Boston’s Unknown Talent: Par Lindholm

( Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports )

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

July 1, 2019, marked the first day of NHL free agency. NHL fans across the nation have hopes and dreams of their team signing the most attractive named talents. Unfortunately, the NHL salary cap limits numerous teams in who they can sign. Most General Managers will sign for needs rather than wants. The Bruins’ General Manager (Don Sweeney) had $12 million in cap space when free agency began, with three restricted free agents awaiting new deals: Charlie McAvoy, Danton Heinen, and Brandon Carlo.

Most fans and analysts were convinced Sweeney would have to trade a current roster player in order to sign all three. Thankfully, he was able to sign all three to team-friendly deals and had a few extra million dollars leftover. Noel Acciari had been a staple on Boston’s fourth line but received a hefty raise from the Florida Panthers in the off-season. The Bruins found themselves with a need for trustworthy bottom-six talent. With the leftover cap room, Sweeney signed a few inexpensive role players: Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm.

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Par Lindholm entered the league as an undrafted free agent, signing his first NHL deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018. The 26-year-old Swedish forward played in the Swedish Elite League from 2014 through 2017, racking up 148 points and a plus 42 rating in 193 games. He has the ability to play both left-wing and center, which is a coveted trait amongst NHL players. He featured in 61 games with the Leafs, before being traded to Winnipeg at the deadline for Nicolas Petan. Lindholm only played 4 games with the Jets and became a free agent in 2019.

The contract with Boston is a low-risk, high-reward situation. They aren’t investing much into Lindholm, but if he can help in small areas it will pay dividends for the team down the road. Elliotte Friedman (Canadian Sportsnet journalist) writes a weekly article called “31 Thoughts” explaining league news and his reaction to all NHL stories. In his latest article, he gave Lindholm an unexpected but warranted praise: “There is one player in the NHL with more than 100 minutes of ice-time who has not been scored against. It is Boston’ Par Lindholm. Jinx!” Unfortunately, this accolade was broken when the Capitals defeated the Bruins on November 16, but it highlights and recognizes his contributions that go unnoticed. It’s great to watch highlight-reel goals and tic-tac-toe passing, but the ability to resist the offense from scoring is equally as important and endearing.

This type of play is no surprise to Sweeney since he had done his homework on Par before signing him. “We only had one left-shot centerman, (Lindholm is) very good on faceoffs, also kills penalties, certainly in his previous years in Sweden he had 18 goals,” I don’t believe he’ll score just one.” Seventeen games into the season, Lindholm has scored that one goal and fittingly enough, it came against his former team.

Thankfully, he wasn’t signed for his offensive game; but instead for stats that never seem to gain the recognition it deserves. His NHL career has just begun but he has yet to post a total season’s negative stat in the plus/minus column. He’s logging an average of 11:08 of ice team a year, which is normal for a bottom-six forward. If he can give the Bruins 11 shutout minutes a night, this can catapult his teammates in situations that allow them to win the game.

Face-offs are also incredibly important to a team’s success. If a team cannot win the necessary face-offs, it could be the difference between a win or a loss. An example of a key situation is when a team (say the Capitals for argument sake) trail the Bruins and pull the goalie for an extra attacker. The strategy in these situations for a head coach starts with the grouping he wants to deploy. Normally, a coach will deploy a group that tends to kill penalties because the Capitals extra attacker is a man-advantage situation. The head coach also ensures his lineup consists of more than one center-man in case his number one center is thrown out of the face-off dot for a violation.

Patrice Bergeron is, unfortunately, a repeat offender of these violations (deservedly so or not), so Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will want a player like David Krejci or Par Lindholm on the ice for his replacement for the key defensive zone draw. If Bergeron, Krejci, or Lindholm cannot win the defensive zone face-off, the Capitals could get a quality scoring opportunity. Successful teams do the little things right and these successful plays often come from under-the-radar players. Lindholm is a career 49.3% face-off winner, which is a necessary and trait for a bottom-six forward especially on special teams. The best players generally have a face-off percentage of 52% for the year.

