The Detroit Red Wings face a hell of an opponent in the Boston Bruins this evening (7:30 PM on FSD/NESN/Sportsnet/TVA Sports/97.1 FM).
The 31-11-and-8 Bruins sit a full 20 points ahead of the Red Wings, and they’ve won 7 of their past 8 games, including a 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs this past Saturday; tonight’s starter for the B’s, Tuukka Rask, is on an 16-0-and-2 run, and against Detroit, Boston boasts a stunning 12-1-and-1 record, having last lost to the Wings on Valentine’s Day, 2016.
Detroit gets a wee bit of a break in that Bruins leading scorer Brad Marchand is out to serve the final game of his 5-game suspension, but the Bruins are stacked fairly heavily.
NBCS Boston’s Joe Haggerty suggests that the Bruins deserve Patriots-level hype, and Haggerty backs up his boast:
This is a Bruins team that’s gone 25-4-4 since benching Tuukka Rask for four games in mid-November. This is a Bruins team that’s gone a ridiculous 49-19-9 over the last year under Bruce Cassidy since memorably sacking Claude Julien on the morning of the Patriots Super Bowl celebration through Boston.
This is a hockey team well worth your attention while looking for the next winning lottery ticket in Boston’s pro sports landscape. They’re not the Big Bad Bruins of old or even the rough and tumble crew that hoisted the Cup back in 2011, but they have the most dominant forward trio in all of hockey with the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand (when he’s keeping his prominent nose out of trouble), Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
All three forwards are on pace to top 35 goals this season, and are a combined plus-55 on the season while looking like hockey’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters against defenders with no prayer of stopping them.
They are fourth in the league averaging 3.2 goals per game, and tops in the NHL allowing a piddling 2.4 goals per game. They do pretty much everything well, and even showed the kind of backbone and hard-nosed approach in wins last week vs. St. Louis and Toronto that could be a harbinger of some very good things in April and May.
According to the Boston Herald’s Stephen Conroy, the Bruins’ “supporting cast” has stepped up of late…
It was all on display in Saturday night’s 4-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the stars in the lineup did their job, they got ample contributions from others.
Soon-to-be-star defenseman Charlie McAvoy returned after missing two weeks due to a heart procedure and, though there was rust, he improved the team’s breakouts. Jake DeBrusk’s burst of speed through the neutral zone led to a power play after Patrick Marleau had to trip him, setting up David Pastrnak’s game-wining goal.
Tim Schaller stepped up to play on the third line and played an effective, grinding game down low before sealing the win with a long-range empty-netter. Some are even stepping outside of their comfort zone, as Ryan Spooner did when he knocked down former teammate Dominic Moore.
And then there was Adam McQuaid. Had Kevan Miller been healthy, McQuaid may not have even been in the lineup. His style of play fits much more snugly in the old station-to-station Bruins style of five or six years ago, not so much the fast-breaking B’s of today. But hockey can still be a rough, hard game and — as the intensity of games ramps up like the one on Saturday did — rough, hard men like McQuaid can be very useful.
And, as Haggerty noted, there’s a Michigan connection playing well for the B’s in Austin Czarnik, a Detroit native:
Czarnik was solid in a limited role during his season debut in Boston, recording a power-play assist in nine minutes of ice time as he stepped in when injuries and Brad Marchand’s suspension cut into the Bruins’ forward depth, and certainly merited another look simply based on his play. Czarnik served up the primary assist on Torey Krug’s insurance PP score in the second period of the big divisional win over Toronto, and the diminutive forward also skated effectively with Sean Kuraly and Frank Vatrano as a pieced-together fourth line.
“I [thought] he was good,” Bruce Cassidy said after the win over the Leafs. “Lots of energy, on the puck, made a play on the power play, which we’re used to seeing him make. I thought that whole line did their job pretty well, other than maybe the shift with a minute to go where they got hemmed in their own end a bit. But no complaints and that’s what we need.”
Czarnik, 25, leads Providence in scoring and is tied for sixth in the AHL in points with 13 goals and 42 points in 38 games. He was one of two P-Bruins selected to play in the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic. The 5-foot-9, 160-pound forward has 5 goals and 16 points for Boston in parts of the last three seasons since signing an entry-level deal with the B’s out of college.
BostonBruins.com’s Eric Russo asked the Bruins to size up the Red Wings:
The Bruins will be making their second visit to Detroit on Tuesday night. Boston’s first trip to Little Caesars Arena resulted in a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory, during which Brad Marchand notched the winner in the extra session.
Detroit has posted a 4-5-1 record over its last 10 games and is currently 7 points out of the East’s second wild-card spot. The Rangers, who the Bruins will visit on Wednesday, have dropped two straight and have just three wins in their last 10.
As a result, Boston is expecting two teams with an added level of urgency.
“I think we’ve tried to always worry about ourselves first. I think we understand that the majority of the teams that we’re gonna be playing are in a little bit more of a fight than we are,” said Cassidy. “We all want our points…they are a little more desperate than we are – we have to be cognizant of that, but at the same time play our game.
“There’s too many games to get caught up every night in what the other team is doing. We always address what they do well, where we can attack them and go from there and try not to worry about the standings too much, to be perfectly honest. There’s no easy games in this league.”
Russo also posted the Bruins’ practice lineup; according to coach Cassidy (see attached video), this is the lineup Boston will dress tonight:
Monday’s Practice Lineup
There were no changes to the lineup following Saturday’s win over Toronto.
Danton Heinen – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Ryan Spooner
Tim Schaller – Riley Nash – David Backes
Frank Vatrano – Sean Kuraly – Austin Czarnik
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Adam McQuaid
If you’re interested in revisiting the Bruins’ latest victory, the Associated Press and NHL.com provide thorough recaps of the B’s 4-1 win over Toronto, and NHL.com posted a highlight clip from Saturday’s game:
The STATS’ game preview
will serve as our pivot point between the Bruins and Red Wings’ perspectives:
While stars like center Patrice Bergeron, left winger Brad Marchand, goalie Tuukka Rask and defenseman Zdeno Chara have certainly done their part, the Bruins have also gotten outstanding play from other sources. That includes grinders like forward Tim Schaller and defenseman Adam McQuaid and rookies defenseman Charlie McAvoy, center Danton Heinen and left winger Jake DeBrusk.
Schaller scored in Saturday night’s 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and Heinen had two assists. The other three did not get on the scoreboards but did the things necessary to help the Bruins get the win, particularly McQuaid, who has only played 14 games this season due to injury.
“That’s Adam. He’s a soldier for us. He hasn’t played a lot of hockey this year, so he’s still shaking off some rust with the puck making plays,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy told the Boston Herald. “But he did a heck of a job for us in those areas of the game that we expect from him.”
Cassidy also talked about the play of the team’s first-year players.
“This week, (the rookies) have gotten a taste of it. Life on the walls, life at winning pucks, zone to zone at times, low-scoring games,” Cassidy said. “Mistakes get magnified in those games if you’re not careful, so it’s good for them to learn against these types of teams that we expect to see down the road.”
STATS’ preview notes that the Red Wings are having power play issues and goal-scoring issues in general:
Zetterberg hasn’t scored in 14 games. Rookie right winger Martin Frk has gone 17 games without a goal. Forward Andreas Athanasiou has gone seven games without scoring.
Center Dylan Larkin and rookie right winger Anthony Mantha have one goal in each of their last eight games. Left winger Tomas Tatar hasn’t scored in six games and has one goal in 11 games. Right winger Gustav Nyquist has one goal in his last 10 and center Frans Nielsen has one goal in 13 games.
The Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan spoke with Wings coach Jeff Blashill regarding the team’s forward corps…
Thankfully defensemen — namely Danny DeKeyser and Trevor Daley — have scored goals lately because the production from many of the forwards has been spotty.
The list of forwards struggling to score goals is getting longer.
Zetterberg hasn’t scored in 14 games. Martin Frk has gone 17 games without a goal, and Andreas Athanasiou has gone seven. Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha have one goal each in their last eight games.
Tomas Tatar hasn’t scored in six games and has one goal in 11 games, while Gustav Nyquist has one goal in his last 10 games and Frans Nielsen one goal in 13 games.
“We’ve talked, certainly in the last little bit, about the importance of our defense getting more offense and we’ve gotten that,” Blashill said. “But you can’t have the defense creating offense and the forwards go dry.
“We need as much offense as we can get without giving up any more defensively. We just have to keep going and hope as many guys get hot as possible.”
And the Free Press’s Helene St. James spoke with the Wings about their power play issues:
Since operating at 22.7 percent through the first 34 games, their power play has gone into a deep freeze, with four goals on 48 opportunities (8.3 percent) since Dec. 23.
“It’s not good enough,” Blashill said. “I said at the beginning of the year our special teams need to be in the top 10 in order to be a playoff team, and I still think for us to be a playoff team, our specials teams are going to have to be in the top 10. Our PK has looked better the last little bit but our power play hasn’t been good enough.
“We have to eliminate unforced errors and have a better attack mentality. If you get a puck, you have to make sure you talk and you hold on to it until you know where that puck is going — we can’t throw the puck away.”
The Wings are 0-for-8 the past three games.
“We’re not getting what we want out of our power play,” Zetterberg said. “I think we got some momentum lately. It’s been a little bit better than it was a while ago, but we need some goals. We are creating shots and chaos in front of the net, now we just have to get the puck behind the goalie.”
The Wings already moved personnel between the two units, and other than Frans Nielsen, there isn’t anyone who isn’t already on a unit that might get a look.
“They’re as good as any team in the league right now for sure,” Blashill said. “They’ve had a few games here without Charlie McAvoy, but I think Charlie McAvoy’s really helped that D corps. They’ve got other real good players obviously already and he just gave them another top four type guy. And then I just think (Patrice) Bergeron’s got to be one of the best players in the league right now. He plays a two-way game, never gets scored on and produces a lot of offense. That’s why that team is as good as they are. We talk about it, that’s what Zetterberg and (Pavel) Datsyuk did here for years.
“When you have centermen that are as complete as those guys have been in their careers, and as good as Bergeron is right now, that’s big-time winning hockey. Larks (Dylan Larkin) and I talked about that, Bergeron as a great example of a guy to really emulate, how he doesn’t give up anything but creates tons. It’s a hard thing to do but that’s what that team is winning as much as they are. They’ve got a lot of other good players, but when you have centermen that play – and David Krejci’s a heck of a player, too, and he plays a complete game. So you’ve got two guys up the middle that play real complete games. That’s how you win games.”
The Wings will also have to contend with Tuukka Rask, who is 21-8-4 with a 2.09 goals-against average and .925 save percentage.
“Both of their goalies are like .929 save percentage, and Rask has been extremely hot,” Blashill said. “When you get that kind of goaltending, it’s gonna help you, too. I think it’s always a combination of your team and your goaltender. I don’t know that anybody can post those kinds of numbers without the team playing great in front of him. Rask is obviously real hot, too. We’re going to have to get to the net hard.”
If you missed Monday’s practice post, the only lineup news we got wasn’t great: Henrik Zetterberg took a “maintenance day” (though he did speak with the media), and Darren Helm was listed as “questionable” for Wednesday after skipping practice.
In the multimedia department, the Free Press’s Helene St. James posted a clip in which Zetterberg and coach Blashill speak about the Wings’ crease issues…
And the Red Wings’ website also posted Twitter clips of Zetterberg and Blashill’s media remarks:
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: USA Today’s Kevin Allen wrote this about the Wings’ most tradeable asset…
Tampa Bay Lightning: This is a strong team top to bottom, but it could be bolstered by a right-shot defenseman who can play in coach Jon Cooper’s top four. It felt as if Detroit Red Wings defenseman Mike Green was auditioning for fans when he played in the NHL All-Star Game in Tampa. He has a no-trade clause, but he likely would accept a deal to the Lightning.
And the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith penned a blurb about the scouts attending Monday night’s Lightning game (Tampa Bay lost 6-2 to Edmonton):
The Rangers, Blue Jackets and Red Wings were among the teams represented at Monday’s Lightning game. Those teams have potential defense targets for Tampa Bay, including the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh and the Red Wings’ Mike Green. The Islanders, Vegas (two), Leafs, Flyers, Jets and Islanders also had scouts there. The Lightning had a scout at the Rangers game in Dallas.
In the promotional department, the Red Wings have announced their Coca-Cola Fan Pack ticket dates for the remainder of the season…
And this may be of interest to you: