caliber goalie the B’s need him to be. It’s not Bobrovskian on the scale of disappointments in the early season, but the Bruins and their fans have a right to expect a whole lot more than what Rask is giving them right now.

David Pastrnak- Love the kid’s talent and enthusiasm, but the turnovers continue and when he had a glittering chance to put the game away, he wasn’t able to, opening the door for the Flyers comeback. You have to grit your teeth and live with the mistakes given how hard he works and how well intentioned he is, but he’s hurting the team and needs to simplify/try to find a balance between the high-risk decisions he’s making and the natural ability we all know he has to score points in this league.

Joonas Kemppainen- At this point, I’ve seen enough. He’s soft on the puck, not assertive enough, appears to be a step behind when it matters. Most of the time he looks like he’s in the right spots but  is just not making plays. I have to think Max Talbot would give you more effective all-around play on the bottom line than this guy will at this stage.

Kevan Miller- He’s got to be better in his own end. His aborted attempt to reverse the puck led to the goal that pulled Philly back into it, and when you’re a fringe d-man, you can’t afford those kinds of mistakes. Miller is one tough nut and a rugged customer, but he doesn’t have enough in the way of talent to get by when he makes gaffes out of what should be a routine exchange. Tighten up.

Ryan Spooner- Great on the power play, but not getting it done at even strength where the advanced stats are exposing him down near the bottom of the league in puck possession. The penalty he took in OT won’t help his case either, but in his defense, Del Zotto sold that like a Sotheby’s auctioneer.

Tough loss in a game the Bruins really had on their plate to win. It won’t get any easier when they travel to Brooklyn to face the Islanders on Friday, but play away from the TD Garden has offset their poor performance at home, so we’ll see.

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

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

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

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

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

The defense pairings:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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