Things have changed drastically and somehow stayed the same all at once for the Bruins under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

The Bruins are not expected to make a big trade before the Mar. 1 deadline. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are not expected to make a big trade before the Mar. 1 deadline. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Things have changed drastically and somehow stayed the same all at once for the Bruins under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy.

The Bruins have wins in five of their last six games, and although they are also just four points out of first place in the Atlantic Division, they are currently still on the outside looking in of the playoff picture.

But there is a noticeable jump to the B’s game under Cassidy, who has focused his energy on creating a more balanced four-line attack than the Bruins had under Claude Julien at any point this season. And their defense — and I include the stingiest defense-first defenders like Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller, who have frequently jumped into rushes in the attacking zone in this group — has activated on a consistent basis and their production is at a season high. It’s a small sample, sure, but there’s no doubt this is the spark the club hoped for when they first made this switch less than three weeks ago.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney wanted to see the pace in their game. He’s seen that. He wanted to see energy. They have it, although some actual rest for the first time all year has probably helped that area of their game quite a bit. And most importantly, Sweeney wanted to see something that would help guide him the right way before the league’s Mar. 1 trade deadline.

And on Friday, the second-year GM gave the media an insight as to his deadline day plans.

Speaking with the media on a team off day following last night’s finale of a back-to-back with the Ducks and Kings, Sweeney confirmed that the club is unlikely to pay some of the exorbitant asking prices on the many available talents on the trade market.

This, in theory, makes sense for the Bruins.

At some point, the Bruins need to figure out where players like Colin Miller and Frank Vatrano fit into their future. The best way to figure that out is by putting them in scenarios where they’re playing meaningful minutes when the stakes at their highest for this club, which is what they robbed each player of by acquiring veteran pickups John-Michael Liles and Lee Stempniak last year.

Players like Miller and Vatrano still logged minutes and played games after those deals, of course, but they were utilized in complementary roles that did little to show the B’s brass whether or not they’re two of the building blocks that the club would need to take this next step. And it would likely happen again if the Bruins acquire a No. 5 defenseman or third line scoring wing.

It also speaks to the reality of the Black and Gold’s situation, which has been denied by the front office’s actions at times.

The Bruins are a team in transition in the sense that they’re no longer a Stanley Cup contender… but they want to make the playoffs. They’re not a finished product… but they’re not willing to trade young players to finish it sooner than expected.

It’s a rather fancy and/or roundabout way of saying that the Bruins are what they are this year. It also speaks to the process that confirms that they’re in no rush to make a massive deal because having a slightly better chance to make it to the second round this spring doesn’t necessarily benefit the long-term future of the team given the cost of that trade.

If the Bruins indeed do nothing, it will be the first time since 2008 that the club does not make a deadline addition to their team.

But it’s worth noting that the Bruins have two more games until 3 p.m. next Wednesday to see if their minds change on that front.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

For the first time in over two calendar years, and thanks to a 4-1 final in Los Angeles tonight, Bruins netminder Anton Khudobin has won consecutive games.

Burned by countless free agents that walked for nothing during their Stanley Cup window, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong wants to trade defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk before the Mar. 1 trade deadline.

But Shattenkirk isn’t exactly making his GM’s job any easier.

Kevin Shattenkirk denied a sign-and-trade to an Eastern Conference team, according to a report. (Billy Hurst/USA Today Sports)

Kevin Shattenkirk denied a sign-and-trade to an Eastern Conference team, according to a report. (Billy Hurst/USA Today Sports)

Burned by countless free agents that walked for nothing during their Stanley Cup window, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong wants to trade defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk before the Mar. 1 trade deadline.

But Shattenkirk isn’t exactly making his GM’s job any easier.

According to a report from the St. Louis Dispatch, the 28-year-old pending unrestricted free agent recently nixed a sign-and-trade that would have sent him to an Eastern Conference team. The extension that Shattenkirk would have signed as part of the deal was believed to have been for around $42 million over seven years ($6 million per season), and that the deal would have been with the Lightning.

The mutual interest between the Bolts and Blues in a Shattenkirk deal is well documented at this point, as it was more than common to see the Blues’ director of player personnel (former Bruin Rob DiMaio) at Lightning games last year and this year, with the Blues having interest in the (since untradeable) Jonathan Drouin, then Tyler Johnson, and now maybe even hometown kid Ben Bishop.

It is allegedly the second time that Shattenkirk has refused a sign-and-trade in the last year alone, according to the Dispatch.

And this latest report by all means confirms the belief that Shattenkirk is intent on skating as a ‘rental’ for any team that acquires him and that he is zeroed in on hitting the free agent market this summer as a marquee talent.

Even so, Armstrong’s desired return in a Shattenkirk deal remains astronomically high.

The Blues, who are still five points clear of ninth place in the Western Conference and therefore still a contender, are currently seeking a top prospect, first-round draft pick, and more from teams in a Shattenkirk deal, according to sources.

Both the Bruins and Rangers have already made calls to Armstrong about Shattenkirk this season, and both teams viewed him as a rental for a springtime run versus a sign-and-trade, which has been the failed route of both the Oilers and Lightning.

A right-shot puck-mover with four straight 40-point seasons, the New Rochelle, N.Y. native has tallied 11 goals and 31 assists in 60 games for the Blues this season, and ranks second on the team in points. Only Victor Hedman (49), Erik Karlsson (52), and Brent Burns (64) have been more productive than Shattenkirk in terms of overall point production among defenders this season, and only 11 defensemen have scored more points than Shattenkirk’s 175 over the last four seasons.

If the Bruins do indeed make a deal for former Boston University standout, they would likely try to move one of their defensemaen with extensive term left on their current contract off their roster (think Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller) in order to help clear the long-term logjam the Black and Gold have on their right side between those two, Brandon Carlo, and Colin Miller.

In addition to the Bruins, Rangers and Bolts, it’s believed that the Maple Leafs are a candidate set to make a play for Shattenkirk.

The teams have less than a week to strike a deal before next Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Anton Khudobin has won consecutive games for the first time all season. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin has won consecutive games for the first time all season and for the first time since Jan. 2015. (Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)

For the first time in over two calendar years, and thanks to a 4-1 final in Los Angeles tonight, Bruins netminder Anton Khudobin has won consecutive games. And for everything thrown his way in the first 40 minutes of tonight’s game, there’s little doubt that he earned it.

In net for a pivotal start that would have allowed the Bruins to leave their daunting California swing with either two, three, or four of a possible six points, the 30-year-old Khudobin was not exactly put in the greatest of situations when it came to this start.

Not only was Khudobin tasked with the aforementioned fate of the road trip’s success being in his glove and blocker, but this game was to be played in a building that’s been short on luck for the Black and Gold, with losses in three straight games at Staples Center. The Bruins were also on the second leg of a back-to-back — they entered with the second-worst record in the NHL in those situations — and the club was in need of a statement game to prove that Bruce Cassidy’s first loss behind the bench was a mere blip on the radar and not a sign of a comedown the team can’t afford.

None of those things mattered, though, as Khudobin was every bit the goaltender the Bruins needed in this game.

The Bruins jumped out to a 1-0 lead when Brad Marchand finished off a solo effort upstairs against the Kings’ Peter Budaj for his 26th goal of the season, scored at the 3:16 mark of the first period. It was the quick start (with results) that the Black and Gold needed in a back-to-back, and proved to be an important strike in what was a back-and-forth opening 20 minutes.

But with the Kings on the man advantage, Kevin Gravel scored the first goal of his NHL career with a great net-front deflection out from Adrian Kempe, and the Bruins and Kings skated to a 1-1 draw when what would have been Peter Cehlarik’s first NHL goal was called back after the Kings’ successful challenge that proved David Pastrnak was offsides on the goal.

Pastrnak made up for it in the second period, though, on a stick-exploding one-time goal at the 4:43 mark of the second period. It was a goal that allowed Pastrnak to keep pace with Marchand — both entered and left the game tied for the team lead in goals — and was the necessary punch back in a period heavily dominated by attacking zone chances for the Kings.

Penalized twice in the period — and both times to two of their bigger penalty-killing defenders in Adam McQuaid and Zdeno Chara — Khudobin stood on his head for 15 saves on 15 shots in the middle period. But none were better than a Jeff Carter partial breakaway opportunity stoned by Khudobin, and a beautiful stop on Drew Doughty with just 1:53 left in the period.

It was probably one of the most controlled periods of Khudobin, who has never been a stranger to adventuring with high-risk saves (I’ve always said that Khudobin plays like the Kazakh version of Tim Thomas), and it kept the Bruins in this game.

And had Carter or Doughty scored there, the complexion of the game would have undoubtedly changed for both the B’s and Khudobin given the fatigue in the B’s skates nearing the end of this trip and having played against a heavy team in the Ducks last night, and for Khudobin, whose season has had way more downs than ups this season (and by a healthy margin, too).

Also: Giving up goals in the final five minutes of periods has been a massive issue for this team, as you know.

It also helped break the Kings, who put just three shots on goal in the third period, which was dominated by the Bruins and finished with empty-net goals from Dominic Moore and David Krejci for the club’s first win in L.A. since Mar. 2012.

But more importantly, the 27-of-28 performance from Khudobin should help settle any urge B’s general manager Don Sweeney has to waste a valuable asset on a backup goalie fix before next week’s trade deadline. So long as performances like this one and the Feb. 9 game against the Canucks, which again gave Khudobin back-to-back wins for the first time since Jan. 2015, continue.

The Bruins will finish this four-game road trip with a Sunday afternoon head-to-head against the Stars.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Anton Khudobin will get the start vs. the Kings. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin will get the start vs. the Kings. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins could have and should have won last night’s game. But, as the Ducks’ Rickard Rakell had his say with just 2:34 left in the third period of a 3-3 game, the Bruins have been left to travel to the Staples Center for tonight’s head-to-head against the Kings with the chance for four out of a six points on this California swing versus the sweep.

It’s far from the worst situation for the B’s to be in, though, as their recent history on this trip indicated that the Bruins would not only lose all three of these games, but that they wouldn’t be close either.

So the best the Bruins can do one night to the next is apply the takeaways from the Anaheim game — Cassidy called it an ‘autopsy’, which does seem oddly fitting as the Bruins basically died on the table — and turn them into lessons learned against the Kings.

“At the end of the day, we had some coverage issues late and some not being hard enough on the puck,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, who suffered his first loss behind the B’s bench with last night’s 5-3 final in Anaheim, said following Thursday’s optional skate. “I think that’s the two biggest areas we need to improve on around the front of our net, it cost us late night, and that’s stuff we’ll continue to address and hopefully correct going forward.”

And they’ll attempt to correct them with some slight tweaks to their roster.

In a day that began with Austin Czarnik and Joe Morrow assigned to the American Hockey League — the 24-year-old Czarnik to get healthy and Morrow to get some games in — the Bruins will also make a change up front, as Tim Schaller will sub back into the lineup in place of Riley Nash on the club’s fourth line. Cassidy also made mention that the Bruins may make a game-time decision on their backend to potentially get John-Michael Liles, who has played just twice since Jan. 22, back into game action. A Liles return would likely mean that one of the Miller defensemen, be it Colin or Kevan, would step out of action.

On top of those substitutions, it will be interesting to see just how Cassidy attacks this game from the jump. Does he go back to the lines he began last night’s loss with, which puts David Backes as the winger to the right of Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, or does he go with the third period lines that featured David Pastrnak back with Bergeron and Marchand and Backes down to a second line with Frank Vatrano (up from the third line) and David Krejci.

Unlike the Ducks, this is not a Kings team that’s particularly loaded offensively — they have similar shooting problems as the Bruins, and have scored the ninth-fewest 5-on-5 goals in the league this year — so Cassidy does not have to worry about the matchup problems as much as he did last night. In fact, it may make more sense for Cassidy to return to the lines that have worked for all but two periods of his first five games behind the B’s bench, just to see if that chemistry can return. You understand the pressures on the team right now and their need to keep up with the rest of the Atlantic, but if these lines remain a jumbled mess, it’s hard to imagine this team finding their footing, which was a massive problem under Claude Julien.

And on the second leg of a back-to-back, Anton Khudobin gets the call in the crease for the Bruins.

Khudobin had some issues, but ultimately kept the Bruins in the game and earned his second win of the season with a 29-of-32 performance in his last start, a 4-3 win over the Canucks on Feb. 11, and comes into play with a 2-5-1 record and .888 save percentage on the year. The 30-year-old has one career start against the Kings, and has stops on all but two of 32 shots against.

The Kings counter with Peter Budaj. A rather shocking savior for the Kings this year once Jonathan Quick went down, Budaj enters action with 27 wins, a .917 save percentage, and seven shutouts (the most in the NHL) in 50 games for the Kings this season, and stopped 24-of-25 shots in a 2-1 win over the Avalanche two nights ago. The Bruins beat Budaj in their last head-to-head, but he still stood tall even in defeat, with saves on 29-of-30 shots in what finished as a 1-0 loss.

The Bruins, who have not win in L.A. since Mar. 2012, have lost three straight games at the Staples Center.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins are believed to be looking for a potential top-four defenseman. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are believed to be looking for a potential top-four defenseman. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are not keen on moving more assets for a short-term fix.

Not after moving two draft picks for Lee Stempniak, and another two draft picks and a prospect for John-Michael Liles last season. But it does remain an option for second-year Bruins general manager Don Sweeney just six days away from the NHL trade deadline.

And the first significant trade of trade season — a Thursday move that saw the Hurricanes send Ron Hainsey to the Penguins for a second-round draft pick and minor-leaguer Danny Kristo — has given the Bruins and the rest of the league an idea of the market’s prices.

Granted, the utter devastation to the health of the Pittsburgh defense corps upped general manager Jim Rutherford’s need to acquire a defenseman, but it’s still a sign of what it will cost your team to make an upgrade to your roster between now and Mar. 1.

It’s believed that the Bruins have had an interest in finding another defenseman to add to their group, and likely at the cost of one of their own d-men on the roster, preferably in exchange for a player with multiple years left on a deal (Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller). They would prefer to err on the side of a long-term fix — the Bruins have heavily scouted the Ducks and Wild, two teams loaded with young, team-controlled defenders, at times this season — than they would a veteran rental like Hainsey.

For the Bruins, the big rental name on the backend is the Blues’ Kevin Shattenkirk.

An unrestricted free agent likely to command a $6.5 to 7 million per year contract this summer, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong is believed to be asking for an organization’s top prospect and a first-round pick in exchange for the 28-year-old Shattenkirk. There’s more than a few reasons why the Blues are asking for so much for the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent. One, he’s still an immensely talented puck-mover, with 11 goals and 42 points through just 60 games this season. Two, the Blues are still in the race, currently in third place in the Central Division, and five points clear of ninth place in the Western Conference. And three, because the Blues did not sell high on assets such as David Backes and Troy Brouwer when they were pending free agents because they were in ‘win now’ mode, and that this may be Armstrong’s way of recouping some of those lost assets.

The Bruins have already made a call on Shattenkirk, too, once at last year’s draft when Armstrong tried to rob Sweeney, and have again expressed interest (along with the Rangers) earlier this trade season. The B’s interest was as a rental only, too, which is a change from the original intrigue that came with a Shattenkirk deal, when it was considered that any trade involving him would be as a means to acquire him in a sign-and-trade that locks him up with his new club for the foreseeable future.

But if the Blues do not come down on their asking price, it’s hard to imagine the Bruins considering Shattenkirk the fix.

Elsewhere, the rumors around Calgary defenseman (and former Bruin) Dennis Wideman have seemingly kicked back up, especially after the Hainsey deal and his apparent willingness to waive his no-move clause if the Flames ask. It was believed that the Bruins had an interest in the 33-year-old Wideman, who has three goals and 16 points in 52 games this season, last year before his concussion and controversial suspension for his check to a referee derailed his season.

Wideman recorded 33 goals and 119 points in 256 games for the Bruins from 2007 to 2010.

The price for a player like Wideman would be far closer to that of the Hainsey cost, but would not be the massive upgrade that the Black and Gold need to propel themselves from a potential playoff team to legitimate playoff contender.

Stars defenseman Johnny Oduya is another rental defenseman that’s on the market, although he’s been limited by injuries this season, with one assist and six assists in 36 games for Dallas this season. The 35-year-old Oduya does have big game experience, however, with Stanley Cup victories on the Blackhawks’ shutdown pairings in both 2013 and 2015.

The Bruins do have one second-round pick, the compensation from the Oilers for Peter Chiarelli, in this upcoming draft.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Joe Morrow is one of two players assigned to the P-Bruins. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

Joe Morrow is one of two players assigned to the P-Bruins. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

The second week of vacation is over for two B’s, and it’s Los Angeles to Providence for forward Austin Czarnik and defenseman Joe Morrow, who were reassigned to the Providence Bruins today.

The assignment for Czarnik is to get the 5-foot-9 forward back into game-shape after having missed the last five games with a lower-body injury. Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy noted that Czarnik, who was practicing with the club, was getting closer to a return. And with the P-Bruins having a weekend slate of games on deck Friday through Sunday, it can get Czarnik back into the mix without the pressure of meaningful NHL games through the stretch run.

The 24-year-old Czarnik has scored five goals and 13 points in 47 games for the Big B’s this season, and one goal and two helpers in three AHL games this season. And though the Michigan native had roles for the B’s this year on both the power play and fill-in winger, you have to wonder if the development of Peter Cehlarik and seemingly solidified revolving door of more natural-fitting bottom-six forwards have taken him out of an NHL job for the time being.

