|11.21.08 at 11:37 am ET|
From the time young athletes take their first learning steps in the world of the team sports, the mantra to be “unselfish” with the puck or ball is impressed straight into their impressionable minds. Everybody loves to play with a guy that passes the puck, or so we’ve been told umpteen times by the skilled guys lighting the lamps all over North American on a regular basis.
That preaching of unselfish play and keeping everybody involved is the ideal that all aspiring athletes should strive for, but in world of professional hockey a little “me generation” selfishness might not be such a bad thing. Big-wheeling winger Blake Wheeler is having a tremendous rookie NHL season and ranks among the fresh-faced best in the NHL among a handful of scoring categories, but there’s still oodles of room for the 6-foot-4 forward to improve going forward.
One area that Bruins management and coaches clearly see as an easy one for Wheeler to correct: be a little more selfish when the moment calls for it. That’s right…you heard correctly. Wheeler has freely passed the puck around in a dizzying two-man game with center David Krejci throughout the entire first 19 games of the season, and ranks 11th on the team in shots attempted despite ranking third on the team with his six goals scored (behind only Phil Kessel and Marc Savard).
To put in perspective, Wheeler (with 25 shots attempted in 19 games) has been outshot by rough-housing fourth liner Shawn Thornton (30 shots in 19 games) during the first quarter of the hockey season, and is averaging little more than a single shot per hockey game. That’s a number he can certainly improve on, and it’s something both player and coaching staff have already taken note of.
“He’s got a lot of skill and he certainly is going to improve as time goes on. He’s somebody that personally I’d love to see shoot a little more at times,” admitted Bruins Vice-President Cam Neely during a conversation with WEEI’s ‘The Big Show’ this week. “At times I see him looking for the pass and he’s not a very selfish player, but at times you have to be a selfish player in this game.”
There it is. Some good old-fashioned necessary selfishness in the game of pro hockey, though it’s hardly a self-centered puck philosophy when a team wants a skilled scorer like Wheeler to pull the trigger a little more often. The 22-year-old is scoring a whopping 24 percent of the time that he shoots, and that should mean more goals for a team that’s already third in the NHL in goals scored this season.
Wheeler, who is tied with Dallas Stars’ rookie Fabian Brunnstrom for fourth among NHL rookies with six goals on the season, is acutely aware of looking for his own shot a bit more often — particularly when he’s in around the net with his big and still-developing frame — and is actively developing a little more of a shoot-first instinct when he’s carrying the puck around the net.
“It’s always been my nature that I’ve always loved helping my linemates score and seeing them get on the score sheet,” said Wheeler. “It’s one of those things where maybe I shouldn’t be looking around so much around the net and instead I should just put the blinders on. There’s a few times probably in every single game where I have a good shot at the net, and if I can put it on net then we can have guys come crashing in afterward.
“It’s another part of the game that I can improve on,” said Wheeler. “It’s never been really pushed on me to play [unselfishly], but I’m trying to see the ice really well and I’m always looking for my linemates to help build chemistry. That’s when the game is the most fun. When you have a lot of chemistry and you’re moving the puck around. I think when I get into trouble is when I use my peripheral vision too much and I’ll see a guy open and try to force it to him. There are times when a shot is definitely the better play.”
Notes and One Timers
Marco Sturm is expected to miss his second straight game with an “upper body injury”, and has been termed a day-to-day injury situation by Bruins head coach Claude Julien. The Bruins will face-off against the Florida Panthers at the TD Banknorth Garden (7 PM) in a rare Friday night game. It’s the first Friday night game in Boston for the B’s in over 30 years, dating back to a Dec. 23, 1977 game against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Goaltender Tim Thomas is expected to get the start for the Black and Gold. Thomas was on the Planet Mikey show last night, and you can hear that interview here. Among other things, he discussed literally standing on his head and making saves against teammates at practice during his minor league days. Why am I not shocked by this?
|11.20.08 at 4:10 pm ET|
Many loyal Bruins followers took heart a little over one year ago when the Boston Bruins ownership and management announced that NHL Hall of Famer Cam Neely was joining the Black and Gold front office as a Vice President, and would carry a strong voice in the day-to-day operations of the then-beleaguered hockey franchise.
Unlike many figurehead alumni that can potentially skulk around the building and smile for photo ops while hanging on their former club’s payroll, Neely has intensely dug into the fray with both hands — as he does with just about everything in his life — and the prototypical power forward has had a Jedi Master-like effect on promising players like his young apprentice Milan Lucic and the skilled Blake Wheeler.
At the time of his hiring, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was wholeheartedly on board with the move and his ability to evaluate hockey talent — both on the Bruins and within the league — has already provided dividends to the B’s front office. Bruins fans knew that the proud, almost-regal Neely was going to do everything possible – short of dropping the gloves and pummeling mediocrity with those powerful fists — to get the Boston hockey club headed in the right direction.
Well, it’s time for Chiarelli, Benning, Neely and Co. to take a bow – and perhaps start talking contract extension with the Jacobs Family — and continue promoting the brilliant, rugged, compelling product they’ve pieced together on the ice. In that vein, here’s the transcription of an interview Neely gave with 850 WEEI’s “The Big Show” yesterday afternoon that covered a whole range of subjects. Here’s the interview:
So much has been made of Tim Thomas, but a lot hasn’t been made about the depth that you have this year and that you’re able to throw three lines out there. How has that made a difference? CM:Well, I think it’s made a big difference and I would even make the argument that we can throw four lines out there. Our fourth line has contributed in a number of different ways and the other night we actually got a couple of goals from them as well. I don’t know how many other teams can say that.
We have three lines that we’re talking about that can create offense and give other teams fits in the offensive zone, and then our fourth line we’ve seen over the course of the season will actually carry play against the fourth lines of other teams.
Are you surprised that the team has had the success that they’d had thus far despite the fact that a number of veterans have struggled a bit in the early going? CM: From an organizational standpoint we looked at last year’s playoffs as an extraordinarily big learning curve for a lot of the young guys on this team. For them to understand what it takes to play in this league on a regular basis, and then this year come in with the attitude that ‘we did a little bit more than was expected, but we’ve also got to keep reaching for that next rung on the ladder.’
The young guys have certainly come in and done that. Some of our older or veteran players maybe haven’t found their stride yet, but they’re contributing in different ways and maybe just not yet necessarily on the score sheet. You guys brought up the depth part of it and it does really show the depth we have as an organization. The younger guys have been able to contribute and you’ve seen that Claude has really shuffled the deck with the lines over the course of the year to reward some of the younger guys with ice time. He’s done that without taking away how he distributes the ice time.
With all of the success that you’ve had thus far, do you have an eye ahead to getting past the first round of the playoffs and how does that manifest itself early in the season? CM: From a player’s perspective, you don’t want them thinking too far ahead about the playoffs. You’re thinking about how you’re playing today and what do I have to do to get ready for tomorrow. That’s the mindset that Claude and the coaching staff have in that locker room to focus on who your opponent is that night and then who you’re playing next.
From a management perspective, you’re certainly looking at how this team is shaping up heading into the second half of the year and then into the playoffs. We’ve got a really good hockey club here that can make some noise in the playoffs, and we’re always constantly looking at how we can improve and that doesn’t matter how well we’re doing in the standings right now.
Knowing that the fans in Boston really enjoy the physical brand of hockey and that you’re playing that style, how much is that going to play into getting fans back into that building? CM: You have to win and that’s obviously staring you right in the face. But I can tell you this, we know what our fans like and what kinds of players they like. You can go back to that Dallas game and that was an entertaining hockey game that’s got everything that our fans love about the game of hockey.
One of the things that happened is when the league expanded you tried to cater to a newer fan, and unfortunately to a degree the older cities, the Original Six cities, kind of have to suffer along with that. We’re trying to get that back a little bit about how our fans grew up watching [the game]. For example, if I’m introducing my children to the game now then it’s not the game that my father introduced me to, nor is it the game that maybe my grandfather introduced to my father.
It’s a little different in that generation, but it’s very clear when we’re talking to our scouting staff that we’re looking for Bruins-type players. Obviously you want skill because skill helps you win hockey games and win championships, but we want that skill but also with an element of what a Boston Bruin really is.
