|Bruins defense bounces back from Detroit disaster with pair of excellent games||11.30.13 at 11:55 pm ET|
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 »
|Brad Marchand’s improved play pays off with goal, assist vs. Rangers||11.29.13 at 5:19 pm ET|
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.”
|Breaking down a ridiculous 22-minute stretch of Bruins dominance||11.23.13 at 5:31 pm ET|
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).
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 »
|Kevan Miller shows he can handle NHL in debut||11.21.13 at 11:40 pm ET|
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.
|Milan Lucic continues strong season with first career overtime goal||11.14.13 at 11:22 pm ET|
Milan Lucic is something of a walking encyclopedia when it comes to hockey. He can tell you on the spot what the Bruins’ history is against a certain team or player, and he can always recall the last time he accomplished a certain feat. And yet on Thursday night when he said that his overtime winner was the first time he had ever scored an overtime goal, it seemed like he had to have been mistaken.
But sure enough, Lucic was spot on. Of his 126 NHL goals (including playoffs), none of them had come in overtime. The 60 he scored in juniors? Nope. None of those were in an extra session either.
Ironically, Lucic said just the other day that he’d like to see overtime changed in order to increase scoring chances and cut down on the number of games that are decided in a shootout. Then on Thursday, he took matters into his own hands with the clock winding down.
Lucic stepped into the shooting lane in his own end and took a Nikita Nikitin slapper right off his shin pads. The puck caromed all the way to the Columbus zone, where Lucic tracked it down, walked in alone on Sergei Bobrovsky and snapped a quick shot through the five-hole.
“A great job of blocking the shot, and he got on his horse and took off,” Claude Julien said. “Again, he can shoot the puck. He got him in the five-hole and it was a great decision on his part.”
For Lucic, it was his team-leading seventh goal of the season, and his second on a five-game homestand in which the Bruins went 4-0-1. On a night when the B’s didn’t play their best, his great individual effort allowed them to head out on the road feeling much better than if they had let a game against an inferior opponent slip away.
“I think when you look at the record it’s what you wanted, to have a good homestand, and we did,” Julien said. “Nine out of 10 points is something certainly to be happy with. And now we have to bring our game on the road, and we have three tough road games coming up.”
Lucic is on pace for a career-high 34 goals, and while he could be due for a bit of a regression in terms of goal-scoring (his 21.9 percent shooting rate is well above his career average of 15.1), there’s no reason to think the B’s top line won’t continue to produce the way it has so far this season.
David Krejci and Jarome Iginla are both below their career shooting percentages — Iginla by a full five points — so the law of averages would dictate that any regression from Lucic will be canceled out as the percentages start to come up for Krejci and Iginla.
But whatever happens going forward, Lucic certainly will remember Thursday night’s game. He probably would’ve even without the overtime winner.
|Dougie Hamilton steps up against Toronto, adding to his second-year improvement||11.09.13 at 11:58 pm ET|
Dougie Hamilton saw his three-game point streak come to an end Saturday night. He couldn’t get off the ice during a two-and-a-half-minute shift in the second period. And he said after the game that he didn’t know where the phrase ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ came from.
There you go. Those are all the things that went wrong for Hamilton in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over Toronto. The list of things that went right is much, much longer, as the 20-year-old defenseman played arguably his best game of the season, and maybe the best of his young career.
With Adam McQuaid playing just 44 seconds before leaving the game with an injury, the rest of the Bruins’ defense corps had to pick up his minutes. But it was Hamilton who saw the biggest spike in playing time. He wound up playing 24:43, a career high for a 60-minute game and a full five minutes more than his season average entering Saturday.
“His first part of the year he was in and out a little bit. But he’s played really solid for us,” Claude Julien said after the game. “Offensively he continues to make good decisions, good plays, very aggressive. Defensively he’s becoming better and better all the time. So he’s a young player — he’s a 20-year-old — but with experience, he’s starting to flourish and he just has to keep going that way.”
Hamilton would’ve picked up a couple extra minutes no matter what, but the way he played warranted even more than that. He created a number of scoring chances in the offensive zone, including one in the first where he made a nice move around Nikolai Kulemin at the blue line before zipping a pass over to David Krejci, only to have Krejci flip the shot off the side of the net. Read the rest of this entry »
|Bruins waste great start, still can’t get out of funk||11.05.13 at 11:29 pm ET|
It looked like the Bruins had snapped out of their recent malaise. They outshot Dallas 15-1 over the first 10 minutes of Tuesday’s game, and out-attempted them 21-1. Sure, the Stars scored on their one chance, but the Bruins answered back just 38 seconds later. Then the dominance continued.
You had to figure the Bruins were on the verge of breaking through with another goal or two. When a game is that lopsided, it’s usually only a matter of time before the levee breaks.
But the levee didn’t break. The Bruins’ pressure slowed throughout the remainder of the first period, and by the second period it was pretty much non-existent. The B’s reverted to the bad habits and mental mistakes of the last week and a half — a span in which they are now 1-3-1 — and found themselves on their heels throughout the middle frame.
“First 10 minutes were good, and then we got back to some of our old habits,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Eventually, when you play that way, you find ways to lose hockey games, and that’s what we’re doing right now. We’re finding ways to lose.”
Despite being outshot 13-4 in the second, the Bruins still found themselves in a tied game entering the third. When Milan Lucic tipped in a Dougie Hamilton shot with 8:21 to go, it looked like the Bruins might even pull out the win after all.
Instead, they had one more costly mistake in them — a bad line change that gave Vernon Fiddler a breakaway. Dennis Seidenberg hauled him down from behind, and Fiddler scored on the ensuing penalty shot. The Stars went on to win in a shootout.
“We’re making costly turnovers in areas which we usually don’t, that’s made us a successful team over the past few years,” Lucic said. “It just seems like everything is out of sync right now, and right now we’ve got to do whatever we can to try to get ourselves out of this jam, out of this funk. Frustration is not going to help us get through it. We’ve got to dig deep and start doing things the right way if we want to start playing better.”
Most of the Bruins have been through stretches like this before. Last year, they lost five of seven toward the end of March, then seven of nine to close out the regular season. In 2011-12, it was a 3-7-0 start to the season, and later a four-game losing streak in March. In the 2010-11 season (that’s the one that ended with a Stanley Cup), they lost four of five on SIX different occasions.
It happens. The season is too long not to have these lulls. It doesn’t mean the Bruins shouldn’t work their tails off to try to get out of it. It doesn’t mean Julien shouldn’t shake things up if he feels the need to. But it also doesn’t mean anyone should be panicking.
“It’s a long season. It’s never going to be perfect from the first game to the last,” Lucic said. “But as a player and as a professional, you have to worry about the things that you can control, and that’s work ethic and your effort and your commitment and focus and all that type of stuff. It seems like those are the things that are costing us right now.
“Fortunately, in the past, we’ve gotten strong by being able to get through funks like this. But just because we’ve gotten through it before doesn’t mean it’s just going to happen again. We have to find a way to find a way to do it.”
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