|Morris has been a dead-on power play hit||10.06.09 at 3:50 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — It wasn’t a common sight last season, but there was at least one Bruins practice that involved the Boston defensemen corps firing pucks through bright orange traffic cones.
The traffic cones were placed near the right and left point areas in the attack zone, and the drill was designed to achieve pinpoint accuracy on the all-important power play blasts. The big gun shots from the B’s defensemen are oft-times the trigger to jolting Boston’s man advantage attack. With that in mind, there were times when a normally mighty power play lost some of it’s bite for the B’s last season when those point shots were nudged a little too far off the mark.
It wasn’t the sheer power of the long-range bids because guys like Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman have slappers capable of obliterating glass behind the net — with the assistance of some good wood, of course. But there were times when the shot would fade wide to either side, or an aggressive penalty kill would smother a shot with one brave sacrificial body.
“That’s the one thing that we lacked last year. At times we really had some trouble getting our shots through,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Teams are blocking shots and getting into the shooting lanes, and its getting harder to get shots off.”
Despite the intermittent bouts of wildness with their point shots, the Bruins still boasted a 23.6 percent power play success rate, and ranked fourth in the entire NHL. Only the high-powered units in Detroit, Washington and San Jose ranked higher last season.
|Lucic not present at Bruins practice||10.05.09 at 2:37 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruising Bruins winger Milan Lucic wasn’t present at practice Monday morning at Ristuccia Arena, but the 21-year-old winger wasn’t missing in action as a result of the fight-filled action against the Hurricanes. B’s coach Claude Julien confirmed following practice that it was a non-hockey related situation, and Lucic will be back practicing with the team Tuesday.
A Bruins source confirmed that the issue had nothing to do with his right punching hand or either of his legs — amid swirling reports that the big winger was seen limping out of the building Saturday night — and it was truly a very minor situation. Matt Hunwick, who bounced between defenseman and forward last season, replaced Lucic on the left wing skating with Marc Savard and Marco Sturm on Boston’s top line during practice.
If it were something more serious with Lucic, clearly the Bruins would have reconfigured the lines or called Vladimir Sobotka back up from Providence to rejoin the team. Neither of those things happened, and the lean, mean B’s fighting machine will be back in the practice fold tomorrow preparing for Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks.
“He was excused for non-hockey related, personal issues,” said Julien. “He’ll be back tomorrow.”
|Hunwick learning to stay within his game||at 2:23 am ET|
It ended up being nothing but an afterthought as the Bruins went all FEMA in shuttering the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday night, but it was a significant third-period goal for second-year defenseman Matt Hunwick in extended garbage time. The 5-foot-10, 187-pounder struggled to regain his feel early in the preseason, but all it took was one aggressive offensive play to conjure up images of the playmaking defenseman that carved a spot for himself by the end of last season.
Hunwick scored the seventh and final goal for the B’s in the rout over the Canes, and tasted a bit of on-ice revenge despite never making it past one playoff game against the Canadiens. Hunwick was crunched against the boards in that brutally physical Game 1, and the defenseman quickly bowed out of the series with a ruptured spleen.
That seemed like a million hockey years ago, though, as the 24-year-old logged time on the penalty kill and even earned a few power play minutes in the weekend rout. He’s still clearly not where back to the level he finished at last season, but he’s getting closer to form when he’s logging minutes on Boston’s man advantage in the third period while playing in Julien’s meritocratic team structure.
“It’s nice to know that my role on the team is appreciated, and I’m just going to keep doing the things that got me here in the first place,” said Hunwick. “I think physically coming into camp I felt great, and I think on-ice it took me at least a week to feel comfortable. During the summer you try to emulate what you’ll do [during the season], but it’s never the same. It took a little while [to feel good in camp] but it’s getting to the point where I’m feeling pretty good.”
Saturday night’s power play tally was a solid reminder of the dynamic, unpredictable presence that Hunwick can bring to the B’s defenseman corps when he’s playing with confidence and surety. It’s a look that’s pretty varied from the skill sets employed by the other members of Boston’s defensemen crew. Hunwick employs a loose, freelance style on the offensive end when it’s permissible, and picks crucial spots to pinch in from his spot near the blue line.
It’s exactly how the young defenseman converged on his power-play strike. Marco Sturm spotted Hunwick moving in toward the backdoor from his left point position, and the young defenseman didn’t miss his mark when Sturm zipped it on his tape at the far post. Perfect executive. Perfect offensive aggression. Pretty damned close to a perfect power play possession.
There was a legitimate, built-in excuse for Hunwick, of course, when he progressed a bit slowly in the preseason while coming off the splenectomy surgery. The blueliner endured a busy offseason that was probably a bit more jumbled than even he might have liked. Hunwick spent the first half of his summer gaining weight and muscle back after losing more than 10 pounds following his emergency surgery, and then spent several weeks waiting for a new contract with the Bruins.
It all worked out as Hunwick regained full health and was back near his playing weight by the time September arrived, and he worked out an amicable agreement with the Bruins for a two-year, $2.9 million contract. The deal served as a healthy pay raise for a defenseman that finished tied for top scorer among rookie defenseman in the NHL last season, but it also had its price. The shiny new contract perhaps raised expectations for Hunwick within a team that’s already living in a world of raised expectations this season, and the results have been a slow process.
“Practicing with his teammates certainly helped, and he’s just got to keep going about regaining that confidence,” said Julien of Hunwick. “With some guys they’re out there looking to justify their new contracts and other guys are going into their contract years. There are a bunch of different situations, but the bottom line is that you need to go out there and play.
“What you do as coaches is bringing them back and letting them know that you shouldn’t do more because you’re looking for a new contract. And you shouldn’t be putting more pressure on yourself because you’ve got a new contract, and think you should be helping the team more. You go out there, and you’re either rewarded or you will be rewarded for your play. Sometimes less is more. You’ve heard me say that quite a bit. With [Hunwick] he wants to show that he’s a big part of our hockey club, and all he has to do is play the way he did last year. For me, he was as good a defenseman as we had for a while there last year.
Julien recognized a player in Hunwick that was perhaps trying a little too hard to justify the extra zeroes in his bank account, but the young defenseman wasn’t any kind of lost cause. He was instead quick to say that it’s only a matter of time before Hunwick settled back into his second-half game, and his first goal of the season and 17:16 worth of ice time were both encouraging starting points.
|Turn up the volume: B’s ready from the start||10.04.09 at 12:23 am ET|
After laying an egg in their season opener against Washington, the Bruins knew they had to pick up the effort level on Saturday against Aaron Ward, Andrew Alberts and the Carolina Hurricanes, the same team that eliminated last spring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
And there would be no slow start to this one, like on Thursday night when the Bruins fell down early and never really recovered.
The Bruins scored on four of their eight power play chances and routed Carolina, 7-2, before a pumped-up TD Garden crowd that was treated to nearly as many good brawls as goals. Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton added to the festivities with their bouts against the Canes.
Here’s what the combatants had to say, or at least some of the key players and coaches.
|Bruins looking for a ‘little bit of revenge’ against Canes||10.03.09 at 1:02 pm ET|
Revenge was on the mind of several Bruins players Saturday morning headed into a game against a Carolina Hurricanes team that eliminated them in heart-wrenching overtime fashion in Game 7 last season.
It wasn’t the biggest or most prevalent thought after dropping a bomb against the Washington Capitals opening night, and the B’s know that priority number is getting their own hockey house in order. But hockey players have long memories when it comes to sudden, season-ending defeats with the kind of passion raised by a seven-game series leading to the conference finals.
B’s coach Claude Julien said he didn’t care what motivated his team ‘ whether they needed the extra little oomph from last year’s series with the Canes or a public drubbing at the hands of the Caps was more than enough ‘ but he expected a far different hockey team out of the gate and through 60 minutes in game No. 2.
‘Is it revenge? Is it about this year, about winning a hockey game? It can be about a lot of different things,’ said Julien. ‘I don’t care how the guys think about it. I just really care about us going out there, and it’s more about how we’re going to perform tonight than anything else. Whichever way they want to motivate themselves, that’s OK with me. We just have to bounce back from a tough outing.’
Julien pulled Lucic aside during Friday’s practice and had a long chat with his Hulk on skates, and it was most likely about the lack of first line impact in their 4-1 loss to the Caps. The trio totaled one shot on net through 60 uninspired minutes, and Lucic practically invited Alexander Ovechkin over for tea and crumpets when the Russian winger climbed through Big Bad Looch in the slot for his second goal of the night.
Plenty of the Bruins were still stuck in their hibernating slumber Thursday, and the Hurricanes just might be enough to poke the Bear in the cage.
‘Obviously they’re a team that spoiled our season last year, and I think there’s a lot of thinking going into this game that [Carolina] would be a great team to get us on the right track,’ said Milan Lucic. ‘They’d be a great team to get our first win against.
‘It’s definitely not going to be easy and we expect them to come out hard. Everybody is still a little bitter about what happened last year. It’s only the regular season, but they’re a big two points that we need. Get that first win of the season, and it’d be a lot nicer if it comes against these guys. Not a lot of revenge, but just a little bit. Just enough [payback] to have a smile on your face when the game is over.’
The B’s and Canes had almost mirror-image openers ‘ with the B’s losing on Thursday and Carolina dropping a similarly uninspired debut against the Philadelphia Flyers on Friday night ‘ and both finished with 0-fers on the power play while struggling to put together offense.
With Tim Thomas in net and no discernible changes to the lineup after Saturday morning’s skate, here are a few thoughts from a select group of B’s players when asked what sticks in their mind from last season’s playoff defeat.
Lucic: ‘The way they came out. I was real impressed with the way they came out and put us back on our heels, and they put in a real team effort. Guys stepped up for them to score big goals. Just the way they were able to apply pressure and keep it on. I was definitely impressed with the way they were able to do that. We don’t expect anything less from them. The worst thing you can do is underestimate them because they played last night and think they’re going to come out slow. They’ll have that extra bit of jump to get that first win of the year.’
Byron Bitz: ‘Losing, I guess. That was just bitter. Especially the way we battled back in that series. To come up one goal short was pretty tough to take. You look at the lineup is pretty similar to what they have this year. It’s a new season. You don’t want to say ‘revenge’ but it’s important to come out tonight and have a pretty good effort. We played them seven hard games and it’s definitely still in our minds. I watched Game 7 on replay just at the start of camp and watched it. Didn’t get all the way through it. It was such a long game and I already knew the ending.’
David Krejci: ‘For me, it’s over. What happened last year happened. We know what happened last year, but it’s a new season and we’re looking forward to it. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m over it. I don’t want to go back to it. It was hard, and now we’re here with our team for this year. I don’t want to talk about losses. I just want to talk about the games we won.
Dennis Wideman: ‘There’s a little extra excitement tonight, and hopefully we can take it to them. When I think about that series, it’s about not playing our best. We didn’t play as good as we could, and we didn’t play like we did in that first series [against the Canadiens]. That’s what leaves the sour taste. If you play as good as you can and you still lost a series, then it’s a little easier to swallow than if you didn’t play as well as you can.
—Aaron Ward will be in his first game back at the Garden since the summer deal to the Carolina Hurricanes, and he’ll be paired with ex-Bruins defenseman Andrew Alberts. Ward has been a steadying, off-beat influence in the Carolina dressing room, and was exactly what the doctor ordered for team chemistry and defensive stability ‘ the same kinds of things he brought to Boston for almost three years. He even has his own radio show in Carolina, something that isn’t shocking to Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice.
‘He did a good job last night seeking out the puck carrier in our end and playing physical, which is what we know him to be from playing all those games against him last year,’ said Maurice. ‘He’s a good calming veteran guy with a pretty wicked sense of humor. We like those guys around here. They keep things loose when the grind comes.
‘He’s got a bit of a prankster in him. I think he enjoys it. I think you see that with guys like him when they get a little older and get more secure in their careers. When you’ve got three Stanley Cup rings you can probably enjoy the game a little bit. You have to have those kinds of guys in the room, and I think they’re really critical to how your [locker] room operates.’
|Julien: Time for Bruins to show some determination||10.02.09 at 2:28 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Back to work for the Bruins at Ristuccia Arena Friday afternoon following a lackluster ice-breaker against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.
Plenty of talk about the power play unit, and the definite lack of mightiness after going 0-for-5 with only a single shot on net during over five minutes of 5-on-4 action in Thursday’s defeat. But in Claude Julien’s mind, the power play’s lack of bite went back to a surprising lack of determination and will displayed all over the ice after the opening 10 minutes.
Heading into the season the Bruins talked about weathering opposing team’s best punches in the frenzied opening minutes of games, and then slowly winning the game’s tide over through three periods. That seemed to work in exact reverse in their first game as the Black and Gold skaters had nothing in the tank after an opening flurry against Washington that ultimately didn’t bear any fruit.
“I wouldn’t pinpoint it as [power play trouble],” said Julien. “There was a lot more than that going on [against the Caps] in my book. Your best players have to be your hardest workers, and yesterday we were getting outworked on the power play and losing battles.
The power play breakouts and set-ups were sound, but there wasn’t enough gritty desire to keep the puck in the zone or create the dynamic puck movement that the Capitals confidently called upon on the other side of the ice. Combine the misfiring power play squad with Andrew Ference, David Krejci, Matt Hunwick and Marco Sturm all coming back from summer rehab programs amid an abbreviated preseason schedule, and there was a perfect storm of disappointment against a Caps team looking in mid-season form.
“A lot of it is we have to understand that our work ethic has to get better, and that’s a starting point for us turning it around,” said Julien. “We have a lot of challenges that are a little bit out of our control. We have a lot of guys that maybe aren’t in synch right now, and as a whole it certainly makes it challenging for our team.
“But we have to take a step back and maybe concentrate on our work ethic, and then maybe we’re giving ourselves a chance. The rest should follow. I have to push those guys to want to work harder, and they have to want to work harder. And they do it on their own as well. It’s a push from all of us, and it’s what we have to do to at least get back on the right track. ”
–The Bruins were licking their opening night wounds Friday morning, but also readying for a Saturday night date with a Carolina Hurricanes squad that ended their season in a Game 7 overtime heart-breaker last spring. Claude Julien admitted that he’s never watched a full replay of the Game 7 film after the fact, but has endured more than enough replays of Scott Walker’s OT winner in the last three months.
Shawn Thornton stayed in touch with Canes defenseman Aaron Ward following his trade to Carolina, and pleasantries will be exchanged before the hate starts flowing on the ice. Thornton and his teammates remember exactly what happened during last year’s semi-finals after taking the Canes a bit too lightly, and that isn’t going to happen again after a soggy opening night.
“It happens all the time and it won’t be that weird because I’ve seen [Ward] in that jersey before. The tough part of the game is when guys get moved, but he’s home and it looks like he’s happy,” said Thornton. “I’ve talked to him a couple of times, but he’s not my teammate anymore and whatever happens out there, he’s on the other team.
“Obviously we haven’t forgotten that they knocked us out three months ago, so we have to bottle it up and use it in the right way. We’re not going to go out there running around like crazy and getting away from our game. But having a little bit of an edge and a little bit of nastiness to our game against the team that ended our season might be all right.”
—Dennis Wideman talked about the “too many men on the ice” penalty that started the ball rolling for Washington in the first period Thursday night. It was one of those instances where the puck-moving defenseman wanted to pull his pass back as soon as it left the blade of his stick, but that isn’t possible without Doc Brown and a time-traveling Delorean. Instead the 26-year-old defenseman threw the puck toward the Bruins bench at exactly the wrong time during a shift change, and Brooks Laich made Boston pay with their first power play strike of the game.
“A lot of times I’m making those passes when I see the black sweater out of the corner of my eye and then make the pass without really looking,” said Wideman. “After I passed it and looked over, I saw we were in the midst of a line change. I should have looked before I made the pass over, and that’s basically what happened. I kind of put it in a spot where he didn’t know whether to take it or just leave the puck. It’s one of those instances where I should have taken a look before I snapped the puck over there.”
|Bruins brushing up on the power play||09.30.09 at 11:41 am ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins are putting the finishing touches on the team here at practice Wednesday morning at Ristuccia Arena as they ready for Thursday’s season-opener against Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the high-powered Washington Capitals.
A lot of power play work this morning, and a look into what’s going to be one of the more competitive aspects of the Black and Gold team this season. The Bruins legitimately have five or six players that could run the point on the power play, and B’s coach Claude Julien has been nearly giddy in the different options at his disposal in the early going. Both Zdeno Chara and Derek Morris lined up as the top points on the first power play until along with Marc Savard, Milan Lucic and Michael Ryder filling out the forward spots on the top unit. Marco Sturm was also hopping into the top unit and alternating with Lucic.
Andrew Ference and Dennis Wideman manned the spots on the second unit with David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi alternating with Chuck Kobasew as the manpower down low. The 5-on-3 work was even more impressive as Chara and Morris manned the points with Recchi working directly in front of the goalie with puck magicians Savard and Krejci working in the two corners. That’s the kind of PP combo that could make a lot of teams pay for spending time in the penalty box this season. One big change from last year: Bergeron has taken off the point and is working more off the half-wall where he can be a triple-threat ready to pass, shoot, or take it straight toward the net.
Despite the current configurations, Julien has been quick to advise not falling in love with the PP configurations as there could be a heavy “play the hot hand” philosophy on the man advantage with so many qualified players to choose from. The B’s bench boss is also reserving the right to plop the oversized body of 6-foot-9 Chara in tight by the cage if the situations calls for a an extra-big, extra-wide body during PP time.
Matt Hunwick is another player likely to find his way onto the PP units as a point man this season, but the young blueliner has been attempting to find his game through training camp. Julien hinted on Tuesday that some of Hunwick’s struggles may be the player’s attempts to justify the two-year contract he received over the summer, and may be a case of a player attempting to do too much. Either way, Hunwick wasn’t on the PP units Wednesday and will have to work his way back into the rotation.
“You’re likely to see a little bit of both. [Bergeron] may end up playing [the point] and he may end up playing up front too,” said Julien. “There are some players that are still trying to find their games a little bit, and we have to take that into account as well. Right now we’re trying to come up with the best combination to start.
“It allows us some versatility. I don’t when or if it’s really going to happen — but I suspect it will at some point — you can put a guy like Zdeno in front of the net. He’s a big net-front presence if you’ve got the right people on the back end. But a lot of things and decisions are based on the way players are going right at the time. If you have players on a roll or a hot streak, then you want to keep them on that streak by utilizing them in different place. Or maybe sometimes guys are trying to find their games , and it’s not good to put them in different kinds of positions when you’re trying to get them to simplify their games. There’s a lot of thinking that goes behind who should be where [on the power play] and who should be on it.”