Archive for December, 2008

Pregame chat with Claude Julien

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

Pre-game chatter with Claude Julien…Providence forward Martin St. Pierre is with the team here in Boston, so look for him to join the roster for the pre-Christmas two game road swing through St. Louis and New Jersey.

On the red-hot Carolina Hurricanes…CJ: Hopefully we can cut down on our goal against than we gave up last time. At the same time, they have changed coaches and the new coach back there often gives a team a little life. In their last [six] games they haven’t lost in regulation. A good for us [today] and a good one before going on the road for the next five [games].

On tweaking the lines in practice…CJ:Basically, we touched up on our neutral zone counters to see if we can’t move the puck quick through the neutral zone. We did a few things yesterday that would fine-tune our hockey club, if you can say that. Again, because of the schedule it is hard to go for a good length. We are closer now than we were yesterday with hard work. The guys seemed to have a pretty good jump. That is probably related to the four days of non-playing [games]. I think it has given our guy a little bit of life.

On difficulties a a coach during the holiday season…CJ: It’ always hard. Sometimes, as much as our better halves don’t like it, being on the road takes away a little bit of the distractions and you are able to focus on the games. That is one thing we have going here, in the next few games after today. Hopefully we will finish off strongly before the Christmas break and be able to enjoy that. [The holidays] are a distraction at times, but it is a distraction for everybody. The team we are playing against is going through the same thing.

On goaltending decisions for today’s game and tomorrow’s game…CJ: I haven’t changed my thought process on that since Day One. I talked about having two good goaltenders and I’m just going game by game. I think I will make  my decision for tomorrow after tonight’s game. It could be either, or…I don’t want to change my thought process. It was worked well so far and that is the way I like to see things because you’re always changing your mind.

On if anyone unexpected is out of the lineup…CJ:Everybody except for Sturm is going to play today. I think we will be able to get a little more information later today, maybe this afternoon. I think Peter [Chiarelli] will be able to share something, if he has anything on it. I don’t, from yesterday. I have no more new and that is about it.

On who will be flying with the team on the road trip…CJ:We are going to go with what we got night now. I think we are going to be bringing a guy up. That is something that Peter [Chiarelli] and I discussed yesterday. He was going to make his decision today. That is something that he hasn’t addressed with me yet, with if we are definitely going to do it or not. But if we do, we will have a player leaving on the road with us.

Sturm out for Saturday

Friday, December 19th, 2008

Following last night’s red light-filled 8-5 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, there was no sign of winger Marco Sturm at this morning’s practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington and coach Claude Julien ruled him out for tomorrow afternoon’s tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.

Sturm was banged up against the boards while retrieving a puck in the first period of last night’s victory, and his left knee appeared to buckle as he tumbled to the ice. Sturm stayed down for a prolonged period and then needed assistance exiting the ice as he favored that left leg. The German forward, in his first game back after missing 12 games with concussion/whiplash symptoms, never returned to last night’s game after the first period injury. According to Julien, doctors were waiting for the swelling to subside in the “lower body” injury before making a final diagnosis. With that in mind, the Bruins coach would neither confirm nor deny that surgery could be a glass-half-empty possibility.

“They’re still running tests on him right now,” said the B’s coach, who assured this new injury was completely unrelated to the neck problem that previously sidelined Sturm. “Right now we don’t have any definite thing. The doctors looked at it last night and there’s swelling. They’re not able to tell exactly what it is…whether it’s long term or short term. We don’t know how bad it is.”

Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and Julien will discuss potentially calling a player up to Boston this afternoon once they have a better gauge on Sturm’s condition, as well as the conditions of injured skaters Petteri Nokelainen and Aaron Ward. Nokelainen is expected to be out for the two-game trip to both St. Louis and New Jersey that begins Sunday, but Ward may be a possibility as he comes back from his own leg issue.

“We’ll see…it’s a tough time of year to make those callups [from Providence], but we’ll make that decision this afternoon,” said Julien. “It might be before the [two-game] road trip, it might be just for tomorrow and it might not be at all.”

Sounds of the game… Bruins 8, Maple Leafs 5

Friday, December 19th, 2008

The Bruins have shown they can win under all types of circumstances this season. Defensive struggles. Hard-hitting games and Thursday night, they showed they can win games that start out as blowouts and turn into shootouts. The Bruins led 5-1 after just 4 1/2 minutes into the second period when the pesky Toronto Maple Leafs collectively said, ‘Not so fast.’ After all was said and done, eight goals had been scored in the second period alone, with Phil Kessel collecting two. But the star of the game was David Krejci, netting his first career hat trick, including a goal in the third period that sealed the deal. The Bruins extended their home winning streak to 12 games, their longest since 1976 and the fifth-longest in team history.

David Krejci on his hat trick.

Krejci said the team is rolling all four lines well right now.

Coach Claude Julien on his 22-year-old star Krejci.

Julien said the game was a classic case of bend but don’t break.

Julien on Tim Thomas being pulled after two periods with the lead.

Michael Ryder said there’s no doubt the Bruins need to be better on defense.

Ryder on the team’s 4-for-6 perfomance on the power play.

Krejci hat trick continues Young Guns’ run

Thursday, December 18th, 2008
Krejci is excelling in all areas on the ice for the Black and Gold this season...

Krejci is excelling in all areas on the ice for the Black and Gold this season...

David Krejci spent long portions of his summer in the garden of his home in the Czech Republic, but he wasn’t exactly trying to grow the perfect set of Chrysanthemums. No…the nifty, young Bruins center was working on his shooting with a keen eye toward improving his shot and upping his goal-scoring totals after managing only six goals in 56 rookie games with the Bruins last season.

More trips to the Garden with a hockey net slung over his shoulder may be in the offing this summer after last night’s hat-worthy performance…

The Bruins did a lot of great offensive things in an 8-5 win over the scrappy Toronto Maple Leafs — going 4-for-6 on the power play, enjoying a four-point night from All-Star Marc Savard, a quick goal for Marco Sturm in his first game back from concussion/whiplash symptoms, scoring seven goals or more for the fifth time this season – but nothing was more eye-poppingly impressive than Krejci’s three goal performance.

The outburst, which included an absolutely sick second goal when he swooped in the left side of the goal while looking to dish the puck back to Michael Ryder before deciding to deke out Curtis Joseph and tuck the puck into the vacant goal, pushes Krejci’s goal total up to 11 scores on the season. Two of the goals looked like pure goal-scorer type goals as well, as the young pivot waited for the goaltender to make a move at him, and then placidly slid the puck into open area of the crease.

“If you give him some room he can certainly score some goals.  He’s a nifty player.  I just have to look where he is in the scoring,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He’s right there with Phil [Kessel] and Savvy [Marc Savard] now.  You can look at his minutes compared to them.  When he’s on the ice he really does some good things.

“He’s a great player and makes everyone around him good or better.  That is basically his situation from day one, how he makes everyone around him better.  Tonight he got a chance to make himself look good as well with three big goals.”

For Krejci last night was certainly a pretty cool moment, as his last hat trick was a road game during junior hockey in Canada when nary a cap — or a bra for that matter – was tossed out on the ice amidst the third goal being scored before a grumbling, hostile crowd. This time, Krejci was showered with hats on the frozen sheet once the Garden crowd realized it was the 22-year-old’s first career pro hat trick.

It’s simply of the great iceberg for a player with all of the hockey skills needed to become a star in the NHL for years to come.

Sturm is over and out for now

Marco Sturm got a perfect chance to dust off the “Sturm Face” when he potted a goal just 36 seconds into the first period last night — his first game back from injury. Sturm had missed 12 straight contests with concussion/whiplash symptoms, but was right in the middle of things when he camped out in front of the net and swept home the rebound of a Chuck Kobasew shot in the first period.

The Sturm goal gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead in a moment that seemed about a million miles away by the time the 13-goal extravaganza had concluded. Unfortunately less than 15 minutes after the score, Sturm needed help exiting the ice when he appeared to wrench his left knee or leg while retrieving a puck in Boston’s end and then absorbing a hit.

Sturm was skating with Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew – a surprise given that he had been practicing with Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line – and looked both fast and furious prior to the injury. Sturm didn’t return to the game after being helped off the ice with about six minutes to go in the first period, and Julien didn’t have an update following the game.

