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Some Saturday postgame thoughts 09.27.08 at 5:31 pm ET
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A few hockey thoughts after watching the Bruins fall by a 4-3 score to the Washington Capitals in their first home game of the hockey exhibition season:

*Blake Wheeler is the real hockey deal and there doesn’t seem to be any way to keep the 22-year-old

Minnesota native off the B’s roster this season. The 6-foot-5, 208-pound beast showed tenacity and an instinctual nose for the puck in the areas around the paint, and also flashed a very good set of hands while faking out defenders and popping in his first goal of the preseason. The best part of the goal was watching Caps defenseman Karl Alzner hanging off the mighty forward like a piece of carry-on luggage as he banged home the rebound.  Wheeler and Bergeron displayed pretty good early chemistry in their very first game skating together, and the rookie is quickly becoming the rising star of this camp. A fellow hockey hack thought he saw a little Tomas Holmstrom in him, but when I look at him and watch him play…I must admit I see a lot of Mike Knuble, possibly my favorite Bruins player during my time covering the team. “It doesn’t seem like he’s young,” said Bergeron after the game. “He seems like a veteran out there. I’m very impressed with the way he’s playing.”

*Veteran pick-up Stephane Yelle showed many of the “little hockey skills” that he’ll be offering the Bruins this season, provided he makes the final roster. Yelle screened Jose Theodore on Boston’s first goal of the game — an Andrew Ference strike from the point, won 8 out of his 12 faceoffs after starting out with five straight wins in the circle, and set up a bevy of prime scoring chances down the stretch. Saturday afternoon was a big game for the 34-year-old and the Yelle/Sobotka/Nokelainen line began taking on the makings of a formidable energy line over the course of the season.

*You can’t take the Boston out of the Boy with Chris Bourque. In his last game at the TD Banknorth Garden he won a Beanpot Championship for BU with an OT goal during his one-and-only season in the Scarlet and White, and he did it again on Saturday afternoon with a forceful wrist shot from the high slot with less than three minutes to play. It was a proud moment for the 22-year-old with daddy Ray in the crowd of 13,000 plus (not sure how many were actually disguised as yellow seats, but such is life). “It’s kind of like going back to the glory days. It doesn’t even seem real right now,” said Bourque. “This is basically where I learned how to skate, here and in the other building. This is my first game in Boston being in the NHL. It’s just a little weird, but it’s pretty exciting.”

 Bourque had a tiny cup of coffee with the Capitals last season, but is pushing to stick with Washington in his pivotal fourth pro season. “I view it as a big year. I feel that I am ready for the next step. That’s what I’m trying to prove right now in training camp,” said the younger Bourque.

The Bruins will now take off for Vermont for three days of practice and team-building exercises in Stowe, but I’ll be hoping to keep you busy with some bloggerific stuff over the next few days. Have a good Saturday night and we’ll check in tomorrow while I’m double-dipping at Fenway Park.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Chris Bourque, Mike Knuble, Patrice Bergeron
A few minutes with the Captain 09.27.08 at 11:10 am ET
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 Towering Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara held a State of the Chara Address with the media following Saturday’s morning skate, and talked about — among other things — the status of his surgically repaired left shoulder and his impending return to the lineup. Chara hopes to play in one of the remaining four preseason games on Boston’s schedule.

Chara is aiming to be back on the ice when the Bruins open the season in Colorado on Oct. 9, but only time will tell with Big Z. Here’s a few of the 6-foot-9 blueliner’s thoughts from this morning:

How are things shaping up for you in camp and how is your shoulder feeling? ZC:I’m feeling better. Every day is better. We’re making progress and it looks good right now. Obviously today was not a good day, but if I’m not keeping up the pace that I’m at right now things should be pretty good. I’m not putting any timelines, but it’s getting better every day.

Where do you see the most progress? ZC: In the strengthening. That’s one thing where you see the most because you are working most of the time to get the range of motion back, and once you get that then you have to make sure you’re getting your strength back. Obviously the timing on the ice, you can’t really jump one right in front of the other and you have to follow the steps of the rehab. Obviously it doesn’t make sense to lift the weights before you have the range of motion, so slowly it’s getting better.

Do you see yourself getting into a game before the preseason starts? ZC: That’s what I’m shooting for. I really want to play before the regular season and we’re going to have to make that decision when it comes to that time. I can’t really make decisions or promises right now, but I would like to get at least one game in.

What does one game do for you? ZC: Obviously it’s not much, but it’s better than none of the games. You’d like to get a little bit of that camp tempo and timing, and being around the guys and trying different situations. Obviously getting to the system that we’ll be playing. It doesn’t do a whole lot, but it’s better than nothing. It’s timing. Having the puck in a game-speed and tempo and reacting with split-second decisions that you don’t have on the ice when you’re practicing.

