|Warding off worry… B’s blue liner returns||12.09.08 at 3:08 pm ET|
While he didn’t take part in any contact drills on Tuesday, Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward felt good about returning to the ice after a left leg injury that has forced him to miss the last three games.
“That’s the approach now,” Ward said before joining the team on its sojourn to Washington for Wednesday’s game against the Capitals. “Only have taken seven days off, I can’t have lost a whole lot. To touch a puck and to play around with it rather than sit out three weeks and miss it, that’s why I’m taking the road trip, hopefully start skating a little bit more aggressively and hopefully go from there. But there doesn’t seem to be much of a need right now. I can take my time.
“It’s just the pace of the game, getting your head up and playing with the puck, especially this team, so much more demanded from a defenseman in terms of putting the puck in the right place and reading the play and understand where you’re supposed to be. That’s the essential part of it all,” he said.
While Ward is having fun watching the team continue to roll along, there is some tension knowing that other younger players are coming up and could make an even better impression.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Ward said. “You don’t want to be supplanted from where you feel where you might add to the team.”
One of those younger players is Vladimir Sobotka, who was recalled on an emergency basis following Monday’s game after Stephane Yelle collided with a linesman and suffered a minor rib injury.
“I was on the first line in Providence, playing on the power play some,” Sobotka explained Tuesday. “Here I’ll be on the fourth line. I admit I’ll be a little nervous before the game (on Wednesday).”
As for Ward, he said he doesn’t expect to return on Wednesday.
If I were a wagering man, I’d say no. But again, (Wednesday) is another step in the recovery process,” Ward said.
The always artful Ward also made the following observation about Sean Avery’s pending punishment from the NFL for his untoward remarks about a former girlfriend and his brotherhood of NHL skaters.
“How happy Plaxico Burress is that Avery shot his mouth off and now no one knows who Plaxico is,” Ward said.
And props to Matt Kalman of The Bruins Blog, who didn’t miss a beat responding, “Maybe in the hockey world, but I’m pretty sure the rest of the world (does).”
Don’t have to look very far for confirmation of that, Matt.
|It’s all good… Bruins ready for two-city trip||at 12:40 pm ET|
Bruins coach Claude Julien worked his team through an energetic practice this morning at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, with the emphasis being on how to handle success… namely don’t get cute when you have the lead.
The Bruins led after one period Monday night, 3-0, but allowed Tampa Bay to make a charge at them, closing to within 4-3 with 19.0 seconds remaining before P.J. Axelsson salted the game away with an empty netter.
Some other morsels from Tuesday morning’s skate.
X-rays on Stephane Yelle’s ribs were negative after he collided with linesman Mark Shewchyk on Monday night.
Aaron Ward skated at center ice while the team worked on drills. But don’t expect him to rush back to action for Wednesday in Washington. “If I were a betting man, I’d say ‘no’ (to playing),” Ward said.
Marco Sturm is making progress and is getting closer to a return from concussion-like symptoms.
All three made the trip to Washington and are considered day-to-day by coach Julien. “All encouraging news,” Juilen said.
The 19-4-4 Bruins play the Capitals on Wednesday in Washington and the Thrashers in Atlanta on Friday before returning home for a date with Atlanta on Saturday at the Garden.
|Hockey Notes: Hunwick earning his spot||12.07.08 at 12:27 pm ET|
Members of the Bruins brain trust correctly predicted that — after playing 10 games in 18 days through a brutal November stretch of hockey — the Black and Gold would begin incurring some injuries that would challenge the team’s overall depth. The Bruins flew through that stretch with a bevy of W’s and continue building a burgeoning lead in the Eastern Conference’s top spot, but bumps and bruised began cropping at a position where Boston could seemingly least afford them: the blue line.
First it was Andrew Ference going down with a broken right tibia and then Aaron Ward followed with a left leg injury, likely a sprained ankle that wasn’t going to keep a tough-as-nails customer like Ward out for a long stretch. But then Dennis Wideman missed a game with the dreaded “middle body injury” and things really began to stretch out in an area that Boston wasn’t especially deep.
But a funny thing happened along the way to Boston succumbing to their defenseman injury woes: they discovered a host of other young guys that have stepped up and filled in along the vacant spots. Matt Lashoff and Johnny Boychuk, who was send back down to the AHL this afternoon, have both arrived fresh off the AHL bus ride circuit to step up and provide steady D-man coverage — with a hint of offensive potential from each young colt — and 23-year-old Matt Hunwick has been an absolute revelation for the Spoked B.