So you’re talking about the physical aspect of the game, but you’re not going to go back to the Don Cherry fighting videos? CM: Yeah, I don’t know if the league is going to let us go back to that.
Talking about Blake Wheeler, he’s so young and he seems to be getting better all the time. CM: He’s got a lot of skill and he certainly is going to improve as time goes on. He’s somebody that personally I’d love to see shoot a little more at times. At times I see him looking for the pass and he’s not a very selfish player, but at times you have to be a selfish player in this game. He protects the puck well and he’s got a good shot.
He’s a guy in our organization that we’re fortunate to have. He wasn’t one of our draft picks, but we ended up getting him for nothing and he’s going to end up being a very good player for us. I know people around here appreciate watching a player like that.
What is it going to take for people outside this area to recognize how good a job Tim Thomas has done? CM: It’s an interesting question and something we really don’t have an answer for. To be left off the ballot was really shocking to a lot of us especially considering that he played in the All-Star game last year, so you would think he’d automatically be on the ballot this year.
A lot of it has to do with, quite honestly, the lack of success that the team has had over the last couple of years while Tim has been playing here. If you’re not really showcased in the playoffs then people begin to forget pretty quickly what you did in that season. I know Tim’s making a lot of noise this year with how he’s played and statistically he’s among the leaders if he’s not leading them. I think it’s going to make people sit up and notice Tim Thomas, but having said that — let’s be honest — players generally make names for themselves playing in the playoffs. If the way Tim’s playing now continues through the season and then into the playoffs, then people will notice what type of job he’s done for us.
How much of it is also perception that he’s a lifelong backup or journeyman? CM: There’s no question. You in the media would probably know better than me what the perception of somebody is.
Clearly Thomas is your Number One goaltender, correct? CM: Claude is going to go with the guy that he feels will have the most success against a certain team, and as you saw on the West Coast trip…he went with Tim because of how he played in Edmonton and Vancouver. We are fortune that Manny plays very well for us whenever he’s in the lineup and he gives the guys the same kind of confidence as when Tim is in the lineup. It’s not a bad problem right now to have when you have two goalies that can win you a hockey game.
I think the other aspect of who’s going to play is who’s hot, does somebody need a rest or what kind of success have they had against the opposing team.
You’ve got to really hope the success just keeps on coming for a team that’s white-hot right now. CM: It’s exciting and I know a lot of people are excited and there’s a lot of talk away from the building about the Bruins, which is nice. I certainly know through the years that this is a very strong hockey market and they’ve been anxiously awaiting a reason to come back. It’s nice to see them bet back in the building, and it’s a style of play that our fans are excited to watch, we’re winning some hockey games and it’s good to see them back.
People argue that it’s a baseball town, it’s a football town, it’s a hockey team…it’s a winning town. If the team is winning then the base is already there to build on, and people are already seeing the difference. There’s also a lot of afternoon games coming up, which is great around the holidays. CM: When I first got here it was really the first time – I remember we didn’t have any afternoon games in Vancouver — but I thought it was the best thing in the world that you just get up in the morning and go play.
The type of fans in that building you’re able to get a lot of kids into the building, and the youth hockey players from the area. I think it’s fantastic and those guys are fun for the family and quite frankly the players love playing in those games as well because they see all the families in the stands. And every player remembers what it was like to go into a building to watch their first hockey game.
|11.20.08 at 11:50 am ET|
Everybody get out your Reggie Dunlop sweaters and Oggie Ogglethorpe wigs…the Bruins have decided to host an “Ode to Slap Shot” night during this Friday night’s game against the Florida Panthers. No word on whether Dickie Dunn will be ghostwriting the game story on Pucks with Haggs. Here’s the press release from the Bruins:
Throughout the Bruins/Panthers game on Friday, November 21, the Boston Bruins will honor what many say to be the greatest hockey movie of all time, Slap Shot.
The first 10,000 fans in attendance on Friday will receive Hanson Brothers style glasses, courtesy of TD Banknorth. A lucky fan will also receive the ultimate Slap Shot prize pack featuring Hanson staples: grape and orange sodas, aluminum foil and a toy car set. The winner will also have their seat upgraded.
Steve Carlson, who played the character of Steve Hanson in Slap Shot, will be introduced during the first intermission and will participate in an on-ice contest with a fan. Following the contest, Carlson will be available to sign autographs through the second period and subsequent intermission in the concourse behind Loge 6 on Level 4. Carlson will be available to the media at 6:00 on press level nine behind section N18.
Fans are also encouraged to wear a Chiefs jersey in honor of the hockey club portrayed in Slap Shot.
WHO: Boston Bruins
Steve Carlson aka Steve Hanson
WHAT: Celebrate Slap Shot with Steve Carlson autograph session, Hanson Brothers glasses giveaways courtesy of TD Banknorth, prizes and trivia
WHEN: Friday, November 21, 7:00 p.m.
WHERE: TD Banknorth Garden
100 Legends Way
Boston, MA 02114
|11.20.08 at 8:57 am ET|
With the Boston Bruins enjoying a renaissance and starting to capture the imagination and attention of the Boston sports fan, now would be a good time to take a look at one of the best pictorials ever done on the Original Six franchise by one of the best photographers ever to cover Boston sports.
Black and Gold – Four Decades of the Boston Bruins in Photographs is out in bookstores and available on line. It is a piece of work that chronicles one man’s life of documenting one of the most storied teams on ice. But the real hook in the book are the stories that go along with the pictures that were taken by Bruins photographer Steve Babineau.
The text was written by former NESN Bruins reporter Rob Simpson with a sincere and heartfelt foreward provided by none other than ‘Grapes’ himself, Don Cherry.
My personal favorite story behind the photo is a tale of Adam Oates, Brett Hull, Neil Young and a guitar.
In the ‘Scrapbook’ chapter, ‘Babs’ also does a great job of including his two sons and daughter, detailing how they have been with him every step of his impressive photojournalist career.
For those who cover sports now at TD Banknorth Garden, not only is ‘Babs’ a fixture, but so, too, are his sons Brian, an assistant equipment manager, and Keith, who has followed in dad’s footsteps as a team photographer. His daughter Jamie is also now a photographer who can be seen in and around the Garden.
|11.19.08 at 9:57 pm ET|
Who would have ever dared to hazard the thought that this nice little Bruins hockey team could start turning into one of the Eastern Conference powers?
Well…that’s exactly what’s happening right now out on the Frozen Sheet on Causeway Street, and the Big, Bad, B’s continued to throw out some impressive offensive haymakers in a 7-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres. The Bruins are now on a remarkable 7-0-1 streak in their last eight games, and haven’t lost a game in regulation since before Halloween. One year ago, the Bruins stressed, struggled and scraped their way to a playoff berth while allowing more goals (222) than they actually scored (212) over the course of the 82 game season — the only NHL team last season with that dubious distinction to make the postseason.
But this year’s edition of the Black and Gold resembles last year only in defensive grit and tenacity along with superior goaltending, and amazingly they are the third highest scoring team in the NHL this season with 62 goals scored in 19 games played (3.26 goals per game). The only teams with higher scoring output, you ask? The defending Stanley Cup Champion and goal-churning machine known as the Detroit Red Wings with 64 goals in 17 games, and the Western Conference-leading Jumbo Joe Thornton and his amazing San Jose Sharks with 73 goals scored in 20 games.
“That’s certainly something that we didn’t have last year,” said Julien, referring to the lamp-lighting wattage needed to recover from two or three goal deficits that happen across the NHL landscape. “Scoring certainly helps us get back in those type of games. Tonight was one of those situations where we did a lot of things we weren’t supposed to be doing and that we talked about, and you just hope it was one of those reality check situations.”
The scoring balance along the stat sheet has been amazing for a B’s team that currently has seven guys on pace for 40 plus points this season after having only three players (Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara, Marco Sturm) eclipse that mark last season with only two players potting at least 20 goals (Sturm and Chuck Kobasew). This season the Bruins have six, count ‘em, six players that are on pace for 20 goal seasons, and they’ve truly established a balanced lineup that can sting you with each of their top three lines — and all four on the days that Kobasew brings his can’t-teach-it-scoring-skills to the energy line with Shawn Thornton and Stephane Yelle.
“It seems like we can play any style right now and win hockey games,” said Savard. “We scored a lot of goals [tonight] and it seemed like last year if we gave up a high amount [of goals] then we weren’t going to win the game.
