|Bruins get the points in a much-needed victory||10.21.09 at 9:25 pm ET|
It wasn’t a puck masterpiece by any stretch of the imagination, but the Bruins managed to get two points in a 3-2 win they most definitely needed Wednesday night. With games against higher caliber competition coming Thursday night against the Flyers and Saturday night against the Ottawa Senators, a victory over the lowly, offensively challenged Preds — last in the NHL in scoring with 10 goals coming into the game — was a virtual must.
“We have to realize we have lots of room for improvement,” B’s coach Claude Julien said. “Our confidence isn’t where it should be right now, but I thought we gained in confidence as the game went on. We were better period by period.”
The B’s trailed through nearly the entire game before pulling ahead midway through the third period when the fourth line once again proved to be the dirty-faced savior. Steve Begin battled to keep the puck in the zone and then was rewarded when Daniel Paille wheeled around the net and found him wide open in the high slot. Begin put the hammer down on a one-timer past Preds goalie Dan Ellis, and the Bruins finally had sweet victory in their grasp. It was Begin’s first goal as a Bruin after thoroughly impressing everyone with his high-effort style through the team’s first eight games.
Things didn’t start out all that well as the Bruins didn’t pose even a threat in the first period while the new skaters settled in a collection of four reconfigured lines. The Predators took advantage of Boston’s transition phase in the first period, and Jerred Smithson scored Nashville’s first goal on pure grit and persistence around the Boston cage.
After a lifeless first 20 minutes, the B’s jumped on the Preds in the second and scored 26 seconds into the period. Rookie Brad Marchand, playing in his first NHL game, made a great tip pass to Michael Ryder on a 2-on-1 hustle play and Ryder flipped a backhanded bid top shelf for Boston’s first score.
Former BU skater Colin Wilson struck back for Nashville and potted his first career NHL goal to once again give the Preds a lead, but Boston fought back and finally showed a little ferocity. This time it was Patrice Bergeron. The 24-year-old center battled through traffic to attack the rebound of a Zdeno Chara blast, and his third effort finally squirted pads Ellis’ pads for the tying score. The line of Bergeron-Marchand-Ryder was clearly Boston’s best of the night and put consistent pressure on the Preds.
YOU’RE THE BEST AROUND AND NOTHING’S EVER GONNA KEEP YOU DOWN: Brad Marchand didn’t show a lot of his infamous rabble-rousing style in his debut, but he helped spark the Bruins by setting up Boston’s first goal of the game after a dreadful first period. It was appropriate that Marchand picked up a point in his first career NHL game, and his line was the most effective all night long for Julien. This also was the line that finished the night out for the Bruins during a frenetic final minute — the ultimate reward from the coaching staff for a job well done.
GOAT HORNS: The B’s power play. Still no life and not a ton of quality scoring chances for Bruins during their few attempts on the man-advantage. In fact, there were none. Zero shots on net in four minutes worth of power play time for the B’s in the win over the Predators. Why hasn’t Mark Recchi shown up much on the power play this season after being very effective last year?
|Three things that can turn it around for the Bruins||10.15.09 at 4:42 pm ET|
With four road dates packed into their next five games, the Bruins have a chance to prove that ancient hockey axiom correct. There’s a great and shining chance for the club to bond together on the normally cold and unforgiving road. Who knew that having a few team dinners at Fleming’s Steakhouse in unfamiliar locales could mean so much?
It’s obviously not all about some magical road solution waiting for the Bruins in Dallas and Phoenix. It’s more about things within the Boston dressing room that need to change. The B’s players need to shake themselves out of the snow-blindness caused by a flurry of preseason hype and media predictions that tabbed the Black and Gold as the trendy pick for the Stanley Cup finals.
There’s plenty the Bruins can do to turn things around after a 2-3 start to the season that lacked the passion and work ethic inherent in last season’s 116-point hockey team. The Bruins are simply beating themselves. It’s something that hasn’t been a major problem since the structured, disciplined Claude Julien took over the coaching reigns three years ago. It’s also something the Bruins are much too talented to be doing.
“We talked about it and addressed a lot of different things that we can do to get better a lot over the last few days,” Milan Lucic said. “We’ve talked about it a bunch. Now it’s time to not do so much talk, and go out and do it.”
It’s high time for Lucic and the B’s to slam down the preseason power rankings and the glossy magazine pieces, and instead strap on the hard hats and tool belts that allowed them to enjoy so much regular season success last winter. There’s plenty of hard work that goes into winning a Cup, and the B’s haven’t exactly dirtied their finger nails quite yet.
“We haven’t played Bruins hockey, and played the way that this team has grown its identity over the last couple of years,” said Mark Recchi. “We have to get back to it and realize how hard it is. Get our focus back. I really believe it’s not that far away. This is a little bit of a wake up call, and this isn’t a bad time to go through this.”
With that in mind, here are three things the Bruins can do turn things around just five games into their 82-game schedule:
1. Will the real Looch please stand up — The bruising 21-year-old winger might have been in too much of a lighthearted mood after becoming the B’s newest millionaire several weeks ago, and by his own admission lost some of his surliness over the last few games.
His numbers aren’t really that far off what they were last season. After five games last season, Lucic had three points, six shots on goal and 14 registered hits to open things up. After five games this season, Lucic has a pair of assists, four shots on goal and the same exact 14 registered hits. But many of those body checks haven’t been of the bone-thumping variety. There certainly haven’t been many defensemen forced to look over their shoulders while digging out pucks in the corner. That needs to change for Lucic and the Bruins immediately, and the B’s forward is well aware.
“The last two games I’ve feel like been getting better at creating, but for me it’s also more about getting on the puck quicker, turning pucks over and then creating scoring chances,” said Lucic. “I feel like I need to do a little bit more of that to get back to where I want to be. Talking with the coaches, and Peter [Chiarelli] and Cam [Neely], the one thing they always tell me is that when I keep it simple with that meat and potatoes-kind of game, I’m at my best. I have to play hard-nosed hockey.”
“I have to pick [the physical] part of my game up and boost the team up with some big hits to get them going. Maybe Wheels can get me going before the game. Maybe we can get some Indian leg-wrestling going in the locker room before the game start. We can just lock legs and see who wins.”
Blake Wheeler, who was taking his skates off right next to Lucic, shot back with: “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you out [on the ice].”
Indian leg wrestling or not, Big Looch knows what he needs to do and is looking to amp up his physical factor for the weekend road games against Dallas and Phoenix along with getting more involved offensively. Perhaps skating with David Krejci will rekindle a spark and bring out the intimidating side he flashed in last season’s playoffs when the two young skaters were paired together. The one big advantage to skating with Krejci is that the right-handed shooter’s first inclination for passes will be with the forehand to his left side. That bodes well for the fire-breathing winger bombing down the left side.
Just call it the Sleeping Bear Syndrome.
It’s no secret that the fear factor is thrown into the opposition when big No. 17 is playing mean, merciless hockey, and it’s paramount to Boston’s success. Lucic knows that he and his teammates are much better when there’s a certain attitude of aggression among the players. He also hinted that the mounting criticism of the B’s sluggish start might be the exact kind of kindling needed to get their competitive fire going. In short, Lucic needs to lead the way in bringing the rage back out onto the ice for the Bruins.
“It seems like right now we’re getting challenged by all kinds of people that are starting to doubt us,” said Lucic. “I think we should use that to our advantage and go against it. We need to play with that edge and physical presence to be successful. The best thing is for us to be aggressive and initiate it right off the start rather than sit around waiting for somebody to wake us up.”
2. Get the special teams back on track — Julien had a simple explanation when asked what could help out a B’s power play that’s managed success only 13.8 percent (4-for-29) of the time in their first five games. His answer was pretty straightforward and to the point: “Score.” Julien is obviously the kind of straight-shooter that has middle management written all over him, but he’s also got a point.
The Bruins need to score by any means possible on the man-advantage, and that means showing both intelligence and poise with the puck. But it also means showing a little desperation when that’s called for during potential tipping points on the power play. Derek Morris and the first power-play unit helped produce four power play scores in the B’s 7-2 thumping of Carolina, and stressed that they need to return back to what made them so successful in that particular game.
They, in essence, need to “go ugly early” in the man advantage and start hunting out those ugly goal situations. Getting position in tight near the net and redirecting pucks, or simply lurking around the cage wating for rebounds could make all the difference.
“When was the last time you saw us get a tip on a goal? Or get a rebound goal on the power play?” asked Morris. “Defenses are getting so good at blocking shots and getting in the shooting and passing lanes during the power plays, and we have to be a little more patient getting the pucks to our forwards.
“Then when we do get the puck down there, we’ve got to start looking for those ugly goals. Crashing the net and getting to that puck right at the split-second when the opportunity is there.
3. Thomas needs to shake off the slow start — The B’s goaltender isn’t going to admit to being a slow starter, but he hasn’t looked like his Vezina Trophy self during the preseason or first three regular season games behind an admittedly mistake-prone defense. A 4.01 goals-against average and an .868 save percentage are so far below Thomas’ norms that there’s no choice but to believe they’re aberrational. He was miles better than playing in the Dave Lewis system, and that’s truly saying something.
Just about at this exact point last season, Thomas stepped up and play shutdown hockey between the pipes in back-to-back games against the Oilers and the Canucks, and made 58 saves in back-to-back shutouts. The Bruins should be looking for much the same out of Thomas this weekend during their tour of the NHL’s southwestern outposts, and he’s up for the challenge.
“The numbers are a little bit distorted. I didn’t feel as bad as the numbers look in the two games that we lost,” said Thomas, who said he didn’t read anything into Tuukka Rask making back-to-back starts. “I haven’t felt really bad, but I’ve just got bad results. It is what it is. I mean … just … it is what it is. I haven’t seen too many goals allowed by us where you’d say ‘Oh, the goalie is struggling.’ ”
“Look at the patterns over the years. The other goaltender has usually played a lot because I haven’t always played that great at the beginning. I don’t like to get that label. Last year my stats were good, but the team wasn’t winning. During the lockout year, I had five shutouts in my first 10 games. You can’t say that’s the way it is every year.”
|Stuart confirms new position as B’s player rep||10.08.09 at 12:16 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Mark Stuart said it wasn’t official as of Wednesday morning, but confirmed he’ll be stepping into the NHLPA player representative role for the Boston Bruins in the next few weeks. The 25-year-old blueliner is actually one of the longest-tenured B’s going back to his first few rookies game with Boston in 2005-05, and he’ll be replacing veteran defenseman Andrew Ference as acting player rep.
“It’s not official yet, but I think so,” said Stuart, when asked if he was the team’s new player rep. “I’ve been the assistant for a while behind Andy, and he decided to step down. He put in his time and decided he didn’t want to do it anymore. I was the next guy in line.”
Stuart served as the assistant player rep along with Ference last season, and the young defenseman was the logicial first choice when Ference reportedly stepped down from the position this week. Stuart indicated Ference was giving up the post to spend more time with his wife and two children, but the B’s blueliner has also been under a burgeoning level of criticism for his key role in the dismissal of former NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly.
Ference was a part of the NHLPA ad hoc committee that investigated complaints about Kelly last summer, and ultimately made the presentation to the rest of the players before overwhelmingly voting to remove the executive director from his post. There appears to have been several reasons for Kelly’s dismissal — including reading unauthorized minutes from a players-only meeting — but there’s also been a continual stream of unsavory aspects to the swift union action.
According to a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Mark Recchi was poised to run for player rep against Ference after being highly critical of the process leading to Kelly’s firing. When Ference agreed to voluntarily step down from his post, Recchi backed off and Stuart was able to assume the position of player rep.
With all that in mind, the NHLPA is clearly at a crossroads. Mistrust and sabotage seem to be high on the list of adjectives used to describe the NHLPA after the sacking of Kelly, and that’s not exactly a sea change from the union’s past practice. Stuart recognizes that it’s an important time for the hockey player’s union to change both their perception and their process, and readily concedes there’s quite a bit of work ahead.
“Yeah, obviously there’s a lot going on. So it’s important to be informed and to know what’s going on,” said Stuart. “I think for everybody to get involved at some point [would be good] because it’s been kind of a mess as of late.
“It’s interesting to me. I wouldn’t have [taken] the assistant [job] if it didn’t. Stepping into this role means there’s some pretty big shoes to fill, and I need to just inform myself as much as I can. Be a lot more involved.”
