Quick Hit: Bruins Fall In Trap Game

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Photo credit: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

By: Thomas Nystrom           Follow Me On Twitter @nahstrom 

Saturday night we saw a much different Bruins team take the ice. Not in terms of personnel, but certainly in the way of effort and execution. Boston looked disjointed in every aspect of the game. The stick handling left much to be desired, the passing was lazy, and the shots didn’t find their mark with any level of consistency in comparison to what we’ve seen over the better part of the last two months. Tuukka Rask had a few misreads and blown saves, although the highlights will also show that he kept them in this game until the very end with a handful of unbelievable stops. Unfortunately his effort wasn’t enough to continue his outstanding point streak which ends at 21 games.

This game appears to be less about Rask’s off night and more about the overall lack of compete from a Boston squad fresh off a few days rest after an absolutely commanding road performance in their 6-1 victory over the New York Rangers.

The flip side of this article is undoubtedly being written in Buffalo as we speak, but here, the great things that the Sabres did tonight shouldn’t go without praise. The Buffalo Sabres entered TD Garden with purpose despite having very little to play for at this stage of their mostly disappointing 2017-2018 campaign. They were strong on the forecheck, broke up a number of high-probability scoring chances, and backup Goaltender Chad Johnson put together an outstanding if not unexpected 60 minute effort in net. Ryan O’Reilly centered a Buffalo line that tonight played Bergeron/Marchand/Pastrnak with intensity and fearlessness arguably more-so than any other offensive pairing since November. Mind you, Buffalo’s best weapon and Massachusetts’ own Jack Eichel was knocked out of the game with under 7 minutes left in the first on an ugly looking collision where he came down awkwardly with his leg pinned beneath him.

Positive spin: I would like to state for the record that in no way do I believe the Sabres just laid out the blueprint for how to contain the monster that has been the Boston Bruins over the better part of the season. This was a ‘trap game’ if there ever was one. The seemingly easier contest of the back to back this weekend didn’t go as planned, but in many ways was half-heartedly forecasted. The ‘trap’ is not a myth folks and tonight was exhibit A.

The Boston Bruins travel to Newark, New Jersey tomorrow to take on the (27-19-8) Devils, whom are coming off their own 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Columbus on Sunday. I foresee a physical, perhaps desperate level of effort from both teams looking to quickly right the ship. Face off at 7:00pm. See you then.

Thomas Nyström, Contributor.
Follow me on Twitter @nahstrom

Game Preview: Bruins vs. Rangers Has No Shortage of Storylines

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Photo credit: Yahoo Sports

By: Thomas Nystrom           Follow Me On Twitter @nahstrom 

Despite the New York Rangers season having fallen off the rails, there is no shortage of things to watch for in tonight’s match-up.

Tonight the Boston Bruins take on the Rangers at Madison Square Garden featuring the return of Brad Marchand. The embattled winger finished his suspension and will look to get right back into the unmistakably dominant flow that the first line had been on. Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Marchand are arguably the best two-way line in hockey and prior to his suspension for an elbow to New Jersey Devils forward Marcus Johansson, they were lighting up opponents at a record pace. It will be interesting to see the reaction from Ranger fans and players alike, perhaps trying to goad Marchand into making another costly mistake. The NHL offices will no doubt be watching #63 with a close eye tonight in New York.

A compelling dynamic to tonights rivalry game is the idea that the Rangers appear to be sellers at the upcoming trade deadline, and perhaps a number of players are auditioning for their potential future teams, Boston included. Names like defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and forwards Michael Grabner, Rick Nash, David Desharnais, and fan favorite Mats Zuccarello have been floated out there as potentially available. Zuccarello and McDonagh both have time past the end of this season left on their contracts and are signed through the end of next season.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in January that the Rangers are preparing to take calls regarding players up and down the roster, regardless of contract status.

One more interesting thing to know is that AHL affiliates of both organizations play one another the night before the February 26th deadline. Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR) head to Providence to take on the Bruins for a Sunday matinee at 3:05. Any indications of a potential deal between New York and Boston could possibly make itself apparent in that contest in the form of a healthy scratch for one or more Providence prospects. That will be something to monitor as the game approaches.

Boston Bruins (32-11-8) vs. New York Rangers (25-23-5)
Madison Square Garden
8:00 pm on NBCSN


Projected Lineups:

Boston Bruins

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Ryan Spooner
Danton Heinen – Riley Nash – David Backes
Tim Schaller – Sean Kuraly – Austin Czarnik

Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Adam McQuaid

Anton Khudobin getting the nod in goal.

New York Rangers

Rick Nash – Mika Zibanejad – Mats Zuccarello
JT Miller – David Desharnais – Jesper Fast
Michael Grabner – Kevin Hayes – Vinni Lettieri
Cody McLeod – Peter Holland – Paul Carey

Ryan McDonagh – Nick Holden
Brady Skjei – Steve Kampfer
Brendan Smith – Anthony DeAngelo

Henrik Lundqvist expected in net for the Rangers.

Thomas Nyström, Contributor.
Follow me on Twitter @nahstrom

Injuries And Depth A Concern, And Here’s How It Can Be Fixed

david-backesAbove Photo Credit: intelfeeds

By: Thomas Nystrom           Follow Me On Twitter @nahstrom 

The story of the 2017-2018 Boston Bruins has now reached a critical point in ‘act two’ of the the season. At this juncture it can be classified as an obstacle while being mindful that there is a thin line between that and a full blown crisis in any story arc. The obstacle Boston currently faces is a test of organizational depth, and fans are already looking for answers.

During Tuesday nights return to post-all-star action we saw two immediate tests come in the form of a cross-check to Anders Bjork, and an unreasonably late hit high on David Backes. Neither player would return in this contest and Coach Bruce Cassidy has already stated that Bjork will be missing some time. The true extent of the Backes injury is still undetermined but it appears right now that he avoided a set-back on the hit from Anaheim’s Nick Ritchie. He indicated today that he ‘feels fine’ to NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty.

This makes the last week and a half’s injuries and issues compile into something not only worth monitoring, but addressing before it becomes the narrative of the second half. Bjork is out, and if it’s a shoulder as reported.. it may be a bit before he’s back to 100%. Charlie McAvoy hopefully will return sooner than later but coming off a heart procedure there is zero pressure to rush back from anyone in the organization. Backes narrowly avoided another stint on the IR. Noel Acciari has missed time with a lower body injury and is not expected to return to action Thursday against the Blues. And lastly, Brad Marchand still has another three games to serve on his suspension for a hit that did not need to happen.

Depth is going to be a major plot point for the remainder of the season, and one that will likely be addressed at the trade deadline on February 26th. Names like Evander Kane have been tossed out there, though the general consensus is that the persistent drama surrounding him is a chemistry risk and may outweigh the upside a player like that would present. Max Pacioretty is rumored to be available but I highly doubt Montreal and Boston would come to any reasonable terms for him. Michael Grabner, James Neal, Patrick Maroon, Rick Nash, and so on — all left wingers who will come with a high asking price from their respective organizations. Besides, to me I see a higher need to perhaps add a right winger and not a left, and a player like Jordan Kyrou would be safer, and more reasonably priced at the deadline.

All options will no doubt be considered and explored accordingly, just looking at the injury report as it stands today only accentuates the need for help on the wing for the final stretch to the post-season. Should the Bruins choose to primarily work within the system, their options at the AHL level include players like Peter Cehlarik who was called up this morning to fill the void left by Accairi and Bjork, both considered day-to-day per Bruce Cassidy. If Backes winds up missing any time this season (or any center for that matter) there is the impending call-ups of Providence’s Ryan Fitzgerald and Jakob Forbacka Karlsson. Both would be exciting promotions for Bruins fans in the know, but not a move considered ‘sexy’ by the casual fan that will start jumping on board with the team for the next few months as they push for a high seed in the conference heading into the playoffs.

Simply stated, Bruins appear to be deep but could/should add to that if the goal is to be raising hardware by the end of spring. This season started with a dense unavoidable haze of melancholy but has suddenly swung to an heir of confidence and hope for a deep playoff run. How proactive the orginization is in the coming weeks with regards to putting the pieces together for Cassidy to mold into a championship team — that is the new narritive.


Thomas Nyström, Contributor.

Follow me on Twitter @nahstrom

McIntyre Entering Career Defining Stretch

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( Above Photo Credit:  Bridgeport Soundtigers)

By: Thomas Nyström            Follow Me On Twitter @nahstrom 

The ups and downs of professional hockey can sometimes be destructive to a developing player. Particularly so for a goaltender, a position that either takes the blame or praise for the results on any given night. The sixty-minute spotlight comes with an undeniable amount of pressure, more-so than anyone outside of the game could truly quantify.

Providence’s 25 year old netminder, Zane McIntyre’s professional career started during the 2015-2016 season where he played 31 games for Providence going 14-8-7 with an .898 save percentage, and one playoff appearance where he allowed 4 goals before being pulled at the end of two periods. Expectations had been higher due to his three years with the University of North Dakota where he amassed a 58-24-9 record with an .925 save percentage for his college career. McIntyre rebounded in his second professional year (2016/2017) winning 21 games in 31 appearances and a stingy .203 GAA. McIntyre additionally played another 933 minutes of playoff hockey to close out the season going in his appearances to the tune of going 8-7 with a .906 save percentage. While these numbers improved from year one to year two, McIntyre’s prospect status was hampered by what transpired during his ‘cup of tea’ in Boston when he was called upon. In 8 games he posted an 0-4-1 record and just a hair below a 4.00 GAA.

Now in his third professional season, calling Zane McIntyre a ‘prospect’ can be taken with a grain of salt. Have we seen the best out of him already? That’s perhaps an unfair question to ask, but one he quite possibly has asked himself this year. Thus far for the 2017-2018 P-Bruins, Zane has played nearly 1600 minutes in 27 games and has won just 13 of them, with his .903 save percentage being bested by Jordan Binnington whose on loan from St. Louis.

But let’s look at his last few games: last week McIntyre was perfect in his two starts stopping every last one of the 55 shots sent his way. This was Zane’s first time in his professional career where he put together back-to-back shutouts. A stat line deemed worthy of Player of the Week honors for the AHL. Then his start on Wednesday he allowed 2 goals in a losing effort to Lehigh Valley on the road but made a number of big saves to hold the comeback within reach.

Zane McIntyre may not be considered an ‘elite prospect’ at this point (if technically a prospect at all), and perhaps may be losing his place in the hierarchy of Boston goaltenders. Many fans aren’t quite comfortable with the idea of Zane stepping in as Tuukka Rask’s backup next season, let alone if an injury should arise this season with Boston riding one of their greatest hot streaks in franchise history. Current backup, Anton Khudobin, is playing the roll exceptionally and will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. If Khudobin looks for more money than the front office is looking to spend, does this force McIntyre into a roll he may not be ready for? One would hope not. Two scenarios: 1. Khudobin’s asking price is reasonable and the Bruins resign him for another year. The second, and perhaps the best case scenario from an organizational standpoint: McIntyre stays hot past the all-star break and into the AHL post-season. That would just be another chapter in the spoil of riches that has become Boston’s narrative this season, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

Boston fans can debate this for months to come, but it’s completely up to Zane McIntyre to decide.

Thomas Nyström, Contributor.
Follow me on Twitter @nahstrom

Bruins: Making the Oddsmakers Sweat With Recent Winning Ways

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( Above Photo Credit:  Getty Images )

By: Thomas Nyström              Follow Me On Twitter @nahstrom

At the end of the Stanley Cup finals last year, the hockey world was buzzing about the Nashville Predators and their astoundingly rabid fanbase, and the loathsome Pittsburgh Penguins were preparing to raise yet another banner. Meanwhile, Vegas was just starting to put it all together. No, not just the Golden Knights… I’m talking the other team: the Vegas oddsmakers. When NHL betting lines began to come out in June of 2017, The Boston Bruins were given just 33-1 odds to win the cup in the 2017-2018 season (according to bovada.lv). That put them at 17 in the league, and essentially a fringe wild-card team at best.

Well, Vegas isn’t always right, and I’d venture a guess that we all are wishing we’d put just a few bucks down because the Bruins appear to be very much in the hunt. As of writing this, the Bruins sit 2nd in the Atlantic Division just 3 and 9 points behind Washington and Tampa Bay, respectively in the conference. Boston has also played fewer games than both teams.

According to hockeyreference.com, the Bruins now possess a 17.8% chance to reach the Stanley Cup finals, and a 10.1% chance to win the whole thing. This is a far cry from their preseason betting odds and any logical analyst looking ahead at the season prior to opening the 2017-2018 regular season. This percentage is second highest of all teams behind the Lightning. Yes, higher than the Capitals, Vegas, Nashville, and Pittsburgh. Above any other original six team which is obviously a victory for the organization and it’s die-hard fan base, albeit usually an unspoken one. Statistical analysis is backing up the buzz behind Boston who are now on a 13 game point streak and haven’t suffered a regulation loss in what seems like an eon.

The production coming out of the youth on this team have exceeded expectations, the coaching staff has handled any and all adversities quite well, and the organization may have a little more depth down in Providence than originally thought. The P-Bruins sit 8th in the AHL in win percentage despite a roster who has been the victim of call-ups and injuries. The last three months of the regular season will inevitably test that depth, and it may be a big part of how we look back on this season in Boston when all is said and done.

Perhaps the depth will be addressed as the trade deadline, where the Bruins could likely use a defenseman, and a right winger at the NHL level, and I could certainly make an argument for goaltending depth in Providence. As of right now, I find myself trusting the organization to make the right moves more than I have in recent memory. Time will tell if I change my mind on that one — and believe me when I say, you’ll hear about it on my twitter if I’m left eating my words.

As we approach the all-star break next weekend, Boston fans have a lot to be happy about. The last half of the season will no doubt be as exciting as it’s been since 2013, and certainly more so than what was thought back in June.

