|B’s talked about signing Shanahan||01.29.09 at 2:58 pm ET|
According to several hockey sources, the Bruins and current New Jersey Devils forward Brendan Shanahan discussed a potential one-year deal during the first few months of the hockey season — but both sides ultimately opted to go in different directions. The B’s decided to stick with the exciting young talent that’s performed so very well for them this season, and the right-handed shooting Shanahan inked a one-year $800,000 deal with the Devils. Shanahan and his Atlantic Division-leading Devils will be taking on the B’s at the TD Banknorth Garden (7 p.m.) tonight.
It’s been well-documented that the Bruins have been actively looking for a big, left-handed shot to A) replace the lefty shot they’re currently missing with Marco Sturm gone for the season and B) add another southpaw shot to an overabundance of right-handed shooters (Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Blake Wheeler, Michael Ryder, Chuck Kobasew) on the Black and Gold roster.
The 40-year-old Shanahan has the grit, size and the power play skills that could have made for a potent addition to Boston’s playoff roster, but the veteran winger ultimately didn’t fit the left-handed shooting mold listed in the Bruins’ want ad for a “have shot, will travel” kind of player.
To his credit, Shanahan wasn’t talking about specifics this morning with any of the teams involved in the pre-signing sweepstakes, but the Bruins clearly fit the 20-year veteran’s criteria: a northeast location and a competitive situation.
“There were a lot of teams in the mix, but I don’t think it’s appropriate to talk about other teams right now,” said Shanahan, who has two goals in three games since signing with the Devils on Jan. 15. “I’d be lying if I said there weren’t other teams in the mix that I was obviously interested in and curious about.”
|Lucic and Wheeler invited to All-Star Weekend||01.09.09 at 11:16 am ET|
A bit of good news/bad news here for the Bruins as — according to media relations guru Matt Chmura — second-year winger Milan Lucic and rookie forward Blake Wheeler were the only fresh-faced Bruins players asked to take part in the NHL All-Star Game’s newly adopted Rookies vs. Sophomores Game. The game will take place on Saturday’s All-Star Skills Competition along with traditional fare like the NHL’s hardest shot competition — a test of shooting strength that towering blueliner Zdeno Chara has turned into his own personal playground over the last few years.
In the Bad News Dept.: Somehow both second-year center David Krejci and rookie blueliner Matt Hunwick were bypassed for the game despite Krejci’s place among the NHL’s top 20 scorers this season and Hunwick’s place among rookie defenseman. Hunwick is perhaps understandable in that he’s not a household name, but Krejci has easily been among the best players in the entire NHL this season, and should have merited more consideration for the main event game at the Bell Centre on Sunday — never mind a showcase event for the NHL’s Young Guns one day prior.
–B’s General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced that Bruins winger Marco Sturm will undergo surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee and may also potentially be facing ACL surgery during the same procedure. If Sturm’s ACL is torn — a notion that Chiarelli said appears to be be likely but won’t be certain until the doctors look at the injury during surgery — then the German forward will be lost for the duration of the 2008-09 season.
–Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli also announced today that the Bruins have assigned forwards Martin St. Pierre and Vladimir Sobotka to the Providence Bruins (American Hockey League). Chiarelli also informed the assembled media that the B’s would call up two forwards from Providence to take their place on the roster — as Milan Lucic will be out of the lineup with the undisclosed injury again Saturday afternoon — for tomorrow’s matinee against the Carolina Hurricanes.
St. Pierre has seen action in nine games for Boston this year and recorded 1-2=3 totals. In 30 games with the P-Bruins this season, he registered a 10-25=35 line.
The 25-year-old St. Pierre has appeared in 30 NHL games in his career – 21 with Chicago, 9 with Boston – and has tallied two goals and five assists. Signed as a free agent by the Blackhawks on November 12, 2005, St. Pierre was acquired by the Bruins on July 24, 2008 in exchange for Pascal Pelletier.
Sobotka has played in 15 games for Boston during the 2008-2009 season and recorded 1-1=2 totals. In 17 games with the P-Bruins this year, Sobotka tallied 10 goals and 11 assists.