There’s the matter of choosing another director to replace Kelly, and serious alterations to the union’s constitution following the ridiculous 3 a.m. setting that served as Kelly’s backdrop for his unceremonious dumping. Further down the hockey road, there’s a Collective Bargaining Agreement set to expire after the 2010-11 season and mandate to avoid another work stoppage at all costs.
One other thing Stuart wanted to confirm: there’s no divide in the Bruins locker room despite some differences of opinion on union matters. The turn of events leading to Ference’s departure and Stuart’s ascension have effectively put to bed any conflict over the issues — and it was reportedly a pretty level-headed conversation between all parties that ultimately led to the NHLPA position changes.
“Andy did some great work for us over the last two years. It’s a big time committment,” said Stuart. “He put in a lot of time over the last two years, and it was mostly about the time. As far as the locker room goes, there’s nothing going on. He stepped down and I’m taking over for him. That’s about it.
“Guys are getting more involved and want to know what’s going on, and I think that’s good. We need to work as a group. My role is like any leader — to be that voice between the guys in the group and the rest of the [NHLPA]. It’s not me just voicing my opinions on issues. It’s me coming to the group, getting their thoughts, forming an opinion as a group and then going from there.”
|Ference unconcerned about union issues in dressing room||09.29.09 at 10:26 am ET|
Ference was one of the key point people in the controversial ouster of NHLPA Executive Director Paul Kelly after a long, late-night advisory board meeting in Chicago last month, and he’s been facing a consistent firing line of tough questions in that aftermath since arriving in Boston for B’s training camp several weeks ago.
The Bruins defenseman joined Matt Stajan, Mike Komisarek and Brad Boyes in forming an investigative subcommittee that interviewed NHLPA office employees and looked into allegations that Kelly had broken the spirit of the NHLPA constitution ‘ and therefore was unfit to lead the body of NHL players. There’s been plenty of details involving the unauthorized acquisition of union meeting minutes and cloak-and-dagger subterfuge to stab Kelly in the back behind the scenes, but — like just about everything in life — there’s seems to be three sides to the situation.
There’s a he said/she said element to the dismissal, of course, but there’s also no denying things were running smoothly under Kelly’s leadership and the NHL was gaining back the popularity it frittered away during the lockout in 2004-05.
The investigation of a Ference-led subcommittee evolved into Kelly’s firing after his largely successful two-year run, and it spurred on the placement of general counsel Ian Penney into an interim leadership position within the players’ union. As with any change of leadership in a position of such high visibility, there’s been plenty of tumult in the aftermath of Kelly’s sacking and the murmurs simply aren’t going away with time. There was an NHLPA-sponsored conference call among players on Monday night to discuss process and actions going forward, and perhaps even a bit of a circle-the-wagons type message.
The pro-Kelly camp claims that the hard-working, no-nonsense, Boston-bred Kelly was railroaded by a group of power-hungry individuals within the union, and that the player reps were hoodwinked into making the ultimate choice of removal.
There were certainly plenty of veteran Bruins players looking for answers to the NHLPA situation when training camp began two weeks ago. The bold move to displace Kelly was another in a long line of borderline embarrassing episodes (Ted Saskin, Alan Eagleson etc.) for the hockey players’ union leadership, and some of Ference’s teammates are clearly upset that such a change in the union’s corner office came without any warning or consultation prior to a bleary-eyed 3 a.m. vote on Aug. 31.
Ference had a closed-door meeting with the rest of his teammates about the Kelly fiasco last week that some sources described as ‘heated’ at points, but the 30-year-old blueliner maintained at Monday’s media day session that the NHLPA issues wouldn’t be affecting the team’s unique chemistry off the ice.
The issues were discussed and differences of opinion were listened to and hashed out, said Ference, but there was clearly a difference of opinion in the way things eventually transpired. There remains a disconnect between the 22 player reps voting to sack Kelly/NHLPA execs still remaining with the union infrastructure, and the rank-and-file players left with the unpleasant feeling that a rug had been pulled out from underneath them without their consent or endorsement.
Ference is doggedly sticking to his guns that the union was justified in dismissing Kelly from its top spot, and that hasn’t been a major talking point among the union’s membership in the B’s locker room.
‘There were questions about the timing of it and whether or not we should have waited until [training] camp and we can have a difference of opinion about that,’ said Ference. ‘It doesn’t mean there’s tension or fighting. But the No. 1 thing that’s misrepresented is about whether or not [Kelly] should have been fired.
‘The guys that have the facts say it’s not about that, we agree that [Kelly] had to go. It’s more about the timing and the decision to do it in Chicago instead of training camp. We have very good reasons for that and why we couldn’t wait and why it had to happen based on that meeting. But those are topics that we bring up and it’s a healthy thing to do. But these tensions within the team are a fictional report by a sports reporter. It’s frustrating to read. We talk about it in the locker room and it’s like ‘Gee, where is this coming from?’ It is what it is and it’s ridiculous. But I guess some guys are just going to write what they want to write.’
There are heavy indications that fellow veteran players ‘ with Mark Recchi chief among them ‘ will toss their names into the running for the B’s player rep position when it comes up for reelection in the next few weeks. There’s clearly ‘ at the very least ‘ a level of unhappiness with the way the process played out leading to the bloodless coup in the NHLPA offices.
It seems that some of the more influential veterans within the league are beginning to stand up and take notice, and there may be big alterations in the offing when election time hits for the player rep population.
Unsolicited, Ference admitted that there was a difference of opinion with 41-year-old veteran forward Mark Recchi when it came down to process and the unfortunate timing of the decision. But the defenseman said there was accordance on the one bottom line subject: that the move on Kelly had to be made by the NHLPA’s voting body.
Other than that, the Bruins defenseman said any union disagreements had zilch to do with chemistry on the ice or good vibes within the Bruins’ dressing room. That, Ference said, was much more fiction than fact as his team sits on the cusp of an NHL regular season with the highest of expectations.
‘We have a reporter out there that’s writing down this stuff and it’s a tad ridiculous,’ said Ference. ‘We have a locker room that’s open and we talk about things, and we can have differences of opinion. But it’s out there and we’re open, and that’s what makes our locker room so open and good.
‘But this stuff about [Recchi] confronting [me], and all this other stuff? Rex and I talked about the issues, and the bottom line is that we both agree that Paul Kelly had to go. That’s the stuff that doesn’t get reported. I don’t know if there’s a slanted perspective or some ulterior thing going when the stuff is being written, but the fact is that we do talk about it. It’s healthy to talk about it and we’re men about it. If there’s an issue then we talk about it, put it out in the open and we have good communication about it. Me and Rex talk about this stuff all the time.’
B’s coach Claude Julien was aware of the differing opinions on union matters within the locker room, but didn’t feel like things were going to affect the on-ice chemistry between players arguing over unfair dismissals or advisory boards.
‘You can ask those guys those kinds of questions, but for you’ve got to be able to separate things,’ said Julien. ‘You have troubles at home then you don’t bring them to the rink with you.’
It remains to be seen if any cracks suddenly appear within Boston’s team foundation, but the B’s players would do well to keep the off-ice union issues exactly where they currently reside: away from the ice.
|Recchi reveals he’ll probably retire after the 2009-10 NHL season||07.03.09 at 1:12 pm ET|
Mark Recchi talked about his one-year, $1 million deal to return to the Boston Bruins for the 2009-10 season on a Friday afternoon conference call, and said that next season in Black and Gold will “probably” be his 21st and final NHL campaign. The veteran doesn’t see his role as being any different next season, and Recchi said he was looking forward to skating with Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew again and playing a role on the B’s power play.
The 41-year-old has a pair of Stanley Cup rings — one with the Pittsburgh Penguins and another with the Carolina Hurricanes — but returned to Boston with the feeling that he may be able to go out of his playing career on top of the hockey world next season. Recchi has authored 545 goals in a Hall of Fame-level career with a handful of NHL teams, and said it was his “first priority” to return to Boston and wrap up some unfinished business with a dressing room full of hungry hockey players.
“I think this is probably going to be it,” said Recchi, who finished with 16 points in 18 games after being traded to the B’s on March 4 last season. “I want to go out and finish it off right by winning another championship and help this team be successful. I’d say this will probably be it. I’ve got my family situation I’ve got to consider and kids I’ve got to consider. It’s been a great run. I think I want to give it one more chance.
“My personal things have all been done in my career, and I’m playing for one more ring. That’s the most important thing for me. The reason I liked Boston is that 99 percent of the guys on that team, I felt, wanted to win that Cup. That’s the most important thing to everybody in that dressing room.”
As I wrote yesterday, the Recchi signing leaves the Bruins with roughly $4.3 million under next season’s $56.8 million salary cap, and B’s GM Peter Chiarelli still has RFAs Phil Kessel and Matt Hunwick to negotiate deals with. It would appear that both can’t be signed — and perhaps not even Kessel alone — with the amount of room left under the cap, and that a deal to trade away an NHL-level player off the Bruins is imminent.
Recchi acknowledged that there is some unknown as to what will eventually happen with Kessel’s future (“a dynamic player” said Recchi), but also sympathized with the tough decisions that Chiarelli is surrounded by amid fiscal limitations.
“It’s tough right now with the salary cap. You build a good team and then you have to let people go or you have to make moves to restock again. It has to be really frustrating for GMs now, but it is what it is. He’s done a tremendous job. I think the biggest thing is that he’s got his goaltender and he’s got the core of his defense settled in and the core of his centermen settled in — which is how you build a franchise.
“If you’ve got those guys then you fit the other pieces all-around and I think he’s going to do a great job of that.”
|Bruins sign Mark Recchi to a one-year, $1 million deal||07.02.09 at 11:51 am ET|
The Bruins welcomed the grit, leadership and scoring touch that 41-year-old Mark Recchi brought with him at last season’s NHL trade deadline, and they’ve decided that he was worth keeping around another year. The B’s signed Mark Recchi on Thursday afternoon to a one-year, $1 million contract that will see the cagey veteran on the wing next season.
Recchi scored 61 points between 80 games with the Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning last season, and the veteran had 10 goals, 6 assists in 18 games after landing in Boston on March 4. He was an inspiration with the fearless way he played in front of the net hunting for pucks and goals, and then added to his reputation when he played in Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes after undergoing surgery to remove painful kidney stones.
The signing — along with the deals given to Steve Begin and Byron Bitz yesterday afternoon — gives the Bruins 12 forwards already under contract with restricted free agent Phil Kessel still unsigned and Vladmir Sobotka expected to threaten for a spot on the team next season. All of this makes it pretty difficult to imagine there being a roster spot held for longtime Bruin P.J. Axelsson, should he fail to find a landing spot elsewhere in the NHL this summer.
By my math, the signings of Bitz, Begin, Recchi plus the cap hit for buying out Peter Schaefer leaves the Bruins with roughly $4.3 million in cap space with the need to sign/or trade both RFAs Phil Kessel and Matt Hunwick. That’s certainly not enough to get both talented young players signed — and doesn’t include the potential cap hit for Johnny Boychuk should he make the team — so obviously something has to give with roster as currently constructed.
|Recchi: returning to ‘Boston is my first choice’||06.27.09 at 3:54 pm ET|
MONTREAL — Boston Bruins winger Mark Recchi was in Montreal for the NHL Draft this weekend, and told the Inside Hockey Radio Show Saturday that the Bruins are his top choice as an unrestricted free agent. B’s GM Peter Chiarelli has also indicated that he’d like to have Recchi back in the Boston fold after showing he’s still got plenty to offer in terms of offense and leadership. It’s expected the Bruins will address Recchi and Boston’s other UFAs after making a decision on RFAs like Phil Kessel, Matt Hunwick and Byron Bitz.
The 41-year-old Recchi scored 61 points all-together in the 2008-09 hockey season, and finished with 10 goals and 6 assists in 18 games for the B’s following the trade deadline. Recchi was a factor on both the power play, and 5-on-5 as a pesky force tipping pucks in front of the net.
‘We talked to Peter and he just left me a message a few minutes ago,” said Recchi to the Inside Hockey Radio Show on Saturday. “The situation with Boston (Chiarelli) has got some things to figure out cap-wise. But Boston is my first choice and I’m going to give them every opportunity in the world to figure things out, so I can go back there. They treated me great after I came there at the trade deadline, and I’m more than willing to give them a little extra time to figure things out.’