|03.05.09 at 11:37 pm ET|
Frustration appears to be bubbling over in the Bruins dressing room as the inconsistent performances stack upon each other, and those immediately chasing the Spoked B in the Eastern Conference standings keep gaining ground in disconcerting clumps.
Things hit a new low last night, as the Bruins clearly got back to their difficult-to-play-against ways but couldn’t muster up enough lunchpail offense in a 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The straggling, struggling Black and Gold sit mired in a 3-6-2 slump over their last 11 games, and have degenerated into a mystified hockey team searching for answers amid a series of passionless periods, 80-foot fluke goals and bang-bang shots at open nets that inexplicably sail over the inviting crease.
The catalyst for the current 11-game slide back to the pack? Travel back to a Feb. 10 loss to the San Jose Sharks on their home ice where Jumbo Joe Thornton and Co. clearly turned on the jets in the third period and left the B’s scrambling for confidence after getting beaten down by the Western Conference powerhouse.
It was a national Versus game billed as a potential Stanley Cup Finals matchup between the Beast of the East and the Best of the West, and it ended with a stunning collapse from which the Bruins still haven’t fully recovered. Instead of a crowning moment punctuated by the triumphant Bruins leaving the arena with NHL bragging rights, Claude Julien’s boys have dropped into an undeniable rut that has some in the hockey world wondering whether this team was truly as good as its nearly letter-perfect first half.
Perhaps the overwhelming nature of that third period simply humbled a young, fearless puck bunch and splashed a bit of doubt into the minds of a group of brash young hockey players.
Boston has flashed glimpses of the dominant squad that simply slammed the hammer down on opponents during the first three months of the year, but it’s becoming apparent the San Jose defeat damaged the exposed psyche of a young, talented team attempting to make their first big statement.
Despite their current freefall, the Bruins have maintained the top spot in the East and have blowout wins over the Ducks and Panthers within the erratic stretch. But even Boston’s best players are starting to search for answers just out of their reach. The New Jersey Devils remain six points behind the B’s in the East, and they’ve won 8 of their last 10 and regained their Hall of Fame goaltender in the same breath.
Is it time to worry yet?
“What’s frustrating is that we know how we can play, and we can dominate when we’re at our best,” said center Marc Savard. “We didn’t put any pucks in the net and maybe we’re being a little too cute at times. We’ve got to try to nip this in the butt right now. We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us and we all know that. We’ve got to start pulling points out of games, and we all know that.
“It’s not for the lack of effort,” added Savard. “We’re trying. I know the fans come out all year. We heard the boos off the second, and we don’t want that. We want to go and show them what we can do, and want it to be a long run here. It was frustrating for us too.”
The Big, Bad hockey club put forth a grating, physical brand of hockey, outhitting the young Desert Dogs by a 31-10 margin during last night’s defeat, and Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew were all — at different times – camped out in the middle of the high-traffic zones attempting to redirect pucks, screen the goaltender and manufacture any kind of goal. There just wasn’t enough of it happening to make a difference.
It was exactly the kind of things that hockey purists preach to escape a rut, but nothing worked for a club that’s clearly squeezing the daylights out of their hockey sticks.
“I wish I had the magical answer for what’s going on, but it’s simple things right down to plain effort from every single player,” said blueliner Aaron Ward, who was part of an aggressive corps of defensemen that time and again pinched and crashed into the offensive zone without ultimately cashing in. “You’re out there and you hear the fans booing, and it’s justified right now to express displeasure for our performance. You watch video postgame and that’s simply not the way we need to be playing the game.
“I’m laughing, but it’s pretty (discouraging) to sit here and wonder what’s going on,” added Ward.
Several players talked afterward about “being too cute with the puck” and “not playing a full 60 minutes of hockey,” but they also appeared frustrated to hear boos cascading down to the ice from the 16,818 in attendance in the closing seconds of a flatter-than-flapjacks second period.
The worst part?
The B’s knew they deserved the Garden catcalls after seizing control of the game early on the strength of Chuck Kobasew’s goal, and then simply allowed things to slip out of their fingers later in the first — and then stumbled right on into an uninspired second period.
The B’s have become a shadow of their first-half selves as the postseason pressure cooker looms closer with every passing day, and the time has come to pack away the rookie walls, nagging injuries, and line chemistry questions into the excuse box in the Garden attic.
The time has come for the Bruins to regain the confident identity of the season’s first half and simply start willing themselves to goals and wins against whatever lines up across the ice from them. The time has come for the B’s to heal up the damage of month-old wounds and protect what they’ve worked so very hard for over the course of a long hockey season.
If they don’t — and fast — then things will get far worse than they were against the Coyotes on a random Thursday night in March.
“I just feel that talk is cheap,” said Julien. “The same thing with standing up front here and trying to explain to (the media). Talk is cheap right now. We have to go up there and then execute. I can stand here and give you all of the excuses. There shouldn’t be excuses. There’s got to be reasons to want to turn this thing around.”
Injury Ward: Milan Lucic came through with flying colors in his first game back from an “upper body injury” and was a physical presence with six crunching body blows against the Coyotes. Other than Looch, everyone else appeared to come through okay.
Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara. After the rare off-game on Tuesday night, Chara responded by playing with some snarl and absolutely beating down Coyotes all over the ice with punishing checks and intimidation tactics. A good rebound game for Big Z.
Goat Horns: Dennis Wideman. It was a bad night for Wideman, who turned a puck over in the D-zone during the Phoenix power play that quickly led to Scottie Upshall’s first Coyotes goal. The score deflated the team for a bit, and Wideman was on the ice for both of the Coyotes’ goals on the evening. Blake Wheeler has also continued to struggle in the final months, and was limited to little more than 10 minutes of ice time on a night when backchecking seemed optional among many of Boston’s forwards.
Turning Point: The Bruins basically crawled up and died for the next 30 minutes of play once Scottie Upshall banged home the Coyotes’ first goal — a power play score — off a bad Dennis Wideman turnoever. A hockey team simply can’t do that anymore in March and April.
|03.05.09 at 9:13 pm ET|
It’s been such an eventful third period that even the notorious TD Banknorth Garden “Dancing Man” — with his customary mustache and train conductor hat — was caught napping when the camera panned on him during the Romantics’ “What I like about you”. He finally got up and did a quick hand jive move after about 10 seconds staring off into space, but that’s a pretty good indicator of the energy Boston’s new look hockey club is giving off here in the third period.
3:05: Big flurry by Boston over the last few minutes with the Lucic/Savard/Kessel line reunited and putting some pressure on Bryzgalov and the Phoenix defense. The Coyotes goalie just smothered a loose puck in front — from a Lucic backhander — a second before Michael Ryder could pounce on it.
1:38: Great job by Shawn Thornton baiting rookie Viktor Tikhonov into an elbowing penalty in the waning minutes of the game. B’s will end the game on the power play, and have a great chance to tie it up.
The Coyotes lead the Bruins by a 2-1 score with 00:35.4 to go in the third period.
|03.05.09 at 8:15 pm ET|
12:08: Steve Reinprecht migrated to the front of the net in perfect receiving position for a Nigel Dawes dish from the sideboards, and ripped a quick shot up and over Tim Thomas to give the Coyotes a one-goal lead.
Seconds later Milan Lucic delivered a punishing hit to an unsuspecting Coyotes skater in their defensive zone. The Looch was moved back to a fourth line spot with Shawn Thornton and Stephane Yelle, and appears to be taking out some frustration on the ‘Yotes.
4:30: A series of solid saves by Thomas with Andrew Ference in the penalty box. Thomas made a quick reaction save on a Peter Mueller shot that was tipped in front of the net by Aaron Ward, and then Thomas hopped back into position to make stops on Steve Reinprecht and Nigel Dawes.
2:10: Milan Lucic just missed up and to the left of the net with a high redirect of a Patrice Bergeron wrist shot.
00:10: Clever little shot by Marc Savard from a carom off the back boards. Savard was at a bad angle, but threw the puck toward the bodies at the front of the net. The puck hit defenseman Kurt Sauer, but took a bad bounce away from the net rather than back toward the goal.
The Desert Dogs lead the Bruins by a 2-1 score after two full periods of play at the TD Banknorth Garden.
|03.05.09 at 7:29 pm ET|
Chuck Kobasew put the Bruins up first with a slap shot from the high slot that — aided by a screaming P.J. Axelsson crashing the net — squeezed between Ilya Bryzgalov’s pads and trickled into the back of the net.
Minutes later Mark Recchi — skating on the top line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel — camped out at his familiar spot by the post and redirected a Dennis Wideman shot that hit the crossbar and then deflected high up into the netting.
9:58: Zdeno Chara doled out the biggest hit of the net when he caught Coyotes forward Enver Lisin with his head down and crumpled the ‘Yotes winger into a heap. Several Phoenix forwards came after Chara following the hit, and Chara was called for interference.
7:59: Scottie Upshall can score against the Bruins — whether he’s a member of the Flyers or the Coyotes after getting traded yesterday. Joakim Lindstrom picked Dennis Wideman’s pocket behind the B’s net and fed Upshall for a backhanded bid that beat Tim Thomas for the power play score.
The B’s and Coyotes are tied 1-1 after one full period the TD Banknorth Garden.
|03.05.09 at 1:33 pm ET|
One thing that has made Claude Julien so popular among his players is his ability to clearly define roles for his team.
He wasted no time on Thursday at the morning skate prior to the Bruins game with the Phoenix Coyotes in doing so for newcomers Mark Recchi and Steve Montador.
He was clear with them – don’t try to do too much too soon. Just play your game.
“They’ve been around,” Julien said. “We’ve already had our one-on-one meetings. I even tried to not give them too much information because I don’t want them going out there and over-thinking. Just go out there and play. We think you’re a good player and that’s why we got you. If there’s some adjustments to make along the way, we can make those. They got the basic crash course. Now it’s just go out there and play.”
Julien was one of those watching Wednesday’s trade deadline with great enthusiasm.
“Well, hopefully our whole team can give us the energy we need but those two guys are certainly bringing some life to our hockey club,” he said. “By the time 3 o’clock rolled around, we were a better team than we were at 9 o’clock, just with the addition of those guys.”
He could notice a jump in his team’s collective step on Thursday morning. They could use one after the performance they gave against the Flyers on Tuesday night, giving up three in the third as Philly captured a 4-2 decision.
He also could tell that some players were relieved that they weren’t the ones dealt out of town from a first-place contender just to shake up the team.
“There’s no doubt that that the guys this morning were pretty excited this morning, not only for still being here but for the additions,” Julien said. “We’re pretty pleased with what’s happened and looking forward to taking another step in the right direction.” Read the rest of this entry »
|03.05.09 at 11:54 am ET|
New trade acquisitions Mark Recchi and Steve Montador will both be in tonight’s Bruins lineup against the Phoenix Coyotes, and bruising left winger Milan Lucic will also be back in the hockey swing after missing two games with an “upper body injury” believed to be a concussion.
Julien preached patience with some new elements being introduced to the lineup, but it was clear that a message has been sent to the team by the number of players on the ice for a voluntary practice. Play with 100 intensity and tenacity and a spot will be dusted off in the lineup, but slackers and soft hockey players might just be headed for a healthy scratch or two in the future.
In short, it’s the kind of depth that can be a coach’s dream when a player’s most prized possession, ice time, hangs in the balance.
“Hopefully our whole team can give us the energy we need, but we think those two guys can bring some life to our hockey club,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Now we’ve got competition. It’s important for the guys to understand that we’re at a stage where it’s going to be who is playing best.”
Recchi also revealed that he’ll be manning the post down low opposite play maker Marc Savard on the first power play unit — ostensibly supplanting P.J. Axelsson in the left-handed shooting role – and the 41-year-old will be able to utilize some of the skills that allowed him to pile up 19 PP points for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.
“I’m not sure who I’m playing with yet, but I’m ready to play with and do whatever role they put me in,” said Recchi. “I do know that I’m playing with Savvy on the power play down low. I’m excited to be on that unit. I’ve played down low and on the point most of my career. I’ll be playing down low because we’ve got some great guys here on the point, and I’ve been playing down low by the post for most of my career on a traditional power play.
“When you’ve got a guy like Savvy you’ve got to be ready for him to pass the puck at all times, so that’s going to be neat for me,” added Recchi. “You get to the front of the net, and hopefully I’ll get some ugly goals.”
Byron Bitz expressed a level of disappointment with the assumption that Recchi’s arrival may relegate him to a healthy scratch status tonight, but Bitz — along with Shane Hnidy and Matt Hunwick – was saying all the right things after playing such effective hockey lately.
For all the uniform afficianados out there, Recchi will be wearing #28 and Montador #23 for the Spoked B tonight.
|03.05.09 at 2:55 am ET|
Bruins Vice-President Cam Neely said that a much-rumored trade with the Anaheim Ducks — that would have sent a package including 21-year-old sniper Phil Kessel, defenseman Mark Stuart, first round pick Joe Colborne and a draft pick to the Ducks in exchange for defenseman Chris Pronger — was “not on the the table” prior to Wednesday’s trade deadline.
“We couldn’t gut our lineup to add a player that we thought was going to help us, and then take away in another area it was going to hurt us,” said Neely during a Wednesday interview with the Big Show. “It didn’t make sense. We have a very young group of players. Even though we feel like we have a good opportunity this year, we feel like we have good opportunities next year and the year after with our core group of guys. We were very cautious about the players that we weren’t going to give up.
“We understand other teams. We’d ask and it makes sense for other teams to ask for our best players in return,” added Neely.
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