PHT Morning Skate: Jack Nicklaus spoke to Habs players prior to game against Bruins

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PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

–Golf legend Jack Nicklaus announced the Canadiens lineup in their locker room prior to Tuesday’s game against the Boston Bruins. (Top)

–How did Nicklaus end up in the Canadiens locker room? Head coach Michel Therrien explains. (Sportsnet)

Shane Doan talks about being loyal to the Arizona Coyotes. (Fox Sports)

–Former NHLer Rob Schremp still has some great hands. (BarDown)

–Here’s Elliotte Friedman’s weekly “30 Thoughts” blog.

–The Avalanche paid tribute to Marek Svatos, who passed away last week:

Rask, power play help Julien get 400th win as Bruins coach

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Claude Julien, head coach of the Boston Bruins, reacts to an official's call in the third period against New York Rangers at TD Garden on November 5, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins only scored three power-play goals through 11 games so far in 2016-17. They doubled that total by scoring three on Monday alone.

Boston really might not have needed that many, either, as Tuukka Rask remained red-hot with a shutout in a 4-0 defeat of the Buffalo Sabres.

It wasn’t a cruise of a shutout, either, with Rask needing to make 32 stops for his second goose egg of the season. You can dice up Rask’s numbers in a variety of ways, but let’s keep it simple: he has a sparkling 7-1-0 record and great individual stats.

Nights like these from Rask (and Tim Thomas, among others) have greatly benefited head coach Claude Julien, who won his 400th game as Bruins head coach via this contest.

Even-strength scoring machines Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak connected on the man advantage, yet David Krejci‘s power-play goal was likely the most important, big-picture-wise. Krejci finally scored his first goal of 2016-17 on a night where that happened more than once around the league.

He scored it with authority, too:

The Bruins are now 7-5-0 thanks to a stretch of four wins in five contests, and it’s not coincidence that Rask is heavily involved.

Now, if they can get that power play to produce more often, Julien’s wins totals will really start to climb.

Backes set to return for Bruins, while Beleskey is game-time decision

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins skates against New Jersey Devils during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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After a five-game absence due to an elbow injury, David Backes is expected to return to the Boston Bruins lineup on Saturday night when the team hosts the New York Rangers.

Backes participated in the morning skate on Saturday, while coach Claude Julien announced that the veteran forward “should be good” for the game.

He had been sidelined since Oct. 22 following a procedure on his elbow.

The Bruins gave Backes, 32, a massive contract in free agency over the summer when they signed him to a five-year, $30 million contract. Given his age and the fact his production had started to drop a bit in recent years the deal carried quite a bit of long-term risk, but the Bruins clearly loved what he can bring to the roster right now. Before the injury that sidelined him he had already recorded four points (two goals, two assists) in his first five games with the team.

In his absence the Bruins scored only nine goals in five games, but still managed to win three of them thanks in large part to the play of Tuukka Rask in net.

Even with his strong start offensively Backes probably shouldn’t be counted on to be a big-time offensive contributor, but he’s still a strong defensive player that brings a lot of the toughness the Bruins have always wanted up front.

While Backes is set to return to the lineup, Julien was not prepared to announce whether or not Matt Beleskey would return to the lineup after he was a healthy scratch on Thursday. The Bruins’ coach would only say that a decision on Beleskey would be a game-time decision.

Beleskey was Boston’s big ticket free agent signing a year ago after his career year in 2014-15 with the Anaheim Ducks, but has been off to a miserable start this season, failing to record a single point in his first nine games and registering only 12 shots on goal.

After finishing the 2015-16 season as one of the top offensive teams in hockey, scoring has been an issue for almost all of the Bruins so far this season with only 24 goals in their first 10 games.

Tuukka Rask is carrying the Bruins right now

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 1: Goaltender Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins watches a replay during first period action against the Florida Panthers at the BB&T Center on November 1, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Bruins defeated the Panthers 2-1. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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Tuukka Rask was probably not at his best during the 2015-16 season for the Boston Bruins.

He didn’t necessarily have a bad season, but it just seemed like a bit of a down year for him when compared to the standard he has set for himself during his four-year run as the team’s full-time starter that has included a Stanley Cup Final appearance and a Vezina Trophy.

He was OK, but not great. Not what the Bruins have seen from him in recent years when he was consistently one of the three or four best goalies in the entire NHL.

When you combined his league average save percentage with the lackluster defense in front of him, it helped lead to a second straight year with no playoffs in Boston.

Given the current state of that defense, which is mostly unchanged from a year ago, if the Bruins are going to end their current playoff drought they are going to need Rask to go back to being one of the best at his position. Given his track record, it was probably only a matter of time until he returned to that level.

Through the first month of the 2016-17 season, Rask has done exactly that and is probably been the team’s MVP through the first month of the season.

Boston perfect a 6-0 when Rask is in the lineup, while his .951 save percentage is currently third best in the league entering play on Saturday, behind only Detroit’s Jimmy Howard (in only three starts) and Montreal’s Carey Price.

When you compare the Bruins’ performance in the games he has played (all of their wins) to their performance in the games he has missed (0-4 while the three goalies that have started in his place have had a sub-.890 save percentage) and it’s easy to see how he his play has been driving the team this season, especially as the offense has not quite started to click the way it did a year ago (when the Bruins were one of the highest scoring teams in the league) with only 24 goals in their first 10 games.

They have already won three games this season where they have scored two goals or less.

They only won six games under similar circumstances all of last season. So it’s not just the fact that he has won a lot of games for them so far, he has probably stolen a couple as well.

The Bruins are still a flawed team on the blue line, and they probably are not going to score at the same pace they did a year ago. That means goaltending is probably going to be the ultimate X-factor in whether or not the Bruins get back to the playoffs or extend their postseason drought to three years. So far this season Rask looks like he is back to being one of the elites at the position and is perhaps the single biggest reason the team has avoided what could have been an ugly start in the standings.

Beleskey a scratch, Kuraly to make NHL debut for Bruins

COLUMBUS, OH - FEBRUARY 16:  Matt Beleskey #39 of the Boston Bruins skates after the puck during the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on February 16, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Boston defeated Columbus 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Boston Bruins will have another rookie in the lineup tonight in Tampa Bay, as winger Sean Kuraly is expected to make his NHL debut against the Lightning.

Kuraly will replace left winger Matt Beleskey on the much-maligned third line with Riley Nash and Jimmy Hayes. Beleskey, Nash, and Hayes have all been held pointless so far this season.

The Bruins will also get winger David Pastrnak back from his suspension. Pastrnak will be reunited with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the top line.

The lines at the morning skate:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak
Spooner-Krejci-Czarnik
Kuraly-Nash-Hayes
Schaller-Moore-Acciari

Kuraly, 23, was originally drafted by San Jose in 2011. He was acquired by the Bruins last summer as part of the Martin Jones trade. This is Kuraly’s first professional season after four years at Miami (Ohio) University. Prior to gettihttps://twitter.com/HackswithHaggs/status/794227039788290048ng called up, he had one assist in eight games for AHL Providence.

The Bruins will have three other rookies in the lineup tonight: forwards Noel Acciari and Austin Czarnik, and defensemen Brandon Carlo. Two other rookies, d-man Rob O’Gara and forward Danton Heien, have played games for Boston but are currently in the AHL.

rooks

As for Beleskey, it’s not clear if he’s simply a healthy scratch or if he suffered an injury Tuesday in Florida, where he slid hard into the Bruins’ net on a back check:

The Bruins (5-4-0) have scored just nine goals in their last six games. They’ve won their last two thanks in large part to goalie Tuukka Rask.

Update: