Bruins forward Noel Acciari skated in his first game since Nov. 7 in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Bruins forward Noel Acciari skated in his first game since Nov. 7 in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

In case you didn’t know it by sight, the sound of the TD Garden boards rattling with each hit dished out by Bruins forward Noel Acciari served as a reminder that the 24-year-old was back in the lineup.

Absent from the previous 16 games with a lower-body injury, Acciari was back in his normal spot on the B’s fourth line with center Dominic Moore and winger Tim Schaller, and put forth another workmanlike performance, with two shots and three hits in 11:35 of time ice.

“It’s good to be back with my linemates,” Acciari admitted after his first game back, a 4-1 loss to the Maple Leafs. “I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on, and that’ll come with a couple more practices and games together.”

Deployed as the club’s energy line by Claude Julien, the Schaller-Moore-Acciari combination was its usual complementary group, with solid possession and pressure in the Toronto end, while also chipping in with their normal, aforementioned physicality. But Acciari knows the group could be even better.

“Just kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured,” Acciari, who has tallied two assists in 13 games for the Bruins this year, noted. “It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score.”

But if there’s a positive to take with Acciari — who played a one-game get-your-legs-back game with the P-Bruins, a Friday win over the Marlies in which he recorded an assist — it’s from the fact that his game very much still what it’s been for the Bruins since he burst onto the scene late last season, and that his lower-body ailment didn’t appear to limit him at all.

“You can’t think about it, because once you start thinking about it, that’s when you hurt yourself again,” Acciari admitted. “Out there, you play your game, whatever that may be, and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

You remember that iconic rant by the late Dennis Green, right? “They are who we thought they were,” the then-coach of the Arizona Cardinals yelled. “And we let ’em off the hook!”

Bruins/Leafs (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Maple Leafs goaltender Frederik Andersen made 32 saves in a 4-1 win over the Bruins. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

You remember that iconic rant by the late Dennis Green, right? “They are who we thought they were,” the then-coach of the Arizona Cardinals yelled. “And we let ’em off the hook!”

Bruins coach Claude Julien might be feeling something similar after his club dominated the puck, controlled the shots, and still somehow wound up on the losing side of things against the third-worst team in the league, the Maple Leafs, by a 3-1 final Saturday night at TD Garden.

In a first period in which the Bruins outshot the Leafs 11-to-2, the Bruins held the visitors without so much as an attempted shot for almost 15 minutes in what was a tie for their fewest shots allowed in a period this season, matching the measly two they allowed in the second period of Wednesday’s overtime loss to the Capitals.

But the most glaring number was not that of the shots the Bruins allowed, but rather the zero next to their name in the goal department, as the Bruins failed to put anything by Frederik Andersen in a first period that was unbelievably dominated by the Black and Gold.

And predictably, it was the Maple Leafs Leafs that scored first, 1:44 into the second period and on their fourth shot of the night, a bullet from 2016 No. 1 overall pick Auston Matthews for his 12th goal of the season (and 10th road goal).

It was on just their ninth shot of the night that the Leafs added to their lead, too, when Zach Hyman got the perfect deflection of a wobbling Jake Gardiner shot on net for his fourth goal of the season, scored 15:14 into the second period.

The Bruins finally answered the Leafs’ tallies with a smart play by B’s winger Brad Marchand.

With Andersen having retrieved the puck behind his net on an attempted clear, Marchand sealed off any possible angle the 6-foot-4 netminder had, intercepted his clearing attempt, and caught Andersen in an awkward angle on a wraparound chance. And though Marchand’s initial shot didn’t break through Andersen, with the help of a poke from David Backes, Marchand was there for the second chance opportunity and his eighth goal of the season (and first since Nov. 29).

The goal extended Marchand’s point streak to five games, and brought the B’s within one through two periods of play.

But after taking two penalties in the opening eight minutes of a third period in which they were down by one, the Bruins paid, and it was off the stick of James van Riemsdyk, who scored just as Marchand was exiting the box, for his 12th goal of the year.

The Leafs added a fourth goal, scored with 1:33 left in the third, on an empty-net dribbler from Connor Brown.

It was all the support Andersen needed in a night that required 32 saves.

With the loss, the B’s are officially on a losing streak, with back-to-back regulation losses, and three consecutive defeats overall.

Here are four other things we learned in the loss…

Leafs’ Andersen continues to shine against Bruins

Maple Leafs netminder Frederik Andersen may not be off to the start he or the organization imagined, but one thing has held true for the Duck-turned-Leaf: he can still beat the holy hell out of the Bruins.

Having arrived to Toronto with four wins in four career games against the Bruins, and with a win behind a 24-of-25 effort against the club on Oct. 15, the 27-year-old continued his career-long ownage of the Bruins tonight with a 32-of-33 showing.

In six career games against the B’s, Andersen has come through with stops on all but eight of 191 shots against.

That’s good for an otherworldly save percentage hovering around the .960 range.

And most importantly for the growing Leafs, it appears that they have found their answer to Tuukka Rask, who has whipped the Leafs in his career (Rask entered action with 15 wins and a .935 save percentage in 20 career starts against the Leafs).

Bruins continue to have trouble generating second-chance scoring opportunities

The Bruins’ lone goal of the night was an example of the thing that would have earned them a victory had their been a better commitment to it and that’s second chance scoring looks. On a night where Andersen was generating big rebound after big rebound off his big pillows leg pads, the Bruins were consistently either boxed out by Maple Leaf defenders or unable to corral the puck up and into the back of the net. The Bruins also had what felt like a billion pucks either go wide or get heeled off a stick.

Different night, same problems for a Bruins club that’s scored just 69 goals through 29 games this year. Not nice.

Heinen makes return to NHL ice

Back to the NHL after a 13-game run with the P-Bruins of the AHL that featured seven goals and 13 points, the quick-moving Danton Heinen returned to his normal spot (well, normal through the first eight games of his pro career, anyways) on a line with David Krejci and put forth a much more ‘pro’ game. Demoted to Providence to log meaningful minutes and improve his overall game (the Bruins know he can be a meaningful offensive contributor, but they want him to be able to win a one-on-one battle to make the former happen) in the first place, Heinen was hard in defensive battles along the wall, engaged in any possible loose puck opportunity, and provided strong support for his linemates and defense in all three zones.

Still, though, the 21-year-old remains in search of his first NHL point.

But with efforts like the one No. 43 put forth tonight, there’s no doubt it’ll come soon. Even if it’s by accident.

Defensive rotation puts Joe Morrow back into action

Perhaps it was a belated birthday gift for Joe Morrow, who turned 24 years old yesterday, or maybe it was just his turn in the carousel known as the Bruins’ defense, but after three games as a healthy scratch, Morrow found himself back in the lineup.

On a third pairing with Kevan Miller, a duo that has been on the ice for some unfortunate goals when paired together in a relatively small sample size, Morrow’s night began with a bang… right off his leg.

Appearing to have been injured on a blocked shot just 19 seconds into his first shift of the night (and hardly two minutes into the game), Morrow survived the scare though he struggled to shake it off — at one point returning to the B’s locker room and missing a couple of shifts — and finished his night without much of a noticeable problem with his leg.

Did we see anything completely different from Morrow than we did the last time he played? Probably not. And therein lies the problem for the Black and Gold. It’s going to be hard for Morrow — and Colin Miller, who was a scratch tonight, for that matter — to grow if they’re utilized in an on-again, off-again development track that sits either one sit for extended stretches. (And by the way, I thought Miller was playing some of his best instinctual hockey prior to tonight’s scratching, though Thursday’s game against the Avalanche did leave a little bit to be desired, but that was the case for everybody.) There’s healthy competition among teammates, and then there’s hurting your own team with a competition that doesn’t necessarily come with a win for anybody.

The Bruins are back at it on Monday night against the Canadiens.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Only six NHL teams had a better power play than the Bruins, who clicked at a 20.5 percent success rate, did a year ago. A season later, only four teams have scored fewer power-play goals than the Bruins, with 12, have tallied through the opening 28 games.

Hour two of Saturday Skate as Ken Laird and Rear Admiral take a more league-wide view of things with the Bruins' 28 games into the season
Ken Laird and Rear Admiral talk about the Bruins week that was, featuring five more goals from David Pastrnak, a Thursday clunker, and the Saturday call-up of Danton Heinen with a prospect update from Mark Divver of the Providence Journal

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David Backes has three power-play points this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have the fifth-worst power-play in the NHL through 28 games this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Only six NHL teams had a better power play than the Bruins, who clicked at a 20.5 percent success rate, did a year ago. A season later, only four teams have scored fewer power-play goals than the Bruins, with 12, have tallied through the opening 28 games. Their percentage has hovered around the strugglesome total figures of the latter, too, as their 14.5 percent success rate ranks as the fifth-worst in the NHL.

The shortcomings of the group have been prominently displayed over the team’s last eight contests, too. The Bruins have posted an 0-for in six in those eight games, including an 0-for-2 mark Thursday night against the league-worst Avalanche, and have gone 2-for-23 overall over that stretch (8.7 percent success rate).

For a team with a top-heavy first unit — with David Backes as the net-front presence, Ryan Spooner along the half wall to the right of the net, Patrice Bergeron as the bumper, and David Krejci and Torey Krug as the roaming points — that’s not even close to good enough.

Though the group has remained (for the most part) intact from what it was a year ago (the biggest change was the offseason personnel swap that brought Backes in as a replacement for Loui Eriksson as that group’s goalie-screening deflection extraordinaire), and while the coaching staff has shown tremendous patience in attempt to simply let them all work it out, there’s no doubt that there’s a growing sense that something (read as: the personnel) simply has to change if these struggles continue.

“We need more out of them. You can only put so much trust and so much patience in a power play that has been successful but needs to get it going,” Bruins coach Claude Julien admitted of his team’s power play. “They know that now.”

With six of the Bruins’ 12 power-play goals coming from skaters on that top unit (Backes and Spooner each have two while Bergeron and Krejci have one each), the Bruins have found some productive, but they’re not working for enough. Not at the rate of a group with as much ‘new money’ — there’s $11.25 million of recently inked deals on that first unit between Backes’ $6 million salary and Krug’s new, $5.25 million per year extension — should be working for the Black-and-Gold.

“We want to make plays, we want to help our team. It’s not like we’re out there not trying to make plays or anything, but we just have to be better,” Krug said of the club’s power play struggles versus their success a year ago. “We’ve got to have better focus, crisper passes, making quick plays to the net and making things happen. I feel like right now we might just be standing there, static, just hoping that things are going to happen and we’re not making them happen. We’ve got to change our mindset, and those guys on that unit are the guys that will go to work and make sure we’re better next time for our team.”

An issue that’s plagued the Bruins’ first unit this year has been the decrease in opportunities in the bumper for Bergeron. Held to just 18 power-play shots on goal through the first 25 games of the year (and 75 minutes of power-play time on ice) versus 68 shots in 80 games a year ago (in over 236 minutes of power-play time on ice), teams have done their best to snuff out any of Bergeron’s opportunities to fire pucks on net with the regularity he did a year ago, even if it’s just by a shot or two per night.

“Last year [Bergeron] found so much success in the slot there and obviously teams are going to zero in on when you have plays and things like that, but I don’t know if we’re doing a great job enough to make the other guys threats to open up Bergy,” Krug said. “I think there’s a lot of things we can talk about. It’s on us to make quicker, better plays.”

It’s also worth noting that Backes has not necessarily replicated the success of his predecessor, the patient Eriksson, who had already tallied six power-play goals and 10 power-play points by the team’s 28th game of the season a year ago. Much of that has to do with the differences in who they are as players — Eriksson was more of a subtle, controlled presence around the front of the net and keeping plays alive behind the net, whereas Backes has been more crash-and-bang with his style — as well as Backes’ newness to the entire Bruins organization, which has to be considered with anything involving his on-ice numbers to date.

Still, the Bruins expect — and need — more.

“Everybody’s got a little share in this in how to be more successful,” Backes, who noted the team’s need to generate momentum with either goals that make teams think twice about taking penalties against the club, admitted. “We need to take it upon us to seize this opportunity that we all have on that power play that gets a lot of good looks and make good on it.”

And though it may involve changing the overall scheme of the unit, the Bruins have other options on the roster if need be, including one of either Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak, tied for the team lead in points (24), and on the team’s second unit.

Options that may finally be at their disposal tonight against the visiting Maple Leafs.

“There are some options we have prepared if [the power play] does not go well,” Julien said.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Stuck in a two-game losing streak, and hindered by disastrous 0-3 deficits less than 26 minutes into each loss, the Bruins have made two calls to I-95 in search of a jolt of life to their forward corps, with Noel Acciari and Danton Heinen summoned from the P-Bruins.

