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Bruins penalty kill suffers Alex Ovechkin relapse against P.K. Subban 05.02.14 at 1:29 am ET
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Daniel Briere celebrates P.K. Subban's first goal Thursday night. (AP)

Daniel Briere celebrates P.K. Subban’s first goal Thursday night. (AP)

Back on March 1, in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin scored a pair of nearly identical power-play goals against the Bruins. He set up in his favorite spot in the left circle, and blasted two one-timers past Tuukka Rask.

After the game, the Bruins couldn’€™t really explain how or why it happened. They knew that was where Ovechkin liked to set up. They knew he was the most dangerous weapon Washington’€™s power play had. They had talked about all of it in their preparation for the game. Yet, it happened.

The Bruins learned from those mistakes, though. The next time they played the Capitals and actually took a penalty (they didn’€™t take any in a March 6 meeting), their penalty kill went a perfect 3-for-3. Ovechkin did end up with two shots on goal on those man advantages, but neither was anywhere near as dangerous as the rockets he blasted past Rask on March 1.

Fast forward two months, and the Bruins find themselves facing a similar situation. P.K. Subban is the Canadiens’€™ biggest threat on the power play, and the Bruins know that. They’€™ve known it for a long time. Yet, in Game 1 of the rivals’€™ second-round series, the B’€™s penalty kill twice gave Subban too much space at the point. And like Ovechkin before him, Subban made the Bruins pay both times.

The situations aren’€™t exactly the same, obviously. For starters, this is a much bigger stage than a regular-season game against a non-playoff team. Also, Subban isn’€™t just hanging out waiting for his teammates to get him the puck. While he is certainly capable of bombing a one-timer like Ovechkin, he’€™s just as likely to create his own shot or set up a teammate.

Neither of the goals Subban scored Thursday night came on a one-timer like Ovechkin’€™s. Both were quick shots from center point, though. And on both, Subban had way too much time and space. Read the rest of this entry »

Zdeno Chara named Norris Trophy finalist along with Duncan Keith, Shea Weber 04.28.14 at 11:30 am ET
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Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has been named a Norris Trophy finalist, the NHL announced Monday. The other two finalists are Chicago’s Duncan Keith and Nashville’s Shea Weber.

Chara won the league’s top defensive honor in 2009 and finished in the top three in voting in 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2012. Keith won the award in 2010, but hasn’t finished higher than sixth in voting any other year. Weber has never won the award, but he finished second in voting in both 2011 and 2012.

Chara ranked third in points among the group of finalists with 40, but his 17 goals were just six behind Weber’s 23, which were tops among all defensemen. Keith ranked second among all defensemen with 61 points (6 goals, 55 assists), while Weber was third with 56.

Chara posted a plus-25 rating on the season, while Keith finished at plus-22 and Weber at minus-2. Perhaps the strongest case for Chara comes from advanced stats — a case we detailed here last month.

Updating those numbers and applying them to this three-way comparison leaves Chara looking pretty good. He was used in more defensive situations than Keith (48.3 percent offensive zone starts vs. 57.3 percent for Keith) while facing tougher competition (29.9 percent quality of competition vs. 28.9 percent for Keith) and still put up a nearly identical CorsiRel (+1.8 percent vs. +2.0 percent for Keith). Basically, Keith was used in a role that gave him more offensive opportunities, while Chara was used in a true shutdown role. And yet, Chara still swung possession in his team’s favor nearly as much as Keith.

Weber started in the defensive zone more than Chara (44.6 percent offensive zone starts), but actually finished with a negative CorsiRel (-0.7 percent), meaning that while Weber was used in similar situations as Chara, he didn’t drive possession for his team as much as Chara did.

Here is a visual representation of all those numbers via ExtraSkater.com. The pink for Weber indicates his negative Corsi, while Chara and Keith get the positive blue.

Player usage chart for the three Norris Trophy candidates, via Extra Skater

Player usage chart for the three Norris Trophy candidates, via Extra Skater

Series-changers: Young defensemen Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug show their best in first round 04.26.14 at 11:07 pm ET
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Dougie Hamilton had a goal and three assists in the Bruins' first-round series against Detroit. (AP)

Dougie Hamilton had a goal and three assists in the Bruins’ first-round series against Detroit. (AP)

The goals stand out. Dougie Hamilton went end to end before sniping the top corner in Game 3. Torey Krug ripped a slap shot past Jonas Gustavsson right off a faceoff in Game 4.

Some of the assists stand out, too. Hamilton led a breakout and then made a beautiful pass through center ice to Milan Lucic to help set up a goal in Game 4. He put together another end-to-end rush in Saturday’€™s Game 5 that led to a Loui Eriksson goal.

Krug made a nice breakout pass to Lucic back in Game 2 that led to a goal. On Saturday, he picked off a pass at the offensive blue line and set up Lucic (think he likes playing with these guys?) for the goal that proved to be the game-winner.

But Hamilton and Krug’€™s excellence in the Bruins’€™ series win over the Red Wings goes beyond those highlights. The young, offensively-gifted defensemen could have had even more than the four and five points they posted, respectively, because they helped create more than just nine scoring chances.

What about that post Hamilton hit in Game 3? How about that open net that Brad Marchand somehow missed after Krug gave him a perfect pass in Game 4? Oh, and Hamilton and Krug were each on the ice for just one goal against.

Throughout the series, the dynamic youngsters made breakouts look easy. They made leading rushes look easy. And they made creating scoring chances look easy.

Here’€™s the thing, though: those things aren’€™t easy. But this is what Hamilton and Krug can do when they’€™re playing their best hockey. They use their skating and vision to turn breakouts into offensive rushes. They keep plays alive in the offensive zone and hold the puck until they find an open teammate. They get their shots through and aren’€™t afraid to really step into one if they have the space. And they do it without getting caught up ice.

That last part is key. Hamilton and Krug were gifted offensive players before they even got to Boston. The Bruins have always encouraged them to use those gifts, but Hamilton and Krug had to learn when to use them. Against Detroit, they almost always picked the perfect spots. Read the rest of this entry »

With chance to finish off Red Wings, Bruins hope they’ve learned from previous closeout struggles 04.25.14 at 5:45 pm ET
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The Bruins hope to knock down the Red Wings for good in Saturday's Game 5. (AP)

The Bruins hope to knock down the Red Wings for good in Saturday’s Game 5. (AP)

Claude Julien knew it was coming. He started laughing before the reporter even finished the question. Chances are he’€™ll hear it asked every time the Bruins are in this situation.

The situation is having a chance to close out a playoff series. The question is about the Bruins’€™ rather unimpressive history in pre-Game 7 closeouts under Julien.

It all starts with that blown 3-0 series lead against the Flyers back in 2010. The B’€™s won the Stanley Cup the next year, but along the way they let the Canadiens and Lightning take them to seven games after losing a pair of Game 6 closeouts.

Last year they held a 3-1 series lead over the Maple Leafs, but wound up needing that miracle Game 7 comeback to finally finish off Toronto. It took them two tries to close out the Rangers as well. Of course, there have been series in which the Bruins have closed the door on the first try, too, as they swept Montreal in 2009, Philadelphia in 2011 and Pittsburgh in 2013.

All in all, the Bruins are 5-9 in non-Game 7 closeouts during the Julien era, which is why he still has to answer the question any time this situation arises.

“We can learn a lot from last year actually,” Julien said Friday. “You can look at it whichever way you want. It doesn’€™t mean just because it’€™s happened before, it has to be the same thing. There are different situations all the time.

“Right now, we have yet to lose respect for that team we’€™re playing against. They added some good players to their lineup last game, and a guy like [Henrik] Zetterberg can only get better in his second game than he was in his first. So there’€™s a respect factor there that we need to be really good tomorrow if we want to end the series. If not, then we’€™re going back to their building, and that’€™s something we’€™d prefer not to do.”

The Bruins’€™ first objective in Saturday’€™s Game 5 is to get off to a much better start than the one they had in Game 4. The Red Wings thoroughly dominated the first 25-30 minutes of the game, outshooting the B’€™s 15-5 in the first period and opening up a 2-0 lead by the five-minute mark of the second. The Bruins wound up coming back and winning in overtime, but they know they don’€™t want to be playing from behind again. Read the rest of this entry »

Vezina finalist Tuukka Rask glad he ‘wasn’t a disappointment,’ but still has more to prove 04.25.14 at 4:18 pm ET
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Tuukka Rask was named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time Friday. (AP)

Tuukka Rask was named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time Friday. (AP)

Last season, Tuukka Rask willingly played on a one-year deal. It was his first season as the full-time starter, and he was happy to go out and prove that he deserved a long-term deal.

Rask did that, and then he got that long-term deal, signing an eight-year, $56 million contract this past summer. In turn, that provided a different kind of motivation for this season (on top of the obvious motivation of winning a Stanley Cup). Now that he had the big contract and the long-term security, he needed to make sure he lived up to the heightened expectations.

After posting a league-leading .930 save percentage and being named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the first time, it’€™s safe to say Rask did that.

“I feel good. I feel like I wasn’€™t a disappointment,” Rask said Friday. “It’€™s something where you just try to be as good as people think you are, and you think you are. I accomplished that in the regular season, and there’€™s still a lot to prove in the playoffs.”

Last year, Rask raised his game to an even higher level in the playoffs. He posted a .940 save percentage for the entire postseason, and most notably stopped 134 of the 136 shots he faced against the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals in one of the greatest single-round performances any goalie has ever had.

This year, Rask is at it again. Almost quietly — perhaps because everyone has just come to expect this — he has a .966 save percentage through four games against the Red Wings. There has been none of the shakiness or uncertainty that so many other playoff teams have had to deal with already. No soft goals. No bad misplays. No wondering if the goalie is lacking confidence. Just exceptional goaltending, one period after another.

“He’€™s an unbelievable goalie,” Matt Bartkowski said. “I have no doubt he’€™s the best goalie in the league. Through the playoffs so far, he’€™s been showing it.”

That unbelievable play makes everything much easier for all the Bruins, but especially for the team’€™s young defensemen. Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller have all been regulars on the Boston blue line this season, and there have been some growing pains for sure. Read the rest of this entry »

Tuukka Rask named Vezina Trophy finalist, joining Tampa’s Ben Bishop, Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov 04.25.14 at 11:27 am ET
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For the first time in his career, Tuukka Rask is a Vezina Trophy finalist. The NHL announced the three finalists for the league’s top goaltending honor Friday, with Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop and Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov joining Rask.

Among goalies who started at least 40 games, Rask ranked first in save percentage (.930) and second in goals-against average (2.04), trailing only Cory Schneider of the Devils. Rask also led the NHL in even-strength save percentage (.941), which is considered a stat that goalies have even more control over than overall save percentage since it eliminates discrepancies between different teams’ penalty kills.

Bishop and Varlamov are first-time finalists as well. Varlamov finished second with a .927 save percentage (.933 even-strength) while facing 372 shots more than Rask over the course of the season. That heavy workload is probably the strongest case against Rask among this group.

Bishop posted a .924 save percentage (.932 even-strength), and it was easy to see how much the Lightning missed him over the last few weeks after he went down with a wrist injury and had to watch from the sidelines as Tampa got swept by the Canadiens in the first round.

Rask finished fifth in voting last year and seventh in 2010.

Patrice Bergeron named Selke Trophy finalist along with Jonathan Toews, Anze Kopitar 04.24.14 at 11:37 am ET
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Bruins center Patrice Bergeron has been named a finalist for the Selke Trophy, awarded to the NHL‘s best defensive forward. The other two finalists are Jonathan Toews of the Blackhawks and Anze Kopitar of the Kings. Bergeron won the award in 2012 and finished second behind Toews last season.

His case for winning a second Selke this year is a strong one. He led the NHL in Corsi percentage (shot attempts for/against while that player is on the ice) and was second in CorsiRel (Corsi relative to his teammates), despite facing the toughest competition of any Bruins forward and starting more shifts in the defensive zone than the offensive zone. In layman’s terms, Bergeron drove possession and flipped the ice in his team’s favor about as well as any player possibly could.

If the more basic plus/minus stat is your thing, Bergeron ranked second in the NHL behind only David Krejci. Bergeron also ranked third in the NHL in faceoff percentage and won more draws than any other player.

Kopitar was third in the NHL in Corsi and fourth in plus/minus, but he drops to 26th in CorsiRel, due mostly to the fact that he plays on a team full of great possession players. Similarly, Toews ranks seventh in Corsi and 17th in plus/minus, but 33rd in CorsiRel. Both Kopitar and Toews start more shifts in the offensive zone than defensive zone, and neither is as good as Bergeron on faceoffs. Both faced slightly tougher competition than Bergeron, however.

The chart below (courtesy of ExtraSkater.com) gives you a visual idea of how Bergeron, Kopitar and Toews were used by their respective teams.

via Extra Skater

via Extra Skater

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