Hunwick was the last defenseman returned to Providence when cuts came down at the end of training camp, and he was handed marching orders to continue raising his competitive levels during one-on-one battles for the puck while gaining physical strength to shake off the hurtling bodycheckers abundant in the NHL.
Hunwick kept his solid D-zone responsibilities and puck-moving ways sharp in two games with the P-Bruins between two different call-ups to Boston, and the 23-year-old was the first one called up to “The Show” when Ference was lost for an extended period.
Young forwards Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel are rightfully getting much of the credit for the puck renaissance that’s currently taking place in the Hub, but Hunwick has similarly emerged as a force within Claude Julien’s defense-first system. The 5-foot-10, 187-pound rookie is behind only Wideman and Zdeno Chara when it comes to defenseman scoring for the B’s with three goals and six assists in 14 games, and he boasts the second-best +/- along the blueline with a sterling +12 mark. More importantly, he’s given the Bruins an average of 21 minutes of ice time per night over the last five games, which has softened the sting of the injury bug along the blue line.
The game of hockey is — in many ways — a game of dopplegangers, where any observant player can scout out another skater with the same skill set, physical attributes and on-ice temperament and begin absorbing valuable puck lessons. Prior to the iron man hockey act he’s pulled over the last handful of games, there were a glut of contests early in the season that Hunwick didn’t dress for. Hunwick instead opted spent his time watching his fellow defensemen — with a discerning eye toward Wideman and Ference. Ference, in particular, is a good match for the relatively undersized Hunwick and offensively-skilled defenseman.
“I’ve tried to be more aggressive in the play and I’m trying to get more of an edge out there,” said Hunwick. “[Ference] is the same size as me and he’s definitely a guy that I paid attention to when I was up in the press box watching the game. Not only is it the size thing, but the way he’s able to be physically involved at his size too. How hard and intensely he plays, how smart he plays and how good he is on special teams. He’s been around playing this game for a long time, and there’s a lot I’ve learned from him.”
Hunwick’s elevation within the eyes of the Bruins’ coaching staff was never more apparent than their highly successful two-game swing through Florida. During the third period a tight, one-goal effort against Tampa Bay, Hunwick (a career-high 23:27 of ice time), Shane Hnidy (who also elevated his game to another level during a serious time of need for the B’s) and Chara were all playing yeoman’s minutes with a depleted corps, and they still managed to hold down a group of individual offensive talents to one goal. Down three D-men, it was just another night for the NHL’s best defensive crew ( one of only three teams that have allowed less than 60 goals this season along with the Ottawa Senators and the notoriously defense-minded Minnesota Wild) and another rookie quickly learning the new-and-improved Bruins Way of doing things.
“The more he plays and the better he’s going to get, and that’s really just the normal cycle of experience,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. “He’s been put through game situations and so there’s improvement through game experience and there’s a real raising of his confidence levels.
“Every game we keep a close eye on him and gauge how things are going, and if he’s playing well then we’ve got to make sure we find him some ice and if he’s having a tough night then we make sure he doesn’t lose his confidence,” added Julien. “We keep a close eye on him, but he’s playing very good hockey right now.”
For Hunwick, watching Wideman and Ference — before he went down — was like attending a Defenseman Master Class. The young defenseman, who displayed outstanding leadership abilities first skating for the US National Team Development Program and then along to the Michigan Wolverines and the minor leagues, is beginning to look like a steal out of a productive 2004 entry draft for the Bruins that also churned out Krejci and high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg. While Krejci and Versteeg were both taken in the first few rounds, Hunwick was a seventh round selection that’s already begun making inroads toward a full time job in the NHL.
“It’s a big opportunity to play good minutes and be a big part of this defensive corps,” said Hunwick. “I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help this squad, and also show the coaching staff that I’m capable of playing at this level.”
|Ward out at least a week||12.01.08 at 11:07 am ET|
Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward will not be making the two-game road trip through the Sunshine State (Tampa Bay and Florida) after injuring his left foot/ankle during Saturday night’s game against the Detroit Red Wings.
Ward was viewed walking through the locker room during Monday morning’s practice with a protective boot on his left foot/ankle, but declined to elaborate on the extent of his injury. “He’s not making the trip to Florida, so he’s definitely out for this week,” said B’s coach Claude Julien, who wouldn’t get any more specific than to call it a ‘leg injury’. “Then he’ll be reevaluated when we get back, and hopefully from there he’ll be day-to-day.
