|Byron Bitz playing big for the Bruins in victory||02.24.09 at 11:10 pm ET|
Even the most accomplished puck soothsayer might have had a difficult time predicting the Garden crowd of 16,781 would be chanting a chorus of ”We Want Bitz” in the waning minutes of last night’s Bruins/Panthers tilt.
But that’s exactly what happened in the strange but true world of the Boston Bruins.
The brawny rookie winger from Saskatchewan banged home a pair of lamp-lighters but couldn’t snare the elusive third for the natural hat trick in Boston’s 6-1 triumph over a cagey Panthers crew at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.
“It was amazing,” said Bitz, who clearly didn’t bask in the adulation of 17,000 chanting fans when he was skating for Cornell. “It meant a lot. Everyone on the bench (was chanting along) and it was a lot of fun. It was just one of those nights.”
The evening was a bit of microcosm for the no holds barred, physical nature that the 24-year-old has brought to the table since getting called up Boston on Jan. 10. While flashier puck talents like Vladimir Sobotka, Martins Karsums and Matt Lashoff have bounced up and down the ”Lou Merloni Turnpike” between the Providence Baby B’s and Boston, Bitz has found a way to stick and carved out a pretty hefty-sized niche for himself on Boston’s fourth line.
“We were getting to the net very well,” said Bitz. “Shots were getting through. With my size, it’s to my advantage to get (to the net). (To be) a big body in front. To get in front of the goalie and take his vision away is a big part of my game.”
Last night, the B’s were holding on to a one-goal lead in the second period, and hadn’t really pulled away from a Panthers team that looks like they could be a handful for higher-seeded teams come Stanley Cup playoff time. The Black and Gold were clearly seeking a spark, and that’s exactly what they received from the energetic Bitz when he redirected a puck thrown in front of the net by heady veteran Stephane Yelle.
The under-the-radar Yelle simply threw the puck straight at the net from the left sideboards, and Bitz tipped the biscuit straight up past the crossbar and clean off the netting. The puck hit the twine and shot right back outside of the goal, but it was immediately ruled a score without any need to consult with the Great NHL Wizard Behind the Curtain in Toronto.
With less than five minutes to go in the second period, the energy restoration following Bitz’s second goal of the season was palpable. The B’s were buzzing with a little more room to operate courtesy of the two-goal advantage, and the floodgates opened for three more third period goals.
Fourth-liners Yelle, Bitz and Shawn Thornton have been playing consistently solid, responsible, blue-collar hockey over the last few weeks, and actually logged more respective ice time minutes (43 minutes, 15 seconds) last night than the newly reunited trio of David Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder ( 42 minutes, 17 seconds).
It’s obvious that Bitz has been welcomed as a bruising part of the Bruins team and isn’t likely to be going anywhere, any time soon, and coach Claude Julien even hints that there may be some untapped scoring potential in Big Bitzy’s power game.
“Not only does he bring his size and strength along the boards, he’s been solid. But I think he’s a guy that with confidence and with experience you are going to see him probably score more goals. That’s what he demonstrated a little bit of that tonight,” said Julien. “But he’s still here because he deserves to be here and… we haven’t gotten away from what we’ve been saying all along.
“If you deserve to be here, it doesn’t matter if you are a free agent, first round or seventh round pick, you’re going to play here and right now he’s shown us that he belongs in our lineup and as long as he does that, he is going to stay there.”
So what was Bitz planning on doing last night after hearing his name screamed in adulation by Bruins Nation, and subsequently basking in the glow of his first two-goal game in the NHL? Bitz was going to Shawn Thornton’s house in Charlestown, naturally, and planning on enjoying some of Thornton’s wife’s cooking.
Not quite DisneyWorld, but certainly something that’s been a key to the big lug’s success.
Injury Ward: No major injuries to speak of. But on a completely unrelated topic, there was a decent middleweight bout between Chuck Kobasew and Keith Ballard. It would have been even better if both players were without the visors that pretty much defeat the purpose of scrapping in the first place. The fight was certainly more passion than premeditation.
Player of the Game: Without question, Bitz was the man of the hour last night. In a time during the B’s season when both Julien and GM Peter Chiarelli have been preaching for players to get more involved around the dirty areas of the ice, Bitz picked up a grimy tip in front of the net and banged home a long rebound of a Yelle shot on a nice hustle play in the third period.
Goat Horns: Krejci has been very inconsistent as of late, and was banged around pretty hard by the Panthers defense last night. The high-end talent skated 17 shifts, didn’t register a point or a shot on net, lost 7 of his 11 faceoff draws and his line was shut down for the most part last night. The effort seems to be there with Krejci, but a few good bounces would take some of the pressure off.
Turning Point: Bitz was obviously the turning point in the game, but Michael Ryder’s return to the lineup offers what could be a quasi-turning point for Boston’s stretch run over the last quarter of the season. Ryder cashed in on a power-play goal, and immediately gives the PP unit a finisher around the net that makes them all kinds of dangerous. He adjusted well to the face shield, and definitely had a little extra hop in his step. Ryder also helped set up Mark Stuart’s first period goal that built Boston their 2-1 lead after the first period.
“I think when you are ready for so long and you come back, you always are a little more pumped up for the first game,” said Ryder, who finished with a goal and an assist and two shots on net. “I think this game and last week helped a lot. After a couple of shifts, I felt good out there.”
|Matt Hunwick, Vladimir Sobotka sent down to Providence||at 9:43 am ET|
Rookie defenseman Matt Hunwick and forward Vladimir Sobotka, both healthy scratches in Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay, were sent down to the Providence Bruins on Tuesday morning.
Hunwick and Sobotka will both play in Providence’s game tonight, and Hunwick is expected to be called back up to Boston on Wednesday to rejoin the team. Hunwick has only played one game during the month of February, and hasn’t played since Feb. 7 against the Philadelphia Flyers. The B’s were looking for a spark from both David Krejci and Vladimir Sobotka when they put the two forwards together for a series of games, but his play didn’t warrant him staying with Michael Ryder returning to the lineup.
Here’s the official release from the Bruins:
Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced today that the club has assigned defenseman Matt Hunwick and forward Vladimir Sobotka to the Providence Bruins (American Hockey League). Both are expected to play in Providence’s game tonight against the Manchester Monarchs at 7:00 p.m. ET, while Hunwick is expected to be recalled and rejoin the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.
Hunwick saw action in 38 games this year for Boston and has recorded 3-12=15 totals and a +9 plus/minus rating. He was a healthy scratch in the Bruins’ last six games. Hunwick appeared in two games for the P-Bruins this season, registering two assists.
Spending the majority of the 2007-2008 season in Providence, Hunwick posted 2-21-23 totals in 55 games. He was recalled to Boston on four separate occasions last year and tallied one assist in 13 games. The University of Michigan graduate was drafted by the Bruins in the seventh round (224th overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
Sobotka has played in 23 games for Boston during the 2008-2009 season and recorded 1-3=4 totals. In 25 games with the P-Bruins this year, Sobotka tallied 12 goals and 15 assists. He split the 2007-2008 season between Boston and Providence. With Boston, he saw action in 48 regular season games and contributed one goal and six assists and added two goals in six postseason games. With Providence last year, he had 10-10=20 totals in 18 regular season games and added four assists over six postseason games.
Sobotka was originally drafted by the Bruins in the 4th round (106th overall) in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft.
The Bruins begin a six-game homestand when they host the Florida Panthers tonight, February 24, at 7:00 p.m. ET at the TD Banknorth Garden.
Fans interested in learning more about Boston Bruins players, or ticket options, should visit the team website at www.bostonbruins.com or call 617.624.BEAR.
|Michael Ryder expected back in the lineup tomorrow night||02.23.09 at 2:20 pm ET|
Michael Ryder, out the last the seven games with multiple facial fractures, is expected back into the Bruins lineup tomorrow night against the Florida Panthers, according to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli. The winger practiced with the team throughout their just concluded four game road trip, and has been allowed to keep his conditioning close to game-level. Ryder is expected to wear a protectice cage or visor when he does return to the ice.
“My guess is that — and it’s a guess right now, but it’s an educated guess — is that he’ll be in the lineup for tomorrow,” said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli in an NHL-sponsored conference call this afternoon.
|Michael Ryder gets back on the ice with the Bruins||02.16.09 at 5:19 pm ET|
Injured Bruins winger Michael Ryder returned to the practice ice on Monday afternoon and took part in his first on-ice drills with the team since getting hit in the face with a high stick vs. the Ottawa Senators back on Feb. 5. Ryder suffered significant injuries to the nose and sinus areas of his face that ultimately required surgery. To protect himself during practice, Ryder skated with the team wearing a facial cage similar to the ones used by college hockey players and also confirmed that he’ll be wearing a protective visor for the rest of the season. The doctors described the facial injury as something akin to a “crushed egg-shell”.
Ryder estimated he is roughly 2-3 weeks away from returning to game action as he regains his “wind” following the inactivity. Ryder also said he’ll travel with the team through Carolina, Tampa and Florida and continue practicing with the team while he heals.
“It was good to be back on the ice with the team,” said Ryder, who said the cage would take some getting used to for breathing and sight purposes. “(The injury) felt good enough to get back out and skate. I was lucky that it wasn’t my eye. That was a major concern.
“You’ve seen a lot of guys get hit there and it can be really bad damage, so I’m just fortunate that it’s only a fracture and that it’s going to heal,” added Ryder.
|Michael Ryder will miss 2-3 weeks with sinus/orbital fractures||02.10.09 at 2:08 pm ET|
The Bruins got some good news on the Michael Ryder injury front this morning. The right wing will be out just 2-3 weeks as he recovers from surgery on Monday to repair damage to area around the sinus and orbital bones between his eyes. According to Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli, Ryder will be back up working out on the bike in the next two or three days and ready to play right around/before the March 4 trade deadline.
“He had three small fractures in the bridge of the nose, around the orbital (bone),” Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said at morning skate Tuesday morning. “He had surgery (Monday) evening. Surgery was successful. He had three small plates put in. He’s home now. He’ll be back in two-to-three weeks and back riding a bike in two-to-three days.”
Chiarelli said that the circumstances surrounding the Ryder injury haven’t really affected trade talks one way or the other, and that the B’s GM isn’t very deep in discussions on any potential deals around the NHL.
“It’s not as bad as first expected,” said Chiarelli. “If (other teams) detect a weakness then the price will go up. In most cases when we’ve had discussions it’s not really possible to backtrack once you get that deep into discussions.”
With less than a month to go to the March 4 NHL trade deadline, however, Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli indicated that he isn’t close to finalizing any deals despite the trade rumors heating up in recent weeks. The B’s have been linked most prominently to potential trades for Edmonton Oilers winger Erik Cole and St. Louis Blues forward Keith Tkachuk, but the team continues to wait before pulling the trigger on deal that will bring the team additional size, strength and grit up front.
Both are left-handed shots, potential power play performers and fit many of the profiles that the B’s have been searching for to compliment a team that has shown all kinds of Stanley Cup potential over their first 50 plus games.
“I’m not that deep into discussions…I’m just speaking generally here,” added Chiarelli. “If we can get bigger, that is something that we’d like to do.”
Tim Thomas is expected to get the start in net when the NHL-leading Bruins host Joe Thornton and the Western Conference leaders San Jose tonight at the Garden at 7 p.m. Colleague Mike Petrags has some great sound up from the media meeting with Jumbo Joe this morning in the Sharks dressing room, and Thornton — as expected — said he was happy to be back in the familiar city of Boston where he can raid his favorite restaurants and check in with his brother that still lives in the Hub.
–Lasting image from this morning’s skate aside from the expected Jumbo Joe madness: WBZ-TV’s Steve Burton gallivanting through the Bruins locker room and accidentally stomping on a group of Milan Lucic’s expensive hockey sticks as he was swooping in on a group interview. Looch stopped without missing a beat, said to Burton “Yeah, you might want to try not doing that” and then went right back to awaiting group of questioners.
Not quite a “Curt, Curt…I need you” moment, but certainly another chapter in the Book of Burton.
|Michael Ryder undergoes surgery for orbital fracture||02.09.09 at 12:39 pm ET|
Bruins coach Claude Julien confirmed this morning that injured winger Michael Ryder is undergoing surgery today to repair a fractured orbital bone after getting whacked with a high stick last week. Julien said he didn’t know when Ryder would be able to return from the injury, and also said that the right wing wearing a “visor” or a “cage” on his helmet would be a “no-brainer.”
Hard to gauge exactly how long Ryder will be out for: Vancouver Canucks defenseman Sami Salo broke his orbital bone in Nov. 2007 and was back in the lineup three weeks later — while Mats Sundin missed exactly a month with the same injury in 2005-06.
Julien had Petteri Nokelainen skating on the right wing with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler during practice this morning/afternoon, but — as it always the case with any coach worth his salt — reserved the right to change his mind and shake up the lines. The B’s bench boss also seemed to cast doubt on the injury necessitating a call-up from Providence in the next few days — a sign that perhaps Julien feels Matt Hunwick can again play forward if more bodies go down when the team takes a four-game trek through the Sun Belt.
“It’s always a big loss when you lose players that are scoring goals for you, or an offensive threat,” said Julien. “He’s just one of them, but we’ve always eliminated the excuses and had guys step in from the beginning of the year and do the job.”
Updated: The surgery to repair Michael Ryder’s facial fracture was completed this afternoon, and Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli will address the media during tomorrow’s morning skate to discuss the surgery and the timetable for his return. Two prominent NHL players that suffered the same orbital-type injury over the last three years have been out 3-4 weeks, but there’s been no specific return date placed on the injured right winger as of yet
|Michael Ryder not present at B’s practice||at 11:37 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Felled right winger Michael Ryder is absent at the current Bruins practice taking place at Ristuccia Arena, and we’re all still waiting for word concerning his facial (orbital) fracture and just how long he’ll be out with the injury. Orbital bone injuries normally require surgery to repair, but Ryder also could be fitted with a cage over his helmet to protect his face as he recovers from any potential procedures or waits for the problem to heal.
B’s forwards are working on three-man cycling drills in one corner of the ice while the D-Men are firing slapshots from the left and right points and aiming them through a series of three orange cones designed to represent players looking to block shots. some of the D-men are having a much easier time with the drill than others, though I haven’t seen anyone drop their sticks and do push-ups after hitting one of the traffic cones.
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