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Bruins breakdown: The top pair

02.25.10 at 2:00 pm ET
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The breakdown at the break continues and this time we are moving onto the men commissioned with keeping pucks away from the crease. Since Claude Julien took over behind the bench for Boston defense has been the name of the game in The Hub. Considering the Bruins scoring woes this year the only thing that has kept them in contention has been their ability to limit opponents chances.

Boston is fourth in the league in goals against with 2.42 and one of the reasons behind this is that its captain, Zdeno Chara, happens to be the reigning Norris Trophy winner. If a high tide raises all ships then a towering defenseman buoys all blue liners. We will also take a look at his partner, Derek Morris.

Note – Slight change in schedule. Will be doing the top defensive pairing Thursday then the other two pairings on Friday.

Chara — The questions about Chara are two-fold. One, how is he so good? Two, how do you quantify how good he actually is?

The first question has an easy answer — at 6-foot 9-inches and 255 pounds he is physically dominant on the ice. He skates well, has a long stick that he employs judiciously and, for the most part, has good positioning. Watch Chara play and it is easy to see why he is one of the best. Quantifying his play with advanced statistics is a little harder.

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Boychuck, Stuart and Bruins back to work

02.25.10 at 12:40 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Most of the Bruins have had two weeks to get healthy and clear their heads during the Olympic break before the final stretch of that will determine whether there will be spring hockey in The Hub. The players were happy to get back to hockey related activities on Thursday at Ristuccia Arena and are gearing up for the stretch run into April. When the regular season resumes on March 2 the Bruins will be on a furious pace as the final 22 games will be played in 41 days with only one break longer than one day between games.

“I can’t think of a better way to get back into it than to just jump in and play a bunch of games,” Mark Stuart said. “Looking at our schedule, it is every other day. But, it is going to be fun. It is going to be a month-and-a-half long Olympic tournament it seems like. Just playing every other day. But, the position we are in, we have to win a lot of games. It is going to feel like the playoffs, I think and that is always fun when it feels like that. We are looking forward to it.

Defenseman Johnny Boychuk was back at practice for the first time since breaking his orbital bone when he took a puck to the face in the Bruins’ last home game before the break against Vancouver. He wore a visor and participated in the full workout. Fellow blue liner Stuart also skated for the first time since breaking a finger in a fight with the Kings’ Wayne Simmonds on Jan. 30 which required surgery on Feb. 1.

“I got the cast off on Tuesday, so that was a good feeling,” Stuart said. “It is just a matter of getting some of the stiffness out. I have got to get the hands and stuff going and I am not going to push the shooting too much right away. I will probably give it a couple of days, and passing and stuff like that was good.”

Stuart said the the break was not due to an impact of his hand on Simmonds or the ice but rather that he grabbed the jersey and torqued the finger in during the fight. He said that he will probably wear protective gear on the hand “for a bit” but does not seem overly concerned about his prospects for the rest of the season.

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Bruins breakdown: The fast lane

02.24.10 at 12:22 pm ET
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We continue our Bruins breakdown at the break with the men in the passing lane. On Monday the centers got their attention and Tuesday was for the men riding shotgun. Wednesday is for the men who like to skate fast and hit hard — the left wings.

The group is split by two players who like to let their speed make statements, Marco Sturm and Daniel Paille, and two men who often let their fists do the talking, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton.

On Thursday we will look at the top three defensemen on the roster and the three back blue liners on Friday before finishing up with the goaltending situation on Saturday.

Without further ado  . . . .

Sturm — Last September the Big Bad Blog took a look at what Sturm would mean to the Bruins offense this year. The idea was that Sturm would be able to fill in the goal-scoring production of the departed Phil Kessel and, if the rest of the team played to its 2008-09 levels, then the Bruins would still be near the top of the leading in scoring.

So much for that.

Last season the Bruins were second in the league in scoring with 3.29 goals per game, almost all of which was done without Sturm because of a knee injury. This year the Bruins have receded to below 2006-07 and 2007-08 levels when they scored 2.56 and 2.51 goals per game, respectively. At 2.35 goals per game this season the Bruins are dead last in the NHL in scoring with the next closest team (Edmonton at 2.43) almost a full tenth of a point ahead of them.

Call it the curse of Sturm.

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Bruins breakdown: Riding shotgun

02.23.10 at 12:33 pm ET
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On Monday we took a closer look at the Bruins centers, Tuesday is time for the men riding shotgun — the right wingmen.

This group of forwards includes Blake Wheeler, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Miroslav Satan and Byron Bitz. Note that for the sake of breakdown this group is demarcated by official roster designation, not where the player always plays on the ice. For instance, when Wheeler and Ryder are on the same line, as they often are, it will usually be Wheeler who jumps to the left side.

So, let’s take a look at what is cooking on the right side of the aisle. On Wednesday we will look at their left wing counterparts.

Ryder — Is there any other player on the Bruins roster (outside of Tim Thomas currently) who is more persona non grata than Ryder? He was a productive player in Montreal but ended up in Guy Carbonneau’s doghouse and his production suffered. He then came to Boston to reunite with Claude Julien with the hope of regaining his spark. It is not the first time that a player has jumped from Hab to Hub (or vice versa) but, really, two Original Six teams with rabid, unforgiving fan bases one right after the other? No pressure there.

There are a few factors that are always sure to set fans off regarding particular players. One is being a high paid player who does not produce. Another is being a top six forward who in a scoring slump. The third, and most pertinent in this case, is not living up to expectations.

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Bruins breakdown: Centering in

02.22.10 at 3:48 pm ET
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What is the best thing about the final week of Olympic hockey? Well, despite the drama of the United States first Olympic victory over Canada since the 1960 “Forgotten Miracle” and the excitement of watching Jaromir Jagr play again, the best thing about the final week of the Olympics is that it means the Bruins will be back in action next week. The Hub hockey fans get to see if the four-game road winning streak before the break was a sign that the Bruins are ready to climb back into contention, or if it was a rare positive flash in an otherwise dreadful season.

In that mindset, the Big Bad Blog is going to breakdown the Bruins roster by position this week in an attempt to see where this teams stands. On Monday, we will be looking at the men in the middle — the centers.

(Note: Practice starts for the non-Olympic players (and those not still playing) on Thursday at Ristuccia Arena.)

The strength of the 2009-10 Bruins is definitely down the middle. Barring injury, the best Boston production Boston has to offer lays on the sticks of Marc Savard, David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. Let’s take a closer look at what each has to offer:

Savard: The gatekeeper of the Bruins attack, Savard has missed significant time though still is third on the team with 31 points in 37 games (behind Bergeron and captain Zdeno Chara). A couple of reporters were joking with P.J. Axelsson last year after he scored a goal playing on a line with Savard, and a reporter said, “Savard could feed a horse and it would score.” Axelsson just laughed and nodded, knowing the jibe was as much about his lack of scoring prowess as much as Savard’s innate ability to put the puck in the right place at the right time.

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Update: Bruins in the Olympics

02.18.10 at 3:47 pm ET
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Six Bruins are playing in the Olympics in Vancouver. The first round of preliminary games has been played, let’s take a look how the boys from the black and gold have faired.

Canada

Patrice Bergeron – The Bruins center had 12:50 of ice time in Canada’s 8-0 win against Norway on Tuesday. Bergeron had an assist on Mike Richard’s goal that made it 3-0 in the second period. Bergeron had a plus/minus of 1 and two penalty minutes with an interference call in the second period.

Germany

Marco Sturm — The German captain had 15:14 of ice time and two shots on goal in Sweden’s 2-0 win on Wednesday.

Slovakia

Zdeno Chara — The Slovakian captain had four penalty minutes and a shot on goal in 26:28 of ice time in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss to the Czech Republic.

Miroslav Satan — The Bruins front line forward was a scratch against the Czech’s. Satan sustained a laceration to his hand against Tampa Bay last Thursday before the break.

Czech Republic

David Krejci — The Bruins second line center had a shot of goal in 14:20 of ice time against the Czech’s.

United States

Tim Thomas — Dressed as Ryan Miller’s backup against Switzerland on Tuesday and Norway on Thursday.

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Olympic hockey: Group C breakdown

02.16.10 at 4:56 pm ET
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With all the great names in Group A and B, it is easy to overlook the fact that Group C has the gold and silver medal winners from 2006 in Sweden and Finland, respectively. It also could be called the Group of Brothers, as some prominent siblings dot the rosters such as Daniel and Henrik Sedin of Sweden, Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn of Belarus (though Andrei will not play because of injury), and Jarkko and Tuomo Ruutu as well as Saku and Mikko Koivu of Finland. This group should be a battle between the Nordic clubs, with Belarus able to steal some points and Germany an also-ran unless the injuries that forced some last-minute turnover to the Belarus roster cripples the team.

Schedule (All times ET)

Feb. 17 — Finland vs. Belarus, 3 p.m.

Feb. 17 — Sweden vs. Germany, 7:30 p.m.

Feb. 19 — Belarus vs. Sweden, 3 p.m.

Feb. 19 — Finland vs. Germany, midnight

Feb. 20 — Germany vs. Belarus, midnight

Feb. 21 — Sweden vs. Finland, midnight

Sweden

Captain — Nicklas Lidstrom

Assistants — Daniel Alfredsson, Henrik Zetterberg

Goaltenders — Jonas Gustavsson, Stefan Liv, Henrik Lundqvist

Players to Watch — Nicklas Backstrom, Peter Forsberg, Daniel and Henrik Sedin

Breakdown — Sweden is the defending goal medal winner and will be tough in Vancouver. Lundqvist could carry the team to the medal round if he gets hot, and the Sedin brothers are a formidable pair wherever they play. Forsberg has two gold medals to his credit, as he scored the game-winner in the 1994 games in a shootout in the gold medal game. The Sedin brothers do not have to travel far, as they play for the Vancouver Canucks and will be in their home building.

Finland

Captain — Saku Koivu

Assistants — Kimmo Timonen, Teemu Selanne

Goaltenders — Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff, Antero Niittymaki

Players to Watch — Tuomo and Jarkko Ruuto, Mikko and Saku Koivu, Selanne and any of the three goaltenders

Breakdown — The biggest decision for Finland coach Jukka Jalonen will be which goaltender will get the majority of the time. Based on NHL numbers this season, the pick would be Kiprusoff (.925 save percentage, 2.18 goals against for Calgary) over Niittymaki (.917, 2.55) but that would be to forget that Niittymaki was the MVP of the 2006 Olympics with only eight goals against during the entire tournament despite losing to Sweden at the end. Selanne was named the best forward in 2006, and with Timonen, they give the team a solid veteran backbone.

Belarus

Captain — Ruslan Salei

Assistants — Viktor Kostiuchenok, Alexei Ugarov

Goaltenders — Vitali Koval, Maxim Malyutin, Andrei Mezin

Players to Watch — Sergei Kostitsyn, Salei

Breakdown — Belarus is ranked eighth in the International Ice Hockey Federation rankings and has a smattering of NHL talent in the Kostitsyn brothers, Salei of the Avalanche and Grabovski of the Maple Leafs. Belarus is not at the level of the Great Seven of the United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and Slovakia, but it definitely has enough talent to be better than Norway, Latvia and Germany. The team has lost a little depth with Andrei Kostitsyn and Mikhail Grabovski missing because of injury along with four other non-NHL players who were on the original roster. A quarterfinals appearance is not out of the realm of possibility.

Germany

Captain — Marco Sturm

Assistants — Dennis Seidenberg, Sven Felski

Players to Watch — Sturm, Seidenberg, Jochen Hecht, Alexander Sulzer, Marcel Goc

Bruins on the roster — Sturm

Breakdown — As Germany is a major industrialized nation, it is a wonder that this country has never been good at hockey, even after being reunified. Sturm, the Bruins’ leading scorer, is the headliner of the roster and Seidenberg is a good defenseman. Predators teammates Sulzer and Goc provide some NHL experience, and Hecht played in the 2002 Olympics but missed the 2006 games with an injury.

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