Steve Kampfer

Stanley Cup Final: Looking at Bruins’ potential defensive options for Game 5

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Monday’s Game 4 loss to the St. Louis Blues was already the second time in the Stanley Cup Final that the Boston Bruins have had to finish a game with only five healthy defenders.

And for the second time they were on the losing end of the decision thanks in part to their shorthanded lineup.

In Game 2, it was Matt Grzelcyk that was sidelined after he was on the receiving end of an illegal check that kept him out of Games 3 and 4 of the series, while also resulting in a one-game suspension for Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist.

In Game 4 it was veteran Zdeno Chara exiting the game after he was hit in the face by a Brayden Schenn shot that deflected off of Chara’s own stick. Even though he returned to the bench wearing a full face-shield for the entire third period, he never took another shift and was unavailable the entire time.

The status of both players remains very much in doubt for Game 5 of the series on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC) when it shifts back to Boston. That could be a huge problem for the Bruins.

It is still possible that one — or both — could be available, but that is still a huge unknown at this point and there is still the possibility that neither could be in the lineup. That is the potential doomsday scenario for the Bruins.

If there is one thing that can be said about this Bruins team it’s that they have done a remarkable job overcoming injuries all season, and it might be one of the most impressive aspects of their regular season record and run to the Stanley Cup Final. They have spent a significant portion of the season playing without some of their best players (often at the same time) and still managed to finish with one of the league’s best records. When everyone (or at least most of their lineup) is healthy they have looked like a powerhouse team that can be nearly impossible to beat.

They just haven’t always had that luxury, and when they haven’t they have at times looked vulnerable.

Especially when the injuries come on their blue line.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

If Chara and Grzelcyk are unable to go that would mean the Bruins would be without two of their top-five defenders from the regular season in terms of ice-time.

That is a situation they found themselves in for 26 games during the regular season where at least two of Chara, Grzcelcyk, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, or Brandon Carlo (their top-five defenders in ice-time) were out of the lineup. For one seven-game stretch in late November they were actually without three of them. While they remained competitive throughout all of that, they were pretty close to a .500 team in those 26 games with a 13-10-3 record.

Pretty good considering the circumstances, but obviously not anywhere near as dominant as they were when everyone was healthy.

When all five are in the lineup, including playoffs, the Bruins are 25-10-4.

Here’s the good news, such as it is, for the Bruins if Chara and/or Grzelcyk miss any additional team: They still have their best and most important defenders in the lineup in McAvoy and Krug. Those are the players that really drive the Bruins’ defense at this point and can make the biggest impact. They are the best skaters, the best puck-movers, the best ones at jumping into the play and joining the rush, and the ones that can most impact the team’s transition game. Carlo, for whatever shortcomings he might have with the puck, is also still one of their better defensive players.

We already looked at the depth issues associated with Grzelyck’s absence before Game 3, and taking Chara out of the mix only adds to them even if he is no longer one of their most impactful players.

Chara is one of the best defenders of his generation, but at age 42 he is a shell of his former dominant self. He can still be useful, he can he still be strong on the penalty kill, and he is still a huge presence (quite literally) on and off the ice. But he is no longer one of the players driving the bus for this team. The fact the Bruins will still have the players that are doing that is going to help as Bruce Cassidy can still lean on them.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be issues.

For one, none of the potential options are better than Chara and Grzelcyk. If they were, they would already be playing, and anytime you get down to the seventh or eighth defenders on your depth chart you are starting to get into a tough spot.

One option that Cassidy talked about on Tuesday is potentially using seven defenders in Game 5.

“Well, the back end could have a domino effect,” said Cassidy when asked about potential lineup decisions. “Again, speculation, I hate doing this, but if we are out two D, [Grzelcyk and Chara], we might have to play seven defensemen. Putting guys in that haven’t played a ton. Maybe you’ve got to look at how does this best work out to use a guy situationally, take Z’s PK minutes, if the other guys match up, which of course would be reaching into an area that a young kid hasn’t played in the Playoffs at all. You have to be careful there. Forwards, I think we can manage. We’ve used different guys, double-shifted throughout the year. So that part doesn’t worry me as much as how is it going to affect the young kid coming out of the lineup. We’ve plugged a D in, it’s worked well for us so far. That’s the other option. I don’t think we’ll go any other route. We’ve gone this far. Those are our options right now. That’s dictated by health right now.”

