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Zdeno Chara doesn’t really step up; he just continues to be great 12.17.13 at 11:22 pm ET
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It’s rare that Zdeno Chara doesn’t step up, which is why it wouldn’t really be fair to say he “stepped up” in the Bruins’ 2-0 win over the Flames on Tuesday. But he did play one of his best games of the season, and not just because he registered his first two-goal game since May 4, 2011.

In fact, you could make the case that the two goals weren’t even the most impressive part of his game. They both came on the power play, an area where he’s been getting more and more comfortable all season. The first was a one-timer — he’s always had that. The second was a put-back from the top of the crease — he hasn’t been in that role on a regular basis until this year.

But only 1:56 of Chara’s 22:44 time on ice came on the power play. So what was Chara doing the rest of that time? He was dominating just as much as he dominated on the power play.

The Bruins had a plus-16 Corsi (even-strength shot attempts) with Chara on the ice Tuesday, marking a season best for the Bruins captain. The Flames attempted just six shots with Chara on the ice (also a season best), and only three of them were actually on goal.

After an embarrassing 6-2 loss to Vancouver on Saturday, it was exactly the kind of performance you’d want from your captain. But again, it would be a disservice to Chara to suggest this was some sort of personal turnaround. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dion Phaneuf suspended two games for hit on Kevan Miller; Shawn Thornton’s hearing reportedly set for Friday 12.10.13 at 12:18 pm ET
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Toronto’s Dion Phaneuf has been suspended two games for hitting Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller from behind late in the third period of Sunday night’s 5-2 Bruins win.

Miller went face-first into the boards on the hit and looked shaken up as he left the ice. He is expected to play Tuesday night, though. Phaneuf had no suspension history prior to this.

This marks the second suspension to come out of a chaotic weekend for the Bruins. On Monday, Pittsburgh’s James Neal was suspended five games for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head Saturday night.

The longest suspension of all is still to come, though. Shawn Thornton will have an in-person hearing with Brendan Shanahan on Friday afternoon, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie. On Saturday night, Thornton took down Brooks Orpik from behind and punched him twice while he was on the ice. Orpik was knocked out cold and had to be taken off on a stretcher. He has since been placed on injured reserve with a concussion.

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Johnny Boychuk has lower back injury, extent still unknown 12.06.13 at 3:08 pm ET
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Johnny Boychuk

Johnny Boychuk

Johnny Boychuk has a lower back injury, but the extent of the injury is still unknown, Claude Julien told reporters Friday. Julien said Boychuk will undergo an MRI on Friday, and that the team should know more after that.

Boychuk suffered the injury in the first period of last night’s 2-1 loss to Montreal when Max Pacioretty checked him into the boards. He was carried off the ice on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital, but he was able to move all his extremities and was cleared to travel back to Boston with the team.

Pacioretty said after the game that he felt terrible about the injury.

“Honestly, I couldn’t even walk you through the hit,” Pacioretty said. “It’s, you know, I felt terrible. I didn’€™t even really know what happened. I was just kind of battling for the puck. I felt terrible after it happened.”

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Bruins defense bounces back from Detroit disaster with pair of excellent games 11.30.13 at 11:55 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara and the Bruins have given the opponents very little the last six periods. (AP)

Zdeno Chara and the Bruins have given the opponents very little the last six periods. (AP)

The NHL was a different place in 2002. Goals and shots were as low as they’d been since the 1950s, and it wasn’t rare at all to see teams held under 20 shots on goal in a game. In fact, the 2001-02 Bruins — one of the better defensive teams in the league — held opponents under that mark 13 times.

But things have changed since then. The rule changes following the lockout in 2004-05 helped open the game back up, and although we’ll probably never get back to the eight-goals-per-game days of the 1980s, we’re at least seeing more shots and chances than the pre-lockout days. And we’re certainly not seeing teams hold opponents under 20 shots on goal as frequently as we used to — the 2011-12 Bruins, a top defensive team just like the B’s squad 10 years before, did it just four times.

