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Bruins breakdown: Riding shotgun

Posted By Dan Rowinski On February 23, 2010 @ 12:33 pm In General | 1 Comment

On Monday we took a closer look at the Bruins centers, Tuesday is time for the men riding shotgun — the right wingmen.

This group of forwards includes Blake Wheeler, Mark Recchi, Michael Ryder, Miroslav Satan and Byron Bitz. Note that for the sake of breakdown this group is demarcated by official roster designation, not where the player always plays on the ice. For instance, when Wheeler and Ryder are on the same line, as they often are, it will usually be Wheeler who jumps to the left side.

So, let’s take a look at what is cooking on the right side of the aisle. On Wednesday we will look at their left wing counterparts.

Ryder — Is there any other player on the Bruins roster (outside of Tim Thomas currently) who is more persona non grata than Ryder? He was a productive player in Montreal but ended up in Guy Carbonneau’s doghouse and his production suffered. He then came to Boston to reunite with Claude Julien with the hope of regaining his spark. It is not the first time that a player has jumped from Hab to Hub (or vice versa) but, really, two Original Six teams with rabid, unforgiving fan bases one right after the other? No pressure there.

There are a few factors that are always sure to set fans off regarding particular players. One is being a high paid player who does not produce. Another is being a top six forward who in a scoring slump. The third, and most pertinent in this case, is not living up to expectations.

To a certain extent, Ryder fits into all these categories. What the Bruins saw before signing him to a three-year $4 million annual salary was a player who had twice scored 30 goals for the Canadiens before a dismal 14 goal performance in 2007-08 that led to his excommunication from Les Habitantes. General manager Peter Chiarelli figured that reuniting Julien with Ryder could get Ryder’s career back on track. For the first year, Chiarelli was not wrong.

Ryder came close to 30 goals last season, putting up 27 strikes with 25 assists for 53 points. That is similar to his two best seasons in Montreal with 30 goals and 25 assists in 2005-06 and 30 and 26 in 2006-07. After a slow start, Ryder carried the Bruins scoring through late November through mid-January, at one point leading the league in game-winning goals. He was not quite as hot after a two-goal game against the Ducks on Feb. 26 and only scored five goals for the rest of the season.

That is the problem with Ryder — he is streaky. Like a baseball player who seems to be consistently in a slump who jumps up and has a five homer, 14 RBI week before going back to below-average production. People say “man, this guy is wretched” then look at the stats and say “wow, how did he get those numbers?”

Fair or not, that is Ryder. He is second on the team with 15 goals (behind Marco Sturm’s 18) through 60 games. At that rate of production (one goal every four games) he projects for another five or six goals this season, putting him above 20 for the year but well below the expected 30. For a team up against the salary cap looking for scoring production, $4 million a year is a little steep for 20 goals.

Satan – The Slovakian is getting a little long in the tooth. But perhaps he is not so old where his production should be falling off a cliff. Through his career, Satan has been a proficient goal-scorer. As recently as 2005-06, Satan put up 35 goals for the Islanders and 27 the next year. A closer look at his numbers shows that in 2007-08 with the Islanders (16 goals, 25 assists for 41 points in 80 games) he scored a goal once every five games and put up a point once every two games. Last year with the Penguins he was better (17 goals, 19 assists for 36 points in 65 games) with a goal once every three-and-a-third games and a point approximately every game and a half.

Chiarelli had to be thinking that he would be getting similar production from Satan when he signed him earlier this year. So far though, the forward has not delivered. Through 18 games he has three goals and three assists while riding shotgun to Marc Savard for the last nine games. That averages out to a goal every six games and a point every three.

Is this the guy you want skating on your top line?

The sample size is large enough that Satan should well have his legs under him and rhythm. If he is going to look more like the Satan of old, he has to start showing it after the break. The Bruins may be better served flip-flopping Satan and Recchi but the difference would not be that great even then. The best results would come from keeping Satan stashed on the roster somewhere and going out and getting a younger forward with a scoring touch to partner with Savard and hope that the depth created with such a move sparks the overall offense.

Recchi — The Big Bad Blog touched on the importance of Recchi [1] not long ago, so we are only going to take a cursory glance at the veteran forward.

For his role and purpose on the Bruns, Recchi is a great fit. A veteran presence that provides scoring and some defense on the third line. Patrice Bergeron has a steady wingman that he knows will be where he is supposed to be and when, which is usually right in front of the net. The greatest asset that Recchi provides is stability.

Julien has admitted at times this year that he has relied on Recchi’s stability more than he has wanted. Yet, it is hard for a coach to give a steady guy less minutes on a team that has been battling inconsistency and injuries all year. Recchi turned 42 on Feb. 1 and is ninth on the all-time games played list. If that does not imply stability, then nothing does. Yet, the man could use some rest especially considering the grind that is coming after the break. If Julien could get that aformentioned younger forward and platoon Satan and Recchi, that would be a beneficial situation to all involved.

Wheeler — Like Recchi, WEEI.com took and in-depth look at Wheeler on Sunday [2]. The summary is that, of all the players on the Bruins roster, Wheeler has the highest ceiling. Halfway through his sophomore season Wheeler is still a work in progress and learning how to use his big frame to his advantage. Once he puts it all together, Wheeler could be a consistent 30 to 40 goal scorer in the NHL for a while.

Bitz — As Shawn Thornton would call him, the “Big Bitzy Cat.” The fourth line rotation of has led to Bitz dressing in 45 of the Bruins’ 60 games this year. In those 45 he has four goals, five assists, 31 penalty minutes and a plus/minus of -9 (tied for second worst on the team with Matt Hunwick). Whereas the fourth line was a relative strength for the Bruins last season, this year it has been a marked weakness and Bitz is the biggest example. Even though the line is not expected to score, it could steal a goal every so often. What it is supposed to do is keep pucks out of the net during its limited ice time yet that has not been the case as every player is well below even plus/minus.

Bitz was a surprise call-up last year and performed well enough to earn his roster spot this season. A year later he is on the fringe of the Bruins roster and has only played in five games since Jan. 16 with the rest spent watching from the press box. If the Bruins need to trim some fat off the roster during the trade deadline, look for Bitz to get a ticket out of town (or at least back to Providence).


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URL to article: http://bigbadblog.weei.com/sports/boston/hockey/bruins/2010/02/23/bruins-breakdown-riding-shotgun/

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[1] touched on the importance of Recchi: http://bigbadblog.weei.com/sports/boston/hockey/bruins/2010/02/11/a-look-back-at-the-recchi-deadline-deal/

[2] in-depth look at Wheeler on Sunday: http://www.weei.com/sports/boston/hockey/bruins/dan-rowinski/2010/02/21/wheeler-poised-deliver-scoring-boost

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