|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.”
|How The Bruins Broke The Slump||10.11.09 at 12:42 am ET|
There is a formula for success that works for just about every facet of life you can imagine: K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple, stupid.
This principle is especially pertinent in hockey. If players start pushing too hard, gripping their sticks and getting cute with the offense then there is a good probability that their team will not score. That was essentially the problem with the Bruins for the first 52 minutes in tonight’s 4-3 come-from-behind shoot-out victory over the New York Islanders.
The Bruins ended up with a respectable 30 shots but it took a flurry at the end to get to that point. As of 9:50 in the third period the Bruins had 17 shots with only three in the period. Not a good combination for a team looking to overcome a 3-0 deficit. Until that point the Bruins were flat, had problems controlling the puck and thus sustaining momentum against one of the lesser-skilled teams in the NHL. Read the rest of this entry »
|Lucic ready to remain in Boston ‘a long time’||10.08.09 at 10:02 am ET|
That being said, B’s winger Shawn Thornton told the rookie to forget about taking the veterans out to celebratory dinner. He’s expecting designer watches for all his teammates following the 21-year-old winger’s big contractual score.
“I want watches with that contract,” said Thornton. “Forget about dinner. We want Breitlings.”
All joking and designer watches aside, Lucic made it clear to Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien during last year’s exit interview meetings that he loved Boston. When it came time to think about his NHL future, he didn’t want to play hockey anywhere else. Not even in his hometown of Vancouver where the Canucks — among other NHL teams — would have made a run at the overpowering left winger had he reached restricted free agency.
“He expressed to me that he loved being a Bruin, and that he wanted to a Bruin for a long time,” said the B’s front office man. “I love the way Milan plays. I love the way he carries himself on and off the ice. He’s a very humble person and he deserves this.”
The B’s general manager didn’t immediately jump into extension talks with Lucic, and instead first dealt with David Krejci, Phil Kessel and the rest of his roster-building decisions over the summer. But once the team was solidified and Kessel’s situation was mercifully addressed, the two sides quickly found some mutual ground and finished negotiations on a three-year deal worth $12.25 million.
For Lucic, it’s a hefty reward for throwing his body the last two plus seasons and relishing the physical style that has come to define his game. The hulking forward has enough skill to skate with top-line players, and could end up being an annual 25-goal scorer when it’s all said and done. He’s one of the most ferocious, punishing physical forces in hockey. There aren’t many that combine those two brutish and beautiful skills into one player package, and there isn’t a better place than Boston to incubate such a talent.
What made this such a good fit for Lucic when there might have been a Kessel-esque $5 million plus per year offer sheet waiting for him on July 1?
“My first year here was a great experience for me, and the culture that we created in the room as teammates and the coaching staff wanting us to get better,” said Lucic. “Peter [Chiarelli] wants us to be competitive and be up there with the other three teams in Boston. Just the city itself is such a great sports town, and you want to be a part of that for a long time. I know I do.”
It’s a whopper of a raise for Lucic, who jumps from this season’s rookie salary of $685,000 to the $4 million mark next season, but it also continues a trend of huge second contracts for young NHL stars coming out of their entry-level rookie deals. Chiarelli said the second-contract phenomenon was something he continues to be uncomfortable with, but assured it was a league-wide issue likely to be addressed during the next CBA negotiations.
“Milan has been a very good performer for us. His skill set, his character set and his physicality are all tremendous assets to our organization, and typify what it means to be a Bruin,” said Chiarelli.
Lucic’s contract gives the Bruins roughly $42 million in salary dedicated to next season’s team with plenty of free agents hitting the market next summer. Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart and Tuukka Rask will all be restricted free agents while Marc Savard, Derek Morris, Steve Begin, Andrew Ference and Thornton will all be unrestricted free agents come July 1. Per CBA rules, Chiarelli can negotiate with players like Savard, Ference and Thornton all through the year, but has to wait until Jan. 1 to potentially open talks with Morris and Begin.
Not all of Boston’s free agents will be returning given the expected movement downward of the $56.8 salary cap level for next season.
“It’s a difficult task because not only are you talking about the [RFA’s], but you’re also talking about other guys who are in the last years of their contracts and want to stay here,” said Chiarelli. “It’s not easy. There are a lot of uncertain things that you’re waiting to see happen, so you can plan better. We obviously just went through a lot of this stuff with Phil [Kessel]. I do my best and this is certainly a piece of the puzzle.
“It’s just my day-to-day business. We have to make the tough decisions, and act proactively.”
The pact also allows Chiarelli another round of winnable negotiations with Lucic, who will still be an RFA after the 2013 season when his three-year extension expires. It’ll be interesting to see how close Lucic gets to the hockey idol he’s most closely compared to — Cam Neely — and how his body handles the jarring physical style the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder plays over the next four years.
Savard has skated with Lucic on Boston’s top line for the better part of two years, and sees a young hockey pup that still has plenty of room to grow moving forward in his career.
“He’s your prototypical Bruins, I think,” said Savard. “It’s good for him and organization. They made a big step forward today. He’s a young leader right now and I think he’s going to take bigger steps in that role down the line.
“We’ve talked about [Lucic’s upside] a lot. I’m always going to push him for more, and I know he wants more. He’s always hungry and he always wants to help the team win. He wants to produce every night, and I think that’s a bonus. He’s a big guy for somebody to be taking them under their wing, but I’ve definitely taken him under my wing. I’d like to be here with him to continue watching him grow.”
With Lucic now in the books through the 2012-13 season, it might just be Savard’s turn to make a big contract announcement over the next few months. There’s no telling what Thornton will expect for gifts if that deal ever comes to fruition.
|Milan Lucic on D&H, 10/7||10.07.09 at 7:30 pm ET|
When did you start talking about contracts?
During the preseason, right around the start of camp. Peter [Chiarelli] came up to me and we had a little meeting. We talked about extending and staying here. It all started last year during our year-end meetings. I had a meeting with Peter and I talked to him and told him I wanted to be a Bruin for a long time and it was my goal to stick around in Boston. Because it’s such a great organization. I love playing at the TD Garden and playing in front of the Bruins fans because they’ve been so great. I’ve grown to love this city and I just love being here, everything about it.
Was it an easy negotiation?
It went pretty smoothly. I think both parties came to an agreement pretty well. In the end we’re both happy, we’re both thrilled, we’re both excited and that’s the main thing.
Were you worried about it being a distraction?
Maybe, a lot of guys tend to think about it a little too much, when it’s a contract year. It’s always sticking in the back of your head. You’re always thinking about it. But now that it’s over for me I don’t have to think about it anymore and I can just go out there and play and help the team win.
|Lucic Signs Three-Year Extension||10.06.09 at 5:35 pm ET|
The Bruins issued the following press release about the three-year extension to which they signed Milan Lucic, which will keep the bruising power forward under team control through the 2012-13 season. ESPN is reporting that the deal is worth $12.25 million.
Boston Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli announced today that the club has signed forward Milan Lucic to a three-year contract extension through the 2012-13 NHL season. Per club policy, financial terms of the deal will not be disclosed.
The 21-year-old Lucic set career highs in all major statistical categories last year after recording 17 goals and 25 assists for 42 points, in addition to tallying 136 penalty minutes and a +17 rating. He netted his first career hat trick and a career-best four points on October 25, 2008, after a 3-1=4 performance against the Atlanta Thrashers.
During the 2008-09 postseason, the 6’3’’ 228-pound winger had three goals and six assists and a team best +12 plus/minus rating in 10 games. In his rookie year in 2007-08, Lucic registered 8-19=27 totals and 89 penalty minutes in 77 contests. Lucic earned the team’s ‘Seventh Player Award’ for his efforts, an award voted on by the fans and given to the Bruin who performs above and beyond expectations. He also contributed two goals in seven postseason games.
Lucic has skated in both games during the 2009-10 season and has notched one assist and five penalty minutes.
He was invited to – and participated in – Canada’s National Men’s Team Orientation Camp this past August, in advance of the 2010 Olympic Winter Games and 2010 IIHF World Championship. The 2010 Olympic Winter Games will be played in Lucic’s hometown of Vancouver, British Columbia.
Originally drafted by the Bruins in the second round (50th overall) of the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Lucic helped the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League capture the 2007 Memorial Cup Championship.
|Big Looch is back at Bruins practice||at 11:10 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Milan Lucic is skating free and easy without any trace of a limp on the top line along with Marc Savard and Marco Sturm in Tuesday morning’s Bruins practice at Ristuccia Arena. Big Looch missed Monday’s session with a non-hockey related issue that was essentially a tiny facial abrasion that got slightly infected, and was addressed medically Monday. The original bump on his kisser wasn’t sustained playing hockey, and Lucic is back on the ice Tuesday morning.
The “personal day” for Lucic had nothing to do with his legs or his right punching hand. Both were thrown out as speculation after Lucic abused Jay Harrison in a bloody brawl Saturday night during their win over the Carolina Hurricanes. But neither theory was the actual case with Lucic, who appears good to go against the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night.
–The Boston Bruins/Carolina Hurricanes fight-filled Saturday night opener for NESN earned a 3.9 household rating, which marks the network’s highest rated season-opening broadcast in 25 years of covering the Bruins. NESN’s 3.9 rating was also the highest average household rating recorded in the Boston DMA (designated market area) during the game’s 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm window, beating all other broadcasts and cable networks during that time period.
The network’s previous high rating for a season opening broadcast came during a Bruins 2-1 win over the New York Rangers on January 23, 1995 when the network earned a 3.8 rating for its first broadcast coming out of a lockout shortened season.
|Lucic not present at Bruins practice||10.05.09 at 2:37 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Bruising Bruins winger Milan Lucic wasn’t present at practice Monday morning at Ristuccia Arena, but the 21-year-old winger wasn’t missing in action as a result of the fight-filled action against the Hurricanes. B’s coach Claude Julien confirmed following practice that it was a non-hockey related situation, and Lucic will be back practicing with the team Tuesday.
A Bruins source confirmed that the issue had nothing to do with his right punching hand or either of his legs — amid swirling reports that the big winger was seen limping out of the building Saturday night — and it was truly a very minor situation. Matt Hunwick, who bounced between defenseman and forward last season, replaced Lucic on the left wing skating with Marc Savard and Marco Sturm on Boston’s top line during practice.
If it were something more serious with Lucic, clearly the Bruins would have reconfigured the lines or called Vladimir Sobotka back up from Providence to rejoin the team. Neither of those things happened, and the lean, mean B’s fighting machine will be back in the practice fold tomorrow preparing for Thursday night against the Anaheim Ducks.
“He was excused for non-hockey related, personal issues,” said Julien. “He’ll be back tomorrow.”
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