In their first practice back from the All-Star Break, there was one notable absence on the ice and there were two new additions.
Prior to practice, Bruins GM Don Sweeney announced that goaltender Jonas Gustavsson had been placed on injured reserve, while goaltender Malcolm Subban had been recalled from Providence along with David Pastrnak, who was assigned to the P-Bruins during the All-Star Break.
The recall marks Subban’s first since February 2015, when he made his NHL debut with Boston against the St. Louis Blues.
“He’s been really good in Providence, from what I hear,” said Head Coach Claude Julien following Monday’s session. “He’s been a lot more consistent, and that’s just a goaltender maturing into probably closer to a starter over there. I think he’s played the majority of the games, versus in the past, where there was kind of a split. I think he’s done a good job of taking over in Providence and has played well.”
Though Subban’s season in Providence got off to a slower-than-expected start — he missed a big chunk of the first month of the season with an undisclosed injury — he came in at the end of October and owned the crease. In 26 games thus far in 2015-16, he has posted a 14-8-4 record with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.
“Obviously, I feel like I’ve matured a lot, just in my play, and on and off the ice, and just being a better professional, and focusing on the little things of the game,” Subban said. “I think that like I said, my play’s matured a lot, and just working on my technique — I think I’ve gotten a lot better with that.”
In fact, Subban mentioned several specific tweaks to his technique that he feels have served him well in the AHL and will continue to bolster his play at the NHL level. He said he has worked closely with Bruins goaltending coach Bob Essensa to settle down a bit in the crease — let the puck come to him, as he described it, stay put more, show more composure in net.
“I’ll tell you what — it helps a lot in practice,” Subban said with a laugh. “Not as tiring. I’ve been definitely working on that a lot.
“Goalie Bob — he loves the style that I used to play. But he’s trying to incorporate a lot of stuff —technique necessities — that I need in my game to become an overall better goaltender. So that’s what I’ve been working on with him.”
Subban, of course, still thinks about the one start he made with Boston last season. He was recalled in the midst of Boston’s longest road trip of the season, and by the fourth of five games, the Bruins found themselves winless on the trip. That was when Subban stepped in — in the penultimate game of the trip against St. Louis, one of the West’s tougher teams at the time — and made the first NHL start of his career.
It did not go so well. Subban allowed three goals on six shots and was pulled early in the second period.
But that start doesn’t haunt his dreams. Far from it. He has lived and learned.
“You can’t get on too much of a high, too much of a low,” Subban said. “Obviously, it didn’t go the way I wanted, but I know I could have played a lot better, so I’m just looking to show that the next opportunity that I get.”
Subban believes the one factor that stands in between him and a permanent job in the NHL is consistency — particularly in-game consistency. Throughout the course of his two-plus seasons in pro hockey, he has slowly become more and more reliable. He has grown into himself. He has become more ready.
Now, he said, he needs to show it on a regular basis.
“My consistency, I feel, has been my biggest downfall,” he said. “In terms of just being able to stay focused when I’m not getting shots — you look at a lot of good goaltenders in the league, a lot of goalies can play well when they’re getting a lot of shots. It’s when you’re not getting a lot of shots that it gets tough, the position gets tough. So that’s one thing I’ve tried to work on a lot, and I feel like I’ve improved a lot with it this year.”
This year in Providence, he has seen a difference in his own play. He has seen a difference since that one ill-fated start with the big club last year. Though unexpected, perhaps this recall has come at a good time for him.
“Playing a lot this year in Providence obviously helped a lot — being able to work on that stuff and not worrying too much about not being in there again if it doesn’t go too well,” Subban said. “But it’s definitely worked out. I’ve definitely played really good this year, so just looking for my opportunity up here.”
Gustavsson, meanwhile, started Boston’s final game prior to the break on Jan. 26 but was removed after the first period for precautionary reasons due to an elevated heart rate, according to the club. He was transported to Mass General Hospital and remained there for testing overnight. All of his preliminary tests came back negative and he was discharged Wednesday.
Gustavsson skated prior to Monday’s practice along with injured defenseman Adam McQuaid but was placed on IR as the team awaits his final test results, Sweeney said in a statement.
"Pending those final test results,” Sweeney said, “he will be cleared for full participation by our medical staff."
Julien is unsure of when a determination will be made on Gustavsson.
“This is medical stuff that I don’t get involved in,” he said. “Obviously, I really like our medical staff. They’ve been pretty good with the players as far as taking care of them and obviously you’ve got to have some confidence in them and let them do their jobs. Right now, we’ve got Malcolm here, so I’m sure they’ll let me know when [Gustavsson] is cleared. From what I know, he was good right after, and probably just a precaution more than anything else on their part. So hopefully we’ll get that clearance soon.”
There is no denying, Julien said, Gustavsson’s value to the Bruins this season. He has, quite simply, been reliable, and that has been crucial, both to Tuukka Rask’s success as the starter, and to the team’s success as a whole.
“I think we’ve all appreciated the fact that he’s come in and done a great job and won us the majority of his games,” Julien said. “When you’ve got a backup goaltender that can give you those kind of wins, you have nothing to complain about.”
Rask hasn’t been surprised by how good Gustavsson has been. He has, however, been relieved — and perhaps even motivated — by it.
“I think anybody who comes into this league is capable of playing,” Rask said. “Obviously [Niklas Svedberg] had a tough go last year because he didn’t play that much and he was inexperienced. But Goose has been great. He’s playing great for us and getting a lot of wins as a veteran goalie. So it’s been great.
“There’s always competition, but it’s in a good way. We’ve always had that with whoever has been here, whether it’s been me and [Tim Thomas], or me and [Anton Khudobin], or whoever. It’s always been a healthy competition.”
Back in Action
The Bruins were hoping to use the All-Star Break as an opportunity to recoup from the grind of the first four months of the season.
After six days off the ice, they feel they have done just that.
“That’s what you try to do when you get a break — really take your mind off the game of hockey a little bit and get ready for that grind because the second half after the All-Star Break is always very hectic,” Rask said. “Every team is fighting for that playoff spot. It’s going to be really tight, so hopefully we’re ready for that.”
The Bruins will enter their first post-break game in sixth place in the conference and in fourth place in the division. It’s a good place to be — it is, after all, in the playoff race — but by no means is this group satisfied.
“We’re in a decent spot, but a lot’s going to change from here to the end of the season,” said forward Brad Marchand. “[There’s] almost 35 games left, so a lot can happen, and we saw that last year. It doesn’t really matter where we are right now; it’s more about where we are at the end of the year.”
Last year, the Bruins learned firsthand how difficult the post-break stretch can be. They were stretched to their limits by the rest of the Eastern Conference teams pushing for playoff berths — the Senators, in particular, who went on an unheralded run to get themselves in to the big dance — and as a result, the B’s were bumped out.
“I think you have to be able to learn from your past experiences,” Marchand said. “We have a lot of new guys on this team, and a lot of young legs that should be feeling good at this time of the year, and the main thing is that we realize that we can’t afford to give up easy points. We have to make sure we battle every night to get each and every point, and at the end of the year — you saw last year — every game matters.
“One point can be the difference. That’s why we’ve really got to buckle down now.”
The Bruins expect to improve as they embark on the final chunk of the season. Prior to the break, some of them suggested that perhaps they have surprised some people up to this point. Perhaps some of the pundits didn’t expect to see this team in a playoff spot at this stage.
But internally, the Bruins aren’t surprised. They expect to be better than this. They expect to move up.
“Where we are right now is in a playoff position,” Julien said. “We can’t lose that. We’re in it; we’ve got to hold onto it, whether it means moving up and that kind of stuff, and we’ve got a young team — there’s a lot of players here who are going to find out pretty quickly how tough the second half can get.
“So we need to get tougher, and as a group, when I say tougher — mentally tougher, and probably physically tougher, too. It’s going to be a grind from here on in.”
Fortunately, the Bruins believe they have the personnel necessary to make that push.
“We’re in a playoff spot right now,” said forward Loui Eriksson. “We know it’s really tight and in the standings, it’s a lot of teams a couple points behind us or ahead of us, so it’s going to be a big battle here until the end. So I think everyone is kind of looking forward to that.
“It’s always fun to play games that are important and I think all the games we have left here, it’s going to be important ones. So we just have to keep winning, here, and try to stay in the playoff position.”
All Eyes on Loui
As the Feb. 29 NHL trade deadline approaches, one Bruin’s name has frequently found its way into trade rumors and speculation.
But for his part, Loui Eriksson is doing his best to tune out all of the noise.
“I’m just going to try to focus on my game and try to help the team as much as I can and play good,” Eriksson said on Monday. “All the other things, I can’t really control right now, and all I can do is go out there and play hockey and like I said, help the team a lot and play good. So that’s all I’m going to focus on.”
Eriksson is well aware that whatever happens on Feb. 29 or before is largely out of his control. As such, he will keep his mind on what is under his control: His play on the ice.
The rest, he will leave up to his agent.
“My family and me, we like it here in Boston,” he said. “It’s a little bit different now when you have a big family like I have — we have a baby on the way, too — so it’s a lot of things that are going around right now. I really like it here, and Boston is a really good city. It’s a really fun team to play for and everything. So far, it’s been really good here.
“I’ve never been in a situation like this, and it’s a little bit different. All I can do is just focus on my game, and try to play my game and focus on playing good for the team and be good.”
All-Star Game Reflection
The only skater missing from Monday’s practice was Patrice Bergeron, who spent the last several days in Nashville partaking in the All-Star Game as a member of the Atlantic Division squad.
Bergeron’s team advanced to the final but ultimately fell 1-0 to the Pacific in the shootout.
Julien, for his part, took in some of the action on TV over the weekend, and he was excited by what he saw — not only the thrill of the 3-on-3 action, but the thrill of seeing John Scott get the type of reception he received.
“I thought the fact that they had the big guy in there I think created excitement,” Julien said. “John Scott created some excitement. He created not only that, but I thought he handled himself well with the media. I thought he handled himself well on the ice. Certainly was something that I think at first was viewed as maybe negative, or a joke, or whatever people wanted to call it. I thought he did an outstanding job of standing up for himself, standing up for his beliefs. The players in the league seemed to want that as well. I thought again, he did a great job of even 3-on-3. Did anybody here think he would be as good as he was? He did a great job.
“I give him a lot of credit for what he did, and I think at the same time, it created some curiosity into the games. The 3-on-3 was probably one of the most interesting things that everybody wanted to see, but there was also the Scott situation as well, and all that. Probably I don’t know what the ratings were, but I’m sure they were better than the last ones that were played.”
As expected, Gustavsson was not on the ice for Monday’s practice but did skate beforehand on his own, as did McQuaid, who skated for the first time since suffering an undisclosed upper body injury on Jan. 5.
Monday’s Practice Lineup
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Joonas Kemppainen, Brett Connolly
White Jerseys: Loui Eriksson, David Krejci, David Pastrnak
Gray Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes
Red Jerseys: Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, Landon Ferraro, Max Talbot
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg, Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Malcolm Subban