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Chara to the rescue… 12.13.08 at 8:58 pm ET
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One thing a captain does is stand up for his teammates, under any and all circumstances. When Boris Valabik tried to intimidate Phil Kessel in front of the Thrashers net in the second period Saturday night, Zdeno Chara came in like a raging bull and made sure that his countryman knew that wasn’t acceptable.

“It’s the number one thing to be playing as a team and stick up for each other,” Chara explained. “That’s one of the main things on this team, to stick up for each other.”

Kessel certainly appreciated it.

“I just think it says a lot about him, coming to my defense like that,” Kessel said. “He’s a great captain, a great guy and shows what type of team guy he really is.”

Chara may have taken 17 minutes in penalties, but coach Claude Julien didn’t just give Chara a pass, he applauded the message he delivered.

“It was the right thing to do. It was for the right reasons,” Julien said.

“That was good by Z,” added David Krejci, who aided the Bruins cause with three assists on the night. “I was actually pretty surprised because Valabik, I’m pretty sure they know each other from Slovakia. It was nice to see Z stick up for Phil.”

That’s what happens when your team is 21-5-4, winners of 11 straight on home ice.

Read More: Boston Bruins, David Krejci, Manny Fernandez, Phil Kessel
Bruins 4, Thrashers 2, Final at 5:26 pm ET
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Best battle of the night with 3:46 left in the third when 6’9″ Zdeno Chara went up against Atlanta’s Boris Valabik, who stands 6’7″, with Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting roaring over the loudspeakers. Valabik grew up in Chara’s homeland of Slovakia, styling his game after Chara.

Fighting was alright for Chara Saturday night.

Fighting was alright for Chara Saturday night.

Full disclosure, neither pugilist landed any significant blows.

But Dennis Wideman did when he connected for his second power play goal of the night, beating Johan Hedberg at 18:16 of the second period.

Phil Kessel collected his own rebound on a power play shot on Atlanta’s Johan Hedberg. The Thrashers goalie stopped the first but not the second at 6:00 of the first as Kessel lit the lamp for the 19th time this season.

Taking aim on the NHL.

Taking aim on the NHL.

Not only does that figure far and away lead the team, it already matches his career best set last season and extends his point streak to 15 games.

Michael Ryder added his ninth of the season at 13:43 even strength, a weak backhand that was mishandled by Hedberg.

The Bruins had a golden chance to break open the game but Hedberg came up big on a five-on-three Boston power play for one minute, 37 seconds.

The Thrashers turned that momentum into a goal when Nathan Oystrick fired a slap shot from the left point through a mass of bodies infront of Manny Fernandez, cutting Boston’s lead in half.

Some notes at the end of one…

The Bruins are 9-2-1 when they lead after one this season.

The Thrashers are 1-10-1 when they trail after one.

The Bruins have outscored their opponents 66-37 in the second and third periods this season.

Martins Karsums is playing his first NHL game tonight and is on the fourth line with Vladimir Sobotka and Shawn Thornton.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Johan Hedberg, Phil Kessel,
Bruins-Lightning Game Day… 5-3, Bruins Final 12.08.08 at 5:20 pm ET
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The Tampa Bay Lightning made life a little tougher than expected in the closing moments as Paul Szczechura scored with 19.0 seconds remaining to make it a one-goal game, 4-3. But P.J. Axelsson, who has been snake bit this season, including earlier in the game when he was stopped on a penalty shot, fired his first goal into an open net with 10.0 seconds remaining to seal the 5-3 win.

The B’s came out on fire, jumping out to a 3-0 lead after one before Tampa Bay took advantage of some sloppiness in the second and third.

“I thought we played with fire tonight. We’re not going to win many games playing like that,” coach Claude Julien said afterward.

It was Boston’s tenth straight win at home, a new record for the TD Banknorth Garden, dating back to the days of the FleetCenter. After starting 0-1-1 in their first two home games, the Bruins now stand 10-1-1 on home ice.

Martin St. Louis re-directed a shot from Vincent Lecavalier at 9:27 of the third period as the Tampa Bay Lightning cut the Bruins lead to 4-2, at 9:27 of the third.

After Tampa Bay’s Adam Hall crashed the net and put back a loose puck to make it 3-1 Boston, the Bruins have had their chances to blow open a two-goal game late in the second.

P.J. Axelsson, with 10:28 remaining in the second, was awarded a penalty shot when he was hooked from behind on a clear path to goalie Mike Smith. But Smith came up big, stopping Axelsson down low and keeping the Bruins lead at three goals. Tampa Bay remained on the power play.

Chuck Kobasew was stoned by Smith with 3:17 remaining in the second. But a five-on-three power play was the back-breaker for the Lightning as David Krejci fed Zdeno Chara at the top of the left circle. Chara’s slap shot bomb was too much for Smith, making it 4-1.

The Lightning, who are just 1-4-4 in the nine games under new coach Rick Tocchet, showed their true grit in the second, outshooting Boston 9-7 and showing some signs of life.

