|It might be time to start sounding the alarms on these B’s||03.19.09 at 10:58 pm ET|
Sound the alarms. Blare the horns. It’s time to wake Bob Lobel up from his winter slumber and get a hold of his big red “Panic” button.
Things are going terribly awry for the hockey team on Causeway Street, and Exhibit F in a continuing stream of evidence was on display last night. The Black and Gold warriors blew a two-goal lead in the final 20 minutes of play and coughed the game up in the extra session en route to dropping a 3-2 OT decision to the LA Kings at the TD Banknorth Garden.
It’s the kind of game where a hockey team should almost be embarrassed to take credit for the point in getting to overtime.
“Enough’s enough here,” said Mark Stuart simply following another demoralizing defeat. “We’ve got to start figuring it out, I think.”
The real kicker, you ask?
The Bruins were two points away from clinching a playoff spot headed into Thursday night’s game against the Kings, and couldn’t even close that deal with the proper authority.
As NECN’s Mike Giardi would say “Oh mama…it was ugly.”
Troubled waters and potential icebergs might be right ahead for Boston’s favorite hockey club if they don’t find their Big Bad work ethic and quite a bit of snarl in the next two weeks. The worst thing that could happen to this franchise would be a one-and-out in the playoffs, and that looks more and more like a possibility when a young Kings team marooned in playoff Siberia shows more desire, grit and jump than a Bruins squad with serious Stanley Cup aspirations.
Bruins coach Claude Julien didn’t seem to have any strategical answers or complex reasons why, once again, the Bruins were left shaking their heads and picking up the puck pieces after another blown lead. Instead the B’s bench boss pointed to the work ethic that put them in the Eastern Conference catbird seat.
The work ethic that’s been missing for almost two months now on a consistent basis, and Julien seemed to be considering sending a search posse out for his first power play unit. The man advantage went 0-for-4 and didn’t exactly light up the ice with Grade A opportunities.
“A couple things have to happen. This is basically all I have to say, is that we’re going to have to start out-working other teams from start to finish, like we were earlier in the season,” said Julien. ”Your best players are going to have to find their game and be the best they can be in order for us to get out of it. And I’m not telling you anything that anybody here doesn’t know. That’s basically what we need to do.
“We’re telling them to go out there and out-work the other team. It’s a commitment that you have to make, so whether they’re nervous or not, if it is…it’s of their own doing,” added Julien. “We’re encouraging them to go out there, play hard, and out-work the other team, and when you win races, you win battles, most of the time you win games.”
Things seemed to be following the normal script of late as the B’s skaters built up a 2-0 lead after two periods of play, but couldn’t capitalize on a pair of keyPP chances in the second period. The Bruins never quite stepped on the throat of the temporarily dethroned Kings, and instead the hockey royalty rocked them in the third period.
It’s a malady that’s been all-too constant for the Bruins of late: an early lead gives way as Boston’s opponents clearly aren’t scared or intimidated by a sputtering Boston team anymore, and the ensuing lack of confidence strikes the B’s at the most inopportune times.
“Teams are playing with confidence against us,” said B’s goaltender Tim Thomas, who played brilliantly for much of the game in making 35 saves. “It seems to me that teams, whether we’re on the road or at home, teams are coming up against us and it’s almost like they’ve got the upper hand already because they’re the more confident team. That’s what it seems like anyways.”
It makes one wonder whether this team was ever really as good as the hockey club that dominated other clubs over the first half of the season, or if that was merely a mirage-like run that’s now ancient hockey history with only 10 games remaining to straighten things out.
“We know that things are not going that good for us right now and we have to find our way to get out of it,” B’s winger Michael Ryder. “It’s getting to that time of year where we can’t be looking for our game. We have to make sure to get it back on track as soon as possible.”
The Bruins next face an opponent that could and should snap them out of their prolonged funk: the New Jersey Devils. The Devils are only five points behind the Black and Gold entering Friday, but could potentially pull within one point with victories on Friday vs. the Wild and Sunday afternoon against the shaken-but-not-stirred ’B’.
The Bruins will have a long six day reprieve between games following Sunday’s matinee, and a big victory coupled with a week to heal mentally and physically could be just what the doctor ordered for this stricken team. At least that’s what the players — and the Bruins Faithful that have begun watching the second half with fingers covering their eyes – are hoping.
Injury Ward: Stephane Yelle returned from an upper body injury and played 13:07 total minutes and 2:06 of penalty kill time. Other than Yelle, everyone else appeared to escape the loss healthy.
Player of the Game: Chuck Kobasew and Matt Hunwick were two players that hustled, played physical Bruins hockey and then watched the hockey gods smile on them with good fortune. A solid forecheck by Kobasew set up Mark Recchi’s goal that made it a 2-o hockey game, and Hunwick continues to contribute as a puck-moving offensive defenseman capable of skating, stepping up in the offensive zone and making plays. With a first period goal and a +2 for the evening, Hunny might have earned himself more playing time with his performance on Thursday night.
Goat Horns: Julien called out his best players following the loss, and it’s hard not to notice that Phil Kessel didn’t register a single shot and the Marc Savard-led first power play unit was a dud all night. Tough to win when you don’t get solid all-around games from that duo. It doesn’t just end there, however. Where were the tough to play against Bruins on Thursday night? Ivanans crunched Andrew Ference from behind into the boards, earned himself a boarding penalty and never had to pay the ferryman for his transgressions. That kind of thing never would have happened earlier in the season, and it shouldn’t happen to a team brimming with playoff grit.
Turning Point: The Bruins had two power play opportunities in the second period thanks to the thuggish ways of Raitis Ivanans, but couldn’t cash in with either chance. That allowed the Kings some room to breathe in a 2-0 hockey game, and left the door ajar for the third period comeback.
|Yelle still in question for Thursday night vs. Kings||03.18.09 at 5:14 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — A few notes after another competitive practice by the Bruins with the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils on tap for the rest of the week.
Veteran center Stephane Yelle again practiced, but is still in question for Thursday night’s tilt against the Los Angeles Kings with the ever-mysterious “upper body injury”.
“It’s a day to day process,” said Julien of Yelle’s condition. “It’s certainly looking better, and I think we’ll probably find out more about it tomorrow at the game day (skate). We’ll see if he’s ready to go.”
If Yelle can’t go, it’s likely that the Bruins will once again place Byron Bitz in the middle between Shawn Thornton and P.J. Axelsson. Bitz, by the way, spent a good 5-10 minutes at the end of practice in front of an empty net taking all manner of shots aimed directly at him while he practiced tipping and redirecting pucks in front of the high traffic area.
If the rest of the Bruins team is looking for a player that’s proving he’s willing to pay the price on a daily basis, it was Bitz as he was taking direct hits to his feet and body while searching for the perfect tip.
–Odd Julien comment when the line of questioning moved toward Manny Fernandez and whether the B’s bench boss still has confidence in the second portion of his goaltending duo. Fernandez hasn’t played in a game since his famous pirouette move during a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers nearly two weeks ago, and has coughed up four goals in four of his five games since returning from a lower back injury.
“There are no issues there. What people see on the outside and what’s happening on the inside are two different things. We talk. He knows exactly what’s going on,” said Julien. “There are things that not everybody needs to know about. We’ll leave it at that.”
–A bit of good-natured ribbing for Big, Bad Milan Lucic, who told his teammates that his girlfriend dragged him to go see the Britney Spears concert at the TD Banknorth Garden on Monday night. Looch said he was a fan of Spears’ early work when he was in the sixth or seventh grade, but the hulking left winger was more than a little surprised when he found out that Spears lip-synchs throughout her entire concert.
Looch was the only B’s player that admitted taking in the Circus Show at the Garden, but several Bruins players wondered if Marc Savard might have also made it over to Causeway Street for a rousing rendition of “Womanizer”. According to Bruins blueliner Andrew Ference, Savvy is an actual “Britney Fan.”
“It was so funny because (Lucic) came in here the next day (after the concert) and Looch was like ‘You wouldn’t believe it…she lip synchs.” said a laughing Ference. “I was like ‘No (expletive)’. What do you think that she did? He was like … surprised or devastated. I don’t know what.”
It was a busy week for Lucic, who also took in the Dropkick Murphy’s St. Patrick Day show on Wednesday night at the House of Blues.
–Marc Savard wasn’t ducking any criticism after Julien touched upon the center’s giveaway at the end of Penguins game on Sunday afternoon — a turnover that led to the Penguins banking the empty net goal and really salting away a hotly contested hockey game.
“I’m out there trying to make plays, and I just need to make them stronger ones at times. That’s part of the game. I’m going to continue to try to make plays. That’s what I do, and that’s my game. I just need to make smarter plays at times. Unfortunately when things aren’t going well it goes in your net. And that’s what has happened on a couple of occasions.”
|Streaking Kessel factors into B’s 2-1 lead||03.14.09 at 1:11 pm ET|
The Bruins hopped all over the thunderstruck Islanders in the first five minutes of the game with quick strike goals by Phil Kessel and Marc Savard.
Kessel had the main assist with a nice dish on Savard’s goal, and has factored in Boston’s last four goals scored dating back to Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. The first period snipe was Kessel’s 30th goal of the season — the first the 21-year-old has reached that plateau and the first 30-goal scorer for the Black and Gold this season.
10:51: Uncommon matching penalties for both teams with a hooking penalty on the Islanders’ defenseman Bruno Gervais a boston bench slap for too many men on the ice.
9:35: That, folks, is why Islanders defenseman Mark Streit is an All-Star and why Montreal misses him so much on their backline this year. He just took a one-man rush through the entirety of the B’s defense, faked Zdeno Chara out of his skates and then popped one over Tim Thomas to put the Isles on the board.
5:50: Near misses by Milan Lucic and David Krejci as they both threw pucks through the crease behind goalie Yann Danis, but Hillen managed to get a stick on Krejci’s poke and the puck subsequntly bounced off the crossbar and back out. After a very brief review, it was ruled “no goal”.
2:29: Solid snap glove save from Thomas on a long Richard Park shot from the left point. A good example of what Timmy does best when he has a clear view of the puck.
1:25: Another too many men on the ice penalty. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
The Bruins lead the Islanders 2-1 after two periods of play.
|Kessel snipes in the the third period give B’s 5-3 win||03.12.09 at 8:07 pm ET|
15:29: Beautiful goal by Phil Kessel that he sniped into the top right corner to beat Auld. The play was started with a brilliant entry pass along the wall from Marc Savard that freed Kessel to turn on his after-burners and get behind the defense. Kessel motored down the right-hand side, lifted his off-foot and stroked a top shelf shot that Auld didn’t have a chance at.
13:08: Great ping-ping passing between Shannon, Dany Heatley and Christoph Schubert ends with Schubert camped out in front of the Boston net and on open net. Schubert taps it in to make it a two-goal game.
10:55: A faceoff in the Boston D-zone turns into a blink-of-the-eye strike by Jason Spezza from the right faceoff circle that beats Thomas up high. It’s Spezza’s second goal of the game.
4:15: A couple of near-misses on connections from Krejci to Lucic in front of the net.
00:55.6: Empty-netter for Phil Kessel, and this game is O-V-A-H.
The Bruins beat the Senators by a 4-3 score.
|B’s still hold to a 3-1 lead over Senators||at 7:16 pm ET|
15:05: Great net front presence here in the second period as both Krejci and Bitz had rebound/tips that nearly snuck past Auld. Really like the room that rugged skaters Lucic and Ryder are creating for Krejci.
11:07: Dany Heatley camped out in front with a great pass from the sideboards, but Thomas stops the initial bid that was fumbled a bit by the Ottawa sniper and then Heatley misses wide left with a second poke at it.
9:26: Pinball passing between Mark Stuart, Marc Savard and Wheeler bounces around in front of Auld and the Ottawa net, and Jarkko Ruutu is eventually called for an infraction in the Senators D-zone.
6:50: Big hit by Wheeler on Ottawa defenseman Brendan Bell behind the Senators net. Wheeler has been involved physically and backchecking a bit more than the last time I saw playing in this building last week. The hit opened up a shot on net for Byron Bitz that Auld was able to stop.
4:06: Outstretched pad save by Auld on Krejci, set up by Krejci’s aggressive move toward the net through an Ottawa defender. Krejck dusted himself off and went to the net and Ryder found him with pass from the corner, but Auld swing out the quick pad. Krejci has looked energized tonight.
Bruins still lead the Senators by a 3-1 score at the end of the second period.
|Amid second-half slide, B’s searching for answers||03.05.09 at 11:37 pm ET|
Frustration appears to be bubbling over in the Bruins dressing room as the inconsistent performances stack upon each other, and those immediately chasing the Spoked B in the Eastern Conference standings keep gaining ground in disconcerting clumps.
Things hit a new low last night, as the Bruins clearly got back to their difficult-to-play-against ways but couldn’t muster up enough lunchpail offense in a 2-1 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The straggling, struggling Black and Gold sit mired in a 3-6-2 slump over their last 11 games, and have degenerated into a mystified hockey team searching for answers amid a series of passionless periods, 80-foot fluke goals and bang-bang shots at open nets that inexplicably sail over the inviting crease.
The catalyst for the current 11-game slide back to the pack? Travel back to a Feb. 10 loss to the San Jose Sharks on their home ice where Jumbo Joe Thornton and Co. clearly turned on the jets in the third period and left the B’s scrambling for confidence after getting beaten down by the Western Conference powerhouse.
It was a national Versus game billed as a potential Stanley Cup Finals matchup between the Beast of the East and the Best of the West, and it ended with a stunning collapse from which the Bruins still haven’t fully recovered. Instead of a crowning moment punctuated by the triumphant Bruins leaving the arena with NHL bragging rights, Claude Julien’s boys have dropped into an undeniable rut that has some in the hockey world wondering whether this team was truly as good as its nearly letter-perfect first half.
Perhaps the overwhelming nature of that third period simply humbled a young, fearless puck bunch and splashed a bit of doubt into the minds of a group of brash young hockey players.
Boston has flashed glimpses of the dominant squad that simply slammed the hammer down on opponents during the first three months of the year, but it’s becoming apparent the San Jose defeat damaged the exposed psyche of a young, talented team attempting to make their first big statement.
Despite their current freefall, the Bruins have maintained the top spot in the East and have blowout wins over the Ducks and Panthers within the erratic stretch. But even Boston’s best players are starting to search for answers just out of their reach. The New Jersey Devils remain six points behind the B’s in the East, and they’ve won 8 of their last 10 and regained their Hall of Fame goaltender in the same breath.
Is it time to worry yet?
“What’s frustrating is that we know how we can play, and we can dominate when we’re at our best,” said center Marc Savard. “We didn’t put any pucks in the net and maybe we’re being a little too cute at times. We’ve got to try to nip this in the butt right now. We’ve got a big weekend ahead of us and we all know that. We’ve got to start pulling points out of games, and we all know that.
“It’s not for the lack of effort,” added Savard. “We’re trying. I know the fans come out all year. We heard the boos off the second, and we don’t want that. We want to go and show them what we can do, and want it to be a long run here. It was frustrating for us too.”
The Big, Bad hockey club put forth a grating, physical brand of hockey, outhitting the young Desert Dogs by a 31-10 margin during last night’s defeat, and Milan Lucic, Mark Recchi and Chuck Kobasew were all — at different times – camped out in the middle of the high-traffic zones attempting to redirect pucks, screen the goaltender and manufacture any kind of goal. There just wasn’t enough of it happening to make a difference.
It was exactly the kind of things that hockey purists preach to escape a rut, but nothing worked for a club that’s clearly squeezing the daylights out of their hockey sticks.
“I wish I had the magical answer for what’s going on, but it’s simple things right down to plain effort from every single player,” said blueliner Aaron Ward, who was part of an aggressive corps of defensemen that time and again pinched and crashed into the offensive zone without ultimately cashing in. “You’re out there and you hear the fans booing, and it’s justified right now to express displeasure for our performance. You watch video postgame and that’s simply not the way we need to be playing the game.
“I’m laughing, but it’s pretty (discouraging) to sit here and wonder what’s going on,” added Ward.
Several players talked afterward about “being too cute with the puck” and “not playing a full 60 minutes of hockey,” but they also appeared frustrated to hear boos cascading down to the ice from the 16,818 in attendance in the closing seconds of a flatter-than-flapjacks second period.
The worst part?
The B’s knew they deserved the Garden catcalls after seizing control of the game early on the strength of Chuck Kobasew’s goal, and then simply allowed things to slip out of their fingers later in the first — and then stumbled right on into an uninspired second period.
The B’s have become a shadow of their first-half selves as the postseason pressure cooker looms closer with every passing day, and the time has come to pack away the rookie walls, nagging injuries, and line chemistry questions into the excuse box in the Garden attic.
The time has come for the Bruins to regain the confident identity of the season’s first half and simply start willing themselves to goals and wins against whatever lines up across the ice from them. The time has come for the B’s to heal up the damage of month-old wounds and protect what they’ve worked so very hard for over the course of a long hockey season.
If they don’t — and fast — then things will get far worse than they were against the Coyotes on a random Thursday night in March.
“I just feel that talk is cheap,” said Julien. “The same thing with standing up front here and trying to explain to (the media). Talk is cheap right now. We have to go up there and then execute. I can stand here and give you all of the excuses. There shouldn’t be excuses. There’s got to be reasons to want to turn this thing around.”
Injury Ward: Milan Lucic came through with flying colors in his first game back from an “upper body injury” and was a physical presence with six crunching body blows against the Coyotes. Other than Looch, everyone else appeared to come through okay.
Player of the Game: Zdeno Chara. After the rare off-game on Tuesday night, Chara responded by playing with some snarl and absolutely beating down Coyotes all over the ice with punishing checks and intimidation tactics. A good rebound game for Big Z.
Goat Horns: Dennis Wideman. It was a bad night for Wideman, who turned a puck over in the D-zone during the Phoenix power play that quickly led to Scottie Upshall’s first Coyotes goal. The score deflated the team for a bit, and Wideman was on the ice for both of the Coyotes’ goals on the evening. Blake Wheeler has also continued to struggle in the final months, and was limited to little more than 10 minutes of ice time on a night when backchecking seemed optional among many of Boston’s forwards.
Turning Point: The Bruins basically crawled up and died for the next 30 minutes of play once Scottie Upshall banged home the Coyotes’ first goal — a power play score — off a bad Dennis Wideman turnoever. A hockey team simply can’t do that anymore in March and April.
|Lucic, Montador and Recchi all in lineup against Coyotes||at 11:54 am ET|
New trade acquisitions Mark Recchi and Steve Montador will both be in tonight’s Bruins lineup against the Phoenix Coyotes, and bruising left winger Milan Lucic will also be back in the hockey swing after missing two games with an “upper body injury” believed to be a concussion.
Julien preached patience with some new elements being introduced to the lineup, but it was clear that a message has been sent to the team by the number of players on the ice for a voluntary practice. Play with 100 intensity and tenacity and a spot will be dusted off in the lineup, but slackers and soft hockey players might just be headed for a healthy scratch or two in the future.
In short, it’s the kind of depth that can be a coach’s dream when a player’s most prized possession, ice time, hangs in the balance.
“Hopefully our whole team can give us the energy we need, but we think those two guys can bring some life to our hockey club,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “Now we’ve got competition. It’s important for the guys to understand that we’re at a stage where it’s going to be who is playing best.”
Recchi also revealed that he’ll be manning the post down low opposite play maker Marc Savard on the first power play unit — ostensibly supplanting P.J. Axelsson in the left-handed shooting role – and the 41-year-old will be able to utilize some of the skills that allowed him to pile up 19 PP points for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season.
“I’m not sure who I’m playing with yet, but I’m ready to play with and do whatever role they put me in,” said Recchi. “I do know that I’m playing with Savvy on the power play down low. I’m excited to be on that unit. I’ve played down low and on the point most of my career. I’ll be playing down low because we’ve got some great guys here on the point, and I’ve been playing down low by the post for most of my career on a traditional power play.
“When you’ve got a guy like Savvy you’ve got to be ready for him to pass the puck at all times, so that’s going to be neat for me,” added Recchi. “You get to the front of the net, and hopefully I’ll get some ugly goals.”
Byron Bitz expressed a level of disappointment with the assumption that Recchi’s arrival may relegate him to a healthy scratch status tonight, but Bitz — along with Shane Hnidy and Matt Hunwick – was saying all the right things after playing such effective hockey lately.
For all the uniform afficianados out there, Recchi will be wearing #28 and Montador #23 for the Spoked B tonight.
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