|Sobotka looking to make a big impression with the B’s||09.22.09 at 1:39 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Vladimir Sobotka had to look at this as a make-or-break kind of year for him at Bruins training camp.
The 22-year-old Czech Republic native is looking at his best chance to make the Bruins roster right out of camp, and he has played in three preseason games thus far for Boston. Sobotka hasn’t cracked the score sheet in those three contests, is a minus-2 and has lifted three shots on net during game action. Hockey clearly isn’t a game about numbers, of course, but they indicate what the naked eye has already revealed to the casual observer.
Sobotka was a point-per-game player last season while logging 44 points in 44 games for the AHL Providence Bruins before succumbing to a concussion toward the end of last season. He has proven his tenacity, skill level and confidence at the highest levels of minor league hockey.
But he needs to step up his game in camp and show off the same effective blend of pesky, annoying, in-your-face forechecking and dangerous skill that made him an unmistakable factor in Boston two seasons ago.
Sobotka has yet to make an impression on B’s coach Claude Julien and the coaching staff this preseason, and is perhaps trying a little too hard knowing that a potential roster spot is at stake. After all, he’s heard about it from the media throughout the first few weeks of camp, so how could he possibly forget that a job is on the line.
He got a big taste of the NHL when he played in 2007-08 down the stretch and participated in the playoffs when Claude Julien relegated Phil Kessel to the bench for the first three games of the series against the Canadiens. Sobotka savored that early exposure to the NHL as a 20-year-old, and it’s the reason why he came over from his native Czech Republic to play professional hockey in the United States in the first place. He’s played a grand total of 63 NHL games over the last two seasons but still hasn’t had his breakthrough campaign like fellow Czech David Krejci enjoyed last winter.
“I keep getting the same questions. I always say that I’m going to try to do my best and do what the coaches say,” said Sobotka. “We have some injuries and we have some open spots, but it’s the same answers. I’m going to do my best. This is my important camp. I’m going to play hard, try my best and try to stay here for the whole season.
“I learned a lot last season. It’s not hard to go down [to Providence] and come back and play. I learned a lot last season and I’m trying to stay here [in Boston] this season. I came here to play hockey in the NHL, but if I get sent down [to Providence] I’m not going to be disappointed. I’ll go down to Providence and I’ll play there, you know. But, like I said, I want to stay here, would love to play here and stay in the NHL all season. I just want to do my best.”
Sobotka has perhaps felt the pressure of auditioning for a roster spot, and admitted as much in saying that “this is my important camp.” That, paired with heavy competition from another young Bruins grinder, Brad Marchand, has made things challenging. Marchand has impressed throughout camp and plays with a Chara-sized chip on his shoulder, and he shares many of the same strengths with his European counterpart. It’s been up to Sobotka to match his competitor, and the coaching staff has noticed he’s been pressing a bit in the early going.
“He’s been OK. I talked to him a little bit this morning and it’s more — with Vlad — that somehow he has to find that confidence that he has at the American Hockey League,” Julien said. “He’s got to feel confident about his game. We say it all the time about this guy, he plays like he’s 6-foot-3 and he’s not afraid to go into the corners. He’s got some skill. He’s got a great shot, you know.
“He just has to go out there and play the game, and maybe relax a little bit. I think he put a lot of pressure on himself to crack the lineup this year. Can he be better? Absolutely. I think it’s just a matter of confidence, and we told him we have the utmost confidence in him. He just needs to go out there and play the way he knows that he can.”
Roster spots aren’t won in the first two weeks of training camp, however, and the real competition begins in this final stretch of exhibition games prior to the Oct. 1 start to the NHL regular season. Handicapping a roster prior to the late camp games when the real preseason bullets flying is akin to predicting a final score after a hockey game’s first period. It’s possible, but more oft-times futile.
With four games left in five nights prior to the start of the regular season, the NHL regulars will start commanding more of the ice time, and some early camp wunderkinds will begin to show their age and experience.
It’s not too late for Sobotka if he begins to brandish the same kind of fearless, brash certainty that marked his AHL style of play prior to a concussion that prematurely ended his last season last year. The 2005 B’s fourth-round pick impressed the heck out of Bruins officials during that first go-round in Black and Gold two years ago, and it’s about time for Sobotka to return to his established level of play.
“It almost looks like he might be a little nervous and might be trying to do a little too much,” Julien said. “You’re not playing with the confidence that you normally have, and I’ve seen him play in Providence last year. He went out there and made up his mind he was the best player on the ice, and played like it.”
Sobotka simply needs to show no fear and begin playing like he’s intent on making the most of his Black and Golden opportunity this fall.
|Krejci going full-tilt at practice during B’s camp||at 11:42 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruins coach Claude Julien wasn’t ready to announce when B’s center David Krejci would get into his first game action — or play during the exhibition season — but did give an update on the 23-year-old center coming off surgery for an impingement in his right hip.
Krejci is enduring a full practice workload with the rest of the team and taking part in all contact drills. Julien indicated that things are going well for the center, and Krejci estimated he had a “10 percent chance” of being ready for NHL opening night against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 1.
“What I can answer is that he’s getting better and better, and everything that’s going on is positive,” said Julien, who indicated that the B’s training staff hasn’t yet given him full clearance to play in games. “I can give you a date as far as when he’s ready to play in a game, but he’s practicing full-out and that bodes well. He’s taking contact and he’s taking part in full practices.”
–Marco Sturm was off the ice today for a scheduled maintenance day as he works his way back to full health with a surgically repaired left knee. Sturm was at Ristuccia Arena to take part in off-ice workouts and won’t be making the trip to Columbus with the B’s traveling party.
–The lineup for Tuesday night’s game in Columbus includes: Marc Savard, Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi, Johnny Boychuk, Drew Fata, Andrew Ference, Chuck Kobasew, Zach Hamill, Drew Larman, Milan Lucic, Derek Morris, Mark Recchi, Guillame LeFebvre, Vladimir Sobotka, Mark Stuart, Blake Wheeler, Shawn Thornton, Trent Whitfield and Andy Wozniewski. Tuukka Rask and Dany Sabourin will both make the trip, but Sabourin is expected to get the full 60 minutes between the pipes against the Blue Jackets.
|Chiarelli: Kessel ‘no longer wanted to play in Boston’||09.19.09 at 12:03 pm ET|
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli met with the media on Saturday morning to discuss dealing leading-scorer Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs for three high draft picks over the next years, and stated pointedly on several occasions that the 21-year-old winger “no longer wanted to play in Boston”.
Kessel and agent Wade Arnott had, according to Chiarelli, informed him of a couple of reasons why he no longer wanted to a Bruin, and privately gave the GM a couple of reasons why he needed a change of NHL address. That spurred the B’s to trade away Kessel for draft picks in excess of the draft pick compensation for a potential offer sheet, and the Maple Leafs emerged as the only team with the draft pick assets and available cash to swing a trade-and-sign for Boston’s restricted free agent.
One of those reasons behind Kessel’s desire to leave is believed to be B’s coach Claude Julien’s “tough love” relationship with him over their two years together. Some believe that Kessel never forgave the coach for benching him during his first playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens, and preaching the importance of a two-way game over simply being a glorified floater on the ice. Kessel scored 36 goals and was a +23 during his breakout season with the Black and Gold last winter, and much of that on-ice success can be traced back to Julien’s “no soft play allowed” coaching style.
“He had his best season under this coach. Enough said on that,” Chiarelli said of Kessel and Julien. “We stress defense first. We stress competitiveness. Having said all that, what were we, first or second in the league in goals scored? And he had 36, 37 goals? Got him a nice raise.”
The B’s coach, for his part, didn’t get all soft and fuzzy on the relationship he had with a slow-to-mature Kessel during their two seasons together in Boston, but he also didn’t feel like the player/coach dynamic was a big factor in the disconnect between Kessel and the Bruins. In his mind, the coach had done everything possible to make things work for both the player and the hockey club.
“I even told him in a conversation that I didn’t get a (salary) bonus for making him into a bad player. Everything I did was to try and make him a better player, and I think that message was understood,” said Julien. “I think last year his season proved that. He seemed to understand the concept of our team, and besides the 36 goals he was a + player. I feel good personally that I did my best to make him the best player I could, and the rest of that stuff has nothing to do with me.
“I’m not going to sugercoat this. He was no different than any other player that you deal with at times. You never have smooth relationships because there’s challenges along the way. What you need to do as a coach is to convince those guys and make them understand and believe that this is what you need to do to be the best team possible. This is what you need to be the best player possible as well. We all know Phil has always grown up as a superstar player, and those guys are a bit of a bigger challenge. But I can tell you last year there were no issues with him resisting, and there shouldn’t have been because his season proved that it was very successful.”
Chiarelli addressed the addition of the draft picks and the options that it provides the team with $1.7 million under the salary cap. The swap gives the B’s a grand total of five draft picks in the first two rounds of next year’s draft (two first-rounders and three second-rounders), and affords them plenty of assets should they need a particular player at this season’s trade deadline. The Nashville Predators were the other team seriously in on Kessel and a deal with them would have centered on affordable, young prospects (Ryan Ellis, Jon Blum, Colin Wilson) more than draft picks. But no other team — aside from Brian Burke’s well-heeled Maple Leafs – was willing to pay the 21-year-old $5.4 million a year for four years of restricted free agency and one year of UFA status from Kessel.
In so many ways this move by the Bruins smacks of a New England Patriots-style manuever where there was a particular value on a player, and the B’s front office fortified their long-term future once Toronto’s contract offer shot up into the hockey stratosphere. Many of the same factors and beliefs that were at play in the Richard Seymour deal earlier this month are now rearing up on Causeway Street.
Chiarelli added that he could have matched a potential offer sheet from Toronto and then stored Phil Kessel on LTIR (Long Term Injured Reserve) for the entirety of the regular season if the B’s front office felt it was necessary. That would have been a largely punitive move toward the player, and would have forced the B’s to clear off enough space for his gigantic raise in salary.
Chiarelli surely would have been forced to trade off an Andrew Ference or a Chuck Kobasew — or perhaps Michael Ryder – simply to squeeze Kessel’s $5.4 million under the salary cap. That’s not even broaching the contractual decisions that await Chiarelli next season when Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler and Marc Savard are all looking for new deals. None of his other available options seemed prudent or feasible once Chiarelli viewed the Kessel situation in totality.
“At the end of the day, we want players that want to be here,” said Chiarelli, who also said the perceived threat of the offer sheet played prominently into the eventual trade. “I know this player is a good player. Obviously he is. He can skate and he can shoot the puck. But we want players that want to be here, and we want to grow the team with those type of players. This isn’t about — and I know the history here — but this isn’t about frugality. There was some significant offers made, and there was little to no attempt to negotiate from the other side.
“Phil’s agent gave me a couple of reasons,” added Chiarelli when asked if he knew why Kessel wanted out of Boston. “I was surprised. I don’t know if really there were other reasons. He has that right as a restricted free agent and he can choose (where he signs). It’s all part of this new CBA whether it’s restricted free agency or unrestricted free agency, it comes earlier and arbitration comes earlier so (a player’s) mobility and choice of location comes earlier.”
There were an overflow of ”it’s a business” type quotes from the Bruins players in the aftermath of the Kessel deal, but interesting viewpoints from team Captain Zdeno Chara and close friend Blake Wheeler came to the fore. Several times during their three years together, frustration cropped up with Chara toward the youngster’s game, and then bubbled over in practice.
The towering defenseman hinted afterwards that the young sniper still has a few things to learn about being a successful player in the NHL, and some of it simply comes down to a commitment toward off-ice training and improvements to his game. One imagines that Chara will teach Kessel a few of these painful lessons the first time he ventures into the corners of the TD Garden ice decorated in a Maple Leafs sweater.
“We all know he’s a young, skilled player. When you have young players like that – and not just young players but even older players — you have to realize that you can learn something every day, as they say,” said Chara when asked if he had moments of frustration with #81 during his time in Boston. “He has to realize that learning is a part of the game, and sometimes it’s a little easier and sometimes it’s a little bit harder.”
While Chara said he hadn’t spoken with Kessel at all, Wheeler still chats regularly on the phone with his former University of Minnesota teammate “3 or 4 times a week” and never got the impression that Kessel was quite so dead-set about not coming back to the Bruins.
“Our conversations were never too much about hockey or the business aspect of it. It was more like ‘whatever happens, happens,” said Wheeler. “We never had that particular conversation. At the end of the day, maybe, if he had to pick he would have wanted to be here (in Boston). But it just didn’t work out.”
|Julien: ‘pretty sure that Savard is 100 percent’||09.17.09 at 2:11 pm ET|
Marc Savard has yet to appear in either of the first two preseason Bruins games, but B’s coach Claude Julien declared the No. 1 center as 100 percent after battling through a left knee issue in the first few days of training camp. Julien wouldn’t say when Savard will appear in a preseason game — the B’s play Saturday afternoon at home against the Rangers and Sunday night against the Canadiens in Quebec City — but confirmed that it’s now a coaching decision rather than a choice left up to the trainers.
Savard said that part of his goal heading into this season was to shed a few pounds and be a bit lighter and quicker on his skates, and he underwent a long-distance running and sprinting program that saw him run 4-6 miles four or five days a week. Warning bells were sounded when Savard needed to leave the ice early on the first day of training camp due to a little knee soreness, but the reports of it being anything serious were greatly exaggerated.
“It’s just one of those maintenance things because I’ve been skating hard on it,” said Savard of the left knee. “I want to get in (to a game). There’s always things in the real games that you can’t do in practice.”
The center has looked sleeker on the frozen sheet, certainly, but perhaps all of the hard work caused a little of the left knee discomfort at the beginning of camp. Either way, both Savard and Julien say that the 32-year-old center is ready to drop into game action at this point in training camp.
Savard’s motivation is a good thing to hear at this point in camp, and there shouldn’t any shortage of reasons for the playmaking center to come up with his best season as a Bruins player. He’s in a contract year with his four-year, $20 million set to expire after this season, and he’s already put it out there that this campaign is a resume tape of sorts for the Team Canada Olympic decision-makers this fall.
“We’ll see what kind of lineup I decide on,” said Julien of Savard’s chances of playing this weekend. “I don’t think it’s for any other reason than me picking out my lineup. It’s a choice of mine more than anything else. In Savvy’s case, I’m pretty sure he’s 100 percent. So it’s just a matter of when we decide to put him in.”
|Bruins set lineup for Maple Leafs preseason tilt||09.16.09 at 11:47 am ET|
Blake Wheeler leads a Boston Bruins traveling party for a Wednesday night preseason game against the Toronto Maple Leafs following up on Tuesday night’s 2-1 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden. Wheeler, Byron Bitz, Brad Marchand, Jamie Arniel and Vladimir Sobotka will play among the forward group for the second straight game, and both Matt Hunwick and Adam McQuaid will play for the second straight day.
The B’s players getting their first taste of preseason action include: Steve Begin, Patrice Bergeron, Drew Larman, Guillaume Lefebvre, Jeff LoVecchio, Michael Ryder and Shawn Thornton at forward, and Derek Morris, Mark Stuart, Dennis Wideman and Any Wozniewski on defense. Dany Sabourin is expected to get the call between the pipes for the Bruins, and will play the whole game as Tuukka Rask did Tuesday night against the Rangers.
“I think we saw a lot of good things from the younger players (against the Rangers),” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Of course Max Sauve had the game-winning goal, but more than that probably surpassed what we expected from him and played well. Tuukka played well between the pipes, and Brad Marchand played well. Zach Hamill made some plays and he continued what he started at the rookie camps.
“You could see the Penners and the Bodnarchuks, you could see they have a year of pro under their belts and they were able to handle the pressure of the forecheck a lot better.”
|Rask in net against Rangers in preseason opener||09.15.09 at 12:11 pm ET|
Bruins rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask will get the nod for the entire game on Tuesday night against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the B’s preseason opener, and 29-year-old veteran Dany Sabourin will get the start in goal against the Toronto Maple Leads on Wednesday night.
The two goaltenders are in a competition for the backup spot to goaltender Tim Thomas, and B’s coach Claude Julien was anxious to get a look at both goaltenders. Rookie center Zach Hamill will also get a long look on the top line vs. the Rangers as he’ll get play between Blake Wheeler and Marco Sturm, who is playing in his first game since wrenching his right knee against the Maple Leafs on Dec. 18.
The other members of the B’s traveling party set to play against the Rags on Tuesday: Jamie Arniel, Byron Bitz, Chuck Kobasew, Mikko Lehtonen, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand, Max Sauve, Vladmir Sobotka and Trent Whitfield at forward; Andrew Bodnarchuk, Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, Matt Hunwick, Adam McQuaid and Jeff Penner; goaltenders Rask and Sabourin.
“(Sturm) is in good shape and his knee is 100 percent, so I said why not get out of his system right away and a get his first game under his belt?” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “It’s a long camp and getting him in that first game will give us some more options and then we can see him more if we need to.”
|Backup goaltender spot not a given for Rask||09.14.09 at 3:38 pm ET|
There’s a been a great deal of assuming that the Boston Bruins backup goaltender spot has already been pre-ordained to Finnish phenom Tuukka Rask, but that seems to be a classic case of overstating the case. Rask is highly touted, and deserving of the plaudits after a pair of seasons fine-tuning his game with the Providence Bruins, but B’s coach Claude Julien said that Thomas’ backup is a wide open job search.
The B’s coach indicated there’s a wide-ranging competition among the five goaltenders without a Vezina Trophy for the role as backup to Tim Thomas, but the competition is solely a two-man race between journeyman Sabourin and vaunted prospect Rask. The 29-year-old Sabourin has played in 57 NHL games with a career 2.88 goals against average and an .898 save percentage, and appeared in 19 games with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins last season as a backup to Marc-Andre Fluery.
Sabourin certainly isn’t the answer for the B’s goaltending future, but he’s proven an ability handle the backup role without a major drop-off in performance. Not the easiest of tricks for a young goaltender.
Rask, meanwhile, is a 22-year-old prototype right out of the Finland goalie factory with a long, lean frame and a wide butterfly stance that envelops the bottom half of the net. Rask and Montreal’s Carey Price were, in fact, considered the two best young goaltending prospects in the world under the age of 21 just a few short years ago, and Rask has markedly improved his strength and skill during a two-year apprenticeship with the P-Bruins.
All that being said, the young prospect is going to need to impress the B’s coaching staff with his dilligence, attitude and effort much like he did last season while playing like best goaltender in Boston’s camp. The youngster was sent down to Providence — and was spitting nails nearly all the way back — but put his head down and pulled together a solid season at the AHL level complete with a nice postseason run to boot.
Rask has proven himself in the minors, but now the 6-foot-2, 171-pounder needs to show the necessary skills to back up Thomas. The Tank’s netminding understudy will easily play between 30-40 games this season — a workload that would serve as the perfect way to introduce Rask to the NHL in easily-digestible bite-sized pieces.
While it’s the perfect scenario to break in the young phenom, Julien needs to see Rask take hold of an NHL netminding job opportunity with both hands.
“I think Tuukka has to understanding that he’s got a great opportunity here. He’s got to seize it,” said Julien. “He’s got some competition. There’s a guy by the name of Sabourin that’s got some experience in this league. There are several goalies here pushing, but we all know realistically that it’s Sabourin and Rask in competition to see who’s working with Timmy this year.”
Is it a given that Rask wins the job, and Sabourin starts the year with the Baby B’s in Providence?
“Absolutely not,” said Julien without missing a beat. “That much I can tell you, truthfully.”
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