Bruins winger Frank Vatrano scored in his first NHL game of the season in Thursday's win over the Panthers. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger Frank Vatrano scored in his first NHL game of the season in Thursday’s win over the Panthers. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

On the shelf for the first 34 games of the season as a result of September foot surgery, Bruins winger Frank Vatrano was counting down the days to his NHL return.

He had to be patient, had to bide his time (you could tell just how badly Vatrano, recalled and cleared to play after two games in the AHL last weekend, wanted to play against the Islanders the other night), and had to understand that even when he did come back, that there might be some time until he made a noticeable impact for the Big B’s.

That time, as it turned out, was just one-plus period.

On the ice for just his sixth shift of the night (and first of the middle frame), Vatrano beat Panthers James Reimer netminder with a signature quick wrister fired just 2:09 into the second period in a 3-1 win over the Panthers at the BB&T Center.

Reunited with Austin Czarnik — Vatrano’s preferred playmaking centerman during his absurd run with the P-Bruins a year ago — on the B’s third line with Riley Nash on the right side, the 22-year-old provided a noticeable spark and played with the shoot-first mentality that the Black and Gold had penciled into their top six before Vatrano went under the knife after a freak foot injury sustained while jogging.

The Bruins rolled with the momentum of Vatrano’s first goal of the season with a power-play goal from Patrice Bergeron, scored just 3:04 after their first goal, for Bergeron’s first goal in nine games.

And with a 2-0 edge through 40 minutes of action, the Bruins went into a defensive shell against the trailing Panthers, and it was Aleksander Barkov that beat Tuukka Rask up high, scored with under seven minutes to go in the third.

But the Bruins caught a break on a 6-on-5 chance for the Panthers when Keith Yandle whiffed on a puck at the attacking blue line after a Florida faceoff win and allowed Brad Marchand and David Backes to charge towards an empty net, where Backes deposited a goal for the dagger in a 3-1 final.

With the win, the Bruins improved to 3-0-0 against the Panthers this season.

Here are four other things we learned in the win…

Power play tweaks come with noticeable jump to Bruins

The Bruins knew they had to tinker with their absolutely moribund power play. Getting both Vatrano and David Pastrnak back in action allowed Claude Julien to do just that, too. Off the top unit (if you care to call it that) went David Backes and David Krejci, and up to the first unit went Ryan Spooner and Pastrnak (to the point opposite Torey Krug).

And hey, it worked.

Although the Bruins failed to get a goal on their first opportunity of the night, the Bruins had a straight-up relentless attack from the second unit — with Krejci and Colin Miller on the point, and Backes, Czarnik and Vatrano as the forwards — and peppered Reimer with multiple looks (and the ever important second-chance opportunity).

In what was their best 5-on-4 night in weeks, the Bruins finally broke through with a tangible result, too, behind Bergeron’s power-play goal (his second of the season and first since Nov. 19).

The B’s are now 3-for-32 on the power play in the month of December.

Rask rebounds with strong showing

Tuukka Rask was not at his best Tuesday night against the Islanders. Pulled for the first time this season (something that happened to No. 40 all of three times a year ago) after he allowed three goals on 13 shots, Julien shut any talk of Rask being rattled right the hell down. “He’ll be fine,” Julien said after the loss. And he was right.

Back in the cage for tonight’s game, Rask was his usual poised self, and turned away 29-of-30 shots against.

This was Rask’s 18th win in just 22 career games against the Panthers.

Panthers serve as cautionary tale to Fire Claude crowd

The frustrations surrounding the B’s are understandable.

This team should be better than where they are right now, and the team should not no-show with the frequency they do (think: losses to the Avalanche, Maple Leafs, and Islanders). A lot of that blame tends to get placed on the team’s coach, too. And by now, Julien’s been fired a billion times. And if the Bruins continued to stink up the joint (read as: lost this game), the demand for change probably would have wildfired to the other New England states. But the team the Bruins beat tonight should serve as a reminder that simply firing a coach is not always the way to actually fix whatever is ailing a team.

Frustrated with the overall play and malaise of the team after a franchise-best year the season before, the Panthers fired Gerard Gallant after the team stumbled to an 11-10-1 (23 of a possible 44 points) start out of the gate. The Panthers replaced Gallant with general manager Tom Rowe, and the club has gone 4-4-4 (12 of a possible 24 points) since. They’ve accumulated some more loser points, sure, but it’s clear that whatever bugged the Panthers then is still bugging them.