So far so quiet in the second. After outshooting the Lightning 13-5 in the first, Tampa took four of the first six shots in the second and each team is 0-for-1 on the power play in the middle stanza.

On their second power play of the night the Bruins opened the flood gates on the Tampa Bay Lightning.

They were unable to score on their first one when Steven Stamkos was called for holding the stick. But as that penalty expired, Paul Ranger was called for slashing. Milan Lucic just missed Phil Kessel who was coming down the slot for a shot on an open net. But moments later Dennis Wideman found Lucic in the low slot for his seventh goal of the season at 6:44. Bruins are 1-for-2 on the man advantage. Kessel also got an assist on the goal that beat Tampa Bay netminder Mike Smith, extending Kessel’s career-best point streak to 12 games. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Dennis Wideman, Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel,
Savard on Dale and Holley 12.02.08 at 4:47 pm ET
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It's been a very good year for Savard and the Bruins...

It's been a very good year for Savard and the Bruins...

Marc Savard has been in the middle of the most effective and high-powered Bruins line this season and he’s putting up some pretty good numbers for himself in the process: Savard has been among the NHL’s scoring leaders all season, collected his 600th career point earlier this year and is widely considered a strong candidate to put together his second All-Star season in a campaign that’s already garnered him National notice. Savvy sat down for a phone interview with Dale and Holley this afternoon to talk about his two young linemates, PJ Axelsson’sunique fashion sense and whether he ever had second thoughts about signing with Boston. Here’s the transcript:

You had a nice little run there in November. MS: We obviously had a good run. We didn’t let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. We just kept working and that was the big thing. We’re a team that knows we have to work hard to win, and we were able to do that.

You’ve had a string of games there and some regularity in the schedule, and now you’ve got some time off. Is that something where you would have liked to keep playing? MS: I think this time off is good. We’ve been going at it pretty hard here in the month of November, and I think some time off really helps a lot with the bumps and bruises that guys have that nobody knows about. We’re resting those up and getting ready to go south, so we’re getting ready for that.

Speaking of that, you had some bumps and bruises yourself. You took a hit against Florida that some might view as questionable. Did you think it was dirty? MS: I’m not sure. I think it was a good hit. It came in low, but it was just a hip check and you can’t really complain about that. But as we’ve done all year Wardo jumped in there and helped me out when he thought it wasn’t a legal hit. We’ve been covering each other’s backs like that all year and it was a good job by Wardo to do that. It was a little bit of a charley horse there, but no real damage done.

We brought up this point to Milan Lucic last week. This team is tougher this year. When did that attitude change for this team? MS: I really think it was last year, and then we got into the playoffs against Montreal and grew as a group and we really took big steps. We put [the Canadiens] against the wall and almost snuck out that seven game series. I think coming into this year we knew that we had a pretty good hockey team and we just had to put it out there on the ice.  We’ve been able to do that this year. We’ve had each other’s backs for a long time.

We’ve got some big boys. We’re not only tough dropping the gloves, but we can bang with the best of them when we have to. We’re a good team, we have good balance and hopefully we can keep doing what we have to do to win.

Big Picture: you recently scored your 600th career point. When you first played hockey, what were your expectations for yourself? MS: Okay, when I first started playing and when I was growing up in Canada I dreamed of playing in the NHL, and that was my dream. At junior hockey I kind of knew that if I put in the time then I could achieve [the NHL] and then once I got here I honestly never thought I’d get 600 points and be as productive as I’ve been as a player.

I’m come a long way as a player and I’ve learned a lot and had some great coaches along the way and had some ups and downs as a player along the way. I’ve learned a lot. I think in the last few years I’ve seemed to grow and grow and keep getting better at the game and learning every day. Just trying to work hard and having a lot of fun doing it. Who knows how many more that I’ll get, but I’m enjoying my time right now and I am thankful for what I have done.

Be like Wayne?

Be like Wayne?

Who was your guy that you grew up wanting to be like? MS:

Oh, it was Wayne Gretzky for sure.  As a kid it was Gretzky everything, and  I used to have his video called “Hockey, My Way” and I would pop it in before every game I went to. I would watch his highlight goals and always try to emulate everything he did. He was the Greatest to play the game as far as I was concerned. Obviously I got the chance to play  with him in New York. It was tough because I got caught watching him all the time and being around him was a special thing.

I always felt a little nervous, but he was a great guy and he would always tell me to just be myself and act normal because he was just a normal person. It was a special thing.

The Bruins made a big splash when they signed Z and they signed you. Did you ever have second thoughts about coming here? MS: No, I always loved this city. Every time I came in as a visiting player I always loved the city and thought this would be a good place to play. When Peter called me on July 1 I had a couple of offers too but this one kept jumping up at me because I’ve always loved this city and I love playing in Boston. I’m happy and I’m really happy now obviously, but there were some growing pains coming here and I went through a tough year my first year. But we really built off that last year and had a great season. This year we want to do more and keep getting better.

I imagine Claude Julien wants you guys to be happy with how things are going, but he doesn’t want you to be satisfied. MS: Exactly. He keeps reiterating that to us and he’s not going to let us get comfortable around here…that’s for sure. That’s his job and he’s done a good job with it at that. We keep coming to the rink and he keeps putting it in our heads that we’re a good team but if we don’t work then we’re not very good. So he keeps putting it in our heads and it’s in there. Even today in practice today if we’re not doing a good job he’ll stop practice and let us know and bring us back down to earth.

We don’t get too high around here and we just keep it even. We know we’ve got 60 games left still and there’s a lot that can happen. We keep bringing up the Ottawa Senators who got off to a flying start last year and then kind of went down. We can’t get too high. We just keep trying to play hard do things right.

I’m sure there are adjustments you’ve had to make as opposed to when you were in Atlanta with Kovalchuk and Heatley? MS: Well, I think the big thing is playing with those guys they were my No. 1 options and pretty much I went with them most of the time. Where here I’ve had to look around a little more and I’ve always been one of those guys that if you’re open then I’m getting it to you…It doesn’t matter who you are. But in Atlanta, Kovalchuk was my No. 1 target and that worked out well.

Playing with Kessel and Lucic we’ve got a great thing going and we’re having a lot of fun coming to the rink every day. They’re great kids and they make me feel like a kid skating with them and I’m really enjoying it. We’ve got a good mix going and hopefully we can keep it going.

What have they taught you? They must have some pop culture stuff going on you haven’t heard of? MS: They’re excited all the time and they’re little chirpers. They chirp me all the time so we have a lot of fun with that. They keep me cool, I guess, yeah. They keep me cool and up to date with what’s going on in the younger world. We have a lot of fun with that.

Those that think Lucic just drops the gloves are missing out on a lot. He’s got some skills. MS: Yeah, I keep going back to Day One when he came out and i got to play with him against the Islanders in the first exhibition game. I went to Peter Chiarelli, our GM, after the game and I remember just saying this kid can play, he’s ready and he’s got more skills than people give him credit for. It’s become evident each day when he’s out there. He makes those little plays, he’s great along the wall and he knows where the net is and he’s going to keep growing.

I think the sky is the limit for him and I hope I’m around for a lot longer than next year because I enjoy playing with those guys and I enjoy playing in this city.

When Phil Kessel got benched in the playoffs last year he could have gone in two directions, and it seems as if he’s really gone in the right direction since then. MS: Yeah, exactly. When he was sat out in the playoffs I had a chance to talk to him and I just told him to really stay with it. I know it’s a bit different these days because a lot of these kids get a chance to play right away. I know when I came in with the Rangers I would play two games and sit two, so I just told him to keep his head on straight and work hard and be ready because you’re going to get another chance. He’s obviously run with that and taken the high road. He works hard every day and he’s getting better at both side of the rink every day too. Obviously his speed is incredible and I love playing with him because I can take advantage of that.

Does Phil remind you of anybody? MS: Well, he has a lot of Kovalchuk in him too with the speed and the skill level and getting to holes really fast. He does. He’s just a great player and the sky is the limit for him too. That’s why I want to say around here and stay on this line for a long time. That would be a lot of fun.

What did you guys think that Claude Julien tapped PJ Axelsoon for the shootout a few weeks ago? MS: Send the Swede in, Oh no! Axy has been working on in practice and he’s a skilled forward. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for that and he hasn’t scored yet this year, but that’s coming. He’s got some great hands on him and he’s patient with the puck, so the shoout out fits him pretty good and obviously he’s proven that.

That’s the highlight goal of the year. MS: It was and he lets us know it all the time…that’s for sure.

People that don’t know, he’s also Mr. Fashion on that team. MS: Yeah, but he’s Mr. Fashion out of left field, though. He’s got some fashion that we’ve never seen before. I guess if you call it fashion, then he’s pretty fashionable.

Well he isn’t Aaron Ward-type fashionable. He’s got his own style. MS: Yeah he’s out there for sure. He’s not Aaron Ward Mr. GQ, but he’s got PJ Axelsson GQ.

Read More: Claude Julien, Marc Savard, Milan Lucic, Peter Chiarelli
B’s are too legit to quit 11.29.08 at 6:11 pm ET
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Proving that they’re completely undaunted by the Four Stanley Cup titles captured since 1997, the Bruins weathered the first period storm by the Red Wings and came away with a decisive 4-1 victory over the reigning champs from the Motor City.

The Bruins coaching staff and players stressed before the game that it was important not to stray too distantly from their system — whether they’re playing a gritty, dump-and-chase Eastern Conference also-ran like the New York Islanders or a roster full of puck possession players with otherworldly skills like the Detroit Red Wings — and that the name-of-the-game is to make teams adjust to the Black and Gold Way.

Not the other way around.

The 21st Century Big, Bad B’s can drop the gloves and pound away with the strongest and most ruthless goon-filled opponents; they can play the speed and precision passing games with the European-style teams that favor puck possession and dangle over simply duking it out; and they can be effective against any other style of hockey in between those disparate puck poles. The Bruins finished the month of November with an 11-1-1 record and 23 points, which marks their best month of hockey since they piled up 24 points in December of 1978 with an 11-2-2 record for that month. That, my friends, is the return of Old Time Hockey in Boston.

“It was a great challenge for us, that’s for sure,” said Zdeno Chara. “We know that they’re one of the best teams on the West side and that this would be a good measuring stick for us. We want to play our game, we want to play hard and we did that for most of the game.”

What did Big Z learn about his Bruins team tonight as he wore the Captain’s ‘C’ in the intimidating Back-in-Black third jersey, collected his 7th assist of the season and laid out a pair of hits while constantly reinforcing a pounding, physical presence around the skilled, dainty Wings playmakers?

“That we can beat anybody in this league, and that we can play anybody in this league,” said Chara. “We haven’t done anything and we’ve just beat a few teams. We need to keep pushing forward and we can’t get satisfied with the results we have. We need to keep playing our game and the results will take care of themselves.

“The most important thing for us is that the other team is adjusting to us rather than our team adjusting to them,” added Chara. “Sometimes in a game you make small adjustments, but most of the game we’re playing the system and not changing a whole lot. It’s just a matter of being disciplined and playing your game.”

Above and beyond the time-honored system chatter, the Bruins offense has also become Public Enemy Number One in the upside-down world of goaltending, as they’ve banished two straight starting goaltenders (Joey MacDonald, Ty Conklin) from their comfortable crease during blowout victories at the Garden.

What does that mean?

It means that the Bruins finally proved last night that this nice little 24-game run to start the season isn’t a phase, a hot streak or anything temporary — this edition of the Black and Gold is deep, dangerous and deadly and, barring any injuries, is likely to keep scoring wins and hockey TKOs this season. Having both Andrew Ference and potentially Aaron Ward out with injuries – in addition to post-concussion difficulties that currently have Marco Sturm on the shelf – are certainly posing a legit test of the Bruins and their impressive depth, but it’s hard to imagine anything derailing this hockey train headed for good things. 

They’re Deep and they’re spectacular

Once again the scoresheet was dotted with seven players that enjoyed multiple point games, and featured another banner game from the trio of Michael Ryder, David Krejci and Blake Wheeler.

Ryder showed determination, strength on the puck and plain old offensive chutzpah when he dangled through a pair of defenders with the puck, blazed down the right side of the ice and slid a pass back to a wide open Blake Wheeler for Boston’s initial score. The entire left half of the net was wide open and Wheeler buried a shot in the top left corner for the eighth goal of a banner rookie campaign. The two helpers give Ryder four points in two games since joining up with Krejci and Wheeler — a trend that will likely keep the forwards together if things stay bountiful for the B’s.

“[Ryder] just won two battles, and that’s the name of the game: winning battles,” said Wheeler. “He gave us a 2-on-1 and that’s how you score goals in this league…by winning battles. The last two games Rydes has been awesome and hopefully for the rest of the season this is the guy that you see. Because he’s been really, really, really good.”

Each member of the Krejci/Ryder/Wheeler combo finished the night with a +2 and once again proved that any of the Bruins’ top three lines can strike at any time. Apparently Ryder will have to do some work to make more of an impression on Wings head coach Mike Babcock, however, as the Wings bench boss couldn’t remember the oh-so-anonymous guy that finished with a pair of assists and a +2 against his club when all the ice chips had settled. 

“[The Bruins] have good players.  I think they are starting to come of age.  They have been drafting high for a long time and it starts to show after a period of time,” said Babcock. “That Kessel kid can really fly.  Savard is more committed than he has been in the past.  Lucic is a big body and really skates. 

“I thought that the Krejci line with Wheeler and who was the other guy there on the line tonight?  It doesn’t matter any way I thought they were effective against us tonight.  Bergeron is a great two-way player, with Axelsson.  Oh and Ryder was with them mostly.  That’s three good lines.”

The single hottest Bruins’ offensive player doesn’t reside on that red-hot line, however. That honor goes to Phil Kessel, who scored Boston’s second goal on a screaming wrist shot from the top of the point in the first period, and marked his ninth consecutive game with at least one point.

That gives Kessel the longest active streak currently going in the NHL, and marks the third-longest point streak in the league this season. Kessel was on a pace to finish with 41 goals and 24 assists before heading into Saturday night’s statement victory, and the lightning-legged youngster continues to give Boston the sniper they’ve longed for since rigor mortis set in on Glen Murray.

Making due without Ward

The Bruins have displayed a breathtaking show of depth over the16-4-4 start, and that’s going to have to continue holding true after another injury hit Saturday night.  Veteran defenseman Aaron Ward exited the game with a leg injury after only three shifts and 3:43 of ice time in the first period. Ward had skated in hard and laid a physical check on Detroit defenseman Derek Meech, and he didn’t return after immediately skating off the ice.

“It’s a leg injury,” said Julien. “You guys all saw when he hit the boards there that he came out limping. There’s not much we can do here. He’ll be evaluated tomorrow and hopefully when we practice on Monday we can give you a better assessment of his injury.”

Ward’s injury forced the Bruins blueline corps to play Iron Man hockey for roughly the last 50 minutes of the hockey game, and — in the words of Dennis Wideman — Claude Julien was basically pairing ‘D’ according to “who was sucking the least amount of wind on the bench.”

It’s too early to speculate on the seriousness of Ward’s leg problem, but another Matt Lashoff call-up seems almost automatic after practicing with the team and acting as a healthy scratch up until last Thursday. With Andrew Ference out with a broken right tibia and now Ward potentially gone with a leg injury, the B’s backliners will have to each step up and fill the shot-blocking bravery, physical persona and off-ice leadership that Ward provides on a daily basis.

“[Ward] eats a lot of minutes up and he plays against the other team’s top line,” said Dennis Wideman, who played a Herculean 28:36 of ice time in the win over the cooked Wings. “He’s a good defender and he’s a guy that shuts teams down. He finishes a lot of checks in his own zone and he blocks a ton of shots, and he’s tough to play against. He does a really good job of shutting other team’s down, so obviously somebody else is going to have to step up and do that.

“Of course there’s a challenge if we’re down another D,” added Wideman. “Somebody will be coming up from the minors. Last year we had a lot of injury problems on defense, and Providence does a really good job of getting guys ready to come up here. There’s a lot of skill, and just like when [Matt] Hunwick stepped in when Ference got hurt and did a great job…we expect whoever they call up will do the same.

Manny, Manny, Manny

It seemed somewhat out of place to hear the “Manny, Manny, Manny” chants cascading through the sellout crowd of 17, 565 at the Garden on Saturday night, but Bruins goaltender Manny Fernandez is beginning to feel the same kind of fan affection that’s been showered on Tim Thomas over the last three years. Fernandez made 29 saves and won both ends of back-to-back games — the first time this season that the veteran netminder has been entrusted with both ends of a back-to-backer.

Julien noted how well Fernandez has been playing in giving the former Minnesota Wild ‘tender the start against the Red Wings, but the Boston bench jockey also wanted to give Thomas some time to recover from an illness that bothered him this week. 

“Well me personally, again my teammates the way they’ve been playing, I can’t say enough- the way they’ve been putting it in the net, getting the outside shot, I mean anyone who gets to play on a team like that – it’s amazing it’s an easy game to play,” said Fernandez. “You just concentrate on the first shot and they clear the rebounds and they’ve been really effective and they came out really strong tonight.”

Read More: Aaron Ward, Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, David Krejci
NHL Conference Call with Savard (and what he said to Laraque Saturday night) 11.24.08 at 4:24 pm ET
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I never noticed the Marc Savard/Michael Jordan thing before, but man there's a lot of these...

I never noticed the Marc Savard/Michael Jordan thing before, but man there's a lot of these...

Bruins center Marc Savard had an NHL-sponsored conference call with assorted media members after being named last week’s First Start in the NHL Three Stars competition. Here’s a partial transcript from this afternoon’s call with reporters, including some interesting thoughts on the Laraque/Lucic confrontation last weekend and the punch-filled turning point for this season’s team. I skipped a few probing questions for Savard about John Tavares and the Oshawa Generals, but let’s just say that he thinks the youngster is a player and doesn’t mind that he’ll break his junior scoring records with the Generals. So now you can sleep knowing that. Here’s Savard: 

From a plus/minus standpoint you’re having the best year of your career. What have you done to improve that? MS: Well, I don’t know. I’ve just been building every year since Coach Hartley helped me out in Atlanta. Then I came here and I’ve learned a lot from Claude. So things have helped in that way, and then obviously playing in our system makes it a lot easier to be a better plus player than I’ve been in the past.

It’s right there and [Claude] tells us exactly what to do and it’s right there in front of us. You trust in your teammates and they do their job and it makes it a lot easier. It’s that and a lot of little things. Being down low and what exactly do you do when you’re down there and being better away from the puck has really helped me too.

Do you feel you’re a more complete player this year? MS:Yeah, I do. I’m killing penalties this year. It’s the first year in the NHL that I’ve done that and I’m taking a lot of big faceoffs. It’s nice to be counted on like that, it feels good and hopefully we keep on playing like that.

The Boston Bruins success has raised a lot of eyebrows around the league. What are you doing to keep playing this well? MS: We’re just playing together, you know, and we really get along so well. I know a lot of teams say that, but we really do. If something needs to be said, well then we air it out in the room and we go from there.

When Dallas came in here, I think I really look at that as our turning point for the season. We started off with a .500 schedule through our first six games, and Dallas came in here and we had a big game against them. We just grew from there, and we’ve just been on a pretty good roll since then.

If Dallas was the turning point, then what did the two recent wins against Montreal do? MS:Yeah, obviously it’s a huge rivalry. We’re not the biggest fans of the Canadiens, and I’m sure they’re not the biggest fans of us, so it’s nice to be able to finally get some wins against them. I think we’re just building off it and rolling over, and we’re just a confident team right now. We know that we have to work hard to get our victories.

Can you talk about how much instant impact Lucic has had with Boston. MS: Well, I knew from Day One of training camp last year when I went right to our GM and said that this guy is ready. I knew with his size and stuff. I played with him in one exhibition game early on, and I think it was against the Islanders in Halifax or New Brunswick or something. I knew right then that he was ready to play. He has more skill than everybody gives him credit for, and I can see that when he makes good little plays. 

We’ve been working well together, so hopefully if he continues to do that then he’s going to have a great career. After the playoffs when he was a huge presence for us in the playoffs, I think he’s just rolled that over into this year. Playing on my wing, I can take advantage of it and chip it into the corner knowing that he’s going for it. There’s not too many guy that are going to be the first one back there when he’s going. He’s a great addition, and we have a good mix on the line. So it’s nice to have him on the line.

Julien has been active in moving players around. Can you talk about the defensive awareness that you and Phil have? MS: Playing with Phil and Milan, they’re both younger guys — and for myself too — for us to be out there and get the minutes that we want to get we try and stress to each other to be good defensively. If we’re good defensively then we’re going to get a lot of offense. Really it feels like we haven’t been in our zone that much for that reason. We’ve been getting back hard, breaking up plays and getting it back in. We’re having a lot of fun as a line.

Like you said, Kess has really worked hard at that aspect so he can be out there in those situations. As he gets older he’s obviously going to be a top guy at both ends [of the ice].

PJ Axelsson has also been moved up to the top lines a few times, so you have Axelsson and Phil playing in different roles and winning games. Julien seems to be asking a lot of everybody [on the team]. MS: Yeah, he is. He’s a demanding coach, but in the same sense he’s fair. If you’re playing hard and you’re playing good, then you’re going to get that ice time. We’ve been getting that as a line, and obviously our team has been playing great as a whole lineup. If someone isn’t going one night, then somebody else picks them up. It’s been good in that way.

We know what we have to do to win: we have to keep working and Claude keeps stressing that every day. There’s not too many days where he lets that stuff slide. We know as a team what we have to do to win, and we’ve been able to do it.

One of the subplots of last weekend’s game was staying clear of Laraque. 1) Was that talked about and 2) there was a faceoff where Georges and Lucic were squaring off in the faceoff circle and they were yakking it up a little. You seemed to come over and have something to say and things calmed down a little bit. What happened there? MS: I just told Georges that there’s going to be another time for this. Right now we’re worried about wins. Milan Lucic is a hockey player and not just a fighter, so that’s basically what I said. It kept him quiet for a little bit anyway.

If they wanted to put Georges out there that much then it was fine with us. We didn’t want anybody fighting, especially because we’re obviously a little short on the defensive corps with Andrew Ference out. People are saying ‘well, why didn’t [Chara] grab him’. There’ll be time for that. I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but right now it wasn’t the time. Especially playing up there when we were on the road. If they got hot on the power play, which they’re capable of doing, we didn’t want that to happen either. We played it the way we wanted to play it, and there was nothing else about it.

Would you like to be considered for the Canadian Olympic team, and do you take a lot of pride in your passing ability? MS: Yeah, that would be a huge honor for me. It’s something that I obviously don’t go into every game thinking about, but it would be nice to work for that. Right now I’m worrying about the Boston Bruins, but it would be a huge to wear the jersey of my country. You see a lot of big players on that list, and it would be nice to be mentioned with them.

On the passing side, I’ve always been a passer first. I tried to get away from that to open up more things and try to get more shots on goal this year, and I think I’ve done that. It’s obviously worked out well. It’s nice to get some recognition on that, and hopefully I can keep setting up my wingers for some nice goals.

Do you think the Bruins won’t be able to fly under the radar anymore this season? MS:Now, for sure we know that teams are going to be coming for us and we need to be ready every night. Claude keeps us pretty honest in that we have to ready to go every night. The best thing about our hockey club, though, is that we’re obviously a confident group right now…but we also know what we have to do to win games, and that’s work hard and stay with our system. Play at both ends of the ice, and we’ve obviously been able to do that and get great goaltending and we’re getting different guys stepping up every night. We’re getting a good mix right now, but like you said we’re only 20 games in so we’re obviously not getting too high and we’re trying to keep an even keel. Things are going well.

Can you talk a little about how important Tim Thomas has been this year? MS: Tim has been huge. He’s been a great goaltender and he hasn’t got a lot of credit over his career, but he’s having a great year this year. It’s nice to have a goalie back there that’s going to make the big save for you, and he’s done that this year. Obviously with Manny back there it pushes Tim even a bit more because when when Manny has gone in there he’s played well too. So we have a great one-two punch going on right now, and hopefully they can keep playing the way they have for the whole season.

I thought that moment with Laraque and Lucic from Saturday night’s game was a pretty good example of veteran leadership. Have you always been that kind of leader at each stop in your NHL career, or is that something that’s blossomed in Boston? MS: I think throughout the years, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more of a leader and I’ve learned a lot through my career. Obviously in my career there’s been some tough times, and you only get stronger from that. We get along so well in the dressing room and we have so many young and me being an older guy I’m able to help those kids out a little bit.

Playing with two kids — Kessel and Lucic — I’m always talking to them between shifts, and I always want more and I want them to always want more too. I think they’re proving that this year. [Being a leader] isn’t always about just saying something, it’s about going out and doing it too. So hopefully I’m able to do that stuff. I do talk a lot and I like to have a lot of fun before the game and keep guys loose, but — in the same sense – when the puck drops I think it’s time to get serious and get things going. Those of the types of things I want to bring and hopefully I’m able to do that.

What have your impression been so far of Blake Wheeler? MS:Blake’s a skilled hockey player and he’s a big boy, so he’s got a lot of things going for him. He skates well. He’s really come in here and looked like a veteran out there and he’s played really well. Coach is giving him an opportunity to play a lot a lot, and his line is playing really with Krejci and Kobasew right now too. They bring a lot to the hockey team, and Wheeler seems to keep getting better every day.

He’s been a big part of our success at the shootout lately too. He shoots first and I think in his three shootouts he’s scored twice. He keeps growing and he has one of his best buddies in Kessell here too, so that’s helped him out with the adjustment. The sky is the limit for him.

When you look at the size, is he as physical as you expected him to be? MS: When you’ve got a big guy there you obviously expect a guy to finish his checks — or when you’re any size you expect them to finish checks — but when you’ve got that kind of size and that kind of gift you hope that he uses it. And he uses it well and he uses it to his advantage. He gets to the net hard and with that big body he’s able to get some goals.

Was there a moment last year when you realized this was a team that was really together? MS:I think it started last year when Bergie went down, we came together closer and you knew each guy had to step up. And then when it came to the end of the year really had to battle to make it into the playoffs, and from then on in we had a seven game series against Montreal. We were able to battle back the way we did and really have the same team come back besides a couple of guys and then add three players.

From there we’ve really taken off and in the room — whether we’re on the road — we really get along so great and I know a lot of teams say that but it’s the truth here. We hang out all the time.  Even yesterday we had a little team get together and it’s like a family here. Every sticks up for each other. But that Dallas game this year brought us even closer together this year and we really stick up for each other. It was one of our first big games at home this year and it really brought us together.

Did this start change expectations in the room? MS: Yes and no. I think at the beginning of the year we thought that we had a great team, and it was just a matter of when it all came together. It obviously came together pretty fast. Off that Montreal series we knew that we really grew as a team and we saw what kind of damage we could do if we played together, worked hard and just stayed within the system. We’ve done that and now we’re a confident group, but at the end of the day we know what wins us hockey games. That’s working hard, and coach keeps us honest in that regard and helps us do it.

Somebody told me that today’s players really like playing in a system. How important is that in Boston? MS: It makes it easier because you know that the system is there to protect you, and if you get away from it then you’re going to get into trouble. I think we know that as a team. We probably don’t have the most skilled team in the NHL, but if we stick with what we’re taught we’re able to win games through hard work. We do have skill players and it’s proven every night because we have guys stepping up. We’re a confident team right now, but we know that we have to work hard.

You’ve put up some pretty impressive numbers since the end of the lockout. What do you attribute that to? MS: I don’t know. I think I’m focused and going into games I want to help the team offensively and I want to produce every night. I think I’ve been hungry to do that. I think that’s why I’ve been able to stay so consistently since the lockout. Obviously I’ve gotten a great opportunity to play in the division that I’ve been in, and things have worked out.

Are you upset because Lucic is a big guy that other guys want to fight him? You’ve got guys like Georges that want to fight him simply because he’s a big guy. MS: On the Lucic stuff, I think he’s going to get challenged a lot because I think his record is pretty flawless in the fighting department, and people not only want to fight but get him off the ice because he’s such a factor in most hockey games and he’s only getting better every day. I like having him out there obviously, and when he goes in the box if shifts up our lines and stuff like that. So it makes it a little tougher.

 Myself coming into the league I had a lot of growing pains to go through. Coming into the league I played with the Rangers and we had a lot of stars and obviously it was hard for me to make a name there. I went to Calgary and got a great opportunity to play. When I moved on to Atlanta that’s where things started to get a lot better. Obviously Coach Hartley really helped me out and I owe him a lot to him – especially in the early stages — because he basically told me there’s the ball right there and if you want to take it then just go. He gave me a lot of ice time and I was able to succeed there before I moved on to Boston, where I’m happy and I hope that i can finish out my career here and keep getting better.

Read More: Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Georges Laraque
Looch seeing clearly now 10.25.08 at 8:39 pm ET
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I will crush you, and then I will score all over you!

I will crush you, and then I will score all over you!

Good times all-around for the Bruins following a 5-4 win over the Thrashers Saturday night at the TD Banknorth Garden before an announced crowd of 16,044 — a rowdy bunch that booed the B’s off the ice when they were down 2-0 following the first period and then easily tossed 50 hats on the ice following Milan Lucic’s game-winning third goal of the night with 1:41 to go in the third period.

It was the B’s first hat trick since Phil Kessel pulled it off early last season against the LA Kings on Oct. 12, 2007.

The big hero on the evening was the same punishing guy that utilized brute strength to shatter the glass around the boards while checking a Maple Leafs defenseman just two days earlier. This time the Looch used his strength and skill to camp out in front of the net and notch the first multiple goal game of his career, a performance that might have been aided by a recent decision to use contact lenses on the ice.

Lucic started using contacts while playing the Leafs on Thursday night — after just wearing glasses when he was watching TV at night for the last three years or so — and things have appropriately taken off for the hulking 6-foot-4, 220-pounder.

“This is my second game wearing contacts out there, so it’s a lot easier to see the puck when your vision is clear. [Wearing contacts] is like going from a regular, old TV to a High-Definition TV, so that’s the perspective that I have now,” said Lucic, who last collected le trick de chapeau (that’s only a strict Haggs French translation right there, so don’t go parading that little bon mot down St. Catherine Street. “[The hat trick] was nice, but one goal, two goals, no goals…it doesn’t matter to me as long as we get the win.”

B’s head coach Claude Julien says that he still sees Lucic squinting and wincing on the ice out of habit, but will take whatever aid is helping Looch perform out on the frozen sheet — while also pointing out that the good and fearless work habits exhibited by the brawny forward are a good example for the rest of the team. Lucic fights to keep his position in the offensive zone with ferocious intent, and brandishes a fearless willingness to brave into the violent areas of the ice where both goals are made and blood is spilled on occasion.

“Looch got rewarded tonight for being willing to [go to the front of the net] and paying the price. He’s got the physique to do it, and if he keeps doing it he’s going to keep scoring goals,” said Julien. “This is the Boston Bruins and it’s about heart and soul and working hard, and Looch is the perfect example of that. He won us a hockey game tonight with the game that he played and the identity that we’re talking about.”

–Just before face-off with Atlanta, the Bruins announced that the third period in tonight’s game would be split, with the teams switching ends at the first stoppage in play after the 10-minute mark of the period. 

 The change in format is occurred due to incorrect markings on the West End (visitors bench side) of the TD Banknorth Garden Ice. In the West End, the two face-off dots are 24 feet from the goal line – four feet longer than NHL specifications — a discrepancy that was first noticed by New Bedford Standard Times hockey reporter Mick Colageo.  The corresponding face-off circles are also four feet further away from the goal line.

The Bruins and Thrashera began the third period in the same ends that they finished the second period.  Following the first stoppage after the 10-minute mark of the third period, the teams switched ends, and the face-off took place on the opposite side of where play ended.

The current sheet of ice was installed on September 9, 2008, and the error was not noticed by the Bruins until this morning. Due to the error, the NHL mandated the changes to tonight’s game format.

“Of the many logistical tasks the Garden operations team is called upon to perform each season, painting and marking the ice sheet is one of the more routine and straight-forward.  Therefore, this oversight is simply an inexcusable and disappointing error for which we apologize to the Boston Bruins and the NHL at-large,” said TD Banknorth Garden President John Wentzell.

–Aside from the Lucic on-ice heroics, the game also featured a Julien-fueled tongue-lashing between the first and the second period when the B’s found themselves down by two goals while playing a pretty uninspired brand of hockey. 

Let’s let Julien tell the story:  

“To put it mildly [the effort] was unacceptable by individuals and as a group. Right now I think it’s pretty obvious that we’ve got a lot of our good players that aren’t at the top of their games. We can stand here and pretend and sugarcoat it. But maybe it’s encouraging because it means that we can be that much better when everybody finds their games and starts playing the way they can.”

–One thing to look for going forward is increased ice time and responsibility — and a bump up to the first unit — for the former second power play unit of David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Dennis Wideman, Andrew Ference and Phil Kessel.

That quintet provided a pair of power play strikes in Saturday night’s win and have been dangerous with the man advantage while mixing responsible play with Lucic’s toughness, Kessel’s sniper-like abilities and Krejci’s playmaking skills with the puck. The second-teamers were the first one’s out on the man advantage a handful of times on Saturday night, and that may be the case in the B’s foreseeable future — per the orders of their coach.

“They’ve been going first because they’ve been our best power play [unit],” said Julien. “They’re the ones that have given us the most goals, and — hey — why not have a little competition between the two power play [teams]? If you want to be first, then go out there and earn it.”

“It’s important right now that players don’t take it as a position of status and think they’re automatically going to get that ice time,” said Julien. “[The second power play unit]” has earned the right to start as we speak.”

Read More: Andrew Ference, Atlanta Thrashers, Boston Bruins, Claude Julien
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