On a one-way contract, the assignment for Morrow has been labeled a conditioning one.

Morrow has not played in a game since Jan. 22, and has played just eight times since Dec. 1.

It’s unlikely that you will see Morrow draw back into NHL action any time soon, either, as he’s behind Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, and even John-Michael Liles on the club’s left-side defensive depth chart.

Morrow has one assist and a minus-4 rating in 17 games for the Bruins this season.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins lost another game late on Wednesday. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins lost another game late on Wednesday. It was their ninth loss in such a fashion this season. (Gary A. Vasquez/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins can’t afford, nor do they really want to lose games.

But if they are going to lose, which is inevitable despite what the first four games of the Bruce Cassidy era told us, they’re going to have to figure out how to lose the right way. And just what is considered the right way? Taking advantage of the league’s ridiculous ‘loser points’ handed out like candy this time of year, which is something they haven’t done this year. Or any year of recent recollection, anyway.

Just take a look at Wednesday night’s disaster at the Honda Center.

After the Bruins fought so hard to tie things back up, and did with Frank Vatrano’s goal scored just over the halfway mark of the third period, the Bruins were hemmed in their own zone and allowed the Ducks’ Rickard Rakell to score what would be the game-winning goal with just 2:34 left in the third period.

If there’s any consolation for the Black and Gold, it was the gutpunch that the B’s have been tagged with repeatedly in what’s become a rope-a-dope season. Flip-side: There’s no consolation to be had given what was at stake for the club in that game.

With a victory, the Bruins would have leapfrogged both the Panthers and Maple Leafs — each of whom still have one game in hand over the Bruins — and finished the night back in a playoff position. The Leafs have not made the most of their games in hand advantage over the Bruins, but it’s the Panthers, who have been just on fire of late, that gave the Bruins a break with a loss to the Oilers. They were off the hook and back in the mix thanks to help from the league’s hottest team having an off night. And they did nothing with it. Four-game winning streak or not, the B’s are still very much engaged in a mad dash finish, and leaving points on the table is just inexcusable at this time of year, let alone doing it against a struggling Ducks team and their backup goaltender.

The Bruins should have been better. Or good enough to earn at least one point out of this game. But they weren’t.

And at some point, you just expect the Bruins to leave these breakdowns behind them.

Rakell’s game-winning goal finished as the B’s ninth regulation loss where the Bruins allowed the winning team to score the game-winning goal in the final five minutes of a period this season. It was the fifth time that it’s happened in the third period of a game, too, and there’s a grand total of 7:23 that’s kept the Bruins from at least five extra points in the standings.

Collect those five points and you’re just one point out of first place in the Atlantic Division. Fail to collect those points and you will once again be where you begin Thursday morning when it’s all said and done — and that’s on the outside looking in. Again.

It’s impossible to imagine that the Bruins have squandered five, maybe even 10 points, by an average of a 1:16 in the third period.

 

Especially given what the club went through a season ago. (Or maybe that makes it all the more plausible?)

This exact thing happened to the Bruins eight times last year, and happened in the third period on four different occasions. So, in essence, the Bruins lost out on at least four points. Oh, and they missed the playoffs by one regulation/overtime win to the Red Wings (who had 11 overtime losses but were tied with the Bruins with 93 points) for third place in the Atlantic Division, and they also lost out on the second wild card to the Flyers by just three points. Do the math.

Fail to frequently collapse and you’re in the dance.

If you go back one year further, it happened to the Bruins five times, including two times in the third period (once with less than a second left if you recall that Columbus Day loss to the Avs from Danny Briere), and the Bruins missed the playoffs by two points.

And naturally, where does this bring the Bruins this season? To 10th place in the Eastern Conference, for the time being, and in a spot all too familiar to where they’ve been for the last two seasons.

The Leafs, with a one-point lead over the Bruins, find themselves in third place in the division, and their lead is over the Bruins is solely due to their number of loser points compared to the Bruins, as the Leafs have dropped 11 contests in overtime or the shootout while the B’s have just six of those. The same can be said for the Panthers, who have three fewer regulation/overtime wins than the Black and Gold, but are saved by 10 overtime losses.

In essence, these teams are better than the Bruins in the standings because they’re better at losing than they are, and will continue to be if the Bruins continue to choke away games before the extra frame.

What a world.

 

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson