|03.22.09 at 12:23 pm ET|
I selfishly refuse to give WEEI flash guy — and puck enthusiast — Pete Sheppard any credit after swiping his “psychologically damaged” theory and applying it to the Bruins’ play over the last two months.
But I truly believe what I wrote about weeks ago and said again during a segment with Mike Giardi on NECN’s “Sports Late Night” Saturday night.
The Black and Gold haven’t been the same confident, brash, bad to the bone hockey bunch since the San Jose Sharks stormed into Boston for a nationally-hyped “Best vs. the Best” game in early February and simply dropped the Bruins in the dust during an eye-opening third period. The game certainly didn’t provide a blue print to beat the Bruins because A) there aren’t many other teams with the personnel that the Sharks employ to exploit a team like the Bruins and B) there isn’t a lot of credence in “figuring out” a team’s system and beating them because of it.
It’s not about the systems — as it might be in football — but it’s more about the players’ talent level, their willingness to buy into said system and their adherence to disciplined hockey while also utilizing the requisite amount of blood and guts passion. It’s something Bruins fans haven’t seen much of lately as the B’s were treading water in February (6-4-3) and have really stumbled in the merry month of March (3-5-1).
Following that Sharks tilt on Feb. 10, the Bruins have sputtered to a 6-8-3 record and haven’t been able to capture their past puck mojo for more than a game or two at a time. There were — at points — a couple of back-to-back blowout wins that seemed to signal the Big Bad B’s were back, but they haven’t been able to sustain it.
Perhaps the stunning defeat to the Sharks caused some of the young players to start questioning their respective games, and caused them to wonder just how good this hockey team really is — a pair of questions that everyone will have much clearer answers to following this afternoon’s tilt vs. Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils.
The Bruins need to start putting the fear back into opponents looking to get the upper hand against a squad that Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton has called “team tough” throughout the hockey season — a fear and intimidation factor that’s now clearly missing when teams like the Coyotes and Kings are able to pull out victories during an…ahem…March playoff drive.
“I’ve said it all along that adversity is something we had to go through during the year, and it’s just a matter of how we get out of it,” said Patrice Bergeron. “We need to get our focus back by staying sharp and alert — and then we need to bring our passion back. (Sunday’s game against the Devils) is a game that everybody knows what is at stake, and how good they’re playing. It’s a challenge and we’ve been answering the bell all year. I think we’re ready for this one, and we know exactly what we’re up against.”
With your moment of hockey zen from Bergeron over with, here’s Saturday Night Hockey Talk with Mike Giardi. It’s not quite Coach’s Corner with Don Cherry, but I can go pick up some fabric from the curtain store, fashion myself a pin-striped zuit suit and try to channel Grapes again next time I’m on the air:
|03.21.09 at 2:03 pm ET|
Fantastic meltdown by Providence Bruins goaltender, and 22-year-old wonderboy Bruins prospect, Tuukka Rask after losing a 1-0 shootout to the Albany River Rats at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center in Providence last night. Rask had an issue with a pair of goals during the shootout session, and proceeded to slam his paddle against the crossbar and the boards before tossing a crate in a fit of pique out onto the ice in exasperation.
The first appears to be a shot that he had saved and play had stopped before the Albany skater popped the puck into the net, and the second shot appeared to ring off the post — but was also called a goal by the AHL officials.
We’ve heard — and seen — strong evidence of Tim Thomas and famous competitive temper when things don’t go his way in the game of hockey, but Rask had seemed like a pretty mild-mannered netminder. Until last night, that is, courtesy of footage from www.abc6.comvia youtube.
|03.20.09 at 12:49 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli said that B’s coach Claude Julien’s job is safe under no uncertain terms despite the hockey team’s recent struggles. The Black and Gold are 3-5-1 during a miserable month of March, and have watched as teams like the Washington Capitals and New Jersey Devils have both closed to within five points of their Eastern Conference lead.
Despite some lackluster play – and the fact that Julien was given the gate just before the playoffs during his last job coaching the Devils in 2006-07 — the B’s bench boss isn’t going anywhere, and Chiarelli indicated that
“(Julien getting fired) is 100 percent not possible,” said Chiarelli, speaking while his team practiced at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington this afternoon. “That’s not possible.
“It’s really about work ethic and winning puck battles,” added Chiarelli. “That’s been a trademark of our team, but it definitely hasn’t been there in the last 15-20 games. There’s nothing magic to it. There has to be a better work ethic and we have to grind our way through it. We know that we can play at a level that will produce great results in this league, and we’ve got to get back to it. There’s an element of complacency with the players. It may be that they’re 98 percent ready to go, and there’s only 2 percent. But you have to be at 100 percent.”
Julien, however, stepped back a bit from hisearlier charge that his hockey club was routinely getting outworked and both coach and GM pointed toward a mental/confidence component to their game — many players simply aren’t as aggressive as they were in the first half of the year. The defenseman are playing too much East-West hockey rather than moving the puck North-South and straight up the ice, and there’s a tightness in the locker room that Julien and his staff are looking to alleviate.
Julien, rather than putting his team through a bag skate, ran a scrimmage and shootout drill that he said was more competitive and better-played than the Thursday night game against the LA Kings.
“We’re going through a situation as a coaching staff where we’ve got to figure it out and help (the players) find their game,” said Julien. “We felt that our guys were wound up pretty tight. Our goal today was to loosen them up a little bit, and help them get their energy back. To tell you the truth, I thought our scrimmage today was better than our game (last night) and that tells me a lot.
“Certainly those guys, looking at it this morning, they’re feeling the pressure from everything and everybody around them,” added Julien. “They’re putting a lot of pressure on themselves to perform. It’s not from lack of caring or a lack of wanting to do well. You can see it with our players. Our best players have to be our best players, and if they’re pressing then it just isn’t going to happen. At the same time, in order to outwork other teams you have to have fun and be relaxed. If you have that, you have the energy. Right now, we’re wound up so tight and it drains all the energy out of you.”
–Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli confirmed that Carl Soderberg won’t be coming to New England from his Swedish League team, Malmo, to get a taste of North American professional hockey with the Providence Bruins this spring. Bruins officials had hoped the 23-year-old forward Swedish Mystery Man might come over at end of the AHL season and participate in the playoffs — a development that have allowed the club to take a gander at the prospect they received in dealing Hannu Toivonen to the St. Louis Blues.
But no dice from Soderberg, who continues to seem very reluctant to leave his hometown of Malmo and appears much more interested in taking part in World Championship tryouts for the Swedish team.
|03.19.09 at 10:58 pm ET|
Sound the alarms. Blare the horns. It’s time to wake Bob Lobel up from his winter slumber and get a hold of his big red “Panic” button.
Things are going terribly awry for the hockey team on Causeway Street, and Exhibit F in a continuing stream of evidence was on display last night. The Black and Gold warriors blew a two-goal lead in the final 20 minutes of play and coughed the game up in the extra session en route to dropping a 3-2 OT decision to the LA Kings at the TD Banknorth Garden.
It’s the kind of game where a hockey team should almost be embarrassed to take credit for the point in getting to overtime.
“Enough’s enough here,” said Mark Stuart simply following another demoralizing defeat. “We’ve got to start figuring it out, I think.”
The real kicker, you ask?
The Bruins were two points away from clinching a playoff spot headed into Thursday night’s game against the Kings, and couldn’t even close that deal with the proper authority.
As NECN’s Mike Giardi would say “Oh mama…it was ugly.”
Troubled waters and potential icebergs might be right ahead for Boston’s favorite hockey club if they don’t find their Big Bad work ethic and quite a bit of snarl in the next two weeks. The worst thing that could happen to this franchise would be a one-and-out in the playoffs, and that looks more and more like a possibility when a young Kings team marooned in playoff Siberia shows more desire, grit and jump than a Bruins squad with serious Stanley Cup aspirations.
Bruins coach Claude Julien didn’t seem to have any strategical answers or complex reasons why, once again, the Bruins were left shaking their heads and picking up the puck pieces after another blown lead. Instead the B’s bench boss pointed to the work ethic that put them in the Eastern Conference catbird seat.
The work ethic that’s been missing for almost two months now on a consistent basis, and Julien seemed to be considering sending a search posse out for his first power play unit. The man advantage went 0-for-4 and didn’t exactly light up the ice with Grade A opportunities.
“A couple things have to happen. This is basically all I have to say, is that we’re going to have to start out-working other teams from start to finish, like we were earlier in the season,” said Julien. ”Your best players are going to have to find their game and be the best they can be in order for us to get out of it. And I’m not telling you anything that anybody here doesn’t know. That’s basically what we need to do.
“We’re telling them to go out there and out-work the other team. It’s a commitment that you have to make, so whether they’re nervous or not, if it is…it’s of their own doing,” added Julien. “We’re encouraging them to go out there, play hard, and out-work the other team, and when you win races, you win battles, most of the time you win games.”
Things seemed to be following the normal script of late as the B’s skaters built up a 2-0 lead after two periods of play, but couldn’t capitalize on a pair of keyPP chances in the second period. The Bruins never quite stepped on the throat of the temporarily dethroned Kings, and instead the hockey royalty rocked them in the third period.
It’s a malady that’s been all-too constant for the Bruins of late: an early lead gives way as Boston’s opponents clearly aren’t scared or intimidated by a sputtering Boston team anymore, and the ensuing lack of confidence strikes the B’s at the most inopportune times.
“Teams are playing with confidence against us,” said B’s goaltender Tim Thomas, who played brilliantly for much of the game in making 35 saves. “It seems to me that teams, whether we’re on the road or at home, teams are coming up against us and it’s almost like they’ve got the upper hand already because they’re the more confident team. That’s what it seems like anyways.”
It makes one wonder whether this team was ever really as good as the hockey club that dominated other clubs over the first half of the season, or if that was merely a mirage-like run that’s now ancient hockey history with only 10 games remaining to straighten things out.
“We know that things are not going that good for us right now and we have to find our way to get out of it,” B’s winger Michael Ryder. “It’s getting to that time of year where we can’t be looking for our game. We have to make sure to get it back on track as soon as possible.”
The Bruins next face an opponent that could and should snap them out of their prolonged funk: the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are only five points behind the Black and Gold entering Friday, but could potentially pull within one point with victories on Friday vs. the Wild and Sunday afternoon against the shaken-but-not-stirred ’B’.
The Bruins will have a long six day reprieve between games following Sunday’s matinee, and a big victory coupled with a week to heal mentally and physically could be just what the doctor ordered for this stricken team. At least that’s what the players — and the Bruins Faithful that have begun watching the second half with fingers covering their eyes – are hoping.
Injury Ward: Stephane Yelle returned from an upper body injury and played 13:07 total minutes and 2:06 of penalty kill time. Other than Yelle, everyone else appeared to escape the loss healthy.
Player of the Game: Chuck Kobasew and Matt Hunwick were two players that hustled, played physical Bruins hockey and then watched the hockey gods smile on them with good fortune. A solid forecheck by Kobasew set up Mark Recchi’s goal that made it a 2-o hockey game, and Hunwick continues to contribute as a puck-moving offensive defenseman capable of skating, stepping up in the offensive zone and making plays. With a first period goal and a +2 for the evening, Hunny might have earned himself more playing time with his performance on Thursday night.
Goat Horns: Julien called out his best players following the loss, and it’s hard not to notice that Phil Kessel didn’t register a single shot and the Marc Savard-led first power play unit was a dud all night. Tough to win when you don’t get solid all-around games from that duo. It doesn’t just end there, however. Where were the tough to play against Bruins on Thursday night? Ivanans crunched Andrew Ference from behind into the boards, earned himself a boarding penalty and never had to pay the ferryman for his transgressions. That kind of thing never would have happened earlier in the season, and it shouldn’t happen to a team brimming with playoff grit.
Turning Point: The Bruins had two power play opportunities in the second period thanks to the thuggish ways of Raitis Ivanans, but couldn’t cash in with either chance. That allowed the Kings some room to breathe in a 2-0 hockey game, and left the door ajar for the third period comeback.
|03.19.09 at 10:29 pm ET|
One could make the case that the Bruins didn’t see Thursday night’s self-destruction coming.
But talk to the players themselves following a 3-2 overtime loss to the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden and they will tell you that if they didn’t see the writing on the wall, they certainly felt the trembling beneath their skates.
Earlier in the season, a two-goal lead heading into the third period was money in the bank. The Bruins are quickly turning into AIG. Entering Thursday night, they were 32-2-2 when leading after two periods. Even more impressively, they were 19-1-2 with a 2-0 lead.
But the Bruins had two golden opportunities to make it 3-0 and couldn’t on two power plays midway through the second.
The Kings scored early in the third and all of sudden things began to change.
Tim Thomas, though, said afterward that while Michael Handzus’ goal on the power play was big at 9:50 of the third period, it was the inability to put that third marker on the board that came back to haunt the Bruins.
“When they scored the first one, it changed even more. But I think the momentum had changed even before that,” Thomas said. “We left them in the game and kind of made believers out of them.”
But Thomas’ next statement about protecting a third period lead is FAR more telling about the state of mind the Bruins have right now and what they need to address come playoff time.
“Earlier this season we just knew we were going to win when were in that situation,” Thomas said. “I think now we still believe we’re going to win but it’s not like a 100 percent like it was earlier this year. It’s not 100 percent confidence.”
Then there’s their head coach. Claude Julien hasn’t minced words or treaded lightly all season. He wasn’t about to start after this loss.
“We’re going to have to start outworking the other team and our best players are going to have to start finding their game,” Julien said. “Our power play was totally flat tonight. If anything, our (penalty kill) had better chances tonight.”
|03.19.09 at 8:31 pm ET|
00:34.2: Dustin Brown bangs it home with only 30 seconds to go to the shootout. An ugly finish for the Spoked B.
Bruins lose 3-2 in OT to the Los Angeles Kings at the TD Banknorth Garden.
|03.19.09 at 7:55 pm ET|
15:39: Another great save by Tim Thomas as he closed up the five hole on a Dustin Brown redirect from point blank range in front of the net. It looks like it’s going to take an act of Congress to get one by the Tank tonight.
13:09: Thunderous body check by Dennis Wideman on Kevin Westgarth as the young Kings skater tried to push the puck the left side of the ice.
10:10: Power play strike by Michael Handzus in a mucker of a power play goal following several Kings shots and Thomas saves. Thomas made the initial high slot stop on Wayne Simmonds and then another stop down low on Teddy Purcell, but was on his but and out of position when the puck hoppped on the stick of Handzus by the right post.
5:04: Back and forth action for both squads that included the trademark Aaron Ward “forearm shiver’ in the D-zone to a Kings player that’s obviously never felt its wrath before. Sean O’Donnell in the box for hooking and another PP for the Bruins, who are 0-for-3 tonight.
4:16: Great Quick save on a Ryder one-timer from the right faceoff circle.
1:36: Unbelievable turn of events for the Bruins. Milan Lucic steals a puck at the blue line and moves in all alone. Quick makes the save on his shot, and then the Kings break the puck out with Wayne Simmonds hitting the post on a shot from the high slot and rookie Drew Doughty banging home the loose puck behind Thomas.
The B’s are tied with Kings at a 2-2 score after three full period at the TD Banknorth Garden. Not a good sign from the Bruins in the third period when they can’t hold down a team that’s already mailed in this season.
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