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Bruins back to basics for 10th straight win 01.01.09 at 9:55 pm ET
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I will shut you down, Cralkin!

I will shut you down, Cralkin!

If the Boston Bruins aren’t too careful they’re going to start entering exalted hockey territory here in the city of Boston. With their tenth win in row last night, by a 4-2 score over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Boston Bruins have matched the 1971 Bobby Orr-led, Stanley Cup Champion-era B’s in terms of a regular season win streak. For nearly everyone involved with the team, it’s the most impressive regular season that they’ve enjoyed in the NHL and something they’re not at all taking for granted.

“I’d have to go all the way back to my last year of junior hockey, I think,” said B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman, when asked the last time he’s been on a team that won 10 games in a row. “I think I’ve been on some [NHL] teams that have lost 10 in a row, and this definitely feels a lot better.”

With the home-and-home sweep of the still-dangerous Pens, the Bruins have seized sole ownership of the point lead in the NHL while continuing to put distance between themselves and the wild packs of Rangers, Capitals and Canadiens roaming in the Eastern Conference.

Almost as amazing is the fact that the current 10-game stretch has A) taken place while the B’s were admittedly not playing as well as they have through much of the season B) transpired largely during a long road swing sandwiched around the holiday break and C) overshadowed a simultaneous 14-game home winning streak before burgeoning crowds at the Garden.

Dressing room leader Aaron Ward said that the B’s have realized the error of their ways during the tough stretches of the streaks, and corrected things to again get to the type of Bruins hockey that put them in first place to begin with.

“[We] preach in this locker room that the whole season is a marathon. You can play one month and you understand if you are going to lead long enough that there will be some highs and some lows; capitalize on your highs,” said Ward. ”We started to fall off, the minute we step into this locker room we knew in the last five or six games that the effort wasn’t there. We were going into games and you start to get complacent and you figure that well your skill will just take care or it or it will just work itself out.

“The National Hockey League doesn’t work itself out. You got to match your opponents’ level of effort with level of emotions and we lacked both. Sometimes both, sometimes one, you just can’t have your nights off we had creeping into our game.

The B’s crowds traditionally become livelier and more plentiful after Jan. 1, and the Patriots’ rare regular season exit insures that the Garden will be rockin’ straight through the rest of the season. The love affair between the sellout crowds and the gritty, hard-hitting hockey team should only continue as Black and Gold skaters like vladimir Sobotka put third period exclamation points like this one last night.

  

With that mid-ice big boom in mind, here’ s a few things that stuck out from last night’s impressive victory over a motivated Penguins team:

Big Z in shutdown mode

One of the biggest observations/factors during the back-to-back wins over the Penguins was the outstanding defensive shutdown work executed by Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward on Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin’s line over the course of two games. In the home-and-home matchup, the jumbo-sized and ridiculously-skilled Malkin was held to a -2 and managed only a single assist in last night’s loss after coach Claude Julien sicked a frothy Chara on the Penguins’ scorer as much as possible.

“I think [Chara] actually loves it,” said Julien. ”He’s taken a lot of pride in doing it and I think he is being recognized, more and more, for being able to do those things. Not every team, and not too many teams, have those kind of defensemen and can match them against top players and be capable of shutting them down night after night.”

Chara has always prided himself on being the tall, tough, intimidating defensive stopper at the blue line and — after a slow first month – seems to have again reached that elite level of defenseman play that few can match around the NHL.

As impressive as Big Z was, however, perhaps Ward was even more so in his first two games back from an ankle injury that hampered him throughout December. Ward managed to keep himself in some semblance of shape while healing up and came up big last night with his specialty — a cringe-inducing, surely painful blocked shot in the waning minutes of the third period on Pittsburgh’s final power play — to help secure the big victory for the Bruins. 

It was exactly the kind of thing that the B’s have missed while he was out, despite the best efforts of guys like Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick to step up.

“You have to give credit to Aaron Ward, who nobody talks about, he did a good job with Z back there and near the end there he made a big block, blocked a big shot,” said Julien. “Those kind of things can kind of go unnoticed.”

