If David Backes, concussed on a late hit from the Sabres’ William Carrier in the first period of last week’s comeback win over the Sabres, had his way, he would have been out there for some retribution against the Sabres in the second leg of the home-and-home last Saturday

David Backes

David Backes

If David Backes, concussed on a late hit from the Sabres’ William Carrier in the first period of last week’s comeback win over the Sabres, had his way, he would have been out there for some retribution against the Sabres in the second leg of the home-and-home last Saturday at TD Garden.

That said, the 32-year-old will settle for a Wednesday practice back with the team.

“On the ice with the guys, it felt good to be back in some sort of normal routine,” Backes, who was cleared for full contact and participation after being told to stay away from the arena last Saturday and after missing Monday’s 3-0 loss to the Devils, admitted after practice at Warrior Ice Arena.

But the Bruins have wisely not penciled Backes in for a return tomorrow night just yet.

“Still undetermined,” B’s coach Claude Julien said of Backes’ status against the Oilers. “He practiced with us because he has medical clearance to have full contact and everything else so we’ll see how that transpires here today and how he feels tomorrow morning. He feels good [now]. Things can change.”

Battling through what he believed to be the fourth diagnosed concussion of his 10-year NHL career, Backes understands the importance of his own patience when it comes to his return back to the Black and Gold’s lineup.

“There’s a difference between your head and your heart,” Backes said. “You have one brain.”

Signed to a five-year, $30 million contract last summer, Backes has already dealt with an elbow injury this year, and had to exercise caution upon his return given the risk of an infection that could have put him on the shelf even longer. And though it’s a different injury entirely when you talk about an elbow versus a brain, the recoveries do come with a similar mindset.

“In both cases I don’t know if it’s caution, I think it’s listening to the smart people around you and answering their questions honestly,” Backes said of his recovery. “It’s about making an educated decision. Could you rush potentially any injury back in short order? But then you’re risking further injury to that which takes you out even longer term and where’s that kind of gray area or that line to step over to make sure you’re not causing more harm than you are doing well by rushing back.

“Those factors all go into the decision and we try to be smart about that.”

The Bruins are 4-3-0 with Backes out of the lineup this season, but have been outscored 18-to-11 in those games.

Backes has recorded nine goals and 19 points, along with 89 shots on goal and 98 hits, in 33 games this year.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin has been placed on waivers. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin has been placed on waivers. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

It was a happy reunion between the Bruins and former backup goaltender Anton Khudobin until the games started.

With just one win and an .885 save percentage in eight games this season — and after a 20-of-23 effort in which he blew a two-goal lead in his last start, a Dec. 23 overtime loss to the Hurricanes — the Bruins have seen enough and have placed the veteran netminder on waivers.

Signed by the Bruins to a two-year, $2.4 million contract on July 1 to help shore up a two-year black hole of bad backup goaltending, the 30-year-old was all smiles as he returned to what he considered home.

Though the extra year seemed to serve as expansion draft protection, a return to Boston — where Khudobin was arguably at his best in his NHL career — presented a chance for him to put himself back on the NHL map as a capable goaltender after an up-and-down year, both literally and figuratively, with the Ducks organization.

Instead, Khudobin struggled and failed to provide the Bruins with much of anything in regards to the trust factor the team needs in their backup if they’re to avoid burning the all-world Tuukka Rask out for the third straight season.

“I don’t think he’s played to the level that we know he can and that we’ve seen him in the past,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said of Khudobin. “Certainly very capable of being a better goaltender than what we’ve seen.”

Bound for Providence (or elsewhere in the NHL if claimed), Khudobin’s departure likely opens the door for Zane McIntyre to step up into another NHL recall. The 24-year-old McIntyre has been lights out in the AHL this year, with 10 wins, zero losses, and a league-leading .951 save percentage and 1.41 goals against average. McIntyre was also named the AHL goaltender of the month for his perfect December performance with two goals or fewer in all but one of his nine starts last month.

McIntyre has skated in three NHL games to date, with two losses and an .859 save percentage.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Bruins forward Frank Vatrano joined WEEI’s Josh Dolan for a live Facebook chat Wednesday. They discussed his return to the ice, playing with David Krejci, and making pizza. Watch below and like WEEI on Facebook so you don’t miss our next live chat.

Blog Author: 
WEEI
The Bruins have struggled when down a top six forward this year. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have struggled to score goals when down a top six forward this year. (Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)

Injuries are an inevitability in hockey on a game-to-game basis, never mind the 82-game marathon-esque grind of an NHL schedule. That’s especially true given the almost impossibly condensed schedule most teams have been dealt this season thanks to the World Cup of Hockey and NHL/NHLPA mandated bye-week later this season.

That’s not an excuse, but a statement of fact.

