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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.

Bruins penalty kill continues to dominate in Game 2 win over Red Wings 04.20.14 at 8:03 pm ET
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Six power plays against. Two shots on goal. Zero goals.

That’€™s the line for the Bruins’ penalty kill through the first two games of the team’€™s first-round series against the Red Wings. After allowing one shot on two kills in Friday’€™s Game 1, the Bruins frustrated Detroit’€™s power play even more in Game 2, surrendering just one shot on four opportunities.

Boston’€™s penalty killers didn’t allow easy entries into the zone. They got their sticks and bodies in passing and shooting lanes. They cleared out the front of the net. They won battles along the boards. They pounced on loose pucks. And they made sure their clears went the length of the ice.

“We’re clearing it 200 feet,” Johnny Boychuk said. “It’s just determination, battling, talking, and getting the puck and clearing it.”

Perhaps the most impressive part of this PK dominance is that the Bruins are doing it without several of their regular killers. They played Game 1 without Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller, all of whom have been regulars in the penalty kill rotation this season. Miller returned for Game 2, but the other three remained sidelined.

David Krejci, Justin Florek, Andrej Meszaros and — in Game 1 — Corey Potter have stepped up in their stead, while Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Loui Eriksson and Gregory Campbell have remained penalty-killing rocks. (As an aside, Chara played a staggering 6:31 on the PK Saturday, and Boychuk wasn’t too far behind at 5:28.) Read the rest of this entry »

Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Jarome Iginla fail to get going in Bruins’ Game 1 loss to Red Wings 04.19.14 at 12:02 am ET
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Going into this series, it seemed like a pretty safe assumption that Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk would match up frequently. Maybe you’€™d give the Bruins a slight edge there given that Datsyuk is coming back from an injury, but for the most part, you’€™d expect that to be a back-and-forth dogfight. Sure enough, that’€™s more or less how Game 1 played out — their lines went against each other pretty much every time out, and the matchup was essentially a wash until Datsyuk’€™s goal with 3:01 left in the game.

In theory, that matchup should have freed up the Bruins’€™ top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla to pick on Detroit’€™s lesser lines and banged-up defensive corps. That didn’€™t happen, though.

In fact, that line played one of its worst games of the season in Game 1. It went up against the trio of Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar for the majority of its shifts (thanks to shiftchart.com for the excellent data), and found itself chasing the puck most of the night. Lucic, Krejci and Iginla were able to get what should have been a favorable matchup against Detroit’€™s second pairing of Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser — an OK, but far-from-great duo — for about half their shifts, but they never really got a chance to take advantage because of how much time they spent in their own zone.

A lot was made of Detroit’€™s speed going into the series, and this was really the one place that it showed. Nyquist and Tatar motored their way through the neutral zone and into the Bruins’€™ end time and again, with the back pressure from Krejci and company a little too late too often. From there, the cycle was on, as Boston’€™s top trio had to resort to chasing the puck rather than possessing it. When they did get it, they struggled to get through the neutral zone and sustain any sort of offensive pressure.

The result was Lucic, Krejci and Iginla all finishing with Corsi percentages under 40 (according to the fantastic extraskater.com), marking just the sixth time this season their possession numbers as a line have dipped that low. In near perfect symmetry, Nyquist, Sheahan and Tatar all finished with Corsi percentages over 60. If the more basic shot on goal stat is your thing, Sheahan’€™s line had eight, while Krejci’€™s line had four. It is worth mentioning, however, that Krejci’€™s line had arguably the Bruins’€™ best chance all night when Lucic tipped an Iginla shot that wound up trickling just wide about 30 seconds before Datsyuk scored. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: David Krejci, Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic,
Once a long-term project, North Dakota’s Zane Gothberg now looks like a valuable asset for Bruins 04.09.14 at 6:02 pm ET
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PHILADELPHIA — It might be easy for Bruins fans to forget about Zane Gothberg. The team drafted him in the sixth round four years ago, and he’€™s been playing way out in North Dakota while fellow goaltending prospects Malcolm Subban and Niklas Svedberg are just a short drive away in Providence.

