Saturday, December 29, 2007

Can It Get Any Worse?

Yes, yes it can.

I swear, right now this team would get it's butt handed to it by last year's squad. They are playing that badly. Oh how I long for the days of old, when Bruins fans could look forward to a post season and hold their heads high. You know, like a month ago?

For me, the one thing worse than watching this team in free fall for the rest of the season would be if Chiarelli was forced into giving up one of my favorite Bruins. And in all likelihood it would be a quick fix that wouldn't work and a move that I and other fans will rue for years to come. So far Chiarelli has been pretty smart about his in-season moves. They have been crafty and sneaky, obtaining misfits like Bochenski for a little future, or exchanging players for a better fit like with the Stuart/Premeau deal. That one was particularly smart because Stuart wasn't going to stay on anyhow. Even the oft maligned Boyes for Wideman trade wasn't all that bad, assuming he can tie up Wideman long term, which should be one of his top priorities in the new year.

But I fear that Chiarelli is going to be pressured into giving up too much this time. When Kevin Paul Dupont speaks things tend to happen. In my opinion what he should be doing is shopping for a team that is looking to clear some cap space, perhaps in return for a prospect or draft picks. Maybe shopping players like Nokelainen, Sobotka or Reich. The problem with that is timing. If Chiarelli is going to do something about the current free fall (it's way past a mere slide now) then it's too soon to find a team looking to dump salary. I fear the result of a move now will spell disaster. If he trades Kessel, Axellson, Lucic, or Rask it will be giving up too much too soon. Axellson would be sorely missed on both ends of the ice and it is difficult to imagine a player(s) in return who could both fill that void and make such an impact that the the season could be saved. And Kessel, Lucic and Rask are the core of the team's future. Likewise I have great difficulty in imagining how the team would be better off next year without any of them--I don't care who you get today in return!

I say tie up Wideman and let the team suck if thats what is to be. Then use your cap space to make some free agent acquisitions over the summer to make the team better and hope that their experience will make them all the more hungry in the fall of 2008. And who knows--this team has surprised everyone with its character all year. They may dig their way out of this hole yet. Let's all hope Alberts and Ward get well soon!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Spin It Any Way You Want

Where do you start with last night's game against the Penguins? The way the NESN crew gushed about Crosby in the opening, or that given the B's place in the standings and how well they have played all season how little excitement they showed for the home team? The Crosby and Malkin show in the first period? Or the complete meltdown of the Bruins team defense? The not one, but two fights between Chara and and Laroque, or that for all the dancing they did nobody truly landed a punch? Crosby's first fight and Gordie Howe hat trick, or his disappearing act in the 3rd period? The Bruins fighting back from 4-0 to tie the game late in the 3rd, or the way the Penguins collapsed? The huge saves Tim Thomas made to keep the Bruins in the game, or that he allowed goals on the first two shots in the shootout?

It was interesting, exciting, entertaining and yet... flawed.

For me, one play stands out even above all that. It was the Crosby goal in the 1st period. He crashes the net with Chara all over him, even lifting his stick. Yet somehow he powers his way to the goal anyhow, gets hist stick away from Chara's, and tips the puck into the net off from one of the most perfect passes I have ever seen. I've never been a true believer in Crosby, what with all the hype and how young he still is. But I am now. That wasn't a highlight reel all-skill goal, yet it will be burned into my memory.

Someone else who really impressed me with his play was PJ Axelsson. PJ is the kind of player the less observant fans tend to overlook, usually making a quiet string of great little plays rather than a few big ones. He's really come along in the last month or so, often making the key clear on the PK, and his forechecking improves with every game. Last night he was a force and difference maker all over the ice.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Flyers Get Warning

From Another hit for Flyers:

The Flyers have been warned.

Another dangerous strike, another deliberate blow to the head of an opponent and more than just a player will be suspended. The NHL is prepared to take severe discipline against the franchise, such as a hefty fine, if another player needs to be punished for an illegal hit.

“Obviously, we’re under watch,” Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said.

It's about time they did something. But one might ask why it took five player suspensions for this team in just 25 games to get the league's attention.

Bruins Report by the Numbers

After 24 games here are some cold numbers to judge the Bruins by:

6th -- the Bruin's power ranking based on statistics by TSN. Yes--you read that right. The Bruins are ranked as the number 6 team in the NHL.

4th -- the Bruins ranking in points in the Eastern conference once the points are adjusted for games in hand. They are basically tied for 4th place with Carolina, New Jersey, and Montreal. They are 1 point behind Philly, 2 points behind the Rangers, and 5 points behind Ottawa.