Writers note: 33-1 odds for the Bruins may have brought a nice return, but could you imagine if someone took a shot and hit on the Vegas Golden Knights at 150-1? Dear Lord Stanley.

Thomas Nyström, Contributor.
Follow me on Twitter @nahstrom

Charlie McAvoy: Optimism For Even The Most Cynical Of Bruins Fans

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( Above Photo Credit:    MassLive )

By: Thomas Nystrom                      Follow Me On Twitter @nahstrom 

As we sit here in the midst of this awful ‘bye week’, I feel it’s a good time to step away from the persistent sense of pessimism surrounding the team on social media and many call-in shows. Outside of the fact that the Boston Bruins have been one of the hottest teams since mid-December. Despite the scoring tear that the forwards have been on. Regardless of the ONE loss (in overtime no less) coming on the second night of a double-header in which the team traveled overnight to play the defending Stanley Cup Champions. And even though we’ve gotten a stretch of spectacular play in goal.. the negativity has rained down this week from fans that quite frankly aren’t looking at the big picture.

In almost every way, Boston is a “what are you doing for me NOW” sports city. Even a shot of optimism is typically chased with a little negativity. I suppose it’s just our own way of self-regulating the balance of our fandom. As such, the team and it’s players (cough, Tuukka, cough) are magnets for criticism from fans unwilling to look past one bad night — but are supremely capable of referencing someone’s lack of production in October. We are all at least acutely aware that there was an air of “we’re not going anywhere” heading into the 2017-2018 season with the exception of a few young budding superstars.

One of those exceptions being twenty years old, Charlie McAvoy.

‘Causeway Charlie’ broke into the consciousness of Bruins fans with an excellent showing in the playoffs just last year and came into camp with a mountain of expectations placed on him by the Boston media and fans. There was optimism for the kid, more than we’ve seen for any rookie in recent memory.. and still, the tired old hat of Boston pessimism crept in. Can he do what we think he can do for a full regular season? Was his breakout against Ottawa just on adrenaline and excitement that he had ‘made it’? Has even ‘made it’ yet?

Allow me to settle your worried minds: Charlie McAvoy has ‘made it.’

This kid is for real, and a defensive piece that the organization can stick on their blue line and build around for a decade. There was a desire just a few short weeks ago just to find something in his game that he may lack: his unwillingness at times to take a shot. He’s shooting, folks. Through the first twenty games, he registered 31 shots on goal, two of them finding twine. Since then, in the last twenty, he’s only managed 16 SOG, however, has gotten himself another three goals. If anything he has been more selective and productive with his shots and we’re all seeing the results come through on the scoresheet. He’s snuck into the top 10 for shooting percentage for the team. Charlie’s 21 points are good for 7th on the team, including being 6th in assists, and his +/- is 4th best on the team at this point in the season. All of this mind you is with arguably the best first line in hockey: Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak who have been collecting points at an unbelievable pace. McAvoy will shoot more if that’s what the coaching staff requests. They are clearly already asking a lot of him as heading into this bye week his on-ice time average of 22:54 is only bested by Zdeno Chara’s 23:20 per game.

Rather than thinking the worse about this team after an overtime loss on the road, we should be focusing on the immense positives surrounding the Boston Bruins right now. McAvoy is well on his way to elite production on the professional level, having already being acknowledged as an alternate in the upcoming all-star game. The production the coaching staff is getting out of a number of kids, and a reliable core of NHL veterans is something that should light up Causeway like is hasn’t seen in the last few seasons. And despite all of the injuries and growing pains you’d expect early in the season, here the Bruins sit. Tied for third in the conference with Columbus who have played 4 games more than Boston. The Bruins have a top-five win percentage, and they’re still in the midst of an amazing point streak dating back to their last regulation loss on December 14th coming against Washington. This group of guys have shown that they have what it takes to be special.

The entire league is starting to take notice of Boston’s surge and certainly has been exposed to the talents of Charlie McAvoy beyond his player of the game honors in his gold-medal World Juniors victory barely a year ago. Perhaps it’s time that we take a step back and enjoy this season and players like him, Danton Heinen, and even Anton Khudobin has been nothing short of spectacular to watch while spelling Rask who has also recently returned to an elite level of play. The first line is downright special. Even Chara has seemingly reinvented his game when some questioned if he was done.

The truest sense of pleasure for me thus far in the season comes from this: The same prognosticators who looked at this team and questioned if they could sneak into the playoffs as even a lowly seed are now making ‘cute’ predictions for a team that they all of a sudden see in contention to truly compete for a conference championship.

And guess what. They can, and they just might.


Thomas Nyström, Contributor.

Follow me on Twitter @nahstrom