The Bruins are a team that’s already had their share of battered bodies watching from the press box (0r not watching at all depending on the injury), too, especially to their top six forward group.

The latest injury to the group? 32-year-old David Backes, who is out for the second stretch this season, this time by way of a concussion sustained on a late hit from the Sabres’ William Carrier last week. And though the pieces have shuffled in and out at different points this season (I’m looking at you, left side of the David Krejci line), the most common top six dressed by the Bruins has featured a first line with Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and a second unit with center-turned-winger Ryan Spooner and Backes on either side of Krejci.

The Bruins handled Backes’ absence in Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Sabres, but felt it with a 3-0 loss to the Devils the other night. And in total, the Black and Gold have now skated in at least 16 games down at least one of their top six forwards. They’re still above .500 in those games by way of their 9-7-0 record, but the results have varied depending on the player out of action.

But the grind of an in-again, out-again might finally be catching up to the Bruins. So, about that 9-7 record…

 

Both Krejci and Marchand have skated in all 40 games to date this season, so you won’t find any win/loss splits with them out in/out of action. But the Bruins are 2-1-0 with Bergeron out of action (he missed the first three games of the season) and they’ve outscored opponents 11-to-8 with No. 37 on the shelf. The Bruins are 1-0-0 with Spooner out of the lineup, though that was as a healthy scratch and came in the B’s home opener win over the Devils, a 2-1 final. The Bruins have skated in seven games without Pastrnak in the lineup, be it because of an injury or a suspension, and have won two of five games with Pastrnak out, with 10 goals for and 10 against over that span. And the Bruins have skated in five games without just Backes, and while they two wins without their star free agent pickup from last summer, they’ve been outscored by a heavy 17-to-8 margin in that five-game stretch. The B’s have also been without multiple top six forwards for just two games — it was the Backes-Pastrnak tandem both times, and they’re a perfect 2-0-0 with three goals for and just one against in grind-it-out games on the back of Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins have scored just seven goals in those seven total losses, as well. It’s not necessarily shocking that a team often loses when they can’t score, I know, but I think it’s worth noting that when this team struggles to score, they struggle.

It’s not as if the Bruins will just come up a goal or two short, it’s that they simply frustrate themselves into oblivion in a potential overcompensation of sorts, suggested with those measly seven goals on 219 shots (3.20 shooting percentage).

This comes back to roster construct and/or a lack of true forward depth (true versus simply moving a center to the wing like B’s coach Claude Julien has been forced to do again and again). Though the Bruins are in a better spot now with Frank Vatrano back in the lineup, down a top six forward — and still without Matt Beleskey, currently out with a knee injury — the B’s feel a trickle-down effect that sets them up with a third line and/or fourth line that has very little chemistry and is more rag-tag than anything else. With Vatrano or whoever else called up into the top six, an already top-heavy team becomes even heavier.

And if they don’t perform at five-on-five, as was the case Monday night in Newark, there’s no doubt that they are sorta screwed offensively and have to rely heavily on either their special teams play or their goaltender to steal the show.

Their power play, with some shuffled units and a greater spreading of the wealth, has been better (four for their last 19 opportunities), and their penalty kill has been incredible of late, with kills on 50 of their last 55 times shorthanded.

“We’ve got some players that have come back, and whether it was injuries — and there were suspensions — but [Vatrano] is back, so he’s given us another option there, and at the same time, [Pastrnak] has been in and out, and now we’ve been able to kind of set two power plays,” B’s coach Claude Julien said after last Saturday’s win over the Sabres, a win that at the time gave the Bruins power-play goals in four of their last five games. “I think both power plays are pretty even. It’s not like you’re going with your first power play, and if it doesn’t score, then you just cross your fingers. A lot of teams have a second power play unit that just shoots the puck at the net. I think we have a second power play that can be just as potent in all areas as the first one. So hopefully that pays off moving forward, but I think it’s more about putting players in the right place. I’m not going to tell you that there was no confidence that was built through that. The confidence is building, and we’re getting a little bit more success.”

But if that confidence doesn’t translate into a power-play goal, or spread into even-strength play, this is a Bruins team that still struggles to score goals on a consistent basis, with two goals or fewer in all but 15 of their 40 games this season, which was absolutely the case in a near-lifeless loss to a Devils team that entered Monday with wins in just two of their last 10 games.

That’s with a healthy top six, too. That’s something they did not have Monday night, and something they’re unlikely to have when Connor McDavid and the high-scoring Oilers come to town Thursday night.

And all while the Lightning and Maple Leafs — with games in hand — continue to nip at the B’s heels.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins lost to the Devils. (Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports)

The Bruins lost to the Devils by a 3-0 final Monday night at the Prudential Center. (Ed Mulholland/USA TODAY Sports)

Every single time you’ve thought you had a solid read on this Bruins team, they’ve laid an egg against a mediocre-at-best team. Without fail.

