|Sturm out for Saturday||12.19.08 at 11:25 am ET|
Following last night’s red light-filled 8-5 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, there was no sign of winger Marco Sturm at this morning’s practice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington and coach Claude Julien ruled him out for tomorrow afternoon’s tilt against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Sturm was banged up against the boards while retrieving a puck in the first period of last night’s victory, and his left knee appeared to buckle as he tumbled to the ice. Sturm stayed down for a prolonged period and then needed assistance exiting the ice as he favored that left leg. The German forward, in his first game back after missing 12 games with concussion/whiplash symptoms, never returned to last night’s game after the first period injury. According to Julien, doctors were waiting for the swelling to subside in the “lower body” injury before making a final diagnosis. With that in mind, the Bruins coach would neither confirm nor deny that surgery could be a glass-half-empty possibility.
“They’re still running tests on him right now,” said the B’s coach, who assured this new injury was completely unrelated to the neck problem that previously sidelined Sturm. “Right now we don’t have any definite thing. The doctors looked at it last night and there’s swelling. They’re not able to tell exactly what it is…whether it’s long term or short term. We don’t know how bad it is.”
Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and Julien will discuss potentially calling a player up to Boston this afternoon once they have a better gauge on Sturm’s condition, as well as the conditions of injured skaters Petteri Nokelainen and Aaron Ward. Nokelainen is expected to be out for the two-game trip to both St. Louis and New Jersey that begins Sunday, but Ward may be a possibility as he comes back from his own leg issue.
“We’ll see…it’s a tough time of year to make those callups [from Providence], but we’ll make that decision this afternoon,” said Julien. “It might be before the [two-game] road trip, it might be just for tomorrow and it might not be at all.”
|Krejci hat trick continues Young Guns’ run||12.18.08 at 9:08 pm ET|
David Krejci spent long portions of his summer in the garden of his home in the Czech Republic, but he wasn’t exactly trying to grow the perfect set of Chrysanthemums. No…the nifty, young Bruins center was working on his shooting with a keen eye toward improving his shot and upping his goal-scoring totals after managing only six goals in 56 rookie games with the Bruins last season.
More trips to the Garden with a hockey net slung over his shoulder may be in the offing this summer after last night’s hat-worthy performance…
The Bruins did a lot of great offensive things in an 8-5 win over the scrappy Toronto Maple Leafs — going 4-for-6 on the power play, enjoying a four-point night from All-Star Marc Savard, a quick goal for Marco Sturm in his first game back from concussion/whiplash symptoms, scoring seven goals or more for the fifth time this season – but nothing was more eye-poppingly impressive than Krejci’s three goal performance.
The outburst, which included an absolutely sick second goal when he swooped in the left side of the goal while looking to dish the puck back to Michael Ryder before deciding to deke out Curtis Joseph and tuck the puck into the vacant goal, pushes Krejci’s goal total up to 11 scores on the season. Two of the goals looked like pure goal-scorer type goals as well, as the young pivot waited for the goaltender to make a move at him, and then placidly slid the puck into open area of the crease.
“If you give him some room he can certainly score some goals. He’s a nifty player. I just have to look where he is in the scoring,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “He’s right there with Phil [Kessel] and Savvy [Marc Savard] now. You can look at his minutes compared to them. When he’s on the ice he really does some good things.
“He’s a great player and makes everyone around him good or better. That is basically his situation from day one, how he makes everyone around him better. Tonight he got a chance to make himself look good as well with three big goals.”
For Krejci last night was certainly a pretty cool moment, as his last hat trick was a road game during junior hockey in Canada when nary a cap — or a bra for that matter – was tossed out on the ice amidst the third goal being scored before a grumbling, hostile crowd. This time, Krejci was showered with hats on the frozen sheet once the Garden crowd realized it was the 22-year-old’s first career pro hat trick.
It’s simply of the great iceberg for a player with all of the hockey skills needed to become a star in the NHL for years to come.
Sturm is over and out for now
Marco Sturm got a perfect chance to dust off the “Sturm Face” when he potted a goal just 36 seconds into the first period last night — his first game back from injury. Sturm had missed 12 straight contests with concussion/whiplash symptoms, but was right in the middle of things when he camped out in front of the net and swept home the rebound of a Chuck Kobasew shot in the first period.
The Sturm goal gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead in a moment that seemed about a million miles away by the time the 13-goal extravaganza had concluded. Unfortunately less than 15 minutes after the score, Sturm needed help exiting the ice when he appeared to wrench his left knee or leg while retrieving a puck in Boston’s end and then absorbing a hit.
Sturm was skating with Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew – a surprise given that he had been practicing with Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line – and looked both fast and furious prior to the injury. Sturm didn’t return to the game after being helped off the ice with about six minutes to go in the first period, and Julien didn’t have an update following the game.
“We haven’t got the results on [Sturm] yet,” said Julien. “I know he has been through a bunch of tests right now and the doctors are actually looking at it. I don’t have anything to tell you right now that is going to help you out because I don’t even know.”
A quick goalie change
After watching a series of defensive lapses in the second period, Julien opted to sit Tim Thomas down after the All-Stat netminder surrendered five scores in the first two stanzas and instead went with Manny Fernandez in the third. Fernandez and a reinvigorated Bruins defense shut down the Leafs attack in what had been a 5-4 game heading into the third, and scores by Ryder and Krejci iced the high-flying affair Northeast Division Affair in the closing minutes.
Fernandez stood tall with 13 saves in the third period — including a handful of highlight stops – and should earn the puck version of a save after preserving a win for Thomas following his 40 minutes of spotty work over the first two periods. There was a knowing nod between Fernandez and Thomas during the first 40 minutes of the game when every bounce, every last fickle movement of the puck seemed to go against Boston’s guardian of the pipes.
It was, as the cliche goes, just one of those nights.
“We have all had those nights,” said Fernandez afterward. “I saw him shaking his head, and I know exactly what he is thinking. A simple nod and I told him that there are nights like these, and he agrees. You try not to have them in the stretch of the season. It is uncomfortable; it hits a skate, it hits a stick, you can’t control and it ends up in the net. There are nights like that but you just have to turn the page and get back to work and get better the next game.”
For a team that was nipping at the Bruins’ heels by a 5-4 score after two periods of play, Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson gave full credit to Fernandez for calming the waters and keying Boston’s Great Escape in an eventual three-goal victory.
“[Manny] Fernandez actually came in and made the difference in the game,” said Wilson. “We dominated the first six or seven or ten minutes of the third period and he made three or four unbelievable saves. Then they scored that power play goal, and it was basically over at that point.”
–Savard and Krejci are very similar as players and playmakers, and we saw just how electric they can be in the third period when both skaters teamed up for a PP goal with a 5-on-3 advantage that cemented Krejci’s hat trick. Both are pass-first guys that serve as the central force on the respective first and second units on the power play, but there’s a curious side of me that would relish seeing both of them armed and loaded on the same power play squad. As it is now, they only skate together during the two-man advantage, but I can’t fight the nagging feeling that a normal PP unit featuring Savard and Krejci would be pretty close to unstoppable. But, then again, maybe it’s just me.
|Sturm Face ready for a return?||12.17.08 at 3:30 pm ET|
The Bruins’ brass remains optimistic that Marco Sturm is sufficiently recovered from his concussion/whiplash symptoms to don the sweater and skate against the Toronto Maple Leafs tomorrow night. Sturm has missed 12 games with the post-hit issues, but has been skating on-and-off for the last few weeks. With that in mind, Sturm stepped up his activity today during practice while working with the PP unit at Ristuccia Arena. Dust off the Marco Sturm Faces, because they may be in full effect at the Garden come Thursday night.
Bruins coach Claude Julien said he is “cautiously optimistic” that Sturm will be able to return tomorrow night, but will be a game-time decision after tomorrow’s morning skate and warm-up prior to the game. With Sturm out of the lineup for roughly a month, it’s likely that Julien and Co. will treat the winger in much the same they treated Chuck Kobasew when he returned from injury earlier this season.