It must help to already know the system, though? ZC:Yeah, but still if you’re not playing in hockey games for a long period of time then you need some time in games to feel it and everybody kind of feel comfortable with each other when you’re playing.

Coach Julien said that last year was really about learning the system and this year might be more about the D joining the rush and stepping up in certain places. ZC:Yeah, you can see that the hockey is improving so much that you’re always trying to add another aspect to your system. I think that one of the things that we need to add or improve is to have defenseman more involved in supporting the attack while at the same time being in a good position defensively. But you’re right in that last year we were kind of buying into the system and now everyone should know where we’re playing last year and tweak a little bit here and there while we’re getting used to each other. That’s what training camp is here for: to build on what we were doing last year and then follow that step.

If you don’t play in any preseason games would that preclude you from playing in that first game against Colorado? ZC: I’m not going that far ahead. Like I said I want to play and we’ll see.

Claude [Julien] and Peter [Chiarelli] both said that you had tried to do too much in your first year here, so you go into your second year trying to do a little less and you have great success. Do you guy into this year thinking that you’re going to build off that? ZC: You can’t really push and put pressure on yourself that you need to do more or prove something else, you just have to be on the ice and play well defensively, play hard and be hard to play against, be physical and be involved in the game and really react on the ice. You really need to just follow your instincts and really can’t think too much about other things. You just really just to have to go out the ice, play, enjoy it and react to things that are happening.

Difficult for you to watch instead of playing, even if it’s just preseason? ZC:Well, yeah. You want to play and it’s preperation for the season. It’s always frustrating when you’re not with the guys in the locker room right before the game and you’re not on the ice. You would like to play and it’s a little harder…but I also know that it’s not the most important time of the year. It’s just the preseason and the regular season is when things start to count.

Michael Ryder said that part of the attraction of him coming here was that he wouldn’t have you clobbering him six or eight times a year. Did he say anything to you about that? ZC: No, but it’s part of my game obviously to be physical and be involved and effective on the season. I was glad when Michael came to our team. I think there is a lot of potential and he is a great goal-scorer. I’m sure

he’s going to be working hard and he’s going to be a great addition to our team. We need a player like that, and I’m sure Claude knows him as well as anybody after having him in juniors and in Montreal. He knows him really well and knows what he’s capable of.

When you look at guys coming down like him coming down, or anybody, what’s more difficult for you: a guy with size and strength or a guy with speed and shiftiness? ZC: It’s hard to pick. You can’t underestimate anybody. You know with a smaller guy that he could be shifty, but you also know that a bigger guy can make a move too. The game has improved so much that even bigger guys can make moves and be really skilled. Michael, I think his strength is really when he’s in the high slot because he’s got a quick release. He’s been really effective in that area on top of the circles and in the slot, and he can find openings and put the puck in the net.

Read More: Claude Julien, Michael Ryder, Peter Chiarelli, Zdeno Chara
A Canadian man and his stick 09.26.08 at 3:18 pm ET
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Let’s drop the puck on this Bruins blog, which will become “Pucks with Haggs” in the very near future, with one of my favorite B’s-related moments from last winter. I have the NHL Home Ice Package and religiously watch TSN’s Hockey Night in Canada every Saturday, and always look forward to the dapper Don Cherry’s Coach’s Corner in between periods.

With that as the preface, the best Bruins rant from “Grapes” came late in the season with the Black and Gold pressing for a playoff berth. Cherry caught a juicy bit of footage of center Marc Savard on the Bruins bench seemingly talking to his stick and patting the head of the stick like a pet schnauzer. Hockey players are obviously very in tune with their tools of the trade, but Cherry seems to be intimating that Savard was professing deep love to his hockey stick while waiting for his next shift.

I asked Savvy about this before the team departed for Halifax and here’s what he had to say: “I don’t really talk to my stick. It’s just been a habit my whole life because I really love my sticks. I do love my sticks, though, but I’m not telling them that I love them. I’m always checking my sticks and making sure they’re not broken and there’s no snow in the blade…or just taking care of it. I’m always taking care of her and making sure she’s ready to go. Maybe I was talking to Muzz [Glen Murray] beside me as I was fooling around with it. I didn’t really see it, but a bunch of my buddies that always watch Hockey Night in Canada told me about it [at this point defenseman Dennis Wideman chimes in from the next locker over and says that Savard taped the show and watches it all the time]…so I autographed a stick and sent it to him after the season was over. I signed it: To Don, take care of it for me.”

Was Savard really whispering sweet hockey nothings to his stick, or was he talking to Murray sitting next to him on the bench? You be the judge, and let me know what you think at jhaggerty@weei.com

Read More: Dennis Wideman, Don Cherry, Glen Murray, Hockey Night in Canada
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