“Our depth is being tested more and our experienced guys are getting whittled down a little bit,” added Julien. “It is something that we have to work with a little closer. You might see some D pairs like we saw [Saturday] night where it’s not always the same pair and it’s more mix-and-match. We want to make sure we have the right combination against the other team’s top lines.”
Ward was walking through the locker room area with a healthy limp after taking the boot off, but the new NHL rules on injuries are keeping the nosy Fourth Estate from differentiating between what’s likely a sprained ankle or foot for the veteran blueliner. Expect Matt Lashoff, Johnny Boychuk or Adam McQuaid to get the call from Providence, with the Pucks with Haggs money centered squarely on Lashoff. The youngster had been practicing with the team up until Thanksgiving and has already gathered a handful of NHL experience during his up-and-down career — with the only apparent problem being that the 22-year-old’s blueline puck skill set doesn’t match up with the fallen Ward as much as perhaps the rugged McQuaid does. Mark him as the dark horse candidate if GM Peter Chiarelli goes in a different direction.
|B’s are too legit to quit||11.29.08 at 6:11 pm ET|
Proving that they’re completely undaunted by the Four Stanley Cup titles captured since 1997, the Bruins weathered the first period storm by the Red Wings and came away with a decisive 4-1 victory over the reigning champs from the Motor City.
The Bruins coaching staff and players stressed before the game that it was important not to stray too distantly from their system — whether they’re playing a gritty, dump-and-chase Eastern Conference also-ran like the New York Islanders or a roster full of puck possession players with otherworldly skills like the Detroit Red Wings — and that the name-of-the-game is to make teams adjust to the Black and Gold Way.
Not the other way around.
The 21st Century Big, Bad B’s can drop the gloves and pound away with the strongest and most ruthless goon-filled opponents; they can play the speed and precision passing games with the European-style teams that favor puck possession and dangle over simply duking it out; and they can be effective against any other style of hockey in between those disparate puck poles. The Bruins finished the month of November with an 11-1-1 record and 23 points, which marks their best month of hockey since they piled up 24 points in December of 1978 with an 11-2-2 record for that month. That, my friends, is the return of Old Time Hockey in Boston.
“It was a great challenge for us, that’s for sure,” said Zdeno Chara. “We know that they’re one of the best teams on the West side and that this would be a good measuring stick for us. We want to play our game, we want to play hard and we did that for most of the game.”
What did Big Z learn about his Bruins team tonight as he wore the Captain’s ‘C’ in the intimidating Back-in-Black third jersey, collected his 7th assist of the season and laid out a pair of hits while constantly reinforcing a pounding, physical presence around the skilled, dainty Wings playmakers?
“That we can beat anybody in this league, and that we can play anybody in this league,” said Chara. “We haven’t done anything and we’ve just beat a few teams. We need to keep pushing forward and we can’t get satisfied with the results we have. We need to keep playing our game and the results will take care of themselves.
“The most important thing for us is that the other team is adjusting to us rather than our team adjusting to them,” added Chara. “Sometimes in a game you make small adjustments, but most of the game we’re playing the system and not changing a whole lot. It’s just a matter of being disciplined and playing your game.”
Above and beyond the time-honored system chatter, the Bruins offense has also become Public Enemy Number One in the upside-down world of goaltending, as they’ve banished two straight starting goaltenders (Joey MacDonald, Ty Conklin) from their comfortable crease during blowout victories at the Garden.
What does that mean?
It means that the Bruins finally proved last night that this nice little 24-game run to start the season isn’t a phase, a hot streak or anything temporary — this edition of the Black and Gold is deep, dangerous and deadly and, barring any injuries, is likely to keep scoring wins and hockey TKOs this season. Having both Andrew Ference and potentially Aaron Ward out with injuries — in addition to post-concussion difficulties that currently have Marco Sturm on the shelf — are certainly posing a legit test of the Bruins and their impressive depth, but it’s hard to imagine anything derailing this hockey train headed for good things.
They’re Deep and they’re spectacular
Ryder showed determination, strength on the puck and plain old offensive chutzpah when he dangled through a pair of defenders with the puck, blazed down the right side of the ice and slid a pass back to a wide open Blake Wheeler for Boston’s initial score. The entire left half of the net was wide open and Wheeler buried a shot in the top left corner for the eighth goal of a banner rookie campaign. The two helpers give Ryder four points in two games since joining up with Krejci and Wheeler — a trend that will likely keep the forwards together if things stay bountiful for the B’s.
“[Ryder] just won two battles, and that’s the name of the game: winning battles,” said Wheeler. “He gave us a 2-on-1 and that’s how you score goals in this league…by winning battles. The last two games Rydes has been awesome and hopefully for the rest of the season this is the guy that you see. Because he’s been really, really, really good.”
Each member of the Krejci/Ryder/Wheeler combo finished the night with a +2 and once again proved that any of the Bruins’ top three lines can strike at any time. Apparently Ryder will have to do some work to make more of an impression on Wings head coach Mike Babcock, however, as the Wings bench boss couldn’t remember the oh-so-anonymous guy that finished with a pair of assists and a +2 against his club when all the ice chips had settled.
“[The Bruins] have good players. I think they are starting to come of age. They have been drafting high for a long time and it starts to show after a period of time,” said Babcock. “That Kessel kid can really fly. Savard is more committed than he has been in the past. Lucic is a big body and really skates.
“I thought that the Krejci line with Wheeler and who was the other guy there on the line tonight? It doesn’t matter any way I thought they were effective against us tonight. Bergeron is a great two-way player, with Axelsson. Oh and Ryder was with them mostly. That’s three good lines.”
The single hottest Bruins’ offensive player doesn’t reside on that red-hot line, however. That honor goes to Phil Kessel, who scored Boston’s second goal on a screaming wrist shot from the top of the point in the first period, and marked his ninth consecutive game with at least one point.
That gives Kessel the longest active streak currently going in the NHL, and marks the third-longest point streak in the league this season. Kessel was on a pace to finish with 41 goals and 24 assists before heading into Saturday night’s statement victory, and the lightning-legged youngster continues to give Boston the sniper they’ve longed for since rigor mortis set in on Glen Murray.
Making due without Ward
The Bruins have displayed a breathtaking show of depth over the16-4-4 start, and that’s going to have to continue holding true after another injury hit Saturday night. Veteran defenseman Aaron Ward exited the game with a leg injury after only three shifts and 3:43 of ice time in the first period. Ward had skated in hard and laid a physical check on Detroit defenseman Derek Meech, and he didn’t return after immediately skating off the ice.
“It’s a leg injury,” said Julien. “You guys all saw when he hit the boards there that he came out limping. There’s not much we can do here. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow and hopefully when we practice on Monday we can give you a better assessment of his injury.”
Ward’s injury forced the Bruins blueline corps to play Iron Man hockey for roughly the last 50 minutes of the hockey game, and — in the words of Dennis Wideman — Claude Julien was basically pairing ‘D’ according to “who was sucking the least amount of wind on the bench.”
It’s too early to speculate on the seriousness of Ward’s leg problem, but another Matt Lashoff call-up seems almost automatic after practicing with the team and acting as a healthy scratch up until last Thursday. With Andrew Ference out with a broken right tibia and now Ward potentially gone with a leg injury, the B’s backliners will have to each step up and fill the shot-blocking bravery, physical persona and off-ice leadership that Ward provides on a daily basis.
“[Ward] eats a lot of minutes up and he plays against the other team’s top line,” said Dennis Wideman, who played a Herculean 28:36 of ice time in the win over the cooked Wings. “He’s a good defender and he’s a guy that shuts teams down. He finishes a lot of checks in his own zone and he blocks a ton of shots, and he’s tough to play against. He does a really good job of shutting other team’s down, so obviously somebody else is going to have to step up and do that.
“Of course there’s a challenge if we’re down another D,” added Wideman. “Somebody will be coming up from the minors. Last year we had a lot of injury problems on defense, and Providence does a really good job of getting guys ready to come up here. There’s a lot of skill, and just like when [Matt] Hunwick stepped in when Ference got hurt and did a great job…we expect whoever they call up will do the same.
Manny, Manny, Manny
It seemed somewhat out of place to hear the “Manny, Manny, Manny” chants cascading through the sellout crowd of 17, 565 at the Garden on Saturday night, but Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez is beginning to feel the same kind of fan affection that’s been showered on Tim Thomas over the last three years. Fernandez made 29 saves and won both ends of back-to-back games — the first time this season that the veteran netminder has been entrusted with both ends of a back-to-backer.
Julien noted how well Fernandez has been playing in giving the former Minnesota Wild ‘tender the start against the Red Wings, but the Boston bench jockey also wanted to give Thomas some time to recover from an illness that bothered him this week.
“Well me personally, again my teammates the way they’ve been playing, I can’t say enough- the way they’ve been putting it in the net, getting the outside shot, I mean anyone who gets to play on a team like that ‘ it’s amazing it’s an easy game to play,” said Fernandez. “You just concentrate on the first shot and they clear the rebounds and they’ve been really effective and they came out really strong tonight.”
|First blood at the Gahden||11.21.08 at 9:30 pm ET|
There’s a reason they call it drawing first blood.
The Bruins have scored the first goal an amazing 15 times in their 20 games thus far this season, and it’s allowed the Black and Gold to truly go on the offensive and attack other teams with previously unseen aplomb. In those 15 games the Bruins have built up an impressive 10-3-2 record.
So during a rare Friday evening tilt in the Hub — the first in over 30 years for the Bruins — when a first place hockey team easily could have been caught sleepwalking through an anti-climactic match against the lowly Florida Panthers — with perhaps a wandering eye cast toward the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night at the Bell Centre — the Big Bad B’s simply took care of business in a tidy 4-2 win. A victory so convincing that it saw restless B’s fans doing the wave in the third period of a blowout win that registers as Boston’s seventh straight at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The attention to detail is part of a mantra that Bruins coach Claude Julien obviously stressed to his team prior to the game, with an eye toward an Ottawa Senators team that bounded purposefully out of the gate last season before collapsing and crawling into the playoffs. While there aren’t any Ray Emery-style problem children in the Boston dressing room to spark turmoil, the staunch marching orders to avoid any “fat cat” syndrome were clearly understood, processed and performed to a ‘T’ on the ice last night.
The B’s players are so intent on the nightly task at hand that veteran and past Stanley Cup winner Aaron Ward is now simply refusing to mention the dreaded ‘P’ word (playoffs) in relation to the Black and Gold. You won’t hear the words “NHL” and “playoffs” coming out of Ward’s mouth until April or so…Ward refused to utter “playoffs” last night in context with the Bruins, and said he’d only be talking about “the NBA or the NFL playoffs” for a nice long time.
Ward obviously has been around long enough to know that something pretty special is starting to take place on Causeway Street.
“One of the things they preached at the beginning of the year was positioning,” said Ward. “Teams that have really positioned themselves well by Thanksgiving have a tendency to really…uh….put themselves in a favorable position with…uh…I don’t want to use the word. You can fill it in. Put themselves in good position for…it’s kind of an omen, I can’t say it…for the end of the year. I don’t want to say the ‘P’ word.
“For us [Friday night’s win] was a job we talked about from the top down. Claude talked about it and the players talked about it,” added Ward. “We had a discussion about it at the pregame skate amongst the players. About where we are and our state of being. We can’t rest on our laurels at any point this season. We’ve got to think about the here and now. The ‘P’ word is not going to be mentioned…at least not in this [locker room] stall.”
Ward’s words — minus any onerous ‘P’ words — seemed to be right in line with the message that Julien delivered to the esteemed Fourth Estate after the game. It was something about staying inside the warm, welcoming and comfortable bubble the Bruins have built for themselves while setting the standard of excellence in the Eastern Conference with 30 points through 20 games.
“I don’t think we feel too good about ourselves, and the one thing we do realize, and, you’ve got to remember guys, we can start reading what you guys are writing, and we can believe everything. Or we can stay in our little bubble and understand what got us to where we are and realize that those kinds of things are what’s going to keep us there,” said Julien. “I’m saying that because our team has not had to face this kind of situation for a long time, and we have to learn to be able to handle this.
“Being in first place is great, but the minute you get comfortable ‘ and I can use the Ottawa Senators, 15-2 last year, and I can use other examples as well ‘ this is a humbling game, and we just have to make sure that we understand what it takes every night,” added Julien “That’s the kind of message we keep giving our team: don’t get too high, don’t get too low, but don’t start believing everything you read.
The Bruins effectively outshot, outlasted and outclassed an underwhelming Panthers hockey club. They also won the inevitable game of fisticuffs that appeared once the game got out of hand in the second period. Milan Lucic and old friend Nick Boynton engaged in a tough guy scrum at center ice that spilled plenty of blood from both sides.
