|Bruins make Highlight Reel at NHL All-Star Game||01.25.09 at 10:57 pm ET|
MONTREAL — The biggest lingering impression from All-Star Weekend in Montreal?
The Bruins cast just as big a hockey shadow during the Friday-through-Sunday festivities at the Bell Centre as they have while carving up the Eastern Conference during the hockey season’s first half. Once again the B’s came into the Habs’ backyard and took things over more than a little bit — even if Prima Donna Russian forward Alex Kovalev nabbed MVP honors with his shootout winner in the 12-11 victory for the Eastern Conference.
Rookie Blake Wheeler started things off by nabbing MVP honors in the YoungStars Game on Saturday, and Zdeno Chara followed by obliterating the record for the NHL’s hardest shot with a 105.4 mph blast that furthered the Bunyan-esque growing legend of Big Z. It was obviously an important moment for Chara as — after the game – he politely declined a Hockey Hall of Fame official’s request to procure the stick used to break the record. That particular 65 inch Easton stick is going back home to the Chara trophy case, but the towering D-man instead gladly donated one of his sticks used during actual All-Star Game action.
Tim Thomas was at his flip-flopping and leap-frogging best during the entire exhibition weekend. The B’s goaltender distanced himself from the other All-Star masked men by challenging every single shot at every opportunity. Thomas pretty much morphed into a little boy in his own driveway turning away bid after bid from the older neighborhood kids. After allowing some goals early in the third period, he zoned into true shutdown mode over the final four minutes of the third period, overtime and then in the shootout against Shane Doan and Rick Nash.
Here’s youtube to help out with an OT and shootout that were pretty entertaining…Thomas save on Iginla comes at the 3:38 mark of overtime.
The victory makes Thomas the winning goaltender in each of the last two All-Star Games, the fifth time in NHL All-Star Game history that a goalie has captured the W in two consecutive games. The others are Frank Brimsek (1947, 48), Jacques Plante (1958, 59), Johnny Bower (1961, 62) and Martin Brodeur (1997, 98). Thomas made a trademark sliding save against Jarome Iginla on the doorstep during overtime — one of his three saves in OT — that saved the game for the Eastern Conference and helped push them through the victorious shootout.
Not bad for a guy that didn’t even appear on the All-Star ballot this season.
Marc Savard picked up three assists during the game centering a high-wattage line that featured Dany Heatley on his right wing and Alex Ovechkin along his left, and the B’s playmaker was also the final runner-up in Saturday’s newly adopted elimination shootout event.
Bruins coach Claude Julien exited the weekend exuding his trademark class after opting for the high road at each and every turn while truly embracing the All-Star opportunity — a choice that others might not have taken while visiting the site of a former coaching job that ended with a pink slip. A firing of Julien back in 2006 made way for current Habs coach and Eastern Conference All-Star assistant coach Guy Carbonneau.
Instead Julien sat back and watched his players excel during the NHL’s showcase of their best and brightest, and then rolled out the pucks in last night’s game until things tightened up in the third period.
“I think this has been an outstanding weekend,” said Julien. “You can talk to any player, talk to any coaches. The way it’s been organized by this organization. The way the people that came to Montreal — and the Montreal fans — the way they’ve reacted to all of this has just made this whole weekend outstanding.
“Our players really enjoyed it,” added Julien. “They had a great weekend. They represented us extremely well.”
That being said, here’s a taste of what the Bruins’ participants will be taking away from All-Star weekend:
Tim Thomas: “The feeling of victory after we won shootout. Even though it’s an All-Star game and it’s supposed to be about fun — and it’s not supposed to be about being competitive. But every single person in here is a competitor. It doesn’t mean anything in the long run, but it’s just like if you’re out in the driveway and you scored a goal. That feeling you get, you know. It felt the same to me as any other shootout.
Zdeno Chara: “The skills competition. It was very special to me. It’s something that I’ll never forget and it’s something that can only happen to you a few times in your lifetime and in your career. I’ve always said before that records are made to be broken, and I’m just glad that I could get this one over with. It took 16 or 17 years to break this record, so we’ll see how long it takes to break this one.”