The hot-and-cold nature of this team has undoubtedly plagued the first half of the B’s season, and that tradition has now carried on into the 2017 calendar year, as their two-game winning streak came to a halt with Monday’s 3-0 no-show of a loss against the Devils.

The B’s were by now accustomed to the desperate nature that the Devils would come into this game with (the Devils were 10 points out of the last wild card spot and 18 points away from third place in the Metropolitan Division entering play), but Monday’s display was proof that this team just can’t get out of its own way.

Instead of imposing their will against a back-against-the-wall Devils group, the Bruins let the opposition control the tempo (the Devils slowed this game to a crawl) and rarely pushed back with anything of substance, and were in an 0-1 deficit 4:12 into the first period. The one-goal deficit between two early in the third period, and three by the end of the game. They didn’t even have an answer for what the Devils were doing, either, as the Bruins very rarely made Cory Schneider sweat en route to a 22-save effort for his second shutout of the season and first win over the B’s since coming to New Jersey from the Canucks in 2013.

The Bruins appeared to be on a team running on fumes. And it’s a ‘eye test’ critique, I know, but was there any moment in this game where you looked at what the Bruins were doing and said wow they really know they can bury this team? Probably not.

You understand the overall grind of the NHL schedule. It’s an obvious one. and some bad losses to bad teams are going to happen. But after back-to-back wins against the Sabres last week, a road head-to-head with the Devils — a team with just two wins in their last 10 games overall and four of their last five games at the Prudential Center — and with Tuukka Rask in net against the struggling Schneider, this was a game that the Black and Gold should have won. At this time in the year, it’s as simple as that.

The Bruins have already dropped their share of stinkers to bad teams, too.

They’ve lost twice to the Maple Leafs (who, while improving, are still not a team that should blow you out of the water two times in as many games this season), they fallen apart against the Avalanche, Islanders, and most recently (before tonight) the ‘Canes. Factor tonight’s loss to the Devils into these struggles and the Bruins have nabbed just seven of a possible 18 points against that group of middling opponents.

Their ability to leave points on the table has been incredible in the worst possible way. And it’s not good enough now, as the playoff race truly seems to begin around the new year, and it won’t be good enough come April.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Milt Schmidt was one of three Bruins featured on the NHL's first list of 100 Greatest Players list. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Milt Schmidt was one of three Bruins featured on the NHL’s first list of 100 Greatest Players list. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

As the league kicked off their 100-year birthday party with yesterday’s Centennial Classic meeting between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs at Toronto’s BMO Field, three Bruins legends found themselves in the spotlight of an Original Six showdown with an inclusion in the first batch of names in the league’s new 100 Greatest Players list.

Dubbed ‘the First 33′, the list (which for the record does not have a true numbering format of any sort) focused on the stars of the league’s first 50 years of existence, and included old time hockey legend Eddie Shore, Johnny Bucyk, and the ultimate Bruin, Milt Schmidt.

The iconic Shore’s resume was as long as it was straight-up terrifying.

A four-time Hart Trophy winner, two-time Stanley Cup winner, and perennial all-star during his NHL career, Shore was the league’s first elite defenseman, and had an undeniable aura to his name. Whether it was because of his toughness (there’s a legendary story about Shore having to find a doctor on his own to sew his ear back together because no other doctor was willing to do it — they wanted to amputate it) or his perseverance (there’s another story about Shore trekking up to Montreal on his own after missing the team’s train to Canada).

Shore finished his career with 103 goals and 279 points in 540 NHL games and was named to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1947.

Schmidt, who turned 98 earlier this season, has an equally impressive resume from his 16-year career in Boston. The leader of the Kraut Line with Bobby Bauer and Woody Dumart, Schmidt ranks 12th on the franchise’s all-time scoring list with 575 points in 776 games with the Bruins, and would have tallied even more had he (along with his linemates) not lost three years of his career to his enlistment of the armed services during World War II. A two-time Cup winner with the Bruins, Schmidt would continue to win with the Bruins even after his retirement, as both a coach and general manager, and won another two Cups as the team’s GM, in 1970 and ’72. Schmidt, a Hockey Hall of Famer since 1961, is currently the oldest living former NHL player.

Then there’s The Chief. A staple of Bruins hockey since 1957, Bucyk ranks second on the club’s all-time games played list (his 1,436 games in Boston are second only to Ray Bourque’s 1,518) and points (Bucyk has 1,339 compared to Bourque’s 1,506), and retired as the league’s top scoring left-winger, although that record has since been broken. Bucyk recorded 16 seasons of 20 goals or more during his career, twice won the Lady Byng, was a seven-time all-star, and won Stanley Cups in 1970 and ’72.

Bucyk currently ranks 24th on the NHL’s all-time scoring list.

The 67 other players on the list will be revealed during the league’s All-Star weekend in Los Angeles at the end of the month.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins and Devils will meet for the second time this season. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins and Devils will meet for the second time this season. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will happily take the positives of their 2016 calendar year finish into 2017. But they’re not going to simply forgot some of the lessons that could have been learned through the struggles.

Something they’ll look to carry into their first game of 2017, a Monday night road meeting with the slumping Devils.

Through the first 39 games of this season, with the club sitting in third place in the Atlantic Division by way of their 20-15-4 record, the Bruins are a great team when they defend a lead (they’re 15-o-1 when leading after two periods of play), but have often struggled to score first and successful chase their way back into a successful comeback.

And after having to work like hell to break even in two games earlier last week in which the Bruins dealt themselves multi-goal deficits — the Bruins fell behind 0-3 to the Blue Jackets last Tuesday in a 4-3 loss, and 0-2 to the Sabres on Thursday in a 4-2 win — the Bruins found the start they needed behind three unanswered goals (from forwards on three different lines no less) to begin Saturday’s win over the Sabres.

It’s the starts that have proven pivotal for the club.

“When you start the game the right way, you don’t put yourself in a bad spot,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron, who scored for the third time in five games, said. “We showed some character lately getting back in games, but it’s not good enough when you play for 40 minutes. When you start the right way, it makes a huge difference.”

Squared up with a Devils team that’s won just two of their last 10 games and without a morning skate, the assumption would be that Tuukka Rask gets the start in net for the Bruins. The 29-year-old Rask has 19 wins and a .929 save percentage in 29 games this season, stopped 26-of-27 in his last start, has five wins and a .946 save percentage in nine starts against New Jersey. If it’s not Rask, it’ll be Anton Khudobin in the crease. Khudobin has one win and an .885 save percentage in eight games this year.

The Devils counter Rask with Cory Schneider.

It’s been a down year and a half for the Marblehead, Mass., native, with 10 wins and a .904 save percentage in 27 games this year, and at least four goals allowed in six of his last eight games played. The 30-year-old Schneider has not beat the Bruins since coming to the Devils from Vancouver in 2013, with an 0-4-2 record against Boston in spite of a .922 save percentage.

This is the second of three head-to-heads between the B’s and Devils this year.

The Bruins winning the first meeting behind a 2-1 final on Oct. 20 at TD Garden.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner – David Krejci – Frank Vatrano

Tim Schaller – Austin Czarnik – Riley Nash

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Jimmy Hayes

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Zdeno Chara

Tuukka Rask

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

The season series finale between the Bruins and Sabres had familiar themes.

Evander Kane had some thoughts on Kevan Miller. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Evander Kane had some thoughts on Kevan Miller. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The season series finale between the Bruins and Sabres had familiar themes. The Bruins beat the Sabres for the fourth time in as many tries for their first season swept against their rival of 40-plus seasons, and it was the third game in which Sabres winger Evander Kane and Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller appeared to take issue with one another.

But for the third game in as many contests, the duo were unable — or perhaps unwilling — to drop the gloves in a second period spat.

Instead, both were assessed minors while Kane was given an additional 10-minute misconduct in Saturday’s 3-1 win for the Black and Gold.

It’s worth noting that the two were both on the ice against one another late in the third period, with the Sabres in pursuit of a game-tying goal, but nothing came of it, as the Sabres were (understandably) more focused on their comeback attempt given their dire need for points, while Miller was playing on the other side of the rink as Kane.

Still, after the game, Miller sprinkled in a thought on Kane’s false bravado.

“I think he was excited to fight when the referees came in and not before,” Miller said.

Sunday morning, Kane took to Twitter to send a jab back towards Miller.

After a Sunday practice at Warrior Ice Arena, Miller responded.

“I’ve been informed about [the tweet],” Miller, who does not have a Twitter account of his own and doesn’t sound like somebody that plans on making one, confirmed. “You guys can kinda pick and choose for that. You saw the game, right? I said my piece after the game. He wanted to fight when the refs and came in, and now he’s using Twitter, which is whatever you wanna call it — seems he has to say that when we don’t play them again.”

(Miller, in case you forgot, is a damn monster when he drops his gloves.)

“He knew I wanted to [fight], there’s no ifs ands or buts about it,” Miller said of yesterday’s game and incident with Kane. “Everybody on his team knew I wanted to, and I’m pretty sure everybody on his team knows how I feel about him.”

And even though the bout between Kane-Miller will likely have to wait 10 months at the earliest, the 29-year-old Miller doesn’t sound like somebody that will forgive and forget when it comes down to the next head-to-head between the two.

“I have a long memory.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson