Jason Brough

Bruins management failed to improve roster as planned

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After missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Boston Bruins went into the offseason with three major things on their to-do list:

1. Fix the defense.
2. Get a better back-up goalie.
3. Get “heavier” at right wing.

By the time the offseason was over, they’d:

1. Done nothing to fix the defense.
2. Signed Anton Khubodin to back up Tuukka Rask.
3. Signed David Backes.

In other words, Cam Neely, the Bruins’ president, and Don Sweeney, the general manager, went 1-for-3. Signing Backes made the B’s heavier on right wing. There’s no disputing that.

But the defense? It has 39-year-old Zdeno Chara on a top pairing with 20-year-old rookie Brandon Carlo. And it still has Adam McQuaid in a top-4 role.

That’s not meant to slight McQuaid. It is less about him than the two right-shot defensemen who have been traded away and not replaced: Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton.

The fact is, when the Bruins were winning championships and going to the Stanley Cup Final, McQuaid was a bottom-pairing guy. Since his role has been expanded, the Bruins have not made the playoffs.

Read more: The Bruins didn’t fix their defense, but Neely still expects improvement

Which brings us to the backup goalie. Khudobin was a bad signing, plain and simple. He went 1-5-1 with an .885 save percentage before he was dispatched to the minors — and, if you were paying attention, it was not a huge surprise that he failed to deliver. This is a goalie who hasn’t put up good NHL numbers since 2013-14. Heck, he spent most of last season in the AHL.

And make no mistake, for bubble teams like Boston, backup goaltending can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Not only does it cost wins when a bad backup plays, the coach’s reluctance to use his backup means more work for the starter. Consider: only three other goalies have started more games than Rask (37) has this season, and he has not looked particularly fresh in his last few outings.

That, finally, brings us to the head coach. Claude Julien has been on the job for almost a decade, and perhaps it’s time for a new voice with some new ideas. After all, the league is faster now, and these aren’t Milan Lucic‘s Bruins anymore. Sometimes, change can be a good thing.

But just remember — if Julien does, indeed, get fired — Bruins management had three things they wanted to fix over the summer, and they only fixed one of them.

And that’s not on the coach.

Related: Julien’s job reportedly in danger

Five team stats you may find interesting

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27.5 — Shots per game for the St. Louis Blues. Only one team, New Jersey (27.3), is averaging fewer. So while it’s true that goaltending has been their major issue, it’s also true that in the eight games since the Winter Classic, the Blues have averaged just 22.9 shots, and that’s not very many at all. Perhaps it’s related to the goaltending — i.e. they could be playing more conservatively in order to protect Jake Allen and Carter Hutton. But coach Ken Hitchcock said recently that Vladimir Tarasenko “is getting checked to death, and other people are responsible for creating the space for him. He’s trying to play against four guys right now. We need more participants in order to help him.” So it’s not all on the goalies. In his last six games, Tarasenko has no goals and just nine shots total.

58 — Goals scored by the Washington Capitals since Christmas. That’s an average of 4.5 per game. Only the Rangers (4.4) and Penguins (4.0) are averaging four goals or more in that time frame. Since Christmas, the Caps have been led in scoring by Alex Ovechkin (17 points); however, the resurgence of Evgeny Kuznetsov (15 points) has also been key. Kuznetsov only had 17 points in his first 32 games. He’s up to 32 in 45 now.

73.8% — The Buffalo Sabres’ penalty killing, which has been terrible. In fact, the Sabres are on pace to have the NHL’s worst PK of the salary-cap era:

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3 — Power-play goals for the Blue Jackets in their last eight games. In a related story, the Jackets are 3-5-0 in those eight games. “There’s gonna be times where it just doesn’t feel like it’s going in,” said captain Nick Foligno after last night’s 2-0 loss in Ottawa. Columbus went 0-for-3 with the man advantage against the Sens, who got a 42-save shutout from Mike Condon. The Jackets still have the NHL’s best power play (24.6%), but the Maple Leafs (24.1%) are catching up. The Leafs have scored 12 PP goals in their last 10 games.

14 — Games the Colorado Avalanche have lost by three goals or more, the most in the league. Just how bad are the Avs? Well, they’re 30th in goals for and 30th in goals against. And if they keep up their pace, they’ll be the worst team of the salary-cap era:

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Back in a playoff spot, the Preds are ‘going in the right direction’

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With four wins in their last five games, the Nashville Predators have moved back into a playoff spot.

Granted, the wins haven’t been all that convincing — all four were of the one-goal variety, and they were outshot badly in two of them — but with both P.K. Subban and Roman Josi on injured reserve, they’ll take the points any way they can get them.

The Preds beat the Flames, 4-3, last night in Calgary. In the process, they leapfrogged Vancouver and Los Angeles into the second wild-card spot in the West.

“We haven’t been playing picture-perfect games, but our effort the last handful of games here, I’ve really been pleased with and I think everyone to a man in this room is happy with,” center Ryan Johansen said, per The Tennessean. “It’s something we can keep building on right now because it’s a good time of year to heat up.”

The middling play of the Kings has helped Nashville move up in the standings. And the way things are going in St. Louis, the Preds could soon catch the Blues for third place in the Central. The Blues, who got blown out by Washington last night, are only two points up on Nashville, and the Preds have a game in hand.

