|It’s all good… Bruins ready for two-city trip||12.09.08 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.
Put ‘em up… Manny Fernandez, not to be confused with Stan Jonathan, joked with tough guy Milan Lucic about a pugilistic battle on the ice should the Bruins win the Stanley Cup.
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.
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 5, Lightning 3||at 7:32 am ET|
You know you’re a good hockey team when your coach says, “We’re getting used to wins, and that’s nice. But we’re at the stage now where we’re really looking at how we’re winning hockey games.” Claude Julien didn’t have to say anything to his team following its 5-3 dispatching of the woebegone Tampa Bay Lightning at the Garden. He left them to think about how a 3-0 first period lead turned into a nail-biter in the final minute of regulation. All of which leads to this, when you are a good team you learn from your wins just as much as your losses and that was the case last night. The Bruins are still in phenomenal shape at 19-4-4, with 42 points and atop the Eastern Conference. Only the unconscious San Jose Sharks have more points in the NHL.
|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.”
|Yelle getting comfortable in the East||12.04.08 at 10:52 am ET|
It would have been pretty easy to assume Father Time had simply come calling a bit prematurely for veteran center Stephane Yelle when the thirtysomething pivot was slow-moving out of the gate this season. The 34-year-old seemed to be having trouble getting into the flow of the game and the faceoff specialist — targeted by the Black and Gold in the offseason for his ability to win draws along the dot and specialize in the little things needed to kill penalties – was uncharacteristically struggling in the faceoff circle while hovering around a 40 percent success rate.
Looking back in hindsight, it’s probably understandable that there was a healthy period of adjustment for Yelle, who has always been a Western Conference denizen and carries around hockey skill set that doesn’t exactly jump out and grab the unsuspecting fan.
In many ways Yelle is similar to P.J. Axelsson in his ability to go long periods of ice time doing all the little things without screaming out for attention with a teeth-chattering body check or a one-man dangle-fest through a host of defenders before scoring. Off the ice, he’s similarly quiet and reserved while also holding the respect of younger players that probably spent an ample amount of time playing Yelle in Sega Genesis or Playstation video game hockey.
The 34-year-old simply had to make an adjustment to the Eastern Conference-style and tinker with his hockey dial to something with a great deal more aggressive physicality and dump-and-chase puck philosophy, and that adjustment seems to now be complete. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder was scoreless through his first seven games and sat at a -2 through that time period, but things finally started to slow down for the seasoned vet just as the Bruins team caught fire.
Yelle is back up to winning 49.7 percent of his faceoffs, and has quickly learned the habits and tricks of the trade employed by his new Eastern Conference draw adversaries. Opposing centers basked in the element of surprise during Yelle’s first time around the division, but the Old Rebel Yelle Dog has caught on to the new tricks.
“Yeah, there’s definitely always a transition period to a new team, but I feel like I’ve been around long enough to really be comfortable with the guys now,” said Yelle. “I’m comfortable with the systems and stuff. Usually you don’t want to get off to a bad start [with the faceoffs] because it’s a long climb up, but I’ve been working hard, doing different things and not being predictable. There are different little strategies you can implement to keep guys guessing.”
Yelle will switch things up on opponents that feel like they’ve got Yelle pegged. The former Avalanche and Flames skater will take some draws with his backhand and go after others with his forehand – or just tie a guy up and attempt winning a one-on-one battle for the free puck — that all fits under the heading of the cat-and-mouse game played with the opposing centers that he’s customarily lining up with.
“Coming from the Western Conference, you play the same guys a lot and you don’t know the Eastern guys as much,” added Yelle. “You don’t know their tendencies and sometimes it becomes a guessing game. Now that I’ve played them a couple of times I’m getting an idea of what they intend to do, and hopefully it can help me out down the road.”
Yelle has 3 goals and 5 assists and sits at a +2 in his last 17 games and the Bruins coaching staff has taken note of him reaching his water level – even if his contributions aren’t easily pinpointed by a casual perusal of the postgame stat sheet. He’s on a pace for 10 goals and 17 assists this season, which would be perfectly acceptable numbers out of the middle man on the energy line.
“Our young guys have been getting better in the faceoff circle and Yelle really brings that experience when he gets in there,” said Julien. “We knew when we brought Stephane in here that he would have a veteran presence and a lot of experience along with his penalty kill and faceoff skills. He’s been a very good fit for this team.”
|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.
|Cherry calling out Looch, or just Don Being Don?||11.30.08 at 12:25 pm ET|
Don Cherry is always nothing if not outspoken, but did he step over the line and invite the ire of a top-of-the-world Bruins Nation after his weekly edition of Coach’s Corner yesterday evening on Hockey Night in Canada? Grapes was doing his usual eight minutes of hockey bluster thing and going through his observations for the week, and then he stopped to applaud rugged New York Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt.
Cherry gave Witt an attaboy and called him a warrior for taking on “Lucy” when the Isles played the Bruins last weekend. Grapes was pointing out that Witt was showing courage in dancing with Milan Lucic during a blowout loss before a frenzied Garden crowd last Friday, but there seemed to also be a potential dig at Lucic.
Co-Host Ron MacLean quickly corrected Cherry and said Lucic, but it caused me to wonder whether Cherry was purposely mispronouncing Looch after the “L’Affaire Laraque” in Montreal last week. Grapes can sometimes be at a loss for names and bungle anything that doesn’t sound like a name out of the Mississauga phone book, so pure Grapes error is more likely. In fact, Dandy Don butchers at least a couple of names in the Coach’s Corner segment before even getting to Lucic. Cherry has always been complimentary of Looch in the past, and just last week he had a few bon mots for both Marc Savard and Andrew Ference.
All that being said, one has to wonder if there’s any possibility Lucic was using his heightened platform as CBC’s High Priest of Hockey to take a veiled shot at the Big, Bad Looch.
Here’s the video, and you decide whether Cherry’s gaffe was purposeful, or simply his always motoring mouth moving faster than his brain. It should be noted that Cherry later goes on to call Looch a monster, which he most certainly is when he laces up the skates. The Lucic/Witt portion begins around the 6:15 mark of the youtube video:
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 4, Red Wings 1||11.29.08 at 9:38 pm ET|
Make sure to keep your June open, and not just for the world champion Boston Celtics. The Boston Bruins may be forcing the Green to share the spotlight come late spring. There’s a long, long way to go in the NHL season but the way they handled the defending Stanley Cup champs Saturday night at the Garden made believers of everyone, including the defending champs. The Bruins are right now legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Our own Joe Haggerty has much more. Here was the reaction from the locker rooms on Saturday.
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