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Bruins' Decisions Not Getting Any Easier, With Preseason Winding Down

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BOSTON - The Bruins fell to the New York Islanders 5-3 in preseason action at TD Garden on Tuesday night.

Patrice Bergeron, a step ahead of the rest this preseason, put the Bruins on the board first. Boston then allowed three straight goals, before a Matt Bartkowski shorthanded tally and a Brad Marchand score right out of the penalty box tied it up at 3-3.

The Isles pulled ahead late in the third to seal the win. Mistakes were made. Breakdowns happened. Goals were let in.

But right now, wins and losses are not what's at stake. Jobs are on the line. It's not so much about the score, as it is about players continuing to prove themselves.

Head Coach Claude Julien arrived to his postgame press conference later than usual, and he had reason.

There was no news or cuts to announce, but the discussions had just been strenuous.

"We just met as a group there and discussed all of the players as we often do, evaluating. As we get closer, obviously those meetings often get a little bit more sophisticated than the first ones," Julien said to the gathered reporters who had awaited his arrival.

Win or lose on Tuesday, the Bruins still ended the night with more than the 23-player maximum they can open the season with on October 8.

Just two preseason games now remain on Friday and Saturday. Players could be released by then, or the current group could still be in place.

"That's going to be upper management's decisions on what to do here. [Wednesday's] a day off, so we're certainly going to reconvene [Wednesday] with the coaching staff and with management," said Julien. "And we're going to continue talking about our plans moving ahead here."

Though questions still remain, some takeaways from Tuesday night's game are certain.

In a game that didn't have too much jump to start, Bobby Robins made his presence felt.

There were only three shots from both sides combined in the first seven minutes. Robins gave the crowd action when he lined up Isles defensemen Thomas Hickey along the penalty boxes. He finished the night with seven hits and generating a scoring chance with his linemates Jordan Caron and Chris Kelly by getting his nose dirty.

"He's making a case for himself," said Julien. "I think when you see what he brings and how hard he works and the energy that he gives our team, and everything else that we know about him, I'm certainly not ready to write him off yet."

"It’s no secret, the game I play. It’s a hard-nosed game," said Robins. "Being physical, getting in on the forecheck, just trying to open up space for my linemates and teammates."

"And I’ve been doing that down in Providence. That’s the way the organization likes me playing, and nothing was going to change when I came up here."

When it comes to players proving they belong in the NHL, it's about owning their roles and what they can provide the team.

"I think the fact that he defends his teammates all the time and that he's a good team player, and then you add his work ethic and his commitment to playing hard every shift he's out there, those are certainly things that gives him an opportunity to be looked at closely and it's going to make our decisions tough," said Julien.

"I think we have to be honest here, there's some spots open, and some guys are really taking advantage of it and really making a case for themselves, and some others haven't, so it's one of those kinds of things that at the end of the day, you've got to sit down and decide who you're going to keep based on merit."

The players noticed that, too.

"You definitely noticed it. Bobby, for instance, played great," said Marchand. "Every time he was on the ice, you saw him make a big hit - he’s buzzing, he’s battling and that’s his game and it shows and same with all the other guys. I thought Cunny [Craig Cunningham] had a good game tonight, too. I enjoyed playing with him. For everyone who’s trying to earn a spot, they’re all playing very well."

In Tuesday's lineup, Robins and Cunningham were part of the group in the mix to earn jobs, along with Caron, tryout Simon Gagne and Matt Fraser. Those who didn't suit up against the Islanders included Justin Florek, Alexander Khokhlachev, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak.

Pastrnak's camp was hindered by a tweaked shoulder from the outset, but he could be on track to get in game and see where he fits in.

The likelihood of Cunningham, Spooner or Khokhlachev making the team has been elevated due to center Gregory Campbell still being sidelined by a mid-core issue that has kept him off the ice.

Cunningham's versatility of playing center or either wing helps his chances.

"Again, we're going to have to make some decisions here with the season basically a week away, we're going to have some decisions to make on who's going to start here," said Julien. "And depending on the health of our team, maybe some will start and won't be here all year. Those are things that you have to do I guess, when you're put in that situation."

Fraser continues to put forth his best effort to stick with Boston, and he showed flashes again on Tuesday night, connecting with Carl Soderberg for a few chances early in the game. He played on a line with Soderberg and Gagne.

"I think you want to, this late in the camp, you’ve got to bring all your cards to the table," said Fraser. "And I think playing with a guy like Carl, he’s a heavy guy in the forecheck and he’s a heavy guy on the puck, and you want to either get open for him or be a heavy guy with him and create some offense and create some space."

His focus, though, is constantly on being on a better well-rounded player.

"You look at Krech, you look at Bergy, they can all score goals with the best of them, but they’re also the best guys in the defensive zone," said Fraser. "And you’ve got to bring something else to the table where it makes the management say, 'well, we want this guy on this team and we need that on this team and this is a player that brings that element.'"

Bergeron continues to show that he's in midseason form.

The centerman gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead over the Isles in the opening frame, when his initial attempt off a wraparound was stopped, before Isles blueliner Matt Donovan kicked the rebound right back to him. Marchand earned the assist. Bergeron and Marchand combined for two goals, two assists and seven shots on the night, despite the loss.

The longtime duo had the most jump.

"We’re trying to get better every day, we try to work on it - the more we get back and the more we play together, the more in sync we feel," said Marchand. "Hopefully we can continue to build that and use that momentum to carry into the regular season."

Julien is pleased to continue to see the uptick from Marchand throughout camp.

"Like I said the other day, he's a better player this year already than he was all of last year," Julien said.

Those assessments are easy for the bench boss to make.

It's the more difficult ones - like who deserves the spots on the third and fourth lines, and if Loui Eriksson is the best fit for David Krejci's right wing, and which defensemen will get to stay and play - that keep the coaches and management up at night, and delayed to postgame press conferences.

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