|Kessel named NHL’s First Star||12.15.08 at 11:07 am ET|
There are plenty of shinning beacons serving as great examples of the masterful job that Claude Julien has done coaching this Bruins team, but perhaps no example is more dazzlingly brilliant or as stunning as the complete transformation of Phil Kessel.
The 21-year-old has a Beckett-like stubborness when it comes to his considerable hockey abilities — a trait that allows him to think that no one will beat him on the ice and can sometimes make people think that the youngster is cocky — and he’ll never admit that hitting the bench in the playoffs was a learning experience for him.
But it’s undoubtable that Kessel learned a valuable lesson by sitting for two of the Stanley Cup playoff games against the Montreal Canadiens, and that incident served as a bit of a wake-up call to a young player evolving and maturing at the NHL. Credit Julien with a big helping hand in the education of an elite young hockey player. The right wing now does all of the little things required from one of your best hockey players, and he’s put together the all-around hockey game with a veritable offensive explosion. For a team desperately in need of a goal-scorer, Kessel has already matched his output from last season and is on pace to be Boston’s first 50 goal scorer since Cam Neely.
One more other amazing tidbit: Kessel has played in 155 straight hockey games since returning from testicular cancer during the 2005-06 season, and shown an amazing durability and sturdiness in his 6-foot, 189-pound frame.
With that in mind, Kessel, Pittsburgh Penguins right wing Petr Sykora and Buffalo Sabres left wing Thomas Vanek were named the NHL’s ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Sunday, Dec 14 — with Kessel taking honors as the First Star.
FIRST STAR — PHIL KESSEL, RW, BOSTON BRUINS: Kessel tallied eight points (three goals, five assists) and extended his point streak to 15 games as the Bruins went 3-1-0, improving their Eastern Conference-leading record to 21-5-4. Kessel recorded one goal and one assist in a 5-3 victory over Tampa Bay Dec. 8, notched an assist in a 3-1 loss at Washington Dec. 10, tallied a goal and two assists in a 7-3 win at Atlanta Dec. 12 and closed the week with a goal and an assist in a 4-2 win over the Thrashers Dec. 13.
Kessel’s point streak is a career high, the longest in the NHL this season and longest by a Bruins player since Adam Oates recorded points in 20 consecutive games from Jan. 7 to Feb. 20, 1997. The 21-year-old Madison, Wisconsin native is second in Bruins scoring with 31 points (19 goals, 12 assists) in 30 games, ranks third in the NHL in goals and already has matched his career high of 19 goals set last season.
SECOND STAR — PETR SYKORA, RW, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: Sykora recorded eight points (three goals, five assists) in four games, beginning with a pair of assists in a 4-3 loss against Buffalo Dec. 8. He recorded his first career NHL hat trick and added one assist in a 9-2 victory over the New York Islanders Dec. 11 and recorded two assists in a 6-3 loss at Philadelphia Dec. 13. The 13-year NHL veteran had entered the Islanders game with 282 career NHL goals, the most among active players who had not recorded a hat trick.
THIRD STAR — THOMAS VANEK, LW, BUFFALO SABRES: Vanek notched a League-leading five goals, including two game-winning tallies, as the Sabres won three of four games. He scored the game-winning goal and became the first player to hit the 20-goal mark in a 4-3 win against Pittsburgh Dec. 8, notched two goals, including the game-winner, in a 4-2 win over Tampa Bay Dec. 10 and scored twice more in a 4-2 win at New Jersey Dec. 13. Vanek leads the NHL in goals with 24, three more than Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter, and has scored the highest percentage of his team's goals this season (24/81, 29.6%).
|Bruins’ pace of scoring||12.15.08 at 8:18 am ET|
Though it’s starting to seem more like a MASH unit than a hockey team, injuries haven’t stopped the brazen Bruins from streaking on a number of different fronts. The Back in Black B’s have won 11 straight games within the friendly confines of the TD Banknorth Garden, Phil Kessel has grown into one of the most dangerous scorers in all of the NHL and posted at least one point in an NHL-best 15 straight games, and veteran netminder Manny Fernandez has emerged from Tim Thomas’ shadow to win eight straight games.
One has to wonder when some of the myriad injuries will seriously affect a B’s train that just keeps on rollin’, but — in the even better news department — coach Claude Julien is optimistic that Marco Sturm might be available later on this week.
“[Aaron] Ward, lower body, he's still day-to-day. [Marco] Sturm, upper body, he's actually, yeah, we know about Sturm, but again, my comment with him would be 'cautiously optimistic' because it was very good [Saturday]. It was even better than [Friday], and you've heard me say that many times, but unfortunately with those injuries there's sometimes setbacks, but I'm going to say cautiously optimistic and he's heading in the right direction,” said Julien. ”[He's on the LTIR right now] because, dating it back to when it happened, he's still good for Thursday. It's the month. It's just the, I guess you'll call it paperwork. Nokie [Petteri Nokelainen], upper body.”
The Nokelainen injury could keep the Finnish forward out of the lineup for a week or longer, according to Bruins coach Claude Julien, but Spoked B keeps turning and winning.
Since the Bruins continue to win and ring up points on an incredibly consistent basis, I figured now would be a good time to project some of the current offensive numbers over the course of an entire 82-game regular season. Here it goes along with a brief note for each player that’s been a major factor this season:
–Marc Savard (22 goals, 71 assists for 93 points): Savard was on a pace to top 100 points for the first time in his career until going through a bit of a quiet stretch as of late. His current pace is right in line with the rest of his assist-crazy career, but the whopping +46 he’s on pace for would be the stat to focus on when it comes to the nifty centerman.
–Phil Kessel (52 goals, 33 assists for 85 points): By far the biggest jump on the team for the Bruins, as he went from solid 40 point threat to bona fide sniper in his third NHL season. Kessel has been deadly on the power play and is on pace to bank 16 power play tallies this season. Would be the first 50 goal scorer for Boston since a guy named Cam Neely if he can stay consistent.
–David Krejci (22 goals, 57 assists for 79 points): Krejci has stepped up to give the Black and Gold the kind of strength up the middle at the center position that teams can only dream of. As good as he’s been through the first portion of the season, there’s always the back-of-your-mind feeling that he can be even better than he’s already been. When he unleashes it, the young center has a blistering shot to go along with his keen instincts.
–Michael Ryder (27 goals, 30 assists for 57 points): Wasn’t it just a few weeks ago that the Greek Chorus was bemoaning Ryder’s inability to live up the free agent contract he signed before the season because he is…like…here to score goals. Well, the critics have curbed their song of woe as Ryder continues to score goals in a big bunch. In seemingly no time at all Ryder has risen to second on the team with 10 goals scored this season.
–Milan Lucic (25 goals, 33 assists for 58 points): Looch had stated that his offensive goal this season was to score between 20-30 goals in addition to his typical game of intimidation and rough stuff. For a 20-year-old left winger still learning his craft, a 50 plus point season would represent a quantum leap forward for the big left winger.
–Dennis Wideman (19 goals, 30 assists for 49 points): The 25-year-old blueliner has finally arrived at a development spot where people aren’t bringing up Brad Boyes anymore. Many now realize that a legit puck-moving defenseman is worth the same as a potential 40 goal scorer. Wideman is on pace for career-highs in nearly every category while Boyes is on his way to a big minus number with the Blues this season.
–Patrice Bergeron (11 goals, 36 assists for 47 points): Bergeron has definitely started out of gate slowly for the Bruins after missing nearly all of last season with a horrific concussion, but he still brings value with his hockey smarts, faceoff ability and defensive responsibility. If he ever gets it going circa 2005-06, this team will be extremely tough to stop.
–Blake Wheeler (25 goals, 22 assists for 47 points): The rookie is already ahead of schedule, so numbers like these would be gravy. It isn’t unrealistic to expect his scoring pace to improve as the season goes on — provided he can sidestep the rookie wall he’s sure to run head-long into – if he keeps developing and keeps it in his mind to shoot the puck more. He’s on a pace for a +49 this season, which is a testament to the responsible two-way hockey he’s played as a 22-year-old rookie.
–Zdeno Chara (16 goals and 25 assists for 41 points): Big Z is another player like Bergeron that hasn’t had the best start to his season despite the team’s success, and his slow beginning is also attributable to injury: Chara had surgery to repair a torn labrum after last season. Despite all of the injury talk with Chara, however, the towering blueliner is still averaging a team-best 25:50 of ice time.
–Chuck Kobasew (14 goals and 25 assists for 39 points): Kobasew missed the first part of the season after taking a shot off the leg, but has averaged nearly a point per game since his return. Kobasew should easily surpass his projected numbers if he can remain injury-free — a question mark given the rugged way he plays the game of hockey at a relatively small 6-foot and 195 pounds.
–Matt Hunwick (8 goals and 30 assists for 38 points): 14 points and a +14 in only 18 games played? Things are looking very promising for the 23-year-old Michigan native, and the quick-skating, puck-moving defenseman could be a member of the Bruins blueline corps for a good long time. What a revelation…he saved this team once injuries hit the blueline.
–Marco Sturm (16 goals and 16 assists for 32 points): Sturm got off to a slow start and is now being slowed by a concussion/neck injury that’s caused him to miss 11 straight games. It’s beginning to look like a bit of a lost season for the 30-year-old German winger, but that can certainly change with a healthy, happy second half of the season.
–Stephane Yelle (11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points): The 34-year-old center has been a perfect addition at a bargain basement price by GM Peter Chiarelli. Solid on faceoffs once he read the tendencies of his Eastern Conference opponents and invaluable on a much-improved PK unit, Yelle — while no threat for the Hart Trophy – and the intangibles he brings to the table have been everything the Bruins were hoping for.
–P.J. Axelsson (3 goals and 19 assists for 22 points): While Axelsson is known for his defensive game and skating ability, the 33-year-old Swede has also potted double-digit goal totals over the last three seasons. It’s been an uncharacteristic slow start for Axy and he’s on pace to be a -14 for the season, but he did register a huge shootout goal against the Blackhawks earlier this season. Amazing that it took 24 games for Axelsson to register his first goal.
–Andrew Ference (0 goals and 19 assists for 19 points): The 29-year-old was on pace for his best NHL season when he went down with a broken tibia and he won’t be back until January. Ference’s veteran savvy, grit and experience will be beneficial when the Bruins get to the playoffs. Hunwick has stepped in ably when injuries mounted, but the Bruins will need Ference when the going gets tough.
–Shane Hnidy (3 goals and 11 assists for 14 points): The 33-year-old is another Bruins player that is in line to have a career year, and the +30 pace that he’s on would blow away his career-best. Hnidy may see his minutes dwindle once both Ference and Ward return to the fold, but he’s been a solid cog in the blueline corps.
–Mark Stuart (8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points): A true stay-at-home defenseman that’s perfected the art of the forearm shiver in his own zone. The 24-year-old has a good, hard shot from the point when he has a chance to utilize it and brings a unique skill set and physical bent to the B’s blueline corps.
–Shawn Thornton (3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points): Thornton’s value is in areas that can’t be measured by statistics, but the 31-year-old has never reached double-digit totals in any season during his five-year career. The fearless winger gives the Bruins team much of its courage and sets the tone by always watching the backs of his teammates. He’s on a pace for 169 penalty minutes, which would easily be a career-high.
–Aaron Ward (0 goals and 8 assists for 8 points): Ward and Stuart have many of the same skills, but the 35-year-old also obviously brings a degree of leadership and Stanley Cup experience that many on this young team simply don’t have. Ward is another vital cog once this team reaches the “tournament”
–Petteri Nokelainen (0 goals and 3 assists for 3 points): The 22-year-old would like to score some goals to go along with his fourth line duties, but he’s a solid energy forward with excellent faceoff abilities if/when Yelle is tossed out of the dot. One other little tidbit: Nokie leads the Bruins in penalties drawn this season with an amazing 10 in his limited playing time on the fourth line. A testament to how much grit and smarts the youngster plays with.
|Neely with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman||12.12.08 at 9:14 pm ET|
The resurgence of the Bruins has led to plenty of attention from the national media, and Boston Bruins Vice-President Cam Neely has been one of the up-front-and-center voices and faces helping to promote the team. Neely was the guest of Bill Clement and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman during the “NHL Hour” on XM Radio and NHL.com this week. Here’s some thoughts from Neely about a host of different Bruins and NHL-related issues along with an admission that center Patrice Bergeron is still working up the form he showed prior to last season’s concussion.
You retired in 1996 and then didn’t formally get back involved into the Bruins front office until 11 years later…what were you doing all that time? CN: I was getting away from the game. I’ve got to tell you, and I know you’ve heard this from other athletes — and not just hockey players — but when it’s not your decision to retire it’s very difficult to be around the game when you feel like you can still play. Once I finally got to an age where I felt like — even if I was healthy — I wouldn’t be able to play…it got easier.
How long did it take you to recover? CN: Ah…from not playing? It probably about five years anyways of having that feeling that you wanted to get back out on the ice and play. It was difficult to leave the game. But I’m thrilled now to be a part of the game again and especially back in Boston.
Most people wouldn’t remember that you were drafted by Vancouver. When they think of you they think of the Boston Bruins. CN: Yeah, they really do. I was fortunate enough to have 10 fairly good years, although some of them were riddled with injuries. I certainly am remember as being a Bruin, no question.
What’s it like to be a part of the Boston sports scene that’s had so much success over the last few years? CN:It’s obviously been a lot of fun. You become a fans of a lot of the local teams — I’ve been living in Boston now for over 20 years — and you become friendly with some of the players on the teams and follow their success. It’s been great because you know, Boston, it’s a great sports city and the fans really support all the teams and hopefully we’re next, Gary.
Let’s talk about being next. The Bruins are having a tremendous amount of success for the first time in recent years. What do you attribute that to? CN: Well, a lot of his to do with our depth. We have great depth this year and the development of our young players have probably accelerated a little more quickly than we first anticipated. We have a fantastic coaching, and last year they came in and they really needed to shore up the defensive end of things and cut down the goals against. And they were really able to do that.
This year we needed to focus on how we were going to get more offense, and the growth of our young players has really helped. Also with implementing how to create more offense from defenseman, that’s helped as well. We have a pretty good plan in place, not just for this year but also for the foreseeable future.
Claude Julien as coach. What is the secret formula he’s using? CN:Well, the thing that I really like about Claude — and I look at this from a player’s perspective — is that there really is no gray area with him. As a player, you have to respect that it’s black and white and he demands a certain level of commitment and work ethic from each player. And it goes down from the top guy on the team to the 23rd player.
This is what he expects and this is what he demands, and if you don’t give it to him you’re going to hear about it. But if you do give it to him then you’re going to be rewarded. I think any player would respect that kind of coach.
Has Bergeron made the difference in coming back, or has it been a matter of everything really coming together for the Bruins? CN:I think it’s a combination of everything, Gary. Obviously Bergeron helps because he’s such a good two-way player, and he’s only going to get better. He hasn’t really found his stride yet, if you will, but what he does is really give us that much more strength down the middle. We’ve got four good centers in Savard, Bergeron, Krejci and Yelle on our forth line.
When you’re able to roll out four lines like Claude likes to do and three of those lines are gifted offensively — and the fourth can chip in offensively as well for us and they generally carry the play of other team’s fourth lines — we have four lines we can roll which is a nice luxury.
I think only Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, and Brett Hull have scored a better goals-per-game average over a season than you. Is there anybody on this Bruins team that reminds you of yourself? CN:Well, there’s been a number of comparisons with Milan, but I’m not a big fan of comparing one player to another. Everybody has got their own personality and skill set. I think the fact that Milan is a big, strong, tough young player and he’s playing right now with Savard and Kessel so he’s getting a lot of great opportunities. He can put the puck in the net. But he’s a guy that we really rely to play a physical game first and foremost, and he’s a guy that’s able to creat a lot of space for himself and a lot of time and space for his linemates.
I think we certainly expect him to continue to improve as its only his second year in the league, but there is some comparisons there. I wouldn’t really say it’s fair to Milan.
Did you see much of a difference as a player as opposed to now being in management? CN: It’s certainly a much bigger difference in terms of perspective than it is in the game actually changing, although the game has changed even from 1996 until now. I know here in Boston we have some classic games on NESN and every once in a while I’ll tune in to them now and I’m just amazed at how many mistakes I made out there.
But the game is faster now, isn’t it?. CN:Yeah, the game is faster and the guys are certainly bigger and stronger. That goes with nutrition being thought about a lot more. When I was a player guys really worked out a great lot in the offseason like they do now, but a lot of it is nutrition.
There’s a lot of thought and emphasis put into what guys are eating with an emphasis on taking care of their bodies. Players are bigger coming into the game now for the most part. Even 18 or 19 year-old kids coming into the league are bigger now than they were 20 years ago.
So there’s some elements to the size of the players, and the game…the skating. The big emphasis on skating. We’ve got some big guys now — and not that there wasn’t a big emphasis on the skating before — but we’ve got some big guys that can really skate now. So the guys are improving not only at this level, but at all levels. I think a lot of it has to do with focusing on the sport much earlier to probably.
There have been a number of outstanding players recently that have become executives…really great players. Does this surprise you and do you all get together and talk about what you’re doing? CN: I’m not overly surprised, but I think it’s fantastic for the game. I think it’s great that there are ex-players that are involved at the level that you’re talking about, Gary. I think it’s helpful for the owners to get a perspective that played at an elite level and get their perspective on the game. I think it’s only going to help the organization in having players around to pull their players aside and give them some pointers.
I think that’s only going to be beneficial. We certainly talk to each other. if you were to ask me 15 years ago if I could see myself doing this my answer would have been a quick “No.” But I’ve really enjoyed getting involved and I think it’s been a great learning experience for me so far. And I’ve had fun at the same time.
What do you do in a typical day? CN: Obviously we’ve got a lot of catch-up to do here in Boston with — not just our fan base — but also with the business side. So I get involved with a number of initiatives from the business side to reengage sponsorships and our fan base and work a great deal with Peter from the hockey operations standpoint. That’s obviously where I gravitate toward because I’m comfortable with that side of it, but I’m also enjoying learning the business side of it as well.
The Jacobs family, I think, are sometimes misunderstood in Boston. Can you talk about their passion for the Bruins and hockey because I don’t think they’re completed understood? CN
: Well, they’re probably not because not because I played here for 10 years and I wasn’t aware of it…and that’s the truth. One of the things that I have tried to do is to get Mr. Jacobs — when he is around — is to let people know that he’s in the building and that he’s around. I know it’s not his personality, but I’m surprised how much he’s involved and knows what’s going on from a day-to-day basis.
I certainly didn’t have that feeling or understanding during my time as a player, but I’ve seen it first hand and I never would have guessed it.
Sometimes when you’re quiet and behind the scenes [like Jacobs] people don’t know about you. CN: No, they don’t. And as I said earlier, I would like him to…it’s not in his makeup but I think it would be helpful and he knows how I feel about that. When you’re a player, there’s nothing better than knowing that your owner really cares about the team and winning. He does in a big way, like you said.
Did you have fond memories of doing Dumb and Dumber? CN: Well, I did enjoy it…I can tell you that. I don’t know if acting as a bit player and not knowing if you’re going to make the cut is for me. And I certainly didn’t pound down any doors trying to get any acting work. But I can tell you that it was a lot of fun…a lot of fun doing that.
Talk to people about the Can Neely Foundation and your work with the NEw England Medical Center and Neely House. CN: I lost both of my parents to cancer while I was playing hockey, and I did what most hockey players do in their situation: I decided to give back. When cancer struck my family I focused most of my time and effort toward cancer-related causes and I decided start my own charity organization so I could have a say on where the money was going to go.
What we wanted to do was help cancer patients and families. We started the Foundation in late 1994 and we’ve raised close to $17 million. We’ve averaged 91 cents out of every dollar goes directly toward the cause. We’re very passionate about trying to get as much money to the programs that we’re doing.
I don’t look at us as a bank and trying to accumulate a lot and put it toward the program. When we commit to doing a program we try to get the money as quickly as we can to that particular program. The Neely House was the first initiative that we worked on and that was opened in 1996. We’ve had over 4,000 families stay at the Neely House which is right inside the building at the Tufts Medical Center.
It shows what kind of a need there is for a facility like this and we just opened a new pediatric BMT Unit at the Floating Hospital for Children, which is a state of the art unit and facility. We’ve actually incorporated a mini-Neely House right inside the unit so that parents can be that much closer to their children. So we’re very fortunate with the support we’ve gotten over the years and — to be honest – the foundation was built on support from hockey fans in the early going.
|Mid-day thoughts from Haggs||12.09.08 at 1:08 pm ET|