He split the 2007-2008 season between Boston and Providence. With Boston, he saw action in 48 regular season games and contributed one goal and six assists and added two goals in six postseason games. With Providence last year, he had 10-10=20 totals in 18 regular season games and added four assists over six postseason games. Sobotka was originally drafted by the Bruins in the 4th round (106th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
The Bruins play the fifth game of a six-game homestand on Saturday, January 10 when they host the Carolina Hurricanes at 1:00 p.m. ET.
|“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.’
|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.
|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.”
|Bruins back to basics for 10th straight win||01.01.09 at 9:55 pm ET|
If the Boston Bruins aren’t too careful they’re going to start entering exalted hockey territory here in the city of Boston. With their tenth win in row last night, by a 4-2 score over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Boston Bruins have matched the 1971 Bobby Orr-led, Stanley Cup Champion-era B’s in terms of a regular season win streak. For nearly everyone involved with the team, it’s the most impressive regular season that they’ve enjoyed in the NHL and something they’re not at all taking for granted.
“I’d have to go all the way back to my last year of junior hockey, I think,” said B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman, when asked the last time he’s been on a team that won 10 games in a row. “I think I’ve been on some [NHL] teams that have lost 10 in a row, and this definitely feels a lot better.”
With the home-and-home sweep of the still-dangerous Pens, the Bruins have seized sole ownership of the point lead in the NHL while continuing to put distance between themselves and the wild packs of Rangers, Capitals and Canadiens roaming in the Eastern Conference.
Almost as amazing is the fact that the current 10-game stretch has A) taken place while the B’s were admittedly not playing as well as they have through much of the season B) transpired largely during a long road swing sandwiched around the holiday break and C) overshadowed a simultaneous 14-game home winning streak before burgeoning crowds at the Garden.
Dressing room leader Aaron Ward said that the B’s have realized the error of their ways during the tough stretches of the streaks, and corrected things to again get to the type of Bruins hockey that put them in first place to begin with.
“[We] preach in this locker room that the whole season is a marathon. You can play one month and you understand if you are going to lead long enough that there will be some highs and some lows; capitalize on your highs,” said Ward. “We started to fall off, the minute we step into this locker room we knew in the last five or six games that the effort wasn’t there. We were going into games and you start to get complacent and you figure that well your skill will just take care or it or it will just work itself out.
“The National Hockey League doesn’t work itself out. You got to match your opponents’ level of effort with level of emotions and we lacked both. Sometimes both, sometimes one, you just can’t have your nights off we had creeping into our game.
The B’s crowds traditionally become livelier and more plentiful after Jan. 1, and the Patriots’ rare regular season exit insures that the Garden will be rockin’ straight through the rest of the season. The love affair between the sellout crowds and the gritty, hard-hitting hockey team should only continue as Black and Gold skaters like vladimir Sobotka put third period exclamation points like this one last night.
With that mid-ice big boom in mind, here’ s a few things that stuck out from last night’s impressive victory over a motivated Penguins team:
Big Z in shutdown mode
One of the biggest observations/factors during the back-to-back wins over the Penguins was the outstanding defensive shutdown work executed by Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward on Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin’s line over the course of two games. In the home-and-home matchup, the jumbo-sized and ridiculously-skilled Malkin was held to a -2 and managed only a single assist in last night’s loss after coach Claude Julien sicked a frothy Chara on the Penguins’ scorer as much as possible.
“I think [Chara] actually loves it,” said Julien. “He’s taken a lot of pride in doing it and I think he is being recognized, more and more, for being able to do those things. Not every team, and not too many teams, have those kind of defensemen and can match them against top players and be capable of shutting them down night after night.”
Chara has always prided himself on being the tall, tough, intimidating defensive stopper at the blue line and — after a slow first month – seems to have again reached that elite level of defenseman play that few can match around the NHL.
As impressive as Big Z was, however, perhaps Ward was even more so in his first two games back from an ankle injury that hampered him throughout December. Ward managed to keep himself in some semblance of shape while healing up and came up big last night with his specialty — a cringe-inducing, surely painful blocked shot in the waning minutes of the third period on Pittsburgh’s final power play — to help secure the big victory for the Bruins.
It was exactly the kind of thing that the B’s have missed while he was out, despite the best efforts of guys like Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick to step up.
“You have to give credit to Aaron Ward, who nobody talks about, he did a good job with Z back there and near the end there he made a big block, blocked a big shot,” said Julien. “Those kind of things can kind of go unnoticed.”
Extra bonus points to the aforementioned pairing of Hunwick and Wideman, who likewise managed to clamp down the defensive vice grips on Sidney Crosby’s line as well. Sid the Kid managed a single measly assist in Tuesday night’s loss at the Igloo, and was a -3 in the two-game sweep. There were many moments during last night’s win when the purported best hockey player in the world was invisible. Credit the Bruins’ defense for pulling off the nearly impossible NHL magic trick: making the two-man gang of both Crosby and Malkin disappear into the thin wintry air.
Back in the Scoresheet Saddle
It might be time for Bruins Nation to get used to the current line pairings that have P.J. Axelsson spending time on the first power play unit because Julien has liked what he’s seen over the last two games. Axelsson has helped spark the first line and scored his first non-empty net goal of the season — along with an assist –in last night’s win and totaled a pair of helpers in Tuesday night’s win in Pittsburgh.
“I was looking for a response from lines,” said Julien. “I know people keep asking about Lucic, well, yeah Lucic and Savard and Kessel, I thought weren’t playing as well as they could and neither was the Yelle, Axelsson and Kobasew line. And I was kind of talking about all six of those guys, three of them on units.”
“I didn’t think they were generating much, so with Looch, with that hard-working line, I think it certainly helped him find his identity again, as far as being a grinder and being a grinder doesn’t stop you from scoring as you could see tonight,” added Julien. “[Lucic and Axelsson] have brought something different to both those lines that, not just made them successful [as individuals], but also made those lines better, as well.”
Julien believes that Axelsson has added a certain Je Ne Cest Q’uoi to the games of both Marc Savard (2 goals, 3 assists and a +2 in two games) and Phil Kessel (1 goal and 13 shots on net in two games) while Milan Lucic has blended right in with the hard-working, lunch pail games of third liners Chuck Kobasew and Stephane Yelle. Looch has also potted a pair of goals since the much-publicized move down to the third line. Julien said that the swap wasn’t designed to simply get Lucic and Axelsson going as much as it was supposed to breath life in both lines.
“I think obviously things weren’t going my way,” said Lucic. “I just want to get back to doing simple things and it paid off today with the goal. Like I said we just have to keep getting better.
“I think everyone is comfortable playing with anyone. We are just going out there and focusing on what we have to do, sticking to the game plan,” added Lucic. “It is not by accident that we have won ten straight. The little things that we do we got away from a little bit. I think this home and home against the Penguins was good for us to get back to working hard and doing the simple things.”
So don’t expect any big line shake-ups in the near future with things again appearing to gel in Coach Julien’s neighborhood. Count me among the people that scratched their heads when Axelsson was moved to the top scoring line and the number one power play unit, but the B’s bench boss has once again proven he knows a lot more about the frozen puck game than yours truly.
The Beat Goes On
With all of the success that the Bruins have enjoyed thus far this season, there has been plenty of streaking that hasn’t involved Frank the Tank in the least. While the biggest slice of the attention pie is given to the current team winning streak or the 14-straight wins on the Garden’s frozen sheet, magic man center David Krejci is also riding a 10-game point streak after potting a goal in the first period of last night’s win.
Perhaps Krejci is a big Christmas fan because he’s gone supersonic with the puck over the last month, notching 7 goals and 15 assists in 14 games during the merry, merry month. While Julien has reconfigured each of the other two lines, the veteran coach has smartly left the trio of Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder together as they continue to produce offense and responsible defense on a nightly basis.
|Things tighten up for B’s in weekend sweep||12.28.08 at 8:36 pm ET|
The intensity level and heart-thumping pulse of NHL games traditionally rises as the season marches forward, and things begin to tighten up a bit both offensively and defensively — a puck phenomenon that’s coming to life right before the eyes of Bruins’ followers.
Both the Carolina Hurricanes and the Atlanta Thrashers forced the Black and Gold to work extensively in back-to-back efforts in order to take a sweep of the weekend games – including Sunday night’s 2-1 win over Atlanta at Phillips Arena – and put their overall winning streak at eight games.
The B’s have handled the Trashers, out of that hockey hotbed deep in the heart of Atlanta, all season long, but Sunday’s taut triumph was most hotly contested of the season against the Thrash. It’s also indicative of the kind of tooth and nail games that await the Boston Golden Bears over their next 40 plus games.
NHL hockey is a much different animal in January, February, March and April — with teams jostling for playoff pole position as the NHL standings begin to settle – than it is in the opening months of October and November, and things certainly won’t be as swimmingly easy as they seemed for Boston over the season’s first few months. Add the tricked-out intensity to the host of injuries the B’s continue to battle through, and you have a pretty impressive effort for the weekend. A Tuesday night tilt against the Pittsburgh Penguins is all that’s standing between the Black and Gold and a five game sweep during their current holiday road trip.
Not to be confused, of course, with the Griswold theme song otherwise known as Lindsay Buckingham’s “Holiday Road”.
The B’s are the King of the Eastern Conference Hill right now, and they’re going to get everybody’s best from here on out. With that in mind, here’s a few observations from the solid victory over the Thrashers:
–Now may be the time for everybody to stow away those Manny Fernandez trade proposals. There’s no way the Bruins are a better team this season without hockey’s version of Manny Being Manny splitting time with Tim Thomas between the pipes.
They’ve formed the best Boston goaltending duo since the unforgettable Andy Moog/Reggie Lemelinteam in the 80′s and 90′s, and they still lead the NHL in team save percentage this season. Thomas and Fernandez have put together a .930 save percentage thus far, which puts them .06 percentage points ahead of both the Minnesota Wild and the Florida Panthers for NHL bragging rights.
Last night was a game the Bruins likely wouldn’t have won if not for the 34-year-old Fernandez, and the graceful butterfly style he used to make 32 saves Sunday night. His successive saves on Thrashers forwards Erik Christensen and Bryan Little with less than a minute to go in the third period were things of beauty, and were among a handful of saves that preserved the ‘W’ for the Bruins. Fernandez is now 12-2-1 on the season, and has pushed himself into a vital, irreplaceable role on this Bruins’ team.
It would be the worst kind of hockey karma to break this Killer B’s tandem up — a notion that all the hockey krishnas outthere should be nodding in harmonious agreement with.
Ryder equals Mr. Clutch
The game-winning third period goal was obviously hatched by the breathtaking David Krejci-authored saucer pass to a streaking Michael Ryder while he crashed the Atlanta net, but it also highlighted an interesting piece of Ryder trivia. The score — a quick redirect of the skidding puck through Thrashers goalie Keri Lehtonen’s pads — was Ryder’s team-leading seventh game-winning goal of the season thus far.
Ryder also leads the NHL with his collection of seven game-winning tallies, and sits two GWG’s ahead of fellow NHL luminaries Jeff Carter, Patrick Marleau, Daniel Sedin, Johan Franzen and Petr Sykora this season. It seemed symbolic that his seventh game-winner of the season was also his 14thoverall lamp lighter – the exact same goal-production total he managed in 70 restless, unhappy games with the Montreal Canadiens last season.
Congrats to Coach Julien
A tip of the PWH chapeau to Bruins coach Claude Julien, who has seemingly wrapped up the Eastern Conference coaching honors at the NHL All-Star Game after leading his Bruins squad to such a commanding lead during the first three months of the season. According to the fountain of first-hand knowledge known as wikipedia, since 1996 the head coaches for the two All-Star Game have been the coaches of the two teams that are leading their respective conferences in point percentage (i.e. fraction of points obtained out of total possible points) as of January 1.
With a commanding point lead over everyone else in the Eastern Conference, that would leave Julien to man the bench at the Bell Centre — a building that was once the coach’s home turf while he ran the show with the Montreal Canadiens from 2002-06. For a hockey building that’s housed some pretty high-intensity Bruins/Habs moments over the last two years, it will certainly be a proud moment for the Quebec native to play a prominent role in one of the Canadiens’ showpiece events during their 2008-09 Centennial celebration.
It should also be one of several honors bestowed on Julien in a season that’s been a testament to his ability to preach defensive responsibility, teamwork, patience and accountability to a dressing room full of young men on skates that have been ready to learn since Day One of training camp.
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