|P.J. Axelsson plays the unlikely hero role well||02.05.09 at 11:59 pm ET|
For the second time this season, the most unlikely of hockey heroes came through in every way for the Black and Gold by securing a game that his team most assuredly didn’t deserve to win.
The light-scoring P.J. Axelsson turned in a seemingly patented wide right move during a lengthy shootout and snapped a 3-3 deadlock by squirting a puck through Ottawa netminder Brian Elliot’s spread pads in a 4-3 shootout win for the B’s over the Senators at Scotiabank Place on Thursday night.
The game-winning bid was very similar to Axy’s game-deciding tally in a 2-1 shootout victory way back on Nov. 12 against the Chicago Blackhawks — a marathon triumph that came while the B’s were clearly still attempting to gain a clear team identity during the opening months of the season.
The 33-year-old Swedish winger is — in many ways — the most unlikely of overtime/shootout heroes. He is armed with only four goals scored on the season, but possesses buckets of winning intangibles that have endeared the longest-tenured Bruin to a Boston coaching staff high on effort, grit and details. All of that added up to a positive result for Axelsson back against Chicago’s finest three long months ago.
Is that Axelsson flight of puck fancy a carbon copy of the game-winner notched by Axelsson last night against the Senators? An eventual positive score in a shootout that saw gifted skaters like Blake Wheeler, Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel and Marc Savard get turned away by an untested goaltender before him? None of those skaters, with all their variety of hockey skills, was able to solve Ottawa rookie goaltender Brian Elliott. Instead it remained up to one of the most overlooked offensive players in the entire NHL — never mind on the ice last night.
Axelsson had been quietly effective since returning to the third line — a move made possible when a host of injured B’s players returned to the lineup following the All-Star break – but he was again riding shotgun with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel on the top line with Milan Lucic again on the shelf with a ding in the fender (injured foot).
He’s surprisingly approaching a career-high with 16 assists already totaled in 49 games, and Axelsson has notched seven big helpers during a series of well-chronicled bumps up to the power-play unit. The final statistical line obviously doesn’t scream out shootout hero or top-line player ready for magazine covers, but it speaks to value amongst teammates and the coaching staff as he continues to fill valuable roles when needed.
Much has been made this season that Axelsson has only produced four total goals in the regular season — with two of them empty netters — but in one fell swoop of a shootout move last night the Swede showed why he’s still a highly valued part of the high-octane, aimed-for-greatness Bruins this season. A nifty little one-on-one move snared victory from the jaws of defeat with a rare score, another example of Axelsson contributing precisely in the fashion that his team needed.
|Joe Thornton still thinking about Boston||01.23.09 at 6:52 pm ET|
MONTREAL, Quebec — San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton has played only one game as a visiting player at the TD Banknorth Garden, and admitted to the assembled media at the NHL All-Star Game this weekend that he’s already circled the Feb. 10 statement game against the Black and Gold. Playing Boston is apparently pretty high up on his pucks “to do” calendar for this season. In his only other visiting game in Boston way back in 2006, Jumbo Joe was ejected only 5:13 into the first period after rising up in anger and blasting Hal Gill from behind with a hit menacing enough that he was booted out of the game with a game misconduct.
The youtube clip above features the classic call from 850 WEEI’s own Dale Arnold, who did everything but have Joe Thornton twirling his mustache and tying the damsel to the railroad tracks after wall-papering the boards with the 6-foot-7 gentle giant body of Gill.
Despite all that, the 29-year-old is excited about the prospect of his front-running team in San Jose taking on the Big, Bad B’s in their own backyard in a soon-to-be-hyped Stanley Cup preview between the Western Conference-leading Sharks and the Eastern Conference-leading B’s.
“You do things day-to-day, but you circle those kinds of games,” said Thornton, who is just outside the NHL’s top five in scoring with 55 points and is tied for second in the NHL with 43 assists this season. “I haven’t been back there [in Boston] since I got kicked out. So it’s going to be fun going back and seeing it all again.”
While this particular matchup against the Bruins won’t be nearly as emotionally charged as the contest back in Jan. 2006 — a game that was in front of his old coach, many of his former teammates and a good deal of the Boston brass that shipped him out of town for three Sharks players and an immediate membership to the Northeast Division basement – it’s lining up to be everything that a statement game should be between two teams that are seemingly on a collision course this spring.
Has the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder allowed himself to think of a Stanley Cup Finals against the Spoked B? Has that been a fleeting thought in his hockey-addled brain given the way that the two teams have jumped ahead of everybody else this season?
Of course it has for Jumbo Joe…you betcha by golly wow. .
It’s a scenario that’s obviously way, way, way down the paved puck road, and Thornton will have to do something he’s never done before in his much-ballyhooed 10 years in the NHL: carry on a team on his back to the Cup Finals. But the potential is strong for it to happen this season, and could all begin with that game circled in red ink on his Inspirational Thoughts wall calendar for the 2008-09 season.
“Oh if [our playoff fortunes] allow it, it would be awesome,” said Thornton, who is wearing the ‘C’ for the Western Conference All-Stars during this weekend’s festivities. “But we’d have to win in the Finals to make it even more special. But it’s a long, long way to go. It would be kind of neat to see them in the Finals.”
