|02.05.09 at 12:41 am ET|
David Krejci has had something of a charmed season in his second year with the Bruins.
The Hockey News recently recognized the certified puck magician as the “Best Hidden Gem” in the NHL during the first half of the hockey season, but things had actually dropped off a bit for the budding 22-year-old playmaker heading in and out of January’s NHL All-Star break.
The young center had managed just one goal, four assists and was dead-even on +/- over his last eight games heading into Wednesday night, but he busted out with a goal and an assist while racking up a +3 in Boston’s solid 3-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wachovia Center last night.
It’s been a period of adjustment for Krejci and linemates Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder over the last month as the word is out on the talented threesome. Teams have grown to recognize just how dominant a puck possession force they are for the Black and Gold, and adjusted their game plans by oft-times sending their best checking lines/defensive units out on the ice against the explosive trio. That combined with teams ratcheting up the on-ice physical intensity had seemed to cause the unthinkable to happen: Krejci was actually being keyed on and contained by the balance of contenders in the Eastern Conference.
It would have been difficult to imagine earlier in the season, but the brightest of Boston’s young stars seemed to be getting lost in the shoving shuffle of February hockey in the NHL. The minor scuffle had some wondering whether the 5-foot-10, 177-pound was tiring through the rigors of an 82 game NHL season, or if the physical nature of late winter/early spring hockey was beginning to neutralize the Czech Republic playmaker’s ability to score and create with the puck on his stick.
Like any good player, though, the nifty, cerebral playmaker simply and obstinately kept at it and continued firing pucks at the net while searching for welcoming creases to sneak pucks through. Instead of seeking out the perfect play to snap himself out of his mini-funk, however, Krejci plunked himself into the high-traffic danger area in front of the net and forced the action. Krejci simply redirected a Shane Hnidy wrist shot speeding toward him, and ricocheted the biscuit past Flyers goaltender Martin Biron.
Who was the player that won the faceoff in the Philly zone and set up the goal by working the puck back to the waiting Hnidy? That would be the one-and-the same Krejci, who also fired off four shots during the game and won seven out of 12 faceoffs during an active evening against the rough and tumble Flyers.
Last night, things finally clicked in again following Krejci’s decision to simplify his game. He once again looked like the player that’s on an amazing pace to score 84 points this season — his second full season in the NHL after earning himself a job during the second half of last season — and perhaps all is once again well in the wonderful puck world of Krejci.
|02.03.09 at 2:13 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick won’t be making the trip to Philadelphia for Wednesday night’s game due to his ongoing battle with the flu. Hunwick missed two games over the weekend with flu-like symptoms, and B’s coach Claude Julien wanted to make certain his defenseman was fully recovered before rejoining the team. After last season’s problem with the flu spreading through the locker room, Julien is also attempting to keep Hunwick away from his healthy teammates until he’s back to full health.
Julien didn’t rule out Hunwick, who missed practice both Monday and Tuesday, from rejoining the team on the road swing prior to Thursday’s tilt at the Ottawa Senators.
“There’s a possibility he might join us in Ottawa if need be,” said Julien. “But he’s not well enough to travel with the team…or to have him around the team for that matter.”
–Manny Fernandez looks to make the two-game road trip through Philadelphia and Ottawa, and made it through Tuesday’s practice this morning at Ristuccia Arena without incident. The 34-year-old goaltender has been out since with back spasms and soreness, but should be approaching a return to goal in the near-future. Julien wouldn’t put an exact date on Fernandez’s return and wanted to speak with his veteran goalie before deciding to put him back between the pipes.
“I don’t know exactly where Manny is, and I have to sit down and talk to him about his feel,” said Julien. “Goaltenders have to feel very comfortable moving around and stopping pucks. We’ll have to sit down and have a chat with (Fernandez), see how he does over the next couple of days and then go from there.”
–Phil Kessel made an appropriately speedy return from mono, but the smooth-skating forward hasn’t potted a goal in his three games back since the All-Star break, and still isn’t quite mixing together that skating, firing and forechecking combo that bestowed him with 24 goals in the first half of the season.
The shifty winger notched a pair of of assists in his first game back from the illness, but Julien feels it’s just a matter of regaining timing and touch for Kessel after missing six games with the illness. In fact, it was a month ago today that Kessel last lit the lamp against the Buffalo Sabres in a Jan. 3, 4-2 loss and his current six-game scoreless stretch represents the 22-year-old’s longest scoring drought of this season.
‘(Kessel’s level of play) is not at the level it was before the injury and he knows that,” said Julien. “He may feel good about his skating and everything else, but it’s one of those things where he needs to find his game again. He’s not terrible, but he’s not at the stage from before he got hurt.
“It’s getting a rhythm and getting into those holes and finding your timing,” added Julien. “Making those scoring opportunities happen for you and it’s a little bit of timing here and there. Some of it is us as a coaching staff showing him (video) clips to help him get back, and some of it is just (Kessel) getting his timing back as well.”
Kessel isn’t the only player that’s emerged slowly out of the gate in the second half, however, as the Krejci/Wheeler/Ryder line has been pretty well bottled up over the last handful of games as the B’s scoring levels have dropped against some pretty stiff competition. In the natural progression of things during an NHL schedule, it’s typical that play tightens up in the last few months of the season and the days of scoring or five or six goals a night morph into the exception rather than the rule.
“There’s room for improvement there and there’s other guys that can play better as well,” added Julien. “As a team we’re still playing a decent game, and when you see those things (on the horizon) it’s more encouraging for your hockey club.”
|02.02.09 at 10:01 pm ET|
In honor of the first of two excellent Beanpot Mondays here at the TD Banknorth Garden, we thought we’d get a quick Bruins thought from Harvard head hockey coach Ted Donato, who scored 119 goals and 147 assists during portions of 9 seasons proudly wearing the Spoked B on his chest before retiring in 2003-04.
Harvard dropped a thrilling 4-3 game to Boston University in the early game Monday evening, but the Crimsom flashed the same kind of heart and work ethic that the overachieving 5-foot-10, 180-pound Donato brought to the ice with him on a nightly basis.
Donato clearly has his finger on the pulse of all things hockey in the Boston area, and says that he’s easily noticing the effect that the Bruins’ resurgence is having in hockey talk and puck participation among the youth levels all around New England.
“People are talking about the Bruins around the offices and the water coolers, so to speak. And it’s exciting for them to be successful, but they’re just a fun team to watch,” said Donato, who had 6 goals and 5 assists in 2003-04 for the Black and Gold before retiring to take on coaching duties with the Crimson. “They score goals, they skate, they play physical. It’s really been a great transition and it’s something that — with the Internet, the replays and all of the computers out there — I think kids playing hockey in the area are really beginning to appreciate what the Bruins are doing.”
Quoting Donato also gives me a good excuse to drop a little NHL ’94 greatness into the Pucks with Haggs galaxy, as this is the only thing that pops on youtube when you enter Ted Donato into the search field. Makes me pine for the days when I used to skate the unmatchable Theo Fleury and his Calgary Flames for my dominant runs to the Cyber Cup. Enjoy:
|02.01.09 at 6:45 pm ET|
MONTREAL — The life of an NHL enforcer certainly isn’t for the faint of heart, and it’s definitely not a destination spot for those seeking to bathe in glory or blanket themselves in warm, comforting plaudits.
Underrated Shawn Thornton, one of the biggest yet least talked about pieces of this flashy, rugged, dominant Bruins hockey machine, came up one assist short of the Gordie Howe hat trick on Sunday afternoon.
But he still made an unmistakable imprint on the B’s 3-1 win over the sagging Canadiens at the Bell Centre, and showed once again why his personality on and off the ice are such a big part of the Big Bad Bruins resurgence in Boston.
Thornton bagged the game-winner, dropped the gloves for some fisticuffs after getting the invite to dance from AHL journeyman Alex Henry and unloaded a game-high four shots against Habs goaltender Carey Price during yet another playoff-style victory.
Not bad for a night’s work from a hard-nosed guy that’s been bringing it every night — and setting the ultimate example – all season long for the Spoked B.
“He’s been a big part of (the team) for us this year,” said Dennis Wideman, who essentially ripped the Habs’ heart out when he notched a game-tying marker with just 0.6 seconds left in the first period. “He’s obviously a very good fighter. I think the best part about him is he knows when to fight. He knows the right time to do it.
“He’s been around a long time and he knows how a fight can really swing the momentum in a game,” added Wideman. “He’s invaluable to us and he’s scored some really big goals for us this year too. It’s huge for us when you put the so-called fourth line out there and they just have an offensive shift in the other team’s zone the whole time.”
As is always the case with a lionhearted and modestly-skilled pugilist like Thornton, however, he’s nowhere to be found when the mighty Montreal media doles out their Three Stars for the game as they did Sunday afternoon. Thornton’s fingerprints were smeared all over the B’s winning blueprint, but instead Tim Thomas (a solid 27 save game) and Wideman garnered Boston’s two stars.
Once again, no glorified back slaps for Thornton.
Instead he’s off somewhere dipping his right punching hand into ice and jacking down from skating before a raucous Bell Centre crowd of 21, 273 — many of whom didn’t stick around much after Marc Savard picked Andrei Kostitsyn’spocket and snared the empty net insurance marker with 57 seconds remaining in the game.
Thornton’s game-winner snapped a 1-1 tie 8:02 into the second period during a typically relentless blue collar shift skating along with big Byron Bitz and crafty Stephane Yelle. Bitz, playing strong and stout along the wall and the boards, held on to the puck behind the Canadiens net and found Thornton buzzing around at Price’s doorstep.
“Bitzy is just a big moose,” said Thornton of his linemate after the game. “He makes a lot of smart plays with the puck, and it’s just been a treat since he’s been here.”
The B’s coaching staff has also been rightly impressed with the work done by the 6-foot-5 Cornell graduate, who might have a bright future in the stock market or a law firm someday but is currently serving a valuable role as a big-bodied grinder on a hard-working Bruins team.
“He’s that type of player I guess with size and strength and everything else; he just seems to fit the billing for that line right now,” said Julien. “There’s probably more guys in Providence that have higher skill level, but they wouldn’t be the right fit. He’s just fit right in. I don’t see a guy that’s been intimidated at all by the speed (of the NHL).
“(Bitz) just plays his game with everybody he’s up against. He finishes his checks and he wins his battles. He’s been pretty impressive,” added Julien. “He’s been one of our better guys along the walls. If somebody is pinching then he’s eating that puck and he isn’t throwing the puck around. Very, very seldom do you see him turn the puck over.”
After collecting Bitz’s nifty pass, Thornton unloaded a forehand bid with as much force as possible through a sea of bodies and goaltending equipment. Somehow, some way the puck found a path through Price’s pads for his fifth goal of the season. The play confirmed two things: Bitz seems to be finding a role for himself on this hockey club and Thornton keeps building brick-by-brick on what’s turning into his best season in the NHL.
“I’ve been talking about (Thornton) for a while now and even that line: Yelle, Bitz and Thornton,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “I think it’s only fitting that Thorny gets the game-winner — and that line — because of the way that they’ve been playing. I played them right to the end. There was no reason to pull them back because they were doing such a great job. In their own end, getting pucks out, and doing such a great job of keeping it in (Montreal’s) end when they got their puck down there.”
In the fighting arena, Thornton got things out of the way earlier with the knowledge that an AHL call-up named Alex Henry, who he had dropped the gloves with years ago in the minors, was seeking out a hockey scrap. Thornton obliged just 1:06 into the game and gave up both size and reach to a taller, bigger opponent in Henry. Both got their shots in during a back-and-forth brawl that lasted well over a minute, and then both retired to the penalty box for five minutes of rest and relaxation.
It’s the only way of life for Thornton in the fighting game, and it’s another undervalued facet of a quietly effective hockey skill set.
“He asked (for the fight),” said Thornton of the scrap. “He’s a tough kid and he wants to create a spot for himself on their team. So good for him. I knew it was going to be somebody, so I figured I’d take care of it all at once.”
Even the candy cane-style “barber pole” pajamas worn by the Canadiens — a tribute to the red, white and blue sweater donned by the 1912-13 edition of the Habs during their 100th Anniversary season — couldn’t throw Thornton off track for the win. Though he did wonder if he was having some kind of frozen sheet mirage during the pregame skate.
“It wasn’t as bad during the game when there were only five guys out on the ice, but when I looked down during warmups and there were 23 guys skating around … I was dizzy,” said Thornton. “It wasn’t as bad when the numbers went down, but I was really concerned about it during warmups. I didn’t know if I hadn’t had enough sleep or what.”
After Thornton’s day at the office, it might be the Canadiens who have a little trouble sleeping tonight after yet another loss to the Black and Gold Sunday afternoon.
“Put Him in Prison Stripes”
Here’s a little bit of youtube goodness featuring the fight between Thornton and Henry along with a great diatribe tying together Henry’s place in the hockey world along with the “Keystone Kops and Robbers” sweaters donned by the Habs. I call the fight a draw, but give a clear victory to Jack Edwards in the verbal lambasting.
|02.01.09 at 4:10 pm ET|
MONTREAL — Shawn Thornton gave the Bruins their first lead of the game when he popped in a Byron Bitz pass from just in front of the net halfway through the second period. It’s been an active night for Thornton, who dropped the gloves in the opening minutes of the game with Canadiens defenseman Alex Henry in his first game up from the AHL.
Once again the 6-foot-1, 209-pound Thornton was giving up size and a significant reach in the bout with the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Henry fresh off the bus from Hamilton — but came out of with at least a draw and a few good shot tossed in during a lengthy scrap.
|02.01.09 at 2:52 pm ET|
The Bruins ended the first period with a bang as Dennis Wideman scored the game-tying goal with only .6 seconds on the clock. Robert Lang roofed a shot from the right faceoff circle that gave the Canadiens a short-lived 1-0 lead with less than two minutes to go in the first period. Tim Thomas made five saves in the period, including a solid stop of a Mike Komisarek bid from the high slot that left a rebound Robert Lang couldn’t corral.
Shawn Thornton and blueliner Alex Henry also got their hostilities out early in this one with a solid brawl just minutes in the first period. Lang made up for his missed opportunity by scoring the power play strike that gives the Habs a 1-0 lead. The Canadiens and Bruins are tied 1-1 after one period of play.
|02.01.09 at 1:33 pm ET|
MONTREAL — Greetings from the Bell Centre where the Canadiens players are donning sweaters that must be 100th Anniversary edition uniforms, but — if you asked this puck philistine – look more like pajamas than hockey jerseys.
Bruins defenseman Matt Hunwick didn’t make the trip to Montreal for this afternoon’s matinee against the Habs, and will miss his second straight game with flu-like symptoms. B’ s coach Claude Julien also revealed that, as expected, Tim Thomas will get the start in net this afternoon against the arch-rival Canadiens at the Bell Centre. That essentially means it’s the same lineup as yesterday for the Black and Gold with Thomas instead between the pipes.
Today is Boston’s last regular season trip to Montreal, with only an April 9 tilt at the Garden remaining on the schedule.
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