“This year if it gets high then we can win them,” added Savard. “We obviously want to win them all 2-1, but we had to win 7-4 tonight.
One thing that is called is an embarrassment of newfound offense, and it’s a credit to A) the Hockey Tao of Claude Julien and the frothy fervor with which the players are buying into it, B) the maturation of a handful of up-and-coming offensive players in their second and third seasons in the National Hockey League, and C) the fact that Marc Savard is truly playing at an elite level while ranking among the NHL’s top in points (25), assists (18) and +/- (+12) while continuing to wow those in Calgary and Atlanta that felt he was a one-dimensional playmaker incapable of being anything more than a — in the parlance of our times — career creampuff.
Savard has bought into Julien’s philosophies and system fully, and that effort has not only made Savard an All-Star caliber player, but also brought him to the Stanley Cup playoffs for the very first time in his career last season.
“Probably one of the hardest things is to convince a player that if he plays both ends of the ice, he’s still going to get the same amount of success at the [offensive] end,” said Julien of Savard, who finished with a goal and three assists along with +1 in Wednesday night’s solid comeback win. “I think Savvy’s stats have not been hurt by any means by playing a good, two-way game. He’s certainly been a plus player. He’s certainly been a reliable player defensively where we’ve used him on important draws. He’s killing penalties now.
“All of a sudden the player starts taking pride in it,” added Julien. “I’ve seen some of his backchecks this year where he’s buried his head and come back hard and that’s something that people who follow Savvy didn’t see that often or that consistently. That’s about pride. He’s at the stage where he enjos doing it, he sees the results he gets from it, and the praise he gets from it also.”
The results from Savard have also boosted his linemates as Phil Kessel looks fully capable of putting together a 40-goal season this year, and The Looch Ness Monster is on pace for nearly 50 points while also boasting a respectable +8 thus far this season. All of the teamwork allowed Savard to reach personal milestone Wednesday night as he collected his 600th career point on his third assist and fourth point of the night on Kessel’s third period goal.
The three (Savard, Lucic, Kessel) have combined for an amazing +16 in their last four games with all three forming into an offesnively dominant, defensively responsible bunch. With Looch pounding unsuspecting bodies into the boards, he’s created loads of space for both playmakers to do their thing on the ice, and both smaller players have found ample space to roam and create this fall.
“I’m having the most fun that I’ve ever had in my career right now, and I attribute that to my linemates and my team. They’re a great bunch of guys,” said Savard. “I feel great every night. Especially playing withthe two kids [Kessel, Lucic] it makes me feel young again, even though I look younger than both of them.
Julien is putting the band back together
Julien has mentioned several times how dominant the line of David Krejci, Chuck Kobasew and Blake Wheeler appeared to be during the Bruins’ last preseason game and first regular season game in Colorado, and he chose to reunite the top-performing trio last night. The three of them — put back together when Marco Sturm went down with an upper body injury that has made him “day-to-day” — accounted for three of Boston’s seven goals and kept the B’s in the game during the first period when the Sabres were throwing everything at them.
Krejci, Wheeler and Kobasew all finished the night with a disctinctive +3 next to their names, and Kobasew notched two more goals in the victory — giving the hard-working forward three goals and eight points in seven healthy games this season. Kobasew also slid right into Sturm’s place on the first power play unit and looked instantly comfortable on the ice with Chara, Bergeron, Savard and Michael Ryder.
Something tells me those three offensively gifted skaters will be staying together for the foreseeable future with Krejci’s puck skills, Wheelers size and hands and Kobasew’sunrelenting drives to the net will meld together into an effective, dangerous line for Julien. Krejci served up a perfect pass for Kobasew to redirect and score in the first period of Wednesday night’s win, and Kobasew’s second was the go-ahead goal in the second period on a nifty play hwere he fired the puck directly at the back of Ryan Miller’s pads.
The speeding piece of vulcanized rubber bounced off the back of Miller’s pads and right into the middle of the net — an example that things are clearly going the Bruins way in their current hot streak.
“As far as I’m concerned the way our guys are playing, it’s hard to establish [which line] is ‘one,’ ‘two,’ ‘three,’ and ‘four.’ We’re getting scoring from every line, what’s nice about it is that you can move guys around,” said Julien. “I reunited [David] Krejci with [Blake] Wheeler and [Chuck] Kobasew. I thought the exhibition game and the first game in Colorado where that line was successful…it was a good time to put them back together.
Z starting to find the range
It’s been entertainingly noticeable to watch how much care that Chara has taken in practicing his one-time blasts from the point during the last few weeks of practice, and it looks as if all the different components to his booming, intimidating, one-of-a-kind slapper are starting to slowly come together. Big Z scored two goals power play goals on one-timers from the point in the second period of Wednesday’s win, and both whistling slappers sped past Ryan Miller’s shoulder in the top shelf of the net.
Many, correctly so, opined that Chara’s shot didn’t seem to have the same breathtaking velocity early this season after the big defenseman underwent labrum shoulder surgery in the offseason, but the 31-year-old has slowly regained his boomer. The Big Gun was on full display last night for the first time in recent memory, and should add a big threat to the first power play unit.
“I think it was nice to see him not just shoot but also score and find his range, and that’s going to do tons for his confidence,” said Julien. “You hope that that continues to happen. We’ve been encouraging him to shoot more: one thing was to shoot and another was to hit the range. There were times where he was missing the net, and tonight he got rewarded for hitting the net.”
Chara was predictably reluctant to accept all the praise for himself despite the two-goal effort, and instead deferred to the teammates that set him up — including Patrice Bergeron’s 200th career point on Chara’s first scoring blast that tied the game 4-4 in the second period.
“It’s nice to get some goals but the guys did a really good job putting the puck back to me and obviously we had really good traffic in front there,” said Chara. “Kobasew also did an outstanding job and so did everybody else. It’s a unit of five, it’s not just one guy, but I was glad that we got some goals on power plays.”
|11.19.08 at 9:08 pm ET|
One sign of a really good team that believes it can go deep into the playoffs is finding out early in the season that it can win games in many different ways. The Boston Bruins are proving just that. They won back-to-back 1-0 games against Edmonton and Vancouver. They won a hard-fought 3-2 decision on the road on Monday night in Toronto. They lost defenseman Andrew Ference with a fractured right leg and were without Marco Sturm, out with an upper body injury. And, to the admission of center Marc Savard, they came out sluggish on Wednesday night against Buffalo after getting a day off on Tuesday. After falling behind 4-2 midway through the first period, the light went on, the red light behind Sabres goalie Ryan Miller – five straight times to be exact as the Bruins prevailed 7-4, their 10th win in 12 games, a stretch that has seen them capture 21 of a possible 24 points.
|11.19.08 at 7:28 pm ET|
In an entirely expected move, Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced before Wednesday night’s game that the club has recalled 22-year-old defenseman Matt Lashoff from the Providence Bruins (American Hockey League) and placed defenseman Andrew Ference on injured reserve. Lashoff has played in 15 games this season for Providence and has posted 3-10=13 totals and 21 penalty minutes. Ference is expected to be 6-8 weeks with a broken right tibia.
Lashoff is considered a highly-skilled offensive defenseman and potential power play specialist with skills and instincts tailor-made to quarterback the power play. He hasn’t been gritty enough, productive enough or defensively responsible enough, however, in coach Claude Julien’s system to stick with the Big Boy B’s.
But the kid still has a world of potential on a team with limited blueline depth, and this will constitute another opportunity for Lashoff to show his stuff before Chiarelli is forced to venture out into the unpredictable trade market for another puck-moving top-line defenseman.
“We’ll see how things go in practice and we’ll see if [Lashoff gets in the lineup],” said Julien. “He’s one of those guys who should move the puck and offensively he’s very gifted. We told him when he went down [to Providence] to work on the other part of his game defensively,” said Julien. “He needs to win battles and compete in his own end, and the rest of it will follow. We’ll look at him practice and see how he does, and who knows…eventually we may see him in there.”
Here’s a little piece of youtube evidence that shows off the offensive skill set of Lashoff, who wasn’t in the Garden early enough to potentially crack Wednesday night’s lineup and likely wouldn’t have suited up above Shane Hnidy anyway:
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