Lindholm will certainly not be winning any awards in the near future or be featured on the NHL Network’s Top 5 Goals of the Week. But, he will be doing all of the little things that don’t show up on the score sheet. He was able to work third line duties while the Bruins recover from the injury bug, so there’s an opportunity for him to build on other areas in his game. He has returned to fourth-line duties. Regardless of the line, he plays on, Lindholm has won face-offs, denied scoring opportunities, and kills penalties; which is exactly the reason Sweeney called him on July 1.

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Bruce Cassidy Provides Update on Injured Bruins

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( Photo Credit: ESPN.com )

By: Yanni Latzanakis  |  Follow Me On Twitter @yanlatz

The Bruins have hardly been completely healthy in what seems like a very long time. That trend will continue on Sunday night in Boston when the Bruins host the Canadiens for their third matchup with their all-time rivals this Month and their first at TD Garden this year. The Bruins will be without one of their most valuable players again with Patrice Bergeron set to miss his fourth straight game this week.

After the Bruins took the ice for practice on Saturday at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton, Bruce Cassidy gave updates on the banged up Bruins. Patrice Bergeron was not on the ice again and it was announced that he will not play tomorrow night against Montreal with his lingering lower-body injury. Bergeron has missed his last four games and six out of the last eight games for the Black ‘N Gold.

Earlier this season, Cassidy has stated that he would rather keep Bergeron out until he is 100% healthy rather than rush him back into the lineup and risk further injury. There is no reason for Bergeron to come back unless he is more than healthy enough to return. The Bruins are continuing to roll this season and have won six in a row and have points in 10 straight games including an 8-1 thumping of the Canadiens last Tuesday night.

The Bruins continued their dominance on Black Friday during the Thanksgiving Showdown game when they hosted Henrik Lundqvuist and the New York Rangers for the traditional matinee Thanksgiving game. The Bruins fell behind by 2 but were able to comeback and win the game in overtime to continue their dominance at home. The Bruins still have yet to lose a regulation game at home and have a 10-0-4 record on Causeway Street.

Brad Marchand was also not on the ice as he was playing through flu-like symptoms yesterday but was able to finish the game. As a result he was held out of practice on Saturday and the team will assess how he feels tomorrow. Brad Marchand was also hit up high from an elbow by Rangers defenseman Jacob Trouba in the second period. The NHL’s concussion spotter did not pull Brad Marchand from the game until early in the third period which did not make Brad Marchand very happy after the game:

“The guy’s up there eating pizza’s and cheeseburger’s and can’t watch the game. Maybe next time he’ll pull his head out of his butt and watch the game.”

Marchand later apologized in a tweet for his comments stating that his emotions got the best of him and that he did not want to miss a shift when the Bruins were down in the hockey game.

Brett Ritchie was also not skating at practice but Bruce Cassidy did shed some light on some positive news stating that David Backes and John Moore are very close to returning to the lineup.

The Bruins continue to be banged up in the forward group and the defense core but are continuing their dominance over the NHL and have soared to the top of the NHL’s overall standings.

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Bruins, Chara Deserving Of Our Thanks!

Image result for zdeno chara thanksgiving(Photo Credit: Boston Bruins)

By: Evan Michael | Follow me on Twitter @00EvanMichael

The Boston Bruins, and in turn the city of Boston, have a lot to be thankful for this NHL season and this current holiday season. And the man at the center of it all, truly captaining the ship both on the ice and in the community, is “Big Z” himself — Zdeno Chara.

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One thing even bigger than Chara the player… is Chara the person. Only hours after scoring the game-winning goal against the Ottawa Senators on the road, the B’s Captain headed home to Boston to partake in the team’s annual tradition of donating pies to people and causes in the community who are in need this time of year.

As the Boston Bruins official press release noted, Chara made stops at the New England Center and Home for Veterans, St. Francis House, Pine Street Inn, and the Haley House.

The Boston Bruins announced… that Zdeno Chara will continue the Bruins’ annual tradition of donating 400 pies purchased from Mike’s Pastry in the North End for Thanksgiving and delivering them to local organizations on Thursday, November 28.

The only treat sweeter than this? Chara’s play of late. He’s led the B’s on a five-game winning streak and a nine-game point streak — all ahead of the appetizing and hopefully fulfilling NHL Thanksgiving Showdown on Friday WEAR the B’s will debut their new third jerseys (keep an eye out for an upcoming Black N’ Gold preview piece on this fashionable update to a classic Bruins design).

