|02.11.09 at 7:37 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Phil Kessel is quick to admit that he’s frustrated after going a season-high 10 long games without lighting the goal lamp.
For a 21-year-old that was on pace to score 50 goals during a white hot first half of the hockey season, it’s a pretty stunning cold stretch for a young sniper that had seemed to be putting it all together. During those aforementioned 10 games Kessel has managed only four assists and is sitting at a -1 amid a battlefield of hockey games against playoff teams across the Eastern and Western Conference.
It should be noted that Kessel — who missed a handful of January games with mononucleosis and has been mired in the goal-less stretch in games sandwiched around the illness — said he’s only felt 100 percent himself on the ice in the last few games. But it’s clear that Kessel has been among the stick-wielding culprits in a Boston offensive slowdown since the All-Star break that’s seen them average only 2.6 goals per game over their last eight games.
The B’s right winger has already set career highs in virtually every offensive category this year as he heads into restricted free agency, but that doesn’t stop this current slump from bugging the Bruin.
“Obviously you get a little frustrated, but you’ve got to go out there and keep doing your job until things change,” said Kessel, of the longest goal-scoring drought of what’s been a pretty charmed season for the third-year skater. “I’ve had some good opportunities, but they’re not going in. You’ve got to keep going and try to get back into it.
It’s gonna come…stuff changes,” added Kessel. “It’s a funny game like that. You go through little stretches and stuff won’t go in. You get a little frustrated, but things will turn.”
Some of it has been an inability to get to the spots and creases he found so plentiful in the first half of the season, and some of it has simply been getting back into the flow with linemates Marc Savard and Milan Lucic. Kessel has averaged 3.3 shots per game over the course of the season, but he’s dropped down to 2.4 shots per game since coming back from mono on Jan. 29.
Bruins coach Claude Julien pointed to some progress in Kessel’s game, but there’s still improvement to be made in getting to the grimy areas of the ice and “digging deeper” after the coaching staff went through video work with the young forward last week.
“He’s gotten some chances,” said Julien. ”Sometimes you can work at creating more as well. But it’s never a one-sided thing. The fact that he’s getting some chances is a good sign, but you’ve also got to find a way to bury those and dig deeper to score goals. That’s what good goal scorers do.”
–B’s coach Claude Julien didn’t have anything to add to the conditions of injured players Petteri Nokelainen (eye) and Chuck Kobasew (upper body, lower body, knee), and said they will both be evaluated and perhaps an update will be available on Thursday. Kobasew was at the B’s practice rink to receive treatment on Wednesday morning, but didn’t get out on the ice.
|02.10.09 at 11:38 pm ET|
Maybe the Bruins needed that.
Maybe it was a wakeup call.
And maybe, just maybe, Joe Thornton is right.
When they’re on, no one can be the San Jose Sharks, not even the Black and Gold.
Thornton gave us all this little nugget afterward when he said no one can handle the Sharks.
Though for two periods on Tuesday night, they appeared ready to take the bite out of the Sharks, leading San Jose, 2-1.
But then they dropped the puck in the third and the Sharks circled and cycled and tore into the Bruins.
San Jose scored four times in the third period on their way to a 5-2 win, their 37th of the season, just two fewer than Boston and they drew to within four points of Boston’s 85 for top spot in the NHL.
Thornton did score in his return, making his comeback to Boston a pleasant one.
The Bruins could rely on just three lines because of injuries to Michael Ryder and a nasty eye injury late in the first period to Petteri Nokelainen.
|02.10.09 at 11:20 pm ET|
The script had a deliciously Boston flavor to it after the first two periods of play last night, but Jumbo Joe Thornton got the last surfer boy chuckle in a 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks at a jazzed up TD Banknorth Garden.
Milan Lucic banked himself a pair of blue-collar goals in the first period to push the Bruins out to a 2-1 lead, and the Bruins had their new punch ‘em out/light ‘em up face on the franchise staring down their old hockey hero in the NHL “Best of the Best” showdown. Looch had two goals, four bone-shattering hits and a +2 after two periods of play, and Thornton was doing his best “vintage 2003-04 big game no-show” impression with a -1, one measly shot on net and a generally invisible game in this second Hub homecoming.
But everything turned in the fateful third period. Up became down, and down became up. The Bruins, normally dominant in the final period, coughed up four goals over the final 20 minutes and looked like a weary and beaten team with the rest of the hockey world watching.
A B’s team that has prided itself on being tough to play against suddenly lost a pair of forwards (Petteri Nokelainen, Chuck Kobasew) to injury and their hockey mojo — as the inimitable Dave Lewis would put it — seemed to shrink back before San Jose’s challenge. The Bruins managed only seven shots despite a pair of power play opportunities during a limp third period performance, and watched as the Sharks poured it on with four unanswered goals en route to Boston’s worst defeat of the season.
“Our third period has been our best period most of the year,” said Marc Savard. “It’s really frustrating. It’s almost…I’m mad right now. I’m really mad right now because we had a chance to set a statement tonight here, and we let it slip in 20 minutes of play. It’s frustrating, I think, to all of us.”
The backbreaker in this frozen sheet horror show, you ask?
That would the insurance marker scored by the once-invisible Jumbo Joe, who picked the exact opportune time to drop his 6-foot-4, 235-pound body right in front of the net with 9:48 to go in the third period. Devin Setoguchi whistled a pass from the corner that simply deflected off Thornton’s shimmering skate blade and then slipped between Tim Thomas’ pads.
“I think midway through the game we kind of turned it on and when we do that team can’t handle us,” said Thornton in perfect bulletin board form. “That’s what you saw tonight. Just our size, our speed, everything. You can’t handle the Sharks for 60 minutes.”
