Archive for November, 2008

Savard earns NHL First Star

Monday, November 24th, 2008

Continuing what’s been a banner week for the Boston Bruins,  center Marc Savard was named the NHL’s First Star in their ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 23. The wins and accolades just keep on coming for the Big Bad Bruins, who held practice at Ristuccia Area this season — with off days for Marc Savard, Dennis Wideman and Patrice Bergeron. The most notable sight at practice: Shawn Thornton’s shootout practice attempt at the end of the session when he swept in right-to-left, faked forehand and then lifted a nifty backhander past Manny Fernandez.

When apprised that the backhander was a pretty “sick” move, Thornton promptly said “That’s because I’m a sick player.” Got to love that guy — a real “glue player” that help keep that locker room such a tight-knit group.

Anyway, on to Savard and his First Star Honors. Here’s the release from the NHL and there was a conference call later this afternoon conducted by the NHL. II’ll throw a full transcription on the site in the next few minutes, but here’s Savard’s take on the faceoff circle conversation between Milan Lucic and George Laraque. In case you missed it, the little centerman interjected into an A&B conversation between the two titans on Saturday night, and said something that seemed to stop Laraque in his tracks. It’s a great nuanced example of the kind of leader that Savard has blossomed into during his time in the Spoked B:

“I just told Georges that there’s going to be another time for this. Right now we’re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little while anyway.

“If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’t want anybody fighting, especially because we’re a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘well, why didn’t [Chara] grab him’. There’ll be time for that. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but right now it wasn’t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’re capable of doing, we didn’t want that to happen. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.”

FIRST STAR — MARC SAVARD, C, BOSTON BRUINS: Savard led all NHL scorers this past week with eight points (two goals, six assists) as the Bruins (14-3-4, 32 points) won four consecutive games, moved into first place overall in the Eastern Conference and increased their Northeast Division lead to seven points. Savard recorded two assists in a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Nov. 17, notched a goal and three assists in a 7-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres Nov. 19 and tallied one goal and one assist in a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers Nov. 21. Savard ranks second in the NHL in assists (19), third in points (27) and third in plus-minus (+13). The 31-year-old Ottawa native has recorded 225 assists since the start of the 2005-06 season; the only NHL player with more is San Jose’s Joe Thornton (272). The Bruins have earned points in 13 of their past 14 games (12-1-1) since Oct. 25, outscoring their opponents 49-26 in that span.

SECOND STAR — HENRIK SEDIN, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS:Sedin recorded seven points, all assists, as the Canucks (13-6-2, 28 points) went 3-0-1 on their four-game road trip and extended their Northwest Division lead to five points. Sedin recorded one assist each in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders Nov. 17 and a 6-3 victory over the New York Rangers Nov. 19, tallied a pair of assists in a 3-2 victory at Minnesota Nov. 20 and finished the week with three more in a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh Nov. 22. Sedin increased his season points total to a club-leading 21 (three goals, 18 assists), two more than twin brother Daniel (9-10–19).

THIRD STAR — NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN, G, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS:Khabibulin posted a 3-0-0 record with a 2.90 goals-against average and .918 save percentage as the Blackhawks (10-4-5, 25 points) began their six-game road trip with three consecutive victories. Khabibulin stopped 36 shots and both shootout attempts in a 3-2 victory at Phoenix Nov. 18, made 31 saves in a 6-3 victory at Dallas Nov. 20 and finished the week with 34 stops in a 5-4 overtime victory at Toronto Nov. 22. Khabibulin improved his season record to 7-1-4 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He has not suffered a regulation loss in his past 11 appearances, going 7-0-4 since Oct. 15.

Bruins’ unveil third jersey today

Monday, November 24th, 2008

All I can really say about this is that A) the idea of a T-shirt/jersey blackout for the sold-out Friday matinee against the New York Islanders should be interesting and B) these third sweaters are so much better than the ‘Pooh Bear’ Third jersey that it’s almost not even worth mentioning.

The declawed “Pooh” logo made it seem as if the Bruins should all be wearing pot bellies and constantly searching for their next pot of honey with Tigger and Christopher Robbins rather than skating around and intimidating with a ferocious brand of hockey.

The demise of the Pooh Bear was a banner day in the history of the Boston Bruins‘ sweater, and in some ways “Pooh” typified a lot of what was wrong with this hockey team for a good 5-10 years. Here’s the release from the Bruins:

The Boston Bruins unveiled their new Reebok Third Jersey System (jersey and socks) at www.bostonbruins.com today at 8:00 a.m ET. Then, at 2:00 p.m. ET the club will hold its Third Jersey On-Sale Event in the Boston Bruins Pro Shop.

The Third Jersey System includes a new jersey and new socks, both of which are predominantly black.  The jersey itself is black with gold trim at the neck, and has two gold stripes and one white stripe on the arms.  The Bruins secondary logo, which is featured on the shoulders of the primary Bruins jersey, is featured on the chest of the third jersey. Alternately, the Bruins primary logo (the Spoked-B) is located on each shoulder. The socks are black with two gold stripes and one white stripe.

The Bruins are scheduled to wear this Third Jersey System for 16 games (13 home, three away) during the remainder of the 2008-2009 campaign: 11/28 vs. New York Islanders, 11/29 vs. Detroit Red Wings, 12/13 vs. Atlanta Thrashers, 12/20 vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 1/3 vs. Buffalo Sabres, 1/10 vs. Carolina Hurricanes, 1/19 vs. St. Louis Blues, 1/21 @ Toronto Maple Leafs, 1/29 vs. New Jersey Devils, 2/10 vs. San Jose Sharks, 2/24 vs. Florida Panthers, 3/5 vs. Phoenix Coyotes, 3/15 @ Pittsburgh Penguins, 3/31 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, 4/2 vs. Ottawa Senators and 4/7 @ Ottawa Senators.

The first time the Bruins will wear the new Third Jersey System will be ‘€œBlack Friday’€ at the Garden, as the team will wear their new third jersey for the first time on the ‘€œbusiest shopping day of the year’€ on Friday, November 28 when the B’€™s host the Islanders at Noon.  Not only will the team be wearing their new predominantly black Third Jersey System for the first time, but the first 10,000 fans in attendance will receive a commemorative black t-shirt, and all fans are encouraged to come to the TD Banknorth Garden wearing black attire for the game.  The Day After Thanksgiving matinee has been a Black and Gold tradition since the 1990-1991 season.

 

 

 

The Third Jersey On-Sale Event will be headlined by Bruins players Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, Marc Savard, Tim Thomas and Blake Wheeler, who will all be working with the Pro Shop staff behind the counters from 2:00 – 3:30 p.m. ET.  The players will assist customers with all of their shopping needs, as well as sign autographs for anyone who purchases one of the new third jerseys.

The Bruins have not had a third jersey since the team unveiled its new logo and uniform system in June of 2007.

In addition to the on-sale event, any fan that purchases a third jersey in the Boston Bruins Pro Shop from Monday, November 24 – Wednesday, November 26 will receive a personalized autographed picture of a Boston Bruins player of their choice.

The Boston Bruins Pro Shop is located on the west end of North Station, which is on the first floor of the TD Banknorth Garden.  It is open from 10:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. on non-gamedays, and 10:00 a.m. – 30 minutes after the conclusion of the game on gamedays.  For further information about purchasing the Bruins Third Jersey System or the Boston Bruins Pro Shop, fans can call 617.624.1500 or 877.527.8467.

The Bruins next game is in Buffalo against the Sabres at 7:00 p.m. ET on Wednesday, November 26.  The Bruins return to the TD Banknorth Garden on Friday, November 28 when the clubs hosts the New York Islanders at Noon.

Fans interested in learning more about Boston Bruins players, or ticket options, should visit the team website at www.bostonbruins.com or call 617.624.BEAR.