For the record the only players still with the Bruins from Thornton’s era in Boston are Patrice Bergeron, Tim Thomas, P.J. Axelsson and Mark Stuart.
FOR COMPLETE COVERAGE OF ALL-STAR FESTIVITIES FROM MONTREAL, CHECK BACK WITH PUCKS WITH HAGGS THROUGHOUT THE WEEKEND.
|NHL conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien||01.17.09 at 12:11 pm ET|
Here’s the transcript from an NHL-sponsored conference call with Bruins coach Claude Julien, who — as all of Bruins Nation knows — will be behind the bench for the Eastern Conference All-Star team at the Bell Centre in Montreal next weekend. It’s a homecoming for the B’s bench boss, who was the head coach for the Habs five years ago when the bottom-seeded Canadiens shocked the top-seeded Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Q. Coach Julien, I wonder what the emotion will be for you to not only coach in an All-Star Game but to do it in Montreal where you coached a few years and where you left abruptly? And what would it be like to have some guys that you you coached in your starting lineup who played for Montreal, still?
CLAUDE JULIEN: I think everything will be great. This is a city where I really enjoyed coaching. Again, with the coaching carousels, every once in a while you’ve got to move around. But it’s been great. There’s no animosity there at all. For me, it’s a pleasure to go back. Not just to Montreal, but also to represent the Bruins and the fact that I’m probably going to be hooking up there with some of the players that I’ve coached. It’s great. It’s great to see those guys again.
There’s always good relationships that get built between players and coaches over the course of the years. I think just having an opportunity to put everything aside for a couple of days and taking time to enjoy it is going to be great for me.
Q. What do you rate this in terms of achievements in your career? Going from where you started in junior and now you’re coaching an All?Star Game in the NHL? CLAUDE JULIEN: I think the thing that you have to keep in mind here is that you’re there because of the people around you. As I’ve mentioned often, if it’s not for the players, your coaching staff doing such a great job.
You don’t get that honor just because of your individual work. You get that honor because of the work that people around you have done and helped you along the way. The way I look at it is I’m representing the Boston Bruins, and not necessarily representing myself.
Q. I just want to talk about your Windsor days. It was obviously a long time ago, but I understand you still have quite a few friends in town, and I just wondered how you think your time in Windsor impacted you as a player and a coach? CLAUDE JULIEN: Oh, there’s no doubt. Everything in your life when you’re involved in hockey whether it’s a player or coaching, there’s always something that impacts you. I was there in the days when Wayne Cashman was a coach. And definitely a coach that got the most out of his players.
We were a character team. And I think I grew as a player there. And everywhere you stop, you take a little bit from everybody. There’s a lot of things I liked from different coaches, and a lot of things I’ve seen from different players. You take a little bit from everything. At the same time, you try to build your own identity. But Windsor was definitely a place I enjoyed. But I still come back every once in a while to visit friends.
Q. Why is San Jose playing better than Detroit this season? TODD MCLELLAN: I don’t know if San Jose is. We’re competing right there with them. I still believe Detroit is the team to beat in the National Hockey League, with all due respect to Claude’s team and to our team here in San Jose. Obviously, the Calgary Flames are playing well. But Detroit has an aura about them.
They believe in themselves. They believe they can repeat as champions. It will be a tough task for anybody to knock them off. But at this moment as far as our hockey club goes, we’ve had a really good start. We’ve harnessed some of the early season energy, and we’re able to get out of the gate quickly. Our confidence grew, and now it’s about maintaining our game.
And tomorrow night we’ve got the Red Wings here. It will be a big task for us. But right now I still believe Detroit is the team to beat. Are the Sharks playing better than them? I don’t necessarily agree with that.
Q. Douglas Murray has a lot of fans here in Sweden. What can you say about him and his season so far?TODD MCLELLAN: Douglas is a huge part of our success and our future moving forward. He’s a big, physical defenseman. He provides that element of abrasiveness around our net. He’s certainly not the smoothest with the puck, but we don’t ask him to do that. We want him to play within his own means. He provides us that physical element and a real important part of our hockey club.
Q. Julien, what lies behind Boston’s success this season compared to last season? CLAUDE JULIEN: Obviously, it’s a little bit more experience. I guess for the first part until lately it was obviously the health issue with our team. We remain pretty healthy for the most of the year so far until, as I mentioned, the last few weeks we’ve had guys go down.
But we’ve had a lot of guys grow through adversity last year. We’ve had some young players put into situations that they normally wouldn’t have been going through had there not been injuries last year. And I think with the acceleration and their progress has certainly shown this year and taken advantage of it.
But we’ve added a few players as well that’s kind of stabilized our team even more, and given us a little bit more scoring. Right now we’ve had most of our players playing pretty good hockey. You know, as Todd mentioned also, this is a situation where it’s just half the season. And most people don’t remember how you start, they remember how you finish. We’ve got another task ahead of us, and probably a tougher one, and we look forward to the challenge.
Q. P.J. Axelsson been with the Bruins for a few years now. What’s he contribute to the team? CLAUDE JULIEN: With the amount of time he’s been with the Bruins, and the respect he’s gained from his teammates he’s been a great leader for us on and off the ice. I think his anticipation of plays and he reads the play well.
He’s a smart player. We use him a lot in penalty killing situations. We’ve been using him a lot on the power play as well because of injuries. He’s a smart player that can make plays. So he brings a little of everything to our team. But most of all, I think we’ve appreciated his leadership qualities especially this year.
Q. Sorry to go so local, but if you look back at the 2002?03 season, you guys coached respectively the best two teams in the NHL, and Claude, you got your job in Montreal. And I wondered if you could comment on that year, and what you remember of the Calder Cup? And did that season seem to impact your careers as much as it looks like from the outside? TODD MCLELLAN: I know from my perspective in Houston, it was a tremendous year. I really believed the two top teams ended up playing in that Calder Cup final, and it was a heck of a series. Claude did a tremendous job in growing that team, and he had the opportunity to leave. And Jeff Ward who is with him now took that Hamilton team right to the finals. So their coaching staff did a tremendous job in Hamilton, and a number of those players have gone on to play in the National League.
When you revert back to the Houston team again, it was a young team with veteran leadership. A number of those players have made impact in the Minnesota Wild organization. The series itself was incredible. It was extremely fast, skilled hockey. I remember the sellout in Hamilton in the final game. It was the last game played that year. I think the Stanley Cup had been awarded the night before. Just a real thriller.
Did it impact my career? I believe it did. It was the first opportunity to win a championship as a head coach. Certainly it’s something that I revert back to on a daily basis here in San Jose about some of those experiences and how we handled ourselves.
CLAUDE JULIEN: There’s no doubt it was an incredible year. As you mentioned, I ended up leaving halfway through. And I guess as great as it was to go to Montreal, you always have a little bit of regret not having the opportunity to finish your job.
So I really felt confident that our team was capable of challenging for that cup, and, you know, I actually attended Game 7, which Todd alluded to earlier, it was a sellout crowd. Something we hadn’t seen in Hamilton for years, and I don’t think it ever happened in the American Hockey League and in Hamilton itself.
But it was a great game. I think Todd’s team was just on top of their game. It was really the better team that night. Certainly was a fun year for me. Obviously a great year as far as my personal career was concerned. I got the opportunity to move up to the NHL.
|A blueprint to beat the Bruins?||01.06.09 at 8:50 pm ET|
“I think for every team, every game, we talk about [scoring first] and getting an early lead and taking control of the game. I think that’s an area that we will hopefully get better at tonight, starting tonight.”
Those were the words of Bruins bench boss Claude Julien prior to last night’s 1-0 snoozer of a loss at the hands of the trap-happy Minnesota Wild, and they didn’t turn out to be prescient in any way, shape or form. Instead the Bruins managed to squeeze off only six shots during an uneventful first period, took three penalties in the second period that culminated in a power play strike for the Wild and then watched as Minnesota morphed into full trap mode in front of show-stopping goalie Niklas Backstrom.
“Personally I wouldn’t pay to watch a game like that,” said goalie Manny Fernandez, who suffered his first home loss of the season in the dulled down hockey game.
After watching the B’s suffer from a distinct lack of bounces and battle through difficulties breaking the puck into the offensive zone once both the Wild and Sabres fastened the trap clamps on the hockey game, it almost appears as if a blueprint to beat the B’s is beginning to form.
A dastardly plan that will frustrate and eventually defeat the high-powered Bruins attack, and leave their scoring machine in the shop for repairs. Granted, not every team has the talent or discipline or chutzpah to implement Operation Beat the Bruins but teams with enough scoring skills — or grit – to get a lead and a good enough goaltender could do it.
In other words squads like the Buffalo Sabres and the Wild. It’s not something that’s always going to be possible given Boston’s ability to jump on the scoreboard fast and furiously, but teams may be finding a way to escape the hostile Boston Garden with a win tucked neatly under their arms. Play a checking game during five-on-five to frustrate and fluster the Bruins skaters and then try to do your offensive damage on the power play. Then hold on tight for dear hockey life.
The Bruins were certainly a frustrated and blocked up bunch after the game. Scorers like David Krejci and Blake Wheeler have been lighting the lamp with reckless abandon over the first 39 games of the season, but suddenly looked altogether human in Boston’s first zero goal effort of the season. Even Wheeler looked a bit out of sorts in a game against his boyhood team as he dangled and attempted to dazzle with one-on-one moves but couldn’t register a single shot in 18:15 of ice time.
“We were trying; we were battling, but they were just sitting back and basically chipping pucks out and shooting anything else. It was tough after that,” said B’s defenseman Zdeno Chara. “They don’t need much and then when they do get a goal or two, they start to play really kind of defensive trap and it’s really hard to get through. But, that’s not an excuse for us. We created some chances like I said, but we couldn’t score.”