It was the perfect storm of absurdity for the Boston hockey fan. They watched their former No. 1 draft pick and Bruins poster boy venture to the treacherous middle — a place where he would never set up as a member of the Black and Gold — and get rewarded with the fickle bounce of a puck that both cinched the game and gave the Big Lug his cathartic Boston moment — a cherry on top of the puck sundae that he had surely always craved while surfing along the Pacific Ocean in lovely San Jose.
While the goal clearly brought a smile to the happy-go-lucky face of the former Bruins star, it probably brought a good faction of the B’s fandom running for some Puck Pepto-Bismol with the familiar sinking feeling in their collective stomachs. Instead of the deja vu appearance of Thornton prepping for his next playoff no-show, the Bruins are instead a team that’s beginning to show cracks and weakness where once they appeared young, strong and invincible.
The numbers don’t lie and younger players like David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel are continuing to recede to the background as the NHL seasons turns into the final stretch — and the hockey-playing men go out hunting for playoff spots. Boston’s power play has been sapped of its energy over the nine-game stretch they just completed against playoff-caliber opponents, and they’ve been held without a power play score in six of their last seven games. The B’s man advantage has gone 2-for-30 during that seven-game stretch, which gives them a 6.7 percent success rate and has seen them drop from a 25 percent success rate to 23.3 in just nine games.
So much for Jack Edwards’ ”Peach Fuzz” power play that shocked and amazed over the first four months of the NHL season.
“I don’t think we’re moving the puck with enough authority, we’re not moving it quick enough and we’re definitely not strong enough on the puck,” said Julien. “You’ve got to work the PK. Those three things aren’t happening right now.”
The numbers weren’t too pretty for the young players that have looked altogether too invisible and timid on the puck as the physicality has increased. To wit:
*David Krejci — 17:01 of ice time, no points, -1 for the game, and zero shots on net.
*Blake Wheeler — 13:07 of ice time, no points, and four shots on net.
*Phil Kessel — 19:43 of ice time, no points, and three shots on net.
That trio certainly weren’t the only players that couldn’t distinguish themselves in the ultimate “statement game” the Bruins will play during the regular season — Patrice Bergeron, P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle had a pretty rough ride of it as well — but they simply appeared overmatched amongst the tall trees within the big-bodied Sharks lineup. It’s a stark contrast to a first half that saw them set the NHL world on their ear, and it’s something that will need to change before the ultimate hockey tournament begins in April.
“I think obviously with our youth that we’re still learning,” said defenseman Aaron Ward. “With our team, we’ve obviously got some lessons to learn with our competition. Big game against Jersey coming up, and we have to realize that every game is important whether or not it’s in a national level like it was today or it’s a game against a conference foe that means a lot more in the standings.”
Medical Ward: Petteri Nokelainen was hit in the eye with a high stick by Sharks D-man Dan Boyle at the end of the first period, and many of his teammates and coaches were voicing concern after the game while the Finnish forward was getting treatment at a nearby hospital. “It’s an eye injury and I don’t think it looks very good right now,” said B’s coach Claude Julien.
Chuck Kobasew managed to play 14:35, but suffered both a lower body and upper body injury in the second and third periods.
B’s Player of the Game: Milan Lucic had nothing to hang his head about after the game as he made himself a physical presence during the game and scored both of Boston’s goals in the first period. Looch would have been hailed as a hero had the Bruins answered San Jose’s call to hockey arms in the third period.
Goat Horns: Patrice Bergeron took Boston’s only penalty, which led to a power play goal, was a -2 for the evening, wasn’t a factor while running the point on the first power play, lost 8 of 11 faceoffs in a forgettable night for the B’s from the dot and just didn’t look strong on the puck amidst the playoff intensity. There was plenty to go around in this category, however.
Turning Point: Both referees Chris Rooney Don Van Massenhoven missed a high sticking call on Dan Boyle that ripped open a cut around Petteri Nokelainen’s right eye at the end of the first period — an injury that sent Nokelainen to the hospital. The B’s missed out an obvious four minute power play for the high-stick that drew blood, and the Sharks began stealing momentum away from a B’s team with a shortened bench.
|02.10.09 at 9:15 pm ET|
Jumbo Joe Thornton finally showed up in the third period of his second homecoming as a Devin Setoguchi pass from behind the net glance off his right skate and snuck between Tim Thomas’ pads midway through the period. The goal gives the Sharks a two-goal lead as the Bruins have been held off the scoreboard since Milan Lucic’s two scores in the third period.
|02.10.09 at 9:04 pm ET|
Sharks center Patrick Marleau tied things up in the third period for the Sharks when he beat Dennis Wideman to a loose puck in front of the net, and banged home the deflected puck past Tim Thomas. The score is tied 2-2 with 13:19 to go in an evenly-matched game that’s lived up to the billing.
|02.10.09 at 8:31 pm ET|
Petteri Nokelainen was hit with a high stick in the final seconds of the first period, and B’s media relations just announced that “he won’t be returning” to tonight’s game due to the injury. Chuck Kobasew took Nokelainen’s place alongside Krejci and Wheeler at the beginning of the period, but coach Claude Julien has been mixing and matching lines during the period.
|02.10.09 at 7:47 pm ET|
Petteri Nokealainen just skated off with a huge gash at or above his right eye following a high stick from Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle — an infraction that was never called by the ref display several clear replays that showed Boyle’s stick rode up and caught Nokelainen flush in the face.
That is the second right winger — if you’re keeping count — that’s gone down on the Blake Wheeler/David Krejci line as a result of a high stick to the grill. The B’s still lead the Sharks after one period of play.
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