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Julien: Bruins need to get going in “right direction”

03.17.09 at 1:00 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — With only two games scheduled over the next 10 days for the Boston Bruins — including a pretty big statement tilt against the New Jersey Devils this Sunday afternoon – the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins jumped back onto the practice ice this morning with something of a scrimmage feel.

The players were working on four-on-four drills and head-to-head matchups designed to raise the compete level and give off the vibe of an actual game, perhaps the best use of the time without a game until Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden.

“We need to fine tune ourselves, get some rest and get going in the right direction,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I think our team play is what’s suffering the most right now. If we get the team back on track then the standings will take care of themselves.

“It’s about getting our team to play as well as it can right now,” added Julien. “The thing that I see from watching our games is that the effort being deployed isn’t a poor effort. But it can appear like that at times when it’s not done properly. I thought our guys competed hard, but didn’t compete well and it resulted in penalties and scoring chances against. The slot opportunities that the (Penguins) had against us was as (many) as I’ve seen us ever give. It’s about a commitment to playing our game, and fine-tuning that part of it.”

–Winger Phil Kessel was given a maintenance day off where he was at Ristucca Arena but didn’t see the ice. Everybody else was present and accounted for in the Boston lineup for the skate after an off-day on Monday.

–Julien agreed that defenseman Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman have been part of a group of Bruins players that have perhaps attempted to do too much during the Black and Gold’s recent stretch of treading hockey water. During the month of March, Big Z has a goal and 5 assists, but is also an Chara-like -2 in 8 games while Wideman — who really had a poor game against the Penguins in giving up the puck that led to the first goal, heading to the box for a penalty that created a 5-on-3 and having a shot from the point blocked that directly led to another Pens goal — has 2 assists and a +/- of zero over those very same eight March hockey games.

Chara has been -3 in two games since the beginning of March (losses to both the Flyers and Penguins) since not posting that bad a +/- since Opening Night against the Colorado Avalanche way back in October — a period of time when the towering defenseman was still regaining form after offseason shoulder surgery.

Julien didn’t see a pair of blueliners that were injured or really worn out by the considerable ice time they’ve logged this season, but instead talked about a pair of good players getting out of their respective ”games”.

“I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the minutes played. There are a lot of D playing minutes like that. It’s more about those guys trying to do too much and forcing too much. When you have a team trying to gain consistency, you’ll have guys that are attempting to do more thinking they’re going to help the team.

“And it just makes it worse,” added Julien. “This is a good time to take a step back and simplify your game and give it that type of effort for 60 minutes. Simple and consistent, and that will help us find our game again.”

–Marc Savard wasn’t going there when asked about the war of words between himself and Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby on Sunday afternoon that supposedly escalated to Sid the Kid taking off his face shield mid-game in anticipation of dropping the gloves with Savard. Perhaps it was simply something wrong with the visor — a scratch perhaps — that caused Crosby to take the protectice visor, but he was clearly playing without it later in period.

Savard said there was a little chirping between himself and Crosby, but nothing more.

“Well, it was just chirping you know … whatever,” said Savard. “There was nothing there. I don’t even want to talk about it.”

Read More: Dennis Wideman, Phil Kessel, Zdeno Chara,

Penalties lead to B’s undoing at the hands of the Penguins

03.15.09 at 8:18 pm ET
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Take penalties against the New York Islanders and you might just be able to kill them off.

Take those some penalties against hockey guys named Crosby, Malkin, Gonchar and Guerin and you might not be quite as lucky in the world of the NHL. That seemed to be the moral of the story for a Boston Bruins team that trudged off to the sin bin eight different times in a 6-4 loss to a white-hot Pittsburgh Penguins squad on Sunday afternoon. Sidney Crosby and Co. have taken points in each of their last 10 games during a meteoric rise over the last few weeks through the Eastern Conference standings.

It appeared a week or two ago that the Penguins might be a potentially dangerous first round opponent for the Spoked B in the playoffs, but it now appears that Mario’s Boys are shooting their way up into the middle of the pack once the “tournament” starts in mid-April.

But now the Bruins are left holding the hockey bag once again with no points after they couldn’t find a way to muster that one final goal in the final eight minutes of regulation to send the game into OT — and in the process gather another all-important point providing space between themselves and the hard-charging New Jersey Devils and Washington Capitals.

It’s eye-opening to watch some NHL playoff-caliber teams simply will themselves to overtime in tight one-goal games when valuable points are on the line, but time-after-time the Bruins haven’t been able to grind their way into the extra session. It’s a test of will and determination that this team could and should have — particularly if they could show the kind of frenetic throw-everything-at-the-net jump that they showed once Pittsburgh netted the open-net goal in the third period.