On top of that, there wasn’€™t much hype around Gothberg when the B’€™s drafted him. Sure, he had been named the top senior goalie in Minnesota high school hockey, but that was high school, and it was the highest level he had played at when the Bruins decided to take a chance on him. What stood out most back then was that his name was Zane and he was from a town called Thief River Falls. He was considered a long-term project, and if he didn’€™t pan out, then no big deal — it was only a sixth-round pick.

Well, it’€™s now been four years, and it’€™s become apparent that Gothberg is panning out nicely. Two years ago, he was named a co-recipient of the United States Hockey League’€™s Goaltender of the Year Award while playing for the Fargo Force. This year, as a sophomore at North Dakota, he won the starting job by early December and has backstopped the team to the Frozen Four, where it will meet archrival Minnesota in Thursday’€™s national semifinals.

“Zane all year long has pushed to get better,” said North Dakota senior captain Dillon Simpson. “It’€™s been pretty amazing to have a goalie like that. He’€™s a passionate, competitive guy, and he pushes everyone around him to be better. I don’€™t think I’€™ve met a goalie that doesn’€™t like to get scored on as much as Zane. I think that’€™s just part of his attitude and dedication to hockey.” Read the rest of this entry »

Offensive output, defensive improvement make Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald key member of BC’s Frozen Four team 04.09.14 at 4:56 pm ET
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PHILADELPHIA — With Boston College trailing 3-2 early in the third period of its regional final against UMass-Lowell, Ryan Fitzgerald took a pass in the neutral zone and split two Lowell defenders before finishing with a nice forehand-backhand move at the front of the net.

It’€™s a play that Fitzgerald, the Bruins’€™ fourth-round pick this past summer, has always been able to make. The difference now is that he knows when to go for it and when it might be better to be conservative and either dump the puck in or pull up and wait for help.

“He came in here as a really skilled 1-on-1 player, had great moves, great hands,” said linemate and BC captain Patrick Brown. “€œBut I think as the year has gone on, he’€™s developed his vision a lot. He’€™s learned that he can’€™t beat everyone 1-on-1. Sometimes he does, but sometimes he has to chip pucks in or make a read and decide whether it’€™s the right play to take that 1-on-1. He did a great job doing that against Lowell, had that great goal for us.”

Decision-making isn’€™t the only area in which Fitzgerald has improved during his freshman year at the Heights. It’€™s part of what has made him a better all-around player, but an even bigger part has been his defensive play. That’€™s a theme across college hockey, as most players come from leagues where defense isn’€™t emphasized as much or isn’€™t taught as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Tuukka Rask continues to strengthen Vezina Trophy candidacy 03.27.14 at 11:32 pm ET
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There was a time this season when it looked like Tuukka Rask‘s Vezina Trophy chances may have been slipping away. From Dec. 14 through Jan. 14, he posted a subpar .911 save percentage and got pulled three times in 12 starts.

Since then, Rask has registered a .938 save percentage in 16 starts and re-emerged as the Vezina favorite. On Thursday night, he stopped all 28 shots the Blackhawks threw at him to pick up his league-leading seventh shutout.

“I think he’s one of those guys who keeps getting better,” Patrice Bergeron said. “I think he always steps up for the big game. I think he feels that, with this time of the year coming up, he wants to get even better.”

The case for Rask to win the NHL‘s top goaltending honor is pretty simple. In addition to leading the league in shutouts, he also ranks first in save percentage (.931) and first in even-strength save percentage (.943) among goalies who have made at least 40 starts.

(Even-strength save percentage is important because it creates the most level playing field. In general, the quality of 5-on-5 chances are going to be fairly even across the board, while the quality of chances a goalie faces while his team is shorthanded can vary greatly depending on how good his team’s penalty kill is.)

Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop is second in overall save percentage at .926, while Toronto’s Jonathan Bernier is second in even-strength save percentage at .935. Bishop has played 200 minutes more than Rask and faced 109 more shots (they’ve faced a nearly identical number of shots per game), but it would be tough to argue that a relatively small advantage in workload is enough to overcome the edge Rask has in the rate stats.

Bernier has played 200 minutes fewer than Rask, but has actually faced 162 more shots thanks to the Maple Leafs‘ horrific defense. But again, it’s hard to argue against Rask’s lead in the most important stats.

Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov (.924 overall, .930 even-strength) and Montreal’s Carey Price (.924 overall, .929 even-strength) are having stellar seasons as well, but those splits don’t really stack up against .931/.943.

And so, it isn’t a stretch at all to say that with nine games to go, the Vezina is Rask’s to lose. It would be his first, but the third by a Bruins goalie in the last six years, following Tim Thomas‘ wins in 2009 and 2011. As far as his teammates are concerned, Rask’s 2013-14 season is right there with Thomas’ best work.

“It’s pretty impressive,” Chris Kelly said. “He’s got my vote. I know I’m biased, but like I said, he’s been our best player all year long. And the team is having success, so I don’t know what else you can ask for.”

Bruins show they have learned how to handle Canadiens’ speed 03.25.14 at 12:12 am ET
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The loss is disappointing. The 12-game winning streak coming to an end is disappointing. Not burying more chances is disappointing. And getting goaded into a couple retaliatory penalties is disappointing.

But despite all that, the Bruins actually have a lot to feel good about after Monday night’€™s 2-1 shootout loss. Most importantly, it has become pretty clear that the Bruins have learned how to neutralize Montreal’€™s speed.

After a 4-1 loss to Montreal back on Jan. 30 — Boston’€™s fifth straight against its archrival — the Canadiens’€™ speed was all the rage. Sure, the Bruins had the deeper, better team. But when they went head-to-head, the Habs could expose the B’€™s. They could get through the neutral zone quickly. They could attack in transition. They could force uncharacteristic turnovers and take advantage, even when Boston was otherwise controlling play.

The last two times the Bruins and Canadiens have met, none of that has happened. The Bruins have continued to control play — something they showed signs of even in the two losses to Montreal earlier this season — but they’€™ve cut down on the Habs’€™ quick-strike ability.

The B’€™s obviously haven’€™t been perfect, but the mistakes have clearly gone way down. They’€™re not panicking under the pressure created by Montreal’€™s closing speed, and they’€™re not getting caught up ice and handing the Canadiens odd-man rushes.

“I think we’€™re playing a little bit more to our system,” Patrice Bergeron said. “I think earlier, we were getting away from our game. It’€™s obviously something that they want. They want that speedy game, that game where we don’€™t take care of the puck. They rely on turnovers, and I thought we’€™ve done a better job of that.”

The result of all that is a measly two goals against in their last two meetings. The Bruins’€™ dominance in their last matchup (a 4-1 win at the Bell Centre) is easy enough to see on the scoreboard. The dominance Monday night isn’€™t as evident. They didn’€™t win, and much of the game was overshadowed by fights, shoving matches, retaliation and all sorts of extracurricular activity.

But let’€™s take that out of the equation for a minute. At even strength — and believe it or not, there were actually 43 minutes played at even strength Monday night — the Bruins outshot the Canadiens 22-9 and out-attempted them 44-23. That’€™s dominance. And it’€™s not a one-game aberration either. The Bruins’€™ Corsi has been over 50 percent in three of their four meeting with Montreal this season, and it’€™s been over 60 percent twice.

“Their speed didn’€™t really get us today,” Johnny Boychuk said. “There have been times when they’€™ve caught us off guard and there’€™s a guy going for a breakaway, but it didn’€™t happen tonight. We just did a good job handling their guys and their speed. We limited their chances, that’€™s for sure.”

The question was never whether or not the Bruins could possess the puck and control play against Montreal. It was whether or not they could slow down the Habs in transition. The last two times they’€™ve played, the B’€™s have done that, and that’€™s a very encouraging sign for Boston should these two meet in the playoffs.

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