|Bruins are looking to avoid past “skinny times”||04.07.09 at 12:09 am ET|
WILMINGTON — With nothing left to clinch during the regular season aside from the prestigious President’s Trophy, the Bruins are now strictly in pre-playoff mode designed to get the hockey club as healthy and sharp — both physically and mentally — as possible when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin roughly a week-and-a-half from now.
Achieving optimal levels heading into the playoffs involve continuing to play hard, focused Bruins hockey over the season’s final four games — with one against a playoff caliber team in the Montreal Canadiens and three versus teams in Ottawa, Buffalo and the New York Islanders that are simply playing out the string at this point. The Black and Gold are rolling with a six-game winning streak that’s returned balanced offense, responsible gritty defense and a little of the nasty snarl that was a hallmark of the B’s when they were at their level-best.
The team-wide message was that there’s no need to mess with that kind of mojo by lifting their collective feet off the gas pedal. All four lines — and three D pairings — have stacked up physically dominant and point-productive shifts, and the worse possible move could be a step or two away from the flow and intensity that’s revived their game.
“You run into something where if you start to play apprehensive, then that’s when you get into trouble,” said Aaron Ward. “You run into problems if you start trying to back off while you’re playing. You can’t really play a game when you’re trying to keep it safe. You’ve got to play with the same kind of intentions that you’ve had through most of the regular season.
“Look at the momentum that you get from the Recchi, Bergeron and Kobasew line when they just totally crash into the zone,” added Ward. “It’d be foolish for them to step off the gas pedal now. They’re so effective out there and they’re going to maintain that level of play. Same for everybody else. If anything was shown to us during our ‘skinny times’ it was that you can’t just turn it on.”
Clinching the one seed also gives the Bruins a unique opportunity to shuttle players in and out of the lineup over the final four games, and mete out enough rest to have every player as close to 100 percent as possible when that playoff bell starts ringing.
Aaron Ward was given a day off Saturday against the New York Rangers with an injury suffered against the Tampa Bay Lightning, but he’s expected to be back in the lineup Tuesday. Phil Kessel and Shawn Thornton were both likewise given ample time last week to rest injury issues leading up to the playoffs — and both are expected in the lineup Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. Likewise, both P.J. Axelsson and Dennis Wideman are getting their turn this week and will have maintenance-type days off against Ottawa on Tuesday night.
“As we go through the week we’ll go through all the stuff that (the media) is talking about whether you rest players or you bring up players (from Providence),” said B’s bench boss Claude Julien. “Those are things that are without a doubt on our agenda.
“Right now we’re in control. Last year until the second-to-last game we were in control of our own destiny, but we didn’t have a spot locked up,” added Julien. “Right now we’re watching all our (potential playoff opponents) and doing our best to prepare. We’re doing our homework.”
The one injury problem of note is Andrew Ference, who left Saturday’s game in the second period and was still being evaluated by Bruins medical people Monday afternoon prior to the team’s departure for the friendly Canadian capital of Ottawa. Losing Ference for any extended period of time would be a blow to the Bruins defensemen depth, but the trade for Steve Montador — along with the ascendant rise of the speed-skating Matt Hunwick — give Julien some options when rounding out any potential Ference-less lineups.
|A good day for Thomas, but what about the B’s?||04.03.09 at 10:04 am ET|
So Tim Thomas is now in the fold for four more years at roughly $5 million per season.
It’s certainly more than justified on several levels after two straight All-Star seasons and a likely Vezina Trophy-worthy piece of work this winter that’s primed the Killer B’s for a run at the Cup. The 34-year-old goaltender is, after all, a rousing success story after kicking around anonymous hockey spots like the unforgettable Detroit Vipers of the IHL and Karpat in the Finnish Elite League. Thomas spent more than five years riding buses and team-hopping before finally getting his “shot” with a Boston Bruins club that wasn’t much more than a pile of hockey wreckage in 2005-06. Thomas flourished amid a generally lousy situation, though, and he hasn’t looked back while entertaining Bruins Nation with his athletic, unyielding , original style between the pipes. Thomas is a blue collar Flint, Michigan product through and through, and he fits the Big, Bad B’s mold to a ‘T’.
But there’s obviously a big “but” in there, and we ain’t talkin’ the Larry Fitzgerald kind either.
In the brave new salary cap world of the NHL it is dangerous to dole out big cap numbers to players based primarily on past performance rather than future yield, and Thomas is approaching his 35th birthday this month. That seems to have been the impetus behind the deal, as inking it before his April 15 birthday allows the Bruins to potentially buy out the pact if Thomas suffers a serious decline in performance over the next three seasons — or suffers a chronic injury that saps away at his ability to function as the franchise-type goaltender he’s now being paid to be.
Many “hockey pundits”, myself included, thought that something in the $3-4 million range was reasonable and good value for a soon-to-be 35-year netminder that’s finally found a home — and a payday — after essentially serving as the posterboy for the “Have Pads, Will Travel” set over the last decade. But a three-year deal in the $5 mill per annum range blows that “good value” figure out of the water, and puts Thomas in some pretty rarefied air within the world of goaltenders. Thomas will have to continue performing at an elite level until he’s 38 years-old to “earn” the cap hit.
Thomas is now much more than a simple rousing underdog story after packing up and moving into the same neighborhood as puckstopping elite like 32-year-old Mikka Kiprusoff ($5.8 per year), 33-year-old Marty Turco ($5.7 per year). 32-year-old Tomas Vokoun ($5.7 per year), 36-year-old Martin Brodeur ($5.2 per year) and 33-year-old Evgeny Nabokov ($5.3 per year). All perennial All-Star goaltenders in their thirties, and all of them without highly-paid, touted backups like Tuukka Rask waiting in the wings. $5 million goalies don’t need highly paid backups and certainly don’t split time with their understudy, and a hockey team really can’t function fiscally with two moneybag netminders clogging up the cash flow.
So while Thomas now has the fiscal security and job guarantee that he’s never before enjoyed in his multi-uniformed hockey career, the contact extension raises as many questions as it does answers with regard to the post-playoff run Bruins of next year.
Thomas and Manny Fernandez combined to earn roughly $5.3 million this season as a goaltending duo, and it was expected that the B’s might be able to save and scrimp on their goaltending account going forward with so many pivotal contract questions heading into the offseason. The current $56.7 salary cap is expected to decrease by more than $2 million next season, and now the Bruins potentially have as much as $8 million plus tied up into goaltenders next season if both Thomas and Rask ($3.25 million if he hits all contract bonuses) are suited up in Spoked B sweaters and on the books.
Simply put, you can’t sink that kind of money into goaltending and then hope to sign restricted free agents like Phil Kessel, David Krejci and Matt Hunwick — and keep the current Cup-worthy team intact for another run at it again next season.
Something has to give.
This is why Phil Kessel’s name was mentioned in trade discussions prior to the March trade deadline, and this is why you’ll hear some shocking names — those of Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew most assuredly — available this summer before salary cap hell commences over the next two seasons. It’s also why you may hear Rask’s name enter the trade talk fray with restricted free agency approaching after next season, and the B’s now making a pretty ironclad commitment to Thomas.
It’s not a given that — given the salary cap climate and the current state of both the American and Canadian economy — Thomas would have received a three-year, $5 million plus offer out on the open market — a place where it appears that a market correction may be in the offing as it was in the world of baseball this offseason. If the B’s had waited until this summer, it’s possible that they could have saved themselves as much as a million on the all-important salary cap hit.
Instead the Bruins locked in the Tank and have chosen their franchise goaltender for the foreseeable future. The question now is: What is the team around him going to look like beginning next season follwing this spring’s blissful playoff run?
It ultimately might not be an answer that Bruins Nation wants to hear.
|Kessel out this weekend with “undisclosed injury”||03.27.09 at 11:37 am ET|
WILMINGTON — Just when it seemed that the Bruins were enjoying a full complement of healthy, productive skaters, winger Phil Kessel will be out for this weekend’s two games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Philadelphia Flyers with “an undisclosed injury”.
“He’s not going to play this weekend,” said B’s coach Claude Julien, who wouldn’t answer questions as to whether this is an ongoing injury or something the 21-year-old would play through in the upcoming playoffs. “We’re going to assess it as an undisclosed injury that will be reassessed next week. We feel at this stage it’s better to be cautious rather than reckless and we’re going to give him the weekend off.”
Kessel took a big hit against the boards courtesy of Columbus defender Jan Hejda back in a March 10 loss that appeared to hurt his shoulder, but Kessel returned to that game in the third period and hadn’t missed any games since the Blue Jackets game. It’s unknown if this “undisclosed injury” has anything to do with that particular hit or with his shoulder. Kessel had scored 4 goals and 2 assists in the five games since that night against the Blue Jackets, so it wouldn’t appear that the right shoulder was bothering him.
|Julien: Bruins need to get going in “right direction”||03.17.09 at 1:00 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — With only two games scheduled over the next 10 days for the Boston Bruins — including a pretty big statement tilt against the New Jersey Devils this Sunday afternoon — the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins jumped back onto the practice ice this morning with something of a scrimmage feel.
The players were working on four-on-four drills and head-to-head matchups designed to raise the compete level and give off the vibe of an actual game, perhaps the best use of the time without a game until Thursday night against the Los Angeles Kings at the Garden.
“We need to fine tune ourselves, get some rest and get going in the right direction,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I think our team play is what’s suffering the most right now. If we get the team back on track then the standings will take care of themselves.
“It’s about getting our team to play as well as it can right now,” added Julien. “The thing that I see from watching our games is that the effort being deployed isn’t a poor effort. But it can appear like that at times when it’s not done properly. I thought our guys competed hard, but didn’t compete well and it resulted in penalties and scoring chances against. The slot opportunities that the (Penguins) had against us was as (many) as I’ve seen us ever give. It’s about a commitment to playing our game, and fine-tuning that part of it.”
–Winger Phil Kessel was given a maintenance day off where he was at Ristucca Arena but didn’t see the ice. Everybody else was present and accounted for in the Boston lineup for the skate after an off-day on Monday.
–Julien agreed that defenseman Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman have been part of a group of Bruins players that have perhaps attempted to do too much during the Black and Gold’s recent stretch of treading hockey water. During the month of March, Big Z has a goal and 5 assists, but is also an Chara-like -2 in 8 games while Wideman — who really had a poor game against the Penguins in giving up the puck that led to the first goal, heading to the box for a penalty that created a 5-on-3 and having a shot from the point blocked that directly led to another Pens goal — has 2 assists and a +/- of zero over those very same eight March hockey games.
Chara has been -3 in two games since the beginning of March (losses to both the Flyers and Penguins) since not posting that bad a +/- since Opening Night against the Colorado Avalanche way back in October — a period of time when the towering defenseman was still regaining form after offseason shoulder surgery.
Julien didn’t see a pair of blueliners that were injured or really worn out by the considerable ice time they’ve logged this season, but instead talked about a pair of good players getting out of their respective “games”.
“I don’t think it’s got anything to do with the minutes played. There are a lot of D playing minutes like that. It’s more about those guys trying to do too much and forcing too much. When you have a team trying to gain consistency, you’ll have guys that are attempting to do more thinking they’re going to help the team.
“And it just makes it worse,” added Julien. “This is a good time to take a step back and simplify your game and give it that type of effort for 60 minutes. Simple and consistent, and that will help us find our game again.”
—Marc Savard wasn’t going there when asked about the war of words between himself and Pittsburgh Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby on Sunday afternoon that supposedly escalated to Sid the Kid taking off his face shield mid-game in anticipation of dropping the gloves with Savard. Perhaps it was simply something wrong with the visor — a scratch perhaps — that caused Crosby to take the protectice visor, but he was clearly playing without it later in period.
Savard said there was a little chirping between himself and Crosby, but nothing more.
“Well, it was just chirping you know … whatever,” said Savard. “There was nothing there. I don’t even want to talk about it.”
|Sounds of the game… Bruins 2, Islanders 1||03.14.09 at 4:07 pm ET|
Anyone who watched Phil Kessel play the first half of this season knows how integral he was to the success of the Bruins.
His coach took the occasion of his 30th goal on Saturday during Boston’s 2-1 win over the Islanders to remind him of just that.
“He’s what you saw tonight, a game-breaker,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Phil is the type of player that, when he’s on his game with his speed, his shot, his skill level, he can certainly be a game-breaker type of player.
And everyone in the Will McDonough Press Room at the Garden knew there was a ‘but’ coming.
“Having said that, when he doesn’t compete the way he’s been competing the way he’s been competing lately, he’s a player that doesn’t bring as much to the table,” Julien continued. “This is what you need from guys like Phil, and from young players, to be able to develop into being better players, bringing a compete level, night-in and night-out.”
Talk about laying it on the line and not mincing words. Julien clearly wants his team to be ready for April, May and hopefully beyond. And he realizes he needs his young talented players to be prepared for the intensity that awaits them.
Kessel, who became the first Bruins 30-goal scorer since teammate Patrice Bergeron scored 31 in 2005-06, scored No. 30 and Boston’s first goal in the first period. Then, just 65 seconds later, he fed a beautiful pass to Marc Savard for the second Bruins goal.
‘It’s a nice milestone,” Kessel said of reaching 30 goals. “(I have) a lot to attribute to my teammates and the linemates I’ve been playing with this year. They find me quite a bit, so I’m fortunate to be playing with some good hockey players this year.’
Another milestone came in the form of Tim Thomas‘ 30th win, matching his career best of 06-07. Julien said it was nice to see Thomas back in form on Saturday.
Other audio nuggets from Saturday.
|Streaking Kessel factors into B’s 2-1 lead||at 1:11 pm ET|
Kessel had the main assist with a nice dish on Savard’s goal, and has factored in Boston’s last four goals scored dating back to Thursday night’s 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators. The first period snipe was Kessel’s 30th goal of the season — the first the 21-year-old has reached that plateau and the first 30-goal scorer for the Black and Gold this season.
10:51: Uncommon matching penalties for both teams with a hooking penalty on the Islanders’ defenseman Bruno Gervais a boston bench slap for too many men on the ice.
9:35: That, folks, is why Islanders defenseman Mark Streit is an All-Star and why Montreal misses him so much on their backline this year. He just took a one-man rush through the entirety of the B’s defense, faked Zdeno Chara out of his skates and then popped one over Tim Thomas to put the Isles on the board.
5:50: Near misses by Milan Lucic and David Krejci as they both threw pucks through the crease behind goalie Yann Danis, but Hillen managed to get a stick on Krejci’s poke and the puck subsequntly bounced off the crossbar and back out. After a very brief review, it was ruled “no goal”.
2:29: Solid snap glove save from Thomas on a long Richard Park shot from the left point. A good example of what Timmy does best when he has a clear view of the puck.
1:25: Another too many men on the ice penalty. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy.
The Bruins lead the Islanders 2-1 after two periods of play.
|Kessel and Krejci offer hope for B’s fortunes||03.12.09 at 10:44 pm ET|
The dynamic duo is intrinsically linked to the Bruins’ ultimate playoff hopes once the regular season curtain drops, and the grinding dress rehearsal ramps up into the operatic Stanley Cup playoff production.
Just call it the ballet of banging bodies and broken blades.
Kessel the finisher and Krejci the creator, as they might be known once playoff glory is potentially theirs this spring, have been knee-deep in the malaise that seems to have plagued the Black and Gold hockey club over the last five weeks.
But things changed last night after B’s coach Claude Julien played the mixed and match game with the skating lines, and both finisher and creator factored heavily into a 5-3 Boston win over the Ottawa Senators at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.
Kessel banged in his 28th and 29th goals of the season, including the game-winner on an excellent use of his blazing speed up the right side of the ice and an empty-netter that finally iced the game with a little less than a minute to go in the third period.
Sure the Bruins looked sloppy and perhaps even a bit timid in portions of the second and third period against a Sens team scheduled to be teeing it on the links once the playoff gauntlet begins, but the triumph once again banks the B’s some valuable points at a time when they’re desperately needed.
For Kessel, his mere presence on the frozen sheet in the waning minutes of a one-goal game speaks to the reservoir of confidence that the 21-year-old winger is again building up with Bruins bench boss Claude Julien. The former first round pick’s compete level has elevated to a higher ground over the last three games, he’s doggedly battling for pucks and playing tougher along the wall, and last night his effort was rewarded with a pair of good, old-fashioned lamp-lighters.
“I feel like I’ve had a lot of chances over the last little bit that I haven’t finished,” said Kessel. “The breakaway vs. Columbus (on Tuesday) and stuff like that. I just need to bear down on my chances and starting finishing them.
“It means something that when you’re out there at the end of the game,” added Kessel, who used his turbo skating speed to pot the empty-netter at the 19:04 mark of the third. “It means that the [coaching staff] trusts you out there. When the coach has that trust in you, it’s always a good thing.”
Linemate Marc Savard (two assists) freed up Kessel for his first goal with a head’s up passing play off the boards out of the D-zone, and then credited his right wing for the way he’s pulled his game together over the last week — a time when the Bruins need to be fine-tuning for future battles against playoff-style competition.
“It’s nice to see him get rewarded,” said Savard. “As a team we want to come to the rink with some smiles on our faces. Around the rink it’s been pretty dull. (Kessel) got that wide speed and that’s part of what gets our line going. I don’t want him to change. He made some defensive plays and (Kessel) was a lot stronger on the wall, and that’s going to get us out (on the ice) more. He did the job, he battled and that’s a credit to him.”
For Krejci, a new linemate in Milan Lucic paired with longtime winger Michael Ryder gave Krejci a bookend set of physically tough shotgun partners with the willingness to mix it up and create a bit of working room for the 22-year centerman to wave his magic stick. After going five straight games without a point, Krejci grabbed an assist on Boston’s second goal when he executed a perfect give-and-go with P.J. Axelsson that ended with Krejci serving up a one-timer at the right faceoff circle for the grizzled Swede.
“Today I felt awesome and I was ready,” said Krejci. “(Skating with Lucic) was a little different. He’s a good player, he’s a big body and he can find me in the middle. He did that a couple of times. When he’s going out there the defenseman get scared and they turn the puck away. He can get it , he can protect it and he can find you. He’s got good vision and I actually liked playing with him.”
It was a simple play for an elite puck talent like Krejci, but it allowed him to start building that confidence up and work toward again becoming the difference-maker Boston is going to need once the playoff bullets start flying overhead. Julien and his staff had a sit-down with Krejci recently to reinforce simplifying his at-times electric game, and the results — along with placing the brawling, bruising Lucic by his side to open up a little real estate on the frozen sheet — had him looking again like the offensive catalyst on pace to score 90 points in the first half of the year.
“I thought Krejci played pretty well tonight,” said Julien. “We’ve seen him have some tough outings lately, and tonight was one of his better games.
“I think the one thing we talked about with him was to just maybe take a step back and not look all those real fancy plays that he was capable of making earlier when his confidence was at its best,” added Julien. “Just take a step back, make good, strong plays and passes. As the game went on, I found him to be a little more confident and he started to find those kind of plays working for him again.”
Speaking of Looch, here’s a look at the first period brawl with Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil that seemed to spark the Senators after falling behind 2-0. This is perhaps one of the best examples of why fighting is necessary and still a vital part of the NHL game: the fight clearly changed momentum for Ottawa in the game and was immediately finished once Lucic was put in an exposed position with his jersey pulled over his head.
While the B’s clearly dropped back on their skating heels for a time in the second half of the game and let the Senators back into the proceedings in a flawed — but much-needed and important nonetheless — victory, the sign of both Kessel and Krejci confidently raising their arms during a B’s game in mid-March was exactly what the hockey doctor ordered.
The finisher and the creator both had solid performances in last night’s isolated win, but now it’s up to the dynamic duo to nail down the consistent excellence that seemed a B’s birthright just a few months ago.
Injury Ward: Phil Kessel and David Krejci both played extensively after getting Wednesday’s practice off. There didn’t appear to be any other Bruins injuries.
Player of the Game: Phil Kessel had a pair of goals, which marks his fourth two-goal game of the season — but his first since Dec. 18 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kessel’s presence on the ice in the final minute was a direct sign of the confidence Julien has in the way he’s skated over the last handful of games.
Goat Horns: Andrew Ference. The normally rock-solid and reliable defensemanwas saddled with a -3 on the evening, and struggled to break the puck out of the zone in the latter half of the game. Ference has been effective enough, but not nearly as good as he was in the first month of the season prior to breaking a bone in his leg.
Turning Point: The perfect pairing of Savard’s heady passing and unteachable instincts and Kessel’s blazing speed and true shot teamed together for the B’s fourth score — the eventual game-winner. Give a big bit of props to Milan Lucic as well, as he drew some of the defense away from Kessel by rushing up the left side of the ice opposite Phil the Thrill.