Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand

The National Post polled both NHL players and fans on a number of NHL-related topics recently, ranging from who they felt would win the Stanley Cup to which Canadian cities in the league they liked and disliked.

The Bruins were well-represented in the responses from players. On the subject of who was the “biggest pain in the ass to play against,” Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand tied for the most votes, as Chara, Marchand, Corey Perrt and Ryan Kesler each received 11 percent of the votes. Three-time Selke winner Patrice Bergeron got nine percent of the votes.

As one might have expected, the Bruins were also popular in the dirtiest player vote, as nearly half of the votes cast went to players in the Boston organization. Zac Rinaldo, who is currently playing in Providence but will serve a five-game suspension when he returns to the NHL, got 25 percent of the votes. Just behind him was Marchand at 22 percent. Marchand and Rinaldo tied for the most votes in last year’s poll.

Former Bruin Phil Kessel was voted the most overrated player in the NHL, getting 29 percent of the votes. To see the complete results as well as the fan vote, click here.

National Post graphic

National Post graphic

Blog Author: 
DJ Bean
Brett Connolly has been a healthy scratch for three of the Bruins' last four games.(Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

Brett Connolly has been a healthy scratch for three of the Bruins’ last four games.(Brad Rempel/USA Today Sports)

WILMINGTON — If Brett Connolly shot with the accuracy he used to describe his current status, he’d be a 30-goal-scorer.

“It’s obviously not enjoyable,” Connolly said Monday.

A gifted young player who entered the season with high expectations, Connolly’s lack of production with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand got him bumped to the bottom six early in the month. Recently, he’s been out of the lineup altogether, sitting three of the last four games as a healthy scratch.

In the one game he did play in that span, Connolly lost his cool prior to a faceoff and broke Aaron Ekblad’s stick at the drop of the puck for an obvious slashing call. He ended up playing just 4:45 that night, the last game action he has seen.

After being acquired for two second-round picks at the 2015 trade deadline, this is not how the 23-year-old Connolly (nine goals, 16 assist in 70 games) expected this season to go. Given that he’s on a one-year deal and will be a restricted free agent at season’s end, there’s reason to wonder whether he could be dealt this offseason.

“You’ve just got to keep plugging away,” Connolly said. “It’s the nature of the business. Hopefully things turn around.”

Whether Connolly should be out of the lineup is debatable. He probably offers more right now than Jimmy Hayes, but the Bruins made a three-year commitment to Hayes last offseason and are on the books for Hayes’ $2.3 million cap hit for the next two seasons. Hayes was also the Cam Neely/Don Sweeney leadership group’s acquisition; Connolly was acquired while Peter Chiarelli was still on the job.

Those things work against Connolly, but he has not helped himself. Connolly served as Bergeron and Marchand’s right wing for much of the season, but scored just six even-strength goals prior to Boston’s acquisition of Lee Stempniak. 

Connolly’s confidence was obviously shot during lengthy slumps (19 games without a goal from Dec. 2 to Jan. 13, one goal over 18 games from Jan. 26 to March 5) and one can only imagine where it is right now.

The former sixth overall pick said that when he’s been in the lineup recently, he’s found the adjustment to low minutes difficult. He’s liked how he’s fared when teamed with Landon Ferraro and Noel Acciari, but he’s received 10 minutes of ice time in only two of 10 games this month, a span that’s seen him play under six minutes in four games. Prior to the Stempniak acquisition, Connolly played at least 10 minutes in 58 of 60 games; he played 9:46 and 9:25 in the other two.

“I think it’s a little harder when you’re not playing as many minutes to get into the game,” Connolly said. “It’s a different game. You’ve just got to keep working on things in practice and keep believing in your abilities. I think things can change quickly; you’ve just got to be ready for your next opportunity. Hopefully it comes sooner rather than later.”

With Ryan Spooner out, Connolly can expect to return to the Bruins’ lineup Tuesday night in New Jersey, where he figures to skate with Ferraro and Acciari. Connolly, whose 1.23 shots on goal per game is the lowest among Bruins wingers with at least 30 games played, could benefit to throw some pucks on net once he gets back in the lineup.

“You always want to get more shots,” he said. “I think for me, that if I can get some more pucks on net, maybe I can get some more bounces and hopefully a couple of them go in.”

Said Claude Julien: “We want him to be a player that can give us some energy and make some plays, which he’s capable of doing. Obviously that was an ill-advised penalty that he took [against] the Panthers at a bad time. He’s got to make sure that he controls those kind of things better, but he needs to overall just be a better player and step up his game.”

Connolly still has plenty of hockey ahead of him, but whether that’s in Boston remains unclear. Asked whether being scratched for key games changed his longterm desire to stay with the Bruins, Connolly reiterated his preference to have a lengthy career in Boston.

“I’m not thinking about [leaving]. It’s a great organization,” Connolly said. “I’ve enjoyed my time here and it’s a team that believes in winning. That hasn’t even crossed my mind about what’s next. It’s about the present.”

Blog Author: 
DJ Bean
The Devils have been a difficult opponent for playoff teams recently. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

The Devils have been a difficult opponent for playoff teams recently. (Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)

WILMINGTON — The term “must-win” gets thrown around pretty loosely, but given that the Devils are the only non-playoff team the Bruins will face this week, Tuesday’s game is pretty much just that.

Though the Devils are out of the playoff picture and sold off parts at the trade deadline (most notably Lee Stempniak to Boston), Tuesday’s game will be a challenge for the Bruins, particularly considering that the B’s haven’t been scoring and the Devils have been stymieing playoff teams with the play of goaltender Scott Wedgewood.

“They always play really hard,” Stempniak said of the Devils. “That was the one thing we talked about at the beginning of the year there, was that no one gave us much credit and [we] had to play really well and play hard and prove everyone wrong. That’s been their mentality all year. Young guys that come up, they’re excited to have the opportunity and are looking forward to next year, and the guys that are there are very proud, so it will be a really proud test.”

Cory Schneider is currently with Albany of the AHL on a conditioning stint. The Marblehead native and Boston College product has not played since March 4 due to a sprained MCL. He’s expected to rejoin the NHL club on Tuesday, though it’s not known whether they’ll throw him into game action just yet.

In Schneider’s place of late has been Wedgewood, a 2010 third-round pick who was playing in the AHL (and one game in the ECHL) when Stempniak was with the Devils. Through four games, Wedgewood has been fantastic, posting a .957 save percentage. Sunday’s 3-2 loss to the Hurricanes marked the first time in four starts that Weddgewood had allowed multiple goals in a game, as he gave up one to the Blue Jackets, shut out the Penguins and blanked the Capitals in regulation before surrendering an overtime goal. 

On the season, the Devils have the 9th-lowest goals against average, as they’ve allowed 2.5 goals per game. That doesn’t sound like the kind of opponent the struggling Bruins should want to face right now.

After all, the team’s offense has been non-existent. The B’s have averaged just 1.66 goals over their last nine games, a stretch that has seen them put three pucks past a goalie in just one game (Boston’s other three-goal performance, Saturday against the Maple Leafs, included an empty-net goal).

“We’ve been getting a lot of chances, but we haven’t really found ways to score,” Loui Eriksson said. “All we can do is just continue getting shots on net and try to get more people in front and really be ready if a rebound comes out and be hungry in front of the net. Maybe that’s something that we can be better at. I think everyone knows we have to be better at that, too.”

The Bruins currently lead the Red Wings by three points for the third spot in the Atlantic Division, although Detroit has a game in hand. The Red Wings will play a very winnable game against the Sabres Monday and then face the Canadiens Tuesday, so it’s possible that if the Bruins don’t take care of the Devils, they could head into their St. Louis-Chicago road trip on the outside of the Atlantic looking in.

Such a scenario would not be welcome for the Bruins, who would likely have to face the Capitals if they were to get into the postseason with a wild card berth. Beating New Jersey would help avoid — or at least postpone — a major headache.

“At this time of year, we can’t really look at who we’re playing against,” David Krejci said. “There’s teams battling for playoff spots, some teams have new guys that want to show they belong in the NHL. You kind of go in the game with the right mindset and play your best hockey. It doesn’t matter who we play against.”

Blog Author: 
DJ Bean

WILMINGTON — Ryan Spooner, John-Michael Liles and Brad Marchand were all absent from Monday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena as the Bruins prepared for Tuesday’s game against the Devils. Neither Spooner nor Liles will travel with the team to New Jersey.

WILMINGTON — Ryan Spooner, John-Michael Liles and Brad Marchand were all absent from Monday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena as the Bruins prepared for a three-game road trip that will take them to New Jersey, St. Louis and Chicago.

WILMINGTON — Ryan Spooner, John-Michael Liles and Brad Marchand were all absent from Monday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena as the Bruins prepared for a three-game road trip that will take them to New Jersey, St. Louis and Chicago.

Spooner did not play the third period of Saturday’s game in Toronto due to an undisclosed injury, while Liles missed the game altogether as a result of a lower-body injury suffered in last Thursday’s loss to the Panthers. The reason of Marchand’s absence is currently unknown.

To this point, the Bruins have not made any recalls. The forward lines in practice looked as such:




Blog Author: 
DJ Bean

The Capitals would be a rough first-round matchup for the Bruins. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)The Bruins have six games remaining in the regular season.

Steve calls DJ and Pete to discuss what he thinks will happen down the stretch and if the B's will find a way into the playoffs. He does think they'll squeeze their way in. He talks about his reaction to the 1st period last night, how they regrouped and his overall reaction to how the team has performed this season.

[0:07:32] ... whenever it would sell the Bruins are capped Joba 'cause they're overpaying Gregory Campbell all stuff and I always say that that if you're complaining about the bottom of the roster than vineyard radiates on NB ...
[0:10:17] ... know he's struggling right now. Our it over the next. Week. The red wings will make up their game in hand they've got buffalo. At Montreal. Minnesota at home I believe and then also Toronto. Bruins have a sneaky hard game Tuesday against the doubles and they have date EU. Blues and David Brody with a yes exactly yes. You know the blues this year David but he was that. Lot here in Hamburg this year ...
[0:11:41] ... last one. Do the Bruins make the playoffs. Are they in the Atlantic Division or they finish that second wildcard because really did the first wild card really isn't up for grabs right now it's either it's either three year eight. Eight yeah me that the LD. Heard Atlantic Division team. At all had it better hope so there's they're screwed if they aren't as capitals Rodham over the first round. Are ...

DJ and Pete continue talking about who is accountable and deserves blame for the B's finding themselves in the position they're in. They talk about some of the guys Claude is still sending out there like Jimmy Hayes -- would Brett Connolly be an upgrade?
It's a very special Easter Sunday edition of Sunday Skate and DJ and Pete kick things off discussing the B's chances of making the playoffs and what constitutes a "must-win" game because it's looking like they're at the point for every remaining game. They looked awful in the 1st period last night, but figured things out against the Leafs. Still, their backs are against the wall. The guys discuss who will be held accountable if they somehow don't make the playoffs - Claude, Neely, Sweeney? Let's see if there's any fight left in this team first.