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Byron Bitz playing big for the Bruins in victory

02.24.09 at 11:10 pm ET
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Even the most accomplished puck soothsayer might have had a difficult time predicting the Garden crowd of 16,781 would be chanting a chorus of “We Want Bitz” in the waning minutes of last night’s Bruins/Panthers tilt.

But that’s exactly what happened in the strange but true world of the Boston Bruins.

The brawny rookie winger from Saskatchewan banged home a pair of lamp-lighters but couldn’t snare the elusive third for the natural hat trick in Boston’s 6-1 triumph over a cagey Panthers crew at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.

“It was amazing,” said Bitz, who clearly didn’t bask in the adulation of 17,000 chanting fans when he was skating for Cornell. “It meant a lot. Everyone on the bench (was chanting along) and it was a lot of fun. It was just one of those nights.”

The evening was a bit of microcosm for the no holds barred, physical nature that the 24-year-old has brought to the table since getting called up Boston on Jan. 10. While flashier puck talents like Vladimir Sobotka, Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff have bounced up and down the “Lou Merloni Turnpike” between the Providence Baby B’s and Boston, Bitz has found a way to stick and carved out a pretty hefty-sized niche for himself on Boston’s fourth line.

“We were getting to the net very well,” said Bitz. “Shots were getting through. With my size, it’s to my advantage to get (to the net). (To be) a big body in front. To get in front of the goalie and take his vision away is a big part of my game.”

Last night, the B’s were holding on to a one-goal lead in the second period, and hadn’t really pulled away from a Panthers team that looks like they could be a handful for higher-seeded teams come Stanley Cup playoff time. The Black and Gold were clearly seeking a spark, and that’s exactly what they received from the energetic Bitz when he redirected a puck thrown in front of the net by heady veteran Stephane Yelle.

The under-the-radar Yelle simply threw the puck straight at the net from the left sideboards, and Bitz tipped the biscuit straight up past the crossbar and clean off the netting. The puck hit the twine and shot right back outside of the goal, but it was immediately ruled a score without any need to consult with the Great NHL Wizard Behind the Curtain in Toronto.

With less than five minutes to go in the second period, the energy restoration following Bitz’s second goal of the season was palpable. The B’s were buzzing with a little more room to operate courtesy of the two-goal advantage, and the floodgates opened for three more third period goals.

Fourth-liners Yelle, Bitz and Shawn Thornton have been playing consistently solid, responsible, blue-collar hockey over the last few weeks, and actually logged more respective ice time minutes (43 minutes, 15 seconds) last night than the newly reunited trio of David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder ( 42 minutes, 17 seconds).

It’s obvious that Bitz has been welcomed as a bruising part of the Bruins team and isn’t likely to be going anywhere, any time soon, and coach Claude Julien even hints that there may be some untapped scoring potential in Big Bitzy’s power  game.

“Not only does he bring his size and strength along the boards, he’€™s been solid. But I think he’€™s a guy that with confidence and with experience you are going to see him probably score more goals. That’€™s what he demonstrated a little bit of that tonight,” said Julien. “But he’€™s still here because he deserves to be here and’€¦ we haven’€™t gotten away from what we’€™ve been saying all along.

“If you deserve to be here, it doesn’€™t matter if you are a free agent, first round or seventh round pick, you’€™re going to play here and right now he’€™s shown us that he belongs in our lineup and as long as he does that, he is going to stay there.”

So what was Bitz planning on doing last night after hearing his name screamed in adulation by Bruins Nation, and subsequently basking in the glow of his first two-goal game in the NHL? Bitz was going to Shawn Thornton’s house in Charlestown, naturally, and planning on enjoying some of Thornton’s wife’s cooking.

Not quite DisneyWorld, but certainly something that’s been a key to the big lug’s success.

Injury Ward: No major injuries to speak of. But on a completely unrelated topic, there was a decent middleweight bout between Chuck Kobasew and Keith Ballard. It would have been even better if both players were without the visors that pretty much defeat the purpose of scrapping in the first place. The fight was certainly more passion than premeditation.

Player of the Game: Without question, Bitz was the man of the hour last night. In a time during the B’s season when both Julien and GM Peter Chiarelli have been preaching for players to get more involved around the dirty areas of the ice, Bitz picked up a grimy tip in front of the net and banged home a long rebound of a Yelle shot on a nice hustle play in the third period.

Goat Horns: Krejci has been very inconsistent as of late, and was banged around pretty hard by the Panthers defense last night. The high-end talent skated 17 shifts, didn’t register a point or a shot on net, lost 7 of his 11 faceoff draws and his line was shut down for the most part last night. The effort seems to be there with Krejci, but a few good bounces would take some of the pressure off.

Turning Point: Bitz was obviously the turning point in the game, but Michael Ryder’s return to the lineup offers what could be a quasi-turning point for Boston’s stretch run over the last quarter of the season. Ryder cashed in on a power-play goal, and immediately gives the PP unit a finisher around the net that makes them all kinds of dangerous. He adjusted well to the face shield, and definitely had a little extra hop in his step. Ryder also helped set up Mark Stuart’s first period goal that built Boston their 2-1 lead after the first period.

“I think when you are ready for so long and you come back, you always are a little more pumped up for the first game,” said Ryder, who finished with a goal and an assist and two shots on net. “I think this game and last week helped a lot. After a couple of shifts, I felt good out there.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Byron Bitz, Claude Julien, Michael Ryder

Ryder adds to the Bruins goal parade, B’s lead 6-1

02.24.09 at 9:16 pm ET
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Michael Ryder made it a memorable first game back from facial fractures when he bombed down the slot and rifled a protoypical power play wrist shot goaltender Craig Anderson for the B’s sixth goal of the night. The B’s are winning 6-1 over the Panthers with 8:29 remaining in the third period.

The Bruins floodgates have opened in third period

02.24.09 at 9:06 pm ET
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The third period was Boston’s friend for much of the magical first half of the hockey, and it is again tonight after goals by Byron Bitz and veteran blueliner Aaron Ward. Bitz blasted home a juicy rebound of a Stephane Yelle shot and Ward scored on a long bomb shot from the right point.

The Bruins lead 5-1 over the Panthers with 11:23 to go in the third in a laugher at the Garden. Bonus info: decent little scrap by a pair of players with vistors on between the two goals as Chuck Kobasew and Florida D-man Keith Ballard dropped the gloves and threw a punch or two.

Byron Bitz dirty score extends the lead to 3-1

02.24.09 at 8:41 pm ET
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The B’s brass has long been preaching for more courageous coverage within the dirty areas of the ice, and it doesn’t get any dirtier than directly in front of the opposing net. That’s exactly where 6-foot-5 Byron Bitz camped himself in the second period, and it allowed him to redirect a Stephane Yelle shot from the sideboards past Florida goalie Craig Anderson.

The goal hit the roof of the net and then quickly shot back out of the net just as rapidly as it entered.

The score was Bitz’s second goal of the season, and has given the Bruins a 3-1 lead over the Panthers at the end of two periods of play.

Bergeron, Stuart key Bruins 2-1 lead over Panthers

02.24.09 at 8:16 pm ET
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First period scores by Patrice Bergeron and Mark Stuart have staked the Bruin out to a 2-1 lead against a Florida Panthers team that is again giving the Bruins all they can handle at the TD Banknorth Garden. Kamil Kreps got one back for the Panthers at the 13:34 mark of the first to cut the lead in half.

The B’s still hold on to the 2-1 lead over the Panthers at the 7:49 mark of the second period.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Mark Stuart, Patrice Bergeron,

Matt Hunwick, Vladimir Sobotka sent down to Providence

02.24.09 at 9:43 am ET
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Rookie defenseman Matt Hunwick and forward Vladimir Sobotka, both healthy scratches in Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, were sent down to the Providence Bruins on Tuesday morning.

Hunwick and Sobotka will both play in Providence’s game tonight, and Hunwick is expected to be called back up to Boston on Wednesday to rejoin the team. Hunwick has only played one game during the month of February, and hasn’t played since Feb. 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers. The B’s were looking for a spark from both David Krejci and Vladimir Sobotka when they put the two forwards together for a series of games, but his play didn’t warrant him staying with Michael Ryder returning to the lineup.

Here’s the official release from the Bruins:

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced today that the club has assigned defenseman Matt Hunwick and forward Vladimir Sobotka to the Providence Bruins (American Hockey League). Both are expected to play in Providence’s game tonight against the Manchester Monarchs at 7:00 p.m. ET, while Hunwick is expected to be recalled and rejoin the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.

Hunwick saw action in 38 games this year for Boston and has recorded 3-12=15 totals and a +9 plus/minus rating. He was a healthy scratch in the Bruins’ last six games. Hunwick appeared in two games for the P-Bruins this season, registering two assists.

Spending the majority of the 2007-2008 season in Providence, Hunwick posted 2-21-23 totals in 55 games.  He was recalled to Boston on four separate occasions last year and tallied one assist in 13 games.  The University of Michigan graduate was drafted by the Bruins in the seventh round (224th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

Sobotka has played in 23 games for Boston during the 2008-2009 season and recorded 1-3=4 totals. In 25 games with the P-Bruins this year, Sobotka tallied 12 goals and 15 assists. He split the 2007-2008 season between Boston and Providence. With Boston, he saw action in 48 regular season games and contributed one goal and six assists and added two goals in six postseason games. With Providence last year, he had 10-10=20 totals in 18 regular season games and added four assists over six postseason games.

Sobotka was originally drafted by the Bruins in the 4th round (106th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.

The Bruins begin a six-game homestand when they host the Florida Panthers tonight, February 24, at 7:00 p.m. ET at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Fans interested in learning more about Boston Bruins players, or ticket options, should visit the team website at or call 617.624.BEAR.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Matt Hunwick, Michael Ryder, Peter Chiarelli

Peter Chiarelli looking to make a deal for Bruins

02.23.09 at 5:50 pm ET
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The NHL held a series of conference calls this afternoon in advance of the March 4 trade deadline, and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was among the quarter on board to discuss potential deadline deals. Chiarelli was consistent with the message he’s been floating out there all along: he’d love some kind of size up front, he’s leaning more toward rental players but could move for something bigger if it’s “the real deal”, and he doesn’t want to mess with the current team chemistry or his impressive core of young talent. 

Q. The Bruins have had such a great season so far. With the deadline coming up, there’s a saying, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” Are you guys planning on improving your team going into the deadline? PETER CHIARELLI: We’re going to try. Last year we looked an at some deals and we decided they weren’t worth messing with the chemistry. That certainly will be in the equation this year. Certainly I would like to add a couple things if I can. 

Again, you know, the races are so tight now. As of this time, there’s not a lot happening. There’s a lot of discussion, but not a lot happening. We’ll see how the next few days unfold.

Q. If teams like Washington and New Jersey go out and make some moves to improve their teams, would that prompt you to possibly react and do the same? PETER CHIARELLI: Well, it certainly, you know, I’m not going to change our stance as we approach the deadline. We’ve got a relatively short list of players that we’re looking at. We know we’re in competition with other teams to get those players. 

So as that list shortens and we’re not getting any of these players, it’s only natural we’d try and step up our efforts. We look at our list more than we look at our competitors.

Q. What are the current plans for Manny Fernandez? Have teams expressed their interest in him?PETER CHIARELLI:I’m not going to comment on our players vis-a-vis trade discussions. What I can say, is I’m happy with our goaltending duo right now. I think it’s a position of strength as we go forward into the playoffs.

Q. While you’re pondering how you want to approach this year’s trade deadline, and you talked about team chemistry, what do you debate or think about when you think about chemistry and obviously not wanting to disrupt it? PETER CHIARELLI: Well, part of it is deciding if you have to subtract to add, if it means taking away a significant piece, or any piece for that matter, you really have to really look at it and think about it long did and hard if you want to do it.

You have to weigh the piece, the player or players that you’re moving out and the player or players that you’re moving in. I guess part of that is the blend of experience. You want to make sure if you’re adding to either the experience or youth, more likely experience, I mean, you have to look that ratio.

Really, it’s the significance of the player that you’re adding, and is it worth what you’re giving up in the long run. You talk to your coaching staff at length about the room and how these players will interact and how they will react. These players all want to win and be part of a winning team. Your have look at it very carefully.

Q. Do you find yourself going back and forth on the chemistry issue on the day, and maybe on some days thinking, Let’s just get the best player available and deal with whatever chemistry issues might arise? PETER CHIARELLI: You have to be careful there. We went through that in Ottawa where we thought we were getting the best player ? and we were ? and it just didn’t fit in the mix of things.

You have to be careful, you know, let’s just add a player. You have to be very careful. It may take away from roles of other players on and off the ice that may be detrimental. So there’s a lot more than just what the player brings on the ice that we look at and discuss. You have to be very sensitive to that.

Q. Is there an example with Boston or Ottawa where chemistry played a part in your decision and the player fit in quite nicely? PETER CHIARELLI:I can’t think of one off the top of my head. I do remember one deal that we played that wasn’t a deadline deal. Certainly the Hossa (ph) deal had a lot to do with chemistry, and really not so much the salary cap, but budgetary reasons at the time. It ended up working out. We gave up a really good player for another really good player. I remember talking about the chemistry in that sense.

There have been some cases where things didn’t work out in Ottawa. The one that comes to mind was Peter Bondra. We just couldn’t get him in the right fit in the lineup. That’s why I say you have to be careful just adding the best player. 

Q. How much do you weigh going for the Cup this season with the long-term health of the franchise? PETER CHIARELLI: Well, I’ve talked about windows. In the salary cap system, you have your windows come and go fairly quickly. Having said that, we have a pretty strong, young foundation. You know, as much as you want to seize the opportunity and as much as our market demands it, I’m more apt to be patient and not to pick apart the young foundation we have. 

It’s tempting, and certainly it’s something that we look at long and hard, especially since there are some players out there that can give you immediate impact in certain situations.

So it’s our job to balance that. Understand also that we have young players that may never see our lineup or won’t fit into our lineup that are good players. You have to recognize those players and use them as chips in any future deals.

Q. And you talked about chemistry a few minutes ago. With regards to that, would you be more apt to acquire a player that you or your coaching staff have had before? PETER CHIARELLI: Any more information you can get on a player is helpful. We’ve got a whole list a sources, whether they’re our scouts or coaching staff or whatever, that we look to to gather information on these players.

If there’s a player that one of our coach staff or scouting staff have had, certainly that will be in their favor. It’ll probably look to, you know, making the decision a lot easier. 

It’s certainly something we take into consideration. 

Q. I know it might be a little bit difficult to generalize, but in your experience, how long does it take most deadline deals to get done? The things that happen on deadline day, are they generally talked about and in the works now, or is it a lot of quick decisions in the last day or two? PETER CHIARELLI: In my experience in both Ottawa and here in Boston, they have been in the works at least a month. There’s minor tinkering. There’s kind moments to do it and then pulling back. There’s discussions with ownership, philosophical discussions.

So I think you have the basis of a deal, whether it’s an offer or an offer and a counteroffer maybe a month or two before. You just got to try and hammer it down and close it. They’re hard to close because there’s a lot of interests that are flying around, and you want to try and bring them all in line.

Q. I guess part of that is that other teams could be involved and it’s almost like a chain effect, too. PETER CHIARELLI: Yeah, there’s a domino effect and then there’s the other team’s involvement if they up an offer at the last minute. It kind of throws it askew. 

A lot of it is timing. We do a lot preparation in advance, and all GMs do, in advance of these trading deadlines that go back at least a couple months to pro meetings and subsequent meetings and scouting reports. So these deals that happen at the last minute, those are dangerous ones.

Q. So from your perspective then, do you then generally target a few guys or have a list of guys that you might be interested in and then you work off that list? PETER CHIARELLI: Yeah, and we do that for in the summer for the free agents also. You have an interest list of needs. It might be twenty players. Throughout the course of time, for example for this deadline, you narrow them down by whether they’re possible to attain. After viewings from your scouting staff you eliminate guys and you work your way down to a workable list.

That may be one player and it may be three players. Then you try and do a deal for one of those players.

Q. Your team is struggling maybe really for the first time all year. I’m wondering, does that color at all what you’d like to acquire or how much you might want to do in the next week? PETER CHIARELLI: Well, it hasn’t changed our approach. We’re at some point going to struggle, and we were prepared for it. Part of is it the young guys hitting a bit of a wall. They look like they’re coming out a if a bit. It’s part of a long year.

Our approach and strategy hasn’t changed with respect to the deadline. It just goes ?? the players of interest to us are still of interest to us, and we’re still pursuing those players.

Q. About a week ago when you guys were about ready to play against San Jose, you mentioned a segment of the schedule which was really difficult. You had some New Jersey meetings and Washington and things like that, top teams and bigger physical teams. How has that factored in? PETER CHIARELLI: I think that actually ended with the New Jersey game. I kind a liked our New Jersey game. We lost, I think it was 1-0, but I like the way we came out of it. For the most part in that mix, and I think the Washington, New Jersey, Rangers, Montreal, Philly, Ottawa is in there, I think I didn’t mind how we played in that stretch.

The stretch after that against teams that maybe weren’t as high as those others teams in the rankings we haven’t played as well. But I didn’t mind our play. I think we responded okay. I think I said I’d like to add some size in our lineup in the midst of that stretch, and that’s still a priority for us. 

Q. Looking ahead to the summer free agency period, do you expect to see more or fewer lucrative long-term contracts, especially for veterans? PETER CHIARELLI: From us you’re not going to see long, like significantly long-term deal. I think there will be a pull back just based on the cap projecting to go down. I think that translates into probably lesser average annual value and a lesser term than we’ve seen in the past. 

Having said that, when you’re in that free agent market and there’s a player you want, you tend to overpay. Sometimes that results in a deal where really the real term is a lot less than the stated term, and you’ve got years on top of the real term that are kind of average down years. 

You might see that. I don’t think you’ll see the really long-term deals. 

Q. Last year at the deadline with Toronto we saw some players that were not willing to move their no-trade clauses. Because we’re in a salary cap world, do you personally have a number of no-trades or no-movement clauses that you have a limit you will handout on a given season? If so, what number is that? PETER CHIARELLI: Personally, I try not to give any. Realistically, again, when there’s a player that you need and want in your lineup, that’s a bargaining chip that’s subject to negotiation.

The presence of no-trades has been, the players have strongly pushed it forward. I can understand them wanting to do that. It does put a tremendous restriction on a GM around this deadline if there’s players they want to move that have these clauses.

It’s just the cost of doing business. It’s something that we’re all faced with. We have to make discussions on a negotiation-by-negotiation basis.

Q. Does it influence your decision even more to make a deadline deal if your club is suddenly hit with injuries, like in your case with Patrice and Michael going down? PETER CHIARELLI: Yeah, absolutely. Part of the driving force in these deadline deals is getting depth. I think that I can speak for all the teams: They always want to get as deep as they can. 

Of course when you have these injuries before the deadline, it certainly changes your approach on some of your negotiations. So we’re fortunate to have Patrice back now, and Ryder should be back very shortly, if not tomorrow. We’re good in that respect.

Q. And what have you heard of your goalie prospect, Rask? How far off do you feel he is to playing with a big club? PETER CHIARELLI: He’s had a very good year. I saw hem on play on Friday. He won that game and played very well. He’s coming along nicely. His development track is as we had projected. He should find his way into our lineup shortly.

Q. Do you look at these next couple days independently in terms of the contracts that you have coming up with some young guys, both goalies being free agents? Do they go hand in hand at all in terms of who you might be looking to acquire, or do you kind of try and keep them on separate ends? PETER CHIARELLI: We look at them all together. Any of these players that we look to acquire, we look at our lineup this year and next year and the following year. So it’s at least a two-year look ahead that we use. 

So we try and look at as big a picture as possible and try not to make those decisions bases on a short-term kind of snapshot. 

Q. Did you get some good news with Michael today? PETER CHIARELLI: My guess is that — and it’s a guess right now, but it’s an educated guess — is that he’ll be in the lineup for tomorrow.

Q. It’s probably been about the last month or so that perhaps there’s been a dip in the play, and maybe it’ll take a little bit longer to get things going in the right direction again. From what you’ve seen, are there some general things that you look at and say, Jeez, these are some of the things that we weren’t doing as well the a few month ago? PETER CHIARELLI: Yeah. They’re things that can be fixed. For me, it was driving the net. I think we were one of the best in the league at driving the net and backing the defense off. We haven’t been doing that as much.

One of the other things was you can drive the net, but you have to stay in those dirty area. We got to do that more. The other is finishing checks. Those three things to me I’ve seen a drop off. When you do those three things, I think the rest of your game will come around.

We haven’t been doing that as well over the last month or so.

Q. Have you seen any trades made this year by other teams that made you think, Hmmm, they’re doing that to get better at playing against us. If you did see that, would you look at somebody in the trade market to counter that? PETER CHIARELLI: I haven’t seen that yet. I think most teams…I would expect most teams think the way we do: we want to improve. We might look to make trades to counter what we think will be the greatest opposition of those other teams. I would imagine they look at it the same way. 

I haven’t seen many trades this year. You might want to ask me that in a week and I can let you know. 

Q. Last year you didn’t do anything significant on the deadline, and you didn’t want to get into any rentals. You wanted to make sure that you what acquired was going to be part of the picture going forward. Do you feel any less committed to that thinking when you’re in the position you’re in now? PETER CHIARELLI: I think, yes, we’re looking at it a little differently this year. I talked earlier about being in and around our window but bouncing our young foundation. You know, for us, a rental is a player whose contract is expiring. I think we would look to that type of player if the price is right. 

You got pay to get these players, because they’re good players. Again, my job is to…if we’re look to these players, and we are this year — I’m not saying we’re not looking at players who have years left on their contract. We just have to make sure it’s the right deal.

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