Claude Julien: “You come here to have fun, but you also have a lot of pride and you want to represent your organization well. All of our guys were outstanding. Tim stood tall in the shootout, and even that save with the stretched out pad. Z winning the competition with his shot. Savvy making it to the last two in the shootout. An MVP for Wheeler. Every single one of our players stood out at one point, and that’s great for the organization. Those certainly made the organization proud.”
Blake Wheeler: “I came away from the weekend just really impressed with watching all of these players up close, and just seeing how they go about their day-to-day business. For me it was a behind-the-scenes look at everything, and I just came away so impressed with everybody here. It was a fun weekend, for sure.”
|Sounds of the game… Blues 5, Bruins 4, SO||01.19.09 at 6:40 pm ET|
Just when you thought you knew these Bruins, something like Monday happens. Even teams in the middle of sensational seasons like the Bruins can cough up a lung like the Black and Gold did on Monday. And it was quite the hack.
The Bruins fought back from a 2-1 deficit with a pair of power play goals by Michael Ryder and P.J. Axelsson 19 seconds apart to take a 3-2 lead. When Zdeno Chara made it 4-2 with 3:05 left, Boston’s first home ice win over St. Louis since Jan. 30, 2001 seemed in the bag. But then that chicken bone got caught in the B’s throat.
David Perron made it 4-3 on a 6-on-4 power play and David Backes batted one out of mid-air with 0.8 seconds, a goal that was reviewed for five minutes before being allowed. Then the two team went scoreless for five minutes forcing a shootout. It was a tough day for Blake Wheeler. He missed an open net with 20 seconds to go in regulation that would have iced the game. Then he hit the right post when St. Louis goalie Chris Mason was caught out of position.
Brad Boyes scored the clinching goal as the Blues won the shootout, 2-0, and the game, 5-4.
|Lucic and Wheeler invited to All-Star Weekend||01.09.09 at 11:16 am ET|
A bit of good news/bad news here for the Bruins as — according to media relations guru Matt Chmura — second-year winger Milan Lucic and rookie forward Blake Wheeler were the only fresh-faced Bruins players asked to take part in the NHL All-Star Game’s newly adopted Rookies vs. Sophomores Game. The game will take place on Saturday’s All-Star Skills Competition along with traditional fare like the NHL’s hardest shot competition — a test of shooting strength that towering blueliner Zdeno Chara has turned into his own personal playground over the last few years.
In the Bad News Dept.: Somehow both second-year center David Krejci and rookie blueliner Matt Hunwick were bypassed for the game despite Krejci’s place among the NHL’s top 20 scorers this season and Hunwick’s place among rookie defenseman. Hunwick is perhaps understandable in that he’s not a household name, but Krejci has easily been among the best players in the entire NHL this season, and should have merited more consideration for the main event game at the Bell Centre on Sunday — never mind a showcase event for the NHL’s Young Guns one day prior.
–B’s General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced that Bruins winger Marco Sturm will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and may also potentially be facing ACL surgery during the same procedure. If Sturm’s ACL is torn — a notion that Chiarelli said appears to be be likely but won’t be certain until the doctors look at the injury during surgery — then the German forward will be lost for the duration of the 2008-09 season.
–Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli also announced today that the Bruins have assigned forwards Martin St. Pierre and Vladimir Sobotka to the Providence Bruins (American Hockey League). Chiarelli also informed the assembled media that the B’s would call up two forwards from Providence to take their place on the roster — as Milan Lucic will be out of the lineup with the undisclosed injury again Saturday afternoon — for tomorrow’s matinee against the Carolina Hurricanes.
St. Pierre has seen action in nine games for Boston this year and recorded 1-2=3 totals. In 30 games with the P-Bruins this season, he registered a 10-25=35 line.
The 25-year-old St. Pierre has appeared in 30 NHL games in his career – 21 with Chicago, 9 with Boston – and has tallied two goals and five assists. Signed as a free agent by the Blackhawks on November 12, 2005, St. Pierre was acquired by the Bruins on July 24, 2008 in exchange for Pascal Pelletier.
