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Krejci hat trick continues Young Guns’ run

12.18.08 at 9:08 pm ET
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David Krejci spent long portions of his summer in the garden of his home in the Czech Republic, but he wasn’t exactly trying to grow the perfect set of Chrysanthemums. No…the nifty, young Bruins center was working on his shooting with a keen eye toward improving his shot and upping his goal-scoring totals after managing only six goals in 56 rookie games with the Bruins last season.

More trips to the Garden with a hockey net slung over his shoulder may be in the offing this summer after last night’s hat-worthy performance…

The Bruins did a lot of great offensive things in an 8-5 win over the scrappy Toronto Maple Leafs — going 4-for-6 on the power play, enjoying a four-point night from All-Star Marc Savard, a quick goal for Marco Sturm in his first game back from concussion/whiplash symptoms, scoring seven goals or more for the fifth time this season – but nothing was more eye-poppingly impressive than Krejci’s three goal performance.

The outburst, which included an absolutely sick second goal when he swooped in the left side of the goal while looking to dish the puck back to Michael Ryder before deciding to deke out Curtis Joseph and tuck the puck into the vacant goal, pushes Krejci’s goal total up to 11 scores on the season. Two of the goals looked like pure goal-scorer type goals as well, as the young pivot waited for the goaltender to make a move at him, and then placidly slid the puck into open area of the crease.

“If you give him some room he can certainly score some goals.  He’€™s a nifty player.  I just have to look where he is in the scoring,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He’€™s right there with Phil [Kessel] and Savvy [Marc Savard] now.  You can look at his minutes compared to them.  When he’€™s on the ice he really does some good things.

“He’€™s a great player and makes everyone around him good or better.  That is basically his situation from day one, how he makes everyone around him better.  Tonight he got a chance to make himself look good as well with three big goals.”

For Krejci last night was certainly a pretty cool moment, as his last hat trick was a road game during junior hockey in Canada when nary a cap — or a bra for that matter – was tossed out on the ice amidst the third goal being scored before a grumbling, hostile crowd. This time, Krejci was showered with hats on the frozen sheet once the Garden crowd realized it was the 22-year-old’s first career pro hat trick.

It’s simply of the great iceberg for a player with all of the hockey skills needed to become a star in the NHL for years to come.

Sturm is over and out for now

Marco Sturm got a perfect chance to dust off the “Sturm Face” when he potted a goal just 36 seconds into the first period last night — his first game back from injury. Sturm had missed 12 straight contests with concussion/whiplash symptoms, but was right in the middle of things when he camped out in front of the net and swept home the rebound of a Chuck Kobasew shot in the first period.

The Sturm goal gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead in a moment that seemed about a million miles away by the time the 13-goal extravaganza had concluded. Unfortunately less than 15 minutes after the score, Sturm needed help exiting the ice when he appeared to wrench his left knee or leg while retrieving a puck in Boston’s end and then absorbing a hit.

Sturm was skating with Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew – a surprise given that he had been practicing with Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line – and looked both fast and furious prior to the injury. Sturm didn’t return to the game after being helped off the ice with about six minutes to go in the first period, and Julien didn’t have an update following the game.

“We haven’€™t got the results on [Sturm] yet,” said Julien. “I know he has been through a bunch of tests right now and the doctors are actually looking at it.  I don’€™t have anything to tell you right now that is going to help you out because I don’€™t even know.”

A quick goalie change

After watching a series of defensive lapses in the second period, Julien opted to sit Tim Thomas down after the All-Stat netminder surrendered five scores in the first two stanzas and instead went with Manny Fernandez in the third. Fernandez and a reinvigorated Bruins defense shut down the Leafs attack in what had been a 5-4 game heading into the third, and scores by Ryder and Krejci iced the high-flying affair Northeast Division Affair in the closing minutes.

Fernandez stood tall with 13 saves in the third period — including a handful of highlight stops – and should earn the puck version of a save after preserving a win for Thomas following his 40 minutes of spotty work over the first two periods. There was a knowing nod between Fernandez and Thomas during the first 40 minutes of the game when every bounce, every last fickle movement of the puck seemed to go against Boston’s guardian of the pipes.