Extra bonus points to the aforementioned pairing of Hunwick and Wideman, who likewise managed to clamp down the defensive vice grips on Sidney Crosby’s line as well. Sid the Kid managed a single measly assist in Tuesday night’s loss at the Igloo, and was a -3 in the two-game sweep. There were many moments during last night’s win when the purported best hockey player in the world was invisible. Credit the Bruins’ defense for pulling off the nearly impossible NHL magic trick: making the two-man gang of both Crosby and Malkin disappear into the thin wintry air.

Back in the Scoresheet Saddle

It might be time for Bruins Nation to get used to the current line pairings that have P.J. Axelsson spending time on the first power play unit because Julien has liked what he’s seen over the last two games. Axelsson has helped spark the first line and scored his first non-empty net goal of the season — along with an assist –in last night’s win and totaled a pair of helpers in Tuesday night’s win in Pittsburgh.

“I was looking for a response from lines,” said Julien. “I know people keep asking about Lucic, well, yeah Lucic and Savard and Kessel, I thought weren’t playing as well as they could and neither was the Yelle, Axelsson and Kobasew line. And I was kind of talking about all six of those guys, three of them on units.”

“I didn’t think they were generating much, so with Looch, with that hard-working line, I think it certainly helped him find his identity again, as far as being a grinder and being a grinder doesn’t stop you from scoring as you could see tonight,” added Julien. “[Lucic and Axelsson] have brought something different to both those lines that, not just made them successful [as individuals], but also made those lines better, as well.”

Julien believes that Axelsson has added a certain Je Ne Cest Q’uoi to the games of both Marc Savard (2 goals, 3 assists and a +2 in two games) and Phil Kessel (1 goal and 13 shots on net in two games) while Milan Lucic has blended right in with the hard-working, lunch pail games of third liners Chuck Kobasew and Stephane Yelle. Looch has also potted a pair of goals since the much-publicized move down to the third line.  Julien said that the swap wasn’t designed to simply get Lucic and Axelsson going as much as it was supposed to breath life in both lines.

Mission accomplished. 

“I think obviously things weren’t going my way,” said Lucic. ”I just want to get back to doing simple things and it paid off today with the goal.  Like I said we just have to keep getting better.

“I think everyone is comfortable playing with anyone.  We are just going out there and focusing on what we have to do, sticking to the game plan,” added Lucic. “It is not by accident that we have won ten straight. The little things that we do we got away from a little bit.  I think this home and home against the Penguins was good for us to get back to working hard and doing the simple things.”

So don’t expect any big line shake-ups in the near future with things again appearing to gel in Coach Julien’s neighborhood. Count me among the people that scratched their heads when Axelsson was moved to the top scoring line and the number one power play unit, but the B’s bench boss has once again proven he knows a lot more about the frozen puck game than yours truly.

The Beat Goes On

We're taking Krejci to the quad, and then to the gymnasium...

We're taking Krejci to the quad, and then to the gymnasium...

With all of the success that the Bruins have enjoyed thus far this season, there has been plenty of streaking that hasn’t involved Frank the Tank in the least. While the biggest slice of the attention pie is given to the current team winning streak or the 14-straight wins on the Garden’s frozen sheet, magic man center David Krejci is also riding a 10-game point streak after potting a goal in the first period of last night’s win.

Perhaps Krejci is a big Christmas fan because he’s gone supersonic with the puck over the last month, notching 7 goals and 15 assists in 14 games during the merry, merry month. While Julien has reconfigured each of the other two lines, the veteran coach has smartly left the trio of Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder together as they continue to produce offense and responsible defense on a nightly basis.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Dennis Wideman Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Bergeron’s agent: His first concussion wasn’t necessarily a contributing factor 12.29.08 at 10:11 pm ET
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Bergeron got some positive news during his most recent visit with his neurologist...

Bergeron got some positive news during his most recent visit with his neurologist...

The bad news is that Patrice Bergeron is still battling the recurrent, nagging headaches that typically linger after suffering a concussion brought on by a violent NHL collision gone wrong. The two-way center is not going to be in the lineup when the Bruins and Penguins face off against each other at the TD Banknorth Garden on New Year’s Day, and there’s a strong possibility the calendar could be into February or March before he’s again donning the Spoked B in an NHL game.

But…the 23-year-old center also received some encouraging news last week as well when he met with Bruins team physician Dr. Peter Asnis and noted Boston neurologist Dr. Robert Cantu. Cantu related to Bergeron that “99 percent” of NHL players would have similarly suffered a significant concussion in the manner of collision that saw the side of Bergeron’s face smack into the unforgiving shoulder pads of Dennis Seidenberg with such violent force.

Cantu’s statement was meant to assure Bergeron that his second concussion wasn’t the sign of a player that’s becoming more and more succeptible to head injuries and hockey dings — as players like Eric Lindros and Pat LaFontaine both became increasingly fragile when a career full of head hits began to take their toll. The concussion was instead simply another stroke of bad luck for a player chock full of the stuff over the last calendar year. Cantu’s assessment of the hit and the damage done, according to Bergeron’s agent Kent Hughes, was encouraging to Bergeron, who might have understandably feared that he could become another cautionary concussion tale in the NHL.

Here’s a quick Q&A with Hughes, who gave an update that should put a little skip in the step of Bruins’ fans hoping that Bergeron can make another heroic hockey return sooner rather than later. It seems — reading between the lines of what Hughes is saying here – that a six week absence might be a reasonable span of time if Bergeron continues to improve at his current rate, but that’s still very much in question.

As Hughes correctly states, it’s always uncertain when it comes to a timetable for the brain’s healing process. So we’ll wait and see. Here’s Hughes:

How is Patrice doing? KH: He’s doing well. This injury is not of the same severity as the last one that he suffered.

Is he still experiencing the headaches at this point, or are they starting to dissipate? KH:I just got back into town so I haven’t checked in with him [Tuesday] on the symptoms, but the neurologist told him that the concussion he suffered the first time around was not necessarily the contributing factor in this one. [The neurologist said that] the hit that he took would have caused a concussion in 99 percent of the people that were on the receiving end whether they had previously been concussed or not.

That’s good news…KH:As far as concussions go, most don’t have a timeline in terms of recovery because it’s really a question of the brain and how it responds. That’s the experience I’ve had with all of my clients dealing with concussions, as well as with Patrice last year. It’s something we really went back and forth with [Bergeron] last year. You typically wait for the person to be asymptomatic at rest for a period of time and then you introduce some physical activity. Then you see if the player has a relapse of any kind with the post-concussion symptoms. That process continues until the athlete can go through the whole course of physical activity without any relapse.  

And the recovery seems to be very much on a case-by-case basis. KH: Yeah, and the other integral part is that there really isn’t really any kind of time frame like with an ACL tear, whether it be a short or long. You know how badly you tear your knee and you know that you can potentially miss an entire season because of an injury.

The problem with the brain injury is that the majority of concussions don’t show up on any kind of imaging. They really rely on how the brain responds. At the outset you could say it’s a three-week injury, but it could be one week or it could be six weeks depending on the brain and the body and how they react to the physical activity. It could be six [weeks], or it could be longer.

The doctor believes that whether he’d suffered that previous concussion or not, he was very, very likely to suffer a concussion after the hit he took [against Carolina]. There are some guys you see that have been concussed so many times that the slightest hit dings them, or whatever. Patrice Bergeron is really a little bit of a victim here in that he’s taken two really bad blows in a span of only about 30 games. It’s a really physical sport, but it’s not often you take two blows like that in such a short span [of games]. There are some [players] that, for lack of a better term, have softened and are susceptible and it might not take such strong blows to cause a concussion.

How is Patrice’s state of mind as he’s handling all of this a second time around? Is he angry? Frustrated? Is he encouraged by the news from the doctor? KH: Yeah. I was with him on Saturday and there was certainly a level of frustration with him because he was concerned about when he can go [and play]. I think there was also a level of enthusiasm after what he learned [from Cantu and Asnis].

I think the last time around there was a series of moments where he would improve steadily and then he would be down if he there was a setback. My guess is that this time around he’ll be a bit more guarded in reacting to how the process is going, and just let the healing process take its course.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Kent Hughes, Patrice Bergeron, Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Things tighten up for B’s in weekend sweep 12.28.08 at 8:36 pm ET
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Bruins Win! Aaaaaaarrghhhhh....Bruins Win!

Bruins Win! Aaaaaaarrghhhhh....Bruins Win!

The intensity level and heart-thumping pulse of NHL games traditionally rises as the season marches forward, and things begin to tighten up a bit both offensively and defensively — a puck phenomenon that’s coming to life right before the eyes of Bruins’ followers.

 Both the Carolina Hurricanes and the Atlanta Thrashers forced the Black and Gold to work extensively in back-to-back efforts in order to take a sweep of the weekend games – including Sunday night’s 2-1 win over Atlanta at Phillips Arena – and put their overall winning streak at eight games.

The B’s have handled the Trashers, out of that hockey hotbed deep in the heart of Atlanta, all season long, but Sunday’s taut triumph was most hotly contested of the season against the Thrash. It’s also indicative of the kind of tooth and nail games that await the Boston Golden Bears over their next 40 plus games. 

NHL hockey is a much different animal in January, February, March and April — with teams jostling for playoff pole position as the NHL standings begin to settle – than it is in the opening months of October and November, and things certainly won’t be as swimmingly easy as they seemed for Boston over the season’s first few months. Add the tricked-out intensity to the host of injuries the B’s continue to battle through, and you have a pretty impressive effort for the weekend. A Tuesday night tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins is all that’s standing between the Black and Gold and a five game sweep during their current holiday road trip.

Not to be confused, of course, with the Griswold theme song otherwise known as Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road”.

The B’s are the King of the Eastern Conference Hill right now, and they’re going to get everybody’s best from here on out. With that in mind, here’s a few observations from the solid victory over the Thrashers:

Trading the "other Manny" this season would be foolish given the way he's melded in with Tim Thomas

Trading the "other Manny" this season would be foolish given the way he's melded in with Tim Thomas

–Now may be the time for everybody to stow away those Manny Fernandez trade proposals. There’s no way the Bruins are a better team this season without hockey’s version of Manny Being Manny splitting time with Tim Thomas between the pipes. 

They’ve formed the best Boston goaltending duo since the unforgettable Andy Moog/Reggie Lemelinteam in the 80′s and 90′s, and they still lead the NHL in team save percentage this season. Thomas and Fernandez have put together a .930 save percentage thus far, which puts them .06 percentage points ahead of both the Minnesota Wild and the Florida Panthers for NHL bragging rights.

Last night was a game the Bruins likely wouldn’t have won if not for the 34-year-old Fernandez, and the graceful butterfly style he used to make 32 saves Sunday night. His successive saves on Thrashers forwards Erik Christensen and Bryan Little with less than a minute to go in the third period were things of beauty, and were among a handful of saves that preserved the ‘W’ for the Bruins. Fernandez is now 12-2-1 on the season, and has pushed himself into a vital, irreplaceable role on this Bruins’ team.

It would be the worst kind of hockey karma to break this Killer B’s tandem up — a notion that all the hockey krishnas outthere should be nodding in harmonious agreement with.

Ryder equals Mr. Clutch

The game-winning third period goal was obviously hatched by the breathtaking David Krejci-authored saucer pass to a streaking Michael Ryder while he crashed the Atlanta net, but it also highlighted an interesting piece of Ryder trivia. The score — a quick redirect of the skidding puck through Thrashers goalie Keri Lehtonen’s pads — was Ryder’s team-leading seventh game-winning goal of the season thus far.

Ryder also leads the NHL with his collection of seven game-winning tallies, and sits two GWG’s ahead of fellow NHL luminaries Jeff Carter, Patrick Marleau, Daniel Sedin, Johan Franzen and Petr Sykora this season. It seemed symbolic that his seventh game-winner of the season was also his 14thoverall lamp lighter – the exact same goal-production total he managed in 70 restless, unhappy games with the Montreal Canadiens last season.

Congrats to Coach Julien

Let's hope Claude hasn't made any plans for NHL All-Star weekend in Montreal next month

Let's hope Claude hasn't made any plans for NHL All-Star weekend in Montreal next month

A tip of the PWH chapeau to Bruins coach Claude Julien, who has seemingly wrapped up the Eastern Conference coaching honors at the NHL All-Star Game after leading his Bruins squad to such a commanding lead during the first three months of the season. According to the fountain of first-hand knowledge known as wikipedia, since 1996 the head coaches for the two All-Star Game have been the coaches of the two teams that are leading their respective conferences in point percentage (i.e. fraction of points obtained out of total possible points) as of January 1.

With a commanding point lead over everyone else in the Eastern Conference, that would leave Julien to man the bench at the Bell Centre — a building that was once the coach’s home turf while he ran the show with the Montreal Canadiens from 2002-06. For a hockey building that’s housed some pretty high-intensity Bruins/Habs moments over the last two years, it will certainly be a proud moment for the Quebec native to play a prominent role in one of the Canadiens’ showpiece events during their 2008-09 Centennial celebration.

It should also be one of several honors bestowed on Julien in a season that’s been a testament to his ability to preach defensive responsibility, teamwork, patience and accountability to a dressing room full of young men on skates that have been ready to learn since Day One of training camp.  

Read More: Andy Moog, Atlanta Thrashers, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Who doesn’t love Bruins’ fun facts? 12.26.08 at 8:43 pm ET
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That's my puck, baby...don't you ever touch my puck!

That's my puck, baby...don'tyou ever touch my puck!

Here’s some Bruins stats and factoids to chew on coming out of their two-day Christmas break…these all come courtesy of Bruins media relations mavens Eric Tosi and Matt Chmura, who do a great of getting hacks like me exactly what we need to relay it out to the good folks of Bruins Nation. That would be you…assuming you’re good, of course.

HOME ICE ADVANTAGE: Boston has won their last 13 contests on home ice. This win streak is their longest such stretch since a 16-game home win streak from January 10 – March 25, 1976. It is the longest home winning streak in the league this season and is the fifth longest in team history behind streaks of 20, 19, 16 and 15. Their last loss at home came on October 23 against Toronto.

BEANTOWN BOUND:The Bruins have 13 games in January, 10 of which are at home. This includes a six-game homestand to start the New Year from January 1 through January 13. January is quite different schedule-wise from December, when the Bruins had 13 games, 9 of which were on the road.

HIT MAN:Winger Milan Lucic currently leads the NHL in hits with 135. Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik is second behind Lucic with 124.

COURTESY OF THE BOSTON BRUINS WEEK AHEAD STAT MACHINE…The Bruins currently have an NHL-best 11 players that are +10 or better. New Jersey and Chicago have the second most, as they both have six players who are +10 or better.  The 11 Bruins are: Marc Savard (+21), David Krejci (+19), Blake Wheeler (+19), Dennis Wideman (+17), Milan Lucic (+16), Phil Kessel (+16), Zdeno Chara (+15), Matt Hunwick (+13), Shane Hnidy (+13), Michael Ryder (+12) and Mark Stuart (+10).

BRUINS ON THE NHL LEADERBOARD (AS OF DECEMBER 26):
-The Bruins lead the Eastern Conference in wins (25), fewest losses (5), goals for (126), goals against (77) and points (54)
-The Bruins lead the NHL in goals for (126) and are second in goals against (77, Minnesota 76).

-The Bruins own the NHL’s third ranked power play overall (26.6%). They also have the best power play in the league at home (36.1%)
-Marc Savard ranks tied for fourth in the league in points with 40 (E. Malkin, PIT 58)

-Phil Kessel ranks fourth in the league in goals scored with 21 (J. Carter, PHI 26)

-Marc Savard ranks fourth in the league in assists with 29 (E. Malkin, PIT 43)
-Marc Savard ranks second in the league in plus/minus with a +21 (E. Malkin, +22) while Blake Wheeler and David Krejci are tied for fourth at +19.

Hunwick is second among NHL rookies in +/1 this season. The player he's trailing? Why it's Blake Wheeler, of course.

Hunwick is second among NHL rookies in +/1 this season. The player he's trailing? Why it's Blake Wheeler, of course.

-Blake Wheeler ranks fifth among rookies in points with 20 (D. Brassard, CBJ 25), tied for third in goals scored with11 (M. Grabovski, TOR 12) and first in plus/minus

-Matt Hunwick ranks fifth among rookies in assists with 11 (K. Versteeg, CHI 17) and second in plus/minus with +13 (B. Wheeler, BOS +18)

-Manny Fernandez ranks thrid in Goals Against Average with a 2.09 mark (S. Mason, CBJ 1.98)

-Tim Thomas ranks second in Goals Against Average with a 2.04 mark, second in Save Percentage (.935%) behind Craig Anderson (.940%) and second in shutouts with 3 (R. Luongo, VAN 5).

That’s it for now, but come back to Pucks with Haggs shortly and I’m going to have a little post-Christmas Wish list for each member of the Boston Bruins over the final 48 games of the NHL regular season — and then, of course, the playoffs.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Dennis Wideman Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
A Few Kessel scoring streak stats to ponder 12.24.08 at 8:33 am ET
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Time for the Kessel kid to start a new scoring streak

Time for the Kessel kid to start a new scoring streak

A few stats to pore over as a final wooden stick salute to the recently ended 18-game scoring streak by Phil Kessel that really propped him up onto the national spotlight as a goal-scoring force to be reckoned with this season.

As I blog these items up, I’m sure Old Time Hockey Bruin Bronco Horvath is having himself a Miami Dolphins-style champagne party this morning on Cape Cod to celebrate that his Bruins-record 22 straight games with a point during the 1959-60 season remains gleefully intact. You’ve got to root for anybody named Bronco, and lament the fact there aren’t enough hockey players with nicknames like that anymore. In those days we would would have heard names like “Crazy Legs” Kessel or Milan The Terrible, but instead we have to settle for the much more logical Kess and Looch. Ah, well…here’s the stats:

–Kessel finished with 28 points in the 18 games with an equal split of 14 goals and 14 assists, though the young winger has been held without a goal in his last three games leading up to the holiday break.

–Kessel was a solid +14 during the 18-game scoring stretch [though I feel obligated to put the goes-without-saying-with the obvious disclaimer that +/- isn't the end-all, be-all stat for judging hockey players], and amazingly produced only one minus game during the entire five week plus time span of the Kessell Run (my own Star Wars geek way of describing the 18-game run…extra bonus points if you catch my reference and double dog bonus points for anyone that can name me the character that referenced it).

–The last time Kessel was held scoreless before last night’s playoff-style 2-0 win over a very competitive New Jersey Devils squad: a Nov. 12 2-1 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks that was cinched by a memorable P.J. Axelsson shootout score. That’ s a grand total of 40 days and nights between getting blanked on the scoresheet.

Here’s the video of the Axelsson courtesy of youtube and shot in true “You were there” style with the backs of people’s heads obscuring the action…seems like a million hockey years ago and is a testament to the sheer length that Kessel went streaking.

–Kessel totaled 57 shots during the 18-game scoring streak, an average of 3.17 shots per game for the B’s leading lamplighter. Kessel also managed three power play scores — and two of his three game-winners on the season – among the 14 goals tallied during the consecutive game-scoring streak.

–Kessel averaged 16:28 of total ice time during the 18-game scoring streak, which is right in line with the career-high 16:50 of ice that the 21-year-old is averaging this season.

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The Goal of the Year in the NHL? 12.22.08 at 11:07 am ET
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Boy am I glad I took this sweater and hat off...chicks dig the Spoked B

Boy am I glad I took this sweater and hat off...chicks dig the Spoked B

Here’s a look at Blake Wheeler’s amazing short-handed goal from last night’s 6-3 stomping over the St. Louis Blues. Wheeler’s lamp-lighter is one that B’s fans will be talking about for the rest of the season and an appropriate catalyst for the “Blake Wheeler as Calder Trophy Winner” hype machine that should really begin gaining some traction. Wheeler basically powered and dangled his way through four St. Louis Blues defenders while killing off a penalty, and somehow flipped a shot past Blues goalie Manny Legace after putting on his puck-handling feat of strength to get to the opposing cage.

Wheeler is now tied with Blues center Patrick Berglund and Maple Leafs center Mikhail Grabovski in rookie goals scored with his 11 strikes in 33 games this season and holds a commanding lead with the +19 number built up as a trigger man on the B’s explosive third line.

Here’s Wheeler’s biggest competition as he continues to build a Rookie of the Year resume: Columbus Blue Jackets center Derek Brassard (10 goals, 15 assists), Chicago Blackhawks winger Kris Versteeg (8 goals, 17 assists), Berglund (11 goals, 10 assists), Grabovski (11 goals, 9 assists), Vancouver Canucks Jannik Hansen (4 goals, 13 assists), Pittsburgh Penguins’ defenseman Alex Goligoski (4 goals, 11 assists) and LA Kings defenseman Drew Doughty (3 goals, 8 assists). There’s still obviously a big, honking amount of the hockey  season to still be played, but Wheeler is smack dab in the middle of the mix right now and has to be considered one of the early favorites. It also appears that top-scorer Brassard will be out of the picture after suffering a right shoulder injury that will likely require season-ending surgery.

Just what Boston needs: another young up-and-coming superstar about to make a sizeable impact on the pro sports scene.

The 22-year-old power forward is on pace for 50 points this season (27 goals, 23 assists) and is a brawny, puck-possession cog on Boston’s electric third line that’s thrown up 45 points and an amazing +31 over their last 11 games. The third line has become Boston’s main scoring threat over the last month of hockey, and continues to gain steam here in the season’s first half. The only question now is whether Wheeler will hit the “rookie wall” as he doubles the amount of games he might have skated in at the University of Minnesota as a senior this season.

But that’s a query for another day. Here’s last night’s goal because, as always, a moving picture says a 1,000 hockey words:

As an added bonus — and to show you that Wheeler isn’t really a stranger to the whole highlight reel goal thang in his career — here’s an amazing game-winning score he racked up while still with the Golden Gophers. This seems like as good a time as any to ring the bell once again for B’s General Manager Peter Chiarelli for creating the kind of hockey environment that persuaded Wheeler to choose Boston over other NHL destinations on the map. Here’s the highlight reel goal for the University of Minnesota, something Wheeler seems to be making a habit of at a ripe young hockey age.

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B’s suffer losses in 13th straight home win 12.20.08 at 11:05 pm ET
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It was a convincing 4-2 win for the Black and Gold against a Carolina Hurricanes team playing quality hockey heading into Boston, but the 13th straight victory at the TD Banknorth Garden also had its share of negatives. Patrice Bergeron went into Saturday still searching for ways to reclaim his hockey groove after missing nearly all of last season with a concussion, and yesterday’s game ended for him in the second period with another potential head injury.

Bergeron went zipping in for a hit on Carolina defenseman Dennis Seidenberg at mid-ice during the second period of Saturday’s win, but a freak thing happened on the way in for the clean hit. The right side of Bergeron’s face and head violently crunched into Seidenberg’s right shoulder as he attempted the finishing check.

The 17,565 in attendence went eerily silent as Bergeron fell to the ice chest-first in a heap and lay all-but motionless for several uncomfortable, agonizing moments. Bergeron’s story has been one of triumph all season long – despite the lack of overwhelming offensive production — but things took an ugly detour yesterday after only 7:53 of ice time in the game. It’s a sickening feeling to watch a hockey-crazed crowd of 17,000 fall into a silent haze when the dreaded head/neck injury drops a player to their knees, and that was the regrettable backdrop at the Garden midway through the second.

“All the noise and standing isn’t good for the player. We try to keep quiet. That is how I was brought up; you try to keep quiet when something like that happens,” said Manny Fernandez, who watched the Bruins’ medical staff and trainers attend to the fallen Bergeron before the 23-year-old skated off under his own power. ”But he was strong enough to get back on his feet by himself, which is a good thing. He was able to skate off on his own strength, so that is a positive.

“Like I said, we can’t think about that too much right now. We have to let the doctors take care of him. We will need him back. But I don’t think that other teams are going to take it easy on us because he is out of the lineup, so we have to concentrate on what is left and go from there.”

After the game, the Bruins said that Bergeron was still being evaluated and that the club wanted to be precise with the diagnosis for Boston hockey’s Golden Boy. The most revealing part of the information relay concerning Bergeron’s injury took place when coach Claude Julien spoke with the player between the second and third period. Bergeron himself told Julien he was “dinged up” after the collision with the Carolina blueliner, and Julien absolved Seidenberg of any wrongdoing in the situation.

“I saw it with my own eyes but I wanted to see if it was an elbow, a stick, or a shoulder,” said Julien. “It was not a cheap shot by any means, it was a collision.”

Dinged up or not, Bergeron was alert and the doctors were still evaluating him in the hours following the afternoon matinee. It was a far cry, however, from the Oct. 27, 2007 hit by Randy Jones that ended the skater’s 2007-08 season after only 10 games. It’s too early to rule it a concussion or start doling out meaningless and arbitrary dates that the skilled player might return, and the Bruins promised to release a statement once the doctors had given a final diagnosis.

 ”The doctors are looking at it and haven’t given us any indication as to the severity of it,” said Julien. “We’ve asked…they haven’t diagnosed him yet as to whether it is [a concussion] or is it not. He said he got dinged pretty good.”

Here is the hit. At this point, the only thing to do is send best wishes that it’s not something damaging enough to prevent Bergeron from playing the game he loves and cherishes:

Fourth Line Breakdown

Saturday’s win also featured a solid effort from the disparate members of the ever-changing Bruins ”energy line.” Stephane Yelle potted the empty net goal that iced the game in the waning seconds of the third period — his fifth score of the season –and registered three hits in victory. Rugged rough-housing Shawn Thornton scored the game-winning goal on an unassisted tally in the third period, registered a game-high six hits in a relentlessly physical effort throughout, and even had four shots on net to finish off the all-around performance.

Vladimir Sobotka also continued to add an aggravating sandpaper presence to pair along with Yelle and Thornton. Sobotka even stopped agitating long enough to feed a beautiful backhand dish that set up a David Krejci strike and handed Boston their first lead of the game in the third. The assists was Sobotka’s first point of the 2008-09 season.

“It is amazing how some guys that don’t score often, score against the same teams.  It was nice to see him get the winning goal,” said Julien of Thornton, who has feasted offensively on Carolina over the last few years. “If you have everybody over the course of a season playing a big role in a win, its nice to see those guys in the role of giving energy to our team, throwing hits out there, and trying not to get scored on, get rewarded.  Yelle got that fourth goal in the empty net, Thornton, and I thought Sobotka had a real good game on that line tonight.”

A little known tidbit about Thornton’s goal against the ‘Canes: he utilized a time-honored bit of puck chicaneary for the score. Thornton gamely called out “reverse” when Carolina defenseman Joe Corvo was handling the puck behind the Hurricanes net, and Corvo promptly obliged. With his back to the fourth liner hiding in wait alone behind the net, Corvo shoveled the puck behind him directly to Thornton. The B’s winger took the gift puck and zipped it past Cam Ward for his second goal of the season.

Was Thornton’s ruse a legal, above board hockey manuever, or was Thornton’s shout-out similar to the ploy A-Rod used screaming “I Got It!” to foul up the Toronto Blue Jays infielders two seasons? Thornton seemed slightly sheepish afterward when explaining his technique, but the 31-year-old didn’t seem to care how much it bothered the ‘Canes.

“They were going back for the puck and I kind of screamed ‘reverse’ to their defenseman and I think he thought I was their guy,” said Thornton. “He gave the puck right to me, and I think it went off [Ward's] stick and in. I dunno. I just buried my head for once and it finally went in for me.”

Is that acceptable behavior on the ice?

“Probably not…it might be a little dirty, but I don’t care,” said a laughing Thornton. “Dirty or wily, whatever way you want to look at it. [That doesn't] work too often. Maybe one out of a 100.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes, Manny Fernandez, Patrice Bergeron Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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