|Three things that can turn it around for the Bruins||10.15.09 at 4:42 pm ET|
With four road dates packed into their next five games, the Bruins have a chance to prove that ancient hockey axiom correct. There’s a great and shining chance for the club to bond together on the normally cold and unforgiving road. Who knew that having a few team dinners at Fleming’s Steakhouse in unfamiliar locales could mean so much?
It’s obviously not all about some magical road solution waiting for the Bruins in Dallas and Phoenix. It’s more about things within the Boston dressing room that need to change. The B’s players need to shake themselves out of the snow-blindness caused by a flurry of preseason hype and media predictions that tabbed the Black and Gold as the trendy pick for the Stanley Cup finals.
There’s plenty the Bruins can do to turn things around after a 2-3 start to the season that lacked the passion and work ethic inherent in last season’s 116-point hockey team. The Bruins are simply beating themselves. It’s something that hasn’t been a major problem since the structured, disciplined Claude Julien took over the coaching reigns three years ago. It’s also something the Bruins are much too talented to be doing.
“We talked about it and addressed a lot of different things that we can do to get better a lot over the last few days,” Milan Lucic said. “We’ve talked about it a bunch. Now it’s time to not do so much talk, and go out and do it.”
It’s high time for Lucic and the B’s to slam down the preseason power rankings and the glossy magazine pieces, and instead strap on the hard hats and tool belts that allowed them to enjoy so much regular season success last winter. There’s plenty of hard work that goes into winning a Cup, and the B’s haven’t exactly dirtied their finger nails quite yet.
“We haven’t played Bruins hockey, and played the way that this team has grown its identity over the last couple of years,” said Mark Recchi. “We have to get back to it and realize how hard it is. Get our focus back. I really believe it’s not that far away. This is a little bit of a wake up call, and this isn’t a bad time to go through this.”
With that in mind, here are three things the Bruins can do turn things around just five games into their 82-game schedule:
1. Will the real Looch please stand up — The bruising 21-year-old winger might have been in too much of a lighthearted mood after becoming the B’s newest millionaire several weeks ago, and by his own admission lost some of his surliness over the last few games.
His numbers aren’t really that far off what they were last season. After five games last season, Lucic had three points, six shots on goal and 14 registered hits to open things up. After five games this season, Lucic has a pair of assists, four shots on goal and the same exact 14 registered hits. But many of those body checks haven’t been of the bone-thumping variety. There certainly haven’t been many defensemen forced to look over their shoulders while digging out pucks in the corner. That needs to change for Lucic and the Bruins immediately, and the B’s forward is well aware.
“The last two games I’ve feel like been getting better at creating, but for me it’s also more about getting on the puck quicker, turning pucks over and then creating scoring chances,” said Lucic. “I feel like I need to do a little bit more of that to get back to where I want to be. Talking with the coaches, and Peter [Chiarelli] and Cam [Neely], the one thing they always tell me is that when I keep it simple with that meat and potatoes-kind of game, I’m at my best. I have to play hard-nosed hockey.”
“I have to pick [the physical] part of my game up and boost the team up with some big hits to get them going. Maybe Wheels can get me going before the game. Maybe we can get some Indian leg-wrestling going in the locker room before the game start. We can just lock legs and see who wins.”
Blake Wheeler, who was taking his skates off right next to Lucic, shot back with: “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you out [on the ice].”
Indian leg wrestling or not, Big Looch knows what he needs to do and is looking to amp up his physical factor for the weekend road games against Dallas and Phoenix along with getting more involved offensively. Perhaps skating with David Krejci will rekindle a spark and bring out the intimidating side he flashed in last season’s playoffs when the two young skaters were paired together. The one big advantage to skating with Krejci is that the right-handed shooter’s first inclination for passes will be with the forehand to his left side. That bodes well for the fire-breathing winger bombing down the left side.
Just call it the Sleeping Bear Syndrome.
It’s no secret that the fear factor is thrown into the opposition when big No. 17 is playing mean, merciless hockey, and it’s paramount to Boston’s success. Lucic knows that he and his teammates are much better when there’s a certain attitude of aggression among the players. He also hinted that the mounting criticism of the B’s sluggish start might be the exact kind of kindling needed to get their competitive fire going. In short, Lucic needs to lead the way in bringing the rage back out onto the ice for the Bruins.
“It seems like right now we’re getting challenged by all kinds of people that are starting to doubt us,” said Lucic. “I think we should use that to our advantage and go against it. We need to play with that edge and physical presence to be successful. The best thing is for us to be aggressive and initiate it right off the start rather than sit around waiting for somebody to wake us up.”
2. Get the special teams back on track — Julien had a simple explanation when asked what could help out a B’s power play that’s managed success only 13.8 percent (4-for-29) of the time in their first five games. His answer was pretty straightforward and to the point: “Score.” Julien is obviously the kind of straight-shooter that has middle management written all over him, but he’s also got a point.
The Bruins need to score by any means possible on the man-advantage, and that means showing both intelligence and poise with the puck. But it also means showing a little desperation when that’s called for during potential tipping points on the power play. Derek Morris and the first power-play unit helped produce four power play scores in the B’s 7-2 thumping of Carolina, and stressed that they need to return back to what made them so successful in that particular game.
They, in essence, need to “go ugly early” in the man advantage and start hunting out those ugly goal situations. Getting position in tight near the net and redirecting pucks, or simply lurking around the cage wating for rebounds could make all the difference.
“When was the last time you saw us get a tip on a goal? Or get a rebound goal on the power play?” asked Morris. “Defenses are getting so good at blocking shots and getting in the shooting and passing lanes during the power plays, and we have to be a little more patient getting the pucks to our forwards.
“Then when we do get the puck down there, we’ve got to start looking for those ugly goals. Crashing the net and getting to that puck right at the split-second when the opportunity is there.
3. Thomas needs to shake off the slow start — The B’s goaltender isn’t going to admit to being a slow starter, but he hasn’t looked like his Vezina Trophy self during the preseason or first three regular season games behind an admittedly mistake-prone defense. A 4.01 goals-against average and an .868 save percentage are so far below Thomas’ norms that there’s no choice but to believe they’re aberrational. He was miles better than playing in the Dave Lewis system, and that’s truly saying something.
Just about at this exact point last season, Thomas stepped up and play shutdown hockey between the pipes in back-to-back games against the Oilers and the Canucks, and made 58 saves in back-to-back shutouts. The Bruins should be looking for much the same out of Thomas this weekend during their tour of the NHL’s southwestern outposts, and he’s up for the challenge.
“The numbers are a little bit distorted. I didn’t feel as bad as the numbers look in the two games that we lost,” said Thomas, who said he didn’t read anything into Tuukka Rask making back-to-back starts. “I haven’t felt really bad, but I’ve just got bad results. It is what it is. I mean … just … it is what it is. I haven’t seen too many goals allowed by us where you’d say ‘Oh, the goalie is struggling.’ ”
“Look at the patterns over the years. The other goaltender has usually played a lot because I haven’t always played that great at the beginning. I don’t like to get that label. Last year my stats were good, but the team wasn’t winning. During the lockout year, I had five shutouts in my first 10 games. You can’t say that’s the way it is every year.”
|Injured Wideman not making the road trip||10.15.09 at 12:06 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Dennis Wideman didn’t practice on Thursday afternoon and will miss the two-game road trip through Dallas and Phoenix this weekend while recovering from a left shoulder injury suffered last Saturday against the Islanders. B’s coach Claude Julien confirmed that Wideman is out for at least the next two games, but said that “as we speak” the club didn’t have any plans to bring up reinforcements from Providence to replace the felled blueliner.
That could change, but — either way — the B’s will certainly miss the puck-moving defenseman that plays upwards of 25 minutes per game when healthy.
“He’s obviously getting better, but not good enough to make the trip,” said Julien. “He’s going to skate here [in the Boston area] this weekend, and we project that he’ll be back for the games after the weekend.
“The one thing Dennis brings to the team when he’s on his game is that he’s a great puck-moving defenseman. I don’t think we can say he’s a real physical defenseman because that’s not his makeup. But he can move the puck well and he’s great on the power play. I would just say you’re missing a pretty good defenseman.”
If the B’s do opt to pull out of the Providence farm as they prepare for a pair of home dates at the Dunk this weekend, sturdy defenseman Andy Wozniewksi and winger/center Vladimir Sobotka would be the players most likely to travel with the team to Big ‘D’. Certainly it would be safter to add another extra healthy body in case another player hits the injury ward against the Stars, and avoid potentially playing short-handed against the Desert Dogs.
|Dennis Wideman missing from practice||10.15.09 at 10:26 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Dennis Wideman remains missing from practice again on Thursday morning with an injured left shoulder. The 26-year-old defenseman has been out of the lineup since going down with a left shoulder injury late in the second period of the win over the Islanders last weekend. There are no callups from Providence on the ice with the Bruins. Andy Wozniewski and Drew Fata would be the most logical defensemen promotions should B’s coach Claude Julien need another healthy body for the road trip through Dallas and Phoenix.
The rest of the regular B’s crew is out on the Ristuccia Arena ice getting up close and personal with a series of power play drills.
|Sturm back to his natural left wing spot||10.14.09 at 2:07 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Marco Sturm admitted that there wasn’t much “comfort” in playing his off-wing on the right side over the Bruins first five games.
“[The left] is where I played the last five or six years, but I can go either way,” said Sturm. “I don’t know if it was comfort [on the right]. It was different. But we’ll see if we go on the left side and I notice a big change.”
The unfamiliar spot on the right wing didn’t stop Sturm from scoring a pair of goals and showing up as one of Boston’s best forwards right from first puck drop. A long spring-into-summer rehab from left knee surgery and an abbreviated preseason schedule due to groin problems did nothing to derail the German forward from starting the season healthy and strong.
So the Bruins slipped in a slight change at Wednesday morning’s practice, and effectively rewarded Sturm by shifting him back over to his natural left wing position on the B’s top line along with center Marc Savard. Michael Ryder was moved to the right wing spot on Savard’s right, and the playmaking center now has legit scorers on either side of him. Milan Lucic was “dropped” to second line left wing along with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler — a move that also allows Wheeler to switch back over to his strong side on the right.
It may not be an indictment of how Lucic has played in the early going, but it’s certainly a bit of a reward carrot for the strong, willful hockey displayed by both Ryder and Sturm through the last few games.
“It’s just a tweak. Never a bad thing just to see if it will help,” said Julien. “Maybe shake some things up, get some attention and spark something up. I don’t think it’s directed at anybody necessarily, except getting the best possible four line combinations.
“I think Lucic has had real good success with Krejci before, and they work really well together when he’s been on that line in the past. With Michael up there, when you look back at the last game I thought he was a really decent player. When he works hard he creates chances, and when he works hard he’s strong on the puck. Sturmy with his speed and with Savvy, you hope something will come out of that.”
Sturm certainly performed satisfactorly at right wing and had the confidence of the coaching staff on his off-side, but also couldn’t hold a smile in at the thought of moving back into his natural wing position. The 31-year-old forward has been one of the few Bruins “feel good” stories while bouncing back strongly from knee surgery. Some players need a year to regain their skating speed after going under the knife, and — because of the January surgery date for Sturm’s surgery — he’s already approaching that milestone just a few months into the season.
That means little-to-no-speed lost and no residual rust on Sturm’s game despite all the reasons in the world for it to be holding him back. Sturm has even surprised himself with his level of play in the early going after being away from the game for a lengthy period of time.
“I’m feeling great so far,” said Sturm. “I’m really happy with the way I’ve started. It’s better than I expected. I had a rough preseason and even when I came [to camp] I felt okay — but I knew I wasn’t there yet. But it came pretty quickly. I’m really happy about that.”
*Julien also noted some enlightening video sessions with some of his players over the last couple of days, and perhaps a few light bulb moments with a host of Bruins skaters that simply weren’t putting in a full day’s work on the ice. Some members of the B’s dressing are fond of saying that there are no passengers on the Bruins’ bus, and any unwanted passengers were put on notice up on the video screen by their Jack Adams trophy-winning coach.
“Some guys are trying to do too much. Some guys aren’t doing enough,” said Julien. “It doesn’t mean those guys that aren’t doing enough think that they’re not doing enough. That’s why you show those guys video, and — like anybody else and I know I’m that way — it’s a lot clearer when you see it.
“I know there are a lot of guys that walk out of there wide-eyed and say ‘Wow, I didn’t know how bad I was’ or ‘I didn’t know that I wasn’t working that hard.’ So now you’ve got their attention.”
*Dennis Wideman didn’t practice with the team Wednesday and remains “day to day” with a left shoulder injury, according to Julien. There’s been no determination made about his availability for the weekend road trip to Dallas and Phoenix, but he shouldn’t miss more than a maximum of those two road games. If Wideman can’t make the trip, it’s likely that B’s GM Peter Chiarelli will call for reinforcements at Providence.
“If he misses the weekend then that’s probably the most [he would miss]. ‘If’ that’s the case” said Julien of Wideman.
*And finally, courtesy of Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, your moment of hockey zen. That is a filthy mini 1-on-1 move. Can’t wait to hear Tom Caron describe it.
|It’s the old switcheroo for Bruins’ lines||10.14.09 at 11:23 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Looking to shake up a team that’s been stagnant through its first five games, Bruins coach Claude Julien jostled with the forward lines at practice Wednesday morning.
After the team was a few minutes late getting on the ice, Milan Lucic was wearing a gray practice jersey and skated on the second line with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler. Right wing Michael Ryder was bumped up to the top line with Marc Savard, and Marco Sturm has been switched back over to his natural left wing position alongside Savard and Ryder. The other two lines have remained intact.
Dennis Wideman still is off the practice ice with a left shoulder injury sustained last weekend against the New York Islanders.
It’s fairly easy-going set of shooting drills at the moment, and none of the punitive sense given off during Boston’s “bag skate” practice late last week after getting bombed by the Ducks.
|NHL Power Rankings: Bruins can’t crack Top 10||10.14.09 at 10:56 am ET|
Interesting couple of weeks to start the NHL season, and now seems like a perfect time to drop WEEI.com’s NHL power rankings onto an unsuspecting public. In the Eastern side of things, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Until somebody comes up and knows them off their pedestal, the Penguins are the rulers of everything they see in the hockey landscape.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have picked up where they left off in the second half of last season, and it’s really not even a close race. Teams such as the Flames, Rangers and Blackhawks are off to fairly decent starts, but they can’t hang with the Penguins once they turn up the dial. Likewise, there’s not a team even remotely close to the Maple Leafs in the NHL dumpster. The Leafs are getting blown out nearly every night, and Vesa Toskala has been an abomination between the pipes. The pressure ought to be nice and reasonable for a hungry Toronto fan base once Phil Kessel is healthy enough to play in late November, shouldn’t it?
Here are the WEEI.com hockey power rankings:
1. 5-1-0 The Penguins already have big wins over solid teams after beating the Rangers and Flyers last week, and they have most of last year’s Stanley Cup-winning cast back. Let’s face it. The top spot should be theirs most of the year provided Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Co. remain healthy and motivated. Everybody else in the Eastern Conference has miles to go before they’re a match for Crosby’s Penguins.
2. 4-1-1 The Flames might have topped this list had they not blown a 5-0 lead against the Blackhawks on Monday night. That stunning collapse brought attention to the simple fact that the Flames haven’t played much of the NHL’s iron. But the Flames are still tied for the most goals (24) without a ton of offensive production from Jarome Iginla or Olli Jokinen.
|Sluggish start dooms B’s on Columbus Day matinee||10.12.09 at 3:27 pm ET|
Once again the Boston Bruins underwhelmed on home ice. It was a lackadaisical start for the home team Bruins during their Columbus Day Monday matinee, and it took almost 30 minutes of hockey for the B’s to finally wake up. It was a case of “too little, too late” in Boston’s 4-3 loss to the Avalanche on the TD Garden ice. Perhaps it’ll be good for the B’s to get on the road for a while as they’ll do after competing a five-game homestand on Monday afternoon.
After spotting Colorado a 2-0 lead following a sleepy first period, the B’s stopped and started their way back into the game in the second period. Mark Recchi scored his first goal of the 2009-10 season and Blake Wheeler added an athletic score to get Boston back in the game, but the B’s let down again following their game-tying efforts.
Defensive breakdowns and soft play in their own zone helped the Avalanche pile on two more goals in the second, including a David Jones breakaway score after Andrew Ference made the elementary mistake of playing the body instead of the puck. Perhaps okay to do in certain situations, but not when that player — Ference in this case — represents Boston’s last line of defense during a sequence of 4-on-4 play.
Michael Ryder scored midway through the third period to give Boston a shot at tying the game, but the B’s sluggish started ended up proving too big a hill to scale this time. The defeat saddled them with a 1-3-1 homestand to start the season. Not exactly what anybody had in mind for a hockey built on so much promise headed into the NHL regular season.
“I think it’s one of those things were everyone realizes that things that worked for us in the past, things that we were comfortable doing and being successful at aren’t necessarily working for us right now,” said Wheeler, who scored one of Boston’s goals in the middling loss. “It’s one thing getting beat 2-1 or 1-0. We pride ourselves on defense and we are giving up quite a few goals here. It’s not the goalie’s fault at all.”
YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND, AND NOTHING’S GONNA EVER KEEP YOU DOWN: Johnny Boychuk. The AHL refugee has been waiting patiently for his shot with the Bruins, and he finally got it when Dennis Wideman went down with a left shoulder injury. Boychuck played with a Bruins-sized chip on his shoulder and didn’t allow himself to get bogged down in Boston’s end. He led Boston with three official hits and was a plus-2 on a night the B’s allowed four goals. David Krejci also played a pretty strong game for the Bruins and put his first two marks on the season tally with a pair of assists.
GOAT HORNS: Andrew Ference. The B’s defenseman hasn’t gotten off to a very good start this season and that continued Monday afternoon against the Avs. He did register one shot on net and a pair of hits, but his gaffe ended up leading to Colorado’s game-winning score. Ference also finished at a minus-1 for the evening. He was ineffective as a quarterback to the second power play unit and his breakout passes weren’t of the crisp tape-to-tape variety as well. Ference needs to turn things around and give Boston something better on the ir second defenseman pairing.
The veteran defenseman said following the game that he mistook Matt Hunwick for David Krejci on the ice, and the mistake prompted him to leave his position guarding Boston’s end. Not pretty.
Boston’s power play unit could very well get tossed in here as well as they are — in the words of Joe Namath — “struggaling.” The B’s man advantage is fruitless in their last 17 attempts, and is just 4-for-29 on the season good for a 13.8 percent success rate. Marco Sturm and Marc Savard were also both minus-2 for the Bruins in a loss that could best be termed as mediocre.