“We haven’t got the results on [Sturm] yet,” said Julien. “I know he has been through a bunch of tests right now and the doctors are actually looking at it.  I don’t have anything to tell you right now that is going to help you out because I don’t even know.”

A quick goalie change

After watching a series of defensive lapses in the second period, Julien opted to sit Tim Thomas down after the All-Stat netminder surrendered five scores in the first two stanzas and instead went with Manny Fernandez in the third. Fernandez and a reinvigorated Bruins defense shut down the Leafs attack in what had been a 5-4 game heading into the third, and scores by Ryder and Krejci iced the high-flying affair Northeast Division Affair in the closing minutes.

Fernandez stood tall with 13 saves in the third period — including a handful of highlight stops – and should earn the puck version of a save after preserving a win for Thomas following his 40 minutes of spotty work over the first two periods. There was a knowing nod between Fernandez and Thomas during the first 40 minutes of the game when every bounce, every last fickle movement of the puck seemed to go against Boston’s guardian of the pipes.

It was, as the cliche goes, just one of those nights.

“We have all had those nights,” said Fernandez afterward. ”I saw him shaking his head, and I know exactly what he is thinking. A simple nod and I told him that there are nights like these, and he agrees. You try not to have them in the stretch of the season. It is uncomfortable; it hits a skate, it hits a stick, you can’t control and it ends up in the net. There are nights like that but you just have to turn the page and get back to work and get better the next game.”

For a team that was nipping at the Bruins’ heels by a 5-4 score after two periods of play, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson gave full credit to Fernandez for calming the waters and keying Boston’s Great Escape in an eventual three-goal victory.

“[Manny] Fernandez actually came in and made the difference in the game,” said Wilson. “We dominated the first six or seven or ten minutes of the third period and he made three or four unbelievable saves.  Then they scored that power play goal, and it was basically over at that point.”

Random Thoughts

–Savard and Krejci are very similar as players and playmakers, and we saw just how electric they can be in the third period when both skaters teamed up for a PP goal with a 5-on-3 advantage that cemented Krejci’s hat trick. Both are pass-first guys that serve as the central force on the respective first and second units on the power play, but there’s a curious side of me that would relish seeing both of them armed and loaded on the same power play squad. As it is now, they only skate together during the two-man advantage, but I can’t fight the nagging feeling that a normal PP unit featuring Savard and Krejci would be pretty close to unstoppable. But, then again, maybe it’s just me.

Kessel on the Big Show

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Among a team of young Bruins breathing life into a previously moribund franchise, Phil Kessel has been the brightest constellation in the Bruins hockey universe. The 21-year-old winger has become a dynamic scoring force in his third year in the league, and has paired with Marc Savard to become one of the top scoring duos in the NHL this season. People keep looking for a specific turning point for Kessel, and he surely has stepped up his intensity and two-way play. But don’t overlook that this is the first time in his NHL career that young Kessel has played an extended amount of time with a legit playmaker in Marc Savard at the center position.

Kessel keeps on doing that biscuit/basket thing...

Kessel keeps on doing that biscuit/basket thing...

They had always played together in short bursts through their careers in Boston, but this 30 game stretch is the longest period of time that their two intertwining skills have been married on the frozen sheet. (Just look at last season’s early box scores when Savard was skating with Peter Schaefer and Brandon Bochenski…my how times have changed.)

Kessel was recently named the Top Star in last week’s NHL Three Stars competition, and was a guest of WEEI’s Big Show yesterday afternoon. Here’s the transcript:

What’s the difference? What light went on? PK: You know, I don’t know. I think I’m getting some better chances skating with Savard and Lucic. You play with those two and we have pretty good chemistry together. They find me in good spots and I’m getting some good chances.

It’s got to be reassuring that Lucic is one of the top policeman in the league right now and he can also put the puck in the net. PK: Obviously it’s nice and he clears a lot of room for me and Savvy out there. He’s a skilled player too and he can really make things happen out there.

What’s it like being a Bruin now as opposed to two years ago? PK: It’s way different. My first year you could really just tell there wasn’t as much support for the Bruins. You would go to the games and there weren’t as many fans. It’s way different now. There’s much more hype now. We’re getting big crowds and people are into it, and it feels much different to be a Bruin right now.

What has Claude Julien meant to you personally? PK: Well, ah I think he’s helped me mature as a hockey player and helped my two-way game improve. He always tells me that if you play good defense then the offense will come.

You guys have an 11 game win streak at home. How much do you feed off playing at a full house? PK: It’s been a big factor when it’s a packed house and the fans are excited and loud. We get fired up and want to play that much harder to get a win in our own building.

Blake Wheeler…you guys were teammates in Minnesota. Have you been surprised by how quickly he’s developed at such a young age? PK: Well, he’s a great player. Obviously he was a high draft pick and he’s one of my buddies. Playing with him at Minnesota, I knew what kind of player he is and what kind of skill he brings. Overall, I wasn’t overly surprised that he’s having a good year and playing really well for us.

Phil, did you help recruit him at all to the Bruins? PK: No. I stayed out of it. He’s one of my good friends, but that was his decision. He has to make his choice that’s best for him. Obviously, he’s chosen Boston and its worked out pretty well for him.

We saw the highlights when Chara went out and protected you. What does that mean in the locker room? PK: It means a lot. It means that he’s a great leader. It means guys care for each other. When a guy will scrap for another guy I think it says a lot for the guy. Obviously he’s our Captain and he’s a great leader in the locker room. It means a lot to our team.

Do you buy him a watch or anything? PK: Yeah, right. Obviously I said thank you for that. It means a lot for a teammate to step up and defend you.

After the series with the Canadiens the team was definitely headed in the right direction. But could you have dreamed the team would have this much success? PK: Well, you always have to believe that. You’ve always got to go out and work hard on your game, and get better with each game and with each practice. You just keep going and moving forward.

Phil, you seem to really take advantage of your speed. Sometimes it can take a while for a young player to find ways to create space, though. Was there a turning point for you where you found a way to create more space? PK: Obviously it took a little bit. I think this year has been a little different because I’ve been skating with Savvy and Looch, and we just have good chemistry out there. Looch gives us a lot of space and Savvy will find you with the puck wherever you’re at. You just have to get open. When you’re open it’s better because he’s going to get the puck around to you pretty much all the time.

There also seems to be a big difference with this team, particularly in the power play this year. What’s been the difference? PK: I think that we’re getting more shots and making more plays getting pucks to the net. I think we’ve got more screens going on in front of the net, and guys are willing to pay the price to score goals.

Can you talk about the nice mix of young guys and veterans on this Bruins team? PK: Well, I think it’s really important. We’ve got a good mix of young guys, older guys and rookies. I think everybody cares about each other on this team and would do anything for the other guys. When you have that in the locker room, it makes it much easier to go out on the ice and do whatever it takes to win hockey games.

Tim Thomas established himself last year. Manny Fernandez has played well this season. Can you talk about the play of the goalies this year? PK: Yeah, it’s comforting for our team. No matter who’s in net, we’re confident they’re going to play well for us. We’ve got two really elite goaltenders that can go in between the pipes for us. They’re going to stop the puck and play great for us every night.

How important has it been to play through some of the injuries this season, particularly on the blue line? PK: You just look at it like we’ve got a lot of good young guys in Providence and whoever gets called up is going to step in right away and contribute. [Matt] Hunwick has been having a great season for us, and the other night I thought Marty Karsums came up and did really well for us. He did all of the little things right. We’re just confident we can put anybody in the lineup and they’ll do great for us.

For the first time in a long time, this team has three really great lines. It’s very refreshing to see that. PK: We can roll all of our lines and be confident that they’re going to do the job. If you look at Krejci, Wheeler and Ryder’s line they’re playing great right now and scoring a lot of goals. Bergie’s line is doing well too, but they’ve just got to get going. I think they’re playing good hockey and it’ll eventually show up more on the offensive end.

Is there any one guy you kind of lean on in the locker room for advice and things like that? PK: I don’t think anyone in particular. I think we’re a pretty close-knit group and every guy looks out for each other and will help any of the other guys.

Sturm Face ready for a return?

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008
There's always room for the Sturm Face on any hockey club...In fact the B's are 4-0 when the Sturm Face has come out this season

There's always room for the Sturm Face on any hockey club...In fact the B's are 4-0 when the Sturm Face has come out this season

The Bruins’ brass remains optimistic that Marco Sturm is sufficiently recovered from his concussion/whiplash symptoms to don the sweater and skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow night. Sturm has missed 12 games with the post-hit issues, but has been skating on-and-off for the last few weeks. With that in mind, Sturm stepped up his activity today during practice while working with the PP unit at Ristuccia Arena. Dust off the Marco Sturm Faces, because they may be in full effect at the Garden come Thursday night.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Sturm will be able to return tomorrow night, but will be a game-time decision after tomorrow’s morning skate and warm-up prior to the game. With Sturm out of the lineup for roughly a month, it’s likely that Julien and Co. will treat the winger in much the same they treated Chuck Kobasew when he returned from injury earlier this season.

“I say cautiously with Marco because I thought he was close at one point when he was skating, but then he took a step backwards,” said Julien. “But right now in the last week everything has been positive and he’s been moving forward to coming back.”

The coaching staff can plop Sturm onto a fourth line with Shawn Thornton and Stephane Yelle to give them a little bit more offensive punch and ease the German forward back into the B’s fold. How did it work for Kobasew? He only notched a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 8 — a performance that Sturm hopes to match if he gets in against the Leafs at the Garden tomorrow evening.

You’ve come a long way, PK

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

After a brutal stretch in the first month of October, the much-maligned Boston Bruins’ penalty kill limped into November feeding at the bottom of the NHL and clearly begging for a tune-up. It was a thorny source of frustration for Claude Julien and a B’s coaching staff that watched the Black and Gold finished 28th in the NHL last season with a 73 percent success rate. Julien and Co. made adjustments heading into this hockey season, but the results simply weren’t there.

The Bruins recruited better PK personnel in the in the forms of both Stephane Yelle and Patrice Bergeron this season, and many hoped that in itself would rise the Bruins up from the bottom of the NHL pile. Instead the pesky PK again degenerated into a glaring blemish this season amidst some really good things taking place on the frozen sheet, but the Bruins’ special teams pimple might have finally popped.

The coaches opted to banish the passive approach his skaters had taken to the penalty kill, and instead opted to attack the points and cut off the time and space enjoyed to either pass the puck or fire off a well-placed slapshot. The aggressive approach designed to crowd the power play points immediately began paying dividends for the Bruins, and the Boston skaters have been amongst the best penalty kill units in the league since Nov. 1. If the pressure didn’t act as the only catalyst, the Bruins also stepped up their shot-blocking efforts and filled up the passing and shooting lines to snuff out any remaining offensive opportunities.

 The special teams unit has squealched 61 of 68 penalty kill opportunities for a nifty 89.7 percent success rate over their current 19 game stretch of competence.

That is simply called turning things around.

The surge in special teams play has allowed the Bruins to rise from a dreadful 77.7 percent success rate to their current 82.3 percentage, which now ranks them 11th in the entire NHL and 5th in the Eastern Conference behind only the Rangers, Sabres, Senators and Flyers.

 Julien said that things actually began during last year’s postseason when the Bruins found a way to kill 30 out of 33 Montreal power play attempts during the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and became a big reason why the B’s were able to push the high-powered Habs to seven games. That’s a 90.9 percent success rate for those scoring at home, and it was the first indication that the Bruins’ skaters had the skill, know-how and good, old-fashioned hockey grit to get the job done while down a skater in the sin bin.

Add that to a goaltending tandem that’s leading the NHL with a combined .931 save percentage this season, and you have the Special Teams Success Story of the Season:

“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Julien. “There’s a commitment involved and there’s a willingness involved to pay the price. That means outworking the opposition — even if you’re on the penalty kill — it means the willingness to block shots and your goaltender has to obviously be your best penalty killer.

“Looking at the stats they’re obviously doing a good job and it’s a combination of a lot of things,” added Julien. “Maybe we were a little too passive early on and now we’re getting a little aggressive. There’s a time to be aggressive and that’s really helped a lot. Our penalty kill was an area where we finished strongly last season, and stumbled a bit this year — but we’ve found our groove again. Everything is kind of falling into place.”

Why should the penalty kill be any different than other areas for the Black and Gold during this charmed season of hockey: It’s all just kind of falling into place.