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Kessel set to suit up for the Maple Leafs 11.03.09 at 1:06 pm ET
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It’s clear now that it was first and foremost all about the money for Phil Kessel, and secondly about some measure of respect he didn’t feel from the organization while constantly hearing his name bandied about in trade rumors through three strangely turbulent years with the Boston Bruins.

Phil the Thrill got his wish to escape from Boston and the Spoked B way of doing things, and the 22-year-old scorer savant informed reporters Tuesday afternoon that he will indeed play his first game for the Toronto Maple Leafs tonight. Kessel will be riding shotgun with veteran center Matt Stajan and Jason Blake. That’s not exactly the same as skating alongside Marc Savard, but it’s the best that Toronto can muster at this point.

It’s exactly six months since Kessel went under the knife for rotator cuff and labrum surgery in his left shoulder, and the sniper returned a solid 7-10 days prior to previous expectations and timetables.

It’s not the miraculous early return that allowed cetner David Krejci to play Bruins’ Opening Night after undergoing surgery on his right hip, but it also doesn’t sound like a slow, deliberate recovery by a player viewed by those in and around the Boston organization as being “soft” in terms of focus, work ethic and play on the ice. The arrows were released against the 36-goal scorer last summer when it became apparent the big money in Toronto was too good to pass up, but there’s one thing that isn’t under dispute about Kessel’s game: the kid can score.

Kessel is the age of many players either playing or just leaving the college hockey ranks in the United States, and — as one scout said about Kessel when things were heating up — “he’s just a young pup” in terms of hockey development. Former BU defenseman and current New York Rangers rookie Matt Gilroy is one of the heralded youngsters in the league this season, and he is three years older than Kessel. That’s something that seems to escape most people in the Kessel argument. There is a high ceiling for a player that finished 12th in the NHL in goals scorer last season, but the B’s have gambled that No. 81 will never reach a consistent ceiling of 40-50 goals per season.

He won’t be a savior this year for a Maple Leafs team that already appears to be running headlong into a lost season, and it’s not likely he’ll light up the Tampa Bay Lightning in his first game back since the Stanley Cup semi-finals against the Carolina Hurricanes last May.

But Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli was never able to properly replace Kessel’s playmaking abilities, and supply the team with the simple threat of throwing a natural goal-scorer on the ice. The B’s have a collection of nice 20-30 goal-scorers, but they don’t have a single skater that strikes fear into a goaltender with their combination of speed and pinpoint shooting.

Perhaps the treasure trove of draft picks shuffled off to Boston in exchange for Kessel will bring another elite scorer into the B’s fold beginning next season, but right now Boston isn’t able to absorb Kessel’s defection with heightened play from Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler among others — and that’s been underscored even more with the loss of Marc Savard and Milan Lucic to injury.

The Bruins have scored 10 goals in their last five games and allowed 10 goals in their last five games, and have been mired dead smack dab in the middle for the entire season. Good enough to avoid any long losing streaks, but just middling enough that they can’t string even two wins together through the first 13 games. That will only get worse should — as unlikely as it may seem – Kessel burst off to a fast offensive start with the Leafs despite missing all of training camp and the first month of the season.

Unfair as it might be, Kessel’s gain would only stir up the masses to begin chanting that familiar New England refrain: “Why can’t we get players like that?”

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Savard to miss 4-6 weeks with broken foot 10.21.09 at 12:13 pm ET
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The news just keeps getting worse for the Bruins, who announced Wednesday morning that top scorer Marc Savard was being placed on long-term injured reserve with a broken left foot. The injury is expected to keep Savard out for 4-6 weeks and leaves the team without two of its top-line skaters from the opening night lineup – Milan Lucic is out with a broken right index finger — for at least the next month.

“When he’s on his game, he’s good offensively and good defensively,” B’s coach Claude Julien said. “That’s why we use him on the penalty kill. He anticipates well and he reads the game pretty well. That’s why he excels when he’s on top of his game. That’s why I’ve always said he’s much more than a point-producer when he sets his mind to it.”

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli revealed that Savard originally injured the foot blocking a shot during training camp, but managed to play through the injury until aggravating it in practice Tuesday morning at Ristuccia Arena. It was a seemingly harmless hit on the sensitive spot for Savard, and he spent the better part of Tuesday getting MRIs and CAT scans that determined he was playing through the early portion of the season with a broken left foot.

“It wasn’t hurting that much,” said Savard, who will be in a protective boot for the next two weeks. “I just re-aggravated it yesterday. We took some MRIs and it was broken. The best thing now is to shut it down for a couple weeks here and let it heal.”

The 32-year-old Savard was Boston’s leading scorer with seven points (4 goals, 3 assists) through the team’s first seven games, and this leaves Boston with a gaping hole on its first line and top power-play unit along with its scuffling PK squad.

The team’s core has been through injuries like these before — in 2007-08 the B’s lost Patrice Bergeron for the balance of the season and Savard for the last month — and Julien stressed that they’ll absorb the loss as a team. All that being said, the pressure drops heavily onto the shoulders of 23-year-old David Krejci. The slick, young, playmaking center will be expected to shoulder the scoring and power-play burden just as he did when Savard went down with a broken bone in his back at the end of the 2007-08 season.

“I think you have to lean on everybody when it comes to [filling in for Savard],” Julien said. “Is David a part of that equation? Absolutely. I think that to say that David Krejci has to replace Savard — I don’t know that you’d want to do that because first of all David Krejci just has to play like David Krejci. He was injured and got operated on over the course of the summer and has already played seven games, so it’s up to him to find his game.

“I don’t think he needs to replace Savvy as he just needs to play his game. If [Krejci] plays his game, then that will help us immensely.”

Shawn Thornton is a “big question mark” and “very doubtful” for Wednesday night’s game against the Nashville Predators with an undisclosed injury, but the B’s coach said that he’s rapidly improving and could potentially be available come game-time.

“We put him on the ice early this morning and he skated on his own this morning. He’s very doubtful for tonight unless the trainers tell us that he’s ready to go when he gets here tonight,” Julien said. “That just goes to show you that he is a day-to-day player because morning to night time he could actually improve that much. He could be available anytime.”

Dennis Wideman will play for the B’s in Wednesday night’s game against after missing the weekend road games against Dallas and Phoenix with an injured left shoulder.

“He felt good all week in both practices, and there’s no issues,” Julien said. “So he should be ready to go.”

• Expect to see Daniel Paille on Boston’s struggling penalty kill (a 69.7 percent success rate thus far this season) after he filled that role for the Sabres during his career in Buffalo. The B’s certainly are in need of some grit and experience in that particular area of special teams, and Boston is hopeful that Paille can provide it.

“He’s got speed. Obviously he’s got some grit, and it’s a job he did really well in Buffalo,” Julien said. “It’s something he really takes some pride in he should help us in that area. We certainly plan on giving him an opportunity to fill that role on our team.”

Tim Thomas is expected to start in net for the Bruins for the third straight game.

Here’s an educated guess for the forward lines against the Predators assuming that Thornton can’t answer the bell:

Marco SturmDavid KrejciMark Recchi

Daniel PaillePatrice BergeronMichael Ryder

Vladimir SobotkaTrent WhitfieldBlake Wheeler

Brad MarchandSteve BeginByron Bitz

Read More: Claude Julien, Marc Savard, Shawn Thornton, Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Cherry on Kessel: ‘I feel sorry for this kid when he comes back’ 10.19.09 at 9:30 am ET
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There was a little bit of Bruins talk during Don Cherry’s Coach’s Corner segment on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada last weekend, and it centered on Phil Kessel and Marc Savard. Grapes talked a bit about the growing groundswell of pressure loading up on the 21-year-old Kessel with the Toronto Maple Leafs struggling badly out of the gate. With each loss the 2010 first-round pick traded to the B’s for Kessel gets higher in value, and the expectations increase on a young player coming back from shoulder surgery with a mid-November return date.

Cherry also tossed a few attaboys at Savard while decrying his Olympic snub by Team Canada, and painted some other invitees are skating around “with minus-15′s” already this season. Good stuff as always from Dandy Don. Here’s the video courtesy of youtube with the Bruins-related stuff coming up around the 3:15 mark.

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How The Bruins Broke The Slump 10.11.09 at 12:42 am ET
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There is a formula for success that works for just about every facet of life you can imagine: K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple, stupid.

This principle is especially pertinent in hockey. If players start pushing too hard, gripping their sticks and getting cute with the offense then there is a good probability that their team will not score. That was essentially the problem with the Bruins for the first 52 minutes in tonight’s 4-3 come-from-behind shoot-out victory over the New York Islanders.

The Bruins ended up with a respectable 30 shots but it took a flurry at the end to get to that point. As of 9:50 in the third period the Bruins had 17 shots with only three in the period. Not a good combination for a team looking to overcome a 3-0 deficit. Until that point the Bruins were flat, had problems controlling the puck and thus sustaining momentum against one of the lesser-skilled teams in the NHL. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Boston Bruins, Byron Bitz, Marc Savard, Matt Hunwick Print  |  Email   | Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
Julien skating Bruins hard at Friday practice 10.09.09 at 12:18 pm ET
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WILMINGTON — As expected, Claude Julien is putting his players through the paces in a skate very long on full-out skating and battling for loose pucks. Plenty of bodies crashing against the boards and red-faced players huffing and puffing to keep up with the action.

First was a round of full-paced breakout drills, then 2-on-2 battle drills and now it’s rugged, hard-nosed one-on-one battle drills in front of the net. These exercises are eons more competitive than the laissez-faire defense flashed against the Ducks on Thursday night.

At one point, Patrice Bergeron was on one knee catching his wind while resting up for another round of sprinting up and down the ice and battling for the puck. Players are definitely feeling this one a bit.

Julien said last night that it was up to him to clean up the dirty laundry “in that dressing room” and he’s gone about picking up the strewn-about clothes on the ice at the morning practice. No changes to any of the lines, but it’s expected that Johnny Boychuk and Tuukka Rask may get some ice time Saturday night against the New York Islanders.

Following practice, the B’s coach used buzz words like “lazy” and “commitment” and said he was hoping to get the attention of his players with such a punitive practice. It sounds as if reviews of the game film were more like a slasher film than aesthetically-pleasing hockey, with broken ankles and butchered forechecking assignments strewn all about the ice. Culprit No. 1 was the Corey Perry second-period score when he moved freely into the zone and breezed past Mark Stuart and Matt Hunwick before dumping the puck into a vacated net.

But Julien said there was much more to dislike about Thursday night’s defeat — the worst home loss at the TD Garden for the B’s since an 8-2 savaging at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs back on March 2, 2008.

“We need to grab their attention right now. We’re looking for commitment. We’re looking for effort, attitude,” said Julien. “I think all of those things put together is what we need to have, to be the team that we should be.”

Practice ended with the players doing full-out skating sprints the entire length of the ice in a criss cross fashion. First rushing end-to-end in what some hockey coaches affectionately refer to as “Herbies” (after US Olympic coach Herb Brooks) and then rotating to side-to-side sprints tapping each end as they go. That lasted for a good 10 minutes and the players were appropriately gassed afterward.

“It’s a bit of a message, but in the same sense we don’t want to end up doing that all year,” said B’s center Marc Savard. “We just have to stay focused, and that was a bit of it here today. We needed to stay ‘going hard’ all practice just like we should be going hard all game.”

–Julien said that starting Tuukka Rask Saturday night against the Islanders was a “possibility” with Thomas struggling behind a leaky defense, but there weren’t any impending line changes or callups from Providence on the horizon. Thomas is 1-2 with a 4.00 goals against average an .868 save percentage along with several “soft-ish” goals among those allowed, but the 35-year-old veteran was also winless in his first four starts last season.

“There’s always a possibility [of starting Rask],” said Julien. “But those kinds of things are always taken care of on a daily basis. We’re a day-to-day hockey club, and I don’t predict things down the road. But, yeah, for no other reason than down the road we’re going to need him.

“Last year he came up and played well. The year before, even with the lack of experience he had, he still showed us some good things. I’m confident in him. I think he’s grown so much that if he needs to go in and play — I can’t see any reason why the coaching staff or the players themselves wouldn’t have confidence in Tuukka.”

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Turn up the volume: Julien gives it to his B’s at 1:00 am ET
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Claude Julien won the Jack Adams Trophy for best NHL coach this past summer because last season he knew all the right buttons to push during a first-place regular season finish in the Eastern Conference. He may have pushed his first one this season when he pulled no punches following his team’s dismal 6-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night at TD Garden, dropping to 1-2 on a season-opening five-game homestand. He made it clear that he would put his fourth line out on the ice for every shift if it meant he would get maximum effort.

Julien made that comment because he believed, in watching his team allow six unanswered goals after an early 1-0 lead, that his fourth line was the only one that gave an honest effort.

Here’s a sample of what he and others inside the Bruins dressing room had to say.

Claude Julien said his team allowed the Ducks to take over the game on two power play goals in the second.

Julien said his team couldn’t sustain the first period momentum.

Julien said his fourth line was his only line on Thursday night – and that’s not a good thing.

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said Thursday night should be a lesson for the rest of the season.

Winger Shawn Thornton said the Bruins simply need to be more consistent.

Steve Begin said the Bruins didn’t show their character on Thursday.

Marc Savard on what happened to the Bruins.

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Morris has been a dead-on power play hit 10.06.09 at 3:50 pm ET
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Morris has added plenty to Boston's power play since escaping from the mess in the desert

Morris has added plenty to Boston's power play since escaping from the mess in the desert

WILMINGTON — It wasn’t a common sight last season, but there was at least one Bruins practice that involved the Boston defensemen corps firing pucks through bright orange traffic cones.

The traffic cones were placed near the right and left point areas in the attack zone, and the drill was designed to achieve pinpoint accuracy on the all-important power play blasts. The big gun shots from the B’s defensemen are oft-times the trigger to jolting Boston’s man advantage attack. With that in mind, there were times when a normally mighty power play lost some of it’s bite for the B’s last season when those point shots were nudged a little too far off the mark.

It wasn’t the sheer power of the long-range bids because guys like Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman have slappers capable of obliterating glass behind the net — with the assistance of some good wood, of course. But there were times when the shot would fade wide to either side, or an aggressive penalty kill would smother a shot with one brave sacrificial body.

“That’s the one thing that we lacked last year. At times we really had some trouble getting our shots through,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Teams are blocking shots and getting into the shooting lanes, and its getting harder to get shots off.”

Despite the intermittent bouts of wildness with their point shots, the Bruins still boasted a 23.6 percent power play success rate, and ranked fourth in the entire NHL. Only the high-powered units in Detroit, Washington and San Jose ranked higher last season.

Read the rest of this entry »

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