95 -- the Bruins projected number of points at the end of the season based on performance to date. This would have been good enough for 6th place in the conference and a playoff berth last year.

8th - the Bruins ranking in winning percentage.

3rd - the Bruins ranking in winning percentage when being outshot (thanks to Timmy).

7-2-1 -- the Bruins home record this season.

25 -- the number of assists Marc Savard has, which leads the league.

0.936 -- Tim Thomas' save percentage, which leads the league. That comes to allowing 10 goals out of every 156 shots, or 1 goal out of every 16. Timmy is currently ranked 4th in goaltenders by TSN and is the 10th ranked player overall.

6th -- the TSN ranking of Chara among NHL defensemen. He is ranked behind Pronger, but ahead of Phaneuf. Chara is 9th in the league in penalty minutes with 56. He has 18 minor penalties, 2 fighting majors, and 1 10-minute misconduct.

3-- the number of game winning goals by Glen Metropilit and Chuck Kobasew. There are 6 players with 4, Brad Boyes among them, and Jeremy Roenick leads the league with 5.

8th -- Kobasew's rank in shot percentage, hitting the back of the net 22.7% of the time. He is ranked 14th in the league in goals. Sturm is ranked 16th.

10 -- the plus/minus rating of Kobasew and Sturm. There are 9 players with better ratings in the NHL.

11th -- the Bruins power play ranking.

Ok, they can't all be good. Here are some of the low numbers:

25th-- the Bruins ranking in faceoff win percentage.

28th -- the Bruins ranking in penalty kill percentage.

4th -- the Bruins ranking in short handed goals against.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bruins Crush Flyers in Huge Hit From Behind

Last night the high-flying Flyers of Philly, with recent wins against Ottawa and Carolina under their belts, ran into a buzz saw called the Boston Bruins. The B's outplayed Philly in all areas of the game: hitting, fighting, passing, scoring, defense, and goaltending. The Bruins completely outclassed them. The Flyers, on the other hand, took cheap shots at Bruin players, one of which resulted in Andrew Alberts leaving the game with a head injury.

A class act the Flyers are not.

The sweetest sound I've heard in some time: the Philly fans booing their team while the Bruins dominated them in their own zone. Twice.

The sickest sound: a loud contingent of Philly fans booing as Andrew Alberts finally got to his feet after being knocked unconscious by a vicious illegal hit to the head.

A class act the Philly fans are not.

It's time the league sent a message about these reckless dangerous hits. If that wasn't clear to some people before last night, I hope it is now apparent. It is up to the coaches and ultimately the management to say to their players that these dangerous cheap shots are not to be tolerated. They have clearly failed to do this in Philly and they (the coaches and management) must be held accountable by the NHL before someone gets killed.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Adversity Strikes

I knew that the Bruins would face adversity sooner or later. It happens to all teams during the course of the season. I had simply hoped that it would come later, after they had built some confidence. But that was not meant to be. Adversity has come at the worst possible time: right as the Bruins are in the midst of a critical series of games against their division rivals.

The adversity? Major acquisition of the summer Manny Fernandez has been placed on IR . But he was playing poorly anyhow. Shawn Thornton, another summer acquisition, joins him. Arron Ward, one of the teams top blue-liners, is out with a concussion. And of course, worst of all, Partice Bergeron, who was called the "heart and soul of the team" by a teammate, is out indefinitely with a major concussion. Toss in the fact that out of their last four critical games there have been no wins and things look pretty bleak. The only thing that has gotten them this far has been effort, but can they keep that up without winning? I mean, they played very well against the league-leading Sens, but the bottom line is they lost both games. How long can they keep it up?

So where does that leave the team? Pretty much back where they were last year. I think of last year's Bruins in three separate phases. When the season began they were getting to know one another and their new coaches/system. They started horribly. Their goaltending was shaky at best. But they improved and eventually put together a good run. But a hockey season is a sort of race to see who can keep getting better, and the Bruins had peaked. The rest of the league passed them by and when that became obvious they collapsed. This is why I think people got the wrong impression about the team from looking at the stats. Looking at the stats for the entire season it is the last part that dominates (when the players had given up). Their defensive stats were terrible, and the goaltending stats were less than stellar. But forgetting for a moment the question of motivation when things go badly and the need to improve throughout the entire season (things that can be blamed on the coaching staff to a large extent), when I think about last year's team I think about that middle period when they were rolling. During that time they had spectacular goaltending, they played solid defense, and were able to win game after game by one goal. One goal. Often in overtime or the shootout. That's a very thin line between winning and losing and it was one they could not stay on the right side of forever.

So here we are with pretty much the same team: excellent goaltending, very good defense, but they can't score! Once again we have PJ on the top line. Just as last year, time and again they hold the other team to 1-2 goals and still manage to lose. Their forecheck improved this year (Bergeron's in particular, and PJ has been improving a lot), but it isn't enough.

I said over the summer that my number one wish for the Bruins was that they could establish just one strong scoring line. I felt that with a left-shooting power forward to go with Savvy and Muzz, they had the chance to have one of the most productive scoring lines in the league. Who knows, maybe Muzz would have come out flat anyhow. Or maybe some new blood would have brought him back into form. We'll never know for sure. I just wish Chiarelli had seen it my way and spent the Fenandez cap space on a power forward. If this team scores 3-4 goals per game it is juggernaut. At 1-2 goals per game it is barely holding on, and heaven forbid that something happens to Thomas, because he's the only thing keeping them from being blown out 4-1 every time.

There is so much right about this team. They have huge talent and play hard for their coach, but they don't seem to have the right mix of players. The only hope I see for this team this year is to somehow acquire a forward that will get them scoring again. And you watch, Chiarelli will soon be claiming that the Bruins need help up front. But even with the cap space due to the players on IR, doing so at this point in the season would seem rather difficult. It would have been so much easier last summer.

I hope that Bergeron cames back this season and can play up to his potential. I expect that Fernandez will eventually get it together, although goaltenders can be really hard to figure. We've seen goaltendeers walz into town before only to see their career end. I am sure that Muzz will break out of his scoring slump. Muzz is in fact playing well, he's just not scoring.

But will any of that be enough? Will I be pleasantly surprised to discover that this team has the will to fight through the adversity and start winning again? The last time the coach complained they weren't scoring they answered with a five goal game, so who knows? Time will tell. But it doesn't look so good right now...

Monday, November 5, 2007

The B's Hang with the Sens

I have been tempted to write something about how the Bruins are doing so far this season several times, but each time I have decided to wait a bit longer before saying anything. But after the home-and-home series against the Sens I think the time may be right.

This was a critical set of games. My big worry going in was that the young Bruins would be obviously outclassed and it would sting them so badly that they would lose their edge, possibly to never recover. That didn't happen. Even though they lost both games the Bruins can hold their head's high because they did show they could play with the best. My only disappointment was the shootout in last night's game. I thought Timmy had played perhaps his best NHL game ever. All night long you could hear that big "boom" as the puck came off his pads. The traffic in front of him was thick yet time and again he somehow saw the puck and stopped it. His rebounds were controlled. His glove hand was fast and sharp. In the two games he allowed only four goals on 81 shots (0.951). The Sens had to earn every single goal. So for Timmy to give up two back to back goals to start the shootout was a real disappointment. I wouldn't be surprised if fatigue wasn't a factor. He had to work very hard both games.

Overall the team played very well. Everyone contributed, and unlike last year everyone hustled nearly non-stop. There were only a few times when they let up but were able to recover quickly. One of those did lead to the Ottawa goal last night though. The Bruins were on the PP and as they began to set up in the offensive zone I knew right away they were in trouble because they had lost their jump. Just for a few seconds. I was very impressed by how the Sens smelled that and immediately took advantage of it to score a shorty.

Anyhow, I think it is safe to say that the Bruins are for real. If they play any other team in the league with the sort of hustle they showed against the Sens they will come out the winner. The next challenge (and there is always a next one) is to see if they can sustain that hustle against the other teams in their division. That, and they are going to need to get Timmy some help in goal. Unfortunately, as Fernandez discovered, Timmy's a tough act to follow.

Monday, October 29, 2007


I am deeply disappointed that the Flyer's Randy Jones has been given a slap on the wrist for nearly killing Patrice Bergeron. NHL Senior Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations Colin Cambell said, "There have been suggestions by some that this hit was comparable to incidents earlier this season where players received significant game suspensions for blows to the head. These comparisons and suggestions are wrong."

No Mr. Campbell, you are wrong.

What is the difference Mr. Campbell? Were the earlier instances the result of intentional acts to harm? If so, then this is an admission that the players involved should have been kicked out of the NHL altogether and assault charges should be filed!

Is it because Jones has a clean record? Like someone else so succinctly put it, "not any more." What happened on the ice was inexcusable. When a person exercises such negligence off the ice which results in serious injury they are put in jail. Just try intentionally shoving someone into a concrete wall on the sidewalk from behind and see what it gets you. Do you think the excuse, "We were playing roughly," will get you off? But in hockey they get a slap on the wrist and a list of excuses! Hockey players are supposed to be professionals. This was not the action of a professional.

Not only should Jones have been suspended for much longer, but the entire Philly franchise should be fined a large sum of money for the wanton disregard their players have shown for safety this season. That would get their attention and might have a real impact. This slap on the wrist--it amounts to little more than saying "it's a rough game boys." This should have been a 30-day suspension. And the "other" incidents should have been for entire seasons or more. I fear for what is going to happen now that not only are players from other teams going to be incensed about the Flyers, but the NHL has made it clear that they will give you a slap on the wrist unless it is obvious that you intentionally try to kill someone!

Some people will say that I'm just overreacting as a Bruins fan. But I've given that a lot of thought. What if it were my Bruins who were going around carelessly injuring people? What if it were my Bruins who were being suspended every few weeks? The answer is that I would be ashamed!

Mr. Campbell: as of this moment I am ashamed. I am ashamed to be an NHL fan.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Tim Thomas No. 1 Player Overall

While everyone is talking about Kessel's scoring streak and Chara's big fight, I'm still in awe of Bruin's goaltender Tim Thomas's incredible run to start the season.

I'm not the only one. TSN's player rankings has Tim Thomas not only as the No. 1 goaltender in the NHL, but the No. 1 player overall. Their rankings are a mathematical formula based on statistics meant to weigh the impact each player has. It's basically how important they are to their team.

Meanwhile ESPN shows once again how biased they are in their absurd power rankings. As always seems the case for Thomas, the opinions of the "experts" don't come close to matching his actual performance. He never seems to get the credit he deserves. A perusal of their ranking of the top 15 players in the league shows no sign of Thomas, even though they include two goaltenders with inferior statistics! As far as I'm concerned, ESPN is no longer relevant anyhow. They turned their backs on the game after trying to take advantage of the lockout to screw the NHL.

They do still have some people associated with them whom I respect, and one of those is Barry Melrose. Recently Melrose has spoken glowingly about Thomas, saying that he is "rooting for him" and that Thomas is "what sports are all about."

I could not agree more.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Manny Meets the Goalie Grinder

The Bruins Goalie Grinder is an awesome force. In recent years it has consumed Andrew Raycroft and Hannu Toivanen. Now it seems set on destroying Manny Fernandez. The only goaltender who has been able to excel in the Bruins net in the last three years is Tim Thomas, who somehow seems immune to the grinder. Maybe its that coin he wears around his neck.

I don't pretend to understand it. I just wish it would stop. Some suggest it's the coaching. Some say it's the Boston media scrutiny. Some even claim it is a curse on the Bruins for not retiring the number of Gerry Cheevers (or any other goaltender). Half of the more fickle fans will tell you that Raycroft and Toivanen suck, and will now turn their ire toward Fernandez. The other half of them are biding their time for Timmy to lose a big game so they can once again claim he's, "not a true No. 1" with confidence. But how many goaltenders have been hailed as the great solution in the last ten years? Too many to count. And how many have thrived? One. Forget Thomas' early stats--that fact alone should make him a fan favorite.

I wasn't able to see the Habs game on Center Ice (thanks so much versus). I am sure it was ugly to watch. It was definitely ugly to listen to. I do have some thoughts though. Why do the Bruins allow so many fewer shots on goal when Timmy isn't in the net? This was true last year as well. Last year they seemed to be trying so hard to cover for the goaltender (usually Toivanen) that they would eventually get caught out of position and allow a good scoring opportunity. I can't tell if that's what was happening yesterday, but I wouldn't be surprised. With Timmy it's usually 1-2 goals on 30+ shots but put anyone else in the net and it's 6 goals on 20.

Regardless, I must admit to being mystified when I heard that Fernandez was going to start against the Habs. I understood giving him a game, but two? When the guy on the bench is the hottest tender in the league? That seemed crazy to me! How long can Timmy sit on the bench before he loses his edge? Julien said that he'd play people based on their performance not their salary. I'm not an NHL coach so I'm not going to second guess. But as a fan I do expect the coaches and the players to match their actions to their words.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Bruins Fun in the Sun

On Friday afternoon we set out in the car on the way to our Bruins adventure in Phoenix Arizona. For me Phoenix has always been one of those places I drove through or made a connecting flight. When I lived in San Diego, Phoenix was that place where all the tourists came from to crowd the beaches in the summer. We called them "Zoners." Visiting Phoenix for me was at once new and exciting and yet familiar.

We awoke on Saturday to a beautiful sunny day (of course). I opened my laptop to check the latest news online; Bish was saying that he was going to head over to the Arena in an hour or so. I also found out that I had won our family pool to guess the score of the game in Dallas the night before. I won the jelly bean with the closest guess of 3-1 Dallas (the actual score was 4-1). I was pleased to see that Fernandez had started and with 4 goals against it looked likely that we'd see Timmy that night. My 8-year-old and I are big fans of Tim Thomas and it was our fondest wish that we'd get to see him play.

I called the Bruins fan line and it was still claiming the Bruins would have a pre-game skate at 11:30 AM. I tried every number I could find to see when the Coyotes would be practicing, but came up empty (it was a Saturday after all). So we just headed across town to the Arena.

Phoenix is a typical southwestern city: dirty brown desert, malls, and homes spread out as far as the eye can see. I was surprised to discover that the Arena was far enough on the Western edge of Glendale (and civilization it seemed) that the area around it was almost rural. The parking would likely amaze those used to a more urban setting; the Arena is attached to a mall and theater complex and you can park anywhere you like in the surrounding lots for free. I asked about the Bruins skate at the ticket window and they directed me to gate 3. The security guard at the door was nice, but seemed a little confused. He said that the visiting team practices weren't generally open to the public. But the Coyotes were still on the ice so he let us in.

The Arena is gorgeous! The seats go up steeply and I could see immediately that we'd have a great view from ours. There were only a few small groups of fans in the seats, mostly near the top. Most of the Coyotes had gone, and all but one assistant coach. We went right down to the glass and watched Fredrik Sjostrum, Josh Gratton, and Martin Hanzal shoot on David Aebischer. They were all scratches that night. It wasn't Bruins but it was fun nonetheless. When they were done Sjostrum and Gratton tossed some pucks over the boards for us. I had to look these guys up when I got back to the hotel as I don't pay all that much attention to other teams. Sitting there I was struck by how little I knew about the players I was watching. I couldn't pick them out of a lineup even with their numbers on.

As they left the ice it was a half hour before the Bruins skate was scheduled and we figured we'd just sit there until someone told us we had to leave. But it wasn't long before a very nice man came by and diplomatically informed us that the Bruins had canceled their pre-game skate. Everyone had been very nice.

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around Glendale and were back at the Arena when the gates opened at 5:30. They were having some sort of event outside but it was crowded so we just went straight in. My wife and I split up with one adult and one kid. I got the oldest who is eight, and my wife got our 6 year old. We wandered all around the Arena. As game time neared we met near the Bruins tunnel. The first familiar face I saw was NESN's Rob Simpson, who was standing at the Bruins bench. He looked very cross. It made me wonder if he was just having a really bad day or if he's the kind of person who turns it on for the camera? I smiled at him (which wasn't hard because I was wearing a permanent grin at the time) and I actually noticed him avoid looking at me. I think I spotted Bish up by the press area on the main concourse.

The tunnel is covered with black cloth nearly to the end so there wasn't much to see of the players emerging. That, and there were several Arena people standing in the few places one could get close. My wife ended up along the boards near the door, chatting up the people who were sitting there. I ended up a few rows back, trying to stay out of the way as best I could. Fortunately there weren't a lot of people sitting in that area. There was room for my 8-year-old with my wife so I sent him down to her just before the players emerged. They announced the Coyotes and I looked toward their tunnel. In doing so I missed the first Bruins skate onto the ice in front of me. It was almost overwhelming even for me (and I can only imagine what it is like for an 8-year-old) to see the Bruins explode onto the ice with the loud music, flashing lights, and roaring crowd.

Looking out on the ice I suddenly saw all these familiar faces! There was Chara, and PJ, and Savvy. Hell, they were all there! I was struck by how earlier in the day I didn't know anything about the players I had been watching practice, yet here were my Bruins and I didn't need names or numbers. I recognized their faces. There went Lucic, and Muzz! And of course, Tim Thomas. Timmy skated out from the tunnel then doubled back and sat down on the ice to stretch along the boards right in front of us! My wife pointed to Timmy's head, which was mere inches away. I just stood there grinning, trying to take it all in. It was fun to watch the players check out the crowd as they skated by, trying not to be obvious. They all looked happy to be there. At some point Timmy skated from the goal out toward the blue line and in profile I saw that grin of his. I knew right then that everything was going to be all right. Not only was he going to start but he was going to have a great night.

Back in our seats the game went quickly. The crowd was friendly and low key. There were grumbles over the turnovers in the first period but most people seemed resigned to just enjoy the game no matter who won. I could see Gretzky screaming at his players on the bench. There were Bruins jerseys scattered all around. A guy one row down had an Esposