|Cherry calling out Looch, or just Don Being Don?||11.30.08 at 12:25 pm ET|
Don Cherry is always nothing if not outspoken, but did he step over the line and invite the ire of a top-of-the-world Bruins Nation after his weekly edition of Coach’s Corner yesterday evening on Hockey Night in Canada? Grapes was doing his usual eight minutes of hockey bluster thing and going through his observations for the week, and then he stopped to applaud rugged New York Islanders defenseman Brendan Witt.
Cherry gave Witt an attaboy and called him a warrior for taking on “Lucy” when the Isles played the Bruins last weekend. Grapes was pointing out that Witt was showing courage in dancing with Milan Lucic during a blowout loss before a frenzied Garden crowd last Friday, but there seemed to also be a potential dig at Lucic.
Co-Host Ron MacLean quickly corrected Cherry and said Lucic, but it caused me to wonder whether Cherry was purposely mispronouncing Looch after the “L’Affaire Laraque” in Montreal last week. Grapes can sometimes be at a loss for names and bungle anything that doesn’t sound like a name out of the Mississauga phone book, so pure Grapes error is more likely. In fact, Dandy Don butchers at least a couple of names in the Coach’s Corner segment before even getting to Lucic. Cherry has always been complimentary of Looch in the past, and just last week he had a few bon mots for both Marc Savard and Andrew Ference.
All that being said, one has to wonder if there’s any possibility Lucic was using his heightened platform as CBC’s High Priest of Hockey to take a veiled shot at the Big, Bad Looch.
Here’s the video, and you decide whether Cherry’s gaffe was purposeful, or simply his always motoring mouth moving faster than his brain. It should be noted that Cherry later goes on to call Looch a monster, which he most certainly is when he laces up the skates. The Lucic/Witt portion begins around the 6:15 mark of the youtube video:
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 4, Red Wings 1||11.29.08 at 9:38 pm ET|
Make sure to keep your June open, and not just for the world champion Boston Celtics. The Boston Bruins may be forcing the Green to share the spotlight come late spring. There’s a long, long way to go in the NHL season but the way they handled the defending Stanley Cup champs Saturday night at the Garden made believers of everyone, including the defending champs. The Bruins are right now legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Our own Joe Haggerty has much more. Here was the reaction from the locker rooms on Saturday.
|NHL Conference Call with Savard (and what he said to Laraque Saturday night)||11.24.08 at 4:24 pm ET|
Bruins center Marc Savard had an NHL-sponsored conference call with assorted media members after being named last week’s First Start in the NHL Three Stars competition. Here’s a partial transcript from this afternoon’s call with reporters, including some interesting thoughts on the Laraque/Lucic confrontation last weekend and the punch-filled turning point for this season’s team. I skipped a few probing questions for Savard about John Tavares and the Oshawa Generals, but let’s just say that he thinks the youngster is a player and doesn’t mind that he’ll break his junior scoring records with the Generals. So now you can sleep knowing that. Here’s Savard:
From a plus/minus standpoint you’re having the best year of your career. What have you done to improve that? MS: Well, I don’t know. I’ve just been building every year since Coach Hartley helped me out in Atlanta. Then I came here and I’ve learned a lot from Claude. So things have helped in that way, and then obviously playing in our system makes it a lot easier to be a better plus player than I’ve been in the past.
It’s right there and [Claude] tells us exactly what to do and it’s right there in front of us. You trust in your teammates and they do their job and it makes it a lot easier. It’s that and a lot of little things. Being down low and what exactly do you do when you’re down there and being better away from the puck has really helped me too.
Do you feel you’re a more complete player this year? MS:Yeah, I do. I’m killing penalties this year. It’s the first year in the NHL that I’ve done that and I’m taking a lot of big faceoffs. It’s nice to be counted on like that, it feels good and hopefully we keep on playing like that.
The Boston Bruins success has raised a lot of eyebrows around the league. What are you doing to keep playing this well? MS: We’re just playing together, you know, and we really get along so well. I know a lot of teams say that, but we really do. If something needs to be said, well then we air it out in the room and we go from there.
When Dallas came in here, I think I really look at that as our turning point for the season. We started off with a .500 schedule through our first six games, and Dallas came in here and we had a big game against them. We just grew from there, and we’ve just been on a pretty good roll since then.
If Dallas was the turning point, then what did the two recent wins against Montreal do? MS:Yeah, obviously it’s a huge rivalry. We’re not the biggest fans of the Canadiens, and I’m sure they’re not the biggest fans of us, so it’s nice to be able to finally get some wins against them. I think we’re just building off it and rolling over, and we’re just a confident team right now. We know that we have to work hard to get our victories.