‘Grapes’ gives B’s some love

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Everybody knows that Don Cherry has always harbored a soft spot in his heart for the Spoked B of the Boston Bruins — the team that gave him his first shot behind an NHL bench — and the inimitable Grapes gave the Big, Bad B’s a couple of screaming one-timers during the must-see Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend.

First Dandy Don — decked out in a Looney Toons tie in honor of the Grey Cup held in Montreal last weekend – tosses a few deserved attaboys at Marc Savard for potting his 600th career point last week, and then praised the B’s center for the all-around game he continues to play for Coach Claude Julien in Boston this season. He’s built on last year’s All-Star worthy season with a campaign that currently has him ranked second in the NHL in assists (19), third in points (27) and third with a sterling +13 mark for the season. This from an undeniably gifted skater/playmaker that was a minus player in all but one season before coming to Boston, and is currently still a -61 for his career. Three more years of a Julien/Savard combo might just see him break into positive territory.

The Savard kudos continues a growing back-and-forth mutual admiration society  between the crafty center and the God Father of blustery hockey talk in the Great White North.

A little later on Cherry also ladles some puck love for the “great Canadian spirit” that defenseman Andrew Ference displayed when he powered right through the pain of a broken tibia in his right leg to still clear the puck during a PK situation against the Canadiens. As B’s fans will remember, Ference was hit in the right leg with an Andre Markov slapper, dropped to the ice in obvious pain, and then battled several times to regain his footing. The felled blueliner then cleared the puck from Boston’s zone once he got back on his skates.  Ference was diagnosed with fractured tibia several days later, but — even after repeated viewings – it simply doesn’t get any less compelling watching the blueliner battle to get to his feet and do his job before gingerly skating off the ice.

Courtesy of the wonderful world of youtube, Cherry’s bon mots on Savard start at about roughly the four minute mark and Ference is at roughly the 5:50 mark…enjoy.

Julien ordered Lucic to keep the gloves on

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

MONTREAL, QUEBEC — Bruins coach Claude Julien, who continued his march toward the Jack Adams Trophy by coaching the pants off Habs coach Guy Carbonneau in a big statement game last night, seemed fairly agitated after a tense, playoff-like game that ended with a thrilling 3-2 shootout win over the Montreal Canadiens. Julien admitted that he (rightly) told Milan Lucic not to drop the gloves and go berserk when enforcer Georges Laraque came calling for a throwdown. Instead, Big, Bad Looch got the last laugh with a game-tying second period goal which he immediately followed with a little post-score posing, primping and styling for the angry masses in Montreal.

While Julien’s hockey Gandhi move undoubtedly had something to do with the current state of Lucic’s hand after pummeling Nick Boynton in Friday night’s win, the B’s head coach also seemed to take some exception with Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau’s calculated decision to send his noted enforcer after Boston’s 20-year-old, second-year winger.

“He’s probably the toughest guy in the league, and I know Georges Laraque was [goading Lucic] because he was told to. Georges is not that type of guy and he respects the young kids and knows what that is all about. There was no way that was going to happen. [Shawn] Thornton was there ready for Georges and that never happened either. My tough guy was ready for their tough guy and it’s as simple as that. I told [Lucic] not to fight, and if you were wondering…it was me.

“I don’t send guys to fight. When guys go out and fight they do it on their own. That’s all I’m going to say. I know for a fact that [going after Lucic] was said and [Laraque] had a job to do tonight. He was to shadow Lucic and that was his job. It’s as simple as that. For us I think Lucic is a good player and if they want Georges to shadow him then that means more ice time for Georges and good for him.”

Lucic clearly seemed a bit non-plussed to be answering questions about why he refused to drop the gloves with Laraque after the big Canadiens winger skated nearly side-by-side with the Incredible Looch on four different shifts in the first period. It seemed as if the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Laraque was doing everything possible to entice the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Lucic into a fists of furty competition. Looch does lead the B’s with 48 penalty minutes on the season, but he wasn’t biting this time.

