There’s a reason they call it drawing first blood.
The Bruins have scored the first goal an amazing 15 times in their 20 games thus far this season, and it’s allowed the Black and Gold to truly go on the offensive and attack other teams with previously unseen aplomb. In those 15 games the Bruins have built up an impressive 10-3-2 record.
So during a rare Friday evening tilt in the Hub — the first in over 30 years for the Bruins — when a first place hockey team easily could have been caught sleepwalking through an anti-climactic match against the lowly Florida Panthers — with perhaps a wandering eye cast toward the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night at the Bell Centre — the Big Bad B’s simply took care of business in a tidy 4-2 win. A victory so convincing that it saw restless B’s fans doing the wave in the third period of a blowout win that registers as Boston’s seventh straight at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The attention to detail is part of a mantra that Bruins coach Claude Julien obviously stressed to his team prior to the game, with an eye toward an Ottawa Senators team that bounded purposefully out of the gate last season before collapsing and crawling into the playoffs. While there aren’t any Ray Emery-style problem children in the Boston dressing room to spark turmoil, the staunch marching orders to avoid any “fat cat” syndrome were clearly understood, processed and performed to a ‘T’ on the ice last night.
The B’s players are so intent on the nightly task at hand that veteran and past Stanley Cup winner Aaron Ward is now simply refusing to mention the dreaded ‘P’ word (playoffs) in relation to the Black and Gold. You won’t hear the words “NHL” and “playoffs” coming out of Ward’s mouth until April or so…Ward refused to utter “playoffs” last night in context with the Bruins, and said he’d only be talking about “the NBA or the NFL playoffs” for a nice long time.
Ward obviously has been around long enough to know that something pretty special is starting to take place on Causeway Street.
“One of the things they preached at the beginning of the year was positioning,” said Ward. “Teams that have really positioned themselves well by Thanksgiving have a tendency to really…uh….put themselves in a favorable position with…uh…I don’t want to use the word. You can fill it in. Put themselves in good position for…it’s kind of an omen, I can’t say it…for the end of the year. I don’t want to say the ‘P’ word.
“For us [Friday night’s win] was a job we talked about from the top down. Claude talked about it and the players talked about it,” added Ward. “We had a discussion about it at the pregame skate amongst the players. About where we are and our state of being. We can’t rest on our laurels at any point this season. We’ve got to think about the here and now. The ‘P’ word is not going to be mentioned…at least not in this [locker room] stall.”
Ward’s words — minus any onerous ‘P’ words — seemed to be right in line with the message that Julien delivered to the esteemed Fourth Estate after the game. It was something about staying inside the warm, welcoming and comfortable bubble the Bruins have built for themselves while setting the standard of excellence in the Eastern Conference with 30 points through 20 games.
“I don’t think we feel too good about ourselves, and the one thing we do realize, and, you’ve got to remember guys, we can start reading what you guys are writing, and we can believe everything. Or we can stay in our little bubble and understand what got us to where we are and realize that those kinds of things are what’s going to keep us there,” said Julien. “I’m saying that because our team has not had to face this kind of situation for a long time, and we have to learn to be able to handle this.
“Being in first place is great, but the minute you get comfortable ‘ and I can use the Ottawa Senators, 15-2 last year, and I can use other examples as well ‘ this is a humbling game, and we just have to make sure that we understand what it takes every night,” added Julien “That’s the kind of message we keep giving our team: don’t get too high, don’t get too low, but don’t start believing everything you read.
The Bruins effectively outshot, outlasted and outclassed an underwhelming Panthers hockey club. They also won the inevitable game of fisticuffs that appeared once the game got out of hand in the second period. Milan Lucic and old friend Nick Boynton engaged in a tough guy scrum at center ice that spilled plenty of blood from both sides.
Both players got a few shots in, but Boynton left the ice after Lucic opened up a cut along the former Bruins defenseman’s forehead following a series of vicious right and left-handed mixture of jabs and haymakers. Boynton’s face was a bloody mess by the end of the brawl. That decision easily went to the Big Looch, which makes him 2-0 in fights on the season after bloodying Boynton and knocking Mike Komisarek out of the Habs lineup with a shoulder injury. There has to be, however, some extra credit given to the steely Boynton for hanging in and getting a few licks of his own in amid the flurry of Lucic fists, which were also red with blood by the end of the exchange.
Aaron Ward also tangled with Keith Ballard after the veteran defenseman came in hard — and perhaps a bit low — on Marc Savard in the middle of the second period. It was business as usual for Ward, who again showed that this Bruins team isn’t going to timidly back down or fail to protect a teammate when something isn’t sitting well with the B’s bench.
“I thought the hit was late, and then not only was it late but I also thought the hit was low,” said Ward. “It was my first reaction.”
Hunwick continuing to improve
The blueline education of Matt Hunwick continued last night, and the young defenseman kept impressing with an assist and an eye-opening +3 on the evening. That makes it three straight games Hunwick has registered at last one point with a goal and three assists over that short span. While the man he was replacing on the rearguard, Andrew Ference, was playing the best hockey of his career by his own admission, “Huddy” hasn’t been too shabby either as the puck-moving, offensive interim solution along the blue line.
Hunwick’s performance continues to exemplify the impressive organizational depth that the Bruins have built up for themselves. Their roster goes well past the 20 skaters dressing on a nightly basis and extends to another 3-5 players capable of stepping in without a beat when the inevitable injury bug beckons. All told, Hunwick has a goal and three assists along with a +7 in eight games this season and was given a bit of time on the power play unit Friday night as a reward for his consistent efforts.
“We talk about confidence and the experience. He’s getting better and a lot of has to do with because he’s playing. A lot of it starts in practice and he’s been patient and working hard,” said Julien. “Now he’s got a chance to play and when you’ve got some games where you’ve got a lead you can use him even more. That’s the way that you develop players. He’ll be getting those opportunities if he responds, and lately he’s been responding.”
The Kids are all right
The impressive early returns on David Krejci continue to pour in, and no solitary play was more indicative of the 22-year-old’s patience, stick-handling and creativity than his second period goal which pushed the B’s lead to 3-1. Krejci found the puck on his stick along the right side with a good deal of open ice in front of
him, but — rather than make a mad impetuous dash toward the net as many NHL youngsters might in that frantic situation — the young centerman instinctively pulled the puck back, slowed the throbbing tempo to a hockey crawl and then deftly slid a cross-ice pass over to Chuck Kobasew.
Kobasew fired at the net and the loose puck promptly kicked right back to Krejci for the easy putback goal — a simple, elegant, dare I say nifty hockey play that continues to scratch away at what’s promising to be a great surface for the young Czech Republic skater.
“That’s David Krejci,” said Julien. “He controls the play so well and he controls the pace of it too. I’ve seen players in the past that were so good at that. I remember J.F. Sauve from the Quebec Nordiques was one of those guys that would make those plays to slow things down. John Chabot, who’s an assistant coach with the Islanders was one of those players too. They’re gifted with the stick and they find seams. Savvy does it a bit for us too. He’s a good players and he’s just starting to grow into the player that we all expected him to be.”
While Krejci has impressed with the way he’s conjured up magic tricks with the puck, Kessel continues to simply burn away hapless defenders with his rare combination of speed and dead-eye shot. Kessel got behind the Panthers ‘D’ after a great tape-to-tape pass by Savard, and beat Tomas Vokoun with a forehand for the game’s first goal — an easy-as-pie pseudo penalty shot for the sniping scorer.
“I’m not doing anything different,” said Kessel, when asked what’s improved for him this season. “The pucks are finding the back of the net now, and they weren’t before. That’s about it. There’s no magic formula.”
With Friday night’s score, Kessel has a team-high 10 goals in only 20 games and seems well on his way to becoming Boston’s first 40-goal scorer since Glen Murray sniped 44 tallies for the Black and Gold way back in 2002-2003 en route to a 92 point season.
Hard to believe it’s been that long since the Bruins had a 40-goal scorer. Or maybe it isn’t given the recent history of the Bruins Crew.
“It seems like he and Savvy are feeding off each other,” said Ward. “It’s the old [University of Michigan hockey coach] Red Berenson thing, If you have speed you’ve got to use it. Especially now with the rule changes we as defenseman can do nothing about it.”