|10.27.08 at 10:51 pm ET|
Solid two-way hockey effort in a 1-0 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers last night helped kick off a character-testing three game road trip into the hockey hotbeds of western Canada. The defense was crisp and supportive in the box-and-one style preached by Claude Julien, and the offense finally deliverd in the extra session and saved the B’s from another bittersweet fate in the shootout.
A few interesting things to ponder after watching Dennis Wideman bury the second goal for a Bruins blueliner this season — with Wideman accounting for both defenseman lamp-lighters:
–The Bruins defenseman had talked last week about stepping up their offensive production and helping support the goal-scoring load largely carried by the forwards, and Wideman’s blasts from the point became the focal point of the power play enjoyed by the Black and Goal in overtime. Wideman picked up a pair of assists in the 5-4 win over the Trashers on Saturday and notched the game-winner last night, and is an offensively-gifted defenseman that should be develop into a key part of Boston’s offensive efforts. Wideman has the best purely offensive skills among Boston’s D-man corps, and seems to be finding that elusive balance between offense/defense for a rear guardsmen.
“There’s a vocal demand for the defenseman to jump in, but you’ve got to do it and not forget about your defensive responsibilities,” said D-man Aaron Ward prior to the B’s embarking on their three game road trip. “It’s great when you do it and we have the same goals against [as last season]. As much as [the defenseman] are not showing up in the scoreboard, there is a definitive defensive effort being shown out there.”
–The “energy line” of Shawn Thornton, Petteri Nokelainen and Stephane Yelle gave the B’s a bucket full of jump and jam for the second straight game, and allowed Bruins coach Claude Julien to roll through all four lines without hesitation. Nokelainen used his tenacity on the puck to draw a penalty late in the third period that could have set the Bruins up to win it in regulation, and the trio has gelled a unit that’s become an asset rather than a bunch of skaters at the end of the lines that a coach is loathe to give ice time to.
“The one thing we’ve been trying to get this year, talking about trying to improve our hockey club, was to get a line, an energy line, whatever you want to call it, the fourth line, that could help contribute as well as give us energy,” said Julien of Nokelainen/Yelle/Thornton after Saturday’s win. “[They] gave us the spark that we needed.”
–Tim Thomas was huge throughout his 27 saves en route to his eighth career shutout, and made a game-saving stop when he leapt to smother a Ales Hemsky blast in the waning seconds of the third period. Claude Julien has essentially rotated Thomas and Manny Fernandez evenly in the early going for the B’s, but it may be time to ride last season’s All-Star goaltender a little bit.
The B’s netminder is fully aware that he can’t physically handle a 70 plus game workload during the season and needs breathers fairly often, but the 34-year-old is clearly giving the Black and Gold their best chance to win right now. Fernandez’s time will no doubt regain his full stride and he was able to hang in for Saturday’s win over the Thrashers, but there’s no doubt that Thomas is just that much sharper between the pipes at this point in the season.
–Also interesting to note the ice time that forwards received in the overtime game, and that the three top ice- time deserving forwards were David Krejci, Marc Savard (19:45) and Phil Kessel (19:23), with Krejci logging a whopping 20:40 during the overtime game. The cerebral Krejci just keeps earning more confidence and trust from the Bruins coaching staff, who clearly see a smart player consistently making excellent decisions with the puck in all game situations. Krejci’s hockey sense and improved shot have really stood out over the first nine games of the season.
|10.25.08 at 8:39 pm ET|
Good times all-around for the Bruins following a 5-4 win over the Thrashers Saturday night at the TD Banknorth Garden before an announced crowd of 16,044 — a rowdy bunch that booed the B’s off the ice when they were down 2-0 following the first period and then easily tossed 50 hats on the ice following Milan Lucic’s game-winning third goal of the night with 1:41 to go in the third period.
It was the B’s first hat trick since Phil Kessel pulled it off early last season against the LA Kings on Oct. 12, 2007.
The big hero on the evening was the same punishing guy that utilized brute strength to shatter the glass around the boards while checking a Maple Leafs defenseman just two days earlier. This time the Looch used his strength and skill to camp out in front of the net and notch the first multiple goal game of his career, a performance that might have been aided by a recent decision to use contact lenses on the ice.
Lucic started using contacts while playing the Leafs on Thursday night — after just wearing glasses when he was watching TV at night for the last three years or so — and things have appropriately taken off for the hulking 6-foot-4, 220-pounder.
“This is my second game wearing contacts out there, so it’s a lot easier to see the puck when your vision is clear. [Wearing contacts] is like going from a regular, old TV to a High-Definition TV, so that’s the perspective that I have now,” said Lucic, who last collected le trick de chapeau (that’s only a strict Haggs French translation right there, so don’t go parading that little bon mot down St. Catherine Street. “[The hat trick] was nice, but one goal, two goals, no goals…it doesn’t matter to me as long as we get the win.”
B’s head coach Claude Julien says that he still sees Lucic squinting and wincing on the ice out of habit, but will take whatever aid is helping Looch perform out on the frozen sheet — while also pointing out that the good and fearless work habits exhibited by the brawny forward are a good example for the rest of the team. Lucic fights to keep his position in the offensive zone with ferocious intent, and brandishes a fearless willingness to brave into the violent areas of the ice where both goals are made and blood is spilled on occasion.
“Looch got rewarded tonight for being willing to [go to the front of the net] and paying the price. He’s got the physique to do it, and if he keeps doing it he’s going to keep scoring goals,” said Julien. “This is the Boston Bruins and it’s about heart and soul and working hard, and Looch is the perfect example of that. He won us a hockey game tonight with the game that he played and the identity that we’re talking about.”
–Just before face-off with Atlanta, the Bruins announced that the third period in tonight’s game would be split, with the teams switching ends at the first stoppage in play after the 10-minute mark of the period.
The change in format is occurred due to incorrect markings on the West End (visitors bench side) of the TD Banknorth Garden Ice. In the West End, the two face-off dots are 24 feet from the goal line – four feet longer than NHL specifications — a discrepancy that was first noticed by New Bedford Standard Times hockey reporter Mick Colageo. The corresponding face-off circles are also four feet further away from the goal line.
The Bruins and Thrashera began the third period in the same ends that they finished the second period. Following the first stoppage after the 10-minute mark of the third period, the teams switched ends, and the face-off took place on the opposite side of where play ended.
The current sheet of ice was installed on September 9, 2008, and the error was not noticed by the Bruins until this morning. Due to the error, the NHL mandated the changes to tonight’s game format.
‘Of the many logistical tasks the Garden operations team is called upon to perform each season, painting and marking the ice sheet is one of the more routine and straight-forward. Therefore, this oversight is simply an inexcusable and disappointing error for which we apologize to the Boston Bruins and the NHL at-large,’ said TD Banknorth Garden President John Wentzell.
–Aside from the Lucic on-ice heroics, the game also featured a Julien-fueled tongue-lashing between the first and the second period when the B’s found themselves down by two goals while playing a pretty uninspired brand of hockey.
Let’s let Julien tell the story:
“To put it mildly [the effort] was unacceptable by individuals and as a group. Right now I think it’s pretty obvious that we’ve got a lot of our good players that aren’t at the top of their games. We can stand here and pretend and sugarcoat it. But maybe it’s encouraging because it means that we can be that much better when everybody finds their games and starts playing the way they can.”
–One thing to look for going forward is increased ice time and responsibility — and a bump up to the first unit — for the former second power play unit of David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Dennis Wideman, Andrew Ference and Phil Kessel.
That quintet provided a pair of power play strikes in Saturday night’s win and have been dangerous with the man advantage while mixing responsible play with Lucic’s toughness, Kessel’s sniper-like abilities and Krejci’s playmaking skills with the puck. The second-teamers were the first one’s out on the man advantage a handful of times on Saturday night, and that may be the case in the B’s foreseeable future — per the orders of their coach.
“They’ve been going first because they’ve been our best power play [unit],” said Julien. “They’re the ones that have given us the most goals, and — hey — why not have a little competition between the two power play [teams]? If you want to be first, then go out there and earn it.”
“It’s important right now that players don’t take it as a position of status and think they’re automatically going to get that ice time,” said Julien. “[The second power play unit]” has earned the right to start as we speak.”
|10.25.08 at 8:16 pm ET|
In the words of colleague Joe Haggerty, the Thrashers felt the power of the Looch on Saturday night at TD Banknorth Garden as the Bruins erased an early 2-0 hole and beat the Atlanta Thrashers, 5-4, for their first home win of the season.
It was a night of firsts as Milan Lucic collected his first career hat trick. In fact, it was the first multiple goal game in the league.
|10.25.08 at 10:22 am ET|
It’s easy to get a bit preoccupied with the lightning quick scoring starts enjoyed by Marc Savard and Phil Kessel in the early going of the hockey season, but Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli issued an interesting response when asked to single out a Bruins player that’s really impressed/pleasantly surprised him in the early going.
His answer: defenseman Andrew Ference.
The 29-year-old Edmonton native has quietly picked up three assists in the first seven games with the Bruins and also leads the hockey club in +/- with a sterling +6 on the season. Ference hasn’t tried to do anything flashy or embark on highlight reel rushes up the ice designed to steal the breath away from hockey fans in the stands, but he’s simply done the simple meat and potatoes work expected from a top four defenseman.
Ference’s motto might as well be the Emersonian creedo of “simplify, simplify, simplify.”
“He’s probably been one of our best defenseman since the start of training camp,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Why has he been that way? Because he’s keeping his game simple, and just making the good first passes. He’s really not panicking out there, and is making good decisions.
“That’s basically what we want from the players,” added Julien. “We’re not asking them to complicate the game more than they need to just execute it…and execute it well. That’s an area where Andrew Ference has been really good since Day One.”
Ference popped in a goal and 14 assists last season, but also finished the campaign saddled with a pretty underwhelming -14 for the season and missed 23 games with injuries to his core, knee and leg along the way. The knee woes really seemed to negatively effect Ference’s play down the stretch and into the playoffs, and that’s never been more apparent than watching the 5-foot-10, 189-pound blueliner play some very sound defense over the 22 minutes of ice time per game this season – the same amount of ice that he’s averaged during all three seasons wearing the Spoked B sweater.
“I think that Ference has played very well,” said Chiarelli. “He’s rebounded well. He had the bad knees last year and you could see that in his turning [on the ice].”
Julien and Chiarelli are both seeing the guy that they observed in the early going of last season before his cranky knees came into play. Just look at the numbers from last season: Ference was a -2 and had racked up 10 assists over the first 33 games of 2007-08, but after battling through injuries that lingered in the second half he scored only a goal and four assists and carried around a revealing -12 after the All-Star break.
“I’m feeling good and healthy. I’m feeling strong and fast,” said Ference. “It’s about just playing a simple game and doing my job. It’s extremely frustrating to get injured and then miss time, so that’s why the work over the summer and sacrificing the fun time is so important.
“You end up feeling good like this at the beginning of the season and hopefully you feel like this all the way through unless something freak like the Kobasew thing happens to you,” added Ference, referencing a freak injury the Bruins forward suffered after getting with a puck.
To his credit, Ference played through the pain and didn’t complain or make excuses but it’s been clear to see what a free-and-easy Ference back at full health is capable of thus far.
“I thought he played really well [last season] and then those injuries set him back a little bit,” said Julien. “Eventually he found his game again. Hopefully he can stay away from that and give us that consistent game that he’s given us for the most part when he’s healthy.”
Minutes from the GM Meetings
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli reported that a myriad of topics were broached at the NHL GM Meetings held in the Windy City of Chicago on Thursday, and several involved slight rule tweaks to defensive play in the D-Zone as well the heated Therma-Blade skates, the ever-present CBA discussions and a run-down on this season’s foray into Europe for regular season games.
Chiarelli said there wasn’t anything new to report concerning the B’s possible involvement in a European season-opener next year, but the B’s GM didn’t seem too averse to starting the season in the home of P.J. Axelsson, Sweden, next year. There’s no guarantee that the free agent forward will be in Boston next season or that it’s a potential game destination for the Black and Gold next October, but it’s certainly hockey food for thought.
“It really is nice this time of year,” said Chiarelli, who said there’s been some connection between the European NHL game locales in relation to the home areas of certain players on participating NHL teams. “It’s always been a point of discussion with the NHL concerning expansion into Europe. We didn’t discuss that [this year], but we just talked about the teams that went over there this year and the logistics of it.
“We talked about a couple of — in the infant stages for discussion purposes – rule tweaks that would create offense based upon making defensive plays in the defensive zone and restricting those plays,” said Chiarelli. “Goals are up a bit from where they were last season, so that’s their objective along with lead changes [in games]. We touched on a lot of topics and it was more about gauging interest to lead in to the next meeting.”
Kobasew on the mend
Chuck Kobasew, who’s been out of action since taking a shot off his right leg and suffering a fractured right ankle, has engaged in brief skating sessions over the last few days, and is approaching a return to the Bruins lineup. The Bruins winger suffered the injury during Boston’s opening night win in Colorado on Oct. 9, and could be ready for a return to the B’s lineup right around their Oct. 30 game against the Calgary Flames – if all goes according to the current plan.
“We said that it was a minimum of three weeks [to heal] and hopefully he’s on a pace to be back sooner rather than later,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “It’s encouraging. He’s going out for a few minutes every day, and this is the second day he’s been out there. He’s doing better, but we’ll give him some time.”
|10.24.08 at 12:29 pm ET|
The B’s Friday morning practice was one predictably filled with skating, more skating and a big helping of sheepish regret after frittering one away against a divisional opponent the night before at the Garden. The B’s are still looking for their first win on home ice, and Claude Julien still clearly wasn’t happy with the effort against the Leafs. Friday morning the B’s whistle blower called it “by far our worst game of the season.”
It wasn’t an out-and-out punitive bag skate for the Bruins at practice with the Atlanta Thrashers on the schedule for Saturday night, but it was clear that the team was being called on to reinforce the little things: more grit and tenacity around the net and the danger areas in the offensive zone and the mental strength to stick within Julien’s defensive system when play starts to break down on the ice.
“We need to get a little hungrier,” said Julien. “I think being hungrier can get us over the hump a little. It’s not what our fans deserve, and that’s why we have to show that we have some pride and bounce back tomorrow and show [the fans] the real Boston Bruin team.”
One moment of levity during the media session following practice involved the Looch – AKA Milan Lucic – recounting how he basically threw a Toronto Maple Leafs player through the glass boards and shattered a 1/2 inch thick pane of glass on the side wall. Lucic said that he thinks that the hit was aided by both his and Mike Van Ryn’s sticks hitting the top of the glass-like material, where the acrylic sheet is most vulnerable.
“It felt cool. I heard a couple of people went to the hospital and got stitches and stuff, and that kinda sucks that it happened like that. If you look at it, the way somebody explained it to me, it’s the top of the glass that’s very vulnerable. If you see the hit, when it happens our sticks hit the top of the glass and then I hit him. So just hitting the top of the glass put so much pressure and helped make it shatter. The sticks hitting the top of the glass triggered the whole thing and the glass breaking.”
Doesn’t that take away some of the sheer awesome power of the hit and growing mythology of the fire-breathing Looch lurking in Boston?
“Well, there still had to be a lot of power. Obviously now I know how to do it. It was a hard hit and it felt cool, that’s for sure,” said Lucic. “I received a lot of text messages and they were all like ‘holy smokes’ and one guy asked me if I worked out enough this summer. It was on TSN in Canada and all kinds of people told me they saw it.”
The hit reminded Marc Savard a bit of the plate of glass that landed on Janet Gretzky and knocked The Great One’s wife out cold after mustache-twirling Bruins villian Ulf Samuelsson crashed into the boards with similar force during a New York Rangers game. Savard was a member of the Rangers at the time and remembered the scary incident pretty vividly.
“Yeah, I had seen that when a guy got hit into the boards and the glass popped out and hit Janet right in the forehead,” said Saved. “She was bleeding out of the mouth. It was a scary sight, and just Thank God that nobody got seriously injured. It’s a part of the game. [Looch] is a big boy and anytime he hits you, you feel it. A lot of people felt that one.
“It really put a stall in the game. It was a good hit, but we didn’t really muster much after that. Saturday [against the Thrashers] gives a good chance to redeem that.”
Here’s the Samuelsson hit that knocked out the glass boards and subsequently injured The Great One’s wife back in the late 1990′s, courtesy of the all-knowing and all-powerful youtube:
|10.24.08 at 12:43 am ET|
Not good times for the Bruins on a Thursday night when things looked so good early, but then the fat-and-happy B’s allowed a seemingly lesser Toronto Maple Leafs team to outskate, outwit and outlast them over the final two periods of a 4-2 loss at the TD Banknorth Frozen Sheet.
Things got off to a swimming start when Patrice Bergeron potted his first goal since coming back from a season-ending concussion last season and rookie Blake Wheeler shook off some rookie doldrums to the give the Spoked B’s a 2-0 lead. There was also some physical intimidation mixed in with the lamp-lighting as Dennis Wideman completely smoked Matt Stajan at mid-ice in the first period, and Milan Lucic shattered the large block of glass around the boards when he flattened Leafs defenseman Mike Van Ryn into the side wall.
The incident was voted Number One on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays for the night, but the tumbling shards of glass also resulted in injuries to four fans while also causing a roughly 15 minute delay to replace the glass. In the balance of those few minutes the life seemed to get sucked right out of the Bruins, and they really couldn’t do anything right for the rest of the game.
The Leafs, on the other hand, went from being puck roadkill over the first 20:20 of the game to a nothing-to-lose bunch firing away on offense and watching Vesa Toskala and the Leafs ‘D’ shut down an easily satisfied B’s offense.
There were a multitude of postgame quotes about being outworked and outhustled in the Bruins locker room — the first time this season that the B’s dropped a stink bomb down at an NHL rink without their customary grit and sandpaper style. Two of the biggest culprits for the Thursday night breakdown seemed to be Phil Kessel and Marc Savard, who were kept off the scoreboard, registered only three shots on goal and each had a game-high two giveaways. Julien didn’t call them out by name, but you’ll get the drift. Heeere’s Julien:
“I think that some of our top guys tonight weren’t playing like our top guys. I’m not going to mention any names. I don’t have to. Everyone knows what I’m talking about. Your best players have to be your best players. I know it clichÃ© but it is what it is. Our best players were certainly not our best players. Everyone from top to bottom was flat. This is our bread and butter, our work ethic, and our commitment. We didn’t have our bread and butter tonight.”
To the Bruins credit, many of the players rang a similar tone in the Boston locker room including Milan Lucic, the author of the body check felt ’round the hockey world, who teamed with Savard and Kessel to form a pretty lackluster line thar could get busted up by an unhappy Julien if things continue as they have. One thing is for certain: the guys in the Bruins sweaters will do a fair amount of skating in practice on Friday.
The Good news: P.J. Axelsson appeared to be over his back spasms.
In the bad news department: The Bruins power play went 0-for-4 and was another areas that made Julien chafe visibly following the hockey game: “We had a chance with a power play to score the third goal. You have to learn to play with the lead. When you have the lead it doesn’t mean you can take the foot off the pedal. Tonight even though it was a 2-0 hockey game we had a couple breaks, a couple lucky bounces to get the 2-0 lead. We should have taken advantage of that and understood that we weren’t playing that well.”
|10.23.08 at 8:04 pm ET|
The Bruins shot out to a two-goal lead over the Leafs Thursday night before their home crowd, but listen to Dennis Wideman, and even the leaders knew trouble was brewing. He was right. The Bruins were done scoring and, despite Patrice Bergeron’s first goal since Oct. 13, 2007 against San Jose and his first since a serious concussion, the Bruins fell, 4-2, to Toronto.
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