Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 30: Trent Frederic #11 of the Boston Bruins punches Givani Smith #54 of the San Jose Sharks during the second period at TD Garden on November 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Listen, I’m no barbarian. And I’ve made peace with the fact that the ‘Big Bad Bruins’, both in the old days and the modern-day sequel in the late 00s, early 10s, are never coming back. But I can’t lie: These last few games left a kiiiind of bad taste in my mouth. And no, it’s not just because the Bruins found themselves on an ugly three-game slide with 17 goals surrendered, complete with the Bruins’ greatest strength (their all-world goaltending) flying out the window.

To put it bluntly, teams were getting a little too handsy with the Bruins.

And the B’s response — or lack thereof — left a whole lot to be desired.

When the Rangers’ Jacob Trouba decided to go full Aaron Judge on Trent Frederic’s dome, I couldn’t believe nothing happened. Not from the Bruins and not from the NHL Department of Player Safety. (No, a $5,000 fine means absolutely nothing to a guy making $8 million, but thanks for asking.) My preference would’ve been from the Bruins themselves, as relying on the NHL’s ‘DoPS’ is a pointless and honestly kinda humiliating endeavor. I refuse to live in a world where you have two favorite teams: Your team of choice and the league’s disciplinary committee. Gross.

  • It was also gross to watch the Blue Jackets’ Spencer Martin commit to a severe overreaction and slash David Pastrnak across the ribs in a two-on-one attempt for the Bruins. It got even grosser when Columbus defenseman Erik Gudbranson was allowed to get in the face of Pastrnak, a Hart Trophy finalist and the most important player to the Bruins, for way too long before reinforcements arrived in defense of No. 88.

    Again, I’m no barbarian, but can someone please do something? Before I’m subjected to another rant from someone’s uncle (maybe even my own uncles) about how these Bruins got no spine, no toughness, nobody that intimidates the opposition, and how nobody will ever compare to Shawn Thornton. (Remember when he threatened to choke out a player on the Canadiens? God, what an animal.)

    But in what was a ‘get right’ victory across the board, the Bruins stopped the bleeding of opponents taking liberties against their top talents when Trent Frederic decided that Givani Smith had to answer for his second-period boarding of B’s captain Brad Marchand. Frederic went right at Smith before the faceoff, really, and by all means made it known that he was not taking no for an answer.

    Now, was it Frederic’s finest fight? Nope. But the willingness? That goes a long way.

    When it comes to the talk of the B’s toughness, I think two things are true here.

    Yes, the Bruins have been hurt by the loss of Milan Lucic. Say what you will about Lucic the hockey player in 2023-24, sure, but there was no denying that Lucic still carried weight as a legitimate heavyweight fighter. The threat of him coming calling definitely made players think twice to a certain degree. And you can’t help but feel like teams have upped their willingness to mess with the Bruins since Lucic’s arrest and his announced indefinite leave of absence from the club. (Personally, I’d be shocked if Lucic, whose images have been removed from the North Station concourse, ever plays another game for the Bruins.)

    And secondly, I think it’s more about your team’s willingness to fight that can put an end to the nonsense quicker than anything else. Rewind back to the B’s win over the Panthers last Wednesday. The Panthers targeted the hell out of Charlie McAvoy in the name of avenging Oliver Ekman-Larsson. It did not stop until McAvoy himself dropped the gloves and asked Nick Cousins if he wanted to truly settle things with a fight. Cousins declined and the targeting stopped. And the Panthers went full limp genitals and didn’t roar for the rest of the evening once Derek Forbort dropped the gloves with Jonah Gadjovich.

    Since becoming head coach, Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery has repeatedly made reference to the ‘pack of wolves’ mentality his team plays with as a reason why he loves being their coach. For him, that means if you touch one of their players, you’re going to have four Bruins trying to get a piece of you. You saw that plenty in 2022-23, too, from Marchand to Tomas Nosek to A.J. Greer. Everybody was willing. That meant something.

    And on Thursday, even in a night that saw everything go the Bruins way from the second period, seeing that return to the table for the club surely meant something to the team and the Garden crowd.

    Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 3-0 win over the Sharks…

  • B’s shake it up once again

    Nov 30, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins center Pavel Zacha (18) celebrates his goal with center Charlie Coyle (13) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 30, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Bruins center Pavel Zacha (18) celebrates his goal with center Charlie Coyle (13) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

    As a general rule of thumb, I try to not freak the funk out over 180-minute samples in the regular season. The NHL season is simply too long to operate with those kinds of highs and lows. But when it came to the B’s three-game slide, there was one thing I simply couldn’t ignore, and that was the lack of practice time for the club.

    Between Boston’s Nov. 20 loss in Tampa Bay and this past Monday’s loss to the Blue Jackets, the Bruins practiced a grand total of zero times. The day off between the Tampa and Florida game was a scheduled day off for some team bonding with their fathers, the Thursday between the Florida game and Black Friday matinee was Thanksgiving, and Sunday was a scheduled travel day from New York to Columbus. Not only did that not give the Bruins a day to simply get back on the ice and shake off the bad juju, but it also prevented Montgomery & Co. from getting back in the lab and trying out some new combos in non-game situations.

    But with a practice to their name Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s showdown, Montgomery got back in his lab and hammered out some new line and pairing combos, headlined by Jake DeBrusk moving to the left of Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak.

    This was a line I’ve wanted to see a good little bit here (I mentioned it in a way-too-early look at the B’s Opening Night lineup and mentioned it again this past weekend on The Hockey Show), and I gotta say, I liked what they put forth on Thursday night. Of course, given the competition they went up against, everything has to be taken with a grain of salt, but during a seven-minute five-on-five sample, the DeBrusk-Zacha-Pastrnak line out-attempted San Jose 10-4, outshot ’em 8-2, and scored one goal.

    I do think this is ultimately the B’s best play at maximizing DeBrusk’s on-ice value in 2023-24 — putting him with Zacha and Pastrnak in 2023-24 is probably a bit like putting him with Bergeron and Marchand last year and the year before that — and DeBrusk’s evolution as a two-way player allows him to complement Zacha and not have to have this line being ultra-sheltered with offensive-zone minutes. I also think DeBrusk is probably the closest thing this team has to Tyler Bertuzzi when it comes to being a viable net-front threat who still possesses some quickness and puck retrieval skills. And we all know how that fit worked out late last season.

    On the backend, Montgomery’s tinkering saw Hampus Lindholm reunited with Charlie McAvoy as the B’s supercharged, three-zone pairing. During their 12-minute sample at five-on-five, the Lindholm-McAvoy pairing held a 16-7 edge in shot attempts, 13-6 edge in shots, and 10-2 edge in scoring chances, per Natural Stat Trick.

  • Heinen continues to add value to B’s

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 09: Danton Heinen #43 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Islanders during the first period at TD Garden on November 09, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 09: Danton Heinen #43 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Islanders during the first period at TD Garden on November 09, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    Between the bonus overages and their general lack of cap space, the Bruins were going to need all the value help they could get this year. And their final signing among that group may very well turn out to be their best, as Danton Heinen continues to bring it for Jim Montgomery’s squad.

    A PTO invite turned league-minimum signing, Heinen kicked off the scoring in this game, and is now up to three goals and seven points through 14 games this season. He’s played left wing, he’s played right wing, he’s played first line, and he’s played fourth line. The Bruins even threw Heinen on defense for an overtime shift. He’s done it all for Montgomery’s squad, and his contributions have not gone unnoticed.

    “Danton Heinen’s a real good hockey player,” Montgomery said after the win. “He’s playing real good hockey for us, he’s making plays all over the ice, [and] he’s making those around him better.”

    This is undeniably true. Since making his season debut on Oct. 30, Heinen has the third-best shots-for percentage among all Boston forwards, while only James van Riemsdyk has a better goals-for percentage among B’s forwards with at least 150 minutes played at five-on-five.

    (Also as a quick little note: Montgomery noted that the Bruins have an internal tracking of ‘battles won’ and that Heinen has won over 60 percent of his individual battles. He’s even checking boxes we didn’t know about.)

    Is he a perfect player? Of course not. He’s still probably going to miss the net a bit too much for your comfort. And there’s still gonna be some chances that fall by the wayside as a result. But the motor is there, it feels like he’s a stronger and even smarter player, and you’re generally pretty comfortable when he’s out there because through 14 games, it’s been established that more good than bad happens when he’s out there.

    He’s given you just about everything you could ask out of an in-season signing making the minimum.

  • Window shopping: Sharks edition

    Nov 30, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) makes a save in front of San Jose Sharks left wing Anthony Duclair (10) and defenseman Brandon Carlo (25) during the second period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 30, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) makes a save in front of San Jose Sharks left wing Anthony Duclair (10) and defenseman Brandon Carlo (25) at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

    Now in his second year on the job and still going through just a plain old gigantic rebuild in San Jose, and with Erik Karlsson the first (gigantic) domino to fall for the club this past summer, Sharks general manager Mike Grier is almost certainly going to be selling off more parts this season.

    And as is the case with any rebuilder that comes through Boston, it’s worth wondering if the Sharks have any talents of interest to the Bruins.

    By now, Tomas Hertl seems like the obvious candidate. Even though Hertl signed that monster extension to remain with the Sharks back in 2022, it feels like he’s simply too good to spoil his prime playing for a rebuilder, and it’s also worth noting that Grier was not the GM when Hertl signed that deal. Hertl also has the Czechia connections with Pastrnak and Zacha, and could be a seamless fit for the Bruins.

    Admittedly, I’m not sure the Bruins have the goods or the appetite to pull off that kind of trade in-season, but this is a name I’m going to watch until the Sharks (or Bruins) give me a reason not to.

    There’s also wingers such as Anthony Duclair (three goals and five points through 20 games this season) and Mike Hoffman (six goals and eight points in 22 games) on expiring deals. Neither is a perfect player, but both have had playoff success in the past, and I don’t think this is a season for the Bruins adding a ‘perfect’ player, all things considered.

  • More thoughts, notes, and nonsense

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 30: Pavel Zacha #18, left, celebrates with Brad Marchand #63 and Charlie Coyle #13 of the Boston Bruins after scoring against the San Jose Sharks during the third period at TD Garden on November 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Sharks 3-0. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 30: Pavel Zacha #18, left, celebrates with Brad Marchand #63 and Charlie Coyle #13 of the Boston Bruins after scoring against the San Jose Sharks during the third period at TD Garden on November 30, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Sharks 3-0. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    – Boston’s latest triumph over the Sharks was the club’s 13th straight win over the club, tying the B’s with the Wild and their streak over the Ducks for the league’s longest active win streak against one franchise. The last Bruins loss to San Jose came all the way back on Mar. 15, 2016. Some notable Bruins in the lineup that night: Loui Eriksson, Matt Beleskey, Lee Stempniak, Landon Ferraro, Brett Connolly, and John-Michael Liles.

    – A solid 4-for-5 night at the faceoff dot for B’s fourth-line center Johnny Beecher. The 22-year-old Beecher has been on a tear at the dot of late, with wins in 32 of his last 49 faceoffs over the last five games (a 65.3 percent success rate). And don’t look now, but it’s been enough to propel Beecher up the league’s leaderboard on that front, as his 55.9 percent success rate is the 21st-best mark among all NHL centers (minimum 200 faceoffs).

    – I cannot stress this enough: The Sharks stinkI get it, this is by design. This is the name of the game. But they’re a downright miserable product to watch. Wretched. I can’t remember a team I’ve enjoyed watching less than this year’s Sharks club. I think the 2014-15 Sabres are probably the closest thing I can think of as a comp.

    – I’ve been covering the Bruins since 2010. I’m almost certain that Thursday night was the first time that they did not have a ‘Fan of the Game’ presented. They played Andrew WK’s ‘Party Hard’ for as long as they could, but the Fan of the Game choices were never presented and the puck was inevitably dropped and everybody just moved on as if nothing happen. This is truly meaningless (it’s called nonsense, what did you expect?), I know, but you’ve officially been put on NOTICE, TD Garden. No more free pizza unless you earn it.

  • (Subscribe to the Sports Hub Underground podcast.)

    We are back on the Sports Hub Underground podcast, and we’ve got plenty to get to after three weeks away, with a lot of things happening on and off the ice for the Boston Bruins.


    Full Rundown…

    (0:50) Opening banter on cereal, fast food, and NHL hockey.

    (16:47) Jumping around on the biggest talking points around the Boston Bruins, particularly their recent slump.

    (30:47) The guys are getting sick of the Bruins’ lack of standing up for each other when their teammates are being targeted.

    (49:10) Circling back on the Bruins’ goaltenders and their recent performance, especially since all the trade debates.

    (1:05:14) Mason Lohrei has been sent down to Providence, and the guys discuss the reasons behind it.

    (1:20:45) Is Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery tinkering with his lineups too much?

    (1:32:28) The guys draft their “Big 3” pieces of Christmas entertainment.

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