Sobotka has played in 15 games for Boston during the 2008-2009 season and recorded 1-1=2 totals. In 17 games with the P-Bruins this year, Sobotka tallied 10 goals and 11 assists.
He split the 2007-2008 season between Boston and Providence. With Boston, he saw action in 48 regular season games and contributed one goal and six assists and added two goals in six postseason games. With Providence last year, he had 10-10=20 totals in 18 regular season games and added four assists over six postseason games. Sobotka was originally drafted by the Bruins in the 4th round (106th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
The Bruins play the fifth game of a six-game homestand on Saturday, January 10 when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at 1:00 p.m. ET.
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 6, Senators 4||at 8:39 am ET|
With everyone in the Bruins locker room stopping just short of saying it was a must win, the Black and Gold came out with energy and intensity in the opening minutes of the first period to take a 2-0 lead over Ottawa. It was the first time in seven games that they scored first and they are now an impressive 19-3-2 when they light the lamp first. Then Shawn Thornton got into a fight with Ottawa’s Chris Neil and head coach Claude Julien thought that would raise his club’s intensity even more. But the opposite happened as Ottawa seemed to wake up. The Bruins blew leads of 2-0 and 3-1 before finally showing its superior muscle in the third and coming away with a 6-4 much-needed win.
|Sounds of the game… Wild 1, Bruins 0||01.07.09 at 5:38 am ET|
That was something we haven’t seen all season from the Black and Gold. The Bruins were shut out for the first time this season on Tuesday night, on home ice no less. A big part of that was Niklas Backstrom, the Finnish goalie who teamed with Boston’s own Manny Fernandez to win the Jennings Trophy in 2007 with Minnesota. Backstrom made several spectacular saves and the Bruins took three straight penalties to start the second period and the Wild finally made them pay with a power play goal on the third try, beating the aforementioned Fernandez for the game’s only goal. How good have the Bruins been this year? They hadn’t lost consecutive games in regulation since Mar. 11 and 13 of LAST SEASON and they hadn’t been shutout. Our own Joe Haggerty says Buffalo and Minnesota may be providing a blueprint on how to beat the Bruins. But listen to coach Claude Julien and his players and they’ll tell you this is no time for panic.
|A blueprint to beat the Bruins?||01.06.09 at 8:50 pm ET|
“I think for every team, every game, we talk about [scoring first] and getting an early lead and taking control of the game. I think that's an area that we will hopefully get better at tonight, starting tonight.”
Those were the words of Bruins bench boss Claude Julien prior to last night’s 1-0 snoozer of a loss at the hands of the trap-happy Minnesota Wild, and they didn’t turn out to be prescient in any way, shape or form. Instead the Bruins managed to squeeze off only six shots during an uneventful first period, took three penalties in the second period that culminated in a power play strike for the Wild and then watched as Minnesota morphed into full trap mode in front of show-stopping goalie Niklas Backstrom.
“Personally I wouldn’t pay to watch a game like that,” said goalie Manny Fernandez, who suffered his first home loss of the season in the dulled down hockey game.
After watching the B’s suffer from a distinct lack of bounces and battle through difficulties breaking the puck into the offensive zone once both the Wild and Sabres fastened the trap clamps on the hockey game, it almost appears as if a blueprint to beat the B’s is beginning to form.
A dastardly plan that will frustrate and eventually defeat the high-powered Bruins attack, and leave their scoring machine in the shop for repairs. Granted, not every team has the talent or discipline or chutzpah to implement Operation Beat the Bruins but teams with enough scoring skills — or grit – to get a lead and a good enough goaltender could do it.
In other words squads like the Buffalo Sabres and the Wild. It’s not something that’s always going to be possible given Boston’s ability to jump on the scoreboard fast and furiously, but teams may be finding a way to escape the hostile Boston Garden with a win tucked neatly under their arms. Play a checking game during five-on-five to frustrate and fluster the Bruins skaters and then try to do your offensive damage on the power play. Then hold on tight for dear hockey life.
The Bruins were certainly a frustrated and blocked up bunch after the game. Scorers like David Krejci and Blake Wheeler have been lighting the lamp with reckless abandon over the first 39 games of the season, but suddenly looked altogether human in Boston’s first zero goal effort of the season. Even Wheeler looked a bit out of sorts in a game against his boyhood team as he dangled and attempted to dazzle with one-on-one moves but couldn’t register a single shot in 18:15 of ice time.
“We were trying; we were battling, but they were just sitting back and basically chipping pucks out and shooting anything else. It was tough after that,” said B’s defenseman Zdeno Chara. “They don't need much and then when they do get a goal or two, they start to play really kind of defensive trap and it's really hard to get through. But, that's not an excuse for us. We created some chances like I said, but we couldn't score.”
Krejci and Michael Ryder both threw up three shots on net with Backstrom robbing Krejci in the second period when the crafty center seemingly had a wide open net to pick from. The Wild netminder athletically leaped across the crease to fill up the open real estate and smother the shot. Ryder smacked the left pipe with ringing authority on a perfect curl-and-drag set up coming off the left boards, and added to the B’s puck luck going south of the border just as the opposition’s defensive intensity strengthened.
Julien predictably isn’t buying any of the blueprint or formula for beating the Bruins talk, and is instead focused on what his team isn’t doing at this point: play with focus, creativity, passion and the two-way defensive responsibility that became a hallmark of their puck success.
“Our game just isn't quite there. Then you get some good momentum at the end of the second period when you get the [shot off the] post by [Michael] Ryder, the unbelievable save on [David] Krejci, the goaltender [Niklas Backstrom] I don't know how he saw that one. He made some really good saves at key moments,” said Julien. “All we needed was one shot to tie the hockey game, so it's not the end of the world.
“Again, talking about our team, we're just not in sync right now and it has nothing to do with the other team, more than it has to do with us. We see things from our team that definitely have slipped, and not as good as things are than when they were going well.”
So what do Julien and his staff do with a team that’s running low on confidence and a bit short of their ideal depth with Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron nowhere near returning from injury and Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward still working their way back into the mix?
“First of all you don't panic. Like I said, I don't think anybody thought we were going to be flying away, flying away for eighty two games without going through some bumps and bruises,” said Julien. “It's a combination of a lot of things. [Andrew] Ference, [Aaron] Ward, [Patrice] Bergeron, [Marco] Sturm: I think those are four pretty important players missing out of our lineup.
“Eventually things catch up as well in different areas. We've got four real quality guys out of the lineup, you've got some top players that probably aren't at the top of their game, so it doesn't take much to slip a little bit. You just have to work your way through it. I think that's all we're going to be doing here: address the situation; we're going to show the guys where we've slipped or what needs to get better. We're going to work at and work our way out of it; that's all you can do.”
Time to end the experiment
Claude Julien’s tactic of plugging lovable Swede P.J. Axelsson on the first line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel — along with placing him on the first PP unit — was excellent for the initial spark that it provided his club, but the time has come to insert a grittier player back up on the front line with the two skilled craftsman. It was the reason that Julien inserted Chuck Kobasew onto the first line in the waning minutes of Saturday afternoon’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres and it’s presumably why Shawn Thornton took at least one shift on the top line during the third period of last night’s limp showing.
Meanwhile, Milan Lucic is on the third line continuing to be the B’s leading body checker night in and night out, and he seems a bit miscast skating on the third line. Particularly so when he could be once again clearing much-needed space for Savard and Kessel on the top unit. It seems to only make too much sense when you begin watching a team search for an offensive spark over the last two games when they were awash in goal-scoring glory over the first 38 games.
There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it was a temporary move to place Axelsson in the B’s offensive catbird seat, but there’s a reason the longest-tenured Bruins has only two goals on the season — and only one of them has come with an actual goaltender between the pipes. It might be take to shake things up again, or it might just be time to put things back the way they used to be.
|Ryder is happy to be out of hockey jail||01.02.09 at 5:29 pm ET|
The telltale signs are all there that Michael Ryder has long since removed the bitter sting of last season’s regrets from his mind. The 28-year-old seemed to take a year-long lap of misery around Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau’s dog house while alternating between the bench and miscast roles for a gifted scorer on the Canadiens’ third and fourth lines.
Ryder’s well-chronicled struggles led to a career-low 14 goals and painful splinters on the pine for much of last season’s Stanley Cup playoff run by the Habs. The phrase rock-bottom comes readily to mind, but his lap of discontent at the Bell Centre essentially seems like it was a million hockey years ago now.
With a hope that all his troubles would be left behind in Quebec, Ryder inked a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bruins last summer but the jury was out after the first month of the season.
Ryder was standing strong along the wall and utilizing his wiry 6-foot, 192-pound frame while adhering to a strong, responsible brand of two-way hockey, but let’s be completely honest here. The 1998 8th round pick of the Habs had scored only three goals through Nov. 26 and critics had stepped forth to question both the signing and Ryder’s desire to finish off scoring plays.
Then Ryder tallied a pair of goals in the traditional afternoon game on the day after Thanksgiving and completely took off on a lamp-lighting tear during the merry, merry month of December. A grand total of nine markers during the 13 Bruins games played in December signaled a goal-scoring bonanza, and Ryder has become an integral part of the Ryder/David Krejci/Blake Wheeler troika that’s been left intact while B’s coach Claude Julien tinkers with the other two top skating lines.
“I was definitely getting the chances at the time and it wasn’t going in,” said Ryder of his struggles early in the season. “I definitely don’t have any ready answers. I just tried to keep working hard and shooting the puck, and said that eventually it will start going in.
“Maybe I was trying to pick my spots a little too much and trying to be a little too fine,” added Ryder. “Once I got on a roll with Krejci and Wheeler as a line, though, things really started working out well.”
One of the keys to Ryder’s success? A short memory. Ryder is done wondering whether Carbonneau had benched him for lack of production, a personality clash or some other perceived misdeed that Montreal’s bench boss never bothered to pass along to the scuffling player at any time last year.
“Last year was a tough year and I honestly don’t even want to think about it any more,” said Ryder. “I’m just trying to fit in here and it hasn’t been that hard. That’s for sure. It’s always easy when you’re playing. That’s the main thing: I wanted to play and help the team.
“I don’t even think about [the last year in Montreal] because I have a job to do here,” added Ryder. “Everybody goes through tough times and people have been there in their careers before. We just need to keep our mind on what we’re doing here and keep our foot on the gas pedal.”
Ryder has packed away the unfulfilled expectations and bitter residue left over from his time donning the Habs sweater in Montreal, and is instead simply focused on the task at hand in the Hub. It’s something that’s allowed a quiet, efficient concentration on taking pucks hard to the net and unloading his unfairly quick snap shot on unsuspecting goaltenders all over the NHL.
This year the team success has melded with Ryder’s individual production, and for all intents and purposes the B’s and Claude Julien have allowed the two-time 30 goal scorer to escape from the depths of hockey jail deep in the heart of Canada. He’s on pace to pot 30 goals again this season while riding shotgun with Krejci and Wheeler, and that’s exactly what GM Peter Chiarelli had in mind when he bagged the free agent.
Julien has seen a return of the skilled shooter that could reel off two or three goals in a game and has always had the knack for potting the right score at the right time — a trait attested by his NHL-best seven game-winning daggers thus far this season.
“I hope he’s enjoying his season a little better…he’s on a team that’s winning a lot of hockey games,” said Julien. “When you lead the league in game-winning goals that has to be a lot of fun to be leading with that stat. I think he’s found a pretty comfortable niche here where he’s enjoying himself with the guys and the guys appreciate him as well.
“He’s been a good fit for us,” added Julien. “Even though he got off to a bit of a slow start in the goal-scoring area, he made up for it with a lot of things. Now he’s found his scoring touch and he’s scoring goals, and there’s no doubt that has to be a lot more fun than being a healthy scratch some nights.”
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