Krejci and Michael Ryder both threw up three shots on net with Backstrom robbing Krejci in the second period when the crafty center seemingly had a wide open net to pick from. The Wild netminder athletically leaped across the crease to fill up the open real estate and smother the shot. Ryder smacked the left pipe with ringing authority on a perfect curl-and-drag set up coming off the left boards, and added to the B’s puck luck going south of the border just as the opposition’s defensive intensity strengthened.
Julien predictably isn’t buying any of the blueprint or formula for beating the Bruins talk, and is instead focused on what his team isn’t doing at this point: play with focus, creativity, passion and the two-way defensive responsibility that became a hallmark of their puck success.
“Our game just isn’t quite there. Then you get some good momentum at the end of the second period when you get the [shot off the] post by [Michael] Ryder, the unbelievable save on [David] Krejci, the goaltender [Niklas Backstrom] I don’t know how he saw that one. He made some really good saves at key moments,” said Julien. “All we needed was one shot to tie the hockey game, so it’s not the end of the world.
“Again, talking about our team, we’re just not in sync right now and it has nothing to do with the other team, more than it has to do with us. We see things from our team that definitely have slipped, and not as good as things are than when they were going well.”
So what do Julien and his staff do with a team that’s running low on confidence and a bit short of their ideal depth with Marco Sturm and Patrice Bergeron nowhere near returning from injury and Andrew Ference and Aaron Ward still working their way back into the mix?
“First of all you don’t panic. Like I said, I don’t think anybody thought we were going to be flying away, flying away for eighty two games without going through some bumps and bruises,” said Julien. “It’s a combination of a lot of things. [Andrew] Ference, [Aaron] Ward, [Patrice] Bergeron, [Marco] Sturm: I think those are four pretty important players missing out of our lineup.
“Eventually things catch up as well in different areas. We’ve got four real quality guys out of the lineup, you’ve got some top players that probably aren’t at the top of their game, so it doesn’t take much to slip a little bit. You just have to work your way through it. I think that’s all we’re going to be doing here: address the situation; we’re going to show the guys where we’ve slipped or what needs to get better. We’re going to work at and work our way out of it; that’s all you can do.”
Time to end the experiment
Claude Julien’s tactic of plugging lovable Swede P.J. Axelsson on the first line with Marc Savard and Phil Kessel — along with placing him on the first PP unit — was excellent for the initial spark that it provided his club, but the time has come to insert a grittier player back up on the front line with the two skilled craftsman. It was the reason that Julien inserted Chuck Kobasew onto the first line in the waning minutes of Saturday afternoon’s loss to the Buffalo Sabres and it’s presumably why Shawn Thornton took at least one shift on the top line during the third period of last night’s limp showing.
Meanwhile, Milan Lucic is on the third line continuing to be the B’s leading body checker night in and night out, and he seems a bit miscast skating on the third line. Particularly so when he could be once again clearing much-needed space for Savard and Kessel on the top unit. It seems to only make too much sense when you begin watching a team search for an offensive spark over the last two games when they were awash in goal-scoring glory over the first 38 games.
There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it was a temporary move to place Axelsson in the B’s offensive catbird seat, but there’s a reason the longest-tenured Bruins has only two goals on the season — and only one of them has come with an actual goaltender between the pipes. It might be take to shake things up again, or it might just be time to put things back the way they used to be.
|Bruins back to basics for 10th straight win||01.01.09 at 9:55 pm ET|
If the Boston Bruins aren’t too careful they’re going to start entering exalted hockey territory here in the city of Boston. With their tenth win in row last night, by a 4-2 score over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Boston Bruins have matched the 1971 Bobby Orr-led, Stanley Cup Champion-era B’s in terms of a regular season win streak. For nearly everyone involved with the team, it’s the most impressive regular season that they’ve enjoyed in the NHL and something they’re not at all taking for granted.
“I’d have to go all the way back to my last year of junior hockey, I think,” said B’s defenseman Dennis Wideman, when asked the last time he’s been on a team that won 10 games in a row. “I think I’ve been on some [NHL] teams that have lost 10 in a row, and this definitely feels a lot better.”
With the home-and-home sweep of the still-dangerous Pens, the Bruins have seized sole ownership of the point lead in the NHL while continuing to put distance between themselves and the wild packs of Rangers, Capitals and Canadiens roaming in the Eastern Conference.
Almost as amazing is the fact that the current 10-game stretch has A) taken place while the B’s were admittedly not playing as well as they have through much of the season B) transpired largely during a long road swing sandwiched around the holiday break and C) overshadowed a simultaneous 14-game home winning streak before burgeoning crowds at the Garden.
Dressing room leader Aaron Ward said that the B’s have realized the error of their ways during the tough stretches of the streaks, and corrected things to again get to the type of Bruins hockey that put them in first place to begin with.
“[We] preach in this locker room that the whole season is a marathon. You can play one month and you understand if you are going to lead long enough that there will be some highs and some lows; capitalize on your highs,” said Ward. ”We started to fall off, the minute we step into this locker room we knew in the last five or six games that the effort wasn’t there. We were going into games and you start to get complacent and you figure that well your skill will just take care or it or it will just work itself out.
“The National Hockey League doesn’t work itself out. You got to match your opponents’ level of effort with level of emotions and we lacked both. Sometimes both, sometimes one, you just can’t have your nights off we had creeping into our game.