(Photo Credit: Boston Bruins)

Last year, the Boston Bruins Foundation joined in on the Thanksgiving Day donations with a benefit for the Boston Children’s Patient and Family Holiday Support Program. It helps families struggling with food insecurity over the holidays. Chara’s involvement led to more than $3,500 in Turkey Day donations — something “Big Z” said helped make a big difference in the lives of those less fortunate:

“It feels good… You know, it’s very important for me to help others. At this time of the year it’s obviously giving season and I’m just very glad that we can… change their Thanksgiving (for the better).” — Zdeno Chara, November 2018

 

Something that he hopes doesn’t change for Thanksgiving (or for the rest of the year/season for that matter) — the B’s current gameplay. Boasting the best record in not only the Atlantic Division but also the entire league (16Ws – 3Ls – 5OTs = 37 Points), his Bruins are on a streak hotter than a turkey-cooking oven!

Like I said, there’s a lot to be grateful for and thankful of in Boston these days. And Zdeno Chara represents ALL of it — from the game-winning goals to the game-changing volunteerism. Who wants seconds?

HAPPY THANKSGIVING, Boston Bruins Fans!

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Boston Bruins: Anders Bjork Is Here To Stay

( Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports )

By: Scott Delano | Follow me on Twitter @Scottdelano3

When Anders Bjork was taken in the fifth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, expectations of him were not too high. The American born skater saw 145 players selected before him. He blossomed into a superstar playing his colligate career at the University of Notre Dame. His spectacular play for the Fighting Irish left Bruins fans hopeful for a future star after signing his entry-level contract after his junior season.

Bjork entered the NHL with the Boston Bruins in the 2017-2018 season and slotted on the top line. He was playing his off-wing, but still showed signs of promise and hope. The skill was there, but he was undersized and not accustomed to the speed and grit of top-line NHL minutes. He logged 4 goals and 8 assists before a shoulder injury cut his season short.

The 2018 – 2019 NHL season was a frustrating one for Anders. This season, hopes were high for the slick shooting speedster. The results were not what many had hoped for playing in only 20 games. He once again injured the same shoulder from the year prior and another surgery made him a spectator for the season. Bjork did contribute a goal and two assists, but clearly, the injury hindered his abilities.

This season the Boston Bruins assigned Bjork to Providence to gain confidence, build his strength and ease him up to the big leagues. It wasn’t a popular decision sending the best-looking guy on the ice in the preseason to the minors, but as we’ve seen it was the right one. He missed the big clubs first

Anders started the year off playing for Providence before the injury bug bit the Bruins and he earned a call-up. He tallied eight points in only seven games. Since then he’s logged 15 games of action tallying three goals and an assist.

Anders Bjork scores a power-play goal from the lower dot

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Bruce Cassidy has chosen to leave the left-shot forward playing on the left side and Anders looks more comfortable in his natural position. There is a chemistry building between his linemates Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen. He’s going strong into the corners for puck battles, crashing the net for rebounds and standing his ground to set screens. His hard work has won the reward of power-play minutes with the second unit.

What’s more impressive is the trust he’s earned from Bruce Cassidy killing penalties. Strong play on the forecheck, getting back to play defense and taking away passing lanes with his speed has his game rounding out in all areas. Seeing Anders get a few more pucks behind the opposing team’s netminder will boost his confidence and show his potential.

Anders Bjork is blossoming into an NHL hockey player right in front of our eyes. He has the speed, vision, and skill to be a staple in Boston’s top six for years to come. Still just 23 years of age, he has only just begun to come into his own

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Bruins Recall Two From AHL Providence

( Photo Credit: Providence Bruins / Flickr )

By: Mark Allred  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BlackAndGold277

Per Boston Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy in a press conference earlier today, forward Patrice Bergeron will not make the trip to Montreal for tomorrow night’s contest due to a lingering lower-body injury. Cassidy also provided a few other injury-related updates that our very own Black N’ Gold Podcast team writer Patrick Donnelly wrote about earlier this afternoon. Check out Pat’s work in his article release tweet below.

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With Bergy not going to play the next two night’s in Canada with a stop tomorrow night in Montreal and the tail end of a back-to-back on Wednesday evening, some recalls needed to be made. A few hours ago the Boston Bruins officially released the news of Providence Bruins forward Brendan Gaunce and B’s prospect forward Jack Studnicka are heading to their respected Canadian country with the call for duty in relief of fallen comrades.

Brendan Gaunce

The 6′-2″ 216-pound Ontario, Canada native was signed as a free agent of the Bruins on a one-year, two-way contract in early July of 2019. Gaunce a 25-year-old versatile forward started the 2019-20 campaign on a positive note playing well with his big rangy frame and offensive capabilities. Brendan went 3-1-4 for Providence in his first 5 games in the NHL Bruins organization but was on the unfortunate end of a blindsided hit from Laval Rocket forward Michael McCarron. Rocket forward MacCarron did receive a suspension for his headshot actions but Gaunce would suffer a broken nose and concussion.

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After returning to the American Hockey League Bruins lineup getting back into a groove would prove to be slow coming back from an injury of that nature while wearing a protective cage. Brendan plays a gritty style game but also has the hands to be creative having 2-3-5 in the last five games for Providence and one of a few players for the top minor-pro affiliate of the NHL B’s that are producing regularly. Remains to be seen if he gets into a game but if he does look for him to play a bottom-nine role and throw his body around. Definitely, fun to watch along the boards and around the opposing net.

Jack Studnicka

Jack’s first full professional season with the Providence club has certainly been a pleasure to watch with the way he skates and sees the game unfold. The former 2017 second-round selection has always had a good two-way game and at every level of developmental hockey like everyone needs time to adjust. Not knocking his game “with” our “without” the puck to start his professional career but it’s relevant when going 1-5-6 in the first 10 games in his 2019-20 AHL rookie season.

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Studnicka’s game with Providence is exactly what you want to see from a highly regarded forward prospect and ultimately got the attention of higher-ups earning his first NHL recall. In Jack’s last 11 games in the AHL, the 20-year-old forward has goals in his last five games along with contributing 8-4-12 numbers in that 11 game timeframe. He’s a three zoned player with exceptional creativity and a professor of the game. Studnicka really took a huge step forward in his development at the faceoff dot from his days in the Ontario Hockey League with the Oshawa General and Niagara Ice Dogs a place he was traded halfway through the 2018-19 regular season.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 155 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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Bruins’ Cassidy Provides Injury Updates On Bergeron And Co.

Patrice-Bergeron.jpg

(Photo: Steven Ryan / Getty Images)

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy provided injury updates on Par Lindholm, Brett Ritchie, and most notably, Patrice Bergeron at Warrior Ice Arena, following Boston’s practice on Monday afternoon. Cassidy said Bergeron will not travel for the team’s next two games in Montreal and Ottawa as he is dealing with a lower-body injury similar to the one that kept him out of the lineup recently; the 34-year-old did not skate at practice.

Cassidy also noted that Ritchie, who continues to nurse an infection, will not travel with the team and did not practice either, after returning to the lineup during Saturday’s 5-4 overtime win versus Minnesota. Lindholm returned to practice and will return to the lineup Tuesday night after missing Saturday’s contest due to a cut suffered against Buffalo on Thursday, per Cassidy.

This season, Bergeron has eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points over the course of 21 games centering the lethal top line. As for Ritchie, the hulking winger has two goals and two assists to his name while Lindholm has one goal on the year.

The Bruins’ bench boss included Brendan Gaunce and Jack Studnicka in the real of possibility when looking at players that could potentially earn call-ups from AHL Providence.

Studnicka has been on fire lately with goals in five-straight games as well as eight total points in that span, making for 9-9-18 totals in 21 games this season. Meanwhile, Gaunce has been productive in his own right for the P-Bruins with 6-5-11 numbers in 14 games on the year, including five points (2g, 3a) in his last four games.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 155 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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Boston’s Luck With NHL’s Offside Rule

(Photo by Seth McConnell/The Denver Post)

By: Michael DiGiorgio  |  Follow Me On Twitter @BostonDiGiorgio

In 1929, the NHL implemented the offsides rule, which players abide by to this day. Rule 83.1 in the current NHL handbook states, “Players of the attacking team must not precede the puck into the attacking zone. The position of the player’s skates and not that of his stick shall be the determining factor in all instances in deciding an off-side. A player is off-side when both skates are completely over the leading edge of the blue line involved in the play.” The rule was created to ensure a level playing field and allow players to defend their goal, without having to worry about an attacker cherry-picking behind them.