Less than 24 hours after singing the praises of a Bruins team able to snuff out a Mark Streit-led Isles power play unit during a third period 5-on-3, the B’s once again spent plenty of ice time on the PK. This time, though, the high-powered Penguins made them pay for it — with some of the penalties of the questionable variety and others simply sloppy decision-making and bad judgement infractions.

Case in point: a Dennis Wideman slashing penalty in the first period that came after the whistle and seemed more out of frustration than anything else in a fairly chippy, high-intensity hockey game. That Wideman penalty led directly to a power play score for Chris Kunitz during a mad scramble right in front of the Bruins net.

The good news for all those stockholders in Black and Gold Inc: Phil Kessel continues to heat up and resemble the guy that looked like he was going to be a 50-goal scorer before mono knocked him back for a bit. The 21-year-old now has goals in three straight games, and has given the B’s a much-needed offensive transfusion. Blake Wheeler also looked like he had as much spring in his step as he displayed during the entire first half of the season. The big rookie potted his first goal since a Feb. 17 game against the Carolina Hurricanes — a span of 11 games that the 6-foot-5 former Golden Gopher had endured without a lamp-lighter.

Injury Ward:Dennis Wideman took a shot off the right knee in the third period and was hobbled — but the blueliner continued to play through the injury for the remainder of the third period.

Player of the Game:The Penguins felt like they addressed some of their grit/competitiveness issues when they traded for Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin, and both skaters seemed to be in vintage postseason form while each totalling three points and playing big, big roles in the victory over the Bruins. For the B’s, the Wheeler/Kessel/Marc Savard was pretty effective throughout the game.

Goat Horns:Dennis Wideman had one shot on goal, took two penalties (including one after the whistle that led to a Penguins goal) and was a -3 for the night. All in all, pretty ugly. It wasn’t really a banner day for any of the Boston blueliners, and the shot that clanged off his knee in the third period just dropped his afternoon from bad to worse.

Turning Point: The Bruins had a 3-2 lead headed into the third period and things seemed to be in a good spot for the Black and Gold, but a pair of Penguins strikes within 18 seconds of each other in the opening moments of the third period really sapped the energy right out of the Penguins. The Bruins managed to tie things up again in the third, but the quick attack of the Penguins clearly knocked the B’s skaters back on their heels in the final 20 minutes of the eventual loss.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Dennis Wideman, Zdeno Chara,

Bruins still looking for that elusive 60 minute effort

03.14.09 at 5:52 pm ET
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The Bruins have been running their way through the “60-minute refrain” for the better part of three weeks now.

As in, “we need to play 60 minutes of hockey” or “we need to not take any shifts off and string three strong periods together.” It’s a nice platitude and an admission that the team isn’t exerting their will for complete hockey games, but the time for talk is clearly passing.

Once again the Black and Gold skaters didn’t put the full 60 minutes together, but still pulled out a 2-1 win over a young and carefree New York Islanders bunch at the TD Banknorth Garden yesterday afternoon. The victory allowed the B’s to take care of business against the Eastern Conference cellar dweller, and look ahead to a fairly big “test game” Sunday afternoon against the red-hot Penguins at the Igloo in Pittsburgh.

With only 12 games remaining and the end to the regular season marathon in sight, it’s time for a lot less talk and a lot more punishing, hard to play against action. 

“Give them some credit. They work extremely hard over there and battle hard for every puck,” said Chara, who was playing with some postseason snarl during the game while banging bodies with Tim Jackman and Brendan Witt in front of the Boston net. “But for us I thought we got off to a really good start and got off to a lead, and I don’t know if we let up or we weren’t concentrating as much as we did early in the game.

“We were losing a little bit of the mental part of the game in the second period,” added Chara. “I was overplaying a little bit on that 4-on-4 in the second period. I got caught over there. It happens. I made a mistake, but in the third I thought we came out really strong, created some really good chances. It could have easily been more than two goals for us. We have to be focused and mentally ready for 60 minutes no matter who we play.”

Some evidence of the admitted ”lack of focus” came up in the second period:

*Zdeno Chara, as he mentioned previously, didn’t get a good angle to cut off Islanders defenseman Mark Streit as he came flying into the Bruins zone, staggered Big Z with a quick stick fake and then roofed a laser shot into the top corner of the Bruins net.

*A pair of too many men on the ice penalties within minutes of each other, with each infraction stemming from one-for-one player changes where the skater coming off the ice wasn’t hustling back to the bench quickly enough with his replacement hopping over the boards.

For a team that has played with a certain level of intelligence, hustle, discipline and unmistakable hockey sense all season long, the too many men penalties seemed to really put some frosting on Claude Julien’s jelly donut.

