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Bruins once again are shooting mostly blanks 11.05.09 at 9:46 pm ET
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The Bruins once again seemed to be all up, over and around the net, and — lo and behold — there was even a measly goal scored. The B’s hadn’t potted a point in 192 minutes and 6 seconds deep into the third period of Thursday night’s tilt against the Canadiens,  but they finally broke the proverbial ice with a Patrice Bergeron special with 52 seconds remaining on the clock. Boston salvaged a point, but they still ended up losing a 2-1 shootout to the hated Habs at TD Garden.

The defeat allowed them to avoid their third straight shutout loss, but it still shines a glaring light over a Black and Gold offensive problem that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. The last time the B’s had been shut out in three straight games? That would be way back in the Eddie Shore days of the 1929. Old Time Hockey. The B’s did win the Stanley Cup that season, but something tells me lightning isn’t striking twice.

Tim Thomas called it “breaking the seal” and that’s exactly what it was for a hockey gang that couldn’t shoot straight.

“We’re shooting the puck and now we have to get a bit more dirty and try and [reach] those rebounds,” said Steve Begin, who was his normal human pinball machine self against his old team. “That’s how we are going to score goals. It’s not going to be nice. It’s going to be ugly goals. It’s tough, but like I said we have to keep pushing ourselves. It’s going to happen.”

The Bruins actually looked to have ended the drought in the second period when Patrice Bergeron hustled after a loose rebound at Carey Price’s feet, and appeared to squeeze a shot through a sliver between the right post and Price’s leg pads. Bergeron was following a Sturm speed rush up the left side of the ice, and the B’s bench exhaled a large sigh of relief when the lamp went red for the first time in three games.

But a review of the goal found that Sturm — while battling with Roman Hamrlik by the right post in question — appeared to have slightly lifted the goal post just as the puck squirted past Price. Replays showed that the puck actually slid under the post after Sturm’s little lifting session. No goal and the scoreless streak was still on.

This was no case of Price standing on his head or a goaltender dazzling the B’s skaters with a flurry of show-stopping saves. Thursday night was Exhibit A of a Boston offense flailing their way through an epic struggle that would have seemed a near impossibility for last season’s goal-happy bunch.

Montreal’s only goal came in the first period when Andrei Kostitsyn took advantage of a Dennis Wideman spill in the neutral zone, and flashed toward the net with the puck. Kostitsyn attempted the wraparound score, and the puck somehow found its way to Glen Metropolit waiting out in front. Metropolit slammed a shot into the vacant portion of the net, and the Habs appeared to have all the offensive firepower they would need against the offensively-challenged Bruins.

But Bergeron managed the last-second rebound goal with Zdeno Chara occupying three different Canadiens defenders with his gargantuan 6-foot-9 frame in front of the Habs net, and Boston scraped together a point. Bergeron, Wheeler and Recchi all came up short in the shootout after a scoreless overtime, and Mike Cammalleri beat Thomas with a sizzling top-shelf wrister.

YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND AND NOTHING’S EVER GONNA GET YOU DOWN: Bergeron has been the best thing about the Bruins this season, and it’s no coincidence he was the player to finally snap Boston’s streak of futility. Both Bergeron and Sturm landed seven shots on net and were all over the ice in attempts to resuscitate a flatlining offense.

GOAT HORNS: Over three hours of scoreless hockey and absolutely nothing to show for three power play chances. The B’s are now fruitless in their last 20 power play tries, have scored only once in 23 attempts since Marc Savard went down with his broken left foot. I’d say anybody in Thursday night’s audience is wearing the goat horns right about now if the B’s hadn’t pulled out that last-ditch goal. Dennis Wideman had another neutral zone mistake that cost the B’s a score in the first period, but the slate is officially clean after Bergeron mercifully lit the lamp.

Bruins lock up another young asset in Rask 11.05.09 at 6:44 pm ET
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Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli had a bright young hockey asset taken from him last summer when Toronto leveraged the threat of a contract offer sheet into a trade for Phil Kessel just prior to the season’€™s start.

 

Give the B’€™s GM full marks for not letting that happen again as he locked up another talented youngster in Tuukka Rask to a two-year contract extension that will take the Finnish netminder through the 2011-2012 season. Reports have the salary pinned between $2.6-2.8 million overall with a cap hit in the $1.35 million neighborhood, but exact figures haven’€™t yet been unearthed.

 

The 22-year-old was set to become a restricted free agent following the current season, but ‘€“ along with Milan Lucic ‘€“ Chiarelli made the determination to keep his prized youngster away from potentially damaging offer sheets.

 

‘€œI guess you’€™ve got to change with the times,’€ said Chiarelli about getting more proactive toward locking up players mid-season, particularly younger players with expiring rookie contracts. ‘€œTo a certain degree I went through it this summer with Phil [Kessel] and Toronto and I have to consider that. I have to put that into the equation now.’€

 

Rask is 2-1-1 in four games with a 2.41 goals against average and a .915 save percentage, and has already flashed the kind of cool, calm collected style between the pipes that’€™s made him one of the best goaltending prospects in the world.

 

The Bruins still have restricted free agents Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to contend with following this season as well as an organizationally important negotiation with unrestricted free agent Marc Savard. Tying up Rask allows Chiarelli to concentrate on other matters at hand with his goaltending completely covered for the next three seasons.

 

–The picture cleared a little bit more for swine-flu ridden center David Krejci, who will miss at least two games while recovering from a bout with the H1N1 virus diagnosed on Thursday. Krejci will be away from the ice for at least the next 3-5 days in quarantine, and might miss a third game when the Bruins taken on the Penguins next Tuesday night at TD Garden.

 

‘€œHe had a raspy throat and it kind of sunk it into his chest and that’€™s when they brought him to get it diagnosed. [He'€™ll be] 3-5 days in quarantine, so he’€™ll spend that time at home in quarantine.’€

Read More: David Krejci, Peter Chiarelli, Tuukka Rask,
Pregame B’s notes for Garden 11.05.09 at 1:16 pm ET
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David Krejci became at least the fifth documented case of H1N1 virus in the NHL this season when the Bruins announced that the 23-year-old pivot will miss tonight’€™s game against the Canadiens with what’€™s commonly referred to as the ‘€œswine flu.’€

The B’€™s have termed Krejci out indefinitely and the center is being quarantined until he is both symptom-free and fever-free for a 24 hour period, per Center for Disease Control regulations. Vladimir Sobotka takes Krejci’€™s place centering the second line between Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder, and will presumably fill the nifty forward’€™s roll on Boston’€™s sputtering power play.

Rookie winger Mikko Lehtonen was recalled Wednesday night from Providence to replace Krejci on an emergency basis, and will skate on the fourth line right wing with Shawn Thornton and Trent Whitfield.

B’€™s coach Claude Julien said that Krejci began feeling the symptoms immediately after Tuesday night’€™s 2-0 loss to the Red Wings, but Krejci’€™s road roommate, Byron Bitz, didn’€™t seem to be feeling any of the early symptoms of the virus.
It’€™s unknown at this point how long Krejci will be out, but his 23-year-old immune system could be a major help toward a speedy recovery. It’€™s not out of the realm that Krejci could be back in time for Saturday’€™s tilt against the Buffalo Sabres.

Thirty-eight year old Islanders forward Doug Weight missed three games and a full week of action after contracting H1NI in mid-October, but 23-year-old Edmonton Oilers defenseman Ladislav Smid missed minimal practice time and no games due to the illness. Smid skated against the B’€™s last week after quickly recovering from his bout with the swine flu.

Julien wasn’€™t expecting any sympathy and certainly won’€™t get any from those outside the New England area as the B’€™s battle both the swine flu and whatever manner of airborne illness has afflicted their power play.

‘€œWe just have to deal with our own issues and hope that he gets better quickly,’€ said Julien. ‘€œThis is the reality of what’€™s going on in North America these days and we’€™ll be aware of it and do the best we can. Everyone involved is taking all the precautions we can to avoid it. Unfortunately, it’€™s still around us.

‘€œDavid Krejci is not around the team, and hopefully that’€™s where it will stop. But there is no guarantee. We are all vulnerable to it. We just have to deal with it the best way we can.’€

Wheeler said that the team has recently installed more hand sanitizers in the TD Garden dressing room and at the B’€™s practice facility in Wilmington, and the young winger even has a bottle of hand sanitizer in his car for moments of need.

‘€œIt’€™s a league-wide issue right now. You have to take normal steps of using a lot of hand sanitizer and not putting your hands in your eyes ‘€“ all of the stuff that your mom taught you when you were little,’€ said Wheeler. ‘€œYou have to be very careful. You have to take it to almost an OCD level right now.

‘€œLast few days, I don’€™t even know why but guys started carrying hand sanitizer a little more on this road trip. I just started using it more and more all the time. We have a lot of bottles at home. I even have one in my car. It’€™s just the nature of the world we’€™re living in. You’€™ve got to be careful.’€

For a team that hasn’€™t scored in their last 132 minutes, 58 seconds of action and is 0-for-17 on the power play entering Thursday night, missing a big play guy like Krejci isn’€™t necessarily the recipe for an offensive breakthrough.

But the Bruins players are done with the injury excuses and victim of circumstance alibis that have permeated the team through the first month of the season. It’€™s all about wins and losses, and getting on the scoreboard starting tonight against a Montreal Canadiens team that needs a win just as badly as Boston. Though Krejci was off to a slow start with a goal and four assists in 14 games, his elite offensive skill level certainly will be missed.

‘€œ[The Krejci illness] kind of took me by surprise like everyone else, but that’€™s the way of the world today,’€ said Wheeler, who was just reunited with Krejci and Michael Ryder prior to the Detroit game. ‘€œIt’€™s kind of been like that so far this year: it’€™s been one thing after another. But we have enough guys in here that can get the job done.

‘€œWe’€™re definitely very confident in what we bring to the table. There are no excuses any more for this team. No moral victories. It’€™s all about getting the job done.’€

–Bitz is out of the lineup Thursday night against the Canadiens with a balky groin, and Julien said that the bruising forward has been recovering a bit more slowly than expected. Bitz did skate separately from the team prior to their morning skate, and could be ready within a matter of days. Lehtonen will take Bitz’€™s spot on the fourth line’€™s right wing, but doesn’€™t bring the same physical element to the table.

‘€œHe has become a day-to-day,’€ said Julien. ‘€œWe were actually hoping that he would be better quicker and that didn’€™t happen. It’€™s why we brought him on the road. Hopefully it’€™s just a matter of days if everything continues to go well.’€

–Lehtonen was understandably excited to be skating with the big club, but one gets the feeling that the team is running through the appropriate farm team reserve players more quickly than they’€™d prefer. The rangy winger should bring a little offense and skill to the fourth line, but he’€™s not exactly a hard-charging, board-rattling grinder in the mold of players like Steve Begin and Thornton.

‘€œHe’€™s the best player available, let’€™s put it that way,’€ said Julien. ‘€œWe have called so many guys up. [Brad] Marchand, [Vladimir] Sobotka, [Trent] Whitfield, and now he is the next one on the list. Hopefully he is one of those guys. He has a big body, skates well, has skill and maybe he can help us produce a little up front.’€

–Canadiens coach Jacques Martin confirmed that it will be Carey Price in net for the Habs. Tim Thomas will get his third straight start for the Bruins after playing solidly against both the Rangers and Red Wings during the last road trip. Price is 2-6 with a 3.63 goals against average and an .883 save percentage, and the 22-year-old hasn’€™t won a game in over a month dating back to an Oct. 3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

Bruins recall Lehtonen on emergency basis 11.04.09 at 8:34 pm ET
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Rangy winger Mikko Lehtonen was recalled by the Bruins on an emergency basis on Wednesday afternoon and could be available for Thursday night’€™s game against the Montreal Canadiens. The 6-foot-5, 203-pound Lehtonen was a third round pick by the Bruins in the 2005 draft and made his NHL debut with the B’€™s in one of Boston’€™s final games last season.

The emergency recall indicates the team has less than 12 healthy forwards for Thursday’€™s game against the Habs, and an injury must have been sustained during the 2-0 loss to the Red Wings. The 22-year-old Lehtonen has good size and skill around the net, and has three goals and seven assists in 10 games with the Providence Bruins this season. Lehtonen led the P-Bruins with 28 goals last season and finished fourth in the AHL with 53 points in 72 games played.

NHL Power Rankings: The injuries are piling up 11.04.09 at 9:47 am ET
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The bodies are beginning to pile up in the NHL, and injuries have taken their toll on the power rankings. Days after CBC analyst and former Bruins coach Don Cherry ominously warned that somebody might just target Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin for his consistently chippy play, the Caps’ magic man went down with an upper-body injury that has him out at least two weeks.

The Red Wings are missing rented mule Johan Franzen and key puck-moving defenseman Brian Rafalski. Jonathan Toews is out with a concussion, and Marian Hossa has been gone all season for the Blackhawks. Ilya Kovalchuk has the most talked-about broken foot in the NHL this season along with the “Will he or won’t he?” intrigue with his $100 million contract extension talks.

The Devils have been without Patrik Elias all season, and the Penguins are soldiering on without their quicker-minutes-picker-upper defenseman Sergei Gonchar and big center Evgeni Malkin. And, of course, the Bruins are a smoldering, charred version of themselves offensively without Marc Savard and Milan Lucic. Phil Kessel is one of the newly healthy bodies now, though, and he tantalized the Maple Leafs crowd Tuesday night with a 23-minute, 10-shot performance in his Toronto debut.

Without further ado, here are WEEI.com’s NHL power rankings:

1. 12-3-0 (1, last week). The Penguins share the lead for the most goals in the NHL (52), sit a perfect 7-0 away from the friendly frozen confines of home and have survived the last few games without a dinged up Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh is tied with the 1940 Leafs, 1985 Flyers and 2005 Red Wings for the most consecutive road wins to start a season. Good stuff.

2. 10-3-2 (2) The Avs dropped a pair of road games to the Sharks and the Canucks last week, but they also played 11 of their first 15 games on the road this season. So they get a hall pass from Haggs. Still the best story in the NHL thus far this season. Ryan O’Reilly is something special at 18 years old and leads Colorado with a plus-10.

3. 10-4-1 (9) Five straight wins for the Sharks including an impressive defeat of the surprise Avalanche. Patrick Marleau has 11 goals and has scored in eight straight games. Perhaps teams should strip their captains of the letter on their sweater more often. Hmmm.

4. 8-2-4 (5) No Ovechkin, no problem. The Russian star is out “week-to-week” after appearing to hurt his arm in Washington’s overtime loss to the Blue Jackets, but there still is plenty to rest on during Ovie’s absence. The Caps will be just fine.

5. 9-4-2 (7) Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth give the Kings a legit “Crown Line” for the first time in recent memory. Kopitar entered Wednesday leading the NHL with 24 points and has a chance to distance himself from the pack with Ovechkin’s injury.

6. 9-6-1 (4) Attention, NHL bargain hunters! Vaclav Prospal sits in the NHL’s top 10 in scoring and ranks third with his 14 assists while setting up Marian Gaborik, and he’s making only $1.15 million this season. That, friends, is a cap-friendly player.

7. 8-4-1 (3)  The Blackhawks did an admirable job of surviving without Marian Hossa for the entire month of October and Jonathan Toews for the last week with concussion-like symptoms. They’re still leading the Central Division but play eight of their 12 November games on the road in a pretty solid test. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bruins continue to come up short on offense 11.03.09 at 11:26 pm ET
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The timing is simply too coated in irony to ignore.

The Bruins dropped another game to the Detroit Red Wings by a 2-0 score and lost two straight games for the first time this season in the process, and haven’t scored a goal in exactly 132:58 and counting. Once again they completely whiffed with an 0-for-3 on the power play — which drops them to 0-for-their-last-17 power play chances — and couldn’t muster up any notable offense over the course of the game aside from a pair of early Marco Sturm opportunities and a few post-worthy bids.

The B’s are averaging 1.85 goals per game in the seven contests since Savard landed on long term injured reserve with a broken left foot, and that isn’t going to win a lot of hockey games.

Meanwhile, in Toronto, Phil Kessel played his first game for the Maple Leafs coming off shoulder surgery and fired a career-high 10 shots on net while playing 23:50 of ice time in the overtime loss — a good two minutes more than the ice time logged for any member of the Bruins in their listless loss to the Wings. Kessel was buzzing around the net all night and showing the kind of dynamic offensive presence that Boston is sorely lacking. The Black and Gold have to work ridiculously hard for their offense right now, and things aren’t getting any better. 

The B’s are playing solid enough defense (exactly 2 goals per game in their last seven), getting pretty decent goaltending and playing with effort and grit in most instances, but they simply have no finish to their game. David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron can both give the Bruins quality play at the center spot, but they don’t have wingers capable of finishing with anything approaching a flourish. Bergeron led the B’s with four shots attempted on net Tuesday night, and the Black and Gold simply don’t have that one game-changing force able to lift them out of the goal-scoring doldrums.

YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND, NOTHING’S EVER GONNA BRING YOU DOWN: Got to give it Kessel. He didn’t score and finished a minus-1 for the game, but he squeezed off a game-high 10 shots and showed more offensive dominance in one game than many of the Boston forwards have all season. He showed some toughness shaking off a Matthias Ohland hit in the first period that bloodied his lip, and gave Toronto fans a preview of the explosive skill set the 22-year-old brought to the table for three seasons with the Spoked B. Give Shawn Thornton full marks for skating the entire game as if his pants were on fire. The fourth-line tough guy finished with a game-high nine hits, but he couldn’t spark a genuinely lifeless Bruins bunch.

GOAT HORNS: The power play might be taking permanent residence in this spot soon enough. The B’s have put up a pungent 0-for-17 on the PP, and went 0-for-3 with two cruddy shots on goal for the entire night. The B’s are 1-for-20 on the PP without Marc Savard and sit at a miserable 11.5 percent success rate. That’s 6-for-52 on the season, and a 2-for-44 mark without counting their four power play goals against the Carolina Hurricanes in the second game of the season.

Read More: Phil Kessel, Shawn Thornton, Tim Thomas,
Kessel set to suit up for the Maple Leafs 11.03.09 at 1:06 pm ET
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It’s clear now that it was first and foremost all about the money for Phil Kessel, and secondly about some measure of respect he didn’t feel from the organization while constantly hearing his name bandied about in trade rumors through three strangely turbulent years with the Boston Bruins.

Phil the Thrill got his wish to escape from Boston and the Spoked B way of doing things, and the 22-year-old scorer savant informed reporters Tuesday afternoon that he will indeed play his first game for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. Kessel will be riding shotgun with veteran center Matt Stajan and Jason Blake. That’s not exactly the same as skating alongside Marc Savard, but it’s the best that Toronto can muster at this point.

It’s exactly six months since Kessel went under the knife for rotator cuff and labrum surgery in his left shoulder, and the sniper returned a solid 7-10 days prior to previous expectations and timetables.

It’s not the miraculous early return that allowed cetner David Krejci to play Bruins’ Opening Night after undergoing surgery on his right hip, but it also doesn’t sound like a slow, deliberate recovery by a player viewed by those in and around the Boston organization as being “soft” in terms of focus, work ethic and play on the ice. The arrows were released against the 36-goal scorer last summer when it became apparent the big money in Toronto was too good to pass up, but there’s one thing that isn’t under dispute about Kessel’s game: the kid can score.

Kessel is the age of many players either playing or just leaving the college hockey ranks in the United States, and — as one scout said about Kessel when things were heating up — “he’s just a young pup” in terms of hockey development. Former BU defenseman and current New York Rangers rookie Matt Gilroy is one of the heralded youngsters in the league this season, and he is three years older than Kessel. That’s something that seems to escape most people in the Kessel argument. There is a high ceiling for a player that finished 12th in the NHL in goals scorer last season, but the B’s have gambled that No. 81 will never reach a consistent ceiling of 40-50 goals per season.

He won’t be a savior this year for a Maple Leafs team that already appears to be running headlong into a lost season, and it’s not likely he’ll light up the Tampa Bay Lightning in his first game back since the Stanley Cup semi-finals against the Carolina Hurricanes last May.

But Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was never able to properly replace Kessel’s playmaking abilities, and supply the team with the simple threat of throwing a natural goal-scorer on the ice. The B’s have a collection of nice 20-30 goal-scorers, but they don’t have a single skater that strikes fear into a goaltender with their combination of speed and pinpoint shooting.

Perhaps the treasure trove of draft picks shuffled off to Boston in exchange for Kessel will bring another elite scorer into the B’s fold beginning next season, but right now Boston isn’t able to absorb Kessel’s defection with heightened play from Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler among others — and that’s been underscored even more with the loss of Marc Savard and Milan Lucic to injury.

The Bruins have scored 10 goals in their last five games and allowed 10 goals in their last five games, and have been mired dead smack dab in the middle for the entire season. Good enough to avoid any long losing streaks, but just middling enough that they can’t string even two wins together through the first 13 games. That will only get worse should — as unlikely as it may seem — Kessel burst off to a fast offensive start with the Leafs despite missing all of training camp and the first month of the season.

Unfair as it might be, Kessel’s gain would only stir up the masses to begin chanting that familiar New England refrain: “Why can’t we get players like that?”

Read More: Marc Savard, Peter Chiarelli, Phil Kessel,
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