All of that information sets up this: over the last two days, the Bruins have held their opponents under 20 shots on goal in back-to-back games for the first time since that 2001-02 season (April 11 and 13 of that season, to be exact).

It’s a feat that in today’s NHL would be impressive at any time. But for the Bruins, it’s even more significant considering it followed Wednesday’s debacle in Detroit, when they surrendered six goals on one defensive breakdown after another.

“We want to put that game behind us,” Zdeno Chara said. “You’re going to have a game like that where everything is off. Hopefully there’s not too many of them. But after that game, we really wanted to focus on how we were going to play defensively, and more focused on us than the teams we play. Don’t get me wrong — we want to respect their strength and whatever they do well, but mainly we want to focus on how we’re going to implement our game plan.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Brad Marchand’s improved play pays off with goal, assist vs. Rangers 11.29.13 at 5:19 pm ET
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Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand

It’s still too early to say Brad Marchand has completely turned things around, but he has certainly been making more good things happen over the last few weeks. At times, it hasn’t translated to points, but in Friday’s 3-2 win over the Rangers, it did.

Midway through the first period, Marchand one-timed a Zdeno Chara pass under the crossbar to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. Then early in the third, he weaved through the Rangers defense before setting up Patrice Bergeron for the game-tying goal. It marked Marchand’s first multi-point game of the season, in his and the team’s 26th game played. By comparison, Marchand had five multi-point games in the first 26 games last season and four the year before.

A quick look at Marchand’s game log shows that he had two goals and three assists in his 12 games prior to Friday. Big deal, right? True, that in and of itself is not a big deal. But what could be a big deal is that Marchand has been getting chances.

He had two or more shots on goal in 10 of those 12 games. To put that in perspective, his career average is just under two per game. (Oddly enough, his goal Friday was actually his only shot on goal for the game.) And to add even more context, in the eight games prior to that stretch, he had three shots on goal total.

So Marchand had been getting looks and taking shots; they just weren’t going in. And this is where we point out that Marchand’s shooting percentage going into Friday was 7.5 percent, less than half of his 16.8 and 19.8 marks the last two seasons.

“I really think that he’s picked up his game a lot,” Bergeron said. “Obviously everyone in the last game [a 6-1 loss to Detroit], that was something that we just can’t really talk about. But for six, seven games before that, I thought he was playing really well and improving, moving his feet. Every time he does that, he creates a lot of chances for himself, but also for us as his linemates. I think he’s been playing pretty well actually.”

To illustrate Bergeron’s point about Marchand’s importance to the whole line: in shifts with Marchand on the ice, the Bruins have out-attempted their opponent in 12 of the last 13 games. In the eight games before that — the same eight in which Marchand wasn’t getting shots on goal — the Bruins out-attempted the opposition during Marchand’s shifts just once.

Marchand hasn’t forgotten how to shoot the puck. His goal Friday afternoon — a blast from the lower right circle that Henrik Lundqvist had virtually no chance of stopping — is evidence of that. So if Marchand continues to shoot, chances are more pucks will start to go in.

The biggest concern during Marchand’s early-season struggles was that he wasn’t even getting the chances. According to him, that was because he wasn’t doing a lot of the little things he needed to do to be successful. He admitted on Friday that it started to get to his head, that he started worrying about the lack of points.

“I was frustrated and worried about points and putting up numbers and stuff like that,” Marchand said. “I think I had the wrong mindset there. It was more about the things you’ve got to do to get there and different areas of the game that I had to improve.”

But now he’s in a better place. He knows he’s doing those little things, he knows he’s getting his chances, and he knows the points will follow.

“I think once I just kind of calmed down and worried about playing my game and letting everything else go, I felt a lot better.”

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Breaking down a ridiculous 22-minute stretch of Bruins dominance 11.23.13 at 5:31 pm ET
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At the 9:13 mark of the first period, Carolina’s Jeff Skinner wristed a shot on net that Chad Johnson turned aside. Then the Hurricanes didn’t register another shot on goal until the 11:56 mark of the second, a stretch of more than 22 minutes.

Think about that. More than a full period of hockey without a single shot on goal. The Hurricanes only even attempted four shots, and three of those were blocked.

Basically, it was about as lopsided of a stretch as you’ll see. The Bruins strung together one dominant shift after another, barely letting the Hurricanes out of their own zone, never mind into the Bruins zone.

The B’s put 15 shots on goal during the 22-minute run, and attempted 24. At one point during the middle of it, they reeled off 15 straight attempts without surrendering any (see the flat line in the middle of the Extra Skater graph below).

That long, flat red line is what happens when a team can't get into the offensive zone. (Extra Skater)

That long, flat red line is what happens when a team can’t get into the offensive zone. (Extra Skater)

It was the kind of stretch coaches dream about, and it was a showcase of how dominant the Bruins can be when they have all four lines going at once. The Hurricanes are obviously not one of the best teams in the NHL, but to go on a run like that against any team is impressive. Read the rest of this entry »

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Kevan Miller shows he can handle NHL in debut 11.21.13 at 11:40 pm ET
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Kevan Miller

Kevan Miller

It ended with Reilly Smith feeding Carl Soderberg in the slot and Soderberg burying his third goal of the season. The middle of the play featured Chris Kelly winning a one-on-one battle behind the net and working the puck to Smith. But the Bruins’ second goal Thursday night started with Kevan Miller keeping the puck in the zone and dumping it down low.

It was a simple play, it was the right play, and it was one of many instances of Miller doing exactly what the Bruins wanted him to do in his NHL debut. The 26-year-old defenseman never looked out of place in the 17:42 he played against the Blues. He broke up several rushes and didn’t let forwards get behind him. He battled in front of the net — and at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, he more than held his own there. He made quick plays to get the puck out of the zone, whether it was a short pass or a flip up the boards.

And, just as he did on that goal, he stood his ground in the offensive zone when the time was right, but never took himself out of the play.

“Kevan Miller played extremely well,” Claude Julien said. “He’s a defensive defenseman who makes good, strong plays. He did that tonight. He was strong, I really liked his game. I thought he was a poised player out there for his first real NHL game.”

Miller will never catch fans’ eyes the way Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski do, because offense simply isn’t a big part of his game. But he’s proven to be a dependable player at every level, and that’s afforded him an opportunity few people thought he’d have a few years ago.

Miller wasn’t drafted, and he didn’t garner a whole lot of interest once he wrapped up his senior season at the University of Vermont in 2011. But the Bruins saw enough to give him an amateur tryout contract. Then in six games in Providence at the end of the 2010-11 season, they saw enough to invite him to training camp. And then in training camp, they saw enough to sign him to an AHL contract.

Miller has continued to defy the odds in the two years since. In a system stacked with young, talented defensemen — almost all of whom were more highly-touted — Miller has just continued to get better and force himself into a bigger and bigger role.

He performed well enough in this year’s training camp to make the Bruins’ opening night roster as an eighth defenseman, but the B’s eventually decided it wasn’t going to do anyone any good to have him sit in the press box every night. They placed him on waivers, and fortunately no one claimed him, allowing the B’s to send him back to Providence.

“To be an eighth defenseman is all good and dandy,” Miller said. “But I just know the organization felt it was best for me to continue to play games and develop down there, and I completely agree with that. I think that’s helped me a long way.”

While it was a bit of a surprise to see Miller make the team out of camp, it was no surprise to see him be the guy the Bruins turned to with Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid injured. Besides being in the same sort of stay-at-home mold as those two, he was also the P-Bruin most ready to step in and contribute.

Whether or not Miller can stick with the Bruins remains to be seen. He showed on Thursday that he can play in the NHL, but he could once again find himself the victim of the numbers game once everyone’s healthy.

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