Both players got a few shots in, but Boynton left the ice after Lucic opened up a cut along the former Bruins defenseman’s forehead following a series of vicious right and left-handed mixture of jabs and haymakers. Boynton’s face was a bloody mess by the end of the brawl. That decision easily went to the Big Looch, which makes him 2-0 in fights on the season after bloodying Boynton and knocking Mike Komisarek out of the Habs lineup with a shoulder injury. There has to be, however, some extra credit given to the steely Boynton for hanging in and getting a few licks of his own in amid the flurry of Lucic fists, which were also red with blood by the end of the exchange.
Aaron Ward also tangled with Keith Ballard after the veteran defenseman came in hard — and perhaps a bit low — on Marc Savard in the middle of the second period. It was business as usual for Ward, who again showed that this Bruins team isn’t going to timidly back down or fail to protect a teammate when something isn’t sitting well with the B’s bench.
“I thought the hit was late, and then not only was it late but I also thought the hit was low,” said Ward. “It was my first reaction.”
Hunwick continuing to improve
The blueline education of Matt Hunwick continued last night, and the young defenseman kept impressing with an assist and an eye-opening +3 on the evening. That makes it three straight games Hunwick has registered at last one point with a goal and three assists over that short span. While the man he was replacing on the rearguard, Andrew Ference, was playing the best hockey of his career by his own admission, “Huddy” hasn’t been too shabby either as the puck-moving, offensive interim solution along the blue line.
Hunwick’s performance continues to exemplify the impressive organizational depth that the Bruins have built up for themselves. Their roster goes well past the 20 skaters dressing on a nightly basis and extends to another 3-5 players capable of stepping in without a beat when the inevitable injury bug beckons. All told, Hunwick has a goal and three assists along with a +7 in eight games this season and was given a bit of time on the power play unit Friday night as a reward for his consistent efforts.
“We talk about confidence and the experience. He’s getting better and a lot of has to do with because he’s playing. A lot of it starts in practice and he’s been patient and working hard,” said Julien. “Now he’s got a chance to play and when you’ve got some games where you’ve got a lead you can use him even more. That’s the way that you develop players. He’ll be getting those opportunities if he responds, and lately he’s been responding.”
The Kids are all right
The impressive early returns on David Krejci continue to pour in, and no solitary play was more indicative of the 22-year-old’s patience, stick-handling and creativity than his second period goal which pushed the B’s lead to 3-1. Krejci found the puck on his stick along the right side with a good deal of open ice in front of
him, but — rather than make a mad impetuous dash toward the net as many NHL youngsters might in that frantic situation — the young centerman instinctively pulled the puck back, slowed the throbbing tempo to a hockey crawl and then deftly slid a cross-ice pass over to Chuck Kobasew.
Kobasew fired at the net and the loose puck promptly kicked right back to Krejci for the easy putback goal — a simple, elegant, dare I say nifty hockey play that continues to scratch away at what’s promising to be a great surface for the young Czech Republic skater.
“That’s David Krejci,” said Julien. “He controls the play so well and he controls the pace of it too. I’ve seen players in the past that were so good at that. I remember J.F. Sauve from the Quebec Nordiques was one of those guys that would make those plays to slow things down. John Chabot, who’s an assistant coach with the Islanders was one of those players too. They’re gifted with the stick and they find seams. Savvy does it a bit for us too. He’s a good players and he’s just starting to grow into the player that we all expected him to be.”
While Krejci has impressed with the way he’s conjured up magic tricks with the puck, Kessel continues to simply burn away hapless defenders with his rare combination of speed and dead-eye shot. Kessel got behind the Panthers ‘D’ after a great tape-to-tape pass by Savard, and beat Tomas Vokoun with a forehand for the game’s first goal — an easy-as-pie pseudo penalty shot for the sniping scorer.
“I’m not doing anything different,” said Kessel, when asked what’s improved for him this season. “The pucks are finding the back of the net now, and they weren’t before. That’s about it. There’s no magic formula.”
With Friday night’s score, Kessel has a team-high 10 goals in only 20 games and seems well on his way to becoming Boston’s first 40-goal scorer since Glen Murray sniped 44 tallies for the Black and Gold way back in 2002-2003 en route to a 92 point season.
Hard to believe it’s been that long since the Bruins had a 40-goal scorer. Or maybe it isn’t given the recent history of the Bruins Crew.
“It seems like he and Savvy are feeding off each other,” said Ward. “It’s the old [University of Michigan hockey coach] Red Berenson thing, If you have speed you’ve got to use it. Especially now with the rule changes we as defenseman can do nothing about it.”
|Ward’s interview with Dale and Holley||11.12.08 at 3:38 pm ET|
Hey, all you hockey pucks as my old middle school math teacher [and Hall of Fame High School hockey coach] Mr. Burns used to call us…Here’s the full transcript from the Aaron Ward interview during this afternoon’s Dale and Holley Program on WEEI. As usual, Ward seems to be polishing up his oratory skills for a long and lucrative post-career run in hockey broadcasting that seems to be his destiny once the 34-year-old hangs ‘em up.
I think there’s one line in the conversation that was classic “Aaron Ward” and it’s something that he managed to slip right in there without the need for anybody to stop and take notice. Just a really quick dry delivery of a throw-away line that used Claude Julien’s follicles as the unwitting foil for Ward’s rapier wit.
See if you can find it in among the Q and A, and then wonder if Julien plans on recreating the Herb Brooks scene from Miracle with the mischevous Ward during the next B’s practice. Here’s one of my favorite scenes in a sports movie followed by the Ward interview:
I was going to thank you anyway, but we got an email that said: “Guys, from a military family please thank Aaron Ward for his donation to veterans during Saturday night’s game. I went with my veteran brother and it was a special night. The Bruins and Aaron Ward did a great job.” You put your money where your mouth is and a lot of people appreciate it. AW: Oh, thank you very much. I make the US my home in the summers and just through my experiences with my wife — and I said it in the papers the other day — I think the most underpaid and underappreciated jobs in this world are the teachers and the military. Any time I can help I am glad to do it.
Where did you get the idea to do it? If there’s a story behind the story please tell us what it is. AW: Well, it’s a two-pronged story. Over the summer I thought about doing something like this, especially after signing the contract. I think you waste an opportunity as an athlete if you don’t have some kind of effect on the community. I think that was one of the things that was instilled in us at the University of Michigan and when I signed my contract I contacted [Bruins Media Relations Director] Matt Chmura about wanting to do something.
Whether it was a a suite and we bring in an active duty military family for each game or recognizing them because it’s for their family as well. When we go on the road for six days my kids are miserable, so I can’t even imagine being deployed for a whole year. And the effect it has on your family and the struggle it puts your family in. I was in Vancouver on the last road trip and I had seen a CNN piece on the deployment of an infantry unit from Taunton, Mass. There was a little boy during the drills when they stand up — and they’re obviously getting ready to go — and a little boy held onto his dad’s leg for an hour straight and they just kind of let it happen even though it was outside of normal military standards.
So I called Matt right after that and said that we’ve got to do something, and ironically enough he said it was military night [last] Saturday. It’s only money. That’s the funny thing you come away with at the end of it is that it’s only money. But it obviously had an effect and gave some people an opportunity to put their interests and their problems aside and give them a good hockey game.
This team is a point behind first place. What have the keys to your success been so far? AW:I think unity. We got off on a road trip in Colorado and played all right in Colorado and not great in Minnesota. Even though we’re a pretty young team I think we figured out early that we had to right the ship. And we played pretty cohesive. It’s one of the things you figure out right now is that when things are going well — and you start to be analytical about the state of your team — one of the things that’s occurred is that winning has just happened.
It’s just one of those things where you go into games where you’re thinking about what they’re going to do or you’re hoping for two points. You go in, you play the game and inevitably the results end up working out in your favor. That’s the kind of state that we’re in right now. We’re a good team. We know we’re very good. It’s not going to be perfect every night, but the fact that you overcome some of the hiccups and maintain some consistency…then things start working out in your favor.
In talking about the Bruins before the season started, I thought one of the big things is that there wouldn’t be a lot of talk about learning the system or figuring each other out. You went through it last year. Has that been a bonus this year? AW:Yeah, I think we only had a couple of guys that we had to assimilate into the system this year. Stephane Yelle, who is obviously a veteran player and a smart player that can pick it up. But it becomes second nature and when you’re all playing on the same page it’s very obvious.
You talked a little bit about the rebirth of Chicago. We watched some video and it seems like the same thing is happening with them where they’re all on the same page whether it’s line one or line four. They’re all contributing and all playing the same system. It’s easy to plug guys in and pull guys out. I’m sure it causes coaches to lose their hair when they have to keep reminding and going back to fix things. Maybe that might explain Claude’s hairline right now [because of] his past teams, but hopefully we can help him right now.
One of the things that has stuck out to me has been that the defense has been more involved this season. Is that just circumstance or has Claude loosened the reigns a little bit with the defenseman? AW:I don’t think he’s loosened the reigns, but he’s basically mandated that the defenseman have to get up in the play. So it’s a two-pronged philosophy there. You’re going to add to the offense or you’re going to cut down on the gaps between their forwards which is going to make it more of a pressure situation where you don’t give those players all that time and all room to maneuver and be creative. When you take time away from good players then it adds time for you affect the overall game.
You talked about jumping in offensively, but one of the things that I think has happened is that we’ve maintained our patience defensively and it opens up opportunities. You see [Dennis] Wideman going out and getting on the scoreboard, and we’re getting more contributions from out defenseman because we’re taking care of our responsibilities and everything is just flowing.
I know pro hockey players don’t like to talk about moral victories, but what did the loss to Montreal in the playoffs do for your team — if anything? AW:I think it quickly matured our team. You can’t discount the fact that we even had some veteran guys that have never gone through the playoffs. When you go through a pressure situation — especially if you through a series that’s gone seven games — you realize you can get a perspective on things where during the regular season there really isn’t all that much in terms of pressure.
You go out and play the games because you have the skill and you’re there for a reason, but you don’t think so much about the game and you don’t put too much into it. To get a guy like Looch, Kessel and Krejci and you get a chance to see what it’s like to be in the NHL playoffs…I think it’s priceless. So I think we’ve added that into our game where we can find a level of emotion or excitement and it’s self generated. We don’t feel as though we have to go around the rink and look in the stands, but hopefully derive some sort of motivation from that.
The NHL has become such a special teams league — maybe too much of a special teams league in my opinion — and the power play has been pretty good, but the penalty kill has been nowhere near good enough. What has to change there? AW: Well actually if you look at the stats — and unfortunately we can’t do this and it’s not available to us — but if we could forget the first two to three weeks of our penalty kill and you could just look at what we’re doing now, there’s been a philosophical change in our penalty kill.
We had played so tight on the penalty kill, and it was positionally sound but it just wasn’t working for us. So we made a philosophical change that the moment there’s a hiccup, or a turnover or a bobbling of the puck and one guy goes, then the other three guys go. So we are now providing more pressure and I think you can see our penalty kill starting to climb. I’d like to say that it’s obviously not good enough because I think the last time I looked we were 26th in the league, but we had been 30th. So you’ve got to look at the progress and hope the philosophical change has righted the ship at this point.
With the new rules in hockey you heard a lot about the rules making it hard to compete for defenseman, but you never hear about it anymore. Is it that the defenseman are tired of talking about it, or it that you’ve just adjusted to it? AW:I think it’s both. We’ve both evolved and adapted and it’s a war of attrition where those that haven’t kept up have fallen by the wayside. The defenseman we’re talking about were not really mobile and were usually filling the role of a tough guy position, and now it’s opened up to a skill position.
There is still that element of fear where as a defensman you could have a guy like Looch on your back and you saw it against Buffalo in the last game where [Tony] Lydman — rather than dealing with maybe a separated shoulder or a concussion from a hit he was going to throw — he just opted to go to the front of the net. Now I wouldn’t advise that for a defenseman from a morale standpoint on your team, but you see that players are adapting and figuring it out. And rule changes have also helped. On the touch icing there’s a penalty now if you’re going in without responsibility and trying to kill a defenseman because you know he’s going to be vulnerable going for the puck.
The game has evolved and the players have evolved and adapted sufficiently to make the game a better game.
You alluded earlier to fan support and what it means. When the stands are full at the Garden and the place is jumping, what does it mean for you guys? AW: You go back to the word priceless. We used to joke in the first two years when I got here that the fans dressed up as stadium seats because there were so many empties. But when you walk out for the first period and the National Anthem and you see it full, it’s an intimidating force. I know as an opponent when I go into other buildings — and I’ll use the example of Montreal — they’re irate. The fans are crazy and they get into the game and get behind their team 100 percent and it just provides an added boost.
In Boston as an athlete — and you want to talk about egos — it’s not that you want to matter as an athlete but you want your team matter. You want your team to matter to the city. It’s a big boost to know that when you get there that people are talking about you, people are there to support you and people are behind you 100 percent.
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