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US Olympic roster to be announced at Winter Classic 11.03.09 at 12:34 pm ET
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As expected, USA Hockey announced that they will reveal their 23-man US Olympic Team roster during the Jan. 1 NBC broadcast of the Bridgestone Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers at Fenway Park. Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was the only current B’s player invited to the Olympic orientation camp on Aug. 17-19 in Woodbridge, Ill., but is expected to get some stiff competition for starting goaltending honors with Sabres goalie Ryan Miller. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick and Avalanche goaltender Craig Anderson among others.

There are three goalie spots on the 23-man roster put together by Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke. The XXI Winter Olympic games set in Vancouver, B.C. will begin on Feb. 16 and wind up 12 days later with the gold medal game on Feb. 28 during a two-week break in the NHL season. Team USA will begin their schedule with a game against Team Switzerland on Feb. 16.

The U.S. roster will include 20 skaters and three goaltenders. It is expected that all 23 players will come from the NHL.  Ron Wilson, head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is the head coach of the 2010 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, with Scott Gordon, head coach of the New York Islanders, and John Tortorella, head coach of the New York Rangers, serving as assistant coaches.

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B’s searching for scoring against the Rags 11.01.09 at 4:54 pm ET
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Did you hear the one about the Bruins power play?

No, there’s no punchline. It’s just that Boston’s toothless man advantage is one of the biggest jokes currently running in the Eastern Conference. The Black and Gold power play unit squandered five different opportunities against a feisty New York Rangers defense and All-Star goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, and the B’s fell by a 1-0 score to the Blueshirts Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.

The Bruins outshot the Rags 14-6 in the third period and 29-23 over the course of 60 minutes, and outhit the Rangers by a 41-28 margin in a game where the Black and Gold clearly paid the price. The biggest difference between the two teams were glaring, however.

Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik provided the only goal of the game in the final minutes of the second period on a pure goal-scorer’s strike from the high slot, and the B’s just couldn’t capitalize on five frittered away power play chances. The biggest disappointment for the team is simply how well they’re playing in just about every other area of the game, but they just don’t have any elite goal-scorers.

Everything earned offensively is going to through gallons of sweat and hard work in front of the net. Goals simply aren’t going to sometimes come easily as they did last season when the B’s were the second-best offense in the NHL. The Bruins now sit 28th in the NHL with a power play that’s scoring only 12.2 percent of the time, and taking out their blowout against the Carolina Hurricanes makes things only more gruesome in these post-Halloween days. 

It’s almost fitting that Boston’s scoring fits are coming in the same week that Phil Kessel is expected to make his debut with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and give their woebegone franchise the scoring transfusion that the B’s seem to badly need after the season’s first month. Patrice Bergeron and Blake Wheeler share the B’s lead in goal-scoring with four apiece, and Boston needs to do much better if they hope to escape a .500 fate that seems all too realistic 13 games into the season.

YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND, NOTHING’S EVER GONNA KEEP YOU DOWN:Brad Marchand played a physical spark plug game for the Bruins, and finished with five shots on net and three registered hits in 17:18 of action. His open ice flying shoulder hit on fellow rookie Michael DelZotto was exactly what the B’s could use more of. Mark Recchi was also a strong presence around the net in the third period when Boston was trying to force overtime and secure a point. 

GOAT HORNS:Ummm, power play anyone? No offense, but no offense. This is becoming a serious flaw within the hockey team, and one has to hope it’s not a fatal flaw for this season.

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Three Things We Learned in striking gold against Oilers 11.01.09 at 11:18 am ET
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Zdeno Chara couldn’t hide a fairly incredulous smirk when asked the question while sitting at his locker stall.

“Are you completely healthy? Is everything all right physically?” a reported inquired.

The Norris Trophy winning defenseman cast his head downward and gave his lower body a once over before knocking on wood and saying “everything feels great.”

The 32-year-old was answering performance-related questions for the first time earlier this week after getting off to a bit of a slow start for Chara’s standards. The towering defenseman hasn’t found the back of the net after 12 games — Chara also didn’t score until his 12th game of the season last winter — but of greater concern was a distinct regression in the physicality department. There didn’t seem to be the normal fear factor from opposing forwards buzzing around in Boston’s defensive zone with Chara patrolling out on the ice. A lot of that comes strictly down to a lack of Chara snarl, and it could be attributed to a number of things.

Chara is adjusting to his first season in four years without defenseman partner Aaron Ward, and the veteran contributed mightily to the Norris Trophy winner’s style of play. Chara was free to play with a little more mean and a little more freedom knowing that Ward was going to cover for him, and it takes time to develop such a trust bond with Derek Morris. Perhaps there was even a little bit of satisfaction after getting named the best defenseman in the NHL last season.

Never was that more obvious than Thursday night when 5-foot-11, 190-pound Zach Parise beat Chara in a battle behind the boards for possession, and set up the game-winning third period score for the New Jersey Devils. It highlighted a passivity that simply can’t be a part of Chara’s game while the Bruins coaching staff relies on his “give no quarter” nature in the D-zone.

So on Friday Bruins coach Claude Julien fired up the “Chara signal.” In so many words, Julien indicated that his franchise defenseman had been “just OK” in the first 11 games of the season, and the entire team — including their 6-foot-9 captain – needed to respond to the request for better, more intense effort. The Big Slovakian heeded the call and responded along with the rest of his teammates to a clarion call for more concentrated effort. The B’s mantra is to be “hard to play against” and Saturday afternoon’s 2-0 win against the Oilers was the perfect time to reintroduce themselves to their way of hockey life.

Chara won every puck battle, punished the Edmonton skaters with eight thunderous hits and seemed determined to keep the Oilers forwards aware of his pounding, unrelenting presence at all times. In other words, he played like the 2008-09 version of Zdeno Chara — an imposing figure that’s needed when the intimidating force provided by Milan Lucic is withdrawn from the lineup.

“I know that when you are one of the top players in the league, ‘good’ is not good enough,” said Chara, who finished with a game-high eight hits. “You have to play almost perfect every game. That’s the way it is. That is what comes with it when you are one of the best players in the league. As a captain you carry the team and you have to accept that, so that’s normal.”

The overpoweringly defensive tone struck early by Chara permeated through the rest of the Boston’s lineup, and the Black and Gold played their most complete, structured game this season. The four lines rolled through a complete 60 minute effort and the B’s dominated time of possession in the Edmonton zone while playing good, sound positional defense in front of Tuukka Rask in a shutout effort. After two scoreless periods, the offense finally busted through with a pair of opportunistic scores in the third period.

But the uniformity of effort, purpose and intensity gave Boston their best win of the season, and – in Julien’s mind — a great deal of credit goes back to the hockey gauntlet tossed down by their captain early in Saturday’s victory. Chara still finds himself in search of his first goal after his 12th game of the season and he’s still searching for ways to snake the big slap shot through traffic on the power play, but hockey’s version of “The Terminator” proved once again Saturday that he’s much more valuable than statistics.

“The thing with Z, he’s our Captain. He’s our leader,” said Julien. “We keep talking about Norris Trophy, and being deserving of that. His energy and attitiude spreads throughout the team. Certainly it makes our team that much better.

“That’s the responsibility that comes with being that type of player. It’s okay to want to be an elite player, but you have to take on the responsibilities that go along with it. He thrives on that stuff, and I thought he did a great job.” 

Chara was up to the challenge in Saturday’s shutout win, and will need to continue answering the call with the victory over the Oilers kicking off a crucial 15 games in 29 days stretch for the B’s. Make or break time for their season is coming up, and Big Z appears to be ready.

With Chara finally back in the saddle, here are two other things we learned in Saturday’s win over the Oilers.

A “TUUUKKKKAAAA” CHANT HAS BEEN BORN

Though he didn’t consciously hear it while locked into his second career NHL shutout, the TD Garden crowd is beginning to embrace Rask as one of their own. Each time the B’s goalie would snatch a high, hard shot out of the air with his strong glove hand or use his lean, long frame to absorb a puck, the crowd would let out with a low, rumbling “Tuuuuukkkka” chant. The sound initially sounded like booing, and wasn’t all that different from the “Yoooouuuk!” or “Loooooch” chants commonly heard in most partisan Boston sports crowds.

The 22-year-old rookie was worthy of the chants on Saturday afternoon after watching Tim Thomas start five of the previous six games, and made 19 calm, cool, collected stops en route to his second career shutout. There was nothing flashy or jumpy about Rask’s netminding game, but instead he simply played sound, textbook butterfly style between the pipes and never offered a single crack in his wall of defense.

“I saw the puck really well,” said Rask. “I can’t say there was one shot I didn’t see, and that’s probably more because the [Boston defense] was at its best — and forced those blocking shots that were on net. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the guys for blocking shots, and really not screening me much at all.”

