|Three Things We Learned in striking gold against Oilers||11.01.09 at 11:18 am ET|
Zdeno Chara couldn’t hide a fairly incredulous smirk when asked the question while sitting at his locker stall.
“Are you completely healthy? Is everything all right physically?” a reported inquired.
The Norris Trophy winning defenseman cast his head downward and gave his lower body a once over before knocking on wood and saying “everything feels great.”
The 32-year-old was answering performance-related questions for the first time earlier this week after getting off to a bit of a slow start for Chara’s standards. The towering defenseman hasn’t found the back of the net after 12 games — Chara also didn’t score until his 12th game of the season last winter — but of greater concern was a distinct regression in the physicality department. There didn’t seem to be the normal fear factor from opposing forwards buzzing around in Boston’s defensive zone with Chara patrolling out on the ice. A lot of that comes strictly down to a lack of Chara snarl, and it could be attributed to a number of things.
Chara is adjusting to his first season in four years without defenseman partner Aaron Ward, and the veteran contributed mightily to the Norris Trophy winner’s style of play. Chara was free to play with a little more mean and a little more freedom knowing that Ward was going to cover for him, and it takes time to develop such a trust bond with Derek Morris. Perhaps there was even a little bit of satisfaction after getting named the best defenseman in the NHL last season.
Never was that more obvious than Thursday night when 5-foot-11, 190-pound Zach Parise beat Chara in a battle behind the boards for possession, and set up the game-winning third period score for the New Jersey Devils. It highlighted a passivity that simply can’t be a part of Chara’s game while the Bruins coaching staff relies on his “give no quarter” nature in the D-zone.
So on Friday Bruins coach Claude Julien fired up the “Chara signal.” In so many words, Julien indicated that his franchise defenseman had been “just OK” in the first 11 games of the season, and the entire team — including their 6-foot-9 captain – needed to respond to the request for better, more intense effort. The Big Slovakian heeded the call and responded along with the rest of his teammates to a clarion call for more concentrated effort. The B’s mantra is to be “hard to play against” and Saturday afternoon’s 2-0 win against the Oilers was the perfect time to reintroduce themselves to their way of hockey life.
Chara won every puck battle, punished the Edmonton skaters with eight thunderous hits and seemed determined to keep the Oilers forwards aware of his pounding, unrelenting presence at all times. In other words, he played like the 2008-09 version of Zdeno Chara — an imposing figure that’s needed when the intimidating force provided by Milan Lucic is withdrawn from the lineup.
“I know that when you are one of the top players in the league, ‘good’ is not good enough,” said Chara, who finished with a game-high eight hits. “You have to play almost perfect every game. That’s the way it is. That is what comes with it when you are one of the best players in the league. As a captain you carry the team and you have to accept that, so that’s normal.”
The overpoweringly defensive tone struck early by Chara permeated through the rest of the Boston’s lineup, and the Black and Gold played their most complete, structured game this season. The four lines rolled through a complete 60 minute effort and the B’s dominated time of possession in the Edmonton zone while playing good, sound positional defense in front of Tuukka Rask in a shutout effort. After two scoreless periods, the offense finally busted through with a pair of opportunistic scores in the third period.
But the uniformity of effort, purpose and intensity gave Boston their best win of the season, and – in Julien’s mind — a great deal of credit goes back to the hockey gauntlet tossed down by their captain early in Saturday’s victory. Chara still finds himself in search of his first goal after his 12th game of the season and he’s still searching for ways to snake the big slap shot through traffic on the power play, but hockey’s version of “The Terminator” proved once again Saturday that he’s much more valuable than statistics.
“The thing with Z, he’s our Captain. He’s our leader,” said Julien. “We keep talking about Norris Trophy, and being deserving of that. His energy and attitiude spreads throughout the team. Certainly it makes our team that much better.
“That’s the responsibility that comes with being that type of player. It’s okay to want to be an elite player, but you have to take on the responsibilities that go along with it. He thrives on that stuff, and I thought he did a great job.”
Chara was up to the challenge in Saturday’s shutout win, and will need to continue answering the call with the victory over the Oilers kicking off a crucial 15 games in 29 days stretch for the B’s. Make or break time for their season is coming up, and Big Z appears to be ready.
With Chara finally back in the saddle, here are two other things we learned in Saturday’s win over the Oilers.
A “TUUUKKKKAAAA” CHANT HAS BEEN BORN
Though he didn’t consciously hear it while locked into his second career NHL shutout, the TD Garden crowd is beginning to embrace Rask as one of their own. Each time the B’s goalie would snatch a high, hard shot out of the air with his strong glove hand or use his lean, long frame to absorb a puck, the crowd would let out with a low, rumbling “Tuuuuukkkka” chant. The sound initially sounded like booing, and wasn’t all that different from the “Yoooouuuk!” or “Loooooch” chants commonly heard in most partisan Boston sports crowds.
The 22-year-old rookie was worthy of the chants on Saturday afternoon after watching Tim Thomas start five of the previous six games, and made 19 calm, cool, collected stops en route to his second career shutout. There was nothing flashy or jumpy about Rask’s netminding game, but instead he simply played sound, textbook butterfly style between the pipes and never offered a single crack in his wall of defense.
“I saw the puck really well,” said Rask. “I can’t say there was one shot I didn’t see, and that’s probably more because the [Boston defense] was at its best — and forced those blocking shots that were on net. You’ve got to give a lot of credit to the guys for blocking shots, and really not screening me much at all.”
While Rask saw every piece of vulcanized rubber tossed his way, he didn’t hear the burgeoning chants of his name in the stands. Some of it, Rask thought, might have just been because his distinctly Finnish name has a certain sing-songy ring to it.
“It’s probably because of my name and because it’s so easy to pronounce: Tuukka,” said Rask. ”It’s like ‘Looch’. I might have heard it a couple of times in Providence when we won a big game. It’s fun and it’s nice to hear so many people are into the game because that really gives us a boost.”
SOBOTKA AND WHEELER ARE COOKING UP SOMETHING SPECIAL
Forget for a minute that Vladimir Sobotka typified everything Julien and B’s GM Peter Chiarelli preach about being “strong on the puck” when the 22-year-old B’s forward battled along the boards in the third period, and fought through both Theo Peckham and Fernando Pisani to set up Boston’s first goal. The spark plug center was knocked down several times along the boards by both Oilers players, but never gave up possession of the puck and continued working toward making a play.
Somehow Sobotka sensed Blake Wheeler moving toward the Oilers cage as he battled, and threw a beauty of a backhanded pass to a waiting Wheeler. The B’s second-year forward noticed Edmonton goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin peeking at Sobotka behind the Oilers goal, and Wheeler quickly fired an accurate shot at the net before the goaltender had a chance to reposition himself.
Just like that the Bruins were on the scoreboard, and the score might as well have been 100-0 given the way the B’s were playing mistake-free defense in front of an effective Rask. Wheeler and Sobotka hooked up minutes later for a second goal with Sobotka this time getting the nice feed to deposit into the back of Boston’s net. The two goals capped off an honest day’s work for the trio of Sobotka, Wheeler and Daniel Paille, and made up for a Sobotka score that failed to beat the buzzer at the end of the second period.
“The last two games [before Saturday] he’s had like 13 hits or something. I don’t know what he had [against the Oilers] but I talked to him before the game and said it’s great if you get five or six hits — but let’s try to score. He’s tearing up the AHL, he’s a very talented offensive player, so let’s just get three or four hits and a goal and an assist. That’ll be a good night.
“We tried to focus a bit more on the offensive side. [Sobotka] works so hard every single night, that it was just a matter of getting rewarded.”
|Sobotka strikes gold in win over Oilers||10.31.09 at 3:14 pm ET|
It isn’t going to get the fans jumping out of their seats or snag them many trophies at year’s end, but the Bruins are rolling up their sleeves and getting to work. Game by game the Black and Gold are sinking deeper into the disciplined, layered, exacting system of defense installed by the B’s coaching staff, and that brand of hockey was fully on display in Saturday afternoon’s 2-0 shutout win against the Oilers.
The Bruins were led by the gritty Vlad Sobotka, who finished with a goal and an assist — and had another tally wiped away when it came a second after the buzzer ended the second period.
“Our team without the puck is getting better,” said Claude Julien. “Vladdy [Sobotka] is starting to find his game again with us that we saw a few years ago. [A game] we really liked. He’s an in-your-face type of player, but he’s also capable of making some good plays, doing the right things and scoring some goals. He’s been much better the last three games, no doubt.”