If a player is deemed offsides entering the zone, the whistle will be blown by an on-ice official and a face-off will occur. The ensuing face-off will take place outside the attacking zone or in the attacker’s defensive zone, depending on intent. In 2016, the NHL Board of Governors allowed its coaches to challenge an offsides ruling if it resulted in a goal. The amendment to the rule has created a frenzy of unhappy players, coaches, and organizations, and confusing explanations.

Hockey has always relied on referees to call its game fairly and objectively. Referees have been trained by the NHL to uphold the rule book and keep order on the ice. On-ice officials are entrusted to call a fair and unbiased game. This has, however, created an opportunity for human error. As the players become bigger, faster, and stronger, so does the game. It is always a criticism from the average hockey fan that the game is “too fast” and the puck is “hard to follow.” On-ice officials need to adapt to the changes and ensure their calls are correct. One bad judgment call by the referee can change the landscape of an entire game. With the emergence of challenging in-game video review across all sports, the NHL decided it was time to allow their referees to review offsides.

The challenge was implemented because in many instances (some in key games) a play should have been offsides and a goal was scored. The NHL wanted to give the referees a chance to reverse the call if, upon video review, their original ruling was wrong. When a coach requests a challenge, the referees stop the game, call the NHL review headquarters in Toronto, and have a phone call about the play. Referees talk to Toronto as they look at the play on an iPad, which most have scrutinized. Challenges have taken anywhere from three to ten minutes. As a whole, game-play slowed down significantly and coaches took advantage of the break to give players a breather. The NHL changed the penalty of a failed offsides from a loss of a time-out to a two-minute minor penalty.

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With the decrease in challenges, scrutiny increased in turn. Your Boston Bruins have been at odds with this rule numerous times, especially in the playoffs. In-Game 1 Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2018, Brad Marchand entered the attacking zone with the puck and ended up scoring on the play. His teammate, Patrice Bergeron, was run into by a Maple Leafs player. Bergeron’s right skate was in the zone, and his left skate appeared to have dragged on the blue line. As 83.1 further states in the NHL rule book, “A player is on-side when either of his skates is in contact with, or on his own side of the line, at the instant, the puck completely crosses the leading edge of the blue line regardless of the position of his stick.”

 

Bergeron’s skate is simultaneously entering the zone as the puck enters the zone. Stop the video at 41 seconds and the puck is clearly in the zone, while Bergeron’s skate is touching the blue paint. The NHL’s rule book states this is a good goal, but the referees and the NHL called the goal back upon video review. Any camera angle showing the replay on the jumbotron or on the at-home TV broadcasts are the same cameras the NHL sees. So Bruins fans are left wondering, why was this called no-goal? These plays are happening during the most crucial time in the sport, and goals are held to the interpretation of the referee on an iPad.

More recently, Weymouth-native Charlie Coyle scored what looked like a good goal in the eyes of the rule book in Montreal on November 6, 2019.

 

In this instance, rule 83.1 allows Coyle’s goal. “A player actually controlling the puck who shall cross the line ahead of the puck shall not be considered “off-side,” provided he had possession and control of the puck prior to his skates crossing the blue line.” Control of the puck means the act of propelling the puck with the stick, hand, or feet, which Coyle displays. Players nowadays are talented enough to use their skates as a way to pass the puck to their stick, which is considered possession. The referees and NHL determined Coyle did not have possession, even though he corralled the puck from his skates to his stick upon entering the zone.

Interestingly enough, a similar play occurred in 2016 between the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals.

 

Evgeny Kuznetsov (Washington Capitals forward) entered the zone and lost the puck for a brief moment. Moments later, Evgeny’s teammate, Alex Ovechkin, scored the game-winning goal. The NHL reviewed the goal and the goal was upheld, meaning the NHL determined Kuznetsov had possession of the puck while entering the zone even though he did not have it on his stick for a moment.

