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Sounds of the game… Wild 1, Bruins 0

01.07.09 at 5:38 am ET
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That was something we haven’t seen all season from the Black and Gold. The Bruins were shut out for the first time this season on Tuesday night, on home ice no less. A big part of that was Niklas Backstrom, the Finnish goalie who teamed with Boston’s own Manny Fernandez to win the Jennings Trophy in 2007 with Minnesota. Backstrom made several spectacular saves and the Bruins took three straight penalties to start the second period and the Wild finally made them pay with a power play goal on the third try, beating the aforementioned Fernandez for the game’s only goal. How good have the Bruins been this year? They hadn’t lost consecutive games in regulation since Mar. 11 and 13 of LAST SEASON and they hadn’t been shutout. Our own Joe Haggerty says Buffalo and Minnesota may be providing a blueprint on how to beat the Bruins. But listen to coach Claude Julien and his players and they’ll tell you this is no time for panic.

Julien said the Bruins won’t change their style because of a bump in the road.

Julien said Manny Fernandez was one of the few Bruins to show up Tuesday night.

Julien said the Bruins are just going through one of those slumps that every team suffers.

Michael Ryder on the back-to-back losses.

Blake Wheeler acknowledged there was some frustration on Tuesday night.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Bruins, Claude Julien, Michael Ryder

A blueprint to beat the Bruins?

01.06.09 at 8:50 pm ET
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“I think for every team, every game, we talk about [scoring first] and getting an early lead and taking control of the game. I think that’€™s an area that we will hopefully get better at tonight, starting tonight.”

Those were the words of Bruins bench boss Claude Julien prior to last night’s 1-0 snoozer of a loss at the hands of the trap-happy Minnesota Wild, and they didn’t turn out to be prescient in any way, shape or form. Instead the Bruins managed to squeeze off only six shots during an uneventful first period, took three penalties in the second period that culminated in a power play strike for the Wild and then watched as Minnesota morphed into full trap mode in front of show-stopping goalie Niklas Backstrom.

“Personally I wouldn’t pay to watch a game like that,” said goalie Manny Fernandez, who suffered his first home loss of the season in the dulled down hockey game.

After watching the B’s suffer from a distinct lack of bounces and battle through difficulties breaking the puck into the offensive zone once both the Wild and Sabres fastened the trap clamps on the hockey game, it almost appears as if a blueprint to beat the B’s is beginning to form.

A dastardly plan that will frustrate and eventually defeat the high-powered Bruins attack, and leave their scoring machine in the shop for repairs. Granted, not every team has the talent or discipline or chutzpah to implement Operation Beat the Bruins but teams with enough scoring skills — or grit – to get a lead and a good enough goaltender could do it.

In other words squads like the Buffalo Sabres and the Wild. It’s not something that’s always going to be possible given Boston’s ability to jump on the scoreboard fast and furiously, but teams may be finding a way to escape the hostile Boston Garden with a win tucked neatly under their arms. Play a checking game during five-on-five to frustrate and fluster the Bruins skaters and then try to do your offensive damage on the power play. Then hold on tight for dear hockey life.

The Bruins were certainly a frustrated and blocked up bunch after the game. Scorers like David Krejci and Blake Wheeler have been lighting the lamp with reckless abandon over the first 39 games of the season, but suddenly looked altogether human in Boston’s first zero goal effort of the season. Even Wheeler looked a bit out of sorts in a game against his boyhood team as he dangled and attempted to dazzle with one-on-one moves but couldn’t register a single shot in 18:15 of ice time.

“We were trying; we were battling, but they were just sitting back and basically chipping pucks out and shooting anything else.  It was tough after that,” said B’s defenseman Zdeno Chara. “They don’€™t need much and then when they do get a goal or two, they start to play really kind of defensive trap and it’€™s really hard to get through.  But, that’€™s not an excuse for us.  We created some chances like I said, but we couldn’€™t score.”

Krejci and Michael Ryder both threw up three shots on net with Backstrom robbing Krejci in the second period when the crafty center seemingly had a wide open net to pick from. The Wild netminder athletically leaped across the crease to fill up the open real estate and smother the shot. Ryder smacked the left pipe with ringing authority on a perfect curl-and-drag set up coming off the left boards, and added to the B’s puck luck going south of the border just as the opposition’s defensive intensity strengthened.

Julien predictably isn’t buying any of the blueprint or formula for beating the Bruins talk, and is instead focused on what his team isn’t doing at this point: play with focus, creativity, passion and the two-way defensive responsibility that became a hallmark of their puck success.

“Our game just isn’€™t quite there.  Then you get some good momentum at the end of the second period when you get the [shot off the] post by [Michael] Ryder, the unbelievable save on [David] Krejci, the goaltender [Niklas Backstrom] I don’€™t know how he saw that one.  He made some really good saves at key moments,” said Julien. “All we needed was one shot to tie the hockey game, so it’€™s not the end of the world. 

“Again, talking about our team, we’€™re just not in sync right now and it has nothing to do with the other team, more than it has to do with us.  We see things from our team that definitely have slipped, and not as good as things are than when they were going well.”

So what do Julien and his staff do with a team that’s running low on confidence and a bit short of their ideal depth with Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron nowhere near returning from injury and Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward still working their way back into the mix?

“First of all you don’€™t panic.  Like I said, I don’€™t think anybody thought we were going to be flying away, flying away for eighty two games without going through some bumps and bruises,” said Julien. “It’€™s a combination of a lot of things.  [Andrew] Ference, [Aaron] Ward, [Patrice] Bergeron, [Marco] Sturm:  I think those are four pretty important players missing out of our lineup. 

“Eventually things catch up as well in different areas.  We’€™ve got four real quality guys out of the lineup, you’€™ve got some top players that probably aren’€™t at the top of their game, so it doesn’€™t take much to slip a little bit.  You just have to work your way through it.  I think that’€™s all we’€™re going to be doing here: address the situation; we’€™re going to show the guys where we’€™ve slipped or what needs to get better.  We’€™re going to work at and work our way out of it; that’€™s all you can do.”

Time to end the experiment

Claude Julien’s tactic of plugging lovable Swede P.J. Axelsson on the first line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel — along with placing him on the first PP unit — was excellent for the initial spark that it provided his club, but the time has come to insert a grittier player back up on the front line with the two skilled craftsman. It was the reason that Julien inserted Chuck Kobasew onto the first line in the waning minutes of Saturday afternoon’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres and it’s presumably why Shawn Thornton took at least one shift on the top line during the third period of last night’s limp showing.

Meanwhile, Milan Lucic is on the third line continuing to be the B’s leading body checker night in and night out, and he seems a bit miscast skating on the third line. Particularly so when he could be once again clearing much-needed space for Savard and Kessel on the top unit. It seems to only make too much sense when you begin watching a team search for an offensive spark over the last two games when they were awash in goal-scoring glory over the first 38 games.

There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it was a temporary move to place Axelsson in the B’s offensive catbird seat, but there’s a reason the longest-tenured Bruins has only two goals on the season — and only one of them has come with an actual goaltender between the pipes. It might be take to shake things up again, or it might just be time to put things back the way they used to be.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, David Krejci

Some thoughts from Julien

01.06.09 at 7:18 pm ET
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Here’s a few thoughts from Claude Julien prior to tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild, which has turned into the defensive, low-scoring, trap-happy snoozer that many thought it might. Thanks to the Bruins’ media relations crew for sending this along.

On how he feels about his team…
We obviously feel pretty good with the season we have had so far. It’€™s been a fun year so far and I think that little setback last game will hopefully bring some attention back to our game as well. As much as you hate losing sometimes those things are going to happen and you hope it works in your favor down the road.

On how he feels when he hears ‘€˜can you believe the Bruins lost a game?’€™
Well, I think that’€™s how our players felt after the game too. They weren’€™t very happy with that loss and I thought that was a good sign. It’€™s not like we didn’€™t have the attitude ‘€˜well it’€™s only one loss in the last X number of games’€™ It was like the guys are disappointed, ticked off to say the least and that’€™s a good sign. I like that. We don’€™t like to lose and hopefully we will show that tonight.

On Aaron Ward
He’€™s out there. He is skating right now and until he is off the ice I can’€™t tell you much more than that right now.

On Andrew Ference
Yeah, no he won’€™t be in tonight.

On how the Minnesota Wild have changed since the last time they played them…
I don’€™t think you can really pinpoint it at one player. I think you look at their team; they are a lot like us. We play a certain way and it doesn’€™t really matter who’€™s in the lineup. We don’€™t change our game plan and neither do they.

They have good speed, they’€™re a hard working team and as I mentioned yesterday, they take away your space pretty quickly if you don’€™t move the puck quick. You run out of space fairly quickly and they create turnovers so obviously they are going to tell you they’€™re lacking a good goal scorer and rightfully so [in Marian Gaborik]. Offensively this guy [Gaborik] is an excellent player, but nonetheless watching them play the last few games I think they found their groove again.

On the key to beating a team like the Minnesota Wild…
You really want to know all those secrets, right? I think it is just the matter of limiting mistakes. They play so well, again, the way they close gaps on you quickly and they put you in positions where sometimes players will panic. I think it’€™s important not to create turnovers and make strong plays and you got to be willing to grind it out with them.

Again, they’€™ve got speed, their penalty kill is excellent and they are always a threat on the power play as well. You know there are a lot of good things going good for them. Their goaltending has been outstanding as well, so this should be a good showdown tonight.

On Minnesota Wild’€™s head coach Jacques Lemaire’€™s style…
He always has. Every team he’€™s coached he’€™s had his fingerprints on and he’€™s done a good job throughout his career. I know I’€™ve learned a lot just from watching him over the course of my career and trying to watch how he does things.

We actually have a pretty good relationship as well so we have a chance to chat and I think he has done an excellent job. Every year his team is competitive and he gets the most out of his players.

On Jacques Lemaires’€™ background…
I don’€™t know exactly. I think a lot of it too, in Europe he learned a lot in the little bit of time he was there and he brought some things along. He is an intelligent coach. He figures things out pretty quickly. He fine-tunes things to what he believes in.

There are a lot of things he has kind of indented some of the things to fine-tune, some of those things that he liked and again, you watch his team play and it’€™s just when they are out on the top of their game they don’€™t give you much. They’€™re a real hard team to play against.

On having a target on the Bruins’€™ backs…
No doubt, no doubt. We’€™ve noticed even teams, they come out so strong against us now because they want to get that early jump and I think this is where we have to be able to respond. We have been on the other side of the coin and we know what it feels like and we know how we got motivated when we played the top teams in the conferences and stuff like that.

 So I think we remember that and we probably know now how it feels to be other the other side of it. Teams have really been coming out hard at us and I think that helps us improve as a team. It keeps us on our toes all the time and you can’€™t have a slow start, you can’€™t have a mediocre game anymore because teams are gunning for you.

On the forecheck…
A good forecheck creates turnovers. A good forecheck means you get on them quick, you get a chance to finish your checks, like I said, you create turnovers. Right now, we are a fraction of a second late everywhere. Teams are breaking out of their own end too easily and I think that’€™s where our forecheck has faltered a little bit.

On being late on reaction or not going in deep enough on the forecheck…
Those kinds of things always relate, they never relate to one thing, they relate to a lot of different things. It’€™s about the effort. It’€™s about reading off each other. It’€™s about a lot of things, the timing and sometimes it’€™s even the kind of dumps that you put in there.

Or [it'€™s about] do you give your forechecker a chance to get there [or] is it a bad dump where the guy gets there where he has a lot of time to make a play. It’€™s a combination of a lot of things and those are the kind of things we touched on yesterday.

On importance of getting the first goal…
It’€™s always important to get the first goal. I think every team that starts a game wants to get an early lead and get control of that, but and I’€™ve said that all along’€¦ the good thing about our hockey club is our record is extremely positive even when other teams score first.

 It certainly doesn’€™t put us in a situation where we haven’€™t been able to rebound, but nonetheless I think for every team, every game, we talk about that and getting an early lead and taking control of the game. I think that’€™s an area that we will hopefully get better at tonight, starting tonight.

On Manny Fernandez
Well, last year was a wash for him. He was never 100 percent and it was just one of those things were he needed surgery. This year he came in and when you haven’€™t played in almost a year and a half because he didn’€™t play half, almost half, the year before that so it takes a while to find your game.

So we started him off slowly, we put him in games here and there and Tim (Thomas) was taking the majority of the games early on. Then once we saw that he was feeling pretty comfortable and pretty good and then playing some solid games, we started using him a lot more, but he’€™s been outstanding. There is no ifs or buts our goaltending this year has been one of the key points. We have been able to use both guys which has allowed them to stay fresh and when you are fresh, obviously you compete better. So those two guys have been great together and very supportive as well of each other.

B’s finally getting some good health news

01.05.09 at 5:15 pm ET
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In a much-needed reprieve from the war of attrition that’s been going on with the Bruins’ squad over the last month, B’s coach Claude Julien and his team needed some good news in the health department — and got it at this morning’s practice in Wilmington.

Andrew Ference took part in the hour plus practice at Ristuccia Arena – though he skated off early for “precautionary reasons” — and was among the healthy-enough-to-skate B’s players that heard Julien’s booming voice screaming during the intense morning of drills. Ward didn’t skate at practice with the team, but Julien deemed that his charley horse situation is improving dramatically.

The “mild” charley horse knocked the 35-year-old out of Saturday’s loss in the second period, and Ward will be a game time decision for tomorrow night’s tilt against the trap-happy Minnesota Wild. Granted Marco Sturm is likely gone for the season with left knee surgery and there’s no timetable for Patrice Bergeron’s road back from his concussion, but things are starting to look up for the band-aid B’s. 

”He’s doing a lot better,” said Julien of Ward. ”His motion and range today was pretty good. He’s going to skate with us tomorrow and we’ll see how he does.”

Ference, out since mid-November following surgery to repair a fractured tibia incurred after blocking a shot during a penalty kill situation, continues to work ahead of schedule and should be back playing in real games over the next week. Tomorrow is a longshot, but nontheless healthy bodies are beginning to fill up the dressing room.  Julien was asked if he could presumably go from having six healthy defenseman to a choice of eight living, breathing, healthy bodies for tomorrow night’s game, and the B’s bench boss didn’t rule out the possibility.

“Ference is still day-to-day and he’s been put through some battle drills today [in practice] so we’ll see how he fares tomorrow,” said Julien, of a Tuesday morning skate that will portend whether Ward or Ference return to the lineup against the Wild. “There’s a possibility that we’ll look at Ward tomorrow and Ference is practicing with us and day-to-day. We’re kind of on the bubble with that.

There’s still some question marks that will be answered tomorrow morning, but we could be [anywhere] from 8 to 6 tomorrow very easily,” added Julien.

All-Star Snub Reaction

Bruins players selected for the Eastern Conference All-Star team will find out Thursday around noontime when the NHL announces the reserve players for the Jan. 25 NHL showpiece event. The B’s didn’t have a single player voted into the Eastern Conference starting lineup — a group filled solely with Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens players – announced over the weekend, and goaltender Tim Thomas felt like it might be a case of too many good Bruins to choose from. Or perhaps not enough tech-savvy, prospering cheaters among the B’s fan base.

Just taking Thomas’ case, it’s a tough decision to choose between Thomas and fellow veteran goaltender Manny Fernandez. Both goaltenders have worked together in seamless fashion to become the best goaltending duo in the NHL this season. Thomas and Fernandez, Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel are all certainly deserving of All-Star recognition, and it’s a safe bet that at least two of them will be invited to participate in Montreal’s All-Star weekend three weeks from now.

“I hadn’t thought about it,” said a clearly amused Thomas. “Obviously it was fan voting, so it was unrealistic. The other angle to look at is that this team is so good that it makes it really hard to choose [individual players]. Obviously [the fan voting] was Pittsburgh computer programmers versus Montreal computer programmers. It’s tough to make choices when you could pick so many good players, or you could be like Pittsburgh and Montreal and pick your whole team.” 

Read More: Aaron Ward, Andrew Ference, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien

Report: Sturm to have knee surgery

01.04.09 at 1:19 pm ET
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While most of Bruins Nation is out and about at the Bruins’ Wives Carnival this afternoon posing for pictures in the penalty box and brushing up on their Rock Band 2 skills for a good cause, here’s a few hockey nuggets to chew on: 

Marco Sturm will need surgery on his injured left knee in the coming weeks, according to a report out of the Boston Herald. The German-born winger had just returned from concussion/whiplash symptoms on Dec. 18 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but immediately went down with the knee injury after scoring a first period goal in the victory. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli wouldn’t rule out a return by Sturm this season following the surgery, but that’s certainly a good possibility given the lengthy delay leading up to his knee procedure.

 ‘€œHe’€™s going to have surgery,’€ Chiarelli said. ‘€œIt’€™s just a question of when. It’€™s a matter of letting it settle down and getting some strength back in before they do it. We’€™ll let you know more (next week).’€

Not really shocking considering it had taken this long for enough swelling to go down in Sturm’s left knee to make a determination, and the B’s haven’t exactly struggled making a go of it without the Sturm Face for long stretches this season. The talk of Bruins training camp this year was the amazing depth that Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien had to choose from when picking the final spots on the big club. Now they’ve been forced to utilize their organizational depth, and guys like Vladimir Sobotka and Martin St. Pierre have stepped up and made an impact.

–The NHL announced the starting lineups for this month’s NHL All-Star game set for Jan. 25 in Montreal, and there isn’t one representative from the class of the East: the Boston Bruins. Forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Alex Kovalev were voted in as the starters for the Eastern Conference, and Habs blueliners Andre Markov, Mike Komisarek and goaltender Carey Price were also voted in to round out the starting lineup. It’s likely that Bruins Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara, Tim Thomas and Phil Kessel will get consideration when the reserves are announced in the coming weeks.

All-Star vote totals can be found here with B’s players Marc Savard (260,974), Patrice Bergeron (253,592), Zdeno Chara (464, 414) and Tim Thomas (96,623) falling well short of the 1 million plus votes that each of the Eastern Conference starting players received.

In related news, ESPN hockey columnist Pierre LeBrun says he can hear the whining emanating from Boston about the snubs and says “Who Cares?” Good attitude for a hockey columnist to have when he makes his living off people caring about the sport, and he makes an even better one when he sees nothing wrong with the Montreal fans ballot-stuffing to make sure four out of the six Eastern Conference starters were Canadiens during the Jan. 25 game at the Bell Centre

–Totally unrelated to the Bruins, but a hilarious video of Washington Capitals scorer Alexander Semin daring to go where few skilled players will venture: the fighting arena. After a big hit by fellow Eastern blocker (and much better pugilist) Alexander Ovechkin, Semin and New York Rangers defenseman Marc Staal found themselves in a post-whistle fracas. What follows is the first slap-fight/bongo punch throwing extravaganza in NHL history, and most assuredly the last fight of Semin’s hockey career. Enjoy…

Bruins can’t outwork Sabres in Garden loss

01.03.09 at 9:05 pm ET
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“All good things must come to an end — There is an end to everything, good things as well.”

It’s pretty certain that Chaucer wasn’t thinking of any Boston Bruins winning streaks when he coined the catchy little phrase back in the 14th century, but it was extremely applicable in Saturday afternoon’s 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the Garden.

The defeat snapped the team’s 10-game winning streak — the franchise’s best in 35 years — and their 14-game home winning streak, and painted a clear picture for the Bruins’ skaters of a rival hockey club that channeled hard work and desperation into Boston loss. It’s a formula that the Bruins have used countless times this season to pile up points, but they certainly don’t have a patent on it.

Tim Thomas wasn’t great between the pipes, but he certainly wasn’t negligent enough to lead to a defeat. Shawn Thornton and Phil Kessel both tallied goals in an offensively disjointed effort, but the B’s had plenty of Grade A scoring chances they simply didn’t capitalize on. The normally leak-free Bruins defense had a few uncharacteristic breakdowns, but — more of than not — the Sabres simply and aggressively took it away from the Bruins and then forced the scoring.

In a time during the NHL season when the standings are starting to sorts themselves out and teams are looking to put themselves at good standing by this month’s All-Star break, Buffalo gritted their collective teeth, strapped on the hard hats and worked dilligently enough for the blue collar victory. It didn’t take long for the Bruins skaters to recognize the lengths the Sabres were going to go to get a ‘W’, and they simply couldn’t match it. 

“They were skating really good and forechecked really hard. Sometimes they forechecked with three guys or two guys and sometimes we made a good breakout, but again, they were working extremely hard tonight,” said Bruins Captain Zdeno Chara, who along with the rest of his Bruins teammates hadn’t suffered a loss at home since way back on Oct. 23 vs. the Maple Leafs. “They were really hungry. You could sense their desperation from the beginning of the game. We kind of did not have it right from the beginning, and we have to improve that.”

The Sabres weren’t all brawn and no brains, though. Once they’d built up a 4-2 lead heading into the third period, Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff went into lockdown mode and confounded the B’s attackers by going into the ultimate prevent defense. The strategy gave the Sabres virtually no presence in the offensive zone, but also limited the quality of Bruins’ chances among their 11 third period shots at the net. The ploy worked, and left the Bruins with something to think about the next time they’re trailing the Sabres headed into the third period.

“In the third period, I haven’€™t ever seen five men back or whatever they were playing. It was kind of different,” said B’s center Marc Savard, who made a great fake-shot-and-then-pass move on Kessel’s power play strike. “It looked a Mighty Ducks movie or something. But it definitely worked. We couldn’€™t get anything going through the neutral zone, or get it over the line cleanly.”

Ward on the injured list again

Veteran blueliner Aaron Ward was only in his third game back from an ankle injury yesterday afternoon, and had to leave in the second period after suffering a charley horse injury. While it’s good news that Ward didn’t reinjure the ankle that’s given him problems over the last month, the aches and pains are beginning to add up for a battle-hardened veteran that only knows how to play one way: the path of pain and resistance paved with body-rattling body checks and bone-shattering blocked shots. 

“It’€™s a slight charlie-horse and right now he’€™s being looked at.  How severe is it?  We don’€™t know yet; those are all things you find out in the next few days,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “(It happened) from the hit in the corner (before Buffalo’€™s third goal.”

Sounds of the game… Sabres 4, Bruins 2

01.03.09 at 3:05 pm ET
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For the first time since Dec. 10, the Bruins tasted defeat on Saturday, snapping a remarkable 10-game run of success. And for the first time since Oct. 23, they lost at home, a 14-game string of victory. How long ago was that? The Red Sox had just lost Game 7 of the ALCS to Tampa Bay four days earlier. Afterward, every Bruin to a man talked about facing adversity and how they plan to learn from this loss. Perhaps Milan Lucic said it best when he said that “good teams don’t lose two in a row and we have to be hungry come our next game.”  That will be the focus when they continue their six-game homestand against Minnesota on Tuesday night. But for now, we look back on a game with the help of coach Claude Julien, who introduced a new term into the lexicon of the Boston sports fan. “We needed some JAM and this was one of those games where you need a little bit more JAM.”  JAM is apparently hockey-talk for juice, energy and desire.

Julien said Saturday wasn’t Boston’s best effort.

Julien said Buffalo earned the win.

Milan Lucic said the Bruins will be hungry to start a new streak.

Marc Savard on the winning streaks coming to an end.

Tim Thomas said it was good to be tested with a loss.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, Claude Julien, Jam
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