|Kessel and Krejci offer hope for B’s fortunes||03.12.09 at 10:44 pm ET|
The dynamic duo is intrinsically linked to the Bruins’ ultimate playoff hopes once the regular season curtain drops, and the grinding dress rehearsal ramps up into the operatic Stanley Cup playoff production.
Just call it the ballet of banging bodies and broken blades.
Kessel the finisher and Krejci the creator, as they might be known once playoff glory is potentially theirs this spring, have been knee-deep in the malaise that seems to have plagued the Black and Gold hockey club over the last five weeks.
But things changed last night after B’s coach Claude Julien played the mixed and match game with the skating lines, and both finisher and creator factored heavily into a 5-3 Boston win over the Ottawa Senators at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.
Kessel banged in his 28th and 29th goals of the season, including the game-winner on an excellent use of his blazing speed up the right side of the ice and an empty-netter that finally iced the game with a little less than a minute to go in the third period.
Sure the Bruins looked sloppy and perhaps even a bit timid in portions of the second and third period against a Sens team scheduled to be teeing it on the links once the playoff gauntlet begins, but the triumph once again banks the B’s some valuable points at a time when they’re desperately needed.
For Kessel, his mere presence on the frozen sheet in the waning minutes of a one-goal game speaks to the reservoir of confidence that the 21-year-old winger is again building up with Bruins bench boss Claude Julien. The former first round pick’s compete level has elevated to a higher ground over the last three games, he’s doggedly battling for pucks and playing tougher along the wall, and last night his effort was rewarded with a pair of good, old-fashioned lamp-lighters.
“I feel like I’ve had a lot of chances over the last little bit that I haven’t finished,” said Kessel. “The breakaway vs. Columbus (on Tuesday) and stuff like that. I just need to bear down on my chances and starting finishing them.
“It means something that when you’re out there at the end of the game,” added Kessel, who used his turbo skating speed to pot the empty-netter at the 19:04 mark of the third. “It means that the [coaching staff] trusts you out there. When the coach has that trust in you, it’s always a good thing.”
Linemate Marc Savard (two assists) freed up Kessel for his first goal with a head’s up passing play off the boards out of the D-zone, and then credited his right wing for the way he’s pulled his game together over the last week — a time when the Bruins need to be fine-tuning for future battles against playoff-style competition.
“It’s nice to see him get rewarded,” said Savard. “As a team we want to come to the rink with some smiles on our faces. Around the rink it’s been pretty dull. (Kessel) got that wide speed and that’s part of what gets our line going. I don’t want him to change. He made some defensive plays and (Kessel) was a lot stronger on the wall, and that’s going to get us out (on the ice) more. He did the job, he battled and that’s a credit to him.”
For Krejci, a new linemate in Milan Lucic paired with longtime winger Michael Ryder gave Krejci a bookend set of physically tough shotgun partners with the willingness to mix it up and create a bit of working room for the 22-year centerman to wave his magic stick. After going five straight games without a point, Krejci grabbed an assist on Boston’s second goal when he executed a perfect give-and-go with P.J. Axelsson that ended with Krejci serving up a one-timer at the right faceoff circle for the grizzled Swede.
“Today I felt awesome and I was ready,” said Krejci. “(Skating with Lucic) was a little different. He’s a good player, he’s a big body and he can find me in the middle. He did that a couple of times. When he’s going out there the defenseman get scared and they turn the puck away. He can get it , he can protect it and he can find you. He’s got good vision and I actually liked playing with him.”
It was a simple play for an elite puck talent like Krejci, but it allowed him to start building that confidence up and work toward again becoming the difference-maker Boston is going to need once the playoff bullets start flying overhead. Julien and his staff had a sit-down with Krejci recently to reinforce simplifying his at-times electric game, and the results — along with placing the brawling, bruising Lucic by his side to open up a little real estate on the frozen sheet — had him looking again like the offensive catalyst on pace to score 90 points in the first half of the year.
“I thought Krejci played pretty well tonight,” said Julien. “We’ve seen him have some tough outings lately, and tonight was one of his better games.
“I think the one thing we talked about with him was to just maybe take a step back and not look all those real fancy plays that he was capable of making earlier when his confidence was at its best,” added Julien. “Just take a step back, make good, strong plays and passes. As the game went on, I found him to be a little more confident and he started to find those kind of plays working for him again.”
Speaking of Looch, here’s a look at the first period brawl with Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil that seemed to spark the Senators after falling behind 2-0. This is perhaps one of the best examples of why fighting is necessary and still a vital part of the NHL game: the fight clearly changed momentum for Ottawa in the game and was immediately finished once Lucic was put in an exposed position with his jersey pulled over his head.
While the B’s clearly dropped back on their skating heels for a time in the second half of the game and let the Senators back into the proceedings in a flawed — but much-needed and important nonetheless — victory, the sign of both Kessel and Krejci confidently raising their arms during a B’s game in mid-March was exactly what the hockey doctor ordered.
The finisher and the creator both had solid performances in last night’s isolated win, but now it’s up to the dynamic duo to nail down the consistent excellence that seemed a B’s birthright just a few months ago.
Injury Ward: Phil Kessel and David Krejci both played extensively after getting Wednesday’s practice off. There didn’t appear to be any other Bruins injuries.
Player of the Game: Phil Kessel had a pair of goals, which marks his fourth two-goal game of the season — but his first since Dec. 18 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kessel’s presence on the ice in the final minute was a direct sign of the confidence Julien has in the way he’s skated over the last handful of games.
Goat Horns: Andrew Ference. The normally rock-solid and reliable defensemanwas saddled with a -3 on the evening, and struggled to break the puck out of the zone in the latter half of the game. Ference has been effective enough, but not nearly as good as he was in the first month of the season prior to breaking a bone in his leg.
Turning Point: The perfect pairing of Savard’s heady passing and unteachable instincts and Kessel’s blazing speed and true shot teamed together for the B’s fourth score — the eventual game-winner. Give a big bit of props to Milan Lucic as well, as he drew some of the defense away from Kessel by rushing up the left side of the ice opposite Phil the Thrill.
|Sounds of the Game… Bruins 5, Senators 3||at 10:27 pm ET|
Julien is more than aware that his team has sewn up a top three seed by virtue of their cakewalk over the Montreal Canadiens in the Northeast Division of the Eastern Conference. What he’s looking for is something more.
“We’ve got to give ourselves something to motivate us and aim for,” Julien said. “As I told them, ‘Why Not Us?’ Why shouldn’t we be giving ourselves a goal and maybe that’ll help us focus on those games coming up and not allow us to get into a comfort zone and say, ‘Well it doesn’t matter if we play .500 we’re going to be in a playoff position.'”
The 2009 Bruins taking a page out of the 2004 Red Sox‘ bag of tricks.
“We want to try and be the best we can and that’s one way of motivating ourselves,” Julien added.
Specifically, there’s the Presidents’ Trophy, awarded to the team that finishes first overall in the NHL point standings. The Bruins entered Thursday one point behind Detroit and San Jose for first overall in the league.
So when the Bruins jumped out to a 3-0 first period lead, and later 4-1, it certainly appeared like they got the message.
“We want to start having some fun around here again and the only way to do that is to start getting some wins,” Marc Savard said. “We know there’s 13 games left. We talked about it as a group. We have a chance to do something special here. We know we want to win the Stanley Cup and that’s the ultimate goal but the Presidents’ Cup is nice, too. We’ve got to want to play for something right now and we had a good chat about that. The way we started, we realized that and we went out and did something about it.”
But the Bruins had to hold on for dear life as the Senators cut the lead to one, 4-3. But the Black and Gold, thanks to an empty-netter by Phil Kessel, managed to skate away with a 5-3 win and now stand just three points shy of 100 for the season. Our man Joe Haggerty has insight on the re-emergence of Kessel and David Krejci and why they are key to Boston’s playoff hopes this spring.
|Incredible Looch mad, Looch smashing opponents again||03.09.09 at 11:02 pm ET|
Milan Lucic has heard some of the speculation.
The brawling hulk of a left winger was a destructive, decisive force on the ice through the first half of the season and was sitting atop the NHL leader board in the painful department of official hits. Big Looch certainly set the bruising B’s tone early in the winter when he blasted Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn with such awesome force that he actually shattered the glass above the boards at the Garden.
But a shoulder injury just before the NHL All-Star break knocked Lucic out of the lineup and kept him away from the All-Star weekend festivities up in Montreal. The 20-year-old forward didn’t seem to be himself upon returning from the injury, and was shying away from his signature violent body checks. Looch also wasn’t dropping the gloves and brawling, and he certainly wasn’t huffing and puffing, gathering up a head of skating steam, and crunching opposing skaters like annoying little bugs on a speeding windshield.
Was it the lingering effect of the shoulder injury that made Lucic tentative when it came to doling out his usual diet of punishment and pain to the other hockey team? Was it simply a valley in the intensity department during his second season on the NHL roller coaster — a career point when many young hockey players are still figuring out their game and learning to conserving their energy over a long 82 game schedule.
Bruins coach Claude Julien has stressed on multiple occasions throughout the season just how important Looch’s physicality and willingness to finish off thunderous checks are to Boston’s ultimate hockey fate. Quite simply: when Lucic skates and hits and intimidates, the Bruins are a far, far better hockey team.
“(Looch’s physicality) is something that’s a part of our team identity and when you lose that part it takes away from our game. When you have that in our lineup with the understanding that he’s got to bring that night in and night, it certainly makes us better and tougher to play against,” said Julien. “There have been times when you’ve seen him slip a little bit in that area, and we’ve had to remind a little bit of what it does for the team and his game.
“But everybody seems to have something that they bring to the table that’s really good for the hockey club, and it slips and it needs to brought back to their attention in one way or another,” added Julien.
So what was it that kept slipping Lucic into snooze mode, and prevented him from knocking the living bejesus out of opponents?
Would you believe the Big, Bad Looch simply wasn’t snortingly mad enough to go out onto the ice and start banging bodies? The Incredible Looch was much more Dr. Bruce Banner than Hulk during the stretch of largely invisible performances.
“For a guy like me, I really start to get into the game when (a hit) happens early,” said Lucic. “It’s good to go out and be a presence and be a physical player. Obviously there’s a lull (to the season) and whatnot, but I just wasn’t getting there to make the hits. A lot of people use the expression that I was just ‘sleeping’. Nobody did anything to get me mad, I guess, and I was back on my heels more than I was on my toes.
“It’s good when you get the emotions and competitiveness into it, and I need to take it upon myself to get revved up before every game so I’m ready to get going. There’s no excuse for not being a physical presence if nobody out on the ice is getting me mad.”
That’s something that gives the term “anger management” a whole new spin for Lucic in the violent world of ice hockey.
But have no fear Bruins Nation, the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder said the problem is “under control” — and the results seem to agree with his assessment. Lucic is readying for the ice battles before the game begins, and those skaters in unfriendly sweaters have been put on notice that they’re again in Looch’s crosshairs. It’s a development that will continue for the final 15 games of the regular season and into the playoff battles that are sure to follow.
Whether its Shawn Thornton stealing Looch’s favorite stick just before game time or Lucic simply finding the right “flash point” song on his iPod that will fly him into a glove-dropping rage before the game, the brawny winger has finally tapped back into the anger and passion that transformed him into such a vital factor for the B’s out on the frozen sheet.
Lucic leveled a game-high nine hits in the Sunday rematch against the New York Rangers Sean Avery — who famously hit Lucic from behind and sparked a huge brawl in the memorable Dallas Stars game earlier this season — and registered Lucic-like six hit totals against both the Coyotes and Blackhawks upon returning from an “upper body Injury” last week.
It’s clear that Lucic has regained touch with his inner punisher since returning to game action, and the Bruins have been all the better for it. So, feel free to seek out Lucic on the street prior to one of the Black and Gold’s upcoming games this season, and be sure to tell him that it’s okay to get angry.
Bruins fans really like the Incredible Looch when he gets angry.
|Steve Montador doubtful for Saturday’s matinee||03.06.09 at 1:13 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — A spirited Bruins practice this morning with a good deal of skating and only one Bruins player missing: Steve Montador. The newly acquired defenseman was suffering from some flu-like symptoms and wasn’t able to make it to practice at Ristuccia Arena after traveling to Boston late Wednesday night to make it for Thursday’s morning skate prior to last night’s loss.
“Because he’s got that flu today and there’s the one o’clock game tomorrow (against the Blackhawks) I’d be very surprised if he’d be ready to go,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “We’ve got some healthy guys. I don’t think there’s any reason to be a guy out there that isn’t 100 percent tomorrow. I’d put him as doubtful.”
In the first of the many competitions for ice time that Julien will have at his disposal with the depth provided by both Mark Recchi and Montador, Matt Hunwick and Blake Wheeler were splitting time on the left wing of David Krejci’s line — and there’s a possibility that Wheeler could be headed for a Saturday scratch in favor of the hustling, hump-busting Hunwick.
“We’ve looked at different scenarios and we’ll continue to expierament with that going forward,” said Julien. “Today we have Hunny, who we can use at forward and at defense, and we made lines of four for the last couple of lines. I think you’ll see (Hunwick) practicing at both position and we’ll use him at both positions as well.
“Certain players are struggling a little bit and somehow you have to create that competition from within,” added Julien. “I’m just hoping our team can play more like we did in the third period (Thursday) night. The fact that we’re struggling to win games and that every game seems to such a big challenge has taken away a bit from that energy and enthusiasm. If we can bring what we had (in the third period) for 60 minutes, then you’re going to start getting positive results and the emotion and everything else will start to come back.”
Hunwick impressed with his speed and physical intensity during his short stint at forward over the last week. Wheeler finished with 10:35 of ice time in last night’s loss, his lowest total of time on ice since he hit the bench in the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers back on Feb. 7.
|Amid second-half slide, B’s searching for answers||03.05.09 at 11:37 pm ET|
Frustration appears to be bubbling over in the Bruins dressing room as the inconsistent performances stack upon each other, and those immediately chasing the Spoked B in the Eastern Conference standings keep gaining ground in disconcerting clumps.
Things hit a new low last night, as the Bruins clearly got back to their difficult-to-play-against ways but couldn’t muster up enough lunchpail offense in a 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The straggling, struggling Black and Gold sit mired in a 3-6-2 slump over their last 11 games, and have degenerated into a mystified hockey team searching for answers amid a series of passionless periods, 80-foot fluke goals and bang-bang shots at open nets that inexplicably sail over the inviting crease.
The catalyst for the current 11-game slide back to the pack? Travel back to a Feb. 10 loss to the San Jose Sharks on their home ice where Jumbo Joe Thornton and Co. clearly turned on the jets in the third period and left the B’s scrambling for confidence after getting beaten down by the Western Conference powerhouse.
It was a national Versus game billed as a potential Stanley Cup Finals matchup between the Beast of the East and the Best of the West, and it ended with a stunning collapse from which the Bruins still haven’t fully recovered. Instead of a crowning moment punctuated by the triumphant Bruins leaving the arena with NHL bragging rights, Claude Julien’s boys have dropped into an undeniable rut that has some in the hockey world wondering whether this team was truly as good as its nearly letter-perfect first half.
Perhaps the overwhelming nature of that third period simply humbled a young, fearless puck bunch and splashed a bit of doubt into the minds of a group of brash young hockey players.
Boston has flashed glimpses of the dominant squad that simply slammed the hammer down on opponents during the first three months of the year, but it’s becoming apparent the San Jose defeat damaged the exposed psyche of a young, talented team attempting to make their first big statement.
Despite their current freefall, the Bruins have maintained the top spot in the East and have blowout wins over the Ducks and Panthers within the erratic stretch. But even Boston’s best players are starting to search for answers just out of their reach. The New Jersey Devils remain six points behind the B’s in the East, and they’ve won 8 of their last 10 and regained their Hall of Fame goaltender in the same breath.
Is it time to worry yet?
“What’s frustrating is that we know how we can play, and we can dominate when we’re at our best,” said center Marc Savard. “We didn’t put any pucks in the net and maybe we’re being a little too cute at times. We’ve got to try to nip this in the butt right now. We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us and we all know that. We’ve got to start pulling points out of games, and we all know that.
“It’s not for the lack of effort,” added Savard. “We’re trying. I know the fans come out all year. We heard the boos off the second, and we don’t want that. We want to go and show them what we can do, and want it to be a long run here. It was frustrating for us too.”
The Big, Bad hockey club put forth a grating, physical brand of hockey, outhitting the young Desert Dogs by a 31-10 margin during last night’s defeat, and Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew were all — at different times — camped out in the middle of the high-traffic zones attempting to redirect pucks, screen the goaltender and manufacture any kind of goal. There just wasn’t enough of it happening to make a difference.
It was exactly the kind of things that hockey purists preach to escape a rut, but nothing worked for a club that’s clearly squeezing the daylights out of their hockey sticks.
“I wish I had the magical answer for what’s going on, but it’s simple things right down to plain effort from every single player,” said blueliner Aaron Ward, who was part of an aggressive corps of defensemen that time and again pinched and crashed into the offensive zone without ultimately cashing in. “You’re out there and you hear the fans booing, and it’s justified right now to express displeasure for our performance. You watch video postgame and that’s simply not the way we need to be playing the game.
“I’m laughing, but it’s pretty (discouraging) to sit here and wonder what’s going on,” added Ward.
Several players talked afterward about “being too cute with the puck” and “not playing a full 60 minutes of hockey,” but they also appeared frustrated to hear boos cascading down to the ice from the 16,818 in attendance in the closing seconds of a flatter-than-flapjacks second period.
The worst part?
The B’s knew they deserved the Garden catcalls after seizing control of the game early on the strength of Chuck Kobasew’s goal, and then simply allowed things to slip out of their fingers later in the first — and then stumbled right on into an uninspired second period.
The B’s have become a shadow of their first-half selves as the postseason pressure cooker looms closer with every passing day, and the time has come to pack away the rookie walls, nagging injuries, and line chemistry questions into the excuse box in the Garden attic.
The time has come for the Bruins to regain the confident identity of the season’s first half and simply start willing themselves to goals and wins against whatever lines up across the ice from them. The time has come for the B’s to heal up the damage of month-old wounds and protect what they’ve worked so very hard for over the course of a long hockey season.
If they don’t — and fast — then things will get far worse than they were against the Coyotes on a random Thursday night in March.
“I just feel that talk is cheap,” said Julien. “The same thing with standing up front here and trying to explain to (the media). Talk is cheap right now. We have to go up there and then execute. I can stand here and give you all of the excuses. There shouldn’t be excuses. There’s got to be reasons to want to turn this thing around.”
Injury Ward: Milan Lucic came through with flying colors in his first game back from an “upper body injury” and was a physical presence with six crunching body blows against the Coyotes. Other than Looch, everyone else appeared to come through okay.
Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara. After the rare off-game on Tuesday night, Chara responded by playing with some snarl and absolutely beating down Coyotes all over the ice with punishing checks and intimidation tactics. A good rebound game for Big Z.
Goat Horns: Dennis Wideman. It was a bad night for Wideman, who turned a puck over in the D-zone during the Phoenix power play that quickly led to Scottie Upshall’s first Coyotes goal. The score deflated the team for a bit, and Wideman was on the ice for both of the Coyotes’ goals on the evening. Blake Wheeler has also continued to struggle in the final months, and was limited to little more than 10 minutes of ice time on a night when backchecking seemed optional among many of Boston’s forwards.
Turning Point: The Bruins basically crawled up and died for the next 30 minutes of play once Scottie Upshall banged home the Coyotes’ first goal — a power play score — off a bad Dennis Wideman turnoever. A hockey team simply can’t do that anymore in March and April.
|New Bruins ready to take ice…||at 1:33 pm ET|
One thing that has made Claude Julien so popular among his players is his ability to clearly define roles for his team.
He was clear with them – don’t try to do too much too soon. Just play your game.
“They’ve been around,” Julien said. “We’ve already had our one-on-one meetings. I even tried to not give them too much information because I don’t want them going out there and over-thinking. Just go out there and play. We think you’re a good player and that’s why we got you. If there’s some adjustments to make along the way, we can make those. They got the basic crash course. Now it’s just go out there and play.”
Julien was one of those watching Wednesday’s trade deadline with great enthusiasm.
“Well, hopefully our whole team can give us the energy we need but those two guys are certainly bringing some life to our hockey club,” he said. “By the time 3 o’clock rolled around, we were a better team than we were at 9 o’clock, just with the addition of those guys.”
He could notice a jump in his team’s collective step on Thursday morning. They could use one after the performance they gave against the Flyers on Tuesday night, giving up three in the third as Philly captured a 4-2 decision.
He also could tell that some players were relieved that they weren’t the ones dealt out of town from a first-place contender just to shake up the team.
“There’s no doubt that that the guys this morning were pretty excited this morning, not only for still being here but for the additions,” Julien said. “We’re pretty pleased with what’s happened and looking forward to taking another step in the right direction.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Lucic, Montador and Recchi all in lineup against Coyotes||at 11:54 am ET|
New trade acquisitions Mark Recchi and Steve Montador will both be in tonight’s Bruins lineup against the Phoenix Coyotes, and bruising left winger Milan Lucic will also be back in the hockey swing after missing two games with an “upper body injury” believed to be a concussion.
Julien preached patience with some new elements being introduced to the lineup, but it was clear that a message has been sent to the team by the number of players on the ice for a voluntary practice. Play with 100 intensity and tenacity and a spot will be dusted off in the lineup, but slackers and soft hockey players might just be headed for a healthy scratch or two in the future.
In short, it’s the kind of depth that can be a coach’s dream when a player’s most prized possession, ice time, hangs in the balance.
“Hopefully our whole team can give us the energy we need, but we think those two guys can bring some life to our hockey club,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Now we’ve got competition. It’s important for the guys to understand that we’re at a stage where it’s going to be who is playing best.”
Recchi also revealed that he’ll be manning the post down low opposite play maker Marc Savard on the first power play unit — ostensibly supplanting P.J. Axelsson in the left-handed shooting role — and the 41-year-old will be able to utilize some of the skills that allowed him to pile up 19 PP points for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.
“I’m not sure who I’m playing with yet, but I’m ready to play with and do whatever role they put me in,” said Recchi. “I do know that I’m playing with Savvy on the power play down low. I’m excited to be on that unit. I’ve played down low and on the point most of my career. I’ll be playing down low because we’ve got some great guys here on the point, and I’ve been playing down low by the post for most of my career on a traditional power play.
“When you’ve got a guy like Savvy you’ve got to be ready for him to pass the puck at all times, so that’s going to be neat for me,” added Recchi. “You get to the front of the net, and hopefully I’ll get some ugly goals.”
Byron Bitz expressed a level of disappointment with the assumption that Recchi’s arrival may relegate him to a healthy scratch status tonight, but Bitz — along with Shane Hnidy and Matt Hunwick — was saying all the right things after playing such effective hockey lately.
For all the uniform afficianados out there, Recchi will be wearing #28 and Montador #23 for the Spoked B tonight.
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