|10.10.09 at 12:17 pm ET|
It was a benevolent optional skate for the Bruins on Saturday morning after Claude Julien’s grueling bag skate practice on Friday following the blowout loss to the Anaheim Ducks.
Only goaltender Tuukka Rask and defenseman Johnny Boychuk took part in the on-ice portion of the skate, and — with that in mind — it’s likely that Bruins coach Claude Julien doesn’t have any lineup changes in mind for Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders.
Julien didn’t reveal any specifics in store for Saturday night’s game, and said he was looking for more of a mental makeover than roster shuffling. The vast majority of a Bruins lineup that piled up 116 points during the regular season still hangs their equipment in the Boston dressing room. In the coach’s mind, it’s just a matter of strapping on the Black and Gold-colored work boots and diving into the muck.
“It all depends on what you talk about with changes,” said Julien. “I think it’s more that we have to come out a little hungrier, we have to come out more committed and we have to work hard. The team that we’re playing tonight is hard-working team, so it’ll be a good test.”
–Not a lot of production to speak of out of Boston’s second line over the course of the first three games. Aside from power play points, Michael Ryder and David Krejci have been held scoreless in 5-on-5 play and Blake Wheeler carries the line’s only goal produced thus far. Even that tally came on a quick line change against the Carolina Hurricanes. Steve Begin created the play with a rush up the left side, and dished to Wheeler as he crashed down on the Hurricanes cage.
Krejci led the NHL in plus/minus last season, but is off to a slowpoke minus-3 thus far this year. Ryder is a minus-3 as well and Wheeler is slightly better at minus-2. The sluggish start for the trio is at least partially explained by Krejci’s absence during the entire preseason, and it stands to reason that it’s going to take the nifty 24-year-old center a modicum of time for his full two-way game to return.
Wheeler called it “building confidence” for Krejci, who didn’t get a chance to work on that solid hockey foundation while missing all six of Boston’s preseason games.
“He was thrown into the fire when it counts, so he’s been doing it on the fly,” said Wheeler. “I think he’s done a great job of going from Day One and having to play. I think we’re coming around, and it only takes one puck going into the net for Krejch to be like his old self. It’s pretty simple.”
What has Julien seen of the last year’s prolific line during the B’s first three games?
“Well, not much,” said Julien. “They’re not where we’ve seen them in the past, and a lot of is because we haven’t seen them together. With a guy like Krejci, he never played until the first regular season game. So you’ve got to give him time to find his game. You find chemistry the longer you play together, so that’ll come.
“Michael Ryder, I thought the second game he played well. I thought Krejci in his first game played well. I think Wheeler is coming around, so it’s all pointing in the right direction as far as them coming around. Right now, it’s hard to assess them because — to be honest with you — they haven’t a chance to go on all cylinders.”
The Krejci/Wheeler/Ryder line squeezed off 18 shots on net in Boston’s three games thus far, and Wheeler said he’d be more concerned about the their production if they weren’t collectively producing plenty of shots. It appears that the big minus numbers speak to a lessened commitment to backchecking and defensive responsibilities, but panic hasn’t quite set in after three games.
“When you’re not getting chances, that’s when the frustration creeps in,” said Wheeler. “If you’re creating chances and creating scoring opportunities, that’s all you can do. The puck going in the net, sometimes that’s something you can’t control. That last game guys had pucks going off their head and going into the net.
“It’s something where as long as you’re producing scoring chances, that’s what you’re going to measure yourself on. Sooner or later they’re going to go in. It’s just the way it works.”
Thursday’s loss was eye-opening for the young Bruins skaters, though. Make no mistake. Wheeler had never experienced a home spanking like the one endured Thursday night at the hands of a Anaheim Ducks squad that simply poured it on. The last time Boston was humbled like that on their home ice actually predated Wheeler’s time with the Bruins back in March of 2008.
“It was funny, Krejci and I were talking about that on the way to the rink yesterday. We hadn’t lost like that once last year,” said Wheeler. “Nothing had really happened like that. It should be an eye-opener and a real gut-check. The only way to show it is how we play tonight, so we’ll see what happens.”
|10.09.09 at 12:18 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — As expected, Claude Julien is putting his players through the paces in a skate very long on full-out skating and battling for loose pucks. Plenty of bodies crashing against the boards and red-faced players huffing and puffing to keep up with the action.
First was a round of full-paced breakout drills, then 2-on-2 battle drills and now it’s rugged, hard-nosed one-on-one battle drills in front of the net. These exercises are eons more competitive than the laissez-faire defense flashed against the Ducks on Thursday night.
At one point, Patrice Bergeron was on one knee catching his wind while resting up for another round of sprinting up and down the ice and battling for the puck. Players are definitely feeling this one a bit.
Julien said last night that it was up to him to clean up the dirty laundry “in that dressing room” and he’s gone about picking up the strewn-about clothes on the ice at the morning practice. No changes to any of the lines, but it’s expected that Johnny Boychuk and Tuukka Rask may get some ice time Saturday night against the New York Islanders.
Following practice, the B’s coach used buzz words like “lazy” and “commitment” and said he was hoping to get the attention of his players with such a punitive practice. It sounds as if reviews of the game film were more like a slasher film than aesthetically-pleasing hockey, with broken ankles and butchered forechecking assignments strewn all about the ice. Culprit No. 1 was the Corey Perry second-period score when he moved freely into the zone and breezed past Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick before dumping the puck into a vacated net.
But Julien said there was much more to dislike about Thursday night’s defeat — the worst home loss at the TD Garden for the B’s since an 8-2 savaging at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs back on March 2, 2008.
“We need to grab their attention right now. We’re looking for commitment. We’re looking for effort, attitude,” said Julien. “I think all of those things put together is what we need to have, to be the team that we should be.”
Practice ended with the players doing full-out skating sprints the entire length of the ice in a criss cross fashion. First rushing end-to-end in what some hockey coaches affectionately refer to as “Herbies” (after US Olympic coach Herb Brooks) and then rotating to side-to-side sprints tapping each end as they go. That lasted for a good 10 minutes and the players were appropriately gassed afterward.
“It’s a bit of a message, but in the same sense we don’t want to end up doing that all year,” said B’s center Marc Savard. “We just have to stay focused, and that was a bit of it here today. We needed to stay ‘going hard’ all practice just like we should be going hard all game.”
–Julien said that starting Tuukka Rask Saturday night against the Islanders was a “possibility” with Thomas struggling behind a leaky defense, but there weren’t any impending line changes or callups from Providence on the horizon. Thomas is 1-2 with a 4.00 goals against average an .868 save percentage along with several “soft-ish” goals among those allowed, but the 35-year-old veteran was also winless in his first four starts last season.
“There’s always a possibility [of starting Rask],” said Julien. “But those kinds of things are always taken care of on a daily basis. We’re a day-to-day hockey club, and I don’t predict things down the road. But, yeah, for no other reason than down the road we’re going to need him.
“Last year he came up and played well. The year before, even with the lack of experience he had, he still showed us some good things. I’m confident in him. I think he’s grown so much that if he needs to go in and play — I can’t see any reason why the coaching staff or the players themselves wouldn’t have confidence in Tuukka.”
|10.09.09 at 1:00 am ET|
Claude Julien won the Jack Adams Trophy for best NHL coach this past summer because last season he knew all the right buttons to push during a first-place regular season finish in the Eastern Conference. He may have pushed his first one this season when he pulled no punches following his team’s dismal 6-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night at TD Garden, dropping to 1-2 on a season-opening five-game homestand. He made it clear that he would put his fourth line out on the ice for every shift if it meant he would get maximum effort.
Julien made that comment because he believed, in watching his team allow six unanswered goals after an early 1-0 lead, that his fourth line was the only one that gave an honest effort.
Here’s a sample of what he and others inside the Bruins dressing room had to say.
|10.08.09 at 9:28 pm ET|
Thursday night might turn out to be one of the oddest games of the year for the Bruins, who appeared even in shot totals on the final score sheet but did nothing to control play over the final two periods of play. After a 1-o lead through the first 20 minutes — one that might have been more if the B’s could have finished a few more opportunities — the Ducks ripped off six, count ’em six unanswered goals in a 6-1 thrashing over the B’s at TD Garden.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the evening was how little fight the Black and Gold Bears had in them after taking a few punches from the Ducks during the decisive second period.
“When you’ve got to talk about the fourth line being your hardest working line all the time, then it doesn’t bode well for your hockey club,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “I’m not going to start picking on individuals tonight because we had too many guys that were not going. I’ll just have to deal with the dirty laundry inside that dressing room.”
Once again the fourth line was probably Boston’s best all night and both Shawn Thornton and Steve Begin actually registered three shots on goal apiece after just one period of play. But the Bruins began practicing the art of undisciplined play in the second period, and the ageless Finn, Teemu Selanne, potted a pair of power play strikes in a throwback performance.
Boston’s only score turned out to be Marco Sturm’s first period strike created on a nifty backhanded saucer pass from playmaker Marc Savard. Sturm rifled a slapshot from the left faceoff dot that trickled through Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller’s pads to give Boston a brief 1-0 lead at the 16:33 mark. The B’s followed with more offensive threats, but couldn’t put anything else past Hiller. The B’s also finished out a perfectly horrid evening by throwing up an 0-for-6 on the man advantage.
The B’s didn’t show a lot of fight after Corey Perry capped off Anaheim’s three-goal second period with a pretty one-man rush that had Boston’s defense standing still. That plume of smoke visible on television was steam coming out of the ears of Julien after another stink bomb thrown down so early in the season.
YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND, AND NOTHING’S GONNA EVER KEEP YOU DOWN: Teemu Selanne. The 39-year-old flying Finn hadn’t registered a point in Anaheim’s first two games, but did some major damage on the Ducks power play against the Bruins. Give Selanne’s teammates credits for setting him up with shots in places where he could do plenty of damage in tight close to the net.
GOAT HORNS: Matt Hunwick. He’s been off to a slow start coming back from surgery, and he’s looked pretty uncomfortable playing off his strong side at right defense paired with Mark Stuart. The Ducks scored their first PP goal on his interference penalty and he was caught standing still on Perry’s strike. He also allowed Evgeny Artyukhin to go wide on him for Anaheim’s fourth goal in the third period. Hunwick finished a minus-2 for the evening, and is still trying to find his game.
|10.08.09 at 7:08 pm ET|
Here’s a few pregame tidbits before the Bruins and Ducks drop the puck for Thursday night’s tilt at TD Garden.
–The five-game homestand to start this year for the Bruins is their longest in franchise history. Normally the Bruins begin the season on the road with the Ringling Bros. Circus taking over at the Garden in mid-October. But this season began a bit early with the 2-3 week Olympic break coming in February, and the Black and Gold enjoy a long stretch in their own backyard. The longest homestand to start a Bruins season prior to this season came during the 1927-28 season when the Black and Gold played four straight games at home to start the year.
–B’s coach Claude Julien remarked on the similarities of the two hockey teams ready to battle prior to Thursday night’s games. Both are hard-hitting blue collar hockey clubs with a willingness to mix things up physically.
“They are an in-your-face kind of hockey club,” said Julien of the Ducks. “They have good size, they are a physical team, so there is a lot of resemblance right there. They are a character team too, that much I know.”
|10.08.09 at 10:02 am ET|
That being said, B’s winger Shawn Thornton told the rookie to forget about taking the veterans out to celebratory dinner. He’s expecting designer watches for all his teammates following the 21-year-old winger’s big contractual score.
“I want watches with that contract,” said Thornton. “Forget about dinner. We want Breitlings.”
All joking and designer watches aside, Lucic made it clear to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien during last year’s exit interview meetings that he loved Boston. When it came time to think about his NHL future, he didn’t want to play hockey anywhere else. Not even in his hometown of Vancouver where the Canucks — among other NHL teams — would have made a run at the overpowering left winger had he reached restricted free agency.
“He expressed to me that he loved being a Bruin, and that he wanted to a Bruin for a long time,” said the B’s front office man. “I love the way Milan plays. I love the way he carries himself on and off the ice. He’s a very humble person and he deserves this.”
The B’s general manager didn’t immediately jump into extension talks with Lucic, and instead first dealt with David Krejci, Phil Kessel and the rest of his roster-building decisions over the summer. But once the team was solidified and Kessel’s situation was mercifully addressed, the two sides quickly found some mutual ground and finished negotiations on a three-year deal worth $12.25 million.
For Lucic, it’s a hefty reward for throwing his body the last two plus seasons and relishing the physical style that has come to define his game. The hulking forward has enough skill to skate with top-line players, and could end up being an annual 25-goal scorer when it’s all said and done. He’s one of the most ferocious, punishing physical forces in hockey. There aren’t many that combine those two brutish and beautiful skills into one player package, and there isn’t a better place than Boston to incubate such a talent.
What made this such a good fit for Lucic when there might have been a Kessel-esque $5 million plus per year offer sheet waiting for him on July 1?
“My first year here was a great experience for me, and the culture that we created in the room as teammates and the coaching staff wanting us to get better,” said Lucic. “Peter [Chiarelli] wants us to be competitive and be up there with the other three teams in Boston. Just the city itself is such a great sports town, and you want to be a part of that for a long time. I know I do.”
It’s a whopper of a raise for Lucic, who jumps from this season’s rookie salary of $685,000 to the $4 million mark next season, but it also continues a trend of huge second contracts for young NHL stars coming out of their entry-level rookie deals. Chiarelli said the second-contract phenomenon was something he continues to be uncomfortable with, but assured it was a league-wide issue likely to be addressed during the next CBA negotiations.
“Milan has been a very good performer for us. His skill set, his character set and his physicality are all tremendous assets to our organization, and typify what it means to be a Bruin,” said Chiarelli.
Lucic’s contract gives the Bruins roughly $42 million in salary dedicated to next season’s team with plenty of free agents hitting the market next summer. Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart and Tuukka Rask will all be restricted free agents while Marc Savard, Derek Morris, Steve Begin, Andrew Ference and Thornton will all be unrestricted free agents come July 1. Per CBA rules, Chiarelli can negotiate with players like Savard, Ference and Thornton all through the year, but has to wait until Jan. 1 to potentially open talks with Morris and Begin.
Not all of Boston’s free agents will be returning given the expected movement downward of the $56.8 salary cap level for next season.
“It’s a difficult task because not only are you talking about the [RFA’s], but you’re also talking about other guys who are in the last years of their contracts and want to stay here,” said Chiarelli. “It’s not easy. There are a lot of uncertain things that you’re waiting to see happen, so you can plan better. We obviously just went through a lot of this stuff with Phil [Kessel]. I do my best and this is certainly a piece of the puzzle.
“It’s just my day-to-day business. We have to make the tough decisions, and act proactively.”
The pact also allows Chiarelli another round of winnable negotiations with Lucic, who will still be an RFA after the 2013 season when his three-year extension expires. It’ll be interesting to see how close Lucic gets to the hockey idol he’s most closely compared to — Cam Neely — and how his body handles the jarring physical style the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder plays over the next four years.
Savard has skated with Lucic on Boston’s top line for the better part of two years, and sees a young hockey pup that still has plenty of room to grow moving forward in his career.
“He’s your prototypical Bruins, I think,” said Savard. “It’s good for him and organization. They made a big step forward today. He’s a young leader right now and I think he’s going to take bigger steps in that role down the line.
“We’ve talked about [Lucic’s upside] a lot. I’m always going to push him for more, and I know he wants more. He’s always hungry and he always wants to help the team win. He wants to produce every night, and I think that’s a bonus. He’s a big guy for somebody to be taking them under their wing, but I’ve definitely taken him under my wing. I’d like to be here with him to continue watching him grow.”
With Lucic now in the books through the 2012-13 season, it might just be Savard’s turn to make a big contract announcement over the next few months. There’s no telling what Thornton will expect for gifts if that deal ever comes to fruition.
|10.08.09 at 12:16 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Mark Stuart said it wasn’t official as of Wednesday morning, but confirmed he’ll be stepping into the NHLPA player representative role for the Boston Bruins in the next few weeks. The 25-year-old blueliner is actually one of the longest-tenured B’s going back to his first few rookies game with Boston in 2005-05, and he’ll be replacing veteran defenseman Andrew Ference as acting player rep.
“It’s not official yet, but I think so,” said Stuart, when asked if he was the team’s new player rep. “I’ve been the assistant for a while behind Andy, and he decided to step down. He put in his time and decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. I was the next guy in line.”
Stuart served as the assistant player rep along with Ference last season, and the young defenseman was the logicial first choice when Ference reportedly stepped down from the position this week. Stuart indicated Ference was giving up the post to spend more time with his wife and two children, but the B’s blueliner has also been under a burgeoning level of criticism for his key role in the dismissal of former NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly.
Ference was a part of the NHLPA ad hoc committee that investigated complaints about Kelly last summer, and ultimately made the presentation to the rest of the players before overwhelmingly voting to remove the executive director from his post. There appears to have been several reasons for Kelly’s dismissal — including reading unauthorized minutes from a players-only meeting — but there’s also been a continual stream of unsavory aspects to the swift union action.
According to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Mark Recchi was poised to run for player rep against Ference after being highly critical of the process leading to Kelly’s firing. When Ference agreed to voluntarily step down from his post, Recchi backed off and Stuart was able to assume the position of player rep.
With all that in mind, the NHLPA is clearly at a crossroads. Mistrust and sabotage seem to be high on the list of adjectives used to describe the NHLPA after the sacking of Kelly, and that’s not exactly a sea change from the union’s past practice. Stuart recognizes that it’s an important time for the hockey player’s union to change both their perception and their process, and readily concedes there’s quite a bit of work ahead.
“Yeah, obviously there’s a lot going on. So it’s important to be informed and to know what’s going on,” said Stuart. “I think for everybody to get involved at some point [would be good] because it’s been kind of a mess as of late.
“It’s interesting to me. I wouldn’t have [taken] the assistant [job] if it didn’t. Stepping into this role means there’s some pretty big shoes to fill, and I need to just inform myself as much as I can. Be a lot more involved.”
There’s the matter of choosing another director to replace Kelly, and serious alterations to the union’s constitution following the ridiculous 3 a.m. setting that served as Kelly’s backdrop for his unceremonious dumping. Further down the hockey road, there’s a Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire after the 2010-11 season and mandate to avoid another work stoppage at all costs.
One other thing Stuart wanted to confirm: there’s no divide in the Bruins locker room despite some differences of opinion on union matters. The turn of events leading to Ference’s departure and Stuart’s ascension have effectively put to bed any conflict over the issues — and it was reportedly a pretty level-headed conversation between all parties that ultimately led to the NHLPA position changes.
“Andy did some great work for us over the last two years. It’s a big time committment,” said Stuart. “He put in a lot of time over the last two years, and it was mostly about the time. As far as the locker room goes, there’s nothing going on. He stepped down and I’m taking over for him. That’s about it.
“Guys are getting more involved and want to know what’s going on, and I think that’s good. We need to work as a group. My role is like any leader — to be that voice between the guys in the group and the rest of the [NHLPA]. It’s not me just voicing my opinions on issues. It’s me coming to the group, getting their thoughts, forming an opinion as a group and then going from there.”