Danton Heinen has been recalled from the Providence Bruins. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Danton Heinen has been recalled from the Providence Bruins. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Stuck in a two-game losing streak, and hindered by disastrous 0-3 deficits less than 26 minutes into each loss, the Bruins have made two calls to I-95 in search of a jolt of life to their forward corps, with Noel Acciari and Danton Heinen summoned from the P-Bruins.

For Acciari, the return to the B’s comes after just a one-game AHL stint that he felt was needed after missing the previous 16 NHL games with a lower-body injury sustained in a Nov. 7 win over the Sabres.

Credited with an assist in a 5-3 win over the Marlies last night, Acciari’s AHL gamer wasn’t about production, but rather getting his legs back.

“I felt good, first period was just trying to get my legs back under me, but after that, I felt better” Acciari admitted of his Friday night with the P-Bruins. “I definitely needed that game just to get back into some sort of game-shape, game focus, some mentality.”

The 25-year-old Acciari will be reunited to his once familiar fourth line spot on a line with Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller.

In the case of Heinen, however, a return to the big club was earned through what’s been an impressive run with the P-Bruins.

Credited with seven goals and 13 points in 13 AHL games since his demotion, the 21-year-old has shot the puck noticeably more in the minors than he did in during his first taste of NHL hockey (31 shots in 13 AHL contests compared to six shots in seven NHL games this season), and has obviously found production in 13 points versus the goose egg he posted to begin his year in Boston.

Set to begin his night on the left side of a line with David Krejci and David Backes, and despite his recent AHL success, Bruins head coach Claude Julien wasn’t quick to put the weight of the world on Heinen’s shoulders.

“My hope is that [Heinen] can come in and play and give us some good hockey,” Julien said following the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “He’s a skill player. It’s about getting some confidence in his game when he went down there, and the pace of his game has to be a little bit better. And the battles — and coming out with the puck more often on the walls.”

With Acciari and Heinen in action, Anton Blidh has been assigned to Providence after one assist, seven shots, and 13 hits in a four-game NHL sample, while Jimmy Hayes will return to the press box as a scratch for the second time in the last five games.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins' home ice isn't as intimidating as it used to be. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins’ home ice isn’t as intimidating as it used to be. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

Before the Bruins were shoe-horned into their current locale, they played in one of the most intimidating arenas for opposing teams on the planet. Ask any Ranger or Red Wing or Nordique from the ‘80s the last barn they wanted to go into for a big game was and most would say without thinking, “Boston Garden”.

With its smaller-than-average ice surface, boisterous crowds, and balconies that jutted out practically to the center ice logo, the Garden was like visiting a bar in a rival neighborhood where you’d just hope to escape in one piece.

Those were the days.

Today’s iteration is about as scary as a Disney movie and opposing teams essentially help themselves to the recliner and remote. It’s particularly galling when the dregs of the league are leaving town with two points and no bruises. It’s quite a turnaround from just a couple of years ago when teams knew they were in for a battle and snagging even a point was a grind.

Though the Bruins do have a 7-6 home record so far this season, opponents haven’t exactly had their hands full while visiting Boston. Part of the reason is the team lacking sandpaper in their game all too often; they’re just not hard enough to play against. Some nights, the crowd is sitting on its hands and isn’t exactly doing the team any favors (“is the team reacting to the crowd or is the crowd reacting to the team?” is the “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” of sports).

But the audience isn’t paid to perform, the team is. So it’s on them when they lose. The team went 17-18-6 on Causeway St. last season with too many subpar efforts and that malaise has seeped into this year.

To put it simply, the Bruins need to be much tougher to play against in their home barn than they have been for the last couple years. They need to re-establish dominance and make it uncomfortable for visitors once again. Home arenas are where you’re supposed to win but the B’s are only doing it about half the time.

There’s no magic pill to fix everything but effort and concentration on the task at hand are two things that players can control. If the Bruins can find their successful recipe from just a couple seasons ago (they went 31-7-3 in their 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy-winning season), then they can not only stop leaving points on the board against inferior teams but also serve notice to the rest of the league that any success on their ice will come with a price. But until that happens, teams won’t be afraid coming into Boston like they used to.

Blog Author: 
Rear Admiral