|“More important than everyone thinks…”||01.08.09 at 9:12 pm ET|
He began preaching this on Wednesday morning at practice. He continued this through the morning skate on Thursday and preached it during the game as he watched his team lose a 3-1 lead to the lowly Ottawa Senators and head into the third period tied, 3-3.
But the switch turned on during the second intermission. The Bruins got goals from David Krejci, Marc Savard and P.J. Axelsson as they outscored the Senators, 3-1, in the final 20 minutes to skate off with a 6-4 victory.
“This was a very important game, more important than everyone thinks,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “It’s kind of a situation where you lose a couple of games, the team starts questioning the talent, the play. I think at some points it’s okay to face adversity but also we have to believe we’re a good team.”
Adversity is what the Bruins faced following a 4-2 loss to Buffalo on Saturday and a 1-0 clunker on Tuesday against Minnesota.
“It was either stop the hemorrhaging and continue the slide,” added coach Claude Julien. “You lose three in a row, your confidence takes an even bigger beating. Losing this game would have certainly hurt us a lot more than we think and winning it might hopefully be what we need to get back to our game.”
With Milan Lucic and Shane Hnidy out with injuries, Aaron Ward’s first goal of the season and Chuck Kobasew’s seventh have helped the B’s pick up the slack and take a 2-0 first-period lead. The highlight of the opening period was a knock-down, drag ‘em out bare-fisted brawl between Shawn Thornton and Ottawa’s Chris Neil.
While Julien loved the energy of Thornton, he didn’t like his team’s response.
‘I thought our first six minutes was pretty good,” Julien said. “I thought that after the fight, Thorny stood in there and did a good job. We didn’t respond. They did. If you look at the second period, a lot of bad mistakes.’
Mistakes that resulted in two Ottawa goals and a 3-3 game after two. But still, the Bruins showed the kind of resiliency that teams with 30 wins halfway through an NHL season show.
‘We’re at a stage right now where we’re highly critical of our team because of what we’ve accomplished so far. We’ve got some guys right now who are underperforming,’ said the coach.
One of those NOT underperforming is Manny Fernandez. He has shown why the Bruins acquired him before the 2007-08 season from the Minnesota Wild. There was some discussion as to who would start the game as Fernandez had an extra-long skate in the morning but he came out and started for the Bruins.
Martins Karsums was recalled on an emergency basis for tonight’s game at TD Banknorth Garden. The move was presumably in the event Stephane Yelle couldn’t go with flu-like symptoms. The Bruins are 2-2 so far on their season-long six-game homestand, which continues on Saturday against Carolina at 1 p.m.
‘To win itself, was important but the way we won it wasn’t so good,” Julien concluded. “We’ve got a lot of things right now that are challenging us. Some of our better players are struggling right now, trying to find their groove.’
|Chara, Savard and Kessel expected to be named All-Stars||at 7:42 am ET|
The NHL Eastern Conference All-Stars will be announced at noon-time today, and it’s expected that Bruins players Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel will be named reserves for the Jan. 25 NHL All-Star game at the Bell Centre in Montreal. In addition, Blake Wheeler, Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Matt Hunwick are all expected to be invited to take place in the brand new Rookies Vs. Sophomores game to take place during the Saturday Skills’ Competition.
In addition, by virtue of the B’s overwhelming record built over the first 40 games this season, Bruins coach Claude Julien is in line to be the head coach for the Eastern Conference squad during the NHL’s showcase event in Montreal — the site of his first NHL head coaching post.
Lucic took part in the NHL Rookie Game last year while Chara, Savard and goaltender Tim Thomas were all named to the Eastern Conference squad for last season’s game in Atlanta. It would be the fourth All-Star Game for Chara, the second honor for Savard and the first-time honor for the 21-year-old Kessel, who has developed into a goal-scoring machine this season.
|Sounds of the game… Wild 1, Bruins 0||01.07.09 at 5:38 am ET|
That was something we haven’t seen all season from the Black and Gold. The Bruins were shut out for the first time this season on Tuesday night, on home ice no less. A big part of that was Niklas Backstrom, the Finnish goalie who teamed with Boston’s own Manny Fernandez to win the Jennings Trophy in 2007 with Minnesota. Backstrom made several spectacular saves and the Bruins took three straight penalties to start the second period and the Wild finally made them pay with a power play goal on the third try, beating the aforementioned Fernandez for the game’s only goal. How good have the Bruins been this year? They hadn’t lost consecutive games in regulation since Mar. 11 and 13 of LAST SEASON and they hadn’t been shutout. Our own Joe Haggerty says Buffalo and Minnesota may be providing a blueprint on how to beat the Bruins. But listen to coach Claude Julien and his players and they’ll tell you this is no time for panic.
|A blueprint to beat the Bruins?||01.06.09 at 8:50 pm ET|
“I think for every team, every game, we talk about [scoring first] and getting an early lead and taking control of the game. I think that’s an area that we will hopefully get better at tonight, starting tonight.”
Those were the words of Bruins bench boss Claude Julien prior to last night’s 1-0 snoozer of a loss at the hands of the trap-happy Minnesota Wild, and they didn’t turn out to be prescient in any way, shape or form. Instead the Bruins managed to squeeze off only six shots during an uneventful first period, took three penalties in the second period that culminated in a power play strike for the Wild and then watched as Minnesota morphed into full trap mode in front of show-stopping goalie Niklas Backstrom.
“Personally I wouldn’t pay to watch a game like that,” said goalie Manny Fernandez, who suffered his first home loss of the season in the dulled down hockey game.
After watching the B’s suffer from a distinct lack of bounces and battle through difficulties breaking the puck into the offensive zone once both the Wild and Sabres fastened the trap clamps on the hockey game, it almost appears as if a blueprint to beat the B’s is beginning to form.
A dastardly plan that will frustrate and eventually defeat the high-powered Bruins attack, and leave their scoring machine in the shop for repairs. Granted, not every team has the talent or discipline or chutzpah to implement Operation Beat the Bruins but teams with enough scoring skills — or grit — to get a lead and a good enough goaltender could do it.
In other words squads like the Buffalo Sabres and the Wild. It’s not something that’s always going to be possible given Boston’s ability to jump on the scoreboard fast and furiously, but teams may be finding a way to escape the hostile Boston Garden with a win tucked neatly under their arms. Play a checking game during five-on-five to frustrate and fluster the Bruins skaters and then try to do your offensive damage on the power play. Then hold on tight for dear hockey life.
The Bruins were certainly a frustrated and blocked up bunch after the game. Scorers like David Krejci and Blake Wheeler have been lighting the lamp with reckless abandon over the first 39 games of the season, but suddenly looked altogether human in Boston’s first zero goal effort of the season. Even Wheeler looked a bit out of sorts in a game against his boyhood team as he dangled and attempted to dazzle with one-on-one moves but couldn’t register a single shot in 18:15 of ice time.
“We were trying; we were battling, but they were just sitting back and basically chipping pucks out and shooting anything else. It was tough after that,” said B’s defenseman Zdeno Chara. “They don’t need much and then when they do get a goal or two, they start to play really kind of defensive trap and it’s really hard to get through. But, that’s not an excuse for us. We created some chances like I said, but we couldn’t score.”
Krejci and Michael Ryder both threw up three shots on net with Backstrom robbing Krejci in the second period when the crafty center seemingly had a wide open net to pick from. The Wild netminder athletically leaped across the crease to fill up the open real estate and smother the shot. Ryder smacked the left pipe with ringing authority on a perfect curl-and-drag set up coming off the left boards, and added to the B’s puck luck going south of the border just as the opposition’s defensive intensity strengthened.
Julien predictably isn’t buying any of the blueprint or formula for beating the Bruins talk, and is instead focused on what his team isn’t doing at this point: play with focus, creativity, passion and the two-way defensive responsibility that became a hallmark of their puck success.
“Our game just isn’t quite there. Then you get some good momentum at the end of the second period when you get the [shot off the] post by [Michael] Ryder, the unbelievable save on [David] Krejci, the goaltender [Niklas Backstrom] I don’t know how he saw that one. He made some really good saves at key moments,” said Julien. “All we needed was one shot to tie the hockey game, so it’s not the end of the world.
“Again, talking about our team, we’re just not in sync right now and it has nothing to do with the other team, more than it has to do with us. We see things from our team that definitely have slipped, and not as good as things are than when they were going well.”
So what do Julien and his staff do with a team that’s running low on confidence and a bit short of their ideal depth with Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron nowhere near returning from injury and Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward still working their way back into the mix?
“First of all you don’t panic. Like I said, I don’t think anybody thought we were going to be flying away, flying away for eighty two games without going through some bumps and bruises,” said Julien. “It’s a combination of a lot of things. [Andrew] Ference, [Aaron] Ward, [Patrice] Bergeron, [Marco] Sturm: I think those are four pretty important players missing out of our lineup.
“Eventually things catch up as well in different areas. We’ve got four real quality guys out of the lineup, you’ve got some top players that probably aren’t at the top of their game, so it doesn’t take much to slip a little bit. You just have to work your way through it. I think that’s all we’re going to be doing here: address the situation; we’re going to show the guys where we’ve slipped or what needs to get better. We’re going to work at and work our way out of it; that’s all you can do.”
Time to end the experiment
Claude Julien’s tactic of plugging lovable Swede P.J. Axelsson on the first line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel — along with placing him on the first PP unit — was excellent for the initial spark that it provided his club, but the time has come to insert a grittier player back up on the front line with the two skilled craftsman. It was the reason that Julien inserted Chuck Kobasew onto the first line in the waning minutes of Saturday afternoon’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres and it’s presumably why Shawn Thornton took at least one shift on the top line during the third period of last night’s limp showing.
Meanwhile, Milan Lucic is on the third line continuing to be the B’s leading body checker night in and night out, and he seems a bit miscast skating on the third line. Particularly so when he could be once again clearing much-needed space for Savard and Kessel on the top unit. It seems to only make too much sense when you begin watching a team search for an offensive spark over the last two games when they were awash in goal-scoring glory over the first 38 games.
There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it was a temporary move to place Axelsson in the B’s offensive catbird seat, but there’s a reason the longest-tenured Bruins has only two goals on the season — and only one of them has come with an actual goaltender between the pipes. It might be take to shake things up again, or it might just be time to put things back the way they used to be.
|B’s finally getting some good health news||01.05.09 at 5:15 pm ET|
In a much-needed reprieve from the war of attrition that’s been going on with the Bruins’ squad over the last month, B’s coach Claude Julien and his team needed some good news in the health department — and got it at this morning’s practice in Wilmington.
Andrew Ference took part in the hour plus practice at Ristuccia Arena — though he skated off early for “precautionary reasons” — and was among the healthy-enough-to-skate B’s players that heard Julien’s booming voice screaming during the intense morning of drills. Ward didn’t skate at practice with the team, but Julien deemed that his charley horse situation is improving dramatically.
The “mild” charley horse knocked the 35-year-old out of Saturday’s loss in the second period, and Ward will be a game time decision for tomorrow night’s tilt against the trap-happy Minnesota Wild. Granted Marco Sturm is likely gone for the season with left knee surgery and there’s no timetable for Patrice Bergeron’s road back from his concussion, but things are starting to look up for the band-aid B’s.
”He’s doing a lot better,” said Julien of Ward. ”His motion and range today was pretty good. He’s going to skate with us tomorrow and we’ll see how he does.”
Ference, out since mid-November following surgery to repair a fractured tibia incurred after blocking a shot during a penalty kill situation, continues to work ahead of schedule and should be back playing in real games over the next week. Tomorrow is a longshot, but nontheless healthy bodies are beginning to fill up the dressing room. Julien was asked if he could presumably go from having six healthy defenseman to a choice of eight living, breathing, healthy bodies for tomorrow night’s game, and the B’s bench boss didn’t rule out the possibility.
“Ference is still day-to-day and he’s been put through some battle drills today [in practice] so we’ll see how he fares tomorrow,” said Julien, of a Tuesday morning skate that will portend whether Ward or Ference return to the lineup against the Wild. “There’s a possibility that we’ll look at Ward tomorrow and Ference is practicing with us and day-to-day. We’re kind of on the bubble with that.
There’s still some question marks that will be answered tomorrow morning, but we could be [anywhere] from 8 to 6 tomorrow very easily,” added Julien.
All-Star Snub Reaction
Bruins players selected for the Eastern Conference All-Star team will find out Thursday around noontime when the NHL announces the reserve players for the Jan. 25 NHL showpiece event. The B’s didn’t have a single player voted into the Eastern Conference starting lineup — a group filled solely with Pittsburgh Penguins and Montreal Canadiens players — announced over the weekend, and goaltender Tim Thomas felt like it might be a case of too many good Bruins to choose from. Or perhaps not enough tech-savvy, prospering cheaters among the B’s fan base.
Just taking Thomas’ case, it’s a tough decision to choose between Thomas and fellow veteran goaltender Manny Fernandez. Both goaltenders have worked together in seamless fashion to become the best goaltending duo in the NHL this season. Thomas and Fernandez, Marc Savard, Zdeno Chara and Phil Kessel are all certainly deserving of All-Star recognition, and it’s a safe bet that at least two of them will be invited to participate in Montreal’s All-Star weekend three weeks from now.
“I hadn’t thought about it,” said a clearly amused Thomas. “Obviously it was fan voting, so it was unrealistic. The other angle to look at is that this team is so good that it makes it really hard to choose [individual players]. Obviously [the fan voting] was Pittsburgh computer programmers versus Montreal computer programmers. It’s tough to make choices when you could pick so many good players, or you could be like Pittsburgh and Montreal and pick your whole team.”
|Sounds of the game… Sabres 4, Bruins 2||01.03.09 at 3:05 pm ET|
For the first time since Dec. 10, the Bruins tasted defeat on Saturday, snapping a remarkable 10-game run of success. And for the first time since Oct. 23, they lost at home, a 14-game string of victory. How long ago was that? The Red Sox had just lost Game 7 of the ALCS to Tampa Bay four days earlier. Afterward, every Bruin to a man talked about facing adversity and how they plan to learn from this loss. Perhaps Milan Lucic said it best when he said that “good teams don’t lose two in a row and we have to be hungry come our next game.” That will be the focus when they continue their six-game homestand against Minnesota on Tuesday night. But for now, we look back on a game with the help of coach Claude Julien, who introduced a new term into the lexicon of the Boston sports fan. “We needed some JAM and this was one of those games where you need a little bit more JAM.” JAM is apparently hockey-talk for juice, energy and desire.
|Ryder is happy to be out of hockey jail||01.02.09 at 5:29 pm ET|
The telltale signs are all there that Michael Ryder has long since removed the bitter sting of last season’s regrets from his mind. The 28-year-old seemed to take a year-long lap of misery around Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau’s dog house while alternating between the bench and miscast roles for a gifted scorer on the Canadiens’ third and fourth lines.
Ryder’s well-chronicled struggles led to a career-low 14 goals and painful splinters on the pine for much of last season’s Stanley Cup playoff run by the Habs. The phrase rock-bottom comes readily to mind, but his lap of discontent at the Bell Centre essentially seems like it was a million hockey years ago now.
With a hope that all his troubles would be left behind in Quebec, Ryder inked a three-year, $12 million deal with the Bruins last summer but the jury was out after the first month of the season.
Ryder was standing strong along the wall and utilizing his wiry 6-foot, 192-pound frame while adhering to a strong, responsible brand of two-way hockey, but let’s be completely honest here. The 1998 8th round pick of the Habs had scored only three goals through Nov. 26 and critics had stepped forth to question both the signing and Ryder’s desire to finish off scoring plays.
Then Ryder tallied a pair of goals in the traditional afternoon game on the day after Thanksgiving and completely took off on a lamp-lighting tear during the merry, merry month of December. A grand total of nine markers during the 13 Bruins games played in December signaled a goal-scoring bonanza, and Ryder has become an integral part of the Ryder/David Krejci/Blake Wheeler troika that’s been left intact while B’s coach Claude Julien tinkers with the other two top skating lines.
“I was definitely getting the chances at the time and it wasn’t going in,” said Ryder of his struggles early in the season. “I definitely don’t have any ready answers. I just tried to keep working hard and shooting the puck, and said that eventually it will start going in.
“Maybe I was trying to pick my spots a little too much and trying to be a little too fine,” added Ryder. “Once I got on a roll with Krejci and Wheeler as a line, though, things really started working out well.”
One of the keys to Ryder’s success? A short memory. Ryder is done wondering whether Carbonneau had benched him for lack of production, a personality clash or some other perceived misdeed that Montreal’s bench boss never bothered to pass along to the scuffling player at any time last year.
“Last year was a tough year and I honestly don’t even want to think about it any more,” said Ryder. “I’m just trying to fit in here and it hasn’t been that hard. That’s for sure. It’s always easy when you’re playing. That’s the main thing: I wanted to play and help the team.
“I don’t even think about [the last year in Montreal] because I have a job to do here,” added Ryder. “Everybody goes through tough times and people have been there in their careers before. We just need to keep our mind on what we’re doing here and keep our foot on the gas pedal.”
Ryder has packed away the unfulfilled expectations and bitter residue left over from his time donning the Habs sweater in Montreal, and is instead simply focused on the task at hand in the Hub. It’s something that’s allowed a quiet, efficient concentration on taking pucks hard to the net and unloading his unfairly quick snap shot on unsuspecting goaltenders all over the NHL.
This year the team success has melded with Ryder’s individual production, and for all intents and purposes the B’s and Claude Julien have allowed the two-time 30 goal scorer to escape from the depths of hockey jail deep in the heart of Canada. He’s on pace to pot 30 goals again this season while riding shotgun with Krejci and Wheeler, and that’s exactly what GM Peter Chiarelli had in mind when he bagged the free agent.
Julien has seen a return of the skilled shooter that could reel off two or three goals in a game and has always had the knack for potting the right score at the right time — a trait attested by his NHL-best seven game-winning daggers thus far this season.
“I hope he’s enjoying his season a little better…he’s on a team that’s winning a lot of hockey games,” said Julien. “When you lead the league in game-winning goals that has to be a lot of fun to be leading with that stat. I think he’s found a pretty comfortable niche here where he’s enjoying himself with the guys and the guys appreciate him as well.
“He’s been a good fit for us,” added Julien. “Even though he got off to a bit of a slow start in the goal-scoring area, he made up for it with a lot of things. Now he’s found his scoring touch and he’s scoring goals, and there’s no doubt that has to be a lot more fun than being a healthy scratch some nights.”
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