Thornton is pretty familiar with the job requirements for a tough guy/enforcer, and he empathized a bit with the plight of Lucic, who obviously didn’t want to be seen as backing away from a physical confrontation with Laraque.

“I’m sure it’s[difficult],” said Thornton. “He did a good job of staying disciplined. He did his job. [Lucic] got a goal and we got two points out of it. I think that’s the most important thing that we got the two points.

Did Thornton expect that Laraque was going to make himself Looch’s Siamese Twin out on the ice for nearly the entire first period, and practically big for a fight?

“I don’t know. I thought we did a good job and [Lucic/Komisarek] was a good fight and that was the end of it. Obviously they didn’t feel the same way, but whatever. If the guys wants to do that then it’s his barn and he can do whatever he wants. But Lucic did a good job staying disciplined and helping us get the two points.”

Each time Lucic headed to the bench following his shift, the Bell Centre crowd let him have it with hoots, hollers and chants of “Luc-cic”. The Carbonneau move seemed to be devised to quiet the spirited, physical Looch in a must-win game for the Habs, but instead Lucic finished with revenge on a hockey dish served cold: a goal and nine hits in 15:10 of ice time. Carbonneau’s game plan of intimidation and frontier justice might be considered trash barrel material the next time the two Old Time Hockey rivals tangle.

Here’s a word-for-word transcription of the terse Lucic interview with the assorted Canadian and Boston media after the game:

What happened with Laraque? ML: Nothing.

What did he say? ML: Nothing.

Is that the first time in your life that somebody shadowed you like that? ML: Yeah.

How does it feel? ML: Okay. If that’s what they want to do then they can do it.

Did Claude tell you not to fight:? You’re a first line player and he isn’t so it’s a bad match-up. ML: I don’t know. You’ll have to ask him.

Did he also tell you not to talk about it? ML: No, I just don’t feel like talking about it. That’s about all I have to say.

When you scored you seemed to ham it up a little bit there. ML: Yeah, a little bit. It’s nice to score when the fans are on you a little bit there.

Do you enjoy when the crowd gets on you like that? Is that a fun environment for you to play in? ML: Yeah, it’s fun if they’re on you like that or they’re not on you like that. It’s a fun building to play in. 21,000 people in the crowd and they’re always whooping it up. It’s a tough building to play in, and we’re just happy to get the two points.

I guess this guy is seething in his Patrick Roy Canadiens sweater after Lucic and Laraque didn’t rumble at the Bell Centre, or perhaps Carbonneau dreamed this up and showed it to the Habs skaters before Saturday night’s game:

First blood at the Gahden

Friday, November 21st, 2008

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.”

Sounds of the game… Bruins 4, Panthers 2

Friday, November 21st, 2008

The beat rolls on for the hottest team on ice. The Bruins dispatched of the over-matched Florida Panthers, 4-2, in the first regular season Friday night NHL game in Boston in 31 years. The win also helped the Bs tied the New York Rangers for first place in the Eastern Conference. Listen to them talk after, and you get the sense that they know they can play even better. A great thought for fans of the Black and Gold and a scary thought for the rest of the NHL.

Patrice Bergeron said the Bruins didn’t give the Panthers much early on.

Bergeron and the Bruins will now focus on their arch-rival Canadiens Saturday night in Montreal.

Dennis Wideman said the Bruins can still play better.

Head coach Claude Julien said despite the success, the Bruins won’t be reading their clippings.

Julien said his team is learning to handle success.

Tim Thomas said the team is aware of how well they’re playing but keeping things in perspective.

Former Bruin Nick Boynton, sporting stitches on his brow and chin from a fight with Milan Lucic, said there’s no getting around the fact that the Bruins are for real.

Wheeler putting the “blinders” on

Friday, November 21st, 2008

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?

Zdeno Chara, P.J. Axelsson, Michael Ryder and Marc Savard all sat out Friday’s morning skate, but all are expected to be ready to go when the puck drops against the Florida Panthers.