The B’s crowds traditionally become livelier and more plentiful after Jan. 1, and the Patriots’ rare regular season exit insures that the Garden will be rockin’ straight through the rest of the season. The love affair between the sellout crowds and the gritty, hard-hitting hockey team should only continue as Black and Gold skaters like vladimir Sobotka put third period exclamation points like this one last night.
With that mid-ice big boom in mind, here’ s a few things that stuck out from last night’s impressive victory over a motivated Penguins team:
Big Z in shutdown mode
One of the biggest observations/factors during the back-to-back wins over the Penguins was the outstanding defensive shutdown work executed by Zdeno Chara and Aaron Ward on Pittsburgh center Evgeni Malkin’s line over the course of two games. In the home-and-home matchup, the jumbo-sized and ridiculously-skilled Malkin was held to a -2 and managed only a single assist in last night’s loss after coach Claude Julien sicked a frothy Chara on the Penguins’ scorer as much as possible.
“I think [Chara] actually loves it,” said Julien. ”He’s taken a lot of pride in doing it and I think he is being recognized, more and more, for being able to do those things. Not every team, and not too many teams, have those kind of defensemen and can match them against top players and be capable of shutting them down night after night.”
Chara has always prided himself on being the tall, tough, intimidating defensive stopper at the blue line and — after a slow first month – seems to have again reached that elite level of defenseman play that few can match around the NHL.
As impressive as Big Z was, however, perhaps Ward was even more so in his first two games back from an ankle injury that hampered him throughout December. Ward managed to keep himself in some semblance of shape while healing up and came up big last night with his specialty — a cringe-inducing, surely painful blocked shot in the waning minutes of the third period on Pittsburgh’s final power play — to help secure the big victory for the Bruins.
It was exactly the kind of thing that the B’s have missed while he was out, despite the best efforts of guys like Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick to step up.
“You have to give credit to Aaron Ward, who nobody talks about, he did a good job with Z back there and near the end there he made a big block, blocked a big shot,” said Julien. “Those kind of things can kind of go unnoticed.”
Extra bonus points to the aforementioned pairing of Hunwick and Wideman, who likewise managed to clamp down the defensive vice grips on Sidney Crosby’s line as well. Sid the Kid managed a single measly assist in Tuesday night’s loss at the Igloo, and was a -3 in the two-game sweep. There were many moments during last night’s win when the purported best hockey player in the world was invisible. Credit the Bruins’ defense for pulling off the nearly impossible NHL magic trick: making the two-man gang of both Crosby and Malkin disappear into the thin wintry air.
Back in the Scoresheet Saddle
It might be time for Bruins Nation to get used to the current line pairings that have P.J. Axelsson spending time on the first power play unit because Julien has liked what he’s seen over the last two games. Axelsson has helped spark the first line and scored his first non-empty net goal of the season — along with an assist –in last night’s win and totaled a pair of helpers in Tuesday night’s win in Pittsburgh.
“I was looking for a response from lines,” said Julien. “I know people keep asking about Lucic, well, yeah Lucic and Savard and Kessel, I thought weren’t playing as well as they could and neither was the Yelle, Axelsson and Kobasew line. And I was kind of talking about all six of those guys, three of them on units.”
“I didn’t think they were generating much, so with Looch, with that hard-working line, I think it certainly helped him find his identity again, as far as being a grinder and being a grinder doesn’t stop you from scoring as you could see tonight,” added Julien. “[Lucic and Axelsson] have brought something different to both those lines that, not just made them successful [as individuals], but also made those lines better, as well.”
Julien believes that Axelsson has added a certain Je Ne Cest Q’uoi to the games of both Marc Savard (2 goals, 3 assists and a +2 in two games) and Phil Kessel (1 goal and 13 shots on net in two games) while Milan Lucic has blended right in with the hard-working, lunch pail games of third liners Chuck Kobasew and Stephane Yelle. Looch has also potted a pair of goals since the much-publicized move down to the third line. Julien said that the swap wasn’t designed to simply get Lucic and Axelsson going as much as it was supposed to breath life in both lines.
“I think obviously things weren’t going my way,” said Lucic. ”I just want to get back to doing simple things and it paid off today with the goal. Like I said we just have to keep getting better.
“I think everyone is comfortable playing with anyone. We are just going out there and focusing on what we have to do, sticking to the game plan,” added Lucic. “It is not by accident that we have won ten straight. The little things that we do we got away from a little bit. I think this home and home against the Penguins was good for us to get back to working hard and doing the simple things.”
So don’t expect any big line shake-ups in the near future with things again appearing to gel in Coach Julien’s neighborhood. Count me among the people that scratched their heads when Axelsson was moved to the top scoring line and the number one power play unit, but the B’s bench boss has once again proven he knows a lot more about the frozen puck game than yours truly.
The Beat Goes On
With all of the success that the Bruins have enjoyed thus far this season, there has been plenty of streaking that hasn’t involved Frank the Tank in the least. While the biggest slice of the attention pie is given to the current team winning streak or the 14-straight wins on the Garden’s frozen sheet, magic man center David Krejci is also riding a 10-game point streak after potting a goal in the first period of last night’s win.
Perhaps Krejci is a big Christmas fan because he’s gone supersonic with the puck over the last month, notching 7 goals and 15 assists in 14 games during the merry, merry month. While Julien has reconfigured each of the other two lines, the veteran coach has smartly left the trio of Krejci, Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder together as they continue to produce offense and responsible defense on a nightly basis.
|Notes from a Wilmington frozen sheet||10.22.08 at 10:59 am ET|
A few notes from practice this morning:
–Swedish winger and the longest-tenured Bruin P.J. Axelsson skated at practice this morning, and related afterward that he felt good. Axie has missed three games with unspecified muscle spasms, but it’s hoped he’ll be ready to go against the Maple Leafs in a big divisional ”four-pointer” Thursday night.
“I felt good. We’ll see how it reacts and how I feel tomorrow morning,” said Axelsson following practice. “It’s not nice [to miss games], but at least I’m making progress.”
–B’s goaltender Tim Thomas said his wife told him this morning [quick Haggs' aside: you've got to love the
ultimate hockey family where the wife is telling her NHL player/husband what’s going on between the pipes around the league] about the Toronto Maple Leafs switcheroo in net on Wednesday night during their overtime shootout. For those that weren’t in the know or didn’t happen to be in the booming Metropolis of Toronto last night, coach Ron Wilson lifted Vesa Toskala after the overtime, and instead placed 41-year-old veteran Curtis Joseph between the pipes solely for the shootout.
Thomas said he had heard of similar moves before in the AHL and Claude Julien thought that Edmonton turned the trick last season with Mathieu Garon and former UMass-Lowell netminder Dwayne Roloson. Thomas admitted that it might make sense in some instances. One of the biggest questions Thomas had was, who gets the loss when that happens?
Logic would dictate it would be CuJo after losing to the Team Formerly Known as the Mighty Ducks in the shootout, and this time logic wins. Toskala gets zeroes across the board after allowing two goals through the first 65 minutes of hockey, and Joseph gets an OT loss after hopping onto the ice cold turkey for the shootout session. The Leafs are coming to Boston on Thursday, so perhaps the B’s will get to see this for themselves tomorrow night.
“I’ve heard people talk about doing it when the shootout first started. Does CuJo get the overtime loss, and then Toskala gets a no-decision? CuJo must have known beforehand and been loosening, so he’d be ready to go in for the shootout. You’ve got to loosen up your muscles, and I think you’re not worried too much about the mental part of it. Especially at CuJo’s age. You’re worried about making sure your body doesn’t pull a muscle.
“Being a goalie in that situation would be kind of weird. I don’t think it would be too much pressure because they’re putting you in there because they think they’re going to lose to the other guys anyway in the shootout. Know what I mean. It’s an easy opportunity to be a hero. In a way it’s kind of relief if you’ve played well in net [like Toskala] and it’s a 2-2 games when you come out.”
–Patrice Bergeron was among several Bruins that addressed the B’s alarming 0-3 record in shootouts thus far in the young season — a campaign in which they seemed as if they had a pretty good chance to improve on last season’s 6-7 record in OT shootouts. Bergeron admitted that it might be time to mix things up a little bit among Boston shooters — Bergeron himself has gone to the five-hole tuck move several times already in the young season — but also felt that the Black and Gold had the makings of a good shootout team. Also credit Julien for bumping David Krejci into the top three shooters, as the 22-year-old scored in the final round of the top three to extend the shootout two more rounds in last night’s eventual loss. It was a crafty little quick shot that Ryan Miller clearly wasn’t ready for as he slowly made his way down the slot.
“Things haven’t worked out for us [in the shootout] the way we would like them to. You’ve got to keep working at it,” said Bergeron. “We’ve won some games in shootouts and we have a lot of talent up front, and the back side can do a lot of things out there too.
“Because we didn’t so well in three games doesn’t mean that we can’t start getting good results. Yes, I am trying to create some new moves and sometimes it takes a while to get them ready for the shootout. I think practicing it is one thing out on the ice, and then bringing it into the games is something that’s a little different. You just have to go out there and take whatever the goalie is giving you.”
After all this shootout talk, it’s clearly time to include the best shootout goal of all-time. This one comes courtesy of former Boston College winger Ryan Shannon, who perfected the spin-o-rama move with the Vancouver Canucks last season and used it to help win a game for them against the Chicago Blackhawks. The best part was the shove in the back from the Bullin Wall that he got after scoring the goal. Shannon is toiling with the Binghamton Senators in the AHL right now, so maybe it’s time to make a move and bring the shootout specialist back to the Hub for specialist duty. You can never have enough spin-o-ramas. Enjoy the video and let me know what your favorite shootout move/goal is.
|Krejci on the rise||10.15.08 at 11:40 pm ET|
David Krejci had never scored less than 20 goals in any season during his hockey career — whether it was developing his puck magician skills in the minors, maturing in the Quebec Major Junior League as a Czech Republic native slowly growing comfortable with the English language, or dominating amateur leagues in ice rinks all across his native land.
That is until last season.
The craftier than crafty 22-year-old has obviously honed a puck identity as an assist machine during each level of his hockey development — a byproduct of his wise-beyond-his-years ability to think the game through. And a gifted set of fast-twitch hands that easily make split-second transitions between puck possession and a perfect dish to the high-scoring areas on the ice. It’s a gift that the skilled elite in the National Hockey League all possess, and Krejci has it in glorious abundance.
But the 6-foot, 178-pounderalso takes pride in being able to make opposing teams pay when they expect him to pass, and he’s always been something of a goal-scoring throat along the way. So when Krejci looked back on last season’s encouraging second half performance with the Bruins, he clearly saw one area that needed some improvement: 13 goals scored in 81 games split between the Providence B’s (7 goals, 21 assists in 25 games) and the Hockey Hub (6 goals, 21 assists in 56 games).
“One of the top [improvements for me] is shooting for sure. Three years ago before I got to Providence, I just brought a net out to my garden and just shot every day for three months straight,” said Krejci. ”That year I got 30 goals. Then i got a taste of the NHL and I thought I had to be stronger and I did [get stronger]. But I didn’t improve at other stuff that I needed to be good at like shooting. I hadn’t been shooting at all the summer before last season, and I could see that I was really getting weaker with my shot.”
With that in mind, Krejci spent a lot of time this summer shooting anywhere he could. There was no confirmation that a young professional hockey player named Krejci was spotted on the beaches of Krk Island in Croatia armed with a stick and rocketing stones into the ocean during his summer vacation, but the center did admit to long hours firing away at pucks in the garden outside his Czech Republic home this summer. It’s something that Krejci had always done each and every summer to strengthen his wrists and add snap to the his wrist shot and slapper attempts, and his strength and feel for his shot went missing last season.
He felt as if shying away from the hundreds of shots each week is why he wound up with 13 goals for the
season, and it’s a big reason why the budding B’s prospect thinks he’s going to be back up over that comfortable 20 goal level this season. Krejci has already potted the game-winner in Colorado on opening night, and his goal-scoring touch was again key in last night’s point-winning 4-3 shootout loss to the hated Habs on Wednesday night. Krejci scored Boston’s first goal of the second period, a rocket of a one-time slap shot after a rebounded puck floated right to him in the high slot.
Did Krejci’s extra shooting work supply a little more sizzle to a shot that rattled the cross-bar before eventually dropping into the net? That just may be, but you be the judge after checking out a Q&A I had with Krejci recently. His skills are truly of the eye-popping variety and he seems poised to make a huge step forward in his second NHL season this winter.
How big was getting up to the NHL toward the end of the season and feeling comfortable last season? DK: Last year I went to training camp to make the team and i did it. But I had some up and downs, you know. I need to be more consistent. I know I had a good year and so many people told me that, but it’s time to to put last year behind me and do whatever I can do this year to be even better. I just need to focus forward rather than the past.
So you had people congratulating you on having a good year, and you’re thinking in your head that the best things are yet to come? DK: Yeah, exactly. I know I had some good games last year. Those games I would love to play every single night this year. No up and downs like I said before. Just consistent. I was happy with the season, but I wasn’t happy as the season went along because I need to be at the same level.
How much of last season was getting comfortable? What was the key for you? DK: A little bit of everything. You need a little luck. I got lucky by getting an opportunity. Savvy got hurt and I was able to play his position. Sometimes I didn’t play good, so I just need to work harder. I don’t want to go back to Providence. I liked everyone there and had a good time, but this is what I dream of. The games I didn’t play good, I just tried to work the hardest so they wouldn’t send me down.
What kind of players bring the best out of you at center? DK: I take everything from everyone. I played a lot
last year with Marco Sturm and Kess, and they both have a lot of speed. So you give them the puck and everything is fine. When I played a long time with Axxy, I think he is one of the best two-way players in the league. So many people think he’s only a defensive player but he’s got great skills to make all the plays. So I like playing with anybody. I can just pick two guy and then play with them all year. You never know there’s going to be injuries or something…or there’s five minutes left and you’re going out there with guys that you have played with and they know what to expect from you. And I know what to expect from them. It makes it a little easier.
When you’re in the offensive zone are you thinking in your head to pass first? Is that how your hockey mind works? DK:I know I don’t have the greatest shot in the league, so I’m trying to work on it. I’m trying to get better sticks [Krejci said this with a laugh]. 2-on-1 or whatever I don’t care whether it’s me or Axxy or whoever scoring the goal. Whether I make the pass or I shoot it, I just like when we score a goal. I don’t want to go back to the bench [without scoring] and have somebody says ‘nice play’ or whatever. If I make a nice play and we don’t score a goal, then it’s just like putting the puck in the corner, you know. I just want the team to score goals.
If you’ve got an opening to shoot then I’ll shoot it and if I have an opening to shoot or pass it I might try to look off the goalie and make a nice play. Sometimes it doesn’t work.
Do you get more of a thrill out of setting up a nice pass or scoring a goal? DK:I was always more of the passer guy all my life, but I’ll tell you one thing…I was pretty happy when I finally scored a goal last year. I like to be the playmaker and play with the puck. It’s hard to say.
Guys must like playing with you if you like passing the puck? DK: You’ve got to ask them, you know. Scoring or passing, I’ll just take whatever comes. I just think I’m more of a guy who can handle the puck better than shoot the puck from the top of the circle.
You talked about the shooting a little bit…were there one or two areas like that you pinpointed in the summer and you wanted to get better at? DK: There’s more stuff I wanted to get better at in the offseason. One of the top ones is shooting for sure. Three years ago before I got to Providence, I just brought a net out to my garden and just shot every day for three months straight. That year I got 30 goals. Then i got a taste of the NHL and I thought I had to be stronger and I did [get stronger]. But I didn’t improve at other stuff that I needed to be good at like shooting. I haven’t been shooting at all the summer before last season, and I could see that I was really getting weaker with my shot.
So this year I brought the net back and tried to shoot as many pucks as I could. This is back in the Czech, and I have a house on the hill that has a driveway that goes down below into a garden. I set the net up there and started shooting again. I didn’t it three years ago felt great and scored 30 goals. Didn’t do it last year and scored…what…six goals in the NHL.
So are you going to score 30 goals this season? DK: I’m not saying I’m going to score 30 goals, but I will say that my shot is going to be harder this year. Training camp was tough so you didn’t have a lot of time to shoot before and after practice, but we’ll see.
Was there a moment last year where something happened and you said ‘you know what, I belong in the NHL?’ DK: When I made the team from training camp, our first road trip was in California. I thought I played good and coaches told they wanted me to play here. Then when they told me I was unsuccessful. I didn’t want to be, but I just didn’t play as good as I did before. That’s why I was talking about being consistent. I knew I could play when we were on that California trip. I knew I could play at this level. So I went to work again in Providence and got called back up and really believed I could stay all year. And that’s what I did.
That must have been important to have that idea in your head that you could play here. DK: It was a good feeling. When they brought me back I was playing 10 minutes a night and playing on the power play. So that got my confidence up. I love it on the power play. I feel like it’s one of my strongest game. I love to feel like I’m an important guy on the team and other guys will be counting on me.
Is there kind of a good feeling that there’s a bunch of young players like yourself that are all growing up on the team together? DK: It’s nice. The older guys have been nice to us. Sometimes they make a joke at us, but you’ve got to take it as a team thing. It’s nice that we’ve got some more younger guys, so you kind of turn it on them and make jokes about them.
Who’s the biggest veteran to make jokes at you guys? DK:Axxey maybe. Just fun stuff. There are more guys. It’s hard to say just one.
What’s your favorite moment from last year? DK:It was all of the momens from the first playoff series for sure. It was something I won’t ever forget. Even if I play 10 more times in the league and 10 more times in the playoff, it was my first time there and we went to seven games in Montreal. it was something special, you know. That Game 6 was the biggest thing. They scored three goals, we scored three goals. It was just crazy. Like I said, I would love to do it again.
What was your summer like? DK:Yeah, my offseason I don’t skate at all. I usually start skating three or sometimes four weeks before the camp so I can get strong and get a feel for the ice before camp.
Did you do any traveling? DK: Travel. After the season I went to World Championships in Quebec City and then I spent maybe a week in Ottawa. I played Junior hockey there and I still have a girlfriend from there so I spent a week there. Then i went back home and went on a 10 day vacation with family, my good friends and my girlfriend to Croatia. It was nice just relaxing on the beaches.
People tell me that the beaches in parts of Croatia are pretty nice. DK:Yeah. It’s not a sand beach, it’s big rocks. So it makes the water so clear and it’s pretty nice. Sometimes when you have a sandy bottom to the beach you can’t see anything below the water, but you can see all the rocks in the water. It’s pretty nice. I go there the last 10 years in a row for a week or two. I always used to go to a place called Krk Island for five years in a row, but the last couple of years I’ve just picked places out of city with my friends.
Croatia is so beautiful, you know, they have all kinds of little villages that basically come alive at night. So you got to the beaches all day and then you have stuff to do like going to shops, or street dancers or street magicians. There’s always things to do there. it’s very nice.
Is that rest good for you when you had such a long season between Providence, Boston and the World Championships? DK: Oh yeah. There was a excitement inside of me, but I was so exhausted that I couldn’t wait to rest. I was watching the Stanley Cup playoffs you know, and it was so hard to watch them last season when you knew you could have been there. It’s so nice when I go to Croatia I just totally take everything off and I eat like an animal, you know, and do whatever. Just relaxing and doing whatever I want. After that [hockey] starts over again, you know.
- QUICK RECAP: Bruins win, set new club record for goals scored on Henrik...
- Chara owns, and is a fantastic captain
- Fresh Links: The Kids Are Alright Edition
- Friday Morning Skate: All Glory to the Hypno Claude
- Game 1 Gif Recap: Marchand, Big Z, and the Rookie D. Bruins win it in OT.
- Public Skate: Bruins vs. Rangers Game 1, Third Period
- Public Skate: Bruins vs. Rangers Game 1, Second Period