The high-scoring B’s machine keeps cranking
|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.”