It was, as the cliche goes, just one of those nights.

“We have all had those nights,” said Fernandez afterward. “I saw him shaking his head, and I know exactly what he is thinking. A simple nod and I told him that there are nights like these, and he agrees. You try not to have them in the stretch of the season. It is uncomfortable; it hits a skate, it hits a stick, you can’€™t control and it ends up in the net. There are nights like that but you just have to turn the page and get back to work and get better the next game.”

For a team that was nipping at the Bruins’ heels by a 5-4 score after two periods of play, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson gave full credit to Fernandez for calming the waters and keying Boston’s Great Escape in an eventual three-goal victory.

“[Manny] Fernandez actually came in and made the difference in the game,” said Wilson. “We dominated the first six or seven or ten minutes of the third period and he made three or four unbelievable saves.  Then they scored that power play goal, and it was basically over at that point.”

Random Thoughts

–Savard and Krejci are very similar as players and playmakers, and we saw just how electric they can be in the third period when both skaters teamed up for a PP goal with a 5-on-3 advantage that cemented Krejci’s hat trick. Both are pass-first guys that serve as the central force on the respective first and second units on the power play, but there’s a curious side of me that would relish seeing both of them armed and loaded on the same power play squad. As it is now, they only skate together during the two-man advantage, but I can’t fight the nagging feeling that a normal PP unit featuring Savard and Krejci would be pretty close to unstoppable. But, then again, maybe it’s just me.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, David Krejci, Marc Savard

Kessel on the Big Show

12.18.08 at 11:21 am ET
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Among a team of young Bruins breathing life into a previously moribund franchise, Phil Kessel has been the brightest constellation in the Bruins hockey universe. The 21-year-old winger has become a dynamic scoring force in his third year in the league, and has paired with Marc Savard to become one of the top scoring duos in the NHL this season. People keep looking for a specific turning point for Kessel, and he surely has stepped up his intensity and two-way play. But don’t overlook that this is the first time in his NHL career that young Kessel has played an extended amount of time with a legit playmaker in Marc Savard at the center position.

They had always played together in short bursts through their careers in Boston, but this 30 game stretch is the longest period of time that their two intertwining skills have been married on the frozen sheet. (Just look at last season’s early box scores when Savard was skating with Peter Schaefer and Brandon Bochenski…my how times have changed.)

Kessel was recently named the Top Star in last week’s NHL Three Stars competition, and was a guest of WEEI’s Big Show yesterday afternoon. Here’s the transcript:

What’s the difference? What light went on? PK: You know, I don’t know. I think I’m getting some better chances skating with Savard and Lucic. You play with those two and we have pretty good chemistry together. They find me in good spots and I’m getting some good chances.

It’s got to be reassuring that Lucic is one of the top policeman in the league right now and he can also put the puck in the net. PK: Obviously it’s nice and he clears a lot of room for me and Savvy out there. He’s a skilled player too and he can really make things happen out there.

What’s it like being a Bruin now as opposed to two years ago? PK: It’s way different. My first year you could really just tell there wasn’t as much support for the Bruins. You would go to the games and there weren’t as many fans. It’s way different now. There’s much more hype now. We’re getting big crowds and people are into it, and it feels much different to be a Bruin right now.

What has Claude Julien meant to you personally? PK: Well, ah I think he’s helped me mature as a hockey player and helped my two-way game improve. He always tells me that if you play good defense then the offense will come.

You guys have an 11 game win streak at home. How much do you feed off playing at a full house? PK: It’s been a big factor when it’s a packed house and the fans are excited and loud. We get fired up and want to play that much harder to get a win in our own building.

Blake Wheeler…you guys were teammates in Minnesota. Have you been surprised by how quickly he’s developed at such a young age? PK: Well, he’s a great player. Obviously he was a high draft pick and he’s one of my buddies. Playing with him at Minnesota, I knew what kind of player he is and what kind of skill he brings. Overall, I wasn’t overly surprised that he’s having a good year and playing really well for us.