With veteran John Moore playing Games 3 and 4 he would obviously be a candidate to remain in the lineup if one of Grzlecyk or Chara can not go. If they are both out, and the Bruins opt to go with seven defenders, their remaining options would include veteran Steve Kampfer and rookies Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jakub Zboril. None of the rookies have ever played in a single playoff game and have just 20 regular season games between them.

Throwing one of them right into a Stanley Cup Final game would be a massive jump, especially since none of them have played an NHL game of any kind anytime recently.

The idea of seven defenders is a tough one because it can create a lot of problems.

On one hand when you are already deep into your depth chart and short on players it doesn’t seem to make a ton sense to play MORE of your defenders that aren’t good enough to crack your regular lineup. It also shortens your forward lineup and takes out a player that is probably better and more useful than the extra defender you are putting in the lineup (which forward do you want to scratch if you are the Bruins? Nobody deserves it).

But doing so could give Cassidy and his coaching staff the option to limit who plays in what situations, putting them into positions where they can succeed and don’t risk having their flaws as exposed (like penalty kill situations, for example, or defensive zone starts against the Blues’ top line).

In the end it is a potentially difficult situation for the Bruins to navigate, and one that could significantly impact the outcome of the series.

If neither one can go none of their options are particularly good ones. Their best hope is that both are, somehow, healthy enough to play.

Game 5 of Blues-Bruins is Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC from TD Garden in Boston

MORE BLUES-BRUINS:
Bruins confident they can overcome injuries 
Chara’s status for Game 5 unknown
Chara bloodied after taking puck to face

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins speak, Thomas doesn’t, following White House snub

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CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty caught up with a few Bruins following today’s practice in Washington.

One Bruin he didn’t catch up with, though, was Tim Thomas.

The Boston goalie was one of the first players off the ice and when the dressing room opened for media access, Thomas wasn’t there.

A curious development — though not entirely surprising — given recent events. Yesterday, Thomas skipped Boston’s celebratory White House visit and posted a message on his Facebook page expressing disillusionment with the government.

Today, his teammates were left to answer for him over what’s become a hot-button issue.

“I obviously have a different viewpoint,” Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said. “I think this a wonderful country. [The government] has done so much for us. I think that’s why we were so thrilled to go because we had a different viewpoint. Everybody has a different point of view and that’s this country as well, right?”

Another Bruin, defenseman Steve Kampfer, expressed honor at getting to visit the White House. Kampfer’s a Michigan native (like Thomas) and was one of only three U.S. natives from the Stanley Cup-winning team invited to the event.

“It’s Timmy’s decision. It’s his beliefs and his right to do whatever he wants. We all had a great time going to the White House,” said Kampfer. “For me it was a dream come true because I studied [politics] in school. I was a political science major in school, so to shake the President’s hand was awesome. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Looking ahead, there are three things worth paying attention to.

One, how Thomas will be received tonight — since he was first off the ice, the assumption is he’s starting — as the Bruins take on the Caps in Washington, D.C.

Two, how he’ll handle speaking with the media for the first time (“This is the only public statement I will be making on this topic,” his Facebook message said.)

Three, what the atmosphere will be like at the NHL All-Star festivities in Ottawa. There’s no shortage of reporters at one of the league’s signature events and media availability is a big part of the weekend.

Watch Brayden Schenn crush Steve Kampfer with a huge (clean) hit

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Today’s Bruins-Flyers game in Philadelphia has been full of the rough and tumble stuff you expect from these two teams, but one hit in particular will have everyone talking.

Flyers forward Brayden Schenn laid out Bruins defenseman Steve Kampfer with a gigantic hit as Kampfer carried the puck out from behind his net. As you might expect, the Bruins didn’t think highly of the hit and Chris Kelly stepped up to fight Schenn even in spite of the hit being perfectly legal.

Check out the play yourself to see how rough Kampfer had it. The hit put Kampfer out of the game for a short time but he did return later.

(Thanks to HockeyFights.com for the video)

Bruins looking into getting Marc Savard and Steve Kampfer’s names on Stanley Cup

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One of the grand highlights for players after winning the Stanley Cup comes from getting to have their names engraved on the Cup itself. After a full season of contributing or helping the team get to the ultimate prize in the postseason or Stanley Cup finals, being rewarded with your name living on forever on the Cup is an immense reward.

Of course, there are stipulations to getting your name on the Cup. You have to either play in 41 games during the regular season with the team or you have to appear in a game during the Stanley Cup finals. For a handful of Bruins players, there are some potential issues to getting their names on the Cup.

CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty points out how Marc Savard and Steve Kampfer run into some issues with the protocol to get their names on the Cup. For Savard and Kampfer, there’s a process that the Bruins and GM Peter Chiarelli will have to go through to try and get them included in the engraving party.

Chiarelli is hoping both will find their names on the Cup despite not meeting the general criteria that doesn’t take season-ending injuries into account among its qualifications. There is a petition process that the B’s manager is looking into when it comes to Cup inclusion, and just won of a number of things on Chiarelli’s punch list now that a dream playoff run has come to an end.

The NHL can be sticklers about these things but there’s no doubt that Kampfer would’ve met the required number of games had he not been injured and as for Savard… Let’s cut the guy a huge break here.

The NHL looked the other way when Matt Cooke essentially ruined his career last season and his unfortunate concussion in January derailed his ability to help be a part of the Bruins run this year. While the argument could be made by the league that Savard didn’t participate nearly enough to be considered a part of this year’s team, the motivation his comeback and follow-up injury had on his teammates to get the job done in the playoffs had a profound effect.

After all, whenever Savard was able to make an appearance at Bruins games at TD Garden during the playoffs he was featured on the big screen and the crowd would rise to their feet in approval while his teammates tapped their sticks for him on the ice. In Savard’s case, his being able to be around the team when he could was the only way he could help inspire the team. While the NHL won’t always buy into the feel good story, this is one situation where they should be OK with it.

Would benching Tomas Kaberle be the right move for Boston to make?

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One of the big figures in the playoffs this year is defenseman Tomas Kaberle. After being dealt from Toronto to Boston in mid-February, Kaberle was hailed as being the answer to the Bruins puck-carrying worries as well as an elixir for a power play that was inconsistent at best during the regular season. In short, Kaberle was meant to be the missing piece for a Bruins team poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.

Things haven’t quite gone according to plan for both the Bruins and for Kaberle. Since joining the Bruins, Boston’s power play has been clicking along at a 9% success rate in the regular season and playoffs (11-118) and in the playoffs, the Bruins have found ways to win in spite of a terrible power play (4-52 in the playoffs).

However, after Game 4’s effort from Kaberle that saw him get outworked and out-muscled by Sean Bergenheim leading to the game’s tying goal in the second period in what turned out to be a toothless affair for Boston in a 5-3 loss.

CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty has a gutsy solution for the Bruins to solve what ails both the team and Kaberle. He says it’s time for coach Claude Julien to bench Kaberle in favor of either Steve Kampfer or Shane Hnidy to shake things up for the Bruins and get them back to playing “Bruins hockey.”

No matter what Julien says publicly about Kaberle and the team’s belief in him, it’s clear the coaching staff has lost confidence in the player as he’s relegated to a bottom pairing defenseman. No amount of public spin and positive feedback can cover up the stench left on the ice after Kaberle’s shift has concluded and another round of mistakes have to be cleaned up by his teammates.

He hasn’t surpassed 20 minutes of ice time since the opening playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, and his pairing with Adam McQuaid was a flammable liability in Saturday’s loss to the Lightning.

It’d make for quite the gutsy move to do that and given that he’s seen his minutes reduced to playing just over 12 minutes and 11 minutes in the last two games respectively as a third-pair defenseman, the case to be made for benching Kaberle is strong. Even though coach Julien won’t be sitting him out, is it the right move to try and spur the Bruins to victory? Let us know in the comments and vote in our poll to let us know your thoughts.