|10.09.10 at 2:38 pm ET|
PRAGUE — The Bruins are, quite clearly, one of the NHL’s elite teams on paper. They did everything they could for the first two periods of Saturday’s season-opener to suggest otherwise, and the glimpses of promise they did show in the third period proved to be too little, too late. The team showed all sorts of offensive and defensive weaknesses as they dropped the opener in Prague, 5-2, to the Coyotes.
Though he did allow four goals in the game, Tuukka Rask didn’t exactly struggle, as one of Phoenix’ goals came on the flukiest of plays and another came on a breakaway caused by a Daniel Paille gaffe.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS
– Matt Hunwick. To those on twitter during the game, the poor guy was the subject of about 80 percent of the tweets from either Bruins or fans, and for good reason. Beginning the game paired with Dennis Seidenberg, Hunwick was on the ice for all of the Coyotes’ first three tallies of the game, giving him a headstart on a terrible plus/minus.
– General sloppy play was the norm from the Bruins in all three areas on Saturday. Players up and down the roster, from Hunwick, to Blake Wheeler, to Paille, to newly re-signed captain Zdeno Chara, killed chances at offensive opportunities by either squandering the puck or holding onto it too long.
– The power play was unproductive, but when a team gets shut out it’s to be expected that they didn’t produce on the man advantage. At any rate, the team went 0-3 on the power play through the first two periods (they’d later get Nathan Horton’s second goal of the game on a man advantage in the third) and gave up a couple of real scoring opportunities to the shorthanded Coyotes.
The team, as is well documented, was the worst in the league when it came to burying the biscuit (2.39 goals per game), and their power play wasn’t much better. The Bruins finished the season with a 16.6 power play percentage, good for 23rd in the NHL. The additions of Seguin and Horton should improve both categories, but there wasn’t much from the team on the night to suggest it.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS
– These are going to be a bit redundant because Nathan Horton was so clearly the Bruins’ most valuable player for the Bruins on Saturday. Here’s the separate one dedicated just to Horton: He can’t be beat from in front of the net. He missed early on in the game by firing one wide at the gloveside of Ilya Bryzgalov, but beat the Phoenix goaltender with his lethal wrist shot on the next two chances. He tried to downplay the possibility of him being a 40-goal-scorer this year, but he’s the complete package.
– The first line showed what it’s made of. In addition to Milan Lucic’s physicality and David Krejci’s craftiness (he embarrassed Adrian Aucoin early in the third period at the blueline with a move that dropped the defenseman to the ice based on pure confusion), but Nathan Horton was allowed to do what he does best: fire off a wrister from the hashmark. Lucic hit him from behind the net to set up the team’s only goal of the game at 3:33 of the game.
– Gregory Campbell is going to be a difficult player for Bruins fans not to like. Following Horton’s first goal, he gave the Bruins a little more momentum in the third period by dropping the gloves with Coyotes center Vernon Fiddler. He took a bad slashing penalty with less than 10 minutes to go and his team trailing by two, but aside from that he came as advertised — a solid bottom-six forward who despite not having major strengths, has no major weaknesses.
|10.09.10 at 1:45 pm ET|
PRAGUE –The Bruins have let sloppy play define the first two periods of their 2010-11 season, and as a result find themselves trailing the Coyotes, 4-0 heading into the third period. For a team that didn’t have to play from behind much a large chunk of the time in the preseason, it will be interesting to see how they respond.
The Coyotes potted their second goal of the game at 1:59 of the period when Tuukka Rask, a down and a bit deep in his net, was beaten top shelf on a rebound by Phoenix winger Taylor Pyatt. Daniel Paille later gave away a puck in the offensive zone to a flying Scottie Upshall, who walked in on Rask and beat him low stickside. Then, with 16.1 seconds remaining in the period, Eric Belanger took a Ray Whitney pass in across the net and converted it into the Coyotes’ fourth goal.
Tyler Seguin logged the most first-period ice time for the Bruins, but after two periods is a minus-two. The only player with a worse rating would be Matt Hunwick, who was moved off his pairing halfway through the period. Dennis Seidenberg is now skating with Mark Stuart.
|10.09.10 at 12:50 pm ET|
PRAGUE — Through 20 minutes of regular season play, one conclusion can be drawn: The Bruins take the “power” out of “power play.” The team went 0-for-3 with Phoenix skaters in the sin bin as they enter the locker room trailing, 1-0.
Radim Vrbata got the scoring started for the Coyotes, taking a baseball swing at a floating puck to the side of the net, courtesy of an errant Adrian Aucoin slapshot from the point. The Bruins shouldn’t lose sleep over the quirky goal, though they twice allowed shorthanded breakaways to the Coyotes, the second of which was the fault of a Zdeno Chara turnover.
The Bruins had scoring opportunities but struggled to hit the net when it counted. Michael Ryder let one fly gloveside and wide of the net early in the period from the circle, while Nathan Horton for seemingly the first time in a Bruins uniform failed to convert from the hashmarks. His wristshot, twice the ammunition used to notch goals in the preseason, also sailed wide to the left of Phoenix goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
The Bruins outshot the Coyotes in the period, 15-12.
|10.09.10 at 12:02 pm ET|
PRAGUE — The Bruins and captain Zdeno Chara have agreed to a seven-year contract extension hours before the season-opener against the Coyotes at O2 Arena in Prague. The agreement was first reported by the Boston Globe.
Speaking with WEEI.com and other outlets last week, Chara did not keep his desire to stay in Boston a secret while also stating in Belfast that though he would like to play until his mid-40’s, he planned on it taking more than one deal to finish his career. Dupont writes that Chara, 33, will see his new deal carry a cap hit in the mid-to-upper $6 million range. His current deal carries a team-high $7.5 million hit.
Chara is entering the final year of a five-year, $37.5 million deal signed in 2006 after beginning his career with the Islanders and Senators. He has served as captain for his entire Bruins career. In 847 career games in the NHL, the Slovakian defenseman has scored 111 goals and picked up 252 assists 363 points.
|10.09.10 at 6:18 am ET|
PRAGUE — After taking in the Bruins’ final skate before they take the ice for real against the Coyotes, it’s quite apparent that they’ve had enough of the preseason. It’s been a blast seeing Europe for some of these guys, but they’re ready to begin the process of making last season’s playoff collapse a distant memory.
Camp has been long enough. We’ve had the opportunity to do different things and try different things and get our team ready for the season-opener. Now it’s time to get going here. I think everybody’s anxious to get the regular season going.
“It’s a different feeling,” Nathan Horton said following the skate. “The preseason is nice, but this is a different feeling already this morning [in practice]. Everyone’s excited it’s finally here.”
Horton and second overal pick Tyler Seguin have both been cast as the offensive saviors for a club that finished last in the NHL with 2.39 goals per game last season. While both have impressed in the preseason — Horton more so than Seguin based on experience — Claude Julien cautioned those on hand Saturday morning to not place too high of expectations on the young scorers.
“I don’t think we should expect more [from Horton and Seguin] than we should expect from the rest of our team,” Julien said. “Those guys have come in and they know what their strengths are and what they need and want to do to help this team succeed. That’s basically what we need from those kind of guys. Horton’s a guy who can score goals, and I think he’s proven throughout the preseason that he can do that, and we expect him to continue doing that.
“A young kid like Seguin, with three goals in the last two games, I think he’s already proven that he can play at this level, and we have to give him that opportunity to keep growing with our hockey club without putting excess pressure on his shoulders. I think it’s up to us as a team to really come together.”
Horton, the third overall pick in the 2003 NHL draft, spent the first six seasons in the NHL with the Panthers, never once tasting playoff hockey. He’s voiced his excitement with the town and the organization since being acquired in June via trade, but he hasn’t been the only one chirping since the move. Prognosticators have been particularly high on Horton now that he’s a Bruin, and though he’s had just one 30-goal season to this point, some feel he could be a 40-goal scorer.
In chatting with Horton after the skate, it seemed as good a time as any to ask. Over or under 40 goals this season?
Horton, who smiles so much that this writer suspects it could just be his bone structure, grinned and responded, “I’m aiming [for it]. I’m trying my best.”
Horton, 25, will skate on the first line, centered by David Krejci with Milan Lucic on the left wing. The line makes for one of the more physical first lines throughout the league, with Horton having a reputation for his physicality and Lucic a fan favorite for his bruising style of play. As a result, Horton reiterated his stance that Lucic, 22, is “the ultimate hockey player.”
“We have a pretty tough team. You have to use it to your advantage. Any time you’re playing a team that’s tough, it’s hard to play against [them]. It’s not fun, and we want to make it like that tonight.”
The defensive pairings have been tough to get a read on due to how much they’ve been moved around, but here’s a safe bet for the forward lines for Saturday night.
Lucic – Krejci – Horton
Wheeler- Bergeron – Recchi
Paille – Seguin – Ryder
Marchand – Campbell – Thornton
Expect Tuukka Rask to be in net.
Here are the preseason leaders, courtesy of the Bruins.
1. Patrice Bergeron, 8
2. Tyler Seguin, 5
2. Zdeno Chara, 5
4. Matt Bartkowski, 4
Here’s one final big-picture quote from Julien this morning:
“Everybody has something that they excel in, as far as their roles are concerned, whether it’s goal-scoring, whether it’s physical play. If we put it all together and we do it well, we’ve got a pretty good hockey club.”
|10.09.10 at 5:18 am ET|
PRAGUE — As anyone who’s been there will tell you, Prague is a beautiful city. The people are friendly, the food is delicious, and it’s a great town to walk through. Reading about it would suggest that pickpocketing would prevent one from taking too many strolls, but this writer’s experience has suggested far to the contrary.
That isn’t to say that a North American doesn’t run a risk of losing some cash on the streets of good ol’ Praha, as third-line winger Daniel Paille can now attest to. Walking to the team’s hotel, located in downtown Prague, Paille and sports psychologist Max Offenberger, who is travelling with the team, were ticketed Thursday for jaywalking. The offense cost Paille and Offenberger 200 Czech Crowns apiece.
Do you know how much money that is?
Very, very little. It’s a little more than $11.
Though he was fine with the fine, Paille was caught off guard when approached by the two heroic officers who put an end to his reckless steps.
“We were walking across the street and the cops were right on the corner,” Paille said. “They let us walk to the corner of the street and gave us a ticket.”
So they just let it happen? They didn’t try to stop you?
“Oh yeah. They were right there. I had heard that they gave tickets for jaywalking, but I wasn’t actually sure how serious they were about. Yeah, they’re pretty serious,” Paille added with a laugh.
After dealing with the two officers, one of whom was English-speaking, the other “having no clue” what they were saying, Paille would like to put his law-breaking days behind him. One can only hope that the mild-mannered Paille hasn’t developed a reputation around Prague.
“I don’t think so. Not for jaywalking, anyways,” Paille said. “It’s kind of funny how it all turned out, but obviously it’s a good story.”
TYLER SEGUIN’S OTHER GIFT
Seguin is considered one of the top young talents in the league without having played in a regular season game. His skills make him projectable as eventually being one of the league’s premier scorers, but Saturday morning revealed another talent of his: impersonating Daniel Paille just well enough to fool this reporter.
In chatting with Paille about his own development, I asked him if he feels that at age 26, he’s reached his potential yet, or if the former 20th overall pick has a ways to go before arriving at his ceiling.
“Obviously, it’s something that I’ve been looking forward to, that I’d want in my career,” Paille said of becoming a better offensive player. “I’m definitely looking to help out offensively throughout this coming season.”
With my head in my notepad, writing down his comments, I ask him what he thinks of skating on the third line. What does he make of Seguin?
“Oh, he’s a beauty.”
Heh? Players throughout the locker room have spoken highly of Seguin and his scoring touch, but practically busting out a classic from The Tubes for the rookie? Really? I look up to see a grinning Seguin passing by and pinch-hitting for Paille in the discussion.
|10.08.10 at 12:32 pm ET|
PRAGUE — There are plenty of determining factors that go into whether a team looks to sign a player, whether in free agency or through the process of re-upping their own guys. One factor that can turn an enticing player into a heaping bowl of plutonium is the three most dreaded words in all of sports: history of concussions.
Patrice Bergeron, who on Friday agreed to a three-year extension with the Bruins worth $15 million, unfortunately is quite familiar with concussions, having suffered a brutal Randy Jones hit from behind on October 27, 2007. Just 10 games in, Bergeron was done for the season and would not return until the following campaign.
“I still remember that arena being so quiet as a coach, and the players. Really it seemed to rattle the whole bench. The first thing you want to do when the game is over is not even talk about the game, but go and see him and make sure that everything’s fine, because it was a real close call. It was one that could have easily ended his career,” Claude Julien said on Friday. “The thing that we really wanted to do was make sure that the person was taken care of first and foremost.”
Julien added that despite Bergeron wanting to return for the playoffs that season, much like Marc Savard did this past season, the Bruins decided that taking the entire season and offseason to get his health in tip top shape was the safest route for a guy who was just 22 years of age and dealing with such a serious injury.
“We were going to be as patient as we needed to be, we were going to be as supportive as we needed to be,” Julien said. “He never played the rest of that year. I know at one point he wanted to come in and play in the layoffs, but at that point we made a decision that it would be better off not to and wait a little bit more.”
Bergeron spoke on Friday of how much the team looking after his wellbeing rather than trying to get as much production as they could meant to him. Sitting at his press conference at O2 arena in Prague, he made it clear just how respected and valued the team’s treatment of him feel in the post-concussion process.
Of course, the Jones hit would not be the last of Bergeron’s dealings with concussions. A December 2008 collision with Dennis Seidenberg, then of the Hurricanes, left him once again flat on the ice with what would later be determined to be his second concussion in the span of 15 months.
Julien said that it was natural to “start worrying again” after the Seidenberg collision, but gave Bergeron much-deserved credit for letting things like his two-way style of play, as well as his leadership, define who he’s been as a player rather the concussions. As the Savard situation has illustrated all too clearly, concussions are a messy affair, and one that makes projecting the future almost impossible. With Bergeron primed for a big season and still with room to grow offensively, the Bruins couldn’t have hoped for a better result in wake of two of the darker moments in recent franchise history.
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