|Bergeron emerging as a quiet Bruins leader||10.28.09 at 3:09 pm ET|
WILMINGTON, Mass. — A highly respected hockey voice recently stressed that the leadership of both Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi as two key pieces in the recent turnaround of the Bruins. It’s been those two players, along with captain Zdeno Chara, that have helped grease the wheels of Boston’s resurgence, but there’s also a growing measure of influence from the young voices within the dressing room.
The loss of players such as Stephane Yelle, P.J. Axelsson and Aaron Ward have no doubt left a vacancy in terms of veteran influence within the dressing room, but coach Claude Julien said he’s already convinced that those important breaches have been filled. Young players are stepping up, and emerging leaders are picking their spots to help push along the direction of the club.
To hear Julien explain it, Bergeron is something akin to those old E.F. Hutton financial commercials. When Bergeron speaks, everybody listens — and that’s only been amplified this season as the 24-year-old has again staked claim to his rightful place as one of the brightest spots on Boston’s roster. The Bruins have taken points in four of their last five games, and young skaters such as Bergeron have everything to do with that.
“We talked about the guys we lost in the last year: the Yelles, the Axellsons, the Wards. They were pretty good presences in the dressing room, but at the same time other guys have stepped up,” Julien said. “We’ve asked other guys to step up into those roles in the dressing room, and we had some guys that were ready to take over. It’s been good and getting better, and it’s a transition that needs to be made.
“There’s no point in naming one or two guys. For the most part, the young guys want to do their jobs. The older guys: Z and the Ferences and the Recchis have been there for a long time and they’re going to help out along the way. Bergie is a quiet leader and not necessarily the rah-rah type, but every once in a while he’ll speak. When he does, they listen because he doesn’t speak that often and he doesn’t speak for nothing. So you expect some kind of leadership from those guys, and Marco Sturm has also been a quiet leader. He speaks when it’s time to speak. What you see from them [in the media] and what we see behind closed doors might be a little different.”
The old Bergeron has appeared on the ice where he’s tied for tops in the team with seven points through the first 10 games, and that appears to also be shining through in Boston’s new leadership structure this season.
‘ Don’t expect Milan Lucic to begin dropping the gloves and transforming into the Incredible Looch when he returns from his broken right index finger. The hulking left winger has been working out and skating on his own, but said that it took at least “two months” for his finger to stabilize the last time he broke a knuckle/finger on his left hand.
That means Lucic won’t be slipping into fight mode for a minimum of several weeks, and probably longer, after the finger is healed enough to suit up again for the B’s.
“You’ve got to be smart about it, protect it a little bit and wait for [the finger] to solidify before you go back to everything you used to do before,” Lucic said. “I definitely didn’t fight right after I came back the last time, and it look a little bit before it was ready to go.”
Lucic had only the one fighting major came when he rearranged Jay Harrison’s facial structure in the blowout win over the Hurricanes in the B’s second game of the season. It may be quite some time before his next one, and there remains the question of how much Lucic will throw down given his value to the hockey team as a top line player and his value in dollars given his newly signed long-term contract.
‘ There’s been a lot of talk about the incoming Devils before they come into the TD Banknorth Garden Thursday night, and naturally most of the conversation centered around the trap and Martin Brodeur. Both coach and players paid tribute to the disciplined — albeit sleepy — trapping style that New Jersey has become synonymous with, and the legendary goaltender at the end of Jersey’s layered defense.
B’s goalie Tim Thomas called Brodeur’s hybrid style the “one-legged butterfly”, and said that he’s taken plenty from watching the four-time Vezina Trophy winner over the years. Just don’t ask Thomas if he ever watches Brodeur when he’s playing against him, because the reigning Vezina Trophy winner clearly doesn’t get caught up in the individual goalie matchups.
“The truth is he’s a great goalie that’s been fortunate enough to play with a good team in front of him for his entire career,” Thomas said. “You don’t win Vezinas without a good team in front of you, and the New Jersey Devils have been able to build up a strong core and keep them together the whole time through.
“If you don’t have the right team to play with, then it doesn’t matter what system you have. There’s nothing about his style. He just stops the puck. Everybody talks about my style, but he really has his own style, too. He has a way, way different style from everybody else than I do.”
How would Thomas describe Brodeur’s way different style of “stopping the puck?”
“One-legged butterfly. Half-butterfly. Watch him, he goes down on his right knee all the time. He goes into the butterfly, but that isn’t his first move,” Thomas said. “His first move is to go down halfway and then the butterfly is his second move. If you can do it and cover [the 5-hole] up enough enough, then it’s much easier to get up [tall] off one knee.”
|Milbury: NHLPA fiasco may be impacting Bruins||10.18.09 at 4:31 pm ET|
In the wake of the dismissal and questions behind the process involved, there’s been a bit of upheaval within the NHL player representation that included the Bruins. Andrew Ference was the player rep for the last two seasons and perhaps the biggest name behind Kelly’s firing, and he’s been replaced at the position by defenseman Mark Stuart ‘ with Dennis Wideman stepping up as the assistant player rep.
There had been whispers of discontent among some Bruins players about the dismissal and the actual process used by the NHLPA following the 3 a.m. setting of Kelly’s firing and in-house positioning for the position that’s taken place since the Kelly move. Several Bruins players are expected to be part of an NHLPA-sponsored conference call on Sunday afternoon where all of the issues will be broached, and the players will discuss their next step as an organization badly in need of a new leader and a revamped constitution — along with a complete reputation makeover.
Mark Recchi was one B’s player unhappy about the process behind Kelly’s sacking, and wasn’t all that shy about his disapproval. There had also been some philosophic discussions between the two players during the first few weeks of the season that some characterized as heated debate within the dressing room.
Both Recchi and Ference publicly stated that there’s no lingering animosity or negative feelings permeating through the Bruins dressing room since Ference decided to step down as player rep, but NESN analyst and former Bruins Mike Milbury seemed to hint that things may still be festering among the B’s concerning the NHLPA mess during his weekly visit with NHL Live! on XM Radio Thursday afternoon.
Milbury opined about the reported demise of the Lighthouse Project and Wayne Gretzky among other things, but his Bruins analysis proved the most interesting.
Here’s what Milbury had to say when Rob Simpson and Bill Jaffe asked the NBC and Hockey Night in Canada commentator what had to be done to improve a struggling B’s team:
MM:Everything. Huge expectations for the Boston Bruins. They’ve got a Vezina Trophy winner, a Norris Trophy winner and the coach of the year and they come out the gate with everybody dreaming of a Stanly Cup. Tim Thomas has been average and everybody has been running around like crazy. I can’t believe the kind of mental errors the Bruins have made. What made the Bruins so good under Claude Julien was how they were so disciplined and so structured that they could always find a way to win even if their offense might sputter.
Speaking of offense, it’s pretty clear that the Phil Kessel deal has had a negative impact on this team. They miss his speed and creative ability as well as his ability to score goals. Having said that with Peter Chiarelli, and I’m sure it doesn’t matter to the fans of Boston, but the front office is beginning to salivate when they look up to the Great White North and see what’s going on in Toronto. They see their record and begin to salivate a little.
Has Marc Savard played in both ends? MM:Actually, he’s been fine. He’s one of those guys that’s been okay. I can’t knock him. Lucic has been a guy that’s been a little off his game. They really need him as a sparkplug in my estimation. Marco Sturm has come back and played pretty well.
There’s no question the Bruins haven’t come out of the gate with the sense of structure and purpose that they’ve come out with in the past two years, and I will say that this NHLPA thing may have had an impact on their locker room. I don’t think it’s going to last forever, but Andrew Ference was in the middle of this thing and getting rid of Paul Kelly. There’s been a lot of heated debate in the Bruins locker room and some chatter about them even trying to move Ference at this point.
He’s been replaced as team rep, right? MM: Yeah, he’s been replaced as team rep, but he was replaced after Paul Kelly was deposed as the PA director. There was a lot of hot topics and discussion going around the Bruins locker room for a while, but who knows how much of an effect it had. The end result of all this that the Bruins have not come out with the kind of drive needed to get to where they want to be [as a team]. They’re not that talented that they can’t bring their work ethic and win hockey games.
|Three things that can turn it around for the Bruins||10.15.09 at 4:42 pm ET|
With four road dates packed into their next five games, the Bruins have a chance to prove that ancient hockey axiom correct. There’s a great and shining chance for the club to bond together on the normally cold and unforgiving road. Who knew that having a few team dinners at Fleming’s Steakhouse in unfamiliar locales could mean so much?
It’s obviously not all about some magical road solution waiting for the Bruins in Dallas and Phoenix. It’s more about things within the Boston dressing room that need to change. The B’s players need to shake themselves out of the snow-blindness caused by a flurry of preseason hype and media predictions that tabbed the Black and Gold as the trendy pick for the Stanley Cup finals.
There’s plenty the Bruins can do to turn things around after a 2-3 start to the season that lacked the passion and work ethic inherent in last season’s 116-point hockey team. The Bruins are simply beating themselves. It’s something that hasn’t been a major problem since the structured, disciplined Claude Julien took over the coaching reigns three years ago. It’s also something the Bruins are much too talented to be doing.
“We talked about it and addressed a lot of different things that we can do to get better a lot over the last few days,” Milan Lucic said. “We’ve talked about it a bunch. Now it’s time to not do so much talk, and go out and do it.”
It’s high time for Lucic and the B’s to slam down the preseason power rankings and the glossy magazine pieces, and instead strap on the hard hats and tool belts that allowed them to enjoy so much regular season success last winter. There’s plenty of hard work that goes into winning a Cup, and the B’s haven’t exactly dirtied their finger nails quite yet.
“We haven’t played Bruins hockey, and played the way that this team has grown its identity over the last couple of years,” said Mark Recchi. “We have to get back to it and realize how hard it is. Get our focus back. I really believe it’s not that far away. This is a little bit of a wake up call, and this isn’t a bad time to go through this.”
With that in mind, here are three things the Bruins can do turn things around just five games into their 82-game schedule:
1. Will the real Looch please stand up — The bruising 21-year-old winger might have been in too much of a lighthearted mood after becoming the B’s newest millionaire several weeks ago, and by his own admission lost some of his surliness over the last few games.
His numbers aren’t really that far off what they were last season. After five games last season, Lucic had three points, six shots on goal and 14 registered hits to open things up. After five games this season, Lucic has a pair of assists, four shots on goal and the same exact 14 registered hits. But many of those body checks haven’t been of the bone-thumping variety. There certainly haven’t been many defensemen forced to look over their shoulders while digging out pucks in the corner. That needs to change for Lucic and the Bruins immediately, and the B’s forward is well aware.
“The last two games I’ve feel like been getting better at creating, but for me it’s also more about getting on the puck quicker, turning pucks over and then creating scoring chances,” said Lucic. “I feel like I need to do a little bit more of that to get back to where I want to be. Talking with the coaches, and Peter [Chiarelli] and Cam [Neely], the one thing they always tell me is that when I keep it simple with that meat and potatoes-kind of game, I’m at my best. I have to play hard-nosed hockey.”
“I have to pick [the physical] part of my game up and boost the team up with some big hits to get them going. Maybe Wheels can get me going before the game. Maybe we can get some Indian leg-wrestling going in the locker room before the game start. We can just lock legs and see who wins.”
Blake Wheeler, who was taking his skates off right next to Lucic, shot back with: “Don’t worry, I’ll protect you out [on the ice].”
Indian leg wrestling or not, Big Looch knows what he needs to do and is looking to amp up his physical factor for the weekend road games against Dallas and Phoenix along with getting more involved offensively. Perhaps skating with David Krejci will rekindle a spark and bring out the intimidating side he flashed in last season’s playoffs when the two young skaters were paired together. The one big advantage to skating with Krejci is that the right-handed shooter’s first inclination for passes will be with the forehand to his left side. That bodes well for the fire-breathing winger bombing down the left side.
Just call it the Sleeping Bear Syndrome.
It’s no secret that the fear factor is thrown into the opposition when big No. 17 is playing mean, merciless hockey, and it’s paramount to Boston’s success. Lucic knows that he and his teammates are much better when there’s a certain attitude of aggression among the players. He also hinted that the mounting criticism of the B’s sluggish start might be the exact kind of kindling needed to get their competitive fire going. In short, Lucic needs to lead the way in bringing the rage back out onto the ice for the Bruins.
“It seems like right now we’re getting challenged by all kinds of people that are starting to doubt us,” said Lucic. “I think we should use that to our advantage and go against it. We need to play with that edge and physical presence to be successful. The best thing is for us to be aggressive and initiate it right off the start rather than sit around waiting for somebody to wake us up.”
2. Get the special teams back on track — Julien had a simple explanation when asked what could help out a B’s power play that’s managed success only 13.8 percent (4-for-29) of the time in their first five games. His answer was pretty straightforward and to the point: “Score.” Julien is obviously the kind of straight-shooter that has middle management written all over him, but he’s also got a point.
The Bruins need to score by any means possible on the man-advantage, and that means showing both intelligence and poise with the puck. But it also means showing a little desperation when that’s called for during potential tipping points on the power play. Derek Morris and the first power-play unit helped produce four power play scores in the B’s 7-2 thumping of Carolina, and stressed that they need to return back to what made them so successful in that particular game.
They, in essence, need to “go ugly early” in the man advantage and start hunting out those ugly goal situations. Getting position in tight near the net and redirecting pucks, or simply lurking around the cage wating for rebounds could make all the difference.
“When was the last time you saw us get a tip on a goal? Or get a rebound goal on the power play?” asked Morris. “Defenses are getting so good at blocking shots and getting in the shooting and passing lanes during the power plays, and we have to be a little more patient getting the pucks to our forwards.
“Then when we do get the puck down there, we’ve got to start looking for those ugly goals. Crashing the net and getting to that puck right at the split-second when the opportunity is there.
3. Thomas needs to shake off the slow start — The B’s goaltender isn’t going to admit to being a slow starter, but he hasn’t looked like his Vezina Trophy self during the preseason or first three regular season games behind an admittedly mistake-prone defense. A 4.01 goals-against average and an .868 save percentage are so far below Thomas’ norms that there’s no choice but to believe they’re aberrational. He was miles better than playing in the Dave Lewis system, and that’s truly saying something.
Just about at this exact point last season, Thomas stepped up and play shutdown hockey between the pipes in back-to-back games against the Oilers and the Canucks, and made 58 saves in back-to-back shutouts. The Bruins should be looking for much the same out of Thomas this weekend during their tour of the NHL’s southwestern outposts, and he’s up for the challenge.
“The numbers are a little bit distorted. I didn’t feel as bad as the numbers look in the two games that we lost,” said Thomas, who said he didn’t read anything into Tuukka Rask making back-to-back starts. “I haven’t felt really bad, but I’ve just got bad results. It is what it is. I mean … just … it is what it is. I haven’t seen too many goals allowed by us where you’d say ‘Oh, the goalie is struggling.’ ”
“Look at the patterns over the years. The other goaltender has usually played a lot because I haven’t always played that great at the beginning. I don’t like to get that label. Last year my stats were good, but the team wasn’t winning. During the lockout year, I had five shutouts in my first 10 games. You can’t say that’s the way it is every year.”
|Rask gets the nod in net for Bruins||10.12.09 at 1:05 pm ET|
Bruins rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask was the first goaltender off the ice during Monday’s pregame warmups, and that’s a sure indicator it’ll be Rask rather than Tim Thomas in the net for the Bruins Monday afternoon against the Avalanche. Rask made 35 saves in Boston’s 4-3 shootout win over the New York Islanders on Saturday night, and clearly impressed Claude Julien enough for a second consecutive start
|Rask gets the nod in net for B’s||10.10.09 at 7:32 pm ET|
It’s Rask’s first start of the season while Tim Thomas gets the night off after allowing six goals in Thursday’s 6-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks. The Islanders, who are playing just their third game of the season, counter with Dwayne Roloson.
|Turn up the volume: Julien gives it to his B’s||10.09.09 at 1:00 am ET|
Claude Julien won the Jack Adams Trophy for best NHL coach this past summer because last season he knew all the right buttons to push during a first-place regular season finish in the Eastern Conference. He may have pushed his first one this season when he pulled no punches following his team’s dismal 6-1 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night at TD Garden, dropping to 1-2 on a season-opening five-game homestand. He made it clear that he would put his fourth line out on the ice for every shift if it meant he would get maximum effort.
Julien made that comment because he believed, in watching his team allow six unanswered goals after an early 1-0 lead, that his fourth line was the only one that gave an honest effort.
Here’s a sample of what he and others inside the Bruins dressing room had to say.
|‘Tuukka Time’ is finally coming to Boston||09.26.09 at 10:51 pm ET|
With a 4-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets still fresh in his mind, rookie goaltender Tuukka Rask still couldn’t hide his excitement at winning a spot on the Bruins regular season roster Saturday afternoon. The B’s announced that Dany Sabourin was being sent down to Providence prior to the game, and that meant a goalie competition — one that was fairly one-sided – was officially over.
One short season ago Rask had the best camp of any Bruins goaltender, but was busted down to the AHL for seasoning with veterans Thomas and Manny Fernandez on the roster. It was difficult for the 22-year-old to hide his frustration on his way down, but things couldn’t be more opposite this time around as Thomas’ understudy.
“[I'm] really excited,” said Rask. “This is something that I’ve been working toward. I feel for [Sabourin] because I was in the same spot last year. Obviously it’s fun to be here, and I’ve been hoping for it to happen. It’s good that it happened.
“It’s a little different feeling [this year]. You can imagine what it feels like when you have a good camp and then you’re sent down. But if that’s the way things are you’ve got to get over it.”
The young goalie clearly was battling with a fatigued team in front of him playing its sixth game in eight nights, but there were flashes of exactly what he’ll bring to the table this season on Saturday night. He’s bigger and plays a much more silent game between the pipes than his Vezina Trophy-winning partner, and he managed 31 saves against a Blue Jackets team piling on Grade A chances over the final 30 minutes of play.
“When you looked at the way [Tuukka] played in those first few exhibition games, it was clear he had improved a lot from what I saw last year,” said Claude Julien. “Personally from what I saw in the playoffs in Providence the year before, he had collapse a little bit. Especially in that last game.
“Mentally he’s become stronger and physically he’s become stronger and he’s in a lot more control. He’s got a lot more experience and he’s the right fit for us. Tonight, I think he played well. Didn’t have much help in front of him. We’re confident in him, and he’s going to play. We all know Timmy is not a goaltender that will play 70, or 75 games. Tuukka will need to come in and do the job, and we’ll confident in him.”
Rask was never more impressive than when he completely stone-walled Russian sniper Nikita Filatov skating in all alone for golden opportunity in the third period. There was no panic or quick movements, and Rask didn’t allow any holes for Filatov to pick at as he came speeding toward the cage. Rask won’t be required to play any more than 30-35 games in his first season backing up Thomas, but the 6-foot-2, 171-pounder is ready to fill whatever role comes his way.
“I’m really excited for Thursday and to get things going,” said Rask. “We’ve just got to get this train going on the right track. Just get a good start and never look back.
“The job I’m given, I’m going to try the best I can and help this team. You want to do your best and simply help the team. That’s all I can do. I feel like I’ve been this team for two weeks now, and it feels good.”
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