Bruce Cassidy was tested in a way that he has not through the first four game of his tenure as the Bruins’ interim head coach on Wednesday night. And it came with the first loss under his watch, as the Bruins fell to the Ducks by a late 5-3 final at the Honda Center.

The Bruins stole a point in Anaheim. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins were 2:34 away from earning at least one point in their 5-3 loss to the Ducks on Wednesday night. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

Bruce Cassidy was tested in a way that he has not through the first four game of his tenure as the Bruins’ interim head coach on Wednesday night. And it came with the first loss under his watch, as the Bruins fell to the Ducks by a late 5-3 final at the Honda Center.

In a building in which they had not won in in almost five calendar years, the Bruins opened the game up with Brandon Carlo’s goal in the first period, and carried a 1-0 lead through 20 minutes of action.

But it was in the middle period, as has often been the case this season, that the Black and Gold seemed to run into trouble at every turn.

The Ducks scored 2:03 into the second period behind Ondrej Kase’s fifth goal of the season and his first in 19 games. And the Bruins appeared to answer right away when David Pastrnak rifled a top-shelf shot upstairs on the Ducks’ Jonathan Bernier on the power play. But the goal was called off thanks to contact from B’s winger Brad Marchand at the front of the net, and after a Bruins challenge, that call was upheld and the Bruins lost their timeout.

Zdeno Chara scored a goal that counted just moments later, however, and it seemed like a bullet dodged, even down a timeout.

(Nope!)

Rickard Rakell led the Ducks back the other way and just 47 seconds later, it was back to a tied game.

5:30 after that, Josh Manson scored to make it 3-2 for the Ducks. Here’s the catch: the Ducks were offsides by a country mile. But the Bruins, down a timeout after a failed challenge, couldn’t do a thing to protest the celebration before their eyes. It was a botched call — right or wrong, it seems as if you never see a goaltender interference call overturned, partly because of the refs’ pride and the fact that they’re reviewing these scoring plays on a Gameboy Color — and Cassidy acknowledged it after the loss.

“In hindsight, I messed up,” Cassidy admitted to the NESN when asked about his challenge. “It’s disappointing because clearly that was a good foot offside. It’s a tough way to give up a goal, but that was a decision I made, and it was the wrong one.”

Trailing after two periods of play for the first time since making their coaching change over two weeks ago, the Bruins mixed up their lines and responded with a Frank Vatrano breakaway goal scored midway through the third period. Vatrano, reunited back with David Krejci at center and with David Backes on the right side, was an obvious beneficiary of the switch-up. But the Bruins noticeably struggled to get much of anything from their bottom-six with the jumbles, and it showed on the Ducks’ fourth goal.

With Colin Miller and Kevan Miller the defensemen out there — two defenders that seemed to fight the puck for much of the night — and a mix-and-match third line of Ryan Spooner, Riley Nash, and Dominic Moore up front, chaos in front of Tuukka Rask ensued as the 29-year-old challenged the shot outside of his crease. It was a chaotic pinball bounce that ended with Rakell’s second goal of the night, scored with a helpful deflection from Corey Perry at the front of the net.

When teams like the Ducks stack their lineups like the Penguins do (Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler were each on different lines), the Bruins are unable to shelter their at times suspect defensive pairings or forward groupings. But in that situation against the Ducks, you can’t help but feel as if there was a better five-man unit that the Black and Gold could have deployed, right?

One name that stuck out to me in that regard was Backes. When the newly designed Moore line went out there with 3:12 left in the third period, Backes’ had 1:14 of rest to his name and the shift before that was actually just two seconds long. Krejci had 45 seconds of rest for his 25-second shift, and Adam McQuaid logged a 30-second shift before he left the ice. Those are two players that I just feel like could have been better fits out there, especially when the initially intentions of that line was to create offense (which may have happened had Nash not been tackled right over the attacking blue line just seconds prior). Things only got worse for the Bruins after the Nash non-call when Kevan Miller’s clearing attempt failed and pinned the B’s into their own zone.

With the game — or the very least, a point — on the line, it would have been better for Cassidy to die with his best players out there. Not a line that had been together for all of one juggle-heavy third period. Instead, it’s a point that the Bruins ended up leaving on the table with a goal scored on them just 154 seconds after from overtime.

But it’s a lesson that the Bruins and Cassidy almost needed to learn given the near perfect situations that the club has lucked themselves into through the first four games of Cassidy’s run with the club. It’s a reminder that this race is far from over, and is actually complicated with the B’s inability to leapfrog both the Panthers and Maple Leafs, which they could have done with a win.

The Bruins are back at it tomorrow night against the Kings.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Bruins winger Matt Beleskey will be in the lineup tonight vs. Anaheim. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger Matt Beleskey will be in the lineup tonight vs. Anaheim. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Matt Beleskey will be more than a spectator tonight when he visits his old stomping grounds for a pivotal tilt between the Bruins and Ducks.

A healthy scratch in two of the club’s last three games, Beleskey was confirmed as a go and subbed in for Tim Schaller by Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy following the club’s well-attended optional skate at the Honda Center, and is expected to skate in Schaller’s spot on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Riley Nash.

After a career-high 37 points with the Bruins a year ago, year two in Boston as a whole has been a challenging one for Beleskey, who has struggled to duplicate his success, with just two goals and five assists in 33 games played along with 23 games missed with a right knee injury.

But the 28-year-old hasn’t sulked or moaned about his situation.

“I think that’s really all you can do when you don’t play, is just work hard, and try and get better,” Beleskey said. “I’ve been working with the coaches, trying to work on the foot speed, get back from missing a lot of games – it’s taken me a bit to get going, but hopefully tonight I can make some strides and hopefully stay in the lineup.”

And the Bruins have to hope that a head-to-head against his former team could provide a lift, too.

A member of the Ducks for seven seasons, with 57 goals and 112 points in 329 games for Anaheim, Beleskey is trying to keep his eyes on the task at hand for his (somewhat) new club versus enjoying the memories made back then.

“We had a lot of fun here,” Beleskey, who left the Ducks for the Bruins two summers ago, admitted. “But I’m looking forward to getting two points tonight, hopefully coming back in the lineup and being able to contribute and play my game.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins are 4-0-0 under Bruce Cassidy. (Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins are 4-0-0 under Bruce Cassidy. (Stan Szeto/USA TODAY Sports)

Here’s something weird: According to MoneyPuck.com, there are 15 teams that have a better chance to make the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs than the Bruins, who are currently given a 72.14 percent chance of making the 16-team dance. But that’s not the weird part. Of the 30 teams and their chances at lifting the Stanley Cup this June, only the Caps, currently given a 10.9 percent chance, have a higher number than the 8.7 percent given to the Bruins by MoneyPuck.com’s scale.

It’s worth noting that the Bruins, who have not made the playoffs since 2014, would not make the playoffs if the season ended today, too.

It’s just the latest model that speaks to how the Bruins are viewed in the community as a team that’s been better than their luck and win-loss record has indicated through the first three legs of their season.

 

The ‘fancy stats’ back the Bruins up as one of the league’s most dominant puck-possession clubs at even-strength play (which has been a common factor for Cup-winning teams), with an NHL-best 55.4 Corsi-For percentage, but it’s their heinous shooting percentage (6.21 percent, the second-worst in the NHL) that has seemingly held them back for stretches throughout the year.

You could make the case that their shooting problems ultimately cost Claude Julien his job after 10 years on the job, too, but the early results under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy seem to speak for themselves at this point — be it that their luck has turned and/or that the team is creating better offensive chances under Cassidy — even after considering the small sample size.

Under Julien, the Bruins scored 141 goals on 1,899 shots (7.4 shooting percentage overall). The Bruins have scored 16 goals on 144 shots under Cassidy (12.6 shooting percentage). At that pace, or a goal every nine shots, the Bruins would need just 1,125 more shots to match their production in 55 games under Julien this season when they scored a goal every 13 shots.