Read more: There’s something off about the Blues

Now, all that being said, Nashville has to play tonight in Edmonton and Sunday in Minnesota. The Preds will be underdogs in each of those contests, so things may not look so rosy by the end of the weekend. But they’ve hung in there without Subban and Josi, and it’s possible that both defensemen could be back shortly.

“The mood’s positive,” said forward Craig Smith. “We’re going in the right direction, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Related: The good news and the bad news for Roman Josi

Ducks nip Avalanche 2-1 after ‘weird delay’ to fix glass

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Broken glass is a regular occurrence in the heavy-hitting, hard-shooting NHL, and shattered panes usually get replaced swiftly.

Although an uncommon 45-minute delay at Honda Center led to an unusual early intermission, the break also interrupted the Anaheim Ducks’ second-period struggles. They warmed back up in plenty of time to snag another win.

Nick Ritchie scored the tiebreaking goal with 2:02 to play, and the Ducks beat the Colorado Avalanche 2-1 on Thursday night.

John Gibson made 21 saves and Hampus Lindholm scored the tying power-play goal early in the third period of the Pacific Division-leading Ducks’ eighth victory in 10 games — but the first featuring an intermission in the middle of a period.

“I don’t think the delay did that much to us,” Lindholm said. “It was quite a weird delay, but we stuck in there. … I’ve never had one that long. I don’t think they shoot that hard in Sweden.”

The game was scoreless when Colorado defenseman Eric Gelinas‘ shot put a large starburst in a pane of glass behind Anaheim’s net with 9:48 left in the second period. The Honda Center crew tried to put up a replacement pane quickly, but soon discovered it needed to be cut to fit next to the camera that sits on a stanchion next to the pane.

Ducks defenseman Sami Vatanen joked that he should have helped out the arena crew.

“I used to be good at school with my hands,” Vatanen said. “I wanted to go out there, but I had to focus on the game.”

Referees eventually told the teams to take their second intermission while the crew finished their work, apparently cutting one pane too short to use. After play finally resumed and the second period ended, they paused only for a dry scrape of the ice before playing the final 20 minutes of regulation.

“It helped us,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said of the delay. “We weren’t playing very good in the second period. They were coming at us, and it broke up the period. It gave us an opportunity to reset ourselves. It did us a favor.”

Ritchie dramatically rewarded the Ducks for a strong performance when Nikita Zadorov turned over the puck in the slot. Ondrej Kase tipped it to Anaheim’s power forward, and he fired a shot through traffic for his 11th goal.

“The final (goal) is just a bad bounce, that’s all it is,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said. “That one just took a bad bounce off Zadorov and ended up in the back of our net.”

Calvin Pickard stopped 34 shots for the NHL-worst Avalanche, who have lost four straight and 21 of 25.

Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog scored a power-play goal in the second period to break a scoreless tie shortly after the delay, but the Ducks replied with two third-period goals and incredible defensive plays in the final minute by Gibson and Vatanen, who stopped Jarome Iginla from hitting an open net.

“It was a long break and a different third period,” Landeskog said. “Other than that, I thought it was pretty funny. Most of us did. We didn’t take it too seriously.”

Pickard followed up a 35-save performance in his previous start with another gem, and Landeskog scored his ninth goal shortly after the delay.

But Anaheim finally cashed in on its 2-to-1 shots advantage when Lindholm beat Pickard from the blue line with an exceptional slap shot, which was still rising when it sailed past Ritchie’s screen.

Colorado’s Tyson Barrie missed his first game of the season with a lower-body injury, leaving the Avalanche to face the Ducks without arguably their top two defensemen. Erik Johnson, who missed his 20th straight game with a broken leg, is likely out until mid-February.

 

NHL explains new All-Star Skills Competition event

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We wrote yesterday about the NHL’s plans to replace the “Breakaway Challenge” at the All-Star Skills Competition with something called the “Four Line Challenge.”

Today, the league explained how the new event will work:

This event involves four shooters from each team. Each shooter will shoot from one of four shooting positions; near blue line, center line, far blue line and far goal line.

The first shooter from each team takes two shots from the near blue line in an attempt to score goals in either the upper left or upper right corner of the net. Successful shots score one point for their team.

The second shooter from each team takes two shots from center ice in an attempt to score goals in one of the four corners of the net. Successful shots in the lower corners score one point and successful shots in the upper corners score three points for their team.

The third shooter from each team takes two shots from the far blue line in an attempt to score a goal in one of the four corners of the net or the five hole. Successful shots in the lower corners or five hole score one point and successful shots in the upper corners score five points for their team.

The fourth shooter from each team takes two shots from the far goal line in an attempt to score a goal in the five hole. Successful shots score 10 points for their team. Captains can substitute the fourth shooter with a goalie. A successful shot by a goalie is awarded 20 points for their team.

In addition, the first All-Star to score two goals in the five hole from the far goal line will win the new 2017 Honda CRV.

Sounds like fun.

Or at the very least, worth a try.

The skills competition will take place on Saturday, Jan. 28, at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Each all-star will compete in at least one of the six contests: the skills challenge relay, the four-line challenge, accuracy shooting, fastest skater, hardest shot, and the shootout.