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Looch seeing clearly now 10.25.08 at 8:39 pm ET
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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.

‘€œOf 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
No Bread and Butter for B’s 10.24.08 at 12:43 am ET
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Not good times for the Bruins on a Thursday night when things looked so good early, but then the fat-and-happy B’s allowed a seemingly lesser Toronto Maple Leafs team to outskate, outwit and outlast them over the final two periods of a 4-2 loss at the TD Banknorth Frozen Sheet.

Things got off to a swimming start when Patrice Bergeron potted his first goal since coming back from a season-ending concussion last season and rookie Blake Wheeler shook off some rookie doldrums to the give the Spoked B’s a 2-0 lead. There was also some physical intimidation mixed in with the lamp-lighting as Dennis Wideman completely smoked Matt Stajan at mid-ice in the first  period, and Milan Lucic shattered the large block of glass around the boards when he flattened Leafs defenseman Mike Van Ryn into the side wall.

The incident was voted Number One on ESPN SportsCenter’s Top 10 plays for the night, but the tumbling shards of glass also resulted in injuries to four fans while also causing a roughly 15 minute delay to replace the glass. In the balance of those few minutes the life seemed to get sucked right out of the Bruins, and they really couldn’t do anything right for the rest of the game.

 

The Leafs, on the other hand, went from being puck roadkill over the first 20:20 of the game to a nothing-to-lose bunch firing away on offense and watching Vesa Toskala and the Leafs ‘D’ shut down an easily satisfied B’s offense.

There were a multitude of postgame quotes about being outworked and outhustled in the Bruins locker room — the first time this season that the B’s dropped a stink bomb down at an NHL rink without their customary grit and sandpaper style. Two of the biggest culprits for the Thursday night breakdown seemed to be Phil Kessel and Marc Savard, who were kept off the scoreboard, registered only three shots on goal and each had a game-high two giveaways. Julien didn’t call them out by name, but you’ll get the drift. Heeere’s Julien:

I think that some of our top guys tonight weren’€™t playing like our top guys.  I’€™m not going to mention any names.  I don’€™t have to.  Everyone knows what I’€™m talking about.  Your best players have to be your best players.  I know it cliché but it is what it is.  Our best players were certainly not our best players.  Everyone from top to bottom was flat. This is our bread and butter, our work ethic, and our commitment.  We didn’€™t have our bread and butter tonight.”   

To the Bruins credit, many of the players rang a similar tone in the Boston locker room including Milan Lucic, the author of the body check felt ’round the hockey world, who teamed with Savard and Kessel to form a pretty lackluster line thar could get busted up by an unhappy Julien if things continue as they have. One thing is for certain: the guys in the Bruins sweaters will do a fair amount of skating in practice on Friday.

“I think [embarrassing] is the right word,” said Lucic. “It wasn’€™t a good effort. There was nothing really positive that we can take out of that. Pretty much, [in] your home building, you should never get outworked in your own building. That’€™s probably the best word for it.”

 

The Good news: P.J. Axelsson appeared to be over his back spasms. 

In the bad news department: The Bruins power play went 0-for-4 and was another areas that made Julien chafe visibly following the hockey game: “We had a chance with a power play to score the third goal.  You have to learn to play with the lead.  When you have the lead it doesn’€™t mean you can take the foot off the pedal.  Tonight even though it was a 2-0 hockey game we had a couple breaks, a couple lucky bounces to get the 2-0 lead.  We should have taken advantage of that and understood that we weren’€™t playing that well.” 

 

 

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Dennis Wideman, ESPN
Shootin’ at the shootout 10.23.08 at 2:34 pm ET
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Since we’ve been discussing the shootouts so much, here’s last season’s shooting percentages and success rate for each of the Bruins players heading into tonight’s match-up with the Maple Leafs — if it should get to that point.

As an aside, there’s a strong Pucks with Haggs vote to put another team in the Toronto-area — as the reports have stated — to go along with the Maple Leafs. Hamilton would be perfect place and was the desired target if the Nashville Predators ended up moving, but any team that returns back into the motherland of Canada is a good thing for hockey and the NHL. Winnipeg and Quebec City would also be great places to relocate some of these warmer climate teams from the US that simply have never seemed like a good fit (Hello Nashville!) for a frozen sheet. Anyway, here are the B’s shootout stats from last season:

Phil Kessel — 5 scores in 13 tries for a 38.5 percent success rate. The five shootout scores were the third-most in the NHL least season and a clear indicator that this is a speciality for a guy with the hockey skills to pay the bills (for his career, Kessel is 10-for-23 with a 43.5 success rate with nine game-deciding scores).

Zdeno Chara — 1 for 2 for a 50 percent success rate, with the successful attempt a memorable wind-up slapper against the New York Rangers at the Garden last season (2-for-5 career for a 40 percent success rate).

David Krejci — 1 for 5 for a 20 percent success rate. Krejci is a guy that could be a future weapon in the shootout, and has already scored this season as well (and 2-for-7 career for a 28.6 percent success rate).

Marco Sturm — 1 for 8 for a 12.5 percent success rate (7-for-25 career for a 28 percent success rate).

Patrice Bergeron — 0 for 1 (8-for-24 career for a career 33.3 percent success rate).

Dennis Wideman — 0 for 1 (2-for-8 with a career 25 percent success rate).

Chuck Kobasew — 0 for 3 (and 0-for-8 in his career, perhaps it’s time to hang up his skates during the shootout).

Michael Ryder — 0 for 1 (and 1-for-11 with a career 9.1 percent success rate). Ryder’s numbers in the shootout actually makes it a real head-scratcher as to why Claude Julien opted to put him in the top three during Boston’s first two shootout losses this season.

Marc Savard — a career 2-for-12 with a 16.7 percent success rate.

P.J. Axelsson — 0-for-3 career in the shootout.

Read More: Boston Bruins, Chuck Kobasew, David Krejci, Dennis Wideman
Hockey Notes: Good things from Kessel 10.18.08 at 9:38 am ET
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It might be time to stop haphazardly tossing Phil Kessel’s name aroun whenever the NHL trade winds start blowing in Boston this winter.

The 21-year-old puck prodigy has a pair of goals in the first three games this season and has clearly shown a willingness to start paying a higher price to score points and make things happen for the team. The 6-foot, 192-pound Kessel has always been blessed with a ridiculously fast release and it still looks somebody hit the turbo button on a Nintendo controller whenever the winger gets his legs churning and gains some speed. The difference this season is that he’s also starting to flash a little grit and tenacity in his hockey tool box.

Kessel’s #1 responsibility should be putting points on the table and lighting up the red lamp like it’s Main Street in Amsterdam, but the willingness to “take a hit and make a play” is something that the Bruins organization has been waiting to see. Bruins coach Claude Julien sees a player that’s simply growing up before his eyes and mixing the strength, speed and skill package necessary to be an effective, responsible player in his system — a maturation that some unfairly expected to see when he was still a teen-ager but is happening on its own schedule. Something that is just fine with the B’s.

“With time and experience, he just keeps getting better,” said Juien, who really seems to be the perfect coach for a young hockey club that’s both reaping explosive bursts of hockey skill and enduring necessary growing pains during an 82-game hockey schedule. “That’s why you have to be patient sometimes with young athletes. You don’t want to turn the page or overreact. I think that’s paying dividends right now in Phil’s case.”

Kessel is certainly someone that holds a lot of value around the NHL world given his “can’t be taught” physical skills and precocious age, but the gist of Julien’s words isn’t lost. The Bruins had ample chances to deal Kessel last season if they deemed that the youngster wasn’t a good fit with their team philosophies, but it’s always a risky roll of the dice with somebody young enough to change their habits and raise their potential ceiling as a player.

Was the benching last season in Boston’s first round battle against the Canadiens something that finally got Kessel’s attention and brought about the change? Was it simply the maturation of a young guy that started playing men’s pro hockey as 19-year-old and faced off cancer in his rookie season along with everything else?

Kessel’s not telling, but it’s clear that he’s beginning to “get it”, as Bill Parcells is wont to say: “I worked hard this summer and I want to do well this year. It’s all about helping this team win games and get better. I don’t think I learned anything from sitting down in the playoffs. It was a decision that the coach made. Playing in the playoffs just makes you want to get back there again.”

Kessel went from 11 goals and 29 points in his rookie season — along with a tough -12 to set the numbers to sobering reality — but improved to 19 goals, 37 points and a -6 last season in Julien’s defensive-minded system. With time and confidence on his side, is a 30 goal, 50 points season a possibility after watching Kessel weave through defenses in the early going and mystify goalies with his snapping wrist shot? It would be a big step forward, but it’s a step that the Bruins are hoping to see become reality as Kessel keeps learning to harness his considerable talents.

“When Boston was here [in Minnesota] I was talking to [Peter] Chiarelli in the stands because they practice [at the University of Minnesota] before they play the Wild,” said Golden Gophers head coach Don Lucia, who coached both Blake Wheeler and Kessel during their collegiate hockey careers. “We were talking about how [Phil] has matured and gotten better. People forget that he just turned 21 years old, that Phil is really just still a pup. He’s going to keep getting better. He’s an outstanding player now, and he’s going to be even better three or four years from now.”

Scouting report on Lukacevic

I’ve heard a lot of questions over the last week about the minor league player involved in the Andrew Alberts trade with the Philadelphia Flyers: Ned Lukacevic. The 22-year-old winger was packaged with a conditional draft pick to the Bruins for the brawny Bruins blueliner to clear off some room under the salary cap, and Lukacevic promptly reported to the Providence Bruins.

Lukacevic has bounced between the ECHL and AHL levels over the last two seasons and potted 36 points for the ECHL’s Reading Royals last season before getting dealt to the Flyers in the Dennis Gauthier trade over the summer. Here’s a scouting report on Lukacevic from an NHL talent evaluator that’s watched the 6-foot, 200-pound winger several times over the last few years: “His best asset is his skating. He’s a great skater with a lot of speed. He really needs to work on his grit and paying the price going to the net. Sometimes he would do it and other times he wouldn’t. He needs more consistency in that area.”

Tough Break to Break Out

Prior to the start of the season, veteran Bruins defenseman Aaron Ward credited Rod Brind’Amour with really helping light his competitive fire while sharing a rigorous off-season workout schedule with Rod the Bod. So it must have been truly disappointing for Ward to hear that Brind’Amour needed arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in September after reconstruction surgery for a torn ACL wiped out the final six weeks of the season for the Carolina sparkplug.

The Heart and Soul is back with the ‘Canes following the second surgery that wiped out much of his training camp, however, and has a pair of goals and an assist in four games with Carolina after playing only one preseason game. The 38-year-old is obviously back in a big way with Carolina, but he also deserves an assist for providing a little spark and inspiration to help get Ward’s 35-year-old skating legs churning again this summer.

“I started skating in June with Rod Brind’Amour and he’s the kind of guy that’s just piss and vinegar. That’s just the type of guy that he is and he just lives for hockey. So he got out there in April and I got out there in June and started skating with him. It’s weird,” said Ward, who played in his 700th NHL game against the Canadienslast Wednesday. “I never had a mental need to play hockey, but Game 6 of last season also really helped propel me back out there [to skate with Rod.]

“I don’t know if it was anxiety or just excitement that got me out there skating again [so early.] But as an older guy that’s a good sign. Because when you start feeling like it’s tough to get the pads on, and I’ve gone through that before, that’s not good. It was rough when I was in New York and I came here in the second half. It was tough to get that mental switch going where you wanted to be out on the ice, but last year I wasn’t ready for [the season] to be done. That’s a good sign.”

 

Read More: Aaron Ward, Blake Wheeler, Boston Bruins, Carolina Hurricanes
Ready to drop the puck! 10.09.08 at 5:38 am ET
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So, I’ll have a full-blown NHL preview up on PWH at some point today, but I just wanted to troll around the Internet and A) see if I could travel all the way to the end of it or B) find as many NHL previews as possible to get a sense of what the “National” sentiment is concerning the Bruins.

I imagine that most hockey experts are in one of two camps when it comes to the guys in the Spoked B’s sweaters: either they feel like the Bruins showed real improvement with a young cast of characters last season and should be better with ever-maturing prospects skating along with a healthy Patrice Bergeron. The other school of thought is that the Bruins overacheived on some level while sneaking into the playoffs, and they won’t be able to sneak up on unsuspecting hockey teams this season like they did last year.

I’m more inclined to go with the former theory that the Bruins are playoff-worthy with tight defense and an aggressive sandpaper style of hockey, but this season they should be a bit more potent offensively with Bergeron on the PP. But that’s just me. Let’s see what everyone else has to say:

ESPN’s John Buccigross (who I’ll give full credit to for being one of the few true “hockey guys” in Bristol) has the B’s finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference. An excerpt from his capsule on the Bruins: There is something about this team that I like. I sense a positive vibe around the Bruins that should be enhanced with the return of their best player, Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins have not won a playoff series since 1999, the only series they’ve won since the 1994 lockout. Not the 2004 lockout. They have been a sorry franchise. The Bruins are certainly not a lock to make the postseason, but for the first time in a while, Boston seems to have some organizational passion and a plan. The margin for error is small. The key players need to be healthy, and the young players need to be important players without a drop-off.

The Hockey News has the Bruins finishing tenth in the Eastern Conference: There isn’t much explanation behind their pick on the Hockey News web site, but they see the Bruins finishing ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders. This is one prognostication that I would consider the “glass half-emptiest prediction.”

Sports Illustrated picks the Bruins to finish seventh in the East and again qualify for the playoffs while also picking Zdeno Chara as the Northeast Division MVP and Milan Lucic as the division’s “player to watch”: Don’t mistake these Bruins for the bruisers who famously carried the club in the 1970s and ’80s, but this is the Northeast’s most physical team, and Boston should bully its way to a second straight playoff berth.  Boston was 24th in the NHL in goals last season, something the addition of free agent Michael Ryder will help but won’t cure by itself. The Bruins’ real center of attention is mild-mannered pivot Patrice Bergeron (above), who missed all but 10 games of the Bruins’ 18-point revival last season. 

Yahoo Sports Hockey Editor Ross McKeon picked the Bruins third in the Northeast Division, but says they’ll

 be hard-pressed to again make the playoffs (one thing I would say is that he really needs to get over the Joe Thornton trade): The Bruins still miss Joe Thornton, whether they admit it or not. It seems like everything is going to have to go right for Boston to be a solid playoff team, sand considering all the bumps a team faces in the regular season, the guess is the Bruins will be in a dogfight to slip into a playoff spot again. 

CBS Sportsline’s Wes GoldStein has the Bruins finishing second in the Northeast Division and has coach Coach Claude Julien winning the Adams Award this season: The Bruins accelerated their building process with a surprise appearance in the playoffs last season and nearly upsetting Montreal in the first round. The expectations will be higher this time. The best news though for Boston has been the return of Patrice Bergeron, who missed almost all of last season because of a concussion, and has looked very good in the preseason. 

Inside Hockey’s James Murphy has the Bruins finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference and making the playoffs: The Bruins were one of last season’s most pleasant surprises, reverting back to the hard working, bruising style that defined them when the likes of Terry O’Reilly and Cam Neely wore the black and gold with pride. Much like those Bruins icons, sophomore winger Milan Lucic has become one of the faces of the franchise. The biggest additions are three players returning from injuries — center Patrice Bergeron, defenseman Andrew Alberts, and goaltender Manny Fernandez — all of whom could make a huge impact. If Tim Thomas can deliver a repeat performance between the pipes and Fernandez can provide a solid complement, the Bruins are fine in goal, and the Zdeno Chara-led defense is unquestionably stout. The biggest question is whether newcomer Michael Ryder and the returning Bergeron can conspire to make the Bruins’ offense click. 

Fox Sports’ Darren Spang sees the Bruins returning to the playoffs and Spector (apprently rock stars and hockey analysts are in the same boat when it comes to one name monikers) has the Bruins finishing seventh in the Eastern Conference: The return of a healthy Patrice Bergeron at center should provide a significant boost to their offense. A consistent performance this season by goaltender Tim Thomas should bolster the Bruins’ postseason hopes. The improvement of young forwards Phil Kessel, Milan Lucic and David Krejci could also boost their forward depth, while head coach Claude Julien’s defensive system should make the Bruins tough to score against. Captain Zdeno Chara is still nursing a shoulder injury from last season and management is on the lookout for another puck-moving defenseman. While some gaps in the roster remain to be addressed, the Bruins appear in better shape this season than they were a year ago.  

Be back in a bit with my own take on the Bruins and the NHL this season…let’s drop the puck already!

Read More: Andrew Alberts, Boston Bruins, Cam Neely, Claude Julien
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