Missing two of their biggest guns due to injury, it’s going to take a simplistic, scaled-down approach to the game and an abundance of slim victories in the near future for the Black and Gold. That was exactly what the team received from their whole team, and the Blake Wheeler/Sobotka/Daniel Paille line finally exploded in the third period with two goals en route to victory. With a two-goal lead suddenly in hand, the Bruins defense and goaltender Tuukka Rask clamped down to preserve the shutout over the final 10 minutes of hockey.
The Bruins are still activating their defensemen to keep pressure in the offensive zone as much as possible and rolling their lines, but it’s clear that there’s some offensive skill missing from the roster. That’s why a gritty goal by Sobokta — busting his way through Theo Peckham and Fernando Pisani with the puck to set up Wheeler’s score — was exactly what the hockey doctor ordered. Wheeler setting up Sobotka minutes later for the two-goal lead was just icing on the cake.
Andrew Ference missed wide right on a one-time bomber opportunity while pinching down from his defenseman position during a first period flurry. Marco Sturm embarked on a one-man rush up the left side in the second period and earned a clear attempt at the net, but missed high to the top right corner with his slap shot..
The Bruins put heavy pressure on at the end of the second period when Wheeler, Sobotka and Daniel Paille fired off a bevy of shots at the Edmonton cage, and it appeared they broke through when Sobotka whistled an attempt past Nikolai Khabibulin. But the attempt clearly skipped past the goalie following the second period buzzer and whistle indicating the period was over. There was no goal and a scoreless first 40 minutes of action prior to the Sobotka and Wheeler finally putting up some in-regulation fireworks during the final period.
YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND, NOTHING’S EVER GONNA KEEP YOU DOWN:Vladimir Sobotka has looked increasingly impressive since a pep talk with Claude Julien prior to the Ottawa game last weekend, and it finally showed up on the scoreboard Saturday afternoon. Sobotka broke a scoreless deadlock when he fought through both Theo Peckham and Fernando Pisani with the puck, and dished a beautiful backhanded pass to Blake Wheeler. Wheeler slammed the shot past Nikolai Khabibulin and victory was Boston’s. Wheeler and Sobotka teamed again minutes later to give Vlad the Scrorer his first goal of the season.
GOAT HORNS:Marco Sturm and Andrew Ference both missed golden scoring opportunities earlier in the game, but there was a great deal to like about the effort and execution in an air-tight win over the Oilers. The Bruins kept putting on the pressure, and finally worn down Edmonton in the final 20 minutes. No goats on Saturday.
|B’s pregame notes versus Oilers||10.31.09 at 11:24 am ET|
Here are a few quick tidbits to get everyone ready for the Saturday afternoon matinee between the Bruins and the Edmonton Oilers. The Oil are coming off a wild 6-5 shootout win over the Detroit Red Wings Thursday night and Dustin Penner already has five multi-point games this season. The key to Penner’s turnaround: dropping some extra weight this summer and shedding the doghouse he was locked in under former Oilers head coach Craig MacTavish.
–Michael Ryder will be playing in his 400th career game with the Bruins Saturday afternoon.
–Saturday afternoon’s tilt against the Western Conference Oilers touches off a 15 games in 29 days stretch thanks to the Winter Olympics-ified NHL schedule, and hands the B’s a pretty hefty challenge that will slowly gnaw away at their roster depth. The key, according to head coach coach Claude Julien, is building some momentum along the way. That momentum starts on Saturday afternoon, when the Bruins go on a mini-stretch of fives games in eight days.
“You’ve got to build some consistency and some momentum. You hope that you stay healthy through this stuff,” said Julien. “As a coaching staff, we need to know when to push on the gas pedal and when to back off. We need to make sure we keep getting better. We’ve had our rest. We’ve had our days. We need to make sure that when it comes time for game time that we’re ready to go.”
–A few trends with the Oilers: Edmonton is 1-3 overall on the road this season and sits at 1-4 when they allow the first goal in games this season.
–Penner is coming off a one goal, three assist performance against the Wings Thursday night and is averaging nearly two points a game with 7 goals, 9 assists in his last nine games.
|Julien: ‘[Chara] can be better’||10.30.09 at 12:20 pm ET|
WILMINGTON, Mass. — Full practice at Ristuccia Arena on Friday morning with everybody seemingly healthy and accounted for, and all lines as they were in Thursday night’s loss to the New Jersey Devils.