“You’ve got to work with it.  I think it’s important, first of all, that you don’t let the guys off the hook.  Screaming and yelling at them all the time’s not going to make them better.  Those things sometimes can wear on players, and also, at the same time, can make them nervous,” said Julien. “Basically, I think the concentration level is kind of bringing a reminder behind the bench, telling them, ‘Guys, this part of our game’s starting to slip, let’s pick it up,’ and those kinds of things – reminders.

“The first two-thirds of the year, we didn’t have too many men on the ice penalties,” added Julien. “In the last few weeks, we’ve had a bunch of them from guys not coming to the bench hard, and the other guy jumping too early and just not being sharp.  It’s not about sending too many guys; it’s the change, a one-for-one change, that’s costing us right now.  One of them that’s a perfect example is the last one we had at the end of the second.  We’ve got, basically we had four-on-three, I think, and Phil’s pass doesn’t make it onto their stick, and our last guy is taking his time coming to the bench and ends up getting us in trouble.”

The good news for the Bruins: they have a wake-up call-type challenge immediately on their hockey docket Sunday afternoon. The Penguins have caught fire since picking up Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin for a much-needed grit and gristle transplant at the NHL trade deadline, and they’re 7-1-2 in their last 10 games while rocketing up the charts in the Eastern Conference standings.

It’s difficult to gauge where the Bruins are at playing against a too-young-to-be-afraid Islanders team in a sleepy Saturday afternoon matinee, but there’s no mistaking the challenge posed by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal in Steel City. They’re a team that — if things break a certain way — the Bruins could find themselves facing in the first or second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

What are the Bruins going to have to do beat the Penguins in their own Igloo and keep this modest two-game string going?

“We seem to get off to good starts (lately), but it’s about playing 60 minutes,” said Savard.

There it is again. The elusive 60 minutes. The perfect hockey game when effort, skill and intellect come together in concert for three consistent consecutive periods. It’s been awhile since the Bruins have put together one of the those signature games without a distracted lull. The challenge is to get that full focus back with only 12 grains of sand left in the NHL regular season hourglass. 

Injury Ward:Zdeno Chara seemed slightly hobbled at points during Saturday afternoon’s game, and it’s not often when the big blueliner doesn’t lead his team in ice time (only 21:44) for a particular game. But if there is anything bothering Big Z it isn’t going to keep him out of the lineup. Stephane Yelle was out for the fourth straight game with an upper body injury, and probably isn’t too likely for tomorrow’s tilt vs. Pittsburgh either.

Player of the Game: Tim Thomas has had some moments of weakness over the last few weeks, but he couldn’t afford to make any mistakes over the final 30 minutes of the game — and he didn’t shrink away from the challenge while standing tall along with the B’s PK unit during the Islanders 5-on-3 advantage in the third period. Timmy the Tank also shook off a clear high-stick to the face cage by Frans Nielsen during the penalty kill, and kept right on trucking.  A tip of the cap to Thomas for his 30th win of the season, and to Phil Kessel for his career-high 30th goal of the campaign in the first period.

Goat Horns: Lack of hustle in the second period led to a pair of too many men on the ice penalties for the Bruins, and the entire team gets the goat horns for a second period effort against the Islanders that left a lot to be desired.

Turning Point:With Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler both in the box in the third period, the Bruins PK unit pressured point man Mark Streit and managed to strangle the life out of the Long Island power play unit. The B’s still had some work in front of them after the kill, but it was all downhill skiing following the successful kill.

Sounds of the game… Bruins 2, Islanders 1

03.14.09 at 4:07 pm ET
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Anyone who watched Phil Kessel play the first half of this season knows how integral he was to the success of the Bruins.

His coach took the occasion of his 30th goal on Saturday during Boston’s 2-1 win over the Islanders to remind him of just that.

“He’s what you saw tonight, a game-breaker,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Phil is the type of player that, when he’s on his game with his speed, his shot, his skill level, he can certainly be a game-breaker type of player.

And everyone in the Will McDonough Press Room at the Garden knew there was a ‘but’ coming.

“Having said that, when he doesn’t compete the way he’s been competing the way he’s been competing lately, he’s a player that doesn’t bring as much to the table,” Julien continued. “This is what you need from guys like Phil, and from young players, to be able to develop into being better players, bringing a compete level, night-in and night-out.”

Talk about laying it on the line and not mincing words. Julien clearly wants his team to be ready for April, May and hopefully beyond. And he realizes he needs his young talented players to be prepared for the intensity that awaits them.

Kessel, who became the first Bruins 30-goal scorer since teammate Patrice Bergeron scored 31 in 2005-06, scored No. 30  and Boston’s first goal in the first period. Then, just 65 seconds later, he fed a beautiful pass to Marc Savard for the second Bruins goal.

“It’s a nice milestone,” Kessel said of reaching 30 goals. “(I have) a lot to attribute to my teammates and the linemates I’ve been playing with this year. They find me quite a bit, so I’m fortunate to be playing with some good hockey players this year.”

Another milestone came in the form of Tim Thomas’ 30th win, matching his career best of 06-07. Julien said it was nice to see Thomas back in form on Saturday.

Other audio nuggets from Saturday.

Julien still wants his team to compete better for 60 minutes.

Julien said the Bruins started well and then held on.

Tim Thomas said killing the Islanders’ 5-on-3 power play in the third was key.

Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference said the Bruins regrouped after a very sluggish second.

Read More: Bruins, Islanders, NHL, Phil Kessel

Bruins still holding on to a one-goal lead

03.14.09 at 1:58 pm ET
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15:15: Good recovery by Aaron Ward and Mark Stuar after pinching to keep the puck up in the Bruins offensive zone, as they hustled back to disrupt Tim Jackman on a one-man rush toward the Bruins net.

12:28: That’s a lot of young talent in the sin bin as both Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler are in the penalty box for the Bruins, giving the Isles a two-man advantage for the next 42 seconds after coming out of a timeout on the ice.

11:41: A big takedown of  tough guy Brendan Witt in front of the Bruins net by Zdeno Chara after Witt took a swipe at a puck in Thomas’ lap. Good show of toughness from Big Z with a player taking liberties on the Bruins goalie.

10:21: Both penalties killed off by Bruins. Thomas chatting with ref about a high stick he took the face from Frans Nielsen during the kill.

9:42: Hit from behind by Jackman on Andrew Ference that drew an immediate penalty. Looch stormed in to defend his fallen teammate and throw around Jackman, and he’ll also be going to the box.

4:44: Nice neutral zone pass up to Byron Bitz freed him up for a good rush to the Isles net, but Danis made the save and then covered up as Andrew Ference came in for the second swipe.

4:12: Steady glove save by Danis on a Krejci pass to a wide open Dennis Wideman at the right point. Skating together Lucic has definitely opened up some space for Krejci to operate.

The B’s still lead the Islanders by a 2-1 score with 9:42 to go in the third period.

Streaking Kessel factors into B’s 2-1 lead

03.14.09 at 1:11 pm ET
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The Bruins hopped all over the thunderstruck Islanders in the first five minutes of the game with quick strike goals by Phil Kessel and Marc Savard.

Kessel had the main assist with a nice dish on Savard’s goal, and has factored in Boston’s last four goals scored dating back to Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. The first period snipe was Kessel’s 30th goal of the season — the first the 21-year-old has reached that plateau and the first 30-goal scorer for the Black and Gold this season.

10:51: Uncommon matching penalties for both teams with a hooking penalty on the Islanders’ defenseman Bruno Gervais a boston bench slap for too many men on the ice.

9:35: That, folks, is why Islanders defenseman Mark Streit is an All-Star and why Montreal misses him so much on their backline this year. He just took a one-man rush through the entirety of the B’s defense, faked Zdeno Chara out of his skates and then popped one over Tim Thomas to put the Isles on the board.

5:50: Near misses by Milan Lucic and David Krejci as they both threw pucks through the crease behind goalie Yann Danis, but Hillen managed to get a stick on Krejci’s poke and the puck subsequntly bounced off the crossbar and back out. After a very brief review, it was ruled “no goal”.

2:29: Solid snap glove save from Thomas on a long Richard Park shot from the left point. A good example of what Timmy does best when he has a clear view of the puck.

1:25: Another too many men on the ice penalty. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.

The Bruins lead the Islanders 2-1 after two periods of play.

Read More: Marc Savard, Phil Kessel,

Yelle “doubtful” for Saturday afternoon vs. the Islanders

03.13.09 at 3:23 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — Veteran center Stephane Yelle went through another practice at Ristuccia Arena Friday afternoon, but Bruins coach Claude Julien termed the fourth line pivot “doubtful” for Saturday afternoon’s game against the New York Islanders. Yelle has missed the B’s last three games with an “upper body injury”, but appears to be making progress toward a return.

‘It doesn’t mean he won’t (play), but I’d put him at doubtful,” said Julien.

It’s expected that rookie center Byron Bitz will again line up in the middle for the fourth line in place of Yelle tomorrow afternoon.

While many will likely take the lowly Islanders lightly, they have taken five of their last seven games and shocked the Canadiens in overtime last night. 

“That’s what happens this time of year. The Islanders have taken the ‘youth’ path and those guys have a lot of energy this time of year,” said Julien. “They know that they’re not necessarily headed for the playoffs, but they’re looking at their future and they want to make an impression this season.

“So they’re playing with as much intensity as teams that are trying to stay where they are — like us at the top for example,” added Julien. “I don’t think we should approach that game like any other game because we know the damage that they can potentially do to a team.”

Read More: Byron Bitz, Claude Julien, Stephane Yelle,
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