“I say cautiously with Marco because I thought he was close at one point when he was skating, but then he took a step backwards,” said Julien. “But right now in the last week everything has been positive and he’s been moving forward to coming back.”
The coaching staff can plop Sturm onto a fourth line with Shawn Thornton and Stephane Yelle to give them a little bit more offensive punch and ease the German forward back into the B’s fold. How did it work for Kobasew? He only notched a goal and an assist in a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Nov. 8 — a performance that Sturm hopes to match if he gets in against the Leafs at the Garden tomorrow evening.
|Warding off worry… B’s blue liner returns||12.09.08 at 3:08 pm ET|
While he didn’t take part in any contact drills on Tuesday, Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward felt good about returning to the ice after a left leg injury that has forced him to miss the last three games.
“That’s the approach now,” Ward said before joining the team on its sojourn to Washington for Wednesday’s game against the Capitals. “Only have taken seven days off, I can’t have lost a whole lot. To touch a puck and to play around with it rather than sit out three weeks and miss it, that’s why I’m taking the road trip, hopefully start skating a little bit more aggressively and hopefully go from there. But there doesn’t seem to be much of a need right now. I can take my time.
“It’s just the pace of the game, getting your head up and playing with the puck, especially this team, so much more demanded from a defenseman in terms of putting the puck in the right place and reading the play and understand where you’re supposed to be. That’s the essential part of it all,” he said.
While Ward is having fun watching the team continue to roll along, there is some tension knowing that other younger players are coming up and could make an even better impression.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” Ward said. “You don’t want to be supplanted from where you feel where you might add to the team.”
One of those younger players is Vladimir Sobotka, who was recalled on an emergency basis following Monday’s game after Stephane Yelle collided with a linesman and suffered a minor rib injury.
“I was on the first line in Providence, playing on the power play some,” Sobotka explained Tuesday. “Here I’ll be on the fourth line. I admit I’ll be a little nervous before the game (on Wednesday).”
As for Ward, he said he doesn’t expect to return on Wednesday.
If I were a wagering man, I’d say no. But again, (Wednesday) is another step in the recovery process,” Ward said.
The always artful Ward also made the following observation about Sean Avery’s pending punishment from the NFL for his untoward remarks about a former girlfriend and his brotherhood of NHL skaters.
“How happy Plaxico Burress is that Avery shot his mouth off and now no one knows who Plaxico is,” Ward said.
And props to Matt Kalman of The Bruins Blog, who didn’t miss a beat responding, “Maybe in the hockey world, but I’m pretty sure the rest of the world (does).”
Don’t have to look very far for confirmation of that, Matt.
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 5, Lightning 3||at 7:32 am ET|
You know you’re a good hockey team when your coach says, “We’re getting used to wins, and that’s nice. But we’re at the stage now where we’re really looking at how we’re winning hockey games.” Claude Julien didn’t have to say anything to his team following its 5-3 dispatching of the woebegone Tampa Bay Lightning at the Garden. He left them to think about how a 3-0 first period lead turned into a nail-biter in the final minute of regulation. All of which leads to this, when you are a good team you learn from your wins just as much as your losses and that was the case last night. The Bruins are still in phenomenal shape at 19-4-4, with 42 points and atop the Eastern Conference. Only the unconscious San Jose Sharks have more points in the NHL.
|Hockey Notes: Hunwick earning his spot||12.07.08 at 12:27 pm ET|
Members of the Bruins brain trust correctly predicted that — after playing 10 games in 18 days through a brutal November stretch of hockey – the Black and Gold would begin incurring some injuries that would challenge the team’s overall depth. The Bruins flew through that stretch with a bevy of W’s and continue building a burgeoning lead in the Eastern Conference’s top spot, but bumps and bruised began cropping at a position where Boston could seemingly least afford them: the blue line.
First it was Andrew Ference going down with a broken right tibia and then Aaron Ward followed with a left leg injury, likely a sprained ankle that wasn’t going to keep a tough-as-nails customer like Ward out for a long stretch. But then Dennis Wideman missed a game with the dreaded “middle body injury” and things really began to stretch out in an area that Boston wasn’t especially deep.
But a funny thing happened along the way to Boston succumbing to their defenseman injury woes: they discovered a host of other young guys that have stepped up and filled in along the vacant spots. Matt Lashoff and Johnny Boychuk, who was send back down to the AHL this afternoon, have both arrived fresh off the AHL bus ride circuit to step up and provide steady D-man coverage — with a hint of offensive potential from each young colt — and 23-year-old Matt Hunwick has been an absolute revelation for the Spoked B.
Hunwick was the last defenseman returned to Providence when cuts came down at the end of training camp, and he was handed marching orders to continue raising his competitive levels during one-on-one battles for the puck while gaining physical strength to shake off the hurtling bodycheckers abundant in the NHL.
Hunwick kept his solid D-zone responsibilities and puck-moving ways sharp in two games with the P-Bruins between two different call-ups to Boston, and the 23-year-old was the first one called up to “The Show” when Ference was lost for an extended period.
Young forwards Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel are rightfully getting much of the credit for the puck renaissance that’s currently taking place in the Hub, but Hunwick has similarly emerged as a force within Claude Julien’s defense-first system. The 5-foot-10, 187-pound rookie is behind only Wideman and Zdeno Chara when it comes to defenseman scoring for the B’s with three goals and six assists in 14 games, and he boasts the second-best +/- along the blueline with a sterling +12 mark. More importantly, he’s given the Bruins an average of 21 minutes of ice time per night over the last five games, which has softened the sting of the injury bug along the blue line.
The game of hockey is – in many ways — a game of dopplegangers, where any observant player can scout out another skater with the same skill set, physical attributes and on-ice temperament and begin absorbing valuable puck lessons. Prior to the iron man hockey act he’s pulled over the last handful of games, there were a glut of contests early in the season that Hunwick didn’t dress for. Hunwick instead opted spent his time watching his fellow defensemen — with a discerning eye toward Wideman and Ference. Ference, in particular, is a good match for the relatively undersized Hunwick and offensively-skilled defenseman.
“I’ve tried to be more aggressive in the play and I’m trying to get more of an edge out there,” said Hunwick. “[Ference] is the same size as me and he’s definitely a guy that I paid attention to when I was up in the press box watching the game. Not only is it the size thing, but the way he’s able to be physically involved at his size too. How hard and intensely he plays, how smart he plays and how good he is on special teams. He’s been around playing this game for a long time, and there’s a lot I’ve learned from him.”
Hunwick’s elevation within the eyes of the Bruins’ coaching staff was never more apparent than their highly successful two-game swing through Florida. During the third period a tight, one-goal effort against Tampa Bay, Hunwick (a career-high 23:27 of ice time), Shane Hnidy (who also elevated his game to another level during a serious time of need for the B’s) and Chara were all playing yeoman’s minutes with a depleted corps, and they still managed to hold down a group of individual offensive talents to one goal. Down three D-men, it was just another night for the NHL’s best defensive crew ( one of only three teams that have allowed less than 60 goals this season along with the Ottawa Senators and the notoriously defense-minded Minnesota Wild) and another rookie quickly learning the new-and-improved Bruins Way of doing things.
“The more he plays and the better he’s going to get, and that’s really just the normal cycle of experience,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien. “He’s been put through game situations and so there’s improvement through game experience and there’s a real raising of his confidence levels.
“Every game we keep a close eye on him and gauge how things are going, and if he’s playing well then we’ve got to make sure we find him some ice and if he’s having a tough night then we make sure he doesn’t lose his confidence,” added Julien. “We keep a close eye on him, but he’s playing very good hockey right now.”
For Hunwick, watching Wideman and Ference — before he went down — was like attending a Defenseman Master Class. The young defenseman, who displayed outstanding leadership abilities first skating for the US National Team Development Program and then along to the Michigan Wolverines and the minor leagues, is beginning to look like a steal out of a productive 2004 entry draft for the Bruins that also churned out Krejci and high-scoring Chicago Blackhawks forward Kris Versteeg. While Krejci and Versteeg were both taken in the first few rounds, Hunwick was a seventh round selection that’s already begun making inroads toward a full time job in the NHL.
“It’s a big opportunity to play good minutes and be a big part of this defensive corps,” said Hunwick. “I’m just trying to do whatever I can to help this squad, and also show the coaching staff that I’m capable of playing at this level.”
|Yelle getting comfortable in the East||12.04.08 at 10:52 am ET|
It would have been pretty easy to assume Father Time had simply come calling a bit prematurely for veteran center Stephane Yelle when the thirtysomething pivot was slow-moving out of the gate this season. The 34-year-old seemed to be having trouble getting into the flow of the game and the faceoff specialist — targeted by the Black and Gold in the offseason for his ability to win draws along the dot and specialize in the little things needed to kill penalties – was uncharacteristically struggling in the faceoff circle while hovering around a 40 percent success rate.
Looking back in hindsight, it’s probably understandable that there was a healthy period of adjustment for Yelle, who has always been a Western Conference denizen and carries around hockey skill set that doesn’t exactly jump out and grab the unsuspecting fan.
In many ways Yelle is similar to P.J. Axelsson in his ability to go long periods of ice time doing all the little things without screaming out for attention with a teeth-chattering body check or a one-man dangle-fest through a host of defenders before scoring. Off the ice, he’s similarly quiet and reserved while also holding the respect of younger players that probably spent an ample amount of time playing Yelle in Sega Genesis or Playstation video game hockey.
The 34-year-old simply had to make an adjustment to the Eastern Conference-style and tinker with his hockey dial to something with a great deal more aggressive physicality and dump-and-chase puck philosophy, and that adjustment seems to now be complete. The 6-foot-1, 185-pounder was scoreless through his first seven games and sat at a -2 through that time period, but things finally started to slow down for the seasoned vet just as the Bruins team caught fire.
Yelle is back up to winning 49.7 percent of his faceoffs, and has quickly learned the habits and tricks of the trade employed by his new Eastern Conference draw adversaries. Opposing centers basked in the element of surprise during Yelle’s first time around the division, but the Old Rebel Yelle Dog has caught on to the new tricks.
“Yeah, there’s definitely always a transition period to a new team, but I feel like I’ve been around long enough to really be comfortable with the guys now,” said Yelle. “I’m comfortable with the systems and stuff. Usually you don’t want to get off to a bad start [with the faceoffs] because it’s a long climb up, but I’ve been working hard, doing different things and not being predictable. There are different little strategies you can implement to keep guys guessing.”
Yelle will switch things up on opponents that feel like they’ve got Yelle pegged. The former Avalanche and Flames skater will take some draws with his backhand and go after others with his forehand – or just tie a guy up and attempt winning a one-on-one battle for the free puck — that all fits under the heading of the cat-and-mouse game played with the opposing centers that he’s customarily lining up with.
“Coming from the Western Conference, you play the same guys a lot and you don’t know the Eastern guys as much,” added Yelle. “You don’t know their tendencies and sometimes it becomes a guessing game. Now that I’ve played them a couple of times I’m getting an idea of what they intend to do, and hopefully it can help me out down the road.”
Yelle has 3 goals and 5 assists and sits at a +2 in his last 17 games and the Bruins coaching staff has taken note of him reaching his water level – even if his contributions aren’t easily pinpointed by a casual perusal of the postgame stat sheet. He’s on a pace for 10 goals and 17 assists this season, which would be perfectly acceptable numbers out of the middle man on the energy line.
“Our young guys have been getting better in the faceoff circle and Yelle really brings that experience when he gets in there,” said Julien. “We knew when we brought Stephane in here that he would have a veteran presence and a lot of experience along with his penalty kill and faceoff skills. He’s been a very good fit for this team.”
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