Phil, did you help recruit him at all to the Bruins? PK: No. I stayed out of it. He’s one of my good friends, but that was his decision. He has to make his choice that’s best for him. Obviously, he’s chosen Boston and its worked out pretty well for him.

We saw the highlights when Chara went out and protected you. What does that mean in the locker room? PK: It means a lot. It means that he’s a great leader. It means guys care for each other. When a guy will scrap for another guy I think it says a lot for the guy. Obviously he’s our Captain and he’s a great leader in the locker room. It means a lot to our team.

Do you buy him a watch or anything? PK: Yeah, right. Obviously I said thank you for that. It means a lot for a teammate to step up and defend you.

After the series with the Canadiens the team was definitely headed in the right direction. But could you have dreamed the team would have this much success? PK: Well, you always have to believe that. You’ve always got to go out and work hard on your game, and get better with each game and with each practice. You just keep going and moving forward.

Phil, you seem to really take advantage of your speed. Sometimes it can take a while for a young player to find ways to create space, though. Was there a turning point for you where you found a way to create more space? PK: Obviously it took a little bit. I think this year has been a little different because I’ve been skating with Savvy and Looch, and we just have good chemistry out there. Looch gives us a lot of space and Savvy will find you with the puck wherever you’re at. You just have to get open. When you’re open it’s better because he’s going to get the puck around to you pretty much all the time.

There also seems to be a big difference with this team, particularly in the power play this year. What’s been the difference? PK: I think that we’re getting more shots and making more plays getting pucks to the net. I think we’ve got more screens going on in front of the net, and guys are willing to pay the price to score goals.

Can you talk about the nice mix of young guys and veterans on this Bruins team? PK: Well, I think it’s really important. We’ve got a good mix of young guys, older guys and rookies. I think everybody cares about each other on this team and would do anything for the other guys. When you have that in the locker room, it makes it much easier to go out on the ice and do whatever it takes to win hockey games.

Tim Thomas established himself last year. Manny Fernandez has played well this season. Can you talk about the play of the goalies this year? PK: Yeah, it’s comforting for our team. No matter who’s in net, we’re confident they’re going to play well for us. We’ve got two really elite goaltenders that can go in between the pipes for us. They’re going to stop the puck and play great for us every night.

How important has it been to play through some of the injuries this season, particularly on the blue line? PK: You just look at it like we’ve got a lot of good young guys in Providence and whoever gets called up is going to step in right away and contribute. [Matt] Hunwick has been having a great season for us, and the other night I thought Marty Karsums came up and did really well for us. He did all of the little things right. We’re just confident we can put anybody in the lineup and they’ll do great for us.

For the first time in a long time, this team has three really great lines. It’s very refreshing to see that. PK: We can roll all of our lines and be confident that they’re going to do the job. If you look at Krejci, Wheeler and Ryder’s line they’re playing great right now and scoring a lot of goals. Bergie’s line is doing well too, but they’ve just got to get going. I think they’re playing good hockey and it’ll eventually show up more on the offensive end.

Is there any one guy you kind of lean on in the locker room for advice and things like that? PK: I don’t think anyone in particular. I think we’re a pretty close-knit group and every guy looks out for each other and will help any of the other guys.

Read More: Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Marc Savard, Marty Karsums

Sturm Face ready for a return?

12.17.08 at 3:30 pm ET
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The Bruins’ brass remains optimistic that Marco Sturm is sufficiently recovered from his concussion/whiplash symptoms to don the sweater and skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow night. Sturm has missed 12 games with the post-hit issues, but has been skating on-and-off for the last few weeks. With that in mind, Sturm stepped up his activity today during practice while working with the PP unit at Ristuccia Arena. Dust off the Marco Sturm Faces, because they may be in full effect at the Garden come Thursday night.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Sturm will be able to return tomorrow night, but will be a game-time decision after tomorrow’s morning skate and warm-up prior to the game. With Sturm out of the lineup for roughly a month, it’s likely that Julien and Co. will treat the winger in much the same they treated Chuck Kobasew when he returned from injury earlier this season.

“I say cautiously with Marco because I thought he was close at one point when he was skating, but then he took a step backwards,” said Julien. “But right now in the last week everything has been positive and he’s been moving forward to coming back.”

