Archive for October, 2008

Hockey Notes: Ference on the rebound

Saturday, October 25th, 2008
Bike work obviously paid off for Ference this summer...

Bike work obviously paid off for Ference this summer...

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.

Andrew Ference is good. My name is Claude Julien, and I approved this message...

Andrew Ference is good. My name is Claude Julien, and I approved this message...

“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

Many topics discussed at GM Meetings...

Many topics discussed at 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.”

 

Straight through the checking glass

Friday, October 24th, 2008
Next time we're up 2-0 in a game, do me a favor Z and sweep the leg...mercy is for the weak.

Next time we're up 2-0 in a game, do me a favor Z and sweep the leg...mercy is for the weak.

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:

No Bread and Butter for B’s

Friday, October 24th, 2008

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.

A shiny nickel to anyone who can tell what's wrong with this picture...

A shiny nickel to anyone who can tell what's wrong with this picture...

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 cliché 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.

“I think [embarrassing] is the right word,” said Lucic. ”It wasn’t a good effort. There was nothing really positive that we can take out of that. Pretty much, [in] your home building, you should never get outworked in your own building. That’s probably the best word for it.”

 

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.” 

 

 

Sounds of the game… Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 2

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

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.

Dennis Wideman knew even with a 2-0 lead, the signs were not pointing in the right direction.

Patrice Bergeron on his first goal back.

Milan Lucic said the Bruins didn’t have killer instinct.

Bergeron pots his first goal of comeback

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Everybody is happy when Patrice lights the lamp

Everybody is happy when Patrice lights the lamp

 

Things have come full circle for the kid that many consider to be the Heart and Soul of the Bruins. Patrice Bergeron scored his first goal tonight since returning from a career-threatening concussion that limited the young Bruins center to only 10 games last season. The score came in Bergeron’s seventh game of the season at the 15:32 mark of the first period, and was a redirect of a Shane Hnidy shot from the right point. It was Bergeron’s first goal since scoring at San Jose on Oct. 13, 2007.

The score also marked Hnidy’s first assists of the season. 

 The goal comes almost a year to the day from a hellacious hit-from-behind at the hands of Randy Jones and the McFilthy and McNasty Philadelphia Flyers on Ocrt. 27, 2007. The crumpling blow left Bergeron with a severe concussion and whiplash normally associated with car wreck rather than a hockey collision. The Jones hit ended Bergeron’s season and put his career in jeopardy, but all that seems like a murky puck memory after Thursday night’s goal.

Shootin’ at the shootout

Thursday, October 23rd, 2008

Since we’ve been discussing the shootouts so much, here’s last season’s shooting percentages and success rate for each of the Bruins players heading into tonight’s match-up with the Maple Leafs — if it should get to that point.

As an aside, there’s a strong Pucks with Haggs vote to put another team in the Toronto-area — as the reports have stated – to go along with the Maple Leafs. Hamilton would be perfect place and was the desired target if the Nashville Predators ended up moving, but any team that returns back into the motherland of Canada is a good thing for hockey and the NHL. Winnipeg and Quebec City would also be great places to relocate some of these warmer climate teams from the US that simply have never seemed like a good fit (Hello Nashville!) for a frozen sheet. Anyway, here are the B’s shootout stats from last season:

This is what a shootout trigger man is supposed to look like...

This is what a shootout trigger man is supposed to look like...

Phil Kessel — 5 scores in 13 tries for a 38.5 percent success rate. The five shootout scores were the third-most in the NHL least season and a clear indicator that this is a speciality for a guy with the hockey skills to pay the bills (for his career, Kessel is 10-for-23 with a 43.5 success rate with nine game-deciding scores).

Zdeno Chara — 1 for 2 for a 50 percent success rate, with the successful attempt a memorable wind-up slapper against the New York Rangers at the Garden last season (2-for-5 career for a 40 percent success rate).

David Krejci — 1 for 5 for a 20 percent success rate. Krejci is a guy that could be a future weapon in the shootout, and has already scored this season as well (and 2-for-7 career for a 28.6 percent success rate).

Marco Sturm — 1 for 8 for a 12.5 percent success rate (7-for-25 career for a 28 percent success rate).

Patrice Bergeron — 0 for 1 (8-for-24 career for a career 33.3 percent success rate).

Dennis Wideman — 0 for 1 (2-for-8 with a career 25 percent success rate).

Chuck Kobasew — 0 for 3 (and 0-for-8 in his career, perhaps it’s time to hang up his skates during the shootout).

Michael Ryder — 0 for 1 (and 1-for-11 with a career 9.1 percent success rate). Ryder’s numbers in the shootout actually makes it a real head-scratcher as to why Claude Julien opted to put him in the top three during Boston’s first two shootout losses this season.

Marc Savard — a career 2-for-12 with a 16.7 percent success rate.

P.J. Axelsson — 0-for-3 career in the shootout.

Notes from a Wilmington frozen sheet

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

A few notes from practice this morning:

–Swedish winger and the longest-tenured Bruin P.J. Axelsson skated at practice this morning, and related afterward that he felt good. Axie has missed three games with unspecified muscle spasms, but it’s hoped he’ll be ready to go against the Maple Leafs in a big divisional ”four-pointer” Thursday night.

“I felt good. We’ll see how it reacts and how I feel tomorrow morning,” said Axelsson following practice. “It’s not nice [to miss games], but at least I’m making progress.”

–B’s goaltender Tim Thomas said his wife told him this morning [quick Haggs' aside: you've got to love the

Timmy!

Timmy!

 ultimate hockey family where the wife is telling her NHL player/husband what’s going on between the pipes around the league] about the Toronto Maple Leafs switcheroo in net on Wednesday night during their overtime shootout. For those that weren’t in the know or didn’t happen to be in the booming Metropolis of Toronto last night, coach Ron Wilson lifted Vesa Toskala after the overtime, and instead placed 41-year-old veteran Curtis Joseph between the pipes solely for the shootout.

Thomas said he had heard of similar moves before in the AHL and Claude Julien thought that Edmonton turned the trick last season with Mathieu Garon and former UMass-Lowell netminder Dwayne Roloson. Thomas admitted that it might make sense in some instances. One of the biggest questions Thomas had was, who gets the loss when that happens?

Logic would dictate it would be CuJo after losing to the Team Formerly Known as the Mighty Ducks in the shootout, and this time logic wins. Toskala gets zeroes across the board after allowing two goals through the first 65 minutes of hockey, and Joseph gets an OT loss after hopping onto the ice cold turkey for the shootout session. The Leafs are coming to Boston on Thursday, so perhaps the B’s will get to see this for themselves tomorrow night.

“I’ve heard people talk about doing it when the shootout first started. Does CuJo get the overtime loss, and then Toskala gets a no-decision? CuJo must have known beforehand and been loosening, so he’d be ready to go  in for the shootout. You’ve got to loosen up your muscles, and I think you’re not worried too much about the mental part of it. Especially at CuJo’s age. You’re worried about making sure your body doesn’t pull a muscle.

“Being a goalie in that situation would be kind of weird. I don’t think it would be too much pressure because they’re putting you in there because they think they’re going to lose to the other guys anyway in the shootout. Know what I mean. It’s an easy opportunity to be a hero. In a way it’s kind of relief if you’ve played well in net [like Toskala] and it’s a 2-2 games when you come out.”

After winning the shootout, we do the Dance of Joy

After winning the shootout, we do the Dance of Joy

–Patrice Bergeron was among several Bruins that addressed the B’s alarming 0-3 record in shootouts thus far in the young season — a campaign in which they seemed as if they had a pretty good chance to improve on last season’s 6-7 record in OT shootouts. Bergeron admitted that it might be time to mix things up a little bit among Boston shooters — Bergeron himself has gone to the five-hole tuck move several times already in the young season — but also felt that the Black and Gold had the makings of a good shootout team. Also credit Julien for bumping David Krejci into the top three shooters, as the 22-year-old scored in the final round of the top three to extend the shootout two more rounds in last night’s eventual loss. It was a crafty little quick shot that Ryan Miller clearly wasn’t ready for as he slowly made his way down the slot.

“Things haven’t worked out for us [in the shootout] the way we would like them to. You’ve got to keep working at it,” said Bergeron. “We’ve won some games in shootouts and we have a lot of talent up front, and the back side can do a lot of things out there too.

“Because we didn’t so well in three games doesn’t mean that we can’t start getting good results. Yes, I am trying to create some new moves and sometimes it takes a while to get them ready for the shootout. I think practicing it is one thing out on the ice, and then bringing it into the games is something that’s a little different. You just have to go out there and take whatever the goalie is giving you.”

After all this shootout talk, it’s clearly time to include the best shootout goal of all-time. This one comes courtesy of former Boston College winger Ryan Shannon, who perfected the spin-o-rama move with the Vancouver Canucks last season and used it to help win a game for them against the Chicago Blackhawks. The best part was the shove in the back from the Bullin Wall that he got after scoring the goal. Shannon is toiling with the Binghamton Senators in the AHL right now, so maybe it’s time to make a move and bring the shootout specialist back to the Hub for specialist duty. You can never have enough spin-o-ramas. Enjoy the video and let me know what your favorite shootout move/goal is.