|Post-(optional) morning skate notes: Tuukka Rask first off the ice, for what it’s worth||01.06.11 at 12:19 pm ET|
The Bruins held an optional morning skate in anticipation of Thursday night’s tilt with the Wild at TD Garden. The following players participated:
Rask was first off the ice for the B’s in the skate, though given the combination of the fact that it was an optional skate and the trickery these guys have pulled in the past, it isn’t worth putting too much stock into. Rask made 36 saves in the B’s 3-1 victory over the Maple Leafs on Monday, while Thomas played in eight straight games prior to getting the night off in Toronto.
Here are a few notes from after the skate:
– Claude Julien isn’t happy with the way the power play has been performing of late. The team has been on the man advantage only six times over the last three games and hasn’t scored on any of them.
“I think it’s got to get better,” Julien said. “We talked about that this morning and again the month of December actually was a decent month for our power play, but so far in January … it hasn’t been good enough for us and needs to generate some goals. So it’s a challenge for a power play right now to kind of turn that around and bring it up a notch.”
– Given that the Bruins are coming off a successful road trip (3-0-2) and are gearing up for a tough stretch that includes games against the Canadiens, Penguins, and Flyers, a home game against Minnesota is a pretty good candidate for a potential trap game. That’s not the way Julien sees it.
“I don’t know if I’ll call it a trap game, but it’s certainly a game that is going to represent a challenge for us, and most games do anyways,” Julien said. “I think it’s important for us to be well prepared and focus properly and come up with a solid effort tonight and give yourselves a chance to win a hockey game and build yourself up in a positive way for this next segment.
– Former Boston College and Bruins forward Chuck Kobasew is back in Boston for the first time since being traded to Minnesota seven games into last season. In parts of four seasons (158 games) with the Bruins, Kobasew had 44 goals and 39 assists.
This season, Kobasew has six goals and an assist in 25 games for the Wild. His former coach had nothing but nice things to say about him.
“Chuck, to me, was always a true professional,” Julien said of Kobasew. “He came in and I mean that in the sense where everything he did was related to the game, he came in and it was all business when it was at the rink. Very good individual, good person, and it wasn’t easy to let him go.”
“I don’t think anybody’s looking ahead here,” he added. “We’re at a stage of the season where every game means a lot, and you really have to focus on the game that’s in front of you, not the ones that are a few days away, or a week away. I think our guys are pretty focused on the task at hand.”
– Tyler Seguin‘s mother and sisters will be in attendance tonight, as they’re in town visiting the 18-year-old. Seguin’s mother was at the home-opener vs. the Capitals on Oct. 21, and though his sisters haven’t seen him play in Boston, this isn’t their first trip to the Garden. The Seguin family took in the Celtics game last night before going back to watch World Junior Championship final between Canada and Russia, a game Russia took, 5-3, via five unanswered goals.
|Tuukka Rask remains a cool customer in dealing with role||01.05.11 at 6:55 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Right now Tuukka Rask is looking for a happy medium of sorts. Perhaps the most surprising backup goalie of the year, Rask has made just 11 starts this season after emerging as the starter down the stretch and into the playoffs in the 2009-10 campaign.
“It’s different, and I think everybody has to go through it at some point, Rask said Wednesday. “In my short career, I haven’t sat on the bench that much, and this is definitely the most I’ve ever sat. ‘¦ You can’t get satisfied sitting on the bench. You’ve got to work hard and try to find you game and get those wins the team needs.”
The opportunity to get those wins has not been presented to Rask nearly as much as many expected going into the season. Tim Thomas has been the man between the pipes for more than two-thirds of the Bruins’ games thus far, and Rask recently spent seven games straight games on the bench.
With his role so different from what he and a great number of people had anticipated, it’s no wonder that coach Claude Julien has expressed some sort of concern with making sure the goalie stays confident. The remedy for any confidence issues the 23-year-old could be battling is more frequent starts, and results when he does play.
“It’s funny how it goes, confidence-wise when you’re playing a lot and you’re in that groove and you’re feeling good about yourself, and then you don’t play that much,” Rask said. “You shouldn’t be feeling bad, but there’s nothing you can do about it because you haven’t played. You try to find that groove and get on it, but it’s challenging. Hopefully I can find it.”
With Rask’s starts on Saturday and Monday, the Finnish netminder received consecutive starts for the first time all season. Getting the start Monday seemed big for Rask, as he rebounded from a poor first-period showing in Buffalo to a performance in which he shut down the Leafs en route to a 2-1 victory. He said that he approached both games the same way, and that given the circumstances under which he was pulled against the Sabres, the Bruins’ weren’t in too bad of shape at the time of his exit.
“I was still up, 4-3, when I got pulled,” Rask said. “It wasn’t that tough for me to prepare mentally and then try to have that bounce-back feeling. Still, when you get pulled, you don’t want to get pulled twice in a row. You try to earn the trust and earn the win. That’s the only thinking I was thinking.”
Rask is 3-7-1 with a 2.63 goals against average this season. His .927 save percentage would be good for fourth in the NHL if he had enough minutes to qualify.
NESN and NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury checked in for his weekly visit with the Dale & Holley show Wednesday to talk about the Bruins and the NHL. To hear the interview, go to the Dale & Holley audio on demand page.
Milbury said the calls for Claude Julien to be fired during the Bruins’ recent slump were uncalled for. “I didn’t think it was fair,” Milbury said. “I mean, here’s a guy a year just removed a year from the Coach of the Year award and a team that was second overall in the National Hockey League, and I know the story of the collapse as well as anybody, but one game from the conference championship. Then he comes into this season and because of bumps in the road, all of a sudden it’s all his fault.”
Added Milbury: “I don’t think at any time did Peter Chiarelli have in mind that this was Claude Julien’s fault.”
Describing Julien’s coaching attributes, Milbury said: “I think he’s an honest, diligent coach who’s fair to his players. I think he’s a very even-keeled coach. He’s not a ranter or a screamer. I don’t think there’s as much room for that in today’s game with today’s player as there was in previous years. ‘¦ I think he’s a good coach.”
Milbury has consistently preached that the Bruins need to give more playing time to Tuukka Rask because he is the obvious goalie of the future in Boston while Tim Thomas is toward the end of his career. In the past week, Rask was pulled after one period of a loss to the Sabres but inserted the following game and delivered in a 2-1 win over the Maple Leafs.
“I think they’ve been a little unfair to Tuukka Rask,” Milbury said. “I think they yanked the chance to be the No. 1 goaltender. And again, we’ve kind of gone through this before, but Thomas has been incredible. But Tuukka Rask is the future of this franchise in terms of goaltending. I don’t think he deserves to be given second-tier status or backup status. I would have thought they would have gone to two No. 1 goaltenders for a while. And I was happy he got back in net. I’ve been wanting to see more of Tuukka Rask, because I think down the line, they’re going to need him. It was a great sign that he bounced back. It was a great sign that they gave him an opportunity and a great sign that he bounced back.”
|Schedule not letting up on Bruins after road trip||01.04.11 at 11:17 pm ET|
The Bruins have picked up a lot of things over their past six games, the last five of which were spent outside the confines of TD Garden. As the B’s return to Boston to face the Wild on Thursday, they do so as a more finely tuned machine, and one that doesn’t face nearly as many questions as it did two weeks ago.
The top line of Lucic-Savard-Horton showed signs of breaking out and eventually did when they produced a pair of goals on Monday in Toronto. The top line woes had been one of the biggest concerns for the B’s even as the team achieved success against the Thrashers and the early stops of the trip.
That’s not the only sign of things looking up for the B’s. Tuukka Rask got a whole 80 minutes worth of time between the pipes. Tyler Seguin is looking less like an 18-year-old rookie and and more like an NHL player, which will eventually mean some sort of doom for opposing goaltenders.
The Wheeler-Krecji-Ryder line is playing as well as any of the B’s lines have all year, while the Merlot Line can continue chugging along with the health of Gregory Campbell. Points aside, the B’s have plenty going for them as they return home.
The Bruins left for the trip as a team that had followed a 1-2-2 slump with a statement-making 4-1 victory over the Thrashers that included a night’s worth of fights on a single shift, and they return having solidified its standing as one of the best road squads in the league. Additionally, they have taken 10 points over a six-game stretch for the second time since the beginning of December.
Beginning with their Dec. 23 win, the B’s have been one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference, as the 10 of a possible 12 points they have seized over their last six games is a mark that is matched only by three Eastern Conference teams: the Thrashers (4-0-2), the Lightning (5-1-0), and the Islanders (5-1-0).
On the trip, they went from second place in the Northeast to being owners of a three-point lead over the Canadiens, who have sputtered in notching only one win over their last three games. Given that both the Atlantic and Southeast divisions have boasted more points (both divisions have two teams with more than 50 points, while the Bruins lead the Northeast with 48), establishing a stranglehold on one of the top-three spots in the East by winning a weak division will be key for the Bruins to avoid having to battle for a playoff spot as the season progresses.
Though the last six games (4-0-2) have provided enough for hockey fans around Beantown to have a renewed faith in their squad, the test in this chunk of their schedule, so to speak, is not over. In fact, the five games they will play following Thursday night’s tilt with the Wild, regardless of venue, may be just as big a barometer for future success as the five they just wrapped up on the road.
After Thursday’s game, the B’s will hit the road for a pair of games that will kick off the following stretch: at Montreal, at Pittsburgh, vs. Ottawa, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Pittsburgh.
Of course, the Habs, Penguins (twice), and the Flyers are the teams that stand out in that stretch, as they all have a lot to do with the Bruins’ playoff picture going forward. Furthermore, after their performances against the teams yielded a mixed bag of results earlier in the season, it will be interesting to see how well this rejuvenated B’s team can handle the best the Eastern Conference has to offer.
The Bruins have a five-game sample of the three teams, and vs. the clubs they are a combined 2-2-1. They have dropped both contests vs. the Canadiens, while they beat the Flyers in Philadelphia before losing to them in overtime at the Garden. It was in Pittsburgh that the B’s, after entering the final period trailing by a score of 4-2, scored five third-period goals to give them a 7-4 victory on Nov. 10.
The Bruins will wind down (if you can call it that) from their tough stretch with a pair of games against the ninth-place Hurricanes, who blanked them at the Garden in the post-Thanksgiving matinee.
The B’s have reached one of many checkpoints along the season, but the schedule isn’t softening up on them yet.
|Nathan Horton, Marc Savard come up big in front of Tuukka Rask as Bruins defeat Maple Leafs||01.03.11 at 9:30 pm ET|
Horton, who had not scored a goal in nine games entering the night, beat Leafs goaltender James Reimer from the high slot at 7:56 of the second period and set up a Savard one-timer later in the period. Mikhail Grabovski got the Leafs on the board in the first period, but his breakaway goal was the extent of the Leafs’ scoring.
Rask made 36 saves in improving to 3-7-1 on the season. The Bruins have now wrapped up their five-game road trip and will return to the Garden to face the Wild on Thursday.
WHAT WENT RIGHT FOR THE BRUINS
– As good as it is to see Horton get on the scoring sheet, ultimately the breakout was by his entire line. Since Claude Julien put the Milan Lucic-Savard-Horton line together following the team’s Dec. 20 loss to the Ducks, the line hadn’t produced a single goal. Two from the line on Monday was a good sign that Julien was wise in not blowing up the line after earlier, quieter showings.
– If Rask’s confidence was in question, he can leave Monday night’s game knowing that he came up big in Toronto. Rask got sharper throughout the night, stopping an onslaught of from the Leafs early in the third that consisted of two quick shots from Phil Kessel and a follow-up bid from Tyler Bozak at 15:44. He later came up huge against Colby Armstrong with just over 11 minutes remaining.
– Tyler Seguin had only two shots on goal and was a minus-1 (it was his shot that Luke Schenn blocked and sent up to Grabovski), but the youngster is playing a more confident game of late. Perhaps even more apparent than it was in Saturday’s two-point performance, Seguin doesn’t look like a rookie overly concerned with limiting mistakes. Confidence undoubtedly will yield improved stats.
– The Bruins have not lost in regulation since the aforementioned Dec. 20 game. They took eight of 10 points on their five-game road trip after beating the Thrashers at home on Dec. 23.
WHAT WENT WRONG FOR THE BRUINS
– Mark Recchi got caught in a line change on Grabovski’s goal, though the play was the result of many players being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The defense, assuming Seguin’s shot would go through, wasn’t anticipating the play going the other way, and with Grabovski streaking, it was a perfect storm for the Leafs.
– The Bruins had only one power play on the night, the result of a first-period interference call on Mike Komiserik, and went 0-for-1 with the man advantage. Over the last three games, the B’s have gone 0-for-6 on the power play.
– Who knew Canada was more out of touch with North American rock music than the Czech Republic? Metallica’s “I Disappear” could be heard late in the third period coming from the Air Canada Centre speakers. O2 Arena in Prague was a little closer to relevant rock with their painful Nirvana overkill.
Nathan Horton’s play has been improved of late, but the scoring sheet hadn’t suggested it until he helped the Bruins build a 2-1 lead over the Leafs in the second period.
After a nine-game goal drought, Horton sent a puck to Dennis Seidenberg in the point before doing what made him so popular at the beginning of his Boston tenure: finding his way to the high slot and snapping a shot past bodies and in. The goal, which came at 7:56 of the period, was his 12th of the season.
The B’s outshot the Leafs, 17-8, in the period and have outshot the Leafs, 24-19, though two.
|Claude Julien defends goaltender switch, saying Bruins ‘needed some bigger saves’||01.01.11 at 10:37 pm ET|
Tuukka Rask, making his first start since Dec. 15, was pulled from the game after allowing three goals on 16 shots in the first period. The B’s led, 4-3, at the time, and went on to lose, 7-6, to the Sabres in a shootout.
Following the game, coach Claude Julien defended the decision in his post-game interview on NESN.
“We felt that we needed some bigger saves,” Julien said. “He hasn’t played in a while, but still, we needed to win this hockey game, so we thought it was important to make that change.”
Rask is 2-7-1 this season.