And the Cassidy pace, which is noticeably better, along with an easier schedule for the stretch run (three remaining head-to-heads with the Senators could determine the B’s playoff fate) would be more than enough to push the Bruins back into postseason play.

From there, the Bruins would have an actual shot at the Stanley Cup beyond the hypotheticals of these graphs.

But it may come back down to matchups for the Black and Gold, too. You’d have to believe that the path of least resistance for the Bruins would come with either the second or third seed in the Atlantic Division for a first-round head-to-head with the Canadiens, Sens, Panthers, or Maple Leafs opposed to a first-round showdown with the top wild card Rangers or whatever other Metropolitan Division team is bumped out of their top three and into that spot like the Islanders were last year.

As the team’s run in 2013 proved, it’s about getting hot at the right time along with experiencing an uptick in your team’s luck.

Two things that have happened under Cassidy.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins and Avalanche seem unlikely to make a major trade. (Roy Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins and Avalanche seem unlikely to make a major trade happen before the league’s Mar. 1 trade deadline. (Roy Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

Those of you still waiting for the blockbuster trade between the Bruins and Avalanche to go down can probably find something else to do.

In what’s been nearly two months of rumors linking the Bruins and Avs in talks for a major swap (with the Bruins targeting Colorado captain and former No. 2 overall pick Gabriel Landeskog), all has gone quiet on the trade front. That’s because each party seems fed up with the other’s unwillingness to either come up or down on their desired prices.

By now, it’s obvious what the Avalanche want from the Bruins, and it’s centered around first-year pro defenseman Brandon Carlo and more.

A 20-year-old native of Colorado Springs, Colo., the Avs’ interest in Carlo is obvious given the fact that the team is in dire need of a defensive upgrade and Carlo’s ability to compete at a top-pairing level as a rookie.

But a 6-foot-5 defenseman that can defend and skate as well as Carlo has in just his first season in the greatest league in the world do not grow on trees. And at less than $800,000 per year for two more years after this one thanks to his affordable entry-level contract, there’s no rush from Bruins general manager Don Sweeney to move that out of Boston.

Avalanche general manager Joe Sakic is not the first general manager to try, either.

Carlo seems to be near “untouchable” status for the Bruins right now according to one league source. They also noted that Sweeney already said no to one deal involving Carlo earlier this year, and that was for a somewhat established young defender in the Jets’ Jacob Trouba during Trouba’s holdout with the Jets. And if the Bruins were not moving Carlo for Trouba, which would have been a strength for strength swap, it should almost go without saying that they won’t move him for Landeskog.

That’s not to suggest that the Bruins did not covet Landeskog, however, as it’s believed they offered up 2015 first-rounder Jakub Zboril as a potential centerpiece of a Landeskog deal, but were turned down by Sakic and the Avalanche.

And the B’s decision not to go any higher sort of makes sense from their scope.

Although the 24-year-old Landeskog is a captain and a former Calder Trophy winner, the numbers show that he is on the way to his third straight statistical dip, with just 11 goals and 12 assists through 47 games played this season. And with 25 games left in their season, that would align Landeskog for a 17-goal, 35-point finish to his season. That would be an 18-point dip from the year before, a 24-point dip from the year before that, and a 30-point slide back from three years ago. Bad team or not, that’s ugly.

It’s not as if Landeskog has played with subpar linemates, either, as most of his season has been spent with Nathan MacKinnon or Matt Duchene as his center. Both Duchene and MacKinnon, by the way, are producing close to their career norms. So while a ‘fresh start’ is the go-to answer when it comes to the rationale for any trade involving Landeskog, his three-year slide has hinted that this may be closer to a reclamation project, and at $5.571 million ’til 2021, that’s one that the Bruins cannot afford.

Not at the expense of Carlo and further cap complications, anyways. And especially not with a significant raise due to come David Pastrnak’s way this summer, and with $11.5 million in projected cap space to sign Pastrnak and address six other free agents.

But just because the Bruins are unwilling to pay the price for Landeskog — which appears to focus on Carlo, an NHL player, and a first-round pick as the starting point — it doesn’t mean that the Bruins are not still searching for help now and down the road.

“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer-term,” Sweeney said of his deadline plans. “Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt in the same regard that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental. I’m not going to deviate from what I said. Are there players and we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”

Their desperation to make a deal has seemingly gone down, too, thanks to four straight wins under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and the placement of some mismanaged parts back into positions to succeed within the club’s forward ranks.

The Bruins have four more games before the Mar. 1 trade deadline.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Matt Beleskey has been a scratch in two of the last three games. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Matt Beleskey has been a scratch in two of the last three games. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger Matt Beleskey has hit the proverbial reset button too many times to count this season. And rarely has it actually worked.

A scratch in two of the last three games (or half of the games coached by interim B’s coach Bruce Cassidy), Beleskey has missed time to a knee injury and has struggled to the tune of just two goals and five assists in 33 games this season. It seems tough to find the perfect fit to work the hardworking winger back into the mix too, especially before Beleskey’s return to Anaheim, where he played for the first seven years of his NHL career, on Wednesday night at the Honda Center.

The Bruins tried to find a different role for Beleskey last week when he stepped in for Tim Schaller. But Beleskey struggled to play his game in a fourth line role with Dominic Moore and Riley Nash, with just one shot in goal and a season-low 7:37 of time on ice (unless you count that injury-shortened night which ended after just six shifts and 5:27 of time on ice against Buffalo back on Dec. 3) in a 4-0 win over the Habs.

Schaller responded to the scratch with an impact in his next game out, with three hits and three blocked shots in just over 13 minutes of time on ice while often matched up against the Sharks’ Brent Burns. In other words, he doesn’t seem like a fit for the press box in the Black and Gold’s next contest, not after an effort like Sunday’s, anyhow.

So just what becomes the team’s go-to route to salvage Beleskey’s second year in town?

The spot initially believed to be Beleskey’s — on the left side of a second line combination with David Krejci and David Pastrnak, which was one of his most common lines a year ago — has been seized by first-year North American pro Peter Cehlarik.

While these fill-in situations tend to work themselves out as a player fizzles out (Austin Czarnik, Anton Blidh, and an entire roster of puck-moving defensemen saviors that came before Torey Krug), Cehlarik has looked damn impressive with Krejci and Pastrnak, and the line’s chemistry has seemingly led to magnet-like possession skills in the attacking zone and countless opportunities (and in different fashions). Ready for the ultimate compliment to Cehlarik, too? It’s been increasingly difficult to tell the difference between he and Marchand when on the ice, which is something that was originally because of Cehlarik wearing No. 83 and Marchand sporting No. 63, but it’s Cehlarik’s undeniable creativity along the walls once over the attacking blue line that has helped make that more than a numbers game. Carrying out a hypothetical that throws Cehlarik back to the press box (or back to the AHL) despite his budding chemistry with Krejci would only further complicate a year that’s been rife with chemistry issues and (or because of) a revolving door of linemates to the veteran Czech’s left. And his right, actually, for that matter.

Elsewhere, Marchand, the team’s top winger, is not coming out of the lineup. Nor is Frank Vatrano, who missed the first 34 games of the season due to a training camp foot injury that required surgery, coming off that third line or second power-play unit.

So, again, where’s the fit for No. 39? It’s hard to find a legitimate answer. But maybe that’s the wrong question, though, as for the 28-year-old Beleskey it may not be a where he fits back into the mix, but rather a when he’s fit for a jump back into action.

On the shelf for 23 games because of that aforementioned injury against the Sabres in December, which affected his right knee but did not require surgery (not to our knowledge, anyways), Beleskey’s skating game has been noticeably dull since his return. The numbers back that up, too, with just two assists, a minus-4 rating, and 13 shots in nine games played. It’s also been subtly hinted as that Beleskey is still not at 100 percent, healthwise or game-speed wise. And Beleskey has worked with the club’s skating coach at recent practices, which would indicate that it’s something that’s been acknowledged by both the player and the team.

But at some point this season, the Bruins will need the Beleskey that registered a career-best 37 points last year to show up.