The NHL is inconsistent with their calls. Ovechkin’s goal stands when, for a moment, Kuznetsov did not have clear puck possession, but Coyle’s goal is overturned when he, too, had possession. Many around the league feel the referees do not want to reverse their own call, especially if the replay is inconclusive. Even further, when referees give an explanation, it is too vague and does not explain the decision. Herein lies the problem.

This past Tuesday, the NHL and General Managers met at their annual November meeting. The meeting is designed to review how the year has progressed and discuss any rule changes that need to be reviewed during their annual March meetings. Rules are changed, created, or deleted during these March meetings. “Commissioner Bettman said a discussion on the offside rule, possibly regarding the way it is written in the rulebook and how it is being applied in video replay through a coach’s challenge, will be one of the many topics the GMs will talk about.” Don Sweeney, General Manager of the Boston Bruins, is a lock to be one of the many GMs to voice his displeasure with the rule and how it’s being evaluated.

It is unclear what the NHL will do (if anything) to change the challenge process. The most likely scenario is that the NHL will hear out its General Managers now and see how the current year progresses with the rule. If the on-ice ruling has a significant hand in how a game ends this year, the NHL will have more pressure from the public eye to make a change. Unfortunately, the NHL and its fans will have to wait until March for an actual revision. Even so, a new rule may not go into effect until next season. The NHL needs to educate its fans, referees, and organizations on all scenarios that come from the offside challenge. The calls need to be consistent and free of mistakes. The NHL comes down to a game of inches and a crucial call can create a controversial outcome.

Check out our new Black N’ Gold Prospect Podcast episode 6 that we recorded on November 17th, 2019! Our BNG Prospects Pod can be found on the same RSS Feed as our original Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast, which can be found on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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Bruins’ Cassidy Provides Injury Updates On Krug, Miller, And Co.

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(Photo: Andy Devlin / NHLI via Getty Images)

By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy issued several injury updates during his media availability at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday afternoon. Most notably, Cassidy said Torey Krug, who was placed on injured reserve just under a week ago, is “probable” for Saturday’s tilt with the Minnesota Wild. The 28-year-old has not played since November 10, and has 2-11-13 totals through 17 games this season.

Cassidy also provided the following injury updates: Patrice Bergeron, who did not skate at practice, had a maintenance day, Par Lindholm was cut during Thursday’s game versus Buffalo and required stitches (he is not ruled out for Saturday), and Brett Ritchie, who is dealing with an ongoing issue, felt “much better.”

Additionally, the Bruins’ bench boss said defenseman Kevan Miller suffered a “little setback.” However, the team does not think it is anything too serious, but is remaining cautious with the 32-year-old. Miller has not played since April 4 after undergoing surgery for a fractured kneecap.

Cassidy noted that defenseman John Moore is back to being a full-participant at practices, shedding the red “no-contact” sweater, but is still a couple weeks away from making his season debut. The 29-year-old had shoulder surgery during the offseason.

After taking down the Sabres by a 3-2 final at TD Garden on Thursday night, the Bruins return to action tomorrow at home against the Minnesota Wild. Boston will look to make it three-straight wins after going 1-2-3 in the team’s previous six games before Tuesday’s win at New Jersey.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 154 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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Leafs’ Firing of Mike Babcock Similar to Bruins’ 2017 Firing of Claude Julien

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PHOTO CREDITS: (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj

When the news that Toronto Maple Leafs Head Coach Mike Babcock had been fired and that the Head Coach of the Toronto Marlies, Sheldon Keefe, had been hired as the new Head Coach of the NHL club, the opinions throughout the entire NHL universe – especially on Twitter, filled everyone’s feed.

The release of Babcock from the organization is a surprise, considering the expectations placed on him when he was hired by the team in 2015, but at the very same moment, it was expected. As of November 20th, the Maple Leafs are 10th in the Eastern Conference with a sub-par record of 9-10-4 and they have lost six consecutive games dating back to November 9th. Toronto has the team to win games on paper, but when those victories fail to come to fruition, it eventually falls on the Head Coach and that is the case here.