Can you talk about how much instant impact Lucic has had with Boston. MS: Well, I knew from Day One of training camp last year when I went right to our GM and said that this guy is ready. I knew with his size and stuff. I played with him in one exhibition game early on, and I think it was against the Islanders in Halifax or New Brunswick or something. I knew right then that he was ready to play. He has more skill than everybody gives him credit for, and I can see that when he makes good little plays.
We’ve been working well together, so hopefully if he continues to do that then he’s going to have a great career. After the playoffs when he was a huge presence for us in the playoffs, I think he’s just rolled that over into this year. Playing on my wing, I can take advantage of it and chip it into the corner knowing that he’s going for it. There’s not too many guy that are going to be the first one back there when he’s going. He’s a great addition, and we have a good mix on the line. So it’s nice to have him on the line.
Julien has been active in moving players around. Can you talk about the defensive awareness that you and Phil have? MS: Playing with Phil and Milan, they’re both younger guys — and for myself too — for us to be out there and get the minutes that we want to get we try and stress to each other to be good defensively. If we’re good defensively then we’re going to get a lot of offense. Really it feels like we haven’t been in our zone that much for that reason. We’ve been getting back hard, breaking up plays and getting it back in. We’re having a lot of fun as a line.
Like you said, Kess has really worked hard at that aspect so he can be out there in those situations. As he gets older he’s obviously going to be a top guy at both ends [of the ice].
PJ Axelsson has also been moved up to the top lines a few times, so you have Axelsson and Phil playing in different roles and winning games. Julien seems to be asking a lot of everybody [on the team]. MS: Yeah, he is. He’s a demanding coach, but in the same sense he’s fair. If you’re playing hard and you’re playing good, then you’re going to get that ice time. We’ve been getting that as a line, and obviously our team has been playing great as a whole lineup. If someone isn’t going one night, then somebody else picks them up. It’s been good in that way.
We know what we have to do to win: we have to keep working and Claude keeps stressing that every day. There’s not too many days where he lets that stuff slide. We know as a team what we have to do to win, and we’ve been able to do it.
One of the subplots of last weekend’s game was staying clear of Laraque. 1) Was that talked about and 2) there was a faceoff where Georges and Lucic were squaring off in the faceoff circle and they were yakking it up a little. You seemed to come over and have something to say and things calmed down a little bit. What happened there? MS: I just told Georges that there’s going to be another time for this. Right now we’re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little bit anyway.
If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’t want anybody fighting, especially because we’re obviously a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘well, why didn’t [Chara] grab him’. There’ll be time for that. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but right now it wasn’t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’re capable of doing, we didn’t want that to happen either. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.
Would you like to be considered for the Canadian Olympic team, and do you take a lot of pride in your passing ability? MS: Yeah, that would be a huge honor for me. It’s something that I obviously don’t go into every game thinking about, but it would be nice to work for that. Right now I’m worrying about the Boston Bruins, but it would be a huge to wear the jersey of my country. You see a lot of big players on that list, and it would be nice to be mentioned with them.
On the passing side, I’ve always been a passer first. I tried to get away from that to open up more things and try to get more shots on goal this year, and I think I’ve done that. It’s obviously worked out well. It’s nice to get some recognition on that, and hopefully I can keep setting up my wingers for some nice goals.
Do you think the Bruins won’t be able to fly under the radar anymore this season? MS:Now, for sure we know that teams are going to be coming for us and we need to be ready every night. Claude keeps us pretty honest in that we have to ready to go every night. The best thing about our hockey club, though, is that we’re obviously a confident group right now…but we also know what we have to do to win games, and that’s work hard and stay with our system. Play at both ends of the ice, and we’ve obviously been able to do that and get great goaltending and we’re getting different guys stepping up every night. We’re getting a good mix right now, but like you said we’re only 20 games in so we’re obviously not getting too high and we’re trying to keep an even keel. Things are going well.
Can you talk a little about how important Tim Thomas has been this year? MS: Tim has been huge. He’s been a great goaltender and he hasn’t got a lot of credit over his career, but he’s having a great year this year. It’s nice to have a goalie back there that’s going to make the big save for you, and he’s done that this year. Obviously with Manny back there it pushes Tim even a bit more because when when Manny has gone in there he’s played well too. So we have a great one-two punch going on right now, and hopefully they can keep playing the way they have for the whole season.
I thought that moment with Laraque and Lucic from Saturday night’s game was a pretty good example of veteran leadership. Have you always been that kind of leader at each stop in your NHL career, or is that something that’s blossomed in Boston? MS: I think throughout the years, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a leader and I’ve learned a lot through my career. Obviously in my career there’s been some tough times, and you only get stronger from that. We get along so well in the dressing room and we have so many young and me being an older guy I’m able to help those kids out a little bit.
Playing with two kids — Kessel and Lucic — I’m always talking to them between shifts, and I always want more and I want them to always want more too. I think they’re proving that this year. [Being a leader] isn’t always about just saying something, it’s about going out and doing it too. So hopefully I’m able to do that stuff. I do talk a lot and I like to have a lot of fun before the game and keep guys loose, but — in the same sense — when the puck drops I think it’s time to get serious and get things going. Those of the types of things I want to bring and hopefully I’m able to do that.
What have your impression been so far of Blake Wheeler? MS:Blake’s a skilled hockey player and he’s a big boy, so he’s got a lot of things going for him. He skates well. He’s really come in here and looked like a veteran out there and he’s played really well. Coach is giving him an opportunity to play a lot a lot, and his line is playing really with Krejci and Kobasew right now too. They bring a lot to the hockey team, and Wheeler seems to keep getting better every day.
He’s been a big part of our success at the shootout lately too. He shoots first and I think in his three shootouts he’s scored twice. He keeps growing and he has one of his best buddies in Kessell here too, so that’s helped him out with the adjustment. The sky is the limit for him.
When you look at the size, is he as physical as you expected him to be? MS: When you’ve got a big guy there you obviously expect a guy to finish his checks — or when you’re any size you expect them to finish checks — but when you’ve got that kind of size and that kind of gift you hope that he uses it. And he uses it well and he uses it to his advantage. He gets to the net hard and with that big body he’s able to get some goals.
Was there a moment last year when you realized this was a team that was really together? MS:I think it started last year when Bergie went down, we came together closer and you knew each guy had to step up. And then when it came to the end of the year really had to battle to make it into the playoffs, and from then on in we had a seven game series against Montreal. We were able to battle back the way we did and really have the same team come back besides a couple of guys and then add three players.
From there we’ve really taken off and in the room — whether we’re on the road — we really get along so great and I know a lot of teams say that but it’s the truth here. We hang out all the time. Even yesterday we had a little team get together and it’s like a family here. Every sticks up for each other. But that Dallas game this year brought us even closer together this year and we really stick up for each other. It was one of our first big games at home this year and it really brought us together.
Did this start change expectations in the room? MS: Yes and no. I think at the beginning of the year we thought that we had a great team, and it was just a matter of when it all came together. It obviously came together pretty fast. Off that Montreal series we knew that we really grew as a team and we saw what kind of damage we could do if we played together, worked hard and just stayed within the system. We’ve done that and now we’re a confident group, but at the end of the day we know what wins us hockey games. That’s working hard, and coach keeps us honest in that regard and helps us do it.
Somebody told me that today’s players really like playing in a system. How important is that in Boston? MS: It makes it easier because you know that the system is there to protect you, and if you get away from it then you’re going to get into trouble. I think we know that as a team. We probably don’t have the most skilled team in the NHL, but if we stick with what we’re taught we’re able to win games through hard work. We do have skill players and it’s proven every night because we have guys stepping up. We’re a confident team right now, but we know that we have to work hard.
You’ve put up some pretty impressive numbers since the end of the lockout. What do you attribute that to? MS: I don’t know. I think I’m focused and going into games I want to help the team offensively and I want to produce every night. I think I’ve been hungry to do that. I think that’s why I’ve been able to stay so consistently since the lockout. Obviously I’ve gotten a great opportunity to play in the division that I’ve been in, and things have worked out.
Are you upset because Lucic is a big guy that other guys want to fight him? You’ve got guys like Georges that want to fight him simply because he’s a big guy. MS: On the Lucic stuff, I think he’s going to get challenged a lot because I think his record is pretty flawless in the fighting department, and people not only want to fight but get him off the ice because he’s such a factor in most hockey games and he’s only getting better every day. I like having him out there obviously, and when he goes in the box if shifts up our lines and stuff like that. So it makes it a little tougher.
Myself coming into the league I had a lot of growing pains to go through. Coming into the league I played with the Rangers and we had a lot of stars and obviously it was hard for me to make a name there. I went to Calgary and got a great opportunity to play. When I moved on to Atlanta that’s where things started to get a lot better. Obviously Coach Hartley really helped me out and I owe him a lot to him — especially in the early stages — because he basically told me there’s the ball right there and if you want to take it then just go. He gave me a lot of ice time and I was able to succeed there before I moved on to Boston, where I’m happy and I hope that i can finish out my career here and keep getting better.
|Savard earns NHL First Star||at 11:07 am ET|
Continuing what’s been a banner week for the Boston Bruins, center Marc Savard was named the NHL’s First Star in their ‘Three Stars’ for the week ending Sunday, Nov. 23. The wins and accolades just keep on coming for the Big Bad Bruins, who held practice at Ristuccia Area this season — with off days for Marc Savard, Dennis Wideman and Patrice Bergeron. The most notable sight at practice: Shawn Thornton’s shootout practice attempt at the end of the session when he swept in right-to-left, faked forehand and then lifted a nifty backhander past Manny Fernandez.
When apprised that the backhander was a pretty “sick” move, Thornton promptly said “That’s because I’m a sick player.” Got to love that guy — a real “glue player” that help keep that locker room such a tight-knit group.
Anyway, on to Savard and his First Star Honors. Here’s the release from the NHL and there was a conference call later this afternoon conducted by the NHL. II’ll throw a full transcription on the site in the next few minutes, but here’s Savard’s take on the faceoff circle conversation between Milan Lucic and George Laraque. In case you missed it, the little centerman interjected into an A&B conversation between the two titans on Saturday night, and said something that seemed to stop Laraque in his tracks. It’s a great nuanced example of the kind of leader that Savard has blossomed into during his time in the Spoked B:
“I just told Georges that there’s going to be another time for this. Right now we’re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little while anyway.
“If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’t want anybody fighting, especially because we’re a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘well, why didn’t [Chara] grab him’. There’ll be time for that. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but right now it wasn’t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’re capable of doing, we didn’t want that to happen. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.”
FIRST STAR — MARC SAVARD, C, BOSTON BRUINS: Savard led all NHL scorers this past week with eight points (two goals, six assists) as the Bruins (14-3-4, 32 points) won four consecutive games, moved into first place overall in the Eastern Conference and increased their Northeast Division lead to seven points. Savard recorded two assists in a 3-2 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs Nov. 17, notched a goal and three assists in a 7-4 win over the Buffalo Sabres Nov. 19 and tallied one goal and one assist in a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers Nov. 21. Savard ranks second in the NHL in assists (19), third in points (27) and third in plus-minus (+13). The 31-year-old Ottawa native has recorded 225 assists since the start of the 2005-06 season; the only NHL player with more is San Jose’s Joe Thornton (272). The Bruins have earned points in 13 of their past 14 games (12-1-1) since Oct. 25, outscoring their opponents 49-26 in that span.
SECOND STAR — HENRIK SEDIN, C, VANCOUVER CANUCKS:Sedin recorded seven points, all assists, as the Canucks (13-6-2, 28 points) went 3-0-1 on their four-game road trip and extended their Northwest Division lead to five points. Sedin recorded one assist each in a 2-1 shootout loss to the New York Islanders Nov. 17 and a 6-3 victory over the New York Rangers Nov. 19, tallied a pair of assists in a 3-2 victory at Minnesota Nov. 20 and finished the week with three more in a 3-1 win at Pittsburgh Nov. 22. Sedin increased his season points total to a club-leading 21 (three goals, 18 assists), two more than twin brother Daniel (9-10–19).
THIRD STAR — NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN, G, CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS:Khabibulin posted a 3-0-0 record with a 2.90 goals-against average and .918 save percentage as the Blackhawks (10-4-5, 25 points) began their six-game road trip with three consecutive victories. Khabibulin stopped 36 shots and both shootout attempts in a 3-2 victory at Phoenix Nov. 18, made 31 saves in a 6-3 victory at Dallas Nov. 20 and finished the week with 34 stops in a 5-4 overtime victory at Toronto Nov. 22. Khabibulin improved his season record to 7-1-4 with a 2.51 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. He has not suffered a regulation loss in his past 11 appearances, going 7-0-4 since Oct. 15.
|‘Grapes’ gives B’s some love||11.23.08 at 7:53 pm ET|
Everybody knows that Don Cherry has always harbored a soft spot in his heart for the Spoked B of the Boston Bruins — the team that gave him his first shot behind an NHL bench — and the inimitable Grapes gave the Big, Bad B’s a couple of screaming one-timers during the must-see Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada last weekend.
First Dandy Don — decked out in a Looney Toons tie in honor of the Grey Cup held in Montreal last weekend — tosses a few deserved attaboys at Marc Savard for potting his 600th career point last week, and then praised the B’s center for the all-around game he continues to play for Coach Claude Julien in Boston this season. He’s built on last year’s All-Star worthy season with a campaign that currently has him ranked second in the NHL in assists (19), third in points (27) and third with a sterling +13 mark for the season. This from an undeniably gifted skater/playmaker that was a minus player in all but one season before coming to Boston, and is currently still a -61 for his career. Three more years of a Julien/Savard combo might just see him break into positive territory.
The Savard kudos continues a growing back-and-forth mutual admiration society between the crafty center and the God Father of blustery hockey talk in the Great White North.
A little later on Cherry also ladles some puck love for the “great Canadian spirit” that defenseman Andrew Ference displayed when he powered right through the pain of a broken tibia in his right leg to still clear the puck during a PK situation against the Canadiens. As B’s fans will remember, Ference was hit in the right leg with an Andre Markov slapper, dropped to the ice in obvious pain, and then battled several times to regain his footing. The felled blueliner then cleared the puck from Boston’s zone once he got back on his skates. Ference was diagnosed with fractured tibia several days later, but — even after repeated viewings — it simply doesn’t get any less compelling watching the blueliner battle to get to his feet and do his job before gingerly skating off the ice.
Courtesy of the wonderful world of youtube, Cherry’s bon mots on Savard start at about roughly the four minute mark and Ference is at roughly the 5:50 mark…enjoy.
|First blood at the Gahden||11.21.08 at 9:30 pm ET|
There’s a reason they call it drawing first blood.
The Bruins have scored the first goal an amazing 15 times in their 20 games thus far this season, and it’s allowed the Black and Gold to truly go on the offensive and attack other teams with previously unseen aplomb. In those 15 games the Bruins have built up an impressive 10-3-2 record.
So during a rare Friday evening tilt in the Hub — the first in over 30 years for the Bruins — when a first place hockey team easily could have been caught sleepwalking through an anti-climactic match against the lowly Florida Panthers — with perhaps a wandering eye cast toward the Montreal Canadiens tomorrow night at the Bell Centre — the Big Bad B’s simply took care of business in a tidy 4-2 win. A victory so convincing that it saw restless B’s fans doing the wave in the third period of a blowout win that registers as Boston’s seventh straight at the TD Banknorth Garden.
The attention to detail is part of a mantra that Bruins coach Claude Julien obviously stressed to his team prior to the game, with an eye toward an Ottawa Senators team that bounded purposefully out of the gate last season before collapsing and crawling into the playoffs. While there aren’t any Ray Emery-style problem children in the Boston dressing room to spark turmoil, the staunch marching orders to avoid any “fat cat” syndrome were clearly understood, processed and performed to a ‘T’ on the ice last night.
The B’s players are so intent on the nightly task at hand that veteran and past Stanley Cup winner Aaron Ward is now simply refusing to mention the dreaded ‘P’ word (playoffs) in relation to the Black and Gold. You won’t hear the words “NHL” and “playoffs” coming out of Ward’s mouth until April or so…Ward refused to utter “playoffs” last night in context with the Bruins, and said he’d only be talking about “the NBA or the NFL playoffs” for a nice long time.
Ward obviously has been around long enough to know that something pretty special is starting to take place on Causeway Street.
“One of the things they preached at the beginning of the year was positioning,” said Ward. “Teams that have really positioned themselves well by Thanksgiving have a tendency to really…uh….put themselves in a favorable position with…uh…I don’t want to use the word. You can fill it in. Put themselves in good position for…it’s kind of an omen, I can’t say it…for the end of the year. I don’t want to say the ‘P’ word.
“For us [Friday night’s win] was a job we talked about from the top down. Claude talked about it and the players talked about it,” added Ward. “We had a discussion about it at the pregame skate amongst the players. About where we are and our state of being. We can’t rest on our laurels at any point this season. We’ve got to think about the here and now. The ‘P’ word is not going to be mentioned…at least not in this [locker room] stall.”
Ward’s words — minus any onerous ‘P’ words — seemed to be right in line with the message that Julien delivered to the esteemed Fourth Estate after the game. It was something about staying inside the warm, welcoming and comfortable bubble the Bruins have built for themselves while setting the standard of excellence in the Eastern Conference with 30 points through 20 games.
“I don’t think we feel too good about ourselves, and the one thing we do realize, and, you’ve got to remember guys, we can start reading what you guys are writing, and we can believe everything. Or we can stay in our little bubble and understand what got us to where we are and realize that those kinds of things are what’s going to keep us there,” said Julien. “I’m saying that because our team has not had to face this kind of situation for a long time, and we have to learn to be able to handle this.
“Being in first place is great, but the minute you get comfortable ‘ and I can use the Ottawa Senators, 15-2 last year, and I can use other examples as well ‘ this is a humbling game, and we just have to make sure that we understand what it takes every night,” added Julien “That’s the kind of message we keep giving our team: don’t get too high, don’t get too low, but don’t start believing everything you read.
The Bruins effectively outshot, outlasted and outclassed an underwhelming Panthers hockey club. They also won the inevitable game of fisticuffs that appeared once the game got out of hand in the second period. Milan Lucic and old friend Nick Boynton engaged in a tough guy scrum at center ice that spilled plenty of blood from both sides.
Both players got a few shots in, but Boynton left the ice after Lucic opened up a cut along the former Bruins defenseman’s forehead following a series of vicious right and left-handed mixture of jabs and haymakers. Boynton’s face was a bloody mess by the end of the brawl. That decision easily went to the Big Looch, which makes him 2-0 in fights on the season after bloodying Boynton and knocking Mike Komisarek out of the Habs lineup with a shoulder injury. There has to be, however, some extra credit given to the steely Boynton for hanging in and getting a few licks of his own in amid the flurry of Lucic fists, which were also red with blood by the end of the exchange.
Aaron Ward also tangled with Keith Ballard after the veteran defenseman came in hard — and perhaps a bit low — on Marc Savard in the middle of the second period. It was business as usual for Ward, who again showed that this Bruins team isn’t going to timidly back down or fail to protect a teammate when something isn’t sitting well with the B’s bench.
“I thought the hit was late, and then not only was it late but I also thought the hit was low,” said Ward. “It was my first reaction.”
Hunwick continuing to improve
The blueline education of Matt Hunwick continued last night, and the young defenseman kept impressing with an assist and an eye-opening +3 on the evening. That makes it three straight games Hunwick has registered at last one point with a goal and three assists over that short span. While the man he was replacing on the rearguard, Andrew Ference, was playing the best hockey of his career by his own admission, “Huddy” hasn’t been too shabby either as the puck-moving, offensive interim solution along the blue line.
Hunwick’s performance continues to exemplify the impressive organizational depth that the Bruins have built up for themselves. Their roster goes well past the 20 skaters dressing on a nightly basis and extends to another 3-5 players capable of stepping in without a beat when the inevitable injury bug beckons. All told, Hunwick has a goal and three assists along with a +7 in eight games this season and was given a bit of time on the power play unit Friday night as a reward for his consistent efforts.
“We talk about confidence and the experience. He’s getting better and a lot of has to do with because he’s playing. A lot of it starts in practice and he’s been patient and working hard,” said Julien. “Now he’s got a chance to play and when you’ve got some games where you’ve got a lead you can use him even more. That’s the way that you develop players. He’ll be getting those opportunities if he responds, and lately he’s been responding.”
The Kids are all right
The impressive early returns on David Krejci continue to pour in, and no solitary play was more indicative of the 22-year-old’s patience, stick-handling and creativity than his second period goal which pushed the B’s lead to 3-1. Krejci found the puck on his stick along the right side with a good deal of open ice in front of
him, but — rather than make a mad impetuous dash toward the net as many NHL youngsters might in that frantic situation — the young centerman instinctively pulled the puck back, slowed the throbbing tempo to a hockey crawl and then deftly slid a cross-ice pass over to Chuck Kobasew.
Kobasew fired at the net and the loose puck promptly kicked right back to Krejci for the easy putback goal — a simple, elegant, dare I say nifty hockey play that continues to scratch away at what’s promising to be a great surface for the young Czech Republic skater.
“That’s David Krejci,” said Julien. “He controls the play so well and he controls the pace of it too. I’ve seen players in the past that were so good at that. I remember J.F. Sauve from the Quebec Nordiques was one of those guys that would make those plays to slow things down. John Chabot, who’s an assistant coach with the Islanders was one of those players too. They’re gifted with the stick and they find seams. Savvy does it a bit for us too. He’s a good players and he’s just starting to grow into the player that we all expected him to be.”
While Krejci has impressed with the way he’s conjured up magic tricks with the puck, Kessel continues to simply burn away hapless defenders with his rare combination of speed and dead-eye shot. Kessel got behind the Panthers ‘D’ after a great tape-to-tape pass by Savard, and beat Tomas Vokoun with a forehand for the game’s first goal — an easy-as-pie pseudo penalty shot for the sniping scorer.
“I’m not doing anything different,” said Kessel, when asked what’s improved for him this season. “The pucks are finding the back of the net now, and they weren’t before. That’s about it. There’s no magic formula.”
With Friday night’s score, Kessel has a team-high 10 goals in only 20 games and seems well on his way to becoming Boston’s first 40-goal scorer since Glen Murray sniped 44 tallies for the Black and Gold way back in 2002-2003 en route to a 92 point season.
Hard to believe it’s been that long since the Bruins had a 40-goal scorer. Or maybe it isn’t given the recent history of the Bruins Crew.
“It seems like he and Savvy are feeding off each other,” said Ward. “It’s the old [University of Michigan hockey coach] Red Berenson thing, If you have speed you’ve got to use it. Especially now with the rule changes we as defenseman can do nothing about it.”
|Sturm and scrums highlight rousing victory||11.01.08 at 5:37 pm ET|
Prior to last night’s 5-1 thrashing of the Stars, Bruins coach Claude Julien asked Marco Sturm to “be involved more” following Saturday morning’s pre-game skate.
Sturm and the rest of his teammates were all heavily involved in a thrilling fight-fest that moved me to ask if this was the return of the Big, Bad Bruins — or at least as close as they’ll ever get in the kinder, gentler version of the NHL.
The B’s winger didn’t waste any time obliging — and he did so without any need for Draconian punishments like a punitive benching or a red-faced tirades from his hockey coach.
Sturm ended a seven-game scoreless streak with a slapper from the left face-off circle just 2:41 into the first period off a nice behind-the-net dish from rookie Blake Wheeler. The score was Sturm’s second strike of the season and the amazing ninth time this season in 12 games that the Black and Gold have scratched first blood.
The assist on Sturm’s first goal was also the first helper of Wheeler’s NHL career to go along with the three goals he’s scored over the first dozen games. Sturm added a third period tally to give him the two-goal evening, and the move to pair Sturm with David Krejci appears to be paying immediate dividends all around.
“It was nice. He needed to react, and not just react but find his game,” said a satisfied Julien after the game. “I thought [Sturm] played better tonight and he was in the right spot, even on that last goal he was in the right place and he buried [his opportunities]. I thought he was a better player tonight.”
The B’s ended up taking the 5-1 decision over the Stars in a very chippy, conentious, entertaining Old Time Hockey-style game that featured Stars agitator Steve Ott twice refusing to drop both his stick and the gloves when Shawn Thornton and Shane Hnidy circled round looking for a fights — one after a hit aiming for Stephane Yelle’s leg that Lucic later termed “gutless”. Hnidy actually dropped his stick and his gloves to go with Ott, but the 6-foot, 193-pounder thought better of it each time and held his stick vertically to shield himself from his Black and Gold challenger.
Eventually Andrew Ference and Sean Avery dropped the gloves after the Bruins defenseman — who earned the Third Star in the win and continues his impressive early season play — leveled Ott with a clean open ice hit in the third period. That hit also turned out to be a big turning point in a game that was still squarely in the close category in the third period.
In the end, the combative game had 177 penalty minutes and seven misconducts and made many spectators wish these two teams played each other again during the regular season.
–The Bruins much-maligned penalty kill unit also looked better after six successful kills of Dallas PP’s throughout Saturday night’s game — a testament to the work they’ve put in to exert more pressure on the points while also just getting tougher aroun their own net.
Julien said before the game that the solution to the PK’s problems were pretty simple: “It’s just being proactive. The puck has to go all the way down [to the other end of the rink] and we’re soft on the puck when it comes time for scoring chances. These are the areas that I think will improve our penalty kill and will improve our goal production.”
For two periods Ott and Sean Avery attempted to draw penalties from annoyed Bruins skaters and their aggravating tactics actually allowed the Stars to gain some man advantage opportunities in the second period. But their agitating, sandpaper ways finally backfired on them and the rest of their Stars teammates in the third period. Avery leveled Milan Lucic from behind midway through the third in the final coup de grace of what been a pretty dirty production of hockey put on by both Avery and Ott all night — and all heck broke loose at that point.
Marc Savard came to the aid of the fallen Lucic and started pounding on Avery, and then both players worked over the Vogue intern while separate bouts involving Shane Hnidy and Mark Stuart took place. Savard, Lucic, Hnidy Mark Stuart, Ott, Avery, Matt Niskanen [how did a peace-loving Fin with zero penalty minutes headed into tonight get involved in all this?] were all done for the night when they each got 10-minute misconducts with less than nine minutes to play.
Apparently even some of Ott and Avery’s teammates had a serious problem with some of the underhanded things they were pulling out on the ice in the third period.
“Tonight it seemed to be idiotic,” said Stars elder statesman Mike Modano. “It’s stupid. It’s one of the more embarrassing things I have seen, on the ice and involved with the fans. In 20 years, I haven’t seen anything like it. If that’s what we’re going for, maybe I need to find myself an office job.”
The Stars were shaking their heads and dropping F-bombs in their locker room while the Bruins seemed a tighter, more resolute bunch after standing together and sticking up for each other.
“It was good to see everybody pile in their and come to my aid, but most importantly we got the win,” said Lucic. “In the end we all stuck up for each other and it’s only going to make us stronger going down the road. It was a good character game and a good character win for us. Savvy came in here after the game saying that he was a killer, but obviously it was nice what he went out there and did.
“Hnidy said to me as we were coming off the ice that it felt like a junior hockey scrum out there, so yeah it felt like Old Time Hockey,” added Lucic. “What we need to do is bottle this up and make sure we have some of it for Thursday [against the Leafs.]”
–Somewhat overlooked in a penalty-filled Saturday night flashback to the glorious days of the Big Bad Bruins was the work of goaltender Tim Thomas, who made 35 saves in the 5-1 victory and was again rock-solid between the pipes. The win was his fourth consecutive start for the Bruins and it would seem he has clearly wrapped up the starter’s role with the B’s. The All-Star goaltender mused that the sketchy Stars must have received the wrong scouting report on the Bruins when they attempted to pull the McFilthy and McNasty routine with penalty box buddies Ott and Avery.
“We’re a clean team, but we’re not going to let anybody push us around or play dirty with us,” said Thomas. “I think we did a good job of sticking up for ourselves and showing what kind of character we have. I don’t know what kind of scouting report they had on us, but I think they picked the wrong team to try to do that to.”
The B’s netminder actually thought he might get involved in the third period donnybrook when beleaguered Stars goalie Marty Turco skated out toward center ice following the Avery hit from behind on Lucic. Turco has had a terrible season thus far, and it could have been he was looking for the rare-but-always-entertaining goalie scrap. The Dallas goaltender stopped, however, once he saw Thomas make a move near the pile of skating pugilists.
“It’s actually some of the hardest games to play because you get your adrenaline going a little bit even though you try to stay as calm and even-keeled as you can be,” said Thomas. “When Fer [Andrew Ference] got hit and then stood up for himself I got a little excited, and it’s hard to finish out a game that way.
“I wasn’t going to let [Turco] into the pile. It looked to me like he was going to try to get into the pile, so that’s why I skated over to the other side of it,” added Thomas. “I think he’s the one that made the suggestion by coming to center ice, and I just responded by getting over to the other side of the pile and saying ‘I don’t think you’re going to go any further’ and he stayed there. I can’t remember a game like that for a long time…maybe the AHL. I haven’t experienced anything quite like that before.”
–Below I’ve included the transcript of Mike Modano’s comments provided by the crack Bruins media relations staff following Saturday night’s game. It seems that the longtime Dallas Stars forward was none too pleased with his team’s careless lack of discipline in a game that was still close in the third period.
DALLAS STARS FORWARD MIKE MODANO
On the team’s identity
Tonight it seemed to be idiotic. It’s stupid. It’s one of the more embarrassing things I have seen, on the ice and involved with the fans. In twenty years that I haven’t seen anything like it. If that’s what we’re going for maybe I need to find myself an office job.
On the physicality of the game’¦
Yeah, I mean it got out of hand, it was still a 2-1 game and then we find ourselves blowing it again, putting ourselves in trouble with dumb penalties and dumb situations. That’s kind of the trend it’s been all season.
On the cause of the frustration’¦
There isn’t any mental toughness, that’s kind of one of the big things. Everything we’re letting get to us. We’re letting the refs get involved in the game with us. We’re spending more energy on them than the details of winning the game. It’s another thing that’s been a bad part of our game.
On the goaltending performance of both Tobias Stephan and Marty Turco’¦
They’re doing about as best as you can ask for them, but the quality of chances are just like doorstep goals and outnumbered rushes again. You can put two goalies in there; those are still going to go in. You allow those quality type of chances, I don’t care who you have in net.
On trying to fix the team’¦
Well, I don’t know if you can put your finger on something. Moving the puck, I don’t know, practice skating, getting shots on the net, things like that. Defending is probably first and foremost. We come off a couple of hard practices and we have one of our best defensive games of the season against Minnesota. Back to the same old. Less is more sometimes. Just getting the puck out and then getting it in. Hopefully your forecheck can create something for you and go from there. To look to create, there aint nothing there.