While Rask saw every piece of vulcanized rubber tossed his way, he didn’t hear the burgeoning chants of his name in the stands. Some of it, Rask thought, might have just been because his distinctly Finnish name has a certain sing-songy ring to it.

“It’s probably because of my name and because it’s so easy to pronounce: Tuukka,” said Rask. ”It’s like ‘Looch’. I might have heard it a couple of times in Providence when we won a big game. It’s fun and it’s nice to hear so many people are into the game because that really gives us a boost.”

SOBOTKA AND WHEELER ARE COOKING UP SOMETHING SPECIAL

Forget for a minute that Vladimir Sobotka typified everything Julien and B’s GM Peter Chiarelli preach about being “strong on the puck” when the 22-year-old B’s forward battled along the boards in the third period, and fought through both Theo Peckham and Fernando Pisani to set up Boston’s first goal. The spark plug center was knocked down several times along the boards by both Oilers players, but never gave up possession of the puck and continued working toward making a play.

Somehow Sobotka sensed Blake Wheeler moving toward the Oilers cage as he battled, and threw a beauty of a backhanded pass to a waiting Wheeler. The B’s second-year forward noticed Edmonton goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin peeking at Sobotka behind the Oilers goal, and Wheeler quickly fired an accurate shot at the net before the goaltender had a chance to reposition himself.

Just like that the Bruins were on the scoreboard, and the score might as well have been 100-0 given the way the B’s were playing mistake-free defense in front of an effective Rask. Wheeler and Sobotka hooked up minutes later for a second goal with Sobotka this time getting the nice feed to deposit into the back of Boston’s net. The two goals capped off an honest day’s work for the trio of Sobotka, Wheeler and Daniel Paille, and made up for a Sobotka score that failed to beat the buzzer at the end of the second period.

“The last two games [before Saturday] he’s had like 13 hits or something. I don’t know what he had [against the Oilers] but I talked to him before the game and said it’s great if you get five or six hits — but let’s try to score. He’s tearing up the AHL, he’s a very talented offensive player, so let’s just get three or four hits and a goal and an assist. That’ll be a good night.

“We tried to focus a bit more on the offensive side. [Sobotka] works so hard every single night, that it was just a matter of getting rewarded.”

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Sobotka strikes gold in win over Oilers 10.31.09 at 3:14 pm ET
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It isn’t going to get the fans jumping out of their seats or snag them many trophies at year’s end, but the Bruins are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. Game by game the Black and Gold are sinking deeper into the disciplined, layered, exacting system of defense installed by the B’s coaching staff, and that brand of hockey was fully on display in Saturday afternoon’s 2-0 shutout win against the Oilers.

The Bruins were led by the gritty Vlad Sobotka, who finished with a goal and an assist — and had another tally wiped away when it came a second after the buzzer ended the second period.

“Our team without the puck is getting better,” said Claude Julien. “Vladdy [Sobotka] is starting to find his game again with us that we saw a few years ago. [A game] we really liked. He’s an in-your-face type of player, but he’s also capable of making some good plays, doing the right things and scoring some goals. He’s been much better the last three games, no doubt.” 

Missing two of their biggest guns due to injury, it’s going to take a simplistic, scaled-down approach to the game and an abundance of slim victories in the near future for the Black and Gold. That was exactly what the team received from their whole team, and the Blake Wheeler/Sobotka/Daniel Paille line finally exploded in the third period with two goals en route to victory. With a two-goal lead suddenly in hand, the Bruins defense and goaltender Tuukka Rask clamped down to preserve the shutout over the final 10 minutes of hockey.

The Bruins are still activating their defensemen to keep pressure in the offensive zone as much as possible and rolling their lines, but it’s clear that there’s some offensive skill missing from the roster. That’s why a gritty goal by Sobokta — busting his way through Theo Peckham and Fernando Pisani with the puck to set up Wheeler’s score — was exactly what the hockey doctor ordered. Wheeler setting up Sobotka minutes later for the two-goal lead was just icing on the cake.

Andrew Ference missed wide right on a one-time bomber opportunity while pinching down from his defenseman position during a first period flurry. Marco Sturm embarked on a one-man rush up the left side in the second period and earned a clear attempt at the net, but missed high to the top right corner with his slap shot..

The Bruins put heavy pressure on at the end of the second period when Wheeler, Sobotka and Daniel Paille fired off a bevy of shots at the Edmonton cage, and it appeared they broke through when Sobotka whistled an attempt past Nikolai Khabibulin. But the attempt clearly skipped past the goalie following the second period buzzer and whistle indicating the period was over. There was no goal and a scoreless first 40 minutes of action prior to the Sobotka and Wheeler finally putting up some in-regulation fireworks during the final period.

YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND, NOTHING’S EVER GONNA  KEEP YOU DOWN:Vladimir Sobotka has looked increasingly impressive since a pep talk with Claude Julien prior to the Ottawa game last weekend, and it finally showed up on the scoreboard Saturday afternoon. Sobotka broke a scoreless deadlock when he fought through both Theo Peckham and Fernando Pisani with the puck, and dished a beautiful backhanded pass to Blake Wheeler. Wheeler slammed the shot past Nikolai Khabibulin and victory was Boston’s. Wheeler and Sobotka teamed again minutes later to give Vlad the Scrorer his first goal of the season.

GOAT HORNS:Marco Sturm and Andrew Ference both missed golden scoring opportunities earlier in the game, but there was a great deal to like about the effort and execution in an air-tight win over the Oilers. The Bruins kept putting on the pressure, and finally worn down Edmonton in the final 20 minutes. No goats on Saturday.

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B’s pregame notes versus Oilers 10.31.09 at 11:24 am ET
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Here are a few quick tidbits to get everyone ready for the Saturday afternoon matinee between the Bruins and the Edmonton Oilers. The Oil are coming off a wild 6-5 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night and Dustin Penner already has five multi-point games this season. The key to Penner’s turnaround: dropping some extra weight this summer and shedding the doghouse he was locked in under former Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.

–B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman is scoreless in his last five games, but played pretty solidly against the New Jersey Devils Thursday night. He’s a candidate for a breakout game against Edmonton.

–Michael Ryder will be playing in his 400th career game with the Bruins Saturday afternoon.

–Saturday afternoon’s tilt against the Western Conference Oilers touches off a 15 games in 29 days stretch thanks to the Winter Olympics-ified NHL schedule, and hands the B’s a pretty hefty challenge that will slowly gnaw away at their roster depth. The key, according to head coach coach Claude Julien, is building some momentum along the way. That momentum starts on Saturday afternoon, when the Bruins go on a mini-stretch of fives games in eight days.

“You’ve got to build some consistency and some momentum. You hope that you stay healthy through this stuff,” said Julien. “As a coaching staff, we need to know when to push on the gas pedal and when to back off. We need to make sure we keep getting better. We’ve had our rest. We’ve had our days. We need to make sure that when it comes time for game time that we’re ready to go.” 

–No word yet on the starting goaltender, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see Tuukka Rask get the start after Tim Thomas started five of the last six games.

–A few trends with the Oilers: Edmonton is 1-3 overall on the road this season and sits at 1-4 when they allow the first goal in games this season.

–Penner is coming off a one goal, three assist performance against the Wings Thursday night and is averaging nearly two points a game with 7 goals, 9 assists in his last nine games.

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Julien: ‘[Chara] can be better’ 10.30.09 at 12:20 pm ET
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WILMINGTON, Mass. — Full practice at Ristuccia Arena on Friday morning with everybody seemingly healthy and accounted for, and all lines as they were in Thursday night’s loss to the New Jersey Devils.

The Bruins are working on tip drills and battles in front of the net, which factored heavily into just about all of the scoring between the offensively-challenged Devils and Bruins clubs in a 2-1 decision. A lot of focus on jamming the puck beyond the goaltender, and conversely getting the defensemen in the painted area to swat loose pucks away. More after practice as the Bruins prepare for a grueling fives games in eight days schedule that begins with Saturday afternoon’s matinee against the Edmonton Oilers.

–During the battle drills in front of the net Tuukka Rask let a shot slide by him into the goal, and immediately exploded with a fit of goaltender pique. Rask screamed at himself in Finnish and then slammed his paddle hard against the crossbar, and created a violent enough collision that he knocked his Gatorade water bottle off the top of the net. Temper, temper Tuukka.

–Zdeno Chara has been inconsistent through 11 games this season and certainly isn’t living completely up to his Norris Trophy standards while putting up six assists for the Black and Gold. The 32-year-old has had his “up” moments such as his 29:38 masterpiece against the New York Islanders when he notched an assist and a pair of shots on goal, but he hasn’t been able to sustain his play over a long stretch.

The blueliner was out working on his game before and after practice last week, and taking extra shots from the point positions while attempting  to get a higher volume of shots toward the cage during the power play. When asked about his captain’s play after practice, B’s coach Claude Julien didn’t pull any punches and said that Chara needs to find his “happy zone” just like the rest of the team.

“[Chara] has been good, but can be better. He knows that,” said Julien. “He’s been good and there are some games where we’ve seen him be dominant like in the past. But we haven’t seen him be dominant night in, night out like he has been. He’s frustrated a little bit too. You saw him working on his shots, and he’d like to get his shots through a little better. But the thing that we like about players is when we see them trying to do something about it.

“That’s what he’s been doing. He’s been working on his shot and trying to find those seams. Eventually it’ll come, but he’s in that stage where he wants to be better – and he can better. I think his whole game has been, at times, up and down a little bit. Let’s put it this way: he’s never been terrible but there are some nights when he’s just been okay. When you talk about Z and having success, we’d like to see him where he was last year when he was a stellar defenseman and stingy. A defenseman that every team hated to play against. This is a game of momentum. Sometimes things fall right into place and sometimes it takes some time. Our whole team is working through that and trying to find that momentum, and I think he’s in that equation as well.”

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Bruins drop one to Devils in final minutes 10.29.09 at 9:30 pm ET
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It wasn’t pretty, but when is it ever against the New Jersey Devils?

The Bruins played an incredibly well-matched game against New Jersey in their second of back-to-back road games, but dropped a 2-1 decision in the final two minutes of Thursday night’s showdown with the Devils. Dainus Zubrus slammed home a loose puck behind Tim Thomas with 1:26 remaining to hand Boston their first regulation loss in four tries.

The B’s fell behind early when an errant puck bounced off the boards and got behind Shawn Thornton. The quick bounce of the puck allowed the Devils to break things out, and get in behind the B’s defense and a scrambling Thornton. Nicklas Bergfors carried the puck up the left side of the ice with speed, and unleashed a low liner at Thomas’ pads.

The puck sneaked between the B’s goaltender’s leg pads and trickled out into the painted area in front of the Boston goal. In a case of perfect timing, David Clarkson was crashing toward the cage from the right side and swept home the loose biscuit. It was a brief defensive lapse for the Black and Gold, however, as both Derek Morris and Zdeno Chara were able to prevent nearly certain goals later in the game with some very strong stick work in front of Thomas.

The Bruins finally tied things up in the second period immediately after time expired on their second power play of the game. Zdeno Chara leveled a bomb from the right point that whistled through traffic in front, and Devils’ goaltender Yann Danis kicked it off to the right. Marco Sturm corralled the rebound and shoveled a backhand shot toward the Devils net, but it ricocheted off sticks and skates before landing on Patrice Bergeron’s stick blade.

Bergeron flicked the puck into the vacated net, and the game was tied at 1-1. It was Bergeron’s fourth goal of the season, and his team-leading eighth point after enduring Tuesday’s two-year anniversary of his career-threatening concussion at the hands of Randy Jones. The scoring stayed that way until Zubrus’ gut-punch score with less than two minutes to go in the contest. To add insult to injury, Zdeno Chara had a deflection hit off the crossbar in the final seconds that could have tied the game and pushed things to overtime. In the end, the Devils were simply one bounce of the puck better than the hard-working Bruins.

YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND AND NOTHING’LL EVER KEEP YOU DOWN:  Patrice Bergeron worked and persevered through last season when he clearly didn’t feel 100 percent, but it’s all paying off now. Bergeron tied the game in the second period, and is again developing that all-important nose for the goal. Bergeron trailed only Shawn Thornton with his four shots on net for a Bruins team that needs all the offense they can get right now. 

GOAT HORNS: The first instinct was to go with Tim Thomas who was otherwise solid but allowed two pucks to squeeze through the goaltender’s pads — including the game-winner to Dainus Zubrus with less than 90 seconds to go in the game. The two goals were virtual carbon copies of each other, as Thomas slowed down each shot with his pads. But the reigning Vezina Trophy winner couldn’t quite close the sliver of an opening in time. In both instances, the puck slowed behind the B’s netminder and an attacking Jersey skater was able to bang home the loose puck. But the game-winner, it should be noted, was a tipped puck that changed direction before it hit the net.

The better choice for the horns is Boston’s still toothless power play that finished 0-for-2 tonight — although the B’s did score immediately following their second power play chance — and is sitting at a 14.3 percent efficiency for the season. That’s six goals in 42 chances. The B’s had plenty of good looks and chances against the Devils, but simply couldn’t finish. That’s beginning to become a pattern of concern.

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