Like Robert Plant sang back in the day, Bruins GM Don Sweeney made up his mind to make a new start with a new voice behind the bench, and after a seven-day bye week, the Bruins are going to California with three wins in as many games under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

The Bruins take on the Sharks tonight at the SAP Center. (John Hefti/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins take on the Sharks tonight at the SAP Center. (John Hefti/USA Today Sports)

Like Robert Plant sang back in the day, Bruins GM Don Sweeney made up his mind to make a new start with a new voice behind the bench, and after a seven-day bye week, the Bruins are going to California with three wins in as many games under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy. OK, maybe it’s not exactly like Plant, but you get the reference.

There’s no much to harp on when it comes to the first three games of the Cassidy Era. The Bruins have scored goals at will — they have 14 goals in this three-game segment, including four from their defensive corps that have been encouraged to create more offense — and now it’s time for the Black and Gold to prove that the streak was not just the high of a coaching change and that this team has legitimately improved with a new voice behind the bench and some needed system tweaks.

But that’ll be awfully hard to do here, at least if recent history tells us anything about what the Bruins are in for against the Sharks, Ducks, and Kings.

Last season, the Bruins went 0-3-0 on this trip and were outscored 9-to-3. The year before that, the Bruins again went winless on their California swing and were outscored 12-to-6. A repeat of such a nightmare this season would by all means put the Bruins back in a situation that they have successfully clawed tooth and nail out of, and undo all the good that came with the Maple Leafs’ massive failure to take advantage of their games in hand advantage over the Black and Gold.

Tuukka Rask will be in net for the Bruins. Rask stopped 25 shots in his pre-bye finale, a 4-0 shutout win over the Canadiens, and enters action with four wins and a .902 save percentage in seven career games against the Sharks. Rask made saves on 23 of 26 shots thrown his way in a Feb. 9 victory over the Sharks back in Boston. And in a year that’s been short on rest for the 29-year-old goaltender, it will be interesting to see how he responds from a week of non-hockey activity. Rask does have a 7-2-0 record and .934 save percentage with three-plus days of rest this season.

The Sharks counter with Martin Jones. Pulled after the first period of Feb. 9’s 6-3 loss to the Bruins after he allowed three goals on 12 shots against, Jones is in dire need of a bounceback game after that aforementioned early hook against the B’s and a 16-of-22 overtime loss to the Panthers less than a week later. Jones has 28 wins and a .913 save percentage in 49 games this year.

This is the season series finale between the B’s and Sharks, and the Bruins have not won in San Jose since Jan. 2014.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes

Peter Cehlarik – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Frank Vatrano – Ryan Spooner – Jimmy Hayes

Tim Schaller – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Colin Miller

Tuukka Rask

 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins have power-play goals in eight straight games. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins have power-play goals in eight straight games. (Christopher Hanewinckel/USA TODAY Sports)

After a stretch that included 50 games in just over 100 days, a week-long break was more than deserved for the Bruins.

But, as timing as a whole has often worked out for this group this season, it could not have come at a worse time. Not only did the B’s rattle off three wins in a row under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy to head into their bye week, but the Bruins rolled into the break with power-play goals in eight straight games.

Over that span, the Bruins have collected 11 power-play goals on 30 opportunities, or a 36.6 power play percentage.

It’s a hot streak that the Black and Gold have to be desperate to extend to nine games in spite of a seven-day layoff when they skate against the Sharks in San Jose as the kickoff to their California tour (and with a stop in Dallas before they return back to Boston) on Sunday night.

So much of the B’s man advantage success has come from a top-heavy first unit with Torey Krug and David Pastrnak on the points, Brad Marchand in front of the net, Ryan Spooner along the wall, and Patrice Bergeron as the noted ‘bumper’ between the circles. The Pastrnak addition to the top unit is a relatively new one for the Bruins, of course, but it’s one that has allowed David Krejci to move back down to the second unit for a more natural, patient touch when it comes to puck distribution for that group.

“I’d prefer to call them the Bergeron unit and the Krejci unit to be honest with you because my experience is that power plays are cyclical and you’re going to have some success as a team and then as groups,” Cassidy said when asked about the club’s dueling power-play units last week. “They’re red hot, the Bergeron group, no denying that. They work hard at it and the Krejci group works hard at it, they just need to find their chemistry because we are moving a few new bodies in there.”

One of the newest bodies to the mix, for over 20 games anyway, has been second-year pro Frank Vatrano.

The decision to put Vatrano, who has a quick shot and even quicker release, with a second unit that features not only Krejci but defenseman Colin Miller and with David Backes as the net-front presence, is an obvious one that predates Cassidy’s bump up to head coach (though Cassidy did run the B’s power play under Claude Julien), but one that’s still worked wonders for the club.

In Vatrano’s 24 games to date, the Bruins have scored 24 power-play goals on 82 opportunities, or a 29.3% percentage. Compare that to their 13-for-102 mark and 12.7% success rate (which stood as the second-worst in the entire league), before the shoot-first winger was activated from the injured reserve and it’s clear that No. 72 has made a major difference in the potency of their units.

 The chemistry has grown with more minutes, too, as the 22-year-old showed in the club’s 4-3 win over the Canucks last week.

Vatrano hasn’t been healthy all year, now [Peter] Cehlarik goes in and Backes came off the other group so they have got to find their rhythm and that’s one play that we’re going to look for is that seam,” Cassidy said. “Krejci to Vatrano because you got a guy that loves to pass that can see the ice and you got a guy that can get it off in a hurry. That’s plan A on that group if we find that.”

And for that unit, it’s about shots with a purpose in the time that they do get together, which will be hard to find given the effectiveness of that first unit, which has been responsible for eight of the team’s 11 power-play goals over the last eight games.

“I mean, we haven’t been getting much PP time lately,” Krejci said of Vatrano’s power-play goal in their win over the Canucks, which was Vatrano’s fourth power-play goal of the season. “Our first unit has been doing really good job and they’ve been scoring a lot, but it was nice for our unit to put the puck in, give us some confidence that we can do it as well.”

Krejci’s unit added another one the next night, too, with his own goal created off a some soft hand movement between Cehlarik and Backes at the front of the net, a move that doesn’t happen without some growing confidence from that unit.

Confidence that you hope didn’t rust over during the break.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Peter Cehlarik has been recalled. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

Peter Cehlarik has been recalled. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins got some much needed rest and relaxation with their bye week, which ends today with a practice in San Jose. With the exception of one player: Forward Peter Cehlarik, who was assigned to the P-Bruins after last Sunday’s win over the Canadiens, but was recalled early this morning to join the team for their California road swing.

This was expected, of course, especially after Cehlarik’s two-point night against the Habs in what finished as a 4-0 win for the Bruins. His vision on the Adam McQuaid goal, which came with a beautiful cross-ice pass that hit McQuaid right on the stick-tape, was something to behold as far as first NHL points go, and his movement to David Backes that led to the David Krejci power-play goal was even prettier.

“He’s been playing really well, not just [Sunday] but also [Saturday] and you know he makes lots of good plays out there, it’s fun to play with him,” Cehlarik’s linemate, David Krejci, said. “So it’s been good but we have to keep working hard, keep getting better every day and keep it rolling.”

On the second line with Krejci and David Pastrnak on the right, the 21-year-old Slovak, who is a more seasoned pro than most first-year N. American pros thanks to multiple years in the Swedish Hockey League, has appeared to find a groove on what everyone should call the ‘Czech Mix’ line (please send all royalty money to this blog).

“He has the hockey IQ and the hands, big enough body guy. You just don’t know when they come up – if they can handle the pace, the pressure, time and space issues and so far, so good,” B’s interim coach Bruce Cassidy said of Cehlarik. “I like his situation where we put him, I think he will complement a [David] Krejci-type player with some give-and-go hockey. He’s not a guy who needs a puck through the neutral-zone – that’s where Krejci excels – makes the little plays down low. He’s been a nice fit so far.”

“I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to play with those kind of players that I play with,” admitted Cehlarik. “I want to make it count and I want to fit there. So I think we’re playing pretty well, hopefully we are going to keep going.”

With two assists in two career games, the obvious question for Cehlarik became when do you plan on scoring your first NHL goal?

Said Cehlarik: “Once I have my first shot.”

The Bruins skate against the Sharks at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday night.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Canadiens lost to the Jets in Claude Julien's coaching debut. (Jean-Yves Ahern/USA Today Sports)

The Canadiens lost to the Jets in Claude Julien’s coaching debut. (Jean-Yves Ahern/USA Today Sports)

Given a new start with the Canadiens a week after being fired by the Bruins, it was more of the same in what’s become the theme of Claude Julien’s season in his first game with the Habs, a 3-1 loss to the Jets.

The Canadiens carried a 1-0 lead through 20 minutes of play behind Andrei Markov’s fourth goal of the season, and in spite of a 15-to-6 shot advantaged that favored the visiting Jets.

But the escapist Canadiens could not avoid trouble in the second period, as the Jets’ Joel Armia scored an unassisted shorthanded goal (Julien’s Bruins gave up six shorthanded goals this season, the sixth-most in the NHL) to bring the teams even through two periods.

The Jets wasted no time in the third period, however, with a Mathieu Perreault goal scored just 1:16 into the third period.

Patrik Laine added an empty-net goal late to seal the deal on a loss in Julien’s (second) debut with the Canadiens.

The goals against certainly had an element of Julien’s Bruins, too, with both their timing and the bad luck of missed assignments and bad plays with the puck that came with them. But there were also more than a few things that served as a reminder that Julien does not have the weapons he did in Boston with this current group. For one, the Habs could not win faceoffs to save their lives in this game. Only Torrey Mitchell, who won one of his two battles at the dot, had a faceoff percentage of 50% or higher, and as a team the Canadiens were a brutal 7-for-22 (32%) in attacking zone draws. (Where’s Patrice Bergeron when you need him?) And while the Bruins had plenty of close losses under Julien this year (15 of their 23 losses were either by one or two goals), this loss was unlike those in the sense that it didn’t come with the Canadiens dominating the puck, as they were out-attempted by the Jets 59-to-49, including a brutal 33-to-20 shot advantage that favored Winnipeg.

Canadiens netminder Carey Price made 30 saves in the losing effort.

With the loss, Julien’s 2016-17 record dropped to 26-24-6 between the Bruins and Canadiens.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Zac Rinaldo disagrees with the NHL's suspension of Gustav Nyquist. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

Zac Rinaldo disagrees with the NHL’s suspension of Gustav Nyquist. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety has a polarizing job.

It’s almost impossible to find a suspension that everyone has agreed with, and there are many in the league that feel that there are different sets of rules for different players based on their status as a top-six forward or defenseman versus a depth piece.

And the fallout of Red Wings forward Gustav Nyquist’s straight-up vicious spear to the face of Wild defenseman Jared Spurgeon last Sunday won’t help dispel that theory any time soon.

In one of the more heinous slashes you’ll see this season, Nyquist tried to explain to the media that the incident was accidental, but later fessed up to the DoPS that he was going for a retaliatory slash/crosscheck, and was handed a six-game ban and fined over $158,000 (one that he will not appeal) for the incident.

“While we accept Nyquist’s explanation that he did not intend to spear an opponent in the face, there are two factors that elevate this incident to a level more serious than merely accidental or reckless,” the league’s disciplinary system explained. “First as Nyquist conceded he is attempting to use his stick in a retaliatory fashion. Second, no matter how he specifically intended to retaliate with his stick, Nyquist is completely responsible for using his stick to deliver a blow that was extremely dangerous and easily could have resulted in a major if not career-threatening injury.”

A malicious, potentially ‘career-threatening injury’ from the stick of somebody that’s twice scored at least 27 goals at this level is worth just six games. That obviously doesn’t sit well with those that feel they’ve overly punished given their role.

Insert Zac Rinaldo.

The agitating energy winger, who has five goals and two assists and just 20 minutes in penalties in 29 games for the P-Bruins this season, took to Twitter on Thursday to voice his displeasure with some of the perceived double standards with the league.

On the surface, Rinaldo, who was placed on waivers and by all means banished to the AHL after another run-in that came with a five-game suspension for this hit on Lightning forward Cedric Paquette last season, is not wrong. The biggest difference though, is that this was Nyquist’s first incident, while Rinaldo has been suspended four times in his career.

Rinaldo, an unrestricted free agent this summer, still has to serve that five-game suspension upon any NHL recall.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

The Atlantic-leading Canadiens not only hired Claude Julien to coach their team, but they backed up the Brinks truck to make it happen.

The Canadiens signed Claude Julien to a five-year contract. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The Canadiens signed Claude Julien to a five-year contract. (Jerome Miron/USA Today Sports)

The Atlantic-leading Canadiens not only hired Claude Julien to coach their team, but they backed up the Brinks truck to make it happen.

Granted permission to talk with the recently fired Bruins coach of 10 years on Sunday, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin quickly fired Michel Therrien and replaced him with Julien on Tuesday, and awarded the 56-year-old an additional five-year contract worth a reported $25 million (which begins next year) to make it happen.

“I’m convinced that in hiring Claude, we are getting one of the best coaches in the NHL,” Bergevin said. “In my estimation, he’s the best man to reach our goal. Claude has proven his worth.”

Not only does that contract take the Bruins off the hook for Julien’s reported $3 million contract next season, but actually gives the 2009 Jack Adams winner a raise from his salary with the Bruins and moves him closer to the top of the league’s highest-paid coaches behind Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock (over $6 million per season) and Blackhawks boss Joel Quenneville.

Julien, who admitted that he did not expect to get fired in-season with the Bruins, likes what he sees in the Habs, too.

“They skate well, they’ve got a good balance of grit and skill and some size,” Julien said of the Habs at his introductory conference call on Wednesday. “We all know they’ve got the best goaltender in the world. They’re solid in the back end and there’s a lot of talent up front. That’s not to say that we don’t have to fix things and make them better. I’m here to fix and tweak and do things that will put this team back on track. The key for me is to maximize that potential and give the team the best chance to win.”

This is Julien’s second tenure as Montreal’s coach and the second time he’s replaced Therrien as the team’s coach.

Julien compiled a 72–62–10–15 record in his first tenure with the Canadiens (and his Habs eliminated the B’s from the 2004 Stanley Cup Playoffs) from 2003 to 2006, and comes back to the ‘CH’ with a 538-332-10-117 career record, including the most wins in Bruins franchise history (393).

The Bruins struggled and went just 26-23-6 record under Julien before his dismissal on Feb. 7.

Fired by the Bruins just games before the 1,000th game of his NHL coaching career, which oddly enough would have come against the Canadiens, Julien now gets a chance to do that with the team he grew up cheering for as a kid in Ottawa.

And is going to be paid handsomely to do so.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins are on Day 2 of a week-long break. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are on Day 2 of a week-long break. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins, who at one point this season had a stretch that included 50 games in just over 100 days, are happy to finally get some rest.

But of course, it had to happen right when the club is in the midst of their best stretch of the season, with wins in three straight games, including two wins over division leaders in the Sharks and Canadiens.

“Someone asked me that just before we played San Jose about the break, well if we’re winning we don’t want the break if you’re not then it’s a good time,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said after Sunday’s 4-0 thumping of the Habs. “It is what it is, right? I’d rather keep playing, guys will enjoy themselves, they’ve earned that and we’ll get ready to go Saturday for Sunday’s game in San Jose.”

“We’ll take it,” B’s defenseman Adam McQuaid admitted. “It’s our break, so yeah, I think it’s good. I think maybe when you’re stringing together a few wins, you might want to keep playing, but we get a little break, just come back with the same mindset.”

When the Bruins do come back, they’ll have the dreaded California tour with games against Sharks, Ducks, and Kings, and after that they will then head to Dallas for a head-to-head with the Stars.

It’s not exactly the most forgiving trip. And teams have not responded well to these breaks, as deserved as they may be.

Oof.

Although the Bruins have done their best to work their way out off death’s door with that aforementioned three-game winning streak to go into the bye (and the Bruins actually have wins in six of their last eight games, believe it or not), a slump out of the gate would put the Black and Gold right back into a dire situation and against some stiff competition no less.

Even after this four-game road swing through California and Texas, the Bruins will come back to the Garden for one game against the woeful Coyotes before the trade deadline comes (alternatively known as Bruins GM Don Sweeney’s last chance to improve his team’s chances to make the playoffs this season), and before it’s time for a head-to-head against the Rangers.

In other words, the Bruins have one gimme between now and March.

That’s why finding a way to keep this rolling while everyone is either on vacation, resting up, or just hanging out, is a must.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving on the break and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” David Backes said of the break. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. Again, it’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture and that’s what we’re building.”

With that said, the Bruins will keep tabs on where they are in the standings, but not dwell on ’em very much, if at all.

“Not a chance,” Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said when asked if he’d be watching hockey this week.

“Obviously we want things to go our way in the standings,” Cassidy said. “But listen if we take care of business, if the Boston Bruins take care of the Boston Bruins, hopefully we will be good enough.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Claude Julien is the new coach of the Canadiens. ( Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports)Never have I realized that I needed something quite like I need a playoff series between the Bruins and Canadiens to come to life this spring.