|12.05.11 at 10:42 am ET|
It’s the perfect test at the perfect time.
The Bruins have rebounded from a 3-7-0 start and are the hottest team in the NHL. They have 13 of 14 and are unbeaten in regulation since Oct. 29 in Montreal.
The Penguins are the top team in the East and have been the best team in the conference since the start of the season.
Now the top two teams in the conference meet in tonight in Pittsburgh.
“It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” said Chris Kelly, who scored the game-winner on Saturday night. “They are playing extremely well. They have their best player back and he seems like he hasn’t missed a beat. It will be an exciting game for us.”
Of course, the “best player” to whom Kelly refers is Sidney Crosby. He returned from his post-concussion symptoms on Nov. 21 with two goals in a 5-0 win over the Islanders. He hasn’t scored since but he does have 10 assists and the Pens are 5-1-1 in the seven games with him back in the lineup.
“It’s going to be a big game,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “We haven’t faced them this season yet. Obviously they’ve got a healthy team now. I’m sure it’s going to be a good game.”
Tonight marks the first of four games between the last two Eastern Conference teams who have won the Stanley Cup. The Penguins won on Detroit’s home ice in Game 7 in 2009 while the Bruins accomplished the same feat back on June 15 in Vancouver.
Is this is a “measuring stick” game for the defending champion B’s?
“I think we’re approaching- we’ve got the right mind set going into every game right now,” new pugilist Joe Corvo said. “I feel like we’re playing the same way every game and we’re being super consistent and if we don’t at some point in the game, it gets corrected. I think it’s obviously a good test, they’re in first place so it’ll be an exciting game.”
With a regulation win, the Bruins will be just one point out of the top spot in the East, 15 games after being in the cellar.
“We want to get up there in the standings and this is a game for first place so it’s going to be a big one,” David Krejci said.
There will be no rest after the game, either. The Bruins hop on a plane and go halfway across the continent for a Tuesday night game in Winnipeg.
|12.04.11 at 12:36 pm ET|
For all the talk of a Stanley Cup “hangover” following a 3-7-0 start, the Bruins are in the midst of one of the best early-season runs any defending champ has had in recent memory.
The numbers are remarkable.
A 10-game winning streak, points in 14 straight games, and a 13-0-1 mark in those 14 contests.
They dispatched of their division rival Maple Leafs, 4-1, on Saturday at the Garden, sweeping the home-and-home series. They have manhandled the Leafs, 24-6, in winning all four games this season.
What’s next for this powerhouse?
How about doing it year-after-year? That’s what Claude Julien is thinking, just like the Red Wings, the only team to beat the Bruins in this remarkable stretch, the day after Thanksgiving.
“As a coach you are always afraid you’re going to peak to early and then when things start going bad, it will take a while to get yourself back on track But I feel differently about this because of the, I guess the sentiment in the room and the feeling is we’re not taking anything for granted,” Julien said. “We’re staying poised, we’re not getting cocky, we’re not getting complacent, we’re still focused and that’s the part I like. And again, that’s probably from experience and we’ve seen other teams in the past and we talk about the Red Wings and every year they come back strong and maybe we are a team heading in that direction.”
But the Bruins don’t have to wait until possible rematch with the Red Wings in the Cup finals for their next big test. That’ll be Monday night in Pittsburgh against the East-leading Penguins with a now-healthy Sidney Crosby back and powering his team.
|12.03.11 at 10:51 pm ET|
The Bruins recalled defenseman Steven Kampfer and forward Jordan Caron from Providence Saturday night. The B’s had sent the two players down Wednesday in order to get them some game action, with both players playing for Providence Friday and Saturday.
Caron had been a healthy scratch for the seven game prior to Wednesday’s move, while Kampfer has played five games this season, regularly serving as the team’s seventh defenseman.
Both players will travel with the Bruins Sunday when they leave for their two-game road trip that sees stops in Pittsburgh and Winnipeg.
|12.03.11 at 9:40 pm ET|
The Bruins opened December by doing something they got used to in November when they beat the Leafs, 4-1, at TD Garden Saturday. The B’s are now 4-0-0 against the Leafs this season and lead the Northeast division by three points.
David Krejci opened the scoring for the Bruins at 4:20 of the second period, but Mikhail Grabovski answered back 48 seconds later to tie it. Chris Kelly then scored his 10th goal of the season to make it 2-1, with Johnny Boychuk adding to the Bruins’ lead with a bomb past Toronto goaltender James Reimer in the third period. Nathan Horton scored on a wrist shot from the top of the circle to make it 4-1.
Picking up the victory for the Bruins was Tuukka Rask, who improved to 4-3-1 on the season. He made 21 stops Saturday.
The Bruins have a busy week ahead of them. They’ll face the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Monday, the Jets in Winnepeg on Tuesday, the Panthers at home on Thursday and the Blue Jackets in Columbus on Saturday.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS
– Count me and everyone else in the world among those surprised that Kelly has scored 10 goals through 24 games. The third-line center took a long pass from the bottom of the circle across to Kelly, who beat Reimer to break the 1-1 tie in the second period.
Kelly’s career-high in goals was 15, which he registered in both the 2006-07 and 2009-10 seasons in Ottawa. It’s safe to say he’ll be surpassing the mark this season. Add to the equation that the alternate captain will be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, and you’ve got a player exceeding expectations at the same time.
– He didn’t face an insane amount pressure early on, but Rask made timely saves in final two periods and had his latest strong outing, further proving that he isn’t average goaltender he was a season ago. Rask has now allowed one in two of his last three starts, as he also held the Blue Jackets to one goal on Nov. 17.
The Bruins likely went with Rask Saturday so they could play Tim Thomas Monday against the Penguins and go back to Rask the next night against the Jets, and the decision has paid off so far.
– Joe Corvo received his first career major penalty when he fought Joey Crabb in the third period. The puck-moving defenseman had gotten in a tussle with Boris Valabik (who ended up being a throw-in in last season’s trade with the Thrashers that sent Rich Peverley to Boston) in 2008, but did not receive a major.
– Phil Kessel was a minus-4 for the Maple Leafs over this week’s home-and-home against the Bruins. If that doesn’t say “mission accomplished” for the B’s gameplanning, nothing does. Zdeno Chara put a big hit on the Toronto winger in the first period, and that kept the NHL’s leading goal-scorer quiet for essentially the remainder of the opening 20 minutes. Kessel finished the night with five shots on goal, but he finished the home-and-home without a goal.
– Whatever kind of slump Krejci was in prior to this week, it’s definitely over now. The recently re-signed center has four points (2 G, 3 A) over his last two games.
– Saturday night marked the Bruins’ 100th consecutive sellout. Fun note: the the streak began two seasons ago against the Maple Leafs.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS
– The B’s have been known to score goals in bunches this season, but on Satruday, rather than scoring again soon after scoring, the B’s allowed a goal in the “vulnerable minute” when The Bruins last allowed a goal within a minute of scoring last Friday against the Red Wings. Pavel Datsyuk scored on Rask 35 seconds after Daniel Paille beat Jimmy Howard in the second period.
– Tyler Seguin has one goal over his last nine games. He also has two assists in that span, but it’s a far cry from the pace at which he was producing earlier in the season. In the four games prior to the aforementioned stretch, Seguin had an incredible seven goals, including a hat trick on Nov. 5 against the Leafs.
Seguin and Brad Marchand had a great scoring chance in the second period on a 2-on-1 Saturday, but the playas doomed by one too many passes. The 19-year-old was on the ice for Boychuk’s goal, increasing his league-best plus-minus to plus-20. Seguin has still been a point-per-game player thus far, leading the B’s with 24 points (12 G, 12 A) through 24 games.
|12.03.11 at 6:43 pm ET|
|12.03.11 at 1:03 pm ET|
Statistically speaking, Zdeno Chara is having the best season of his career. After not registering a point in the season’s first six games, the massive defenseman with the league’s hardest shot has five goals and 13 assists for 18 points, with only Tyler Seguin registering more points for the B’s since Oct. 20.
