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Chuck Kobasew returns to practice ice after “maintenance” days 03.26.09 at 11:01 am ET
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WILMINGTON — Chuck Kobasew was back on the practice ice, and taking part along with Byron Bitz, Manny Fernandez, Tim Thomas, Dennis Wideman and David Krejci (who skated on Wednesday)  in a limited ice at Ristucca Arena. Kobasew had missed the last two days of practice with “maintenance” issues, but was back on the ice and ready to go this morning. Kobasew leads the team with 10 goals scored since the All-Star break and has been a gritty contributor to the B’s stretch drive.

The Bruins have one more practice day tomorrow before heading on the road for a weekend return to game mode in Toronto (Saturday) and Philadelphia (Sunday) before heading back to Boston.

Read More: Chuck Kobasew, David Krejci,
Bye week gives Bruins a unique opportunity going forward 03.25.09 at 12:17 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — The Bruins took a spirited approach to practice for the second consecutive day while working on the forecheck, and keeping sharp during their current five day stretch without any actual hockey games. There’s almost a bye week feel to the practices at Ristucca Arena this week, but Claude Julien and his staff are doing what they can to keep the compete level on a high note.

The interesting dynamic is how the break of five days off — and only two total games played in 12 days — will affect each individual player heading into the final nine game of the regular season in a grand total of 16 days. Call it the final stretch run for a team that has enjoyed nearly wire-to-wire dominance at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Milan Lucic, for example, is only a couple of years removed from junior hockey where a squad might have only played weekend games and then taken a 5-7 day span of practice before their next actual game.  At 20 years-old Lucic can still recover quickly after a particularly violent, physical game like Sunday’s grudge match with the New Jersey Devils.

“After a great effort like (Sunday) you want to keep things going, but you can’t complain really having a break like this either at this time of the season,” said Lucic. “It’s a good time to step, re-energize the batteries, refocus and then get back to work Saturday. This is just like juniors (for me), Usually you played a three in three on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and then you wouldn’t play again until the next Friday or Saturday.

“It’s the same sort of thing,” added Lucic. “I think if you asked (the veterans) they’re not going to complain about it. They battle hard and it’s not the same when you’re 20 as compared to what you are when you’re 30. They’re using it to the full advantage.”

For older veterans it’s a time to a time to heal some of the wounds incurred over a long season of hockey, and almost enjoy something akin to a bye week in the NFL leading up to the final push before the playoffs begin. While certain injuries aren’t enough to keep a battle-hardened older player out of the lineup, aches and pains can gnaw away at the player’s overall effectiveness. Maybe it’s an aching knee that’s affecting skating speed, or a sore shoulder that’s taken the bite away from a player’s shot. The week of rest can replenish these skaters as much as possible before one final rush up the ice. 

 The key, according to Ward, is the ability to keep the team’s game at a razor-sharp edge and play with the same brand of team-wide intensity that characterized last Sunday’s win over the Devils, while reaping the benefits of some off-time.  

“It presents a great opportunity to rest, but it also worsens the capacity that you can mentally get away from the game,” said Ward. “Too far away from it. You’ve got to simulate the game as much as possible and really try to raise that intensity level in practice and keep your preparation level sharp.

“I don’t know,” added Ward. “I’m a little worried about it. The good thing is that we’re going to Toronto, which is a divisional foe that should be enough on the game that we’re going to show up come game time. I’ll definitely be practiced out by the end of this week.”

–Chuck Kobasew had a second consecutive day off the ice on Wednesday morning, but Julien said that it was just scheduled time off the ice rather than a serious injury issue for the scrappy winger. Kobasew leads the Bruins with 10 goals scored since the All-Star break, and has clearly upped his scrappy/skill game down the stretch.

“He’s alright,” said Julien. “He’ll be on (ice) tomorrow. There’s no hidden agendas. Everybody is good, and they’re all maintenance things.”

–Julien noted that the pressure has noticeably alleviated from the Black and Gold dressing room following Sunday’s win over the Devils, and the smiles were coming a little easier to players’ faces after temporarily beating back their closest rival last weekend.

“The win did us a lot of good, but the way we won did us even more good,” said Julien. “The guys remembered those types of feelings coming in after a game and knowing that you’d really performed well, worked hard and did the right things.

“The pride that came with that was just as important as the win was.”

–Congratulations to the Ference Family and the Ward Family for the new additions over the weekend. Both Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward became fathers again on Sunday. Ference’s wife Krista gave birth to a second girl — Stella Haliday James Ference, and Ward’s wife Kelly gave birth to the couple’s second daughter and third child — Phoebe Grace Ward. Both babies were happy and healthy, and both dads were back on the practice ice Wednesday morning following the blessed events.

–Julien said, according to team stats, that Patrice Bergeron has been the B’s best faceoff man all year, and “he’s a good 4-5 percent better than the rest of the centerman when it comes to faceoffs.” The faceoff success is a good example of the intangible-type skills that Bergeron has brought to the table all season, but now his offensive game is rounding up to form as well.

The Bruins will be back to work at Ristucca Arena tomorrow morning, but it may not a full bore skating practice.

Read More: Chuck Kobasew, Milan Lucic, Patrice Bergeron,
Bruins have cooled down following the All-Star Break 03.24.09 at 2:02 am ET
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Had an exercise on the blog in the first half where I listed out the scoring pace that each member of the Bruins was on — a set of figures that actually gave a pretty good glimpse at the kind of seasons the B’s were having.

Players have settled in, injuries have occurred and rookies have slowed down a bit since the glory days of January, so here’s a bit of a rundown of each player’s production since the All-Star break. Hide the women and the children for this because some of these numbers are downright grisly for a hockey club that was on a record-breaking pace earlier this season.

Marc Savard: 7 goals and 15 assists in 26 games. .085 points per game since the ASB. Not up to the 1.19 points per game he averaged in the first half, but he got a lot more of the defense’s attention once guys like Phil Kessel and David Krejci cooled off. Savard is also playing at a -4 since the All-Star break.

David Krejci: 4 goals and 8 assists in 26 games. That’s 12 points in the last two months of hockey. Wow, didn’t see this coming. Krejci has clearly been pressing lately, and should start capitalizing on some of the opportunities he’s had around the net recently. The 22-year-old could really use a big game soon. Has gone from 1.11 points per game in the first half to 0.46 PPG in the second half. Krejci is +9 since the All-Star break, which speaks to me about how the young player has continued playing responsibly despite the down tick in his offense.

Phil Kessel: 7 goals and 6 assists in 25 games. Kessel really struggled coming back from mono following the All-Star break, but has heated up as of late. A 35-goal season and 60 overall points would be a pretty successful season for the 21-year-old Kessel, who was on pace for 50 goals after the season’s first few months. Went from 0.98 PPG in the first half to 0.52 PPG in the second half.

Michael Ryder: 7 goals and 6 assists in 18 games. 10 power play goals for Ryder, who may begin getting things going with a tip that he turned into a power play goal against the Devils.

Dennis Wideman: 3 goals and 10 assists in 26 games. For all the Wideman bashers out there, he’s also gone from +26 to a +32 over the second half of the season.

Blake Wheeler: 4 goals and 6 assists in 25 games. Wheeler is also a +9 in the second half along with Krejci, but has watched his scoring really slow down. Wheeler really looked a step behind the action for a long multiple week stretch — and is still taking ill-advised penalties — but he’s looked much better as of late.

Zdeno Chara: 5 goals and 9 assists in 26 games. Big Z is +2 since the All-Star break, but has appeared to slow and out of position at times in the second half. He was at his best against the Devils on Sunday, but is only a +2 since the All-Star break.

Milan Lucic: 3 goals and 7 assists in 23 games. Looch isn’t expected to provide as much offense as Krejci and Kessel, but he’ll likely finish with a 40-point season and close to the 20 goals he’d targeted for himself before the season started. Not bad for a 20-year-old kid from Vancouver still finding his way in the rough and tumble NHL. Lucic is a -4 since the All-Star break.

Chuck Kobasew: 10 goals and 4 assists in 24 games. Kobasew has the most goals of any Bruins skater since the All-Star break and is the kind of player that every playoff hockey team could use. The fearless winger is willing and able to bang his body, but also blessed with enough skill to score some points.

Patrice Bergeron: 3 goals and 13 assists in 26 games. The 23-year-old Bergeron has started showing his phsyical spark and flashing his offensive abilities over the last few weeks. Bergeron has played even hockey over the second half.

P.J. Axelsson: 2 goals and 5 assists in 26 games. P.J. wasn’t around the PP unit or and first line much in recent games, but he did pop up again on the top line with Kessel and Savard on Sunday. So stay tuned on this one, but I’m not a fan of Axelsson heading the B’s top line despite his defensive inclinations.

Matt Hunwick: 3 goals and 3 assists in 26 games and a +3 during that time. Seems to make things happen each and every game he’s out there playing, and affects the game with his skating speed. Impressive. Most impressive.

I could put Montador and Shane Hnidy up here as well, but let’s face it: there isn’t a whole lot to break down on the scoresheet. Guys like Mark Stuart are judged almost completely by hitting, toughness and defensive abilities rather than gaudy goal totals. This shows some interesting trends: Krejci and Wheeler have obviously taken a step down, but Kobasew has rallied for 10 goals since the ASB and both Savard and Lucic are playing minus hockey during the second half.

Read More: Chuck Kobasew, Marc Savard, Milan Lucic,
It might be time to start sounding the alarms on these B’s 03.19.09 at 10:58 pm ET
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Sound the alarms. Blare the horns. It’s time to wake Bob Lobel up from his winter slumber and get a hold of his big red “Panic” button.

Things are going terribly awry for the hockey team on Causeway Street, and Exhibit F in a continuing stream of evidence was on display last night. The Black and Gold warriors blew a two-goal lead in the final 20 minutes of play and coughed the game up in the extra session en route to dropping a 3-2 OT decision to the LA Kings at the TD Banknorth Garden.

It’s the kind of game where a hockey team should almost be embarrassed to take credit for the point in getting to overtime.

“Enough’s enough here,” said Mark Stuart simply following another demoralizing defeat. “We’ve got to start figuring it out, I think.”

The real kicker, you ask?

The Bruins were two points away from clinching a playoff spot headed into Thursday night’s game against the Kings, and couldn’t even close that deal with the proper authority.

As NECN’s Mike Giardi would say “Oh mama…it was ugly.”

Troubled waters and potential icebergs might be right ahead for Boston’s favorite hockey club if they don’t find their Big Bad work ethic and quite a bit of snarl in the next two weeks. The worst thing that could happen to this franchise would be a one-and-out in the playoffs, and that looks more and more like a possibility when a young Kings team marooned in playoff Siberia shows more desire, grit and jump than a Bruins squad with serious Stanley Cup aspirations.

Bruins coach Claude Julien didn’t seem to have any strategical answers or complex reasons why, once again, the Bruins were left shaking their heads and picking up the puck pieces after another blown lead. Instead the B’s bench boss pointed to the work ethic that put them in the Eastern Conference catbird seat.

The work ethic that’s been missing for almost two months now on a consistent basis, and Julien seemed to be considering sending a search posse out for his first power play unit. The man advantage went 0-for-4 and didn’t exactly light up the ice with Grade A opportunities.

“A couple things have to happen.  This is basically all I have to say, is that we’re going to have to start out-working other teams from start to finish, like we were earlier in the season,” said Julien. “Your best players are going to have to find their game and be the best they can be in order for us to get out of it. And I’m not telling you anything that anybody here doesn’t know. That’s basically what we need to do.

“We’re telling them to go out there and out-work the other team.  It’s a commitment that you have to make, so whether they’re nervous or not, if it is…it’s of their own doing,” added Julien. “We’re encouraging them to go out there, play hard, and out-work the other team, and when you win races, you win battles, most of the time you win games.”

Things seemed to be following the normal script of late as the B’s skaters built up a 2-0 lead after two periods of play, but couldn’t capitalize on a pair of  keyPP chances in the second period. The Bruins never quite stepped on the throat of the temporarily dethroned Kings, and instead the hockey royalty rocked them in the third period.

It’s a malady that’s been all-too constant for the Bruins of late: an early lead gives way as Boston’s opponents clearly aren’t scared or intimidated by a sputtering Boston team anymore, and the ensuing lack of confidence strikes the B’s at the most inopportune times.

“Teams are playing with confidence against us,” said B’s goaltender Tim Thomas, who played brilliantly for much of the game in making 35 saves. “It seems to me that teams, whether we’re on the road or at home, teams are coming up against us and it’s almost like they’ve got the upper hand already because they’re the more confident team. That’s what it seems like anyways.”

It makes one wonder whether this team was ever really as good as the hockey club that dominated other clubs over the first half of the season, or if that was merely a mirage-like run that’s now ancient hockey history with only 10 games remaining to straighten things out.

“We know that things are not going that good for us right now and we have to find our way to get out of it,” B’s winger Michael Ryder. “It’s getting to that time of year where we can’t be looking for our game.  We have to make sure to get it back on track as soon as possible.”

The Bruins next face an opponent that could and should snap them out of their prolonged funk: the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are only five points behind the Black and Gold entering Friday, but could potentially pull within one point with victories on Friday vs. the Wild and Sunday afternoon against the shaken-but-not-stirred ‘B’.

The Bruins will have a long six day reprieve between games following Sunday’s matinee, and a big victory coupled with a week to heal mentally and physically could be just what the doctor ordered for this stricken team. At least that’s what the players — and the Bruins Faithful that have begun watching the second half with fingers covering their eyes – are hoping.

Injury Ward: Stephane Yelle returned from an upper body injury and played 13:07 total minutes and 2:06 of penalty kill time. Other than Yelle, everyone else appeared to escape the loss healthy.

Player of the Game: Chuck Kobasew and Matt Hunwick were two players that hustled, played physical Bruins hockey and then watched the hockey gods smile on them with good fortune. A solid forecheck by Kobasew set up Mark Recchi’s goal that made it a 2-o hockey game, and Hunwick continues to contribute as a puck-moving offensive defenseman capable of skating, stepping up in the offensive zone and making plays. With a first period goal and a +2 for the evening, Hunny might have earned himself more playing time with his performance on Thursday night.

Goat Horns: Julien called out his best players following the loss, and it’s hard not to notice that Phil Kessel didn’t register a single shot and the Marc Savard-led first power play unit was a dud all night. Tough to win when you don’t get  solid all-around games from that duo. It doesn’t just end there, however. Where were the tough to play against Bruins on Thursday night? Ivanans crunched Andrew Ference from behind into the boards, earned himself a boarding penalty and never had to pay the ferryman for his transgressions. That kind of thing never would have happened earlier in the season, and it shouldn’t happen to a team brimming with playoff grit.

Turning Point: The Bruins had two power play opportunities in the second period thanks to the thuggish ways of Raitis Ivanans, but couldn’t cash in with either chance. That allowed the Kings some room to breathe in a 2-0 hockey game, and left the door ajar for the third period comeback.

Read More: Chuck Kobasew, Claude Julien, Marc Savard,
Penalties aplenty in early going, Ward, Axelsson and Kobasew score 03.12.09 at 6:18 pm ET
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Three penalties in the first two minutes of play here at the Garden in a game between the red-hot Ottawa Senators — winners of four straight — and the not-so-hot Bruins — losers of two in a row — at the TD Banknorth Garden.

The first B’s penalty to Aaron Ward actually proved fortunate for the Black and Gold when Ward finished up his sin bin time and jumped out of the box behind the Ottawa defense. Ward received a long entry pass from Patrice Bergeron in the B’s D-zone,  skated in all alone and roofed a high, hard one right on the glove hand of Sens goalie Alex Auld. The whole play was set up by a goal-saving blocked shot by Zdeno Chara in the defensive end.

The score is the first career short-handed goal for the 35-year-old Ward.

13:08: Beautiful give and go between PJ Axelsson and David Krejci that ends with Krejci putting a perfect dish on Axelsson’s tape, and the Swede roofed another shot against Auld for another Boston score. That was a flicker of the old Krejci with the uncanny puck instincts.

13:04: Fight between Milan Lucic and Chris Neil in a busy first period. Good shots on both sides, and the refs step in when Looch’s jersey comes up over his head. 

12:35: Huge hit by Michael Ryder on Anton Volchenkov as Ryder carried the puck and dished it in the offensive zone. Lots of oohs and aaahs as Volchenkov the aggressor was dumped on the ice.

9:36: Bing, bang boom. Former BC skater Ryan Shannon goes off with a penalty, and Ryder finds Kobasew right on the doorstep with a quick tap-in bid that bounced off Auld’s skate and into the net.

7:12: Great stop by Tim Thomas on a Dany Heatley wraparound bid going left to right, but the rebound kicked out to Jason Spezza in the slot, and that’s a spot he doesn’t miss from.

4:26: Snapping glove save by Auld of a Montador slapper on a loose puck that was leaking back to him at the blue line. Good jump by both the Marc Savard/Blake Wheeler/Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic/David Krejci/Michael Ryder combos.

1:03: Somewhat questionable holding penalty on Blake Wheeler, who clearly needs to start skating and moving his feet rather than bear-hugging his opposition.

The B’s lead the Senators 3-1 at the end of the first period.

Read More: Aaron Ward, Chuck Kobasew, P.J. Axelsson,
Rangers are one of many improved teams in the East 03.08.09 at 4:03 pm ET
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The Bruins pulled the trigger on some prudent hockey transactions to address their needs during this past week’s trade deadline, but unfortunately the Causeway Street Warriors weren’t the only Eastern Conference squad to give themselves a helping hand last Wednesday.

New York Rangers forward Sean Avery made an impact in his first game this season as a member of the Blueshirts, and newly acquired forward Nik Antropov potted his first score in a Rangers sweater during a frustrating 4-3 Sunday afternoon B’s loss to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Former Coyotes defenseman Derek Morris also notched an assist for the new-look Rangers, who appear to have a bit more offensive firepower with their new skaters.

Watching Avery skate around for 60 minutes of hockey and incite Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and Mark Recchi into reacting and observing Antropov utilizing his big 6-foot-6 body to create space and opportunities in front of the net brought one big thought to the puck forefront: nearly every Bruins competitor helped themselves at the NHL trade deadline and just made the road that much tougher for the Black and Gold going forward this spring.

The sagging Montreal Canadiens acquired puck-moving defender Mathieu Schneider well before the trade deadline. The Pittsburgh Penguins finally recognized they were missing the grit of last year’s Stanley Cup Finals club, and recruited both Chris Kunitz and Bill Guerin into the fold in time for their final stretch run. The sandpaper-scrappy Daniel Carcillo was shipped to the Philadelphia Flyers after racking up more than 300 penalty minutes and 13 goals for the Coyotes last season.

The Devils watched Martin Brodeur get healthy enough to come back, and got even deeper along the blueline with Niclas Havelid. Even the Florida Panthers, who seemed to be locked in a Hamlet-like struggle to decide whether they were a legitimate playoff contender, scooped up defenseman Steve Eminger for their first serious playoff drive.

In other words, nearly everyone in the East potentially improved themselves right along with the Big, Bad B’s and it’s unclear how things will eventually shake out with the roster additions up and down the standings. 

As has been the case in several of the B’s most recent losses, the Bruins found themselves scrambling madly in the last few moments of the game to tie up the Rangers and lock another point into the seasonal account. But the Bruins just couldn’t get that last push to force the game into overtime, and vulture a lonely point.

That’s a quality that countless veteran NHL hockey teams have an uncanny knack for in a close game where they find themselves down in the waning moments. Somehow, some way a team will simply shove their way into OT before eventually succumbing to their opponent, but the B’s haven’t been one of those teams recently.

In the last month the B’s have dropped one-goal games to the Rangers, Coyotes, Devils and Lightning at a portion of the season when the Devils and Capitals remained within 10 points of the Spoked B in the East — with important games in hand for each club. The Bruins clearly could have used additional points to pile on to their first place cushion. 

With some additional grit and firepower in Boston’s “new” and largely healthy lineup, the young and hungry Bruins must find a way to will themselves into overtime in some of those “close but no cigar” one goal losses that have been all too common lately.

Injury Ward: Both Stephane Yelle (undisclosed injury after falling backwards and banging his neck and shoulder into the boards) and Steve Montador (flu) missed the game for the B’s, and it’s still unclear whether Yelle will meet the team in Columbus tomorrow or Tuesday. Byron Bitz and Blake Wheeler both played a bit of center in Yelle’s absence.

Player of the Game: Chuck Kobasew scored a goal on a sweet backhanded move that tied the game at 1-1 in the second period, and laid out five hits for the Bruins on the day. It was the perfect example of the skill and scowl that Kobasew brings to the table with his fearless bumper car style on a regular basis.

Goat Horns: Manny Fernandez hasn’t looked good in his last two starts, and has allowed four goals in four of his last five appearances since coming back from a midseason back injury. Man-Fern, after losing track of the puck, was a technical mess on the Ryan Callahan tap-in goal in the second period that gave the Rangers a commanding 3-1 lead. With points at a premium, it’s going to be difficult to give Fernandez a chance to play into getting his groove back.

Turning Point:  For the second time in a big, playoff-style game against an Eastern Conference foe, a flukey play proved to be the difference in the game when an odd carom off the back boards came right back out in front of the B’s net. Nikolai Zherdev took advantage of some “right place in the right time” mojo and banged in the game-winner past Fernandez with less than seven minutes to go in the game.

Read More: Chuck Kobasew, Manny Fernandez, New York Rangers,
Horton hears a post during scoreless first 02.21.09 at 7:41 pm ET
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Close call for the Panthers toward the end of the first as Florida forward Nathan Horton wheeled right in from the left faceoff circle and rang the outside of the left post, but ultimately couldn’t finish things off for the Panthers.

The Bruins have had some decent offensive chances, but Chuck Kobasew couldn’t finish off a pair of chances in close, and Tomas Vokoun stuck by the post and made a sound stop when snake-bitten Phil Kessel tried to sneak a puck by him.

Two power plays in the first period for the Black and Gold and no sign of Phil Kessel on either unit.

The B’s and Panthers are locked in a scoreless tie at the BankAtlantic Center after one full period of play.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew, Florida Panthers, Phil Kessel
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