The coaching staff can plop Sturm onto a fourth line with Shawn Thornton and Stephane Yelle to give them a little bit more offensive punch and ease the German forward back into the B’s fold. How did it work for Kobasew? He only notched a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 8 — a performance that Sturm hopes to match if he gets in against the Leafs at the Garden tomorrow evening.

Read More: Chuck Kobasew, Claude Julien, Marco Sturm,

You’ve come a long way, PK

12.17.08 at 1:53 am ET
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After a brutal stretch in the first month of October, the much-maligned Boston Bruins‘ penalty kill limped into November feeding at the bottom of the NHL and clearly begging for a tune-up. It was a thorny source of frustration for Claude Julien and a B’s coaching staff that watched the Black and Gold finished 28th in the NHL last season with a 73 percent success rate. Julien and Co. made adjustments heading into this hockey season, but the results simply weren’t there.

The Bruins recruited better PK personnel in the in the forms of both Stephane Yelle and Patrice Bergeron this season, and many hoped that in itself would rise the Bruins up from the bottom of the NHL pile. Instead the pesky PK again degenerated into a glaring blemish this season amidst some really good things taking place on the frozen sheet, but the Bruins’ special teams pimple might have finally popped.

The coaches opted to banish the passive approach his skaters had taken to the penalty kill, and instead opted to attack the points and cut off the time and space enjoyed to either pass the puck or fire off a well-placed slapshot. The aggressive approach designed to crowd the power play points immediately began paying dividends for the Bruins, and the Boston skaters have been amongst the best penalty kill units in the league since Nov. 1. If the pressure didn’t act as the only catalyst, the Bruins also stepped up their shot-blocking efforts and filled up the passing and shooting lines to snuff out any remaining offensive opportunities.

 The special teams unit has squealched 61 of 68 penalty kill opportunities for a nifty 89.7 percent success rate over their current 19 game stretch of competence.

That is simply called turning things around.

The surge in special teams play has allowed the Bruins to rise from a dreadful 77.7 percent success rate to their current 82.3 percentage, which now ranks them 11th in the entire NHL and 5th in the Eastern Conference behind only the Rangers, Sabres, Senators and Flyers.

 Julien said that things actually began during last year’s postseason when the Bruins found a way to kill 30 out of 33 Montreal power play attempts during the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and became a big reason why the B’s were able to push the high-powered Habs to seven games. That’s a 90.9 percent success rate for those scoring at home, and it was the first indication that the Bruins’ skaters had the skill, know-how and good, old-fashioned hockey grit to get the job done while down a skater in the sin bin.

Add that to a goaltending tandem that’s leading the NHL with a combined .931 save percentage this season, and you have the Special Teams Success Story of the Season:

“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Julien. “There’s a commitment involved and there’s a willingness involved to pay the price. That means outworking the opposition — even if you’re on the penalty kill — it means the willingness to block shots and your goaltender has to obviously be your best penalty killer.

“Looking at the stats they’re obviously doing a good job and it’s a combination of a lot of things,” added Julien. “Maybe we were a little too passive early on and now we’re getting a little aggressive. There’s a time to be aggressive and that’s really helped a lot. Our penalty kill was an area where we finished strongly last season, and stumbled a bit this year — but we’ve found our groove again. Everything is kind of falling into place.”

Why should the penalty kill be any different than other areas for the Black and Gold during this charmed season of hockey: It’s all just kind of falling into place.

Kessel named NHL’s First Star

12.15.08 at 11:07 am ET
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There are plenty of shinning beacons serving as great examples of the masterful job that Claude Julien has done coaching this Bruins team, but perhaps no example is more dazzlingly brilliant or as stunning as the complete transformation of Phil Kessel.

The 21-year-old has a Beckett-like stubborness when it comes to his considerable hockey abilities — a trait that allows him to think that no one will beat him on the ice and can sometimes make people think that the youngster is cocky — and he’ll never admit that hitting the bench in the playoffs was a learning experience for him.

But it’s undoubtable that Kessel learned a valuable lesson by sitting for two of the Stanley Cup playoff games against the Montreal Canadiens, and that incident served as a bit of a wake-up call to a young player evolving and maturing at the NHL. Credit Julien with a big helping hand in the education of an elite young hockey player. The right wing now does all of the little things required from one of your best hockey players, and he’s put together the all-around hockey game with a veritable offensive explosion. For a team desperately in need of a goal-scorer, Kessel has already matched his output from last season and is on pace to be Boston’s first 50 goal scorer since Cam Neely.

One more other amazing tidbit: Kessel has played in 155 straight hockey games since returning from testicular cancer during the 2005-06 season, and shown an amazing durability and sturdiness in his 6-foot, 189-pound frame.

With that in mind, Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Petr Sykora and Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek were named the NHL’s ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Sunday, Dec 14 — with Kessel taking honors as the First Star.

FIRST STAR — PHIL KESSEL, RW, BOSTON BRUINS: Kessel tallied eight points (three goals, five assists) and extended his point streak to 15 games as the Bruins went 3-1-0, improving their Eastern Conference-leading record to 21-5-4. Kessel recorded one goal and one assist in a 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay Dec. 8, notched an assist in a 3-1 loss at Washington Dec. 10, tallied a goal and two assists in a 7-3 win at Atlanta Dec. 12 and closed the week with a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win over the Thrashers Dec. 13.

Kessel’s point streak is a career high, the longest in the NHL this season and longest by a Bruins player since Adam Oates recorded points in 20 consecutive games from Jan. 7 to Feb. 20, 1997. The 21-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native is second in Bruins scoring with 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 30 games, ranks third in the NHL in goals and already has matched his career high of 19 goals set last season.

SECOND STAR — PETR SYKORA, RW, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Sykora recorded eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games, beginning with a pair of assists in a 4-3 loss against Buffalo Dec. 8. He recorded his first career NHL hat trick and added one assist in a 9-2 victory over the New York Islanders Dec. 11 and recorded two assists in a 6-3 loss at Philadelphia Dec. 13. The 13-year NHL veteran had entered the Islanders game with 282 career NHL goals, the most among active players who had not recorded a hat trick.

THIRD STAR — THOMAS VANEK, LW, BUFFALO SABRES: Vanek notched a League-leading five goals, including two game-winning tallies, as the Sabres won three of four games. He scored the game-winning goal and became the first player to hit the 20-goal mark in a 4-3 win against Pittsburgh Dec. 8, notched two goals, including the game-winner, in a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay Dec. 10 and scored twice more in a 4-2 win at New Jersey Dec. 13. Vanek leads the NHL in goals with 24, three more than Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter, and has scored the highest percentage of his team’€™s goals this season (24/81, 29.6%).

Read More: Boston Bruins, Phil Kessel,

Bruins’ pace of scoring

12.15.08 at 8:18 am ET
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Though it’s starting to seem more like a MASH unit than a hockey team, injuries haven’t stopped the brazen Bruins from streaking on a number of different fronts. The Back in Black B’s have won 11 straight games within the friendly confines of the TD Banknorth Garden, Phil Kessel has grown into one of the most dangerous scorers in all of the NHL and posted  at least one point in an NHL-best 15 straight games, and veteran netminder Manny Fernandez has emerged from Tim Thomas‘ shadow to win eight straight games.

One has to wonder when some of the myriad injuries will seriously affect a B’s train that just keeps on rollin’, but — in the even better news department — coach Claude Julien is optimistic that Marco Sturm might be available later on this week.

“[Aaron] Ward, lower body, he’€™s still day-to-day.  [Marco] Sturm, upper body, he’€™s actually, yeah, we know about Sturm, but again, my comment with him would be ‘€˜cautiously optimistic’€™ because it was very good [Saturday]. It was even better than [Friday], and you’€™ve heard me say that many times, but unfortunately with those injuries there’€™s sometimes setbacks, but I’€™m going to say cautiously optimistic and he’€™s heading in the right direction,” said Julien. “[He'€™s on the LTIR right now] because, dating it back to when it happened, he’€™s still good for Thursday.  It’€™s the month.  It’€™s just the, I guess you’€™ll call it paperwork.  Nokie [Petteri Nokelainen], upper body.”

The Nokelainen injury could keep the Finnish forward out of the lineup for a week or longer, according to Bruins coach Claude Julien, but Spoked B keeps turning and winning.

Since the Bruins continue to win and ring up points on an incredibly consistent basis, I figured now would be a good time to project some of the current offensive numbers over the course of an entire 82-game regular season. Here it goes along with a brief note for each player that’s been a major factor this season:

Marc Savard (22 goals, 71 assists for 93 points): Savard was on a pace to top 100 points for the first time in his career until going through a bit of a quiet stretch as of late. His current pace is right in line with the rest of his assist-crazy career, but the whopping +46 he’s on pace for would be the stat to focus on when it comes to the nifty centerman.

Phil Kessel (52 goals, 33 assists for 85 points): By far the biggest jump on the team for the Bruins, as he went from solid 40 point threat to bona fide sniper in his third NHL season. Kessel has been deadly on the power play and is on pace to bank 16 power play tallies this season. Would be the first 50 goal scorer for Boston since a guy named Cam Neely if he can stay consistent.

David Krejci (22 goals, 57 assists for 79 points): Krejci has stepped up to give the Black and Gold the kind of strength up the middle at the center position that teams can only dream of. As good as he’s been through the first portion of the season, there’s always the back-of-your-mind feeling that he can be even better than he’s already been. When he unleashes it, the young center has a blistering shot to go along with his keen instincts.

Michael Ryder (27 goals, 30 assists for 57 points): Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that the Greek Chorus was bemoaning Ryder’s inability to live up the free agent contract he signed before the season because he is…like…here to score goals. Well, the critics have curbed their song of woe as Ryder continues to score goals in a big bunch. In seemingly no time at all Ryder has risen to second on the team with 10 goals scored this season.

Milan Lucic (25 goals, 33 assists for 58 points): Looch had stated that his offensive goal this season was to score between 20-30 goals in addition to his typical game of intimidation and rough stuff. For a 20-year-old left winger still learning his craft, a 50 plus point season would represent a quantum leap forward for the big left winger.

Dennis Wideman (19 goals, 30 assists for 49 points): The 25-year-old blueliner has finally arrived at a development spot where people aren’t bringing up Brad Boyes anymore. Many now realize that a legit puck-moving defenseman is worth the same as a potential 40 goal scorer. Wideman is on pace for career-highs in nearly every category while Boyes is on his way to a big minus number with the Blues this season.

Patrice Bergeron (11 goals, 36 assists for 47 points): Bergeron has definitely started out of gate slowly for the Bruins after missing nearly all of last season with a horrific concussion, but he still brings value with his hockey smarts, faceoff ability and defensive responsibility. If he ever gets it going circa 2005-06, this team will be extremely tough to stop.

Blake Wheeler (25 goals, 22 assists for 47 points): The rookie is already ahead of schedule, so numbers like these would be gravy. It isn’t unrealistic to expect his scoring pace to improve as the season goes on — provided he can sidestep the rookie wall he’s sure to run head-long into – if he keeps developing and keeps it in his mind to shoot the puck more.  He’s on a pace for a +49 this season, which is a testament to the responsible two-way hockey he’s played as a 22-year-old rookie.

Zdeno Chara (16 goals and 25 assists for 41 points): Big Z is another player like Bergeron that hasn’t had the best start to his season despite the team’s success, and his slow beginning is also attributable to injury: Chara had surgery to repair a torn labrum after last season. Despite all of the injury talk with Chara, however, the towering blueliner is still averaging a team-best 25:50 of ice time.

Chuck Kobasew (14 goals and 25 assists for 39 points): Kobasew missed the first part of the season after taking a shot off the leg, but has averaged nearly a point per game since his return. Kobasew should easily surpass his projected numbers if he can remain injury-free — a question mark given the rugged way he plays the game of hockey at a relatively small 6-foot and 195 pounds.

Matt Hunwick (8 goals and 30 assists for 38 points): 14 points and a +14 in only 18 games played? Things are looking very promising for the 23-year-old Michigan native, and the quick-skating, puck-moving defenseman could be a member of the Bruins blueline corps for a good long time. What a revelation…he saved this team once injuries hit the blueline.

Marco Sturm (16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points): Sturm got off to a slow start and is now being slowed by a concussion/neck injury that’s caused him to miss 11 straight games. It’s beginning to look like a bit of a lost season for the 30-year-old German winger, but that can certainly change with a healthy, happy second half of the season.

Stephane Yelle (11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points): The 34-year-old center has been a perfect addition at a bargain basement price by GM Peter Chiarelli. Solid on faceoffs once he read the tendencies of his Eastern Conference opponents and invaluable on a much-improved PK unit, Yelle — while no threat for the Hart Trophy – and the intangibles he brings to the table have been everything the Bruins were hoping for.

P.J. Axelsson (3 goals and 19 assists for 22 points): While Axelsson is known for his defensive game and skating ability, the 33-year-old Swede has also potted double-digit goal totals over the last three seasons. It’s been an uncharacteristic slow start for Axy and he’s on pace to be a -14 for the season, but he did register a huge shootout goal against the Blackhawks earlier this season. Amazing that it took 24 games for Axelsson to register his first goal.

Andrew Ference (0 goals and 19 assists for 19 points): The 29-year-old was on pace for his best NHL season when he went down with a broken tibia and he won’t be back until January. Ference’s veteran savvy, grit and experience will be beneficial when the Bruins get to the playoffs. Hunwick has stepped in ably when injuries mounted, but the Bruins will need Ference when the going gets tough.

Shane Hnidy (3 goals and 11 assists for 14 points): The 33-year-old is another Bruins player that is in line to have a career year, and the +30 pace that he’s on would blow away his career-best. Hnidy may see his minutes dwindle once both Ference and Ward return to the fold, but he’s been a solid cog in the blueline corps.

Mark Stuart (8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points): A true stay-at-home defenseman that’s perfected the art of the forearm shiver in his own zone. The 24-year-old has a good, hard shot from the point when he has a chance to utilize it and brings a unique skill set and physical bent to the B’s blueline corps.

Shawn Thornton (3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points): Thornton’s value is in areas that can’t be measured by statistics, but the 31-year-old has never reached double-digit totals in any season during his five-year career. The fearless winger gives the Bruins team much of its courage and sets the tone by always watching the backs of his teammates. He’s on a pace for 169 penalty minutes, which would easily be a career-high.

Aaron Ward (0 goals and 8 assists for 8 points): Ward and Stuart have many of the same skills, but the 35-year-old also obviously brings a degree of leadership and Stanley Cup experience that many on this young team simply don’t have. Ward is another vital cog once this team reaches the “tournament”

Petteri Nokelainen (0 goals and 3 assists for 3 points): The 22-year-old would like to score some goals to go along with his fourth line duties, but he’s a solid energy forward with excellent faceoff abilities if/when Yelle is tossed out of the dot. One other little tidbit: Nokie leads the Bruins in penalties drawn this season with an amazing 10 in his limited playing time on the fourth line. A testament to how much grit and smarts the youngster plays with.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Marc Savard

A first taste…

12.14.08 at 10:24 am ET
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Martins Karsums made his NHL debut on Saturday night, playing with Vladimir Sobotka and Shawn Thornton on the Bruins fourth line. He was Boston’s second round pick in 2004. In the Juniors, he was a star for the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL (see the highlight clips below).

The 22-year-old right wing played eight minutes, 52 seconds, 10 shifts while blocking a shot and doling out two hits. But he did enough to impress coach Claude Julien on Saturday before being sent back down to Providence after the game.

“I thought he was good tonight. To me, he almost had a couple of goals there. He had two real good chances to score,” Julien said.

Julien was asked if the team was sending him back down immediately.

“Have they announced that yet? Whether we’re going to keep him or not? Well, he’s going back. That’s the official announcement from the coach,” Julien said.

But don’t be surprised if Karsums get another chance in the not-too-distant future.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Martins Karsums, Providence Bruins,
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