Mike Babcock started his NHL coaching career with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 2002-03, leading them to a 40-27-9-6 record and the Western Conference Championship, losing an eventual Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Finals to the New Jersey Devils. In 2003-2004, the Mighty Ducks missed the playoffs altogether and Babcock was subsequently fired in June of 2004.

A full season later, in July 2005, Mike Babcock was hired by the Detroit Red Wings who were coming off of a dominate 48-21-11-2 record but were eliminated in the second round. From 2005-06 to 2008-09, Babcock led the Red Wings to four-straight 50-plus-win seasons – culminating it all off with a Stanley Cup Championship in 2008 and a Western Conference Championship in 2009.

For the entire ten-year tenure that Mike Babcock spent in Detroit, the Red Wings made the playoffs – adding to their incredible streak of 25 playoff berths that began in the 1990-91 campaign, tied for the third-longest playoff appearance streak in NHL history, behind only the Boston Bruins (29 seasons from 1967-68 to 1995-96) and Chicago Blackhawks (28 seasons from 1969-70 to 1996-97) and equal to the St. Louis Blues (25 seasons from 1979-80 to 2003-04).

From July 15, 2005, to May 8th, 2015, Mike Babcock coached the Detroit Red Wings in 786 regular-season games with a combined record of 458-223-105 along with a 67-56 record in 123 postseason games with the franchise, solidifying himself as one of the best coaches in the NHL. Add that with his two Olympic Gold Medals (2010, 2014), IIHF World Championships Gold Medal (2004) and his World Cup of Hockey Championship win (2016), Babcock proved that he is one of the best bench bosses in the game.

However, after repeated first-round exits, the Red Wings organization relieved the Manitouwadge, Ontario native of his head coaching duties and only a few days later, the now 56-year-old agreed to an eight-year, $50 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs in an intense bidding war. Babcock’s ’15/’16 campaign with Toronto was a dismal one, as the Maple Leafs finished last in the Atlantic Division with a 29-42-11 record. Immediately, however, Babcock coached Toronto to the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season – losing to the Washington Capitals in six games.

In 2017-18, the Maple Leafs took even larger strides en route to a 49-win season but fell short in seven games to the Boston Bruins. Last season, the Leafs managed to win 46 games for another 3rd place finish in the Atlantic Division, setting them up for the rematch against Boston, but once again, they came up short losing in another Game Seven.

With a virtually similar roster, the Maple Leafs entered this season with even higher expectations and they have not met them whatsoever as mentioned at the beginning of the article. Toronto has struggled to score first in any game and they constantly find themselves chasing the game in almost all aspects. Their defensive game is extremely lacking and the goaltending after Frederik Andersen is almost non-existent. The Toronto Maple Leafs are not good right now and it all fell on Mike Babcock, resulting in his departure from the organization.

In response, the Toronto Maple Leafs also announced the hiring of Sheldon Keefe, the Head Coach of the American Hockey League’s Toronto Marlies since the 2015-16 season, as the 31st Head Coach of the NHL franchise. Sounds oddly familiar to the Boston Bruins back in 2017.

Boston Bruins Déjà Vu?

Replace the names of “Mike Babcock” with “Claude Julien” and “Sheldon Keefe” with “Bruce Cassidy” and you essentially have near-identical stories, sort of. Rewinding to the 2016-17 regular-season, the Boston Bruins were in a similar situation to the Leafs of today. Prior to ’16/’17, the Bruins failed to clinch a berth in the playoffs for two straight seasons, even though they just narrowly missed by only a few points in both scenarios.

Boston started the new season off rough, failing to gain any momentum or put together any winning streak(s), accumulating a 26-23-3 record throughout the first 55 games of the year. The B’s were on a pace to miss the playoffs once again and for the Bruins ownership, that is not acceptable with the roster they have, so they fired the man who has control of the lineup – Claude Julien.

Rewinding the tape even further, Claude Julien had one of the most successful tenures of a Boston Bruins coach in the history of the franchise. In fact, Julien is the all-time most-winningest head coach in Bruins history, winning 419 games in 759 regular-season games played. In addition, Julien was the Head Coach for 98 playoff games – the most out of any other Bruins coach, winning 57 games – another franchise record. Wrap all of that in a pretty bow called the Stanley Cup because it was Claude Julien that ended the 39-year Stanley Cup drought in Boston.

However, the league was changing and Julien’s defensive-minded style was just not cutting it anymore so General Manager Don Sweeney made the decision to release CJ of his duties in February 2017. Instead of naming a new Head Coach immediately, the Bruins named Bruce Cassidy the Interim Head Coach as he was serving as Julien’s assistant coach for the first time after being the Head Coach of the AHL’s Providence Bruins for the previous five seasons.

Cassidy brought in new ideas and upped the intensity during practices to get the guys to rally behind him. Cassidy came into the role as an almost exact opposite to Julien, coaching a more offensive game while staying defensively responsible. At the time, Cassidy also had experience and chemistry with a few of the younger players on the roster from his time with the P-Bruins, giving him additional advantages.

Backed by the veterans in the lineup, the Boston Bruins indeed rallied behind Bruce Cassidy, winning 18 of their final 27 games, earning a playoff spot against the Ottawa Senators. Even though the Bruins were eliminated in six games, it was a breath of fresh air to go 18-8-1 after Claude Julien was fired and to make an appearance in the postseason. On April 26th, 2017, Bruce Cassidy was officially promoted as the 28th Head Coach in franchise history.

Since then, he has brought the Bruins to a 50-win season in his first full year as coach followed by a 49-win campaign last year that ended up bringing the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup Finals berth for the first time since 2013. Cassidy has done an excellent job adjusting and adapting to challenges in the lineups during the season and even mid-games. He has done a terrific job battling against injuries, slumps, and tough teams to earn the respect of being a top coach in the National Hockey League.

Will the Toronto Maple Leafs become a contending team, make the playoffs, and find themselves in the Stanley Cup Finals in a few seasons under the guidance of Sheldon Keefe – possibly, but this could very well end up doing nothing or even doing more harm to this struggling team. Boston had a talented roster behind them and had heart – some may debate if those exist for the Maple Leafs.

Boston and Toronto have a lot in common. The method of relieving old-school coaches for younger, new-school coaches is proving to be yet another similarity. Only time will tell to see if the Toronto Maple Leafs can turn their season around and be a contender for the Boston Bruins.

To close out, here are a few statements from current Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy and former Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien on the firing of Mike Babcock:

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 154 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!

Milestone Night for Bruins’ Marchand

Image(Photo Credit: Boston Bruins)

By: Evan Michael | Follow me on Twitter @00EvanMichael

Seven hundred NHL games under his Black N’ Gold belt, the Bruins’ Brad Marchand was asked on Hockey Hall of Fame Night in Toronto a pretty on the nose postgame question after helping his team snap a four-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over the Maple Leafs: You ever think you might be in the HHOF?

The man once known as the Nose Face Killah had a telling response: “No, No I don’t… To be honest, I don’t really think about it.”

Well, there’s many people thinking about it now. Because 700 wasn’t the only numerical accolade highlighted on Marchand’s milestone night north of the border (and earlier this week). To wit:

Speaking of highlights, the right-off-the-faceoff third period tally that gave the B’s an all-important 2-1 lead (and subsequently set “Marchy” up for the above historic record) just 11 seconds into the final frame was both indicative and illustrative of No. 63’s top-notch talent and work ethic.

Go strong to the net with speed and skill then truly put the stick to stick-to-itiveness — that’s a Brad Marchand specialty order. Thankfully for the B’s, he had one more order up his sleeve. And that proved pivotal (and point-ful) in that it became the game-winning goal later in the third. In fact, it was almost the same recipe for success: a strong shot on net, a dogged perseverance to get the rebound, then a deft finishing touch!

Like him or not, Marchand is quickly (if not so quietly) becoming one of the best players in the league this year. But, that’s not surprising for an all-star who consistently puts up big points season after season. What else is not surprising? How no matter the stage, he always finds a way to stick his nose out after a powerful performance.

Seven hundred games into his salty and successful NHL career, there’s one thing for sure about Brad Marchand. He’s not changing how he plays or who he is. And that’s definitely deserving of a few honors, be it in Boston or Toronto, right now… and perhaps even (hall of) famously later.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 153 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!