Through their first 33 games of the season, the Bruins have scored the fourth-fewest goals per contest (2.30) in the league while simultaneously averaging the third-most shots per game (33.3). Add it up and you have a Bruins club that simply lacks an offensive finish.

Frank Vatrano is nearing a return, but will not play tonight vs. the Islanders. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Frank Vatrano is nearing a return, but will not play tonight vs. the Islanders. (Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY Sports)

Through their first 33 games of the season, the Bruins have scored the fourth-fewest goals per contest (2.30) in the league while simultaneously averaging the third-most shots per game (33.3). Add it up and you have a Bruins club that simply lacks an offensive finish.

But one of the club’s projected finishers, winger Frank Vatrano, out since foot surgery in late Sept., is back, and there’s hope.

Just not yet.

Recalled by the Bruins for their Monday morning practice after two games in the American Hockey League over the weekend, Vatrano was once again on the ice for the optional morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of tonight’s head-to-head with the visiting Islanders, but will not suit up for tonight’s tilt, according to B’s coach Claude Julien.

The Bruins are, as expected given their need for consistent scoring (read as: they’re not going to rush him and deal with a setback), seem to be taking their time with the 22-year-old winger.

In two weekend games with the P-Bruins, Vatrano had inevitable some rust to his game, but contributed two goals (one of which being an empty-netter) and totaled eight shots on goal, and felt more comfortable with each shift.

“Friday I got better as the game went on,” Vatrano, who has scored 38 goals in 38 AHL games since the start of last season, said. “Sunday I felt really good. I felt I had my pace up. My battle level was good. I thought I was good in all three areas of the ice.

“The biggest things were the things you really can’t work on in practice, like taking contact, getting hit. That was something that was eye-opening right away, especially playing in the minors,” the East Longmeadow, Mass., native admitted. “First shift I got hit pretty hard. After that I kind of got my legs underneath me and got used to taking contact again.”

Initially projected to be a fit somewhere on the Bruins’ top six — be it on his off wing on the right side combo with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, or to the left of David Krejci and David Backes — the former UMass-Amherst standout is chomping at the bit to help a B’s team that’s scored two goals or fewer in 22 of their 33 games to date.

“I want to help the team in any way, whether it’s scoring goals or doing something else,” Vatrano continued, “but [scoring goals] is obviously something I do very well, and hopefully I can bring that to the team.”

Whenever that may be.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Jimmy Hayes scored his second goal of the season in Sunday's victory over the Kings. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Jimmy Hayes scored his second goal of the season in Sunday’s victory over the Kings. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

There was a chance that Jimmy Hayes’ days in Boston were numbered. A good, maybe even great, chance actually. There’s still a chance that is the case for the much maligned winger from down the road.

But it won’t happen before Hayes has his say.

Back in the lineup after sitting out Thursday’s loss to the Ducks as a healthy scratch, something he’s done five times this season, and on a fourth line Dominic Moore and Anton Blidh, it was the 6-foot-5 Hayes that chimed in with the only goal of the B’s 1-0 victory over the visiting Kings at TD Garden in a Sunday afternoon matinee.

Parked in front of Kings netminder Peter Budaj as B’s defenseman Colin Miller juked around a challenging winger and fired a low, seeing-eye shot on net, it was Hayes that got his stick on a puck on its way to the net for just the second time this season, scored 4:20 into the first period.

The goal developed off a faceoff win, dish to the point, and with Hayes driving to the front of the net the entire time. It was a slice of the Hayes the Bruins thought they were acquiring from the Panthers in a July 2015 trade saw him swapped for Reilly Smith.

“That’s key from the fourth line,” Hayes said of the effort. “You’re going to have to find ways to get on them and be disruptive and we’ve got to keep the puck out of our net, but be able to get down there and create a little offense – it’s always nice.”

“He was better,” Julien confirmed after the win. “He resembled probably the older Hayes that we had at times last year than the ones we’ve seen this year. You’re hoping a guy has kind of turned the corner and is starting to find their games here a little bit.”

With Hayes, it’s not just about production, but rather his night-to-night effort in the little areas of his game.

“I think it’s a matter of with his size he’s got to win battles along the walls,” Julien said of Hayes. “He should be good in front of the net, tipping pucks and finding those loose pucks and I thought tonight not just that but he forechecked well. He had a good stick. Hopefully it’s a confidence builder for him and he gets to become a better player moving forward.”

Out of a top nine role and put on the fourth line, Hayes played a simplified game that saw a greater focus on his forecheck and getting his big frame and stick in shooting lanes, something that led to forced turnovers and chances in the attacking zone.

“I thought we played on our toes. I thought we played pretty aggressively getting in on the forecheck and getting pucks back, and playing on the move,” Moore said of the line with Blidh and Hayes on the wings. “[The Kings] defend pretty well, but I thought we were able to beat our check a few times and get some pucks to the net.”

Now on the board with his second goal of the season, Hayes’ work is not even close to done, especially with Frank Vatrano’s eventual return to the big club looming (Vatrano skated in two of the P-Bruins’ three games this weekend). And after all, it was nine games ago that Hayes got on the board with his first goal of the season and appeared to have turned a corner before he fell back into his old habits and returned as a healthy scratch. But Sunday, the effort was there, and the goal followed.

“That’s what it’s going to take to stay in the lineup every night and find a way,” Hayes said.

“You’ve got to battle hard and that’s what’s expected from Claude [Julien] and I expect that from myself.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

When you’re forced to juggle the lines up into utter nonsense as the Bruins were — and have been on numerous occasions this season — down top-line winger David Pastrnak for Sunday’s home tilt against the Kings, what’s the biggest thing you hope for?

Tuukka Rask made __ saves Sunday against the Kings. (Gregory Fisher/USA Today Sports)

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask made 18 saves Sunday in a shutout win against the Kings. (Gregory Fisher/USA Today Sports)

When you’re forced to juggle the lines up into utter nonsense as the Bruins were — and have been on numerous occasions this season — down top-line winger David Pastrnak for Sunday’s home tilt against the Kings, what’s the biggest thing you hope for? Ideally, balance.

Be it scoring balance, defensive balance, or whatever balance suits your roster the best. For this current collection of B’s forwards, that balance can be found within their effort — and more specifically, their forecheck — on lines one through four. And that’s exactly what Sunday’s head-to-head with the Kings brought, as they consistently made life hell for any and all L.A. defenseman, and gutted out a 1-0 victory on Garden ice.

With Pastrnak out, Riley Nash was moved up to the first line to the right of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Ryan Spooner was moved back to the left side of a second line with David Krejci and David Backes. Austin Czarnik centered a hardworking line with Noel Acciari and Tim Schaller on the wings, and Jimmy Hayes drew back into action as the right winger of a fourth line with Anton Blidh and Dominic Moore. It was the perfect blend that left the B’s a four-line forechecking attack that stymied the Kings.

The Bruins scored first, at the 4:20 mark of the first period, as Jimmy Hayes deflected a Colin Miller seeing-eye shot for his second goal of the season, and through Peter Budaj for a 1-0 lead.

It would be the lone goal of the opening frame, and hold up as the only tally by either side through two periods of play, as the Bruins’ three-zone commitment frustrated the Kings to just 10 shots on B’s netminder Tuukka Rask.

But when the Bruins failed to convert on a four-minute power play following Tyler Toffoli’s high stick on Zdeno Chara early in the third period, you could begin to feel the ice tilt the Kings’ way.

Then came a Schaller penalty for tripping the Kings’ Drew Doughty, and Rask seemed prime for a challenge.

But the B’s penalty kill came through with yet another kill, and the club was in the clear for their 17th win of the season.

In a relatively harmless afternoon in terms of legitimate scoring chances against, the 29-year-old Rask made 18 saves for his fourth shutout of the season while the Bruins improved to 3-0-0 on the year in matinee games.

Here are four other things we learned in the win…

Penalty kill rolls on 

If there’s one consistency within the B’s game this year, it’s been from their penalty kill, which entered with the fourth-best mark in the entire NHL at 86.8%, and that showed in a perfect 4-for-4 night from the club’s shorthanded group.

In fact, the Bruins’ penalty killing was so dominant that they held the Kings to just three shots on their four power plays, including none on the club’s third period opportunity in which the Kings were in search of the game-tying goal.

With the kills, the Bruins have been perfect on the PK in all but three of their last 18 games.

Jimmy Hayes tallies second goal of season

Bruins forward Jimmy Hayes is a man with nothing to lose.

Entering play with just one goal on 42 shots in 27 games this season, the 6-foot-5 winger from Dorchester found himself back in the lineup for the third time in the last five games (Hayes was a healthy scratch for the club’s 4-3 loss to the Ducks last Thursday), and scored the first goal of the game. Take away the goal — something Hayes, who has just two goals in his last 44 games, will absolutely not let you do, by the way — and it was actually his best game of the season. A solid complementary presence on a fourth line with Dominic Moore and Anton Blidh, Hayes’ forechecking presence was there, he creating turnovers, and really created some space and chances for his linemates.

Don’t try to convince me Hayes doesn’t know that Frank Vatrano, cleared by team doctors after Sept. foot surgery and playing in the AHL this weekend, is knocking at the door for an NHL return.

 

Second power-play unit emerging as first unit for Bruins

We’ve talked at great lengths about the B’s inability to generate much of anything on the power play. Not from their top unit, anyways. That remained the case for the Black and Gold in this one, too. But there was something to celebrate from the B’s end (though not in the literal sense of a power-play goal) and that came from the offensive surge from the second power-play unit with Austin Czarnik, Dominic Moore, and Ryan Spooner up front and Colin Miller and Zdeno Chara on the backend.

This group displayed tremendous poise with the puck when it came to finding shooting lanes, particularly from the backend with Colin Miller unleashing his patented bomb of a slap shot with a much higher frequency than we’ve seen on a consistent basis (keep in mind that was Miller’s first game against the Kings, the team that traded him to Boston in June 2015), while the big reach of Chara played a factor up high and down low when he found ways to sneak towards Budaj’s backdoor.

The Bruins eventually flipped the group around a bit for their four-minute man advantage in the third period (an injury to Chara put Torey Krug out there as the second unit’s point man opposite Miller), but we’ve hit the point where you probably have to give serious consideration to putting the second unit out there to start a power play.

It’s not like you’re going to hurt a power play that’s the third-worst in the league, anyhow.

Kevan Miller returns to lineup

After an early exit in Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Penguins, and out for the B’s loss to the Ducks the following night with what the team termed a 24-to-48 sickness, Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller returned to action on the B’s third pairing opposite Colin Miller and put forth a typically Miller night (er, afternoon) with an efficient, hard-nosed game.

In an afternoon in which the Kings were held to just 18 shots, No. 86 was frequently bodying Kings forwards along the walls and in front of the net, and even scrapped for the first time this season by way of a first period fight with Kings forward Kyle Clifford.

Games against teams built like the Kings — a slower, grind-it-out team — undoubtedly suit Miller, which is oddly fitting for the 29-year-old Miller and Los Angeles, Calif., native, and it certainly showed in a winning effort.

The Bruins are back at it Tuesday night against the Islanders at TD Garden.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Not even halfway through their 82-game schedule, the Bruins are set to begin their third run without the services of David Pastrnak when they play host to the visiting Kings in a TD Garden matinee.

Riley Nash will move to the first line for today's Bruins vs. Kings game. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Riley Nash will move to the first line for today’s Bruins vs. Kings game. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Not even halfway through their 82-game schedule, the Bruins are set to begin their third run without the services of David Pastrnak when they play host to the visiting Kings in a TD Garden matinee.

Out for two games due to a suspension for a hit to the head of the Rangers’ Dan Girardi, then out for three games with an upper-body injury, the Bruins’ runaway top goal scorer and league’s second-highest scorer to date — Pastrnak’s 19 goals are two behind Sidney Crosby for tops in the NHL — will be out on a day-to-day basis as he recovers from a successful removal of the olecranon bursa from his right elbow (a minor surgery to treat commonly called liquid elbow). 

With Pastrnak out, Riley Nash has assumed his normal spot to the right of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the club’s first line. Nash has totaled one goal and five points in 32 games this season. Down a forward, Jimmy Hayes will also draw back into the lineup and skate on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Anton Blidh. Hayes has one goal on 42 shots in 27 games this season.

The Bruins have gone 3-2-0 in Pastrnak’s absence this season.

In net, Tuukka Rask gets the call for the B’s. The 29-year-old Rask stopped 33-of-37 shots in an overtime loss to the Penguins last Wednesday, and enters play with 15 wins and a .930 save percentage in 23 games this season. Rask has two wins and a .923 save percentage in five career games against the Kings.

Los Angeles counters with Peter Budaj.

The veteran journeyman came up with a 39-save shutout against the Penguins two nights ago, and comes into action with 14 wins (three shutouts) and a .913 save percentage in 24 starts. Budaj has five wins in six career starts against the Black and Gold.

This is the first of two meetings between the Bruins and Kings this year.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Riley Nash

Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – David Backes

Tim Schaller – Austin Czarnik – Noel Acciari

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Jimmy Hayes

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Rask

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Hour two of Saturday Skate as Ken Laird and Rear Admiral kick around the perception of backup goalie Anton Khudobin, B's coach Claude Julien, and possible trade target Gabriel Landeskog.
Hour two of Saturday Skate as Ken Laird and Rear Admiral kick around the perception of backup goalie Anton Khudobin, B's coach Claude Julien, and possible trade target Gabriel Landeskog.
Ken Laird and Barstool Sports' Rear Admiral discuss the news of David Pastrnak's elbow injury, the state of the Bruins, and are joined for the first time by former NHL and Boston University defenseman Ryan Whitney.