That leaves Chara on pace for a career-high 64 points (his current career-best is 51, which he registered in 2007-08). Not all of Chara’s points have been blasts from the point, or even teammates burying rebounds of blasts from the point. Chara was in on the rush Wednesday when David Krejci fed him to set up a wrist shot from right before the hash mark for what became his fifth goal of the year.
It’s been a big year offensively for Chara, but he knows that a defenseman’s worth is not always measured by stats. Even so, the 6-foot-9 blueliner is happy to be producing at a pace he’s never seen before.
“My first priority is to play well defensively. My job is obviously to shut down top lines every game, so that’s the No. 1 job to me,” he said after Saturday’s morning skate. “Anything above that is a plus. Any time I can help the team offensively and contribute on the other side of the ice, it’s a big plus.”
Seven of Chara’s points (3 G, 4 A) have come on the power play, and he leads the team in points on the man advantage. With the power play performing better than it was down the stretch last year and Chara producing more, the B’s have been able to give penalty killers a much harder time than they were when they would go games at a time without scoring on the man advantage.
“I think it’s about doing everything,” Claude Julien said Saturday. “I mean, in order for [Chara] to get some shots you got to have some versatility on your power play and some of the opportunities have to come from different places. Tyler on the half wall has done a great job of course there, [Milan Lucic] in front of the net and other guys. Again, we’ve moved some guys around. [Patrice] Bergeron finds the right people to pass to, and with Zdeno where he is right now, it allows him to take a shot whenever he’s open and if they pay too much attention to him, then there’s something else open.”
Chara is currently a plus-15 as well, meaning that while he may get beaten occasionally (as he was when Phil Kessel flew by him in the neutral zone Wednesday to set up a 2-on-1 and a Toronto goal), he still does what he believes to be his No. 1 job: playing against top lines and seeing to it that no goals are scored unless they’re from the B’s. He’s on pace for a plus-53 rating, which would surpass last season’s career-best plus-33. Between the points and the strong rating (only Seguin and Chris Kelly have better ratings on the B’s at plus-19 and plus-16, respectively), there’s been very little not to like about the big man’s game this season.
“You also want to be an all-around defenseman,” Chara said of the offensive production being a part of his game. “That’s what it takes.”
|12.03.11 at 12:25 pm ET|
Remember that timeless scene in D2: The Mighty Ducks in which Russ Tyler (played by a young Kenan Thompson), dons the goalie pads so he can get a clear shot — his famous knuckle puck — off in the finals seconds of the Junior Goodwill Games championship to tie the game against Iceland?
Dumb question. Of course you do.
Well, something slightly similar but far less dramatic has been happening at the Bruins’ morning skates lately. For the last two morning skates at TD Garden, when the circle of players stretching (which ends the skate) breaks up, goaltender Tuukka Rask has flown out of the circle with a teammate’s stick and fired a slapshot into the empty net, with teammates cheering as they leave the ice.
Rask said after Saturday’s skate that there’s no significance to the act, but that he’ll continue to do it.
“I’m having fun,” he said. “[I’ve done it for] a couple of games, so I might as well keep it going, right?”
On Saturday, it took Rask two tries. Using Rich Peverley‘s stick (he used Shawn Thornton‘s last time; Tyler used Lester Averman’s), he missed the net and hung his head in disappointment before scoring on the second attempt. Needless to say, he hasn’t exactly been practicing.
“Not too much,” Rask said of how much time he’s put into perfecting his shot. “I missed the net today, so’¦”
He may be a far cry from Russ Tyler, but Rask has certainly made the final seconds of a game-day routine much more interesting.