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Practice Notebook: Eyes Still on the Prize as Bruins Set Off for Western Canada

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BOSTON — For the Bruins, heading out West for trips of any length often tends to be a challenge, and they are expecting no different as they approach the upcoming week.

“It’s always a tough road trip heading West and playing some good teams,” said forward Patrice Bergeron on Monday before the B’s set off for a trip through Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. “It’s definitely a big statement trip for us, and making sure we keep going the way we’ve been the last game and [carrying] that with us.

“But also, we’re finding ways to win games, and it’s definitely a positive and we’ve got to build on that.”

As the Bruins prepare for this three-game swing, they are coming off a season-long five-game winning streak. They have taken down some of the top teams in the conference, most notably the Rangers on Friday. They haven’t always been at their best during that streak — in fact, they had one of their weakest games of the season against the Red Wings on Nov. 26 but still managed to take two points.

The important thing over the course of those five games, however, is that they have found ways to win. They have won in the waning seconds of regulation, they have won in overtime, and they have won in the shootout, but the common thread is that no matter what, they have found a way.

“I think we can’t get too high,” Bergeron said. “Obviously, we know in at least two of the games that we came back and found a way to win, but still, it wasn’t our best effort, especially in Detroit. We didn’t deserve the win, and then we got two points. So we have to take it, and I thought we built and we showed some great character against New York.

“That’s the way that we want to play heading in toward Edmonton.”

Regardless of what the standings say, the Oilers will be a test for the Bruins, and the Bruins are expecting as much. Edmonton is young, fast, and skilled, and they are capable of putting any team in the league on its heels.

“Those young legs can be hard to play against at times, so whether there’s still a little bit of up and down because of youth, they still represent a danger,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “Calgary, we know their situation — they seem to play us well, and they’re building all the time. Then we’ve got the back-to-back in Vancouver and come back and play against Nashville [on Dec. 7], so it is a tough schedule.”

Add to that the fact that the Bruins haven’t seen any of these teams yet this season, and they have their work cut out for them.

“It’s always a challenge,” Bergeron said. “There’s some faces that you haven’t really seen before, and trying to get used to them, and there’s tendencies sometimes that you need to look at video and see what you’re up against. At the same time, I think we watch the highlights and we watch some of the games around the league, and we know that it’s going to be a challenge for us.”

Despite the fact that the Bruins may not have been at their best against Detroit, they were good against the Rangers. Their power play found a way to break through after going scoreless for the couple of games prior. The B’s staked to an early lead, and though they fell behind late, they got two goals in the final four minutes to take two points in regulation.

In that game, they found a way to win, but they also found a way to hang with one of the league’s top teams for nearly a full 60 minutes.

“We did some things well,” said defenseman Zdeno Chara. “We did some things that we need to improve and keep working on and keep getting better. It’s nice to win games, it’s nice to be getting points, but I think we want to also improve our play, system-wise, and be better in certain areas. That’s the key for us: keep trying to get better.”

One area in particular that the Bruins continue to improve is the penalty kill. Immediately after forward Chris Kelly went down with a fractured femur on Nov. 3, Boston struggled mightily in that regard. Of late, they have been far more difficult to score against when down a man.

“It’s something that we’ve got to continue to obviously work on and keep getting better,” Chara said. “I don’t think we are over the hump; I think we want to be one of the best teams in the league as far as killing penalties. We always have done that. We’ve always been one of those teams. We had a rough start, so we were in a hole and we’re slowly getting out of it. But it doesn’t mean we are obviously up there where we want to be.”

Throughout the last five games, the Bruins have been served well by the fact that they have taken each drill, each practice and each game one at a time. As they embark on this trip, they will begin with an extra practice day in Edmonton, but from there, the schedule will be a grind. They will end the trip with a back-to-back in Calgary and Vancouver, and upon returning to Boston, they will face their third game in four nights against Nashville.

It will be critical, therefore, to continue to take this trip one day at a time.

“Obviously we’ll focus on our first game against Edmonton, but all three teams are playing well, and they are good teams,” Chara said. “We don’t play them often, but being on the road, out west — it’s always challenging.

“So like I said, we’re looking at our first game against Edmonton. They have a lot of speed, a lot of skill and we’ve just got to be ready.”

Balanced Scoring Attack

Offensively, the Bruins have been clutch throughout the course of their five-game winning streak.

But it hasn’t always been the usual suspects who have put the puck in the back of the net at the most critical times. For the most part, it has been a different player night who has stepped up to carry his share of the offensive load.

In a shootout win over Toronto, Zac Rinaldo tallied his first goal as a Bruin. Two nights later, in Detroit, rookies Frank Vatrano and Colin Miller keyed a last-minute rally that eventually resulted in an overtime win. Against New York, Bergeron, David Krejci and Ryan Spooner stepped up to provide some much-needed offense against a high-scoring team.

“You want to see your scoring spread out,” Julien said. “When you have the same guys scoring all the time, eventually teams just kind of lock down on those players and it makes it a lot harder. We’ve been getting some scoring from different lines, and to me, on different nights has been important. I think it’s certainly harder to defend against because, as probably many other coaches do, I look at lines and I look at production of those lines before every game and kind of balance things out that way. So in our case, there’s a pretty decent balance there.”

For the bulk of Julien’s tenure at the helm of the Bruins, he has prided himself on having four lines that can score goals. For most of this season, that has been true once again. Particularly important have been the contributions of the fourth line, which struggled to produce throughout a challenging 2014-15 season.

“It’s been something that we talk about and we need as a team, as we’ve always talked about having four lines that can score and can be a threat on the ice,” Bergeron said. “I think a great example was in Detroit, and even the last game [against the Rangers].”

In order to perpetuate their winning streak as they head to Edmonton, the Bruins clearly will need that trend to continue. They will need role players to continue to pick up the slack on nights when the usual suspects are not scoring.

“I think you need that throughout the year,” Chara said. “You can’t always be relying on the same people, the same guys. It’s a team game, and we need contributions from everybody, so that’s big, and obviously good for the confidence of the team and other guys that are doing the hard work and not always getting rewarded.”

Talbot Assigned

On Monday, the Bruins announced that forward Max Talbot has cleared waivers and will be assigned to Providence.

Talbot was recalled prior to Boston’s last road trip through Toronto and Boston. The day before the Bruins suited up against Toronto, they claimed forward Landon Ferraro off waivers from Detroit. Ferraro has skated on the fourth line in all three games since his arrival and has shouldered some penalty-killing duties, while Talbot skated in just one matchup against the Maple Leafs.

“There’s obviously numbers and caps, which is more upper management,” Julien said on Monday. “At one point, decisions have to be made, so it’s more that. I think Max is a very useful guy. When we need him, he comes in and does whatever it takes to do the job there. So nothing more than probably a number game right now.”

Monday’s Practice Lineup

Forwards: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Frank Vatrano, Matt Beleskey, David Krejci, Loui Eriksson, Jimmy Hayes, Ryan Spooner, Brett Connolly, Zac Rinaldo, Landon Ferraro, Tyler Randell, Max Talbot

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg, Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Joe Morrow, Kevan Miller

Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson

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