Beleskey simply means too much to the Bruins in the ‘little areas’ of the game as a physical tone-setter to sit as a scratch when the games matter the most. I understand the unquantifiable nature of the buzzwords thrown out there in that last sentence, but it’s honestly hard for me to remember a player that’s loved a city and team as quickly as Beleskey has taken to Boston in just one and a half years here, so motivation or efforts, especially on a shift to shift basis, should never be in question. And in the second year of a five-year deal featuring a $3.8 million cap hit, he’s too expensive to become dead weight in the press box. (You thought people were mad when Jimmy Hayes’ $2.3 million sat as a scratch again and again?) One of the things that impressed the Bruins the most about Beleskey too was his monstrous postseason run with the Ducks in 2015, which featured eight goals — three of which held as game-winning goals — in 16 playoff games. Those are goals and results that the B’s will need, be it in the stretch run or in the actual playoffs, if this climb back from the near-dead under Claude Julien leads to a legitimate playoff run under Cassidy.

Production that can only come when Beleskey is back on the ice for the Black and Gold, not where.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Don Sweeney's biggest move will be the firing of Claude Julien.</p>
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The sample size is entirely too small to make any definitive statements one way or the other.

Brent Burns was stymied by the Bruins for much of the night. (Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)

Brent Burns was stymied by the Bruins for much of the night. (Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)

The sample size is entirely too small to make any definitive statements one way or the other. But it’s obvious that the Bruins — despite the positive results of three wins in as many games — have been a little ‘too open’ in the defensive zone under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

You could very well at times see a week’s worth of running around under Claude Julien in just one period from Cassidy’s group.

But the theme of the Cassidy Era, again as small of a sample as it has been, and in addition to the results, has been progress from one game to the next and actually applying the adjustments.

So when Cassidy’s Bruins returned from their bye for their second head-to-head with the Sharks in just over a week, the Bruins knew who they had to watch out for, and did just that in a 60-minute plus smother of Norris Trophy favorite (or perhaps inevitable is a better word, to be honest) Brent Burns.

It added up to another win for Cassidy’s improving Bruins, this one by a 2-1 overtime final over the Sharks at the SAP Center.

The Bruins opened the game’s scoring up at the 11:05 mark of the first period when Jimmy Hayes’ shot went wide, but bounced off the endboard and back to Ryan Spooner for an easy putaway tally for Spooner’s ninth goal of the season.

But in a second period that was more of a hang-on-for-dear-life stanza than the norm established under Cassidy, the Sharks finally countered the Spooner tally at the 17:37 mark when a Burns attempted shot took a fortunate bounce off Torey Krug’s skate and rolled towards Patrick Marleau for a by all means empty-net goal for Marleau.

It spoke to just how hard it is to contain Burns, who had over 15 shot attempts shortly into the third period, which is something that the club was able to do — as much as one can, anyways — in this game. Especially when the B’s flatlined as often as they did.

With less than five minutes to play in a tied game, Burns, who is just three points away from Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, was at 19 shot attempts and with six of them landing on net against Tuukka Rask, who finished with 29 saves on 30 shots against.

And as Burns finished the third period at 19 attempts, and it was onto overtime at the Shark Tank.

But Burns’ best chance came on shot No. 20, but as it was stymied by Rask, the Bruins had seen enough of the dangerous Burns, and took matters into their own hands with a faceoff win and set play that sent Brad Marchand in on an overtime breakaway.

It was then that Marchand danced into the San Jose zone before he tucked a puck through Martin Jones for the win.

Far from the prettiest night in terms of what the Bruins were able to create against Jones and the Sharks in the attacking zone, the biggest takeaway was the club’s ability to block shots, especially those from Burns, who finished the game with nine of his 20 attempts blocked by B’s skaters. And among the 23 blocks by the Bruins, eight came from the left wingers matched up against Burns throughout the night, including three from Tim Schaller, and four from left-side defender Kevan Miller.

With the win, the Bruins improved to 4-0-0 under Cassidy, and now have wins in four straight for the first time this season.

The Bruins are back at it on Wednesday night against the Ducks.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

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.