Archive for February, 2009

Tkachuk decision won’t come until deadline day

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

With all of the Pronger-mania taking place at the Boston Garden now that the Ducks have dealt for Pittsburgh defenseman Ryan Whitney — and presumably will flip monster-sized defenseman Chris Pronger prior to the Wednesday trade deadline for salary cap purposes — St. Louis Blues forward Keith Tkachuk has been lost in the shuffle a bit.

While Pronger would easily cost the Bruins an integral part of this year’s team (think Phil Kessel or any of the other young and talented B’s), Tkachuk would likely cost a young player in the organization system and a draft pick. In other words, nothing from this year’s Cup-seeking squad.

Don’t expect any deals for the 36-year-old Medford homeboy over the weekend, as Blues President John Davidson said that he will take the three games leading up to the March 4 deadline to decide whether or not to deal “Walt” — a nickname that Tkachuk goes by in old St. Looeeey.

The Blues will face the Dallas Stars, Phoenix Coyotes and the Detroit Red Wings prior to next Wednesday, and Davidson feels like he’ll have a better grasp depending on how many points the Blues take from their trio of games. The Blues are at 60 points and currently sit five points behind a quartet of teams including the Wild, Stars, Oilers and Ducks.

“Our concept here was let’s take these four games and see where it goes. If we win four, we feel strong about it. If we lose four, that tells us something,” said Davidson. “The big question mark is if we get four games played and get four points, in other words, .500 through there, we have to take a real serious look at everything. We know the job ahead of us to get in, knowing there’s teams ahead of us, that some of them are playing very well.

It’s going to be very difficult. But we want to at least now make sure we send a message to our players and fans that we want to make the playoffs,” added Davidson. “Now, regarding Keith, we’ve had discussions with his representative Bob Murray. We’re all on the same page. Let’s just talk about making the playoffs right now.”

If the Blues drop any further back in the standings, however, that could mean that the 6-foot-3, 230-pound left-handed shot with 11 power play strikes could be available for regular duty on Boston’s PP team and on their third line. It’s a scenario that Davidson, Tkachuk and his agent, Bob Murray, have already discussed in detail as it would require the former BU star to waive his “no movement” clause.

“When it gets down to crunch time, which is on the trade deadline day, that’s when we’ll probably make a final decision. Right now we haven’t,” said Davidson. “We’ve had some calls, but nothing serious has been talked about because we still have this concept as an organization that’s wanting to make the playoffs.

Keith wants to be on a club that makes the playoffs this season. Keith doesn’t even want to talk about (not making the playoffs). His rep came in (Tuesday) and we chatted,” added Davidson. “Both sides have a pretty good understanding of where we’re going, what we’re thinking of doing, even though a lot of it is still in the air regarding our club, how they play the next three games.”

There seems to be a pair of consistent knocks against Tkachuk, and the Bruins pursuit of the 36-year-old: A) he’s always been viewed as something of a “Me” guy that’s struggled in his past trips to the playoffs and B) his offensive play has tailed off in the second half of the season after a red-hot start. Davidson threw cold water on the statistical downturn by painting a picture of a player that willingly took on a third line role that’s affected his offensive numbers — and a player that clearly now “gets it” after early years where perhaps he didn’t.

“The thing about Keith is, he’s been through it. We respect what he’s done this year. He’s been a really good player for us on the ice,” said Davidson. “He’s been terrific with our young players off the ice. He started the season scoring like crazy, but then with all our injuries we asked him to become a checking center for us.

“He’s done a great job with that, which takes away from some of his scoring. He hasn’t complained. He’s been a real pure player for us this season. He’s also to the point in his career where he’s mature.”

No place like home for the Boston Bruins

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

WILMINGTON — There’s no sense in clicking their hockey skates three times and chanting “There’s no place like home,” but the Black and Gold reached a welcomed portion of the schedule when they notched a victory over the Panthers Tuesday night. The tilt against the upwardly mobile Eastern Conference team was the first of six straight games at the Garden that will take the Bruins crew past the March 4 trade deadline and right on through a March 7 matinee against the Chicago Blackhawks.

It’s a mighty positive development for the Good Ship Bruins as the Spoked B play 14 of their final 21 games within the friendly, frozen confines, and have a chance to put themselves in a solid season-ending position with the right amount of energy, strength and determination.

The Big, Bad B’s are 20-4-4 in 28 games at the Vault on Causeway Street this season, and have been pretty successful at making life difficult for opponents inside the loud and rowdy Boston rink. It should be a fun next couple of weeks, as a young hockey club continues to get their groove back and readies themselves for a long run through the postseason. The next handful of games should start warming up the B’s crowd for the fever pitch expected once Lord Stanley’s playoff challenge begins.

Two guys home means quite a bit to: Milan Lucic and Dennis Wideman. Wideman has 18 points in 32 road games this season, but is nearly one point per game at the Garden (5 goals and 18 assists in 29 games) while Looch has 15 points in 29 road games as opposed to 8 goals and 11 assists in 24 home tilts this season.

“It was great for our team to be back (home),” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “It was a tough road stretch and the fact that we were able to find our game a little bit was great. I think it was about getting out of our funk. Every team goes through that during the season at some point, and the good thing for us is to get out of it sooner rather than later as we head toward the end of the season.”

The B’s aren’t exactly chopped bratwurst on the road either, as the 21-8-4 record in hostile hockey territory would attest. But the first trip back to the Garden coincided with the B’s finally putting disciplined play, fearless ventures by the forwards into the goal area and the danger zones of the rink, aggressive support by the defensemen and normally solid goaltending into a once-again unbreakable chain.

It all starts on Thursday with a pretty stiff challenge against an Anaheim Ducks squad that’s sitting squarely below the cusp of the last playoff spot in the Western Conference, and could start selling off valuable wares like Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer if things don’t start improving. In other words, the B’s will be facing yet another talented hockey team filled with desperation while they protect the pole position in the East.

“The 50 or the 60 game mark is historically the toughest part (of the schedule), but at this point we’re over that and the last 20 games or so you start gearing up for the Big Push,” said tough guy Shawn Thornton, who participated in the ultimate “Big Push” when he was a member of the Ducks squad that won the Stanley Cup back in the 2006-07 season. “I think we’re starting to feel that now. We had a little slide, but I think now we’re starting to back on track mentally and bringing it every night.”

There it is. The Boston Garden: where the Black and Gold “bring it” on a nightly basis.

Matt Hunwick called back up to the Bruins

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

As expected, Matt Hunwick was called back up to Boston in time for B’s practice this morning. Hunwick hadn’t played in live action since early February, but finished with an assist and a pair of shots on net in Providence’ss 3-2 loss to the Manchester Monarchs on Tuesday night.

Here’s the release:

Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced today that the club has recalled defenseman Matt Hunwick from the Providence Bruins (American Hockey League). Hunwick is expected to be practice with the club today at 11:30 a.m. at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, MA.

Hunwick was assigned to Providence yesterday, Tuesday, February 24, and recorded an assist in the P-Bruins’ 3-2 shootout loss to Manchester last night. He has seen action in 38 games this year for Boston and has recorded 3-12=15 totals and a +9 plus/minus rating. Hunwick skated in three games for the Providence this season, registering three assists.

Spending the majority of the 2007-2008 season in Providence, Hunwick posted 2-21-23 totals in 55 games.  He was recalled to Boston on four separate occasions last year and tallied one assist in 13 games.  The University of Michigan graduate was drafted by the Bruins in the seventh round (224th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.

The Bruins continue a six-game homestand when they host the Anaheim Ducks on February 26, at 7:00 p.m. ET at the TD Banknorth Garden.

Byron Bitz playing big for the Bruins in victory

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Even the most accomplished puck soothsayer might have had a difficult time predicting the Garden crowd of 16,781 would be chanting a chorus of ”We Want Bitz” in the waning minutes of last night’s Bruins/Panthers tilt.

But that’s exactly what happened in the strange but true world of the Boston Bruins.

The brawny rookie winger from Saskatchewan banged home a pair of lamp-lighters but couldn’t snare the elusive third for the natural hat trick in Boston’s 6-1 triumph over a cagey Panthers crew at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.

“It was amazing,” said Bitz, who clearly didn’t bask in the adulation of 17,000 chanting fans when he was skating for Cornell. “It meant a lot. Everyone on the bench (was chanting along) and it was a lot of fun. It was just one of those nights.”

The evening was a bit of microcosm for the no holds barred, physical nature that the 24-year-old has brought to the table since getting called up Boston on Jan. 10. While flashier puck talents like Vladimir Sobotka, Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff have bounced up and down the ”Lou Merloni Turnpike” between the Providence Baby B’s and Boston, Bitz has found a way to stick and carved out a pretty hefty-sized niche for himself on Boston’s fourth line.

“We were getting to the net very well,” said Bitz. “Shots were getting through. With my size, it’s to my advantage to get (to the net). (To be) a big body in front. To get in front of the goalie and take his vision away is a big part of my game.”

Last night, the B’s were holding on to a one-goal lead in the second period, and hadn’t really pulled away from a Panthers team that looks like they could be a handful for higher-seeded teams come Stanley Cup playoff time. The Black and Gold were clearly seeking a spark, and that’s exactly what they received from the energetic Bitz when he redirected a puck thrown in front of the net by heady veteran Stephane Yelle.

The under-the-radar Yelle simply threw the puck straight at the net from the left sideboards, and Bitz tipped the biscuit straight up past the crossbar and clean off the netting. The puck hit the twine and shot right back outside of the goal, but it was immediately ruled a score without any need to consult with the Great NHL Wizard Behind the Curtain in Toronto.

With less than five minutes to go in the second period, the energy restoration following Bitz’s second goal of the season was palpable. The B’s were buzzing with a little more room to operate courtesy of the two-goal advantage, and the floodgates opened for three more third period goals.

Fourth-liners Yelle, Bitz and Shawn Thornton have been playing consistently solid, responsible, blue-collar hockey over the last few weeks, and actually logged more respective ice time minutes (43 minutes, 15 seconds) last night than the newly reunited trio of David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder ( 42 minutes, 17 seconds).

It’s obvious that Bitz has been welcomed as a bruising part of the Bruins team and isn’t likely to be going anywhere, any time soon, and coach Claude Julien even hints that there may be some untapped scoring potential in Big Bitzy’s power  game.

“Not only does he bring his size and strength along the boards, he’s been solid. But I think he’s a guy that with confidence and with experience you are going to see him probably score more goals. That’s what he demonstrated a little bit of that tonight,” said Julien. “But he’s still here because he deserves to be here and… we haven’t gotten away from what we’ve been saying all along.

“If you deserve to be here, it doesn’t matter if you are a free agent, first round or seventh round pick, you’re going to play here and right now he’s shown us that he belongs in our lineup and as long as he does that, he is going to stay there.”

So what was Bitz planning on doing last night after hearing his name screamed in adulation by Bruins Nation, and subsequently basking in the glow of his first two-goal game in the NHL? Bitz was going to Shawn Thornton’s house in Charlestown, naturally, and planning on enjoying some of Thornton’s wife’s cooking.

Not quite DisneyWorld, but certainly something that’s been a key to the big lug’s success.

Injury Ward: No major injuries to speak of. But on a completely unrelated topic, there was a decent middleweight bout between Chuck Kobasew and Keith Ballard. It would have been even better if both players were without the visors that pretty much defeat the purpose of scrapping in the first place. The fight was certainly more passion than premeditation.

Player of the Game: Without question, Bitz was the man of the hour last night. In a time during the B’s season when both Julien and GM Peter Chiarelli have been preaching for players to get more involved around the dirty areas of the ice, Bitz picked up a grimy tip in front of the net and banged home a long rebound of a Yelle shot on a nice hustle play in the third period.

Goat Horns: Krejci has been very inconsistent as of late, and was banged around pretty hard by the Panthers defense last night. The high-end talent skated 17 shifts, didn’t register a point or a shot on net, lost 7 of his 11 faceoff draws and his line was shut down for the most part last night. The effort seems to be there with Krejci, but a few good bounces would take some of the pressure off.

Turning Point: Bitz was obviously the turning point in the game, but Michael Ryder’s return to the lineup offers what could be a quasi-turning point for Boston’s stretch run over the last quarter of the season. Ryder cashed in on a power-play goal, and immediately gives the PP unit a finisher around the net that makes them all kinds of dangerous. He adjusted well to the face shield, and definitely had a little extra hop in his step. Ryder also helped set up Mark Stuart’s first period goal that built Boston their 2-1 lead after the first period.

“I think when you are ready for so long and you come back, you always are a little more pumped up for the first game,” said Ryder, who finished with a goal and an assist and two shots on net. “I think this game and last week helped a lot. After a couple of shifts, I felt good out there.”

Ryder adds to the Bruins goal parade, B’s lead 6-1

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Michael Ryder made it a memorable first game back from facial fractures when he bombed down the slot and rifled a protoypical power play wrist shot goaltender Craig Anderson for the B’s sixth goal of the night. The B’s are winning 6-1 over the Panthers with 8:29 remaining in the third period.

The Bruins floodgates have opened in third period

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

The third period was Boston’s friend for much of the magical first half of the hockey, and it is again tonight after goals by Byron Bitz and veteran blueliner Aaron Ward. Bitz blasted home a juicy rebound of a Stephane Yelle shot and Ward scored on a long bomb shot from the right point.

The Bruins lead 5-1 over the Panthers with 11:23 to go in the third in a laugher at the Garden. Bonus info: decent little scrap by a pair of players with vistors on between the two goals as Chuck Kobasew and Florida D-man Keith Ballard dropped the gloves and threw a punch or two.

Byron Bitz dirty score extends the lead to 3-1

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

The B’s brass has long been preaching for more courageous coverage within the dirty areas of the ice, and it doesn’t get any dirtier than directly in front of the opposing net. That’s exactly where 6-foot-5 Byron Bitz camped himself in the second period, and it allowed him to redirect a Stephane Yelle shot from the sideboards past Florida goalie Craig Anderson.

The goal hit the roof of the net and then quickly shot back out of the net just as rapidly as it entered.

The score was Bitz’s second goal of the season, and has given the Bruins a 3-1 lead over the Panthers at the end of two periods of play.