John-Michael Liles has missed the last 14 games with a concussion. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles has missed the last 14 games with a concussion. (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time since he was helped off the ice by teammate Adam McQuaid after a thunderous crash into the TD Garden endboards — and kneed in the head by Austin Czarnik on his way there — in a Nov. 27 win over the Lightning, Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles was back on the ice with his teammates this morning.

Out for the last 14 games with a concussion, Liles was a participant in the B’s morning skate at Nationwide Arena ahead of tonight’s game with the Blue Jackets, and though it was not his first time skating (Julien noted that Liles has skated on his own in recent days), Liles does seem to remain a ways away from a return to game action.

“Still no contact with him, so he’s not cleared,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Liles’ status. “He’s going through the protocol, and eventually he’ll move to some contact if he can get through this.”

In Liles’ absence, the Bruins have leaned heavily on Colin Miller, who has one goal, three points, and 22 shots on goal in 12 games without Liles (if you include the Lightning game in which Liles was injured less than five minutes into play), along with Kevan Miller (who returned to action just a couple of games before Liles was injured), while the club’s seventh defenseman, Joe Morrow, has stepped in for five games since Liles’ injury.

An experienced defender with the ability to play both sides, Kevan Miller has taken on the bulk of Liles’ minutes (and played both the left and right side) and situational hockey plug-in fix to a struggling pair, with 17:27 of time on ice per night.

Liles’ presence is a welcomed one, of course, but there’s still no set date or even targeted date for the 36-year-old defender to return.

“It’s unknown,” Julien said.

Liles, acquired from the Hurricanes in exchange for prospect Anthony Camara, a 2016 third-round draft pick, and 2017 fifth-round draft pick last trade deadline, has recorded five assists and 19 shots on goal in 22 games for the B’s this season.

The Bruins have gone 6-4-4 since Liles went down.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Frank Vatrano

Frank Vatrano

Happy holidays! Here’s the mailbag …

How much of a difference will Frank Vatrano make to the Bruins line-up? Jimmy, West Springfield, MA

Well, we saw an immediate impact as the Massachusetts native scored to put the Bruins up 1-0 on his second shot of the season Thursday in Sunrise, Fla. But this is just the second season for Vatrano so expectations ought to be tempered somewhat for the 22-year-old free agent signing. We know that he has an NHL-caliber shot but still haven’t seen him perform over a full NHL season so he still has a small sample size (he scored eight goals in 39 games last season and has one goal in two games this season). One thing is certain about Vatrano: he’s going to shoot the puck and shoot it often. If he can put the whole package together, it’s not a stretch to think he’s turns out to be a Top 6 guy over the next couple of years.

What’s up with Anton Khudobin? Jeff, Nashua, NH

He definitely hasn’t looked the great back-up he was here four seasons ago—a performance, by the way, that earned him a two-year, $4.5 million deal from the same Carolina Hurricanes team that handed him an OT loss last night. But you do wonder how many more subpar performances the team will tolerate before perhaps giving Zane McIntyre, (who has been scorching hot in Providence) a shot at doing a better job as the team’s No. 2 goalie. Khudobin is popular teammate and good guy but the simple fact of the matter is his 3.06 and .885 aren’t numbers that any team wants to see on their goalie’s stats page. Not to mention, Claude Julien needs a guy he can rely on when he needs to spell Tuukka Rask, and he’s simply not getting it lately.

Have you ever seen so many streaking teams in one season? Ralph, Tewksbury, MA

Nope. I can’t recall ever seeing this many teams put up such lengthy winning streaks like this before. I’m half-expecting Frank the Tank from “Old School” to show up for one last hurrah. Two teams currently have double-digit win streaks (Columbus at 12 and Minnesota at 10) and I can’t remember ever seeing that either. Still, while a long streak is a nice way to stockpile points to ensure a playoff appearance, it is hardly an indicator of future post-season success. And even with so many teams going on such impressive runs, only one can win the Stanley Cup.

It’s that time of the year … what are your favorite Christmas movies? Jessica, Medford, MA

I got “Bad Santa” as my favorite. Billy Bob Thornton’s epic, thieving ‘Santa’ is hilarious and the movie pulls off being raunchy as hell while still keeping that Christmas spirit. No small feat. “A Christmas Story” is No. 2. The timeless tale of Ralphie gets the deserved airs all day over and over again on Christmas slot because it still holds up 33 years after its debut. And third, I have “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation” because the Griswolds are always a treat (regardless of who is playing the kids). Add in the superb supporting cast led by Cousin Eddie (Randy Quaid) and you got yourself a Yuletide classic. And on that note, I want to wish everybody a Merry Christmas and hopes for a much better 2017.

Blog Author: 
Rear Admiral

It’s not goaltender Anton Khudobin’s fault that the Bruins lost to the Hurricanes by a 3-2 final Friday night.

Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin has one win in eight games this season. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin has one win in eight games this season. (James Guillory/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s not goaltender Anton Khudobin’s fault that the Bruins lost to the Hurricanes by a 3-2 final Friday night. But at the same time, and for the sixth time in seven starts this season, he didn’t really help.

Saddled with the overtime loss thanks to a Teuvo Teravainen shot that beat him upstairs, the 20-of-23 night from Khudobin dropped his record on the year down to 1-5-1 with an .885 save percentage.

Beyond the final saves total, though, the loss stuck out as another night in which Khudobin failed to make the big stops the Bruins without question need him to as the necessary breather to Tuukka Rask.

When the ice tilted the ‘Canes way with the Bruins up 2-0, the 30-year-old Khudobin was beat by a shorthanded breakaway goal from Jordan Staal and was clean by Justin Faulk off a faceoff play that Bruins head coach Claude Julien said was mentioned as something to watch out for heading into this game. It also didn’t help Khudobin that Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward, who was peppered for 33 shots, seemed to make countless big stops — and at every turn, especially when the ‘Canes clawed back into the game — while Khudobin caved.

But at a certain point, you need — or better yet, expect — Khudobin to help himself.

Was the team in front of Khudobin at their best? Of course not. Austin Czarnik misplayed the puck at the blue line to lead to Staal’s shorthanded goal. Ryan Spooner opted to try to slide in an attempt to play the puck versus taking Faulk at the blue, which allowed Faulk to fly into uncontested and rifle one over Khudobin. And the Hurricanes did completely dominate the puck for a solid minute-plus before Teravainen deked around Spooner on a pump-fake and scored the game-winning overtime goal.

But even if the B’s struggle in front of Khudobin (which they did), there’s an expectation that your goalie — especially your backup goaltender — needs to come up with stops or nights that either silences the other team’s momentum or generates some for your own team. Trust in a backup netminder is an absolute must for any head coach of a winning team — or actually, any team, winning or losing — and without it, you’re lost and the strain is felt across the board, especially on your starting netminder.

Realistically speaking (and barring an injury to a starter during the regular season), having the ability to divvy out about 18-25 starts to a backup is the only real way to give your team a fighting chance at the Stanley Cup given the four-round grind that awaits you. But without trust, that can’t happen, and you’re talking about a starter that logs 65-75 games (a death sentence).

And trust in Khudobin has paid off just once this year, with a 29-of-30 win against the Hurricanes on Dec. 1 at TD Garden.

It’s actually the only win by any B’s goaltender not named Rask, too, as Malcolm Subban didn’t even finish his lone start of the season while Zane McIntyre took two tough luck losses with matchups against Henrik Lundqvist and Carey Price.

36 games into the season, that’s just not even close to what the Bruins need if they’re going to find actual time to rest Rask.

When you look back at the B’s failure to qualify for the postseason in 2015, so much of that really seemed to come back to the utter exhaustion Rask had to play through. Rask had to suit up for 29 of the club’s final 32 games of the season, and it’s impossible to forget Rask’s near temper tantrum when he was summoned to the crease on what was supposed to be a total night off when Subban could not make it out of the second period of his NHL debut in Feb. 2015.

That grind happened because Bruins coach Claude Julien straight-up could not trust Niklas Svedberg. He never said that directly, but goodness was it ever obvious by the end of the season. Svedberg, by the way, finished that year with seven wins and a .918 save percentage in 14 starts. Those numbers blow Khudobin’s current figures out of the water, so, that’s… well, that’s something.

Is Khudobin better than his current numbers? You’d of course like to think so. It’s almost impossible that he’s not.

But it’s clear that right now this is not the same Khudobin that Julien could trust in 2013. While Khudobin has always been a bit of an adventuring battler (I found that he at times leaves massive angles open and fights the puck down low on the ice with the style reminiscent of early Tim Thomas), that style was able to work when Khudobin played behind a younger Chara, healthy-and-in-his-prime Dennis Seidenberg, and defensive corps completed by underrated depth pieces like Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference. Now, well, not so much, and the stats show it, as Khudobin has the second-worst save percentage among any NHL goaltender with at least seven starts this season (only the Flyers’ Michael Neuvirth has been worse than Khudobin in that regard this year, with an .859 save percentage.) This year’s version looks closer to the Khudobin that was waived by the Ducks last season as he struggled and fell down to No. 3 on the organizational depth chart behind Frederik Andersen and John Gibson.

Something that could very well happen to Khudobin once again based on the progression on the B’s farm.

It’s with the Providence Bruins that McIntyre has eviscerated the AHL competition out of the gate, with a perfect 8-0-0 record and league-best 1.28 goals against average and .956 save percentage, and 35-of-36 showing in his last start.

And at this rate and with losses like Friday’s to the Hurricanes the only consistent part of Khudobin’s game this year, it’s not a matter of if Khudobin drops down to the third spot on the club’s depth chart while McIntyre bumps back to the NHL, but when.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
It might be time to put the Winter Classic on the shelf  for a few years. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

It might be time to put the Winter Classic on the shelf for a few years. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

In case you didn’t know, Dec. 23 is an official holiday. Happy Festivus!

In line with Festivus traditions, and before we get to the Feats of Strength, it’s time for the Airing of Grievances (NHL style). I got a lot of problems with you people, and now you’re going to hear about it.

OK, Winter Classic and outdoor games, that’s enough

Remember the first Winter Classic? It snowed, the goalies were wearing winter hats on top of their helmets, and it involved the game’s best player (Sidney Crosby), and it went to a shootout where Crosby had the game on his stick (spoiler: he scored). The pictures that came out of that game were incredible, and it was clear that the NHL struck gold. And it took less than a decade for the league to let the event become completely oversaturated and just not that interesting.

In case you didn’t know or care to know (I honestly had to Google this), this year’s Winter Classic will be played in St. Louis between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks. (This is now the fifth outdoor games involving the Blackhawks since 2009.) And at first, the venues were interesting. Ralph Wilson Stadium. Wrigley Field. Fenway Park. The Big House in Ann Arbor.

Now, we’ve cycled through so many venues that we’re now going back to Heinz Field. Neat. But who cares?

Between the Winter Classic and the Stadium Series (the game at Heinz field between the Penguins and Flyers is going to be filed under the Stadium Series umbrella), the league has simply had too many of these games in recent years and they often involve the same teams. Behind the Blackhawks’ five outdoor games, the Penguins will be in their fourth this winter, the Flyers will be in their third, same for the Red Wings and Rangers, and the Bruins have been in two.

The overexposure has really taken a lot of allure out of these games.

My idea: Put it on the shelf for a few years. Come back with a crazy awesome venue. Involve a non-traditional matchup, too.

Malcolm Subban, what’s the deal? 

The Bruins selected Malcolm Subban with the 25th overall pick in 2012. It’s 2016, and Subban has appeared in two games for the Bruins. He has not finished either one of those games. Subban was pulled after he allowed three goals on six shots in his NHL debut in 2015. A season later, Subban received an early hook with three goals on 16 shots against. Both starts lasted 31 minutes.

Subban has actually regressed in the AHL, too, with a 2-7-4 record for the P-Bruins this season. His .894 save percentage ranks 40th out of 47 qualified goaltenders and his 3.27 goals against average is the fourth-worst.

Subban may have hit finally professional rock bottom, too, with seven goals against on 39 shots in a Dec. 17 loss.

What’s weird about this is that Subban is better than this. It’s just… there’s something off. You can’t put your finger on it, exactly, but for me it does come back to his mental makeup and attitude. It’s as if when one goes in, they all go in. And an NHL goaltender can’t have that sort of mindset. Not even close to it, actually. Memories like goldfish. Not save attempts like goldfish.

The Florida Panthers are still Mickey Mouse

Jaromir Jagr is incredible. He’s the best. Love him to pieces. And it was awesome to see Jagr pass Mark Messier for second on the league’s all-time scoring list against the Bruins. But how absolutely goofy are the Panthers for stopping a game in the middle of play to hold a ceremony for the 44-year-old legend? The answer, of course, is very.

You can almost see the look on Jagr’s face that’s like, ‘Oh, God, we have to do this right now?’

Not only did it stop the Panthers’ momentum against the Bruins (and they had a ton of it), but it was just so weird. This was absolutely something that could have been held off on until the club’s next home game and actually meant something. Very little seemed to be gained from presenting a commemorative gold stick and interviewing an exasperated Jagr in the middle of the game. For both the Panthers and Jagr, as the club still lost for the eighth time in their last 12 games.

All that said, I hope Jagr plays til he’s 60. No, 65. 80! 80 years old.

Give Jimmy Hayes some credit

Jimmy Hayes might be playing some of the best hockey he’s played in a Bruins uniform, and yet, he’s still the butt of everyone’s joke. That’s weird to me. Rarely have I seen fans of a team just openly mock a player — even when he finds a way to score a goal or record a point or even just make a good play — like the way I see people rip Hayes to shreds at every possible turn. If you’re going to dump on him when he struggles, at least be a little bit fair and give the dude some credit when he contributes.

Stop telling me that the Vegas Golden Knights have a cool logo

They don’t.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

The Bruins had close to their full roster for the first time Thursday night against 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.

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