The Bruins are working on tip drills and battles in front of the net, which factored heavily into just about all of the scoring between the offensively-challenged Devils and Bruins clubs in a 2-1 decision. A lot of focus on jamming the puck beyond the goaltender, and conversely getting the defensemen in the painted area to swat loose pucks away. More after practice as the Bruins prepare for a grueling fives games in eight days schedule that begins with Saturday afternoon’s matinee against the Edmonton Oilers.
–During the battle drills in front of the net Tuukka Rask let a shot slide by him into the goal, and immediately exploded with a fit of goaltender pique. Rask screamed at himself in Finnish and then slammed his paddle hard against the crossbar, and created a violent enough collision that he knocked his Gatorade water bottle off the top of the net. Temper, temper Tuukka.
–Zdeno Chara has been inconsistent through 11 games this season and certainly isn’t living completely up to his Norris Trophy standards while putting up six assists for the Black and Gold. The 32-year-old has had his “up” moments such as his 29:38 masterpiece against the New York Islanders when he notched an assist and a pair of shots on goal, but he hasn’t been able to sustain his play over a long stretch.
The blueliner was out working on his game before and after practice last week, and taking extra shots from the point positions while attempting to get a higher volume of shots toward the cage during the power play. When asked about his captain’s play after practice, B’s coach Claude Julien didn’t pull any punches and said that Chara needs to find his “happy zone” just like the rest of the team.
“[Chara] has been good, but can be better. He knows that,” said Julien. “He’s been good and there are some games where we’ve seen him be dominant like in the past. But we haven’t seen him be dominant night in, night out like he has been. He’s frustrated a little bit too. You saw him working on his shots, and he’d like to get his shots through a little better. But the thing that we like about players is when we see them trying to do something about it.
“That’s what he’s been doing. He’s been working on his shot and trying to find those seams. Eventually it’ll come, but he’s in that stage where he wants to be better – and he can better. I think his whole game has been, at times, up and down a little bit. Let’s put it this way: he’s never been terrible but there are some nights when he’s just been okay. When you talk about Z and having success, we’d like to see him where he was last year when he was a stellar defenseman and stingy. A defenseman that every team hated to play against. This is a game of momentum. Sometimes things fall right into place and sometimes it takes some time. Our whole team is working through that and trying to find that momentum, and I think he’s in that equation as well.”
|Bruins Move in Right Direction in Loss||10.30.09 at 12:44 am ET|
Tim Thomas was disappointed like everyone else hoping the Bruins, not the Devils, would score late and pull out a two-pointer on Thursday night against the Devils.
But the puck fell behind him with 1:26 remaining in the third period, and Dainius Zubrus was there, more than willing to scoop up the spare change and flick the puck into the vacant net behind the Bruins netminder for the winning goal in New Jersey’s 2-1 win.
So there was no miracle finish like last Saturday night, when the Bruins scored two extra-attacker goals in the final two minutes against Ottawa, winning in a shootout. Despite the loss, however, Thomas insisted that there was plenty of reason for optimism on the ice.
“The direction we’ve been playing in the past few games is the right direction,” Thomas said. “And we’re getting effort and getting people moving their legs and we’re getting guys playing physical and we’re getting going toward the net so we’re doing lots of good things. Read the rest of this entry »
|Bruins drop one to Devils in final minutes||10.29.09 at 9:30 pm ET|
It wasn’t pretty, but when is it ever against the New Jersey Devils?
The Bruins played an incredibly well-matched game against New Jersey in their second of back-to-back road games, but dropped a 2-1 decision in the final two minutes of Thursday night’s showdown with the Devils. Dainus Zubrus slammed home a loose puck behind Tim Thomas with 1:26 remaining to hand Boston their first regulation loss in four tries.
The B’s fell behind early when an errant puck bounced off the boards and got behind Shawn Thornton. The quick bounce of the puck allowed the Devils to break things out, and get in behind the B’s defense and a scrambling Thornton. Nicklas Bergfors carried the puck up the left side of the ice with speed, and unleashed a low liner at Thomas’ pads.
The puck sneaked between the B’s goaltender’s leg pads and trickled out into the painted area in front of the Boston goal. In a case of perfect timing, David Clarkson was crashing toward the cage from the right side and swept home the loose biscuit. It was a brief defensive lapse for the Black and Gold, however, as both Derek Morris and Zdeno Chara were able to prevent nearly certain goals later in the game with some very strong stick work in front of Thomas.
The Bruins finally tied things up in the second period immediately after time expired on their second power play of the game. Zdeno Chara leveled a bomb from the right point that whistled through traffic in front, and Devils’ goaltender Yann Danis kicked it off to the right. Marco Sturm corralled the rebound and shoveled a backhand shot toward the Devils net, but it ricocheted off sticks and skates before landing on Patrice Bergeron’s stick blade.
Bergeron flicked the puck into the vacated net, and the game was tied at 1-1. It was Bergeron’s fourth goal of the season, and his team-leading eighth point after enduring Tuesday’s two-year anniversary of his career-threatening concussion at the hands of Randy Jones. The scoring stayed that way until Zubrus’ gut-punch score with less than two minutes to go in the contest. To add insult to injury, Zdeno Chara had a deflection hit off the crossbar in the final seconds that could have tied the game and pushed things to overtime. In the end, the Devils were simply one bounce of the puck better than the hard-working Bruins.
YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND AND NOTHING’LL EVER KEEP YOU DOWN: Patrice Bergeron worked and persevered through last season when he clearly didn’t feel 100 percent, but it’s all paying off now. Bergeron tied the game in the second period, and is again developing that all-important nose for the goal. Bergeron trailed only Shawn Thornton with his four shots on net for a Bruins team that needs all the offense they can get right now.
GOAT HORNS: The first instinct was to go with Tim Thomas who was otherwise solid but allowed two pucks to squeeze through the goaltender’s pads — including the game-winner to Dainus Zubrus with less than 90 seconds to go in the game. The two goals were virtual carbon copies of each other, as Thomas slowed down each shot with his pads. But the reigning Vezina Trophy winner couldn’t quite close the sliver of an opening in time. In both instances, the puck slowed behind the B’s netminder and an attacking Jersey skater was able to bang home the loose puck. But the game-winner, it should be noted, was a tipped puck that changed direction before it hit the net.
The better choice for the horns is Boston’s still toothless power play that finished 0-for-2 tonight — although the B’s did score immediately following their second power play chance — and is sitting at a 14.3 percent efficiency for the season. That’s six goals in 42 chances. The B’s had plenty of good looks and chances against the Devils, but simply couldn’t finish. That’s beginning to become a pattern of concern.
|Brodeur won’t be in net for Devils||10.29.09 at 12:29 pm ET|
The Boston Bruins have taken points in four of their last five games and got another piece of good news at Thursday’s morning skate when the New Jersey Devils announced that legendary goaltender Martin Brodeur won’t be starting in net. Instead Brown University alum Yann Danis will earn his first start of the season. Brodeur had made all 10 starts for the Devils this season and sits with a 6-4 record along with a 2.58 goals against average and a .909 save percentage.
Danis hasn’t seen any action for the Devils this season, but was 10-17 with a 2.85 goals against average and a .910 save percentage for the New York Islanders last winter. Tim Thomas was first off the ice for the Bruins during morning skate, which indicates he’ll be getting the start for Boston.
–Look out for big glossy posters of Marc Savard and Marco Sturm sporting and showing off Winter Classic gear — including hats and T-shirts among other collectibles from the once in a lifetime hockey event – around TD Garden and the Bruins souvenir shop. Both players sat down for photo shoots hot on the heels of their Improper Bostonian photo session. Sadly, Chuck Kobasew was also going to be included in the modeling photos, but that was nixed when the scrappy winger was traded to the Minnesota Wild several weeks ago.
–The Bruins are intent on getting ugly and simplifying things with their still-struggling power play. Hopefully the B’s man advantage will get just as gruesome as the current numbers. The Bruins power play unit is 27th overall in the NHL with a 15 percent success rate, and has allowed a painful three short-handed goals in only 10 games this season. Meanwhile the Devils are succeeding in 85 percent of their penalty kills on the road and are a perfect 5-0 away from the swamplands of New Jersey this season.
“The power play is a simple thing to do. It’s just more work,” said Derek Morris, who becomes a key figure on the man advantage with Marc Savard out of the mix. “We’ve just got to work harder than we have all year. Right now we’re losing too many battles and we need to get some shots from the point to establish that early.
“[Savard] has a real calming sense out there [on the power play]. There’s almost a sense like we can relax and get to our spots and get set because he’s going to make a great play with it. Maybe we were a little too relaxed without him, so we know now that we have to simplify. Make a few ugly plays and get it out to [Chara] or whoever to wind it up and shoot it.”
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