Of course things could change and the Panthers could catch fire. But if they do, it won’t be because of a coaching change. And if they don’t, they’ll be just another team that found out that the coach was not the problem.

 

If the ingredients are bad and expired, the meal’s going to taste bad no matter the chef.

Jaromir Jagr moves into sole possession of second place on NHL’s all-time points list

Chasing history, and in need of just one point to move ahead of Mark Messier for sole possession of No. 2 on the NHL’s all-time points list (Jaromir Jagr recorded three assists Tuesday night to move into a tie with Messier, at 1,887 points), Jagr did just that with an assist on Barkov’s third period goal in a losing effort.

“It went off my ass,” Jagr, an ageless wonder and treasure, said in a bizarre in-game ceremony to celebrate the milestone.

The modern day Gordie Howe in terms of productivity at his age, Jagr recorded nine of those 1,888 points with the Bruins.

Next up for the legendary Czech winger? Wayne Gretzky.

Next up for the Bruins? A Friday night head-to-head with the Hurricanes.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Jaromir Jagr is one point away from moving into sole possession of the second-most points in NHL history. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Jaromir Jagr is one point away from moving into sole possession of the second-most points in NHL history. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have been here before. Jaromir Jagr, who might honestly be the first machine ever made (hit the bricks, waterwheels and windmills), has been here before. And yet, here they are, back for more.

It was in a Mar. 7 meeting between the Bruins and Panthers that the ageless Jagr moved into third place on the NHL’s all-time points list with an assist in the first period of a loss to the Black and Gold. Now, one offseason and 37 points later, the 44-year-old Jagr enters tonight’s game in need of just one point to pass Mark Messier for sole possession of second place on the NHL’s all-time points leaderboard.

With three assists in the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Sabres two nights ago, Jagr, who said he dropped 15 pounds over the summer, bumped his season total on up to 19, and his career total to 1,887.

Familiar with the Bruins long before his brief run with the club in 2013 — Jagr, acquired from the Stars in the lockout-delayed season, totaled two goals and nine points in 11 games with the Bruins (and added 10 assists in 22 playoff games, figures that are not included in those 1,887 points) — Jagr has made it a point in torching the Bruins since the club walked away from him following their Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks.

In 13 games against the B’s since 2013 between the Devils and Panthers, Jagr has totaled two goals and 11 points, and has recorded 34 goals and 101 points in 83 career games against the Bruins in his career.

After Messier, Jagr will begin a climb towards Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-best 2,857 points.

Something he will reach by 2080, when he is probably still playing.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Jaromir Jagr is one point away from moving into sole possession of the second-most points in NHL history. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Jaromir Jagr is one point away from moving into sole possession of the second-most points in NHL history. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have been here before. Jaromir Jagr, who might honestly be the first machine ever made (hit the bricks, waterwheels and windmills), has been here before. And yet, here they are, back for more.

It was in a Mar. 7 meeting between the Bruins and Panthers that the ageless Jagr moved into third place on the NHL’s all-time points list with an assist in the first period of a loss to the Black and Gold. Now, one offseason and 37 points later, the 44-year-old Jagr enters tonight’s game in need of just one point to pass Mark Messier for sole possession of second place on the NHL’s all-time points leaderboard.

With three assists in the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Sabres two nights ago, Jagr, who said he dropped 15 pounds over the summer, bumped his season total on up to 19, and his career total to 1,887.

Familiar with the Bruins long before his brief run with the club in 2013 — Jagr, acquired from the Stars in the lockout-delayed season, totaled two goals and nine points in 11 games with the Bruins (and added 10 assists in 22 playoff games, figures that are not included in those 1,887 points) — Jagr has made it a point in torching the Bruins since the club walked away from him following their Stanley Cup Final loss to the Blackhawks.

In 13 games against the B’s since 2013 between the Devils and Panthers, Jagr has totaled two goals and 11 points, and has recorded 34 goals and 101 points in 83 career games against the Bruins in his career.

After Messier, Jagr will begin a climb towards Wayne Gretzky’s NHL-best 2,857 points.

Something he will reach by 2080, when he is probably still playing.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Jimmy Hayes skated in 125 games for the Panthers from 2013 to 2015. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Jimmy Hayes skated in 125 games for the Panthers from 2013 to 2015 before he was traded to the Bruins. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

In Florida for the first of two road games before the league’s holiday break, the Bruins are expected to get both David Pastrnak and Frank Vatrano back in action when they square off with the Panthers tonight.

And in what’s a definite no-brainer for Bruins coach Claude Julien, forward Jimmy Hayes is expected to remain in the lineup.

That’s not something that you would have said — let alone see actually happen — a month ago. Or even two weeks ago.

Rejuvenated on a fourth line with Anton Blidh and Dominic Moore, the 6-foot-5 Hayes has made an undeniable impact for the B’s in their last two games, with the only goal in Sunday’s win over the Kings, and on the ice for both of the club’s goals in a 4-2 loss to the Isles on Tuesday.

“He seems to be doing more,” Julien said of Hayes. “I can tell you he’s doing the things that we’ve talked about. He’s going to the net, he’s winning some battles, he’s playing with an edge, and he just seems to be finding his confidence. Those kind of things are important.”

“I just need to continue to play with confidence,” Hayes admitted. “It’s obviously been a long year but you stick with it, you just got to find a way to produce and find a way to stay in the lineup and be effective and help.”

There was an almost impossible struggle to Hayes’ year. Pointless through the first 19 games of the season (and 35 games overall if you care to include the 16-game goalless stretch Hayes finished last season with), Hayes was finally on the board with a Nov. 27 goal against the Lightning, but went another seven games without a point — and was in and out of the lineup as a healthy scratch over that stretch — before last Sunday’s goal and Tuesday’s strong effort behind a team-leading six shots on net.

“You just need to find ways to get out of those struggles,” Hayes continued, “and sometimes they last a little bit longer than you want them to, but you just find a way, work hard, and be a good teammate.”

But Hayes knows that two points in two games doesn’t erase the past or permanently solidify his spot in the lineup just yet. But another strong night, and against the team that traded him to the Bruins two summers ago, certainly wouldn’t hurt.

“There’s always motivation to play and stay in the lineup and be an effective player, but especially against a team you used to play for,” the winger, who played in 125 games for the Panthers from 2013 to 2015 before he was moved the Bruins in exchange for Reilly Smith and the retired-but-not-retired Marc Savard’s contract, said.

At the same time, Hayes isn’t one to obsess over the player (Smith) on the opposite bench.

It’s understandable given the fact that Smith emerged as a legitimate top six winger for the Panthers last year with a career-high 25 goals a year ago (and strong playoff performance) while Hayes battled his own inconsistencies in a 13-goal, 29-point campaign. The numbers still haven’t worked out in the B’s favor, of course, as Smith’s tallied six goals and 14 points in 33 games this season while Hayes has two goals and three points in 29 contests (though Hayes and Smith have the same amount of five-on-five goals this season while Hayes has accomplished the feat in 273 minutes compared to the 456 it’s taken Smith).

“I never look at who I got traded for,” Hayes, who has been moved three times in his NHL career, said. “Sometimes you forget who you get traded for. But he’s obviously a good player, and he’s part of that team’s success now.”

The good news for Hayes though is that he finally appears to be a working part of the B’s success.

With Pastrnak and Vatrano likely back, forwards Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller are the expected healthy scratches up front for the B’s, while defenseman Joe Morrow is likely to sit as a scratch for the fifth straight game.

Tuukka Rask is expected back in net for the Bruins. In a night that simply was not his, Rask was lifted from Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders after he allowed three goals on 13 shots, but enters play with two wins in two head-to-heads with the Panthers this season. Overall, the 29-year-old has 17 wins and a .949 save percentage in 21 career games against the Panthers.

The Panthers are expected to counter with James Reimer. He made 30 stops in a 3-1 win over the Avalanche last Friday, and has four wins and a .904 save percentage in 12 games for the Panthers this season. Reimer has seven wins in 15 games against the B’s.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – David Backes

Frank Vatrano – Austin Czarnik – Riley Nash

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Jimmy Hayes

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Tuukka Rask

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Relax, Claude. It doesn't actually end up happening. (Jerome Miron/USA Today)Bad news, Claude Julien. You may want to sit down for this. 



Anton Blidh scored his first NHL game in Tuesday's loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Anton Blidh scored his first NHL game in Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

It will take all of a minute — maybe even less, actually — to talk with Bruins forward Anton Blidh before the E-word comes up.

Energy.

It’s what he’s about, and it’s what the coaching staff — be it in Boston, Providence, or back home in Frolunda, where Blidh’s professional career began — expects of him.

The Bruins found that energy behind the first goal of Blidh’s NHL career in a botched comeback attempt Tuesday night, too, though the look on Blidh’s face after the game did not scream that of a player happy to have scored the first goal of his National Hockey League career. The words that came out of that face all but confirmed that.

“It’s a nice experience,” a blunt Blidh said of the goal, which was banked off Islander defenseman Nick Leddy and into the net. “I’m glad to score my first NHL goal, but we lost and that sucks.”

Like lights left on from 9-to-5, it was energy wasted. And lots of it.

In just his seventh NHL game, and third since his latest NHL recall less than a week ago, the sixth-round draft pick from 2013 was a force on the B’s fourth line with Dominic Moore and Jimmy Hayes, and paced the Bruins with a forward-leading eight shot attempts (five landed on net), and has found solid production out of the gate to his NHL career, with one goal and two points, along with 16 shots on goal and 18 hits. Blidh’s contributed that to the table while also maintaining that annoying-to-play-against style that’s become noticed by teammates and opponents alike, as Blidh was credited with three hits on the night. He’s also made life awfully difficult for a Bruins front office short on space but undeniably incapable of sending Blidh down given the way he’s responded since getting that first taste of NHL life (and subsequent but brief demotion back down to the bus life of the AHL).

“He brings a lot of speed and he’s got some skill,” Hayes said of Blidh’s north-south game. “He just continues to get pucks to the net and he plays hard and he gets underneath the other team’s skin, he’s been very effective.”

Not an overly physical presence, what Blidh does to opponents is more bothersome than anything else. Drew Doughty’s slash on Blidh last Sunday — something Blidh did not retaliate on, instead goading the perennial Norris candidate into a two-minute minor — showed that. And it’s that ability to seek and annoy that’s become an asset to that line.

“That’s a great quality for him to have,” said Hayes. “He continues to find ways to get out there against the top opponents to get under their skin and try to get them to draw some penalties. I think he’s been doing a heck of a job of it.”

There’s a definite comfort factor when it comes to Blidh as well, as it’s rare for an agitator to simply come in and start going bananas in front of the net or against the opposition, unless he wants to develop a reputation and put his own team in danger.

“I think if you’re smart about it and he does a good job I have no issues with that,” Claude Julien, who went as far to refuse to call the Blidh-Moore-Hayes line a fourth line, said of Blidh’s agitating nature. “If anything, I like his game. He’s forechecking, he’s one of those guys that’s going to go to the front of the net. I keep talking about that in every press conference I have is our net-front presence — well, he’s not afraid to go there. I like that. Sometimes doing those things really ticks off the other team.”

“I come in, [and it’s] like give me a couple games and I can make my game,” Blidh, who considers Gothenburg, Swe., his hometown, said of his ability to adapt into the NHL and figure out his exact role. “[I’ve] felt more comfortable.”

And the more comfortable Blidh gets, the more uncomfortable life will be for the Bruins’ opponents.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

The Bruins scored just one goal on 30 shots last Sunday. Last night, they scored just two times on 50 shots. If you care to go back even further, the Bruins have scored just 14 goals on their last 251 shots over the last seven games (a shooting percentage under six).

Bruins winger David Pastrnak (elbow) is nearing a return. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger David Pastrnak has missed the last two games with an elbow injury, but is nearing a return. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins scored just one goal on 30 shots last Sunday. Last night, they scored just two times on 50 shots. If you care to go back even further, the Bruins have scored just 14 goals on their last 251 shots over the last seven games (a shooting percentage under six). That’s in line with the club’s year-long struggles in this department, too, as the B’s have the league’s worst shooting percentage as a team (6.71%).

So it’s no secret that the Bruins need an offensive injection ahead of a four-game road trip — though broken up by the league’s holiday break — that begins with Thursday’s game against the Panthers.

Insert David Pastrnak and/or Frank Vatrano.

“Either guy could,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said when asked about Pastrnak and Vatrano’s availability for the club’s two-game trip to Florida and then Carolina. “There’s no sure shot answer to that, we still have to make sure everything is OK before that happens.”

On the ice for Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, it was the 20-year-old Pastrnak, who has missed the last two games after the removal of an olecranon bursa from his right elbow last Friday (the same injury that kept David Backes out of action for five games earlier this season), that led the stretch and was all smiles in the B’s locker room. 

“I’m happy I’m back on the ice,” Pastrnak said. “I missed two games, it could be worse. Always can be worse.”

Pastrnak has tallied the second-most goals in the NHL this year, with 19, and Pastrnak has accomplished this while missing a total of seven games on the year (two to suspension and five combined games with two different injuries).

In the case of Vatrano, a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s loss to the Islanders, it’s more about simply biding his time in the hopes of a return after scoring two goals on eight shots in two games for the P-Bruins last weekend. At the same time, there’s no denying the 22-year-old’s eagerness to get back into action after a near three-month long recovery from foot surgery.

“I just want to get into as many games as possible,” Vatrano admitted. “Obviously I wasn’t in the lineup last night, but I wouldn’t take it as a negative. They want me to be ready when I’m ready. I wanna step in and be ready and not have any rust in my game.”

A native of East Longmeadow, Mass., Vatrano recorded 36 goals in 36 games for the P-Bruins a year ago, and added eight goals and 11 points on 99 shots in 39 NHL games with the Bruins.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins put a season-high 50 shots on net in a 4-2 loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins put a season-high 50 shots on net in a 4-2 loss to the Islanders. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Tuesday night was a new low and new high for the Bruins all in one.

Squared up with the visiting Islanders, a team that came to TD Garden with just two wins in 11 road contests this season, the Bruins put a season-high 50 shots on goal (and finished the game with 95 shot attempts in total, another season high) against Islanders netminder Thomas Greiss, but still found a way to lose, this time by a 4-2 final.

But the B’s gaudy shot totals were just that. These were, for the most, not high-quality looks or chances that made Greiss sweat. They were low-percentage opportunities that flubbed off Greiss and towards an area where a Bruin could not be found for a rebound or second-chance look. It was also a night in which many of the club’s best talents went missing or made their offensive impact at the wrong end of the ice.

“Some of those mistakes on those goals are coming from our best players, and secondary scoring is there, yet we’re still not getting the scoring we should from a lot of our guys,” a frustrated Claude Julien, whose team has now dropped six of their last eight games, said after the loss. “I think that until we can find, or some of our best players can find their games, we’re going to be playing these types of games, back and forth, winning a big one, losing another one, and so on, so forth.”

It was on the first Islander goal that Brad Marchand collided with Tuukka Rask. On the second, a rare bad pinch from Patrice Bergeron gave the Isles a 3-on-1 the other way that Thomas Hickey did not miss on, and on the third that Kevan Miller was bodied off a puck battle with Nikolay Kulemin for the goal that put an end to Rask’s night not even 27 minutes into the game.

“The first one, there’s nothing you can do about that,” Rask said after the loss. “Second one, felt like all was square. Then, you know, to seal the deal and wish a Merry Christmas to the Islanders on the third one and let’s call it a night.”

“It just seems like nothing’s really working out,” Marchand said. “Tonight we had 50 shots, and we had a ton of opportunities. A few crossbars and posts, just seems like it’s not going in for us and, you know, it is getting frustrating.”

Marchand, who had 15 goals on 110 shots at this point last year versus the nine goals on 102 shots he’s fired on net to date (Marchand was tied with Jimmy Hayes for the team lead in shots tonight, with six), is just one of the Bruins that’s found trouble pulling off a repeat performance — or even replicating the previously established norm, for that matter — in the goal department. Marchand is joined in his scoring doldrums by Bergeron, who has scored just four goals and nine points in 31 games this year and is currently paced for what would be a career-low in points, with 23.

“It’s one of those things where I guess, though it’s cliché, keep shooting on net and keep sticking with it is getting old and you want some results,” Bergeron admitted of his frustrations. “We’re at that point now.”

Only the members of the Bruins’ new-look fourth line — Anton Blidh, Jimmy Hayes, and the veteran Dom Moore — were on the board tonight, with Blidh’s first NHL goal and Moore’s eighth of the year, scored 4:08 apart in the third.

“I don’t know if I’m going to call it a fourth line, to be honest with you. They seem to be better than some of our lines,” Julien said of his fourth line while also throwing some shade at his pricier top six group. “So right now, it’s nice to see that some of those guys are doing their jobs, and we need more guys doing their jobs to the level that they should.”

In what was the team’s 23rd game of the year in which they scored two goals or fewer (and keep in mind they’ve only played 34 games to date), frustration mounted in an agitated locker room, and rightfully so behind what was their highest shot total of the season, and first 50-shot game since Apr. 2015. But the Bruins, who have put 40-plus shots on seven times now but have just two wins to their name in those games, know that these horrific shot numbers have to turn at some point. Or at least hope they will.

“Hopefully, eventually it will,” Marchand said.

 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

There will be nights where Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask bails a milquetoast offensive attack out of trouble (the Bruins may have had a season’s worth of those through the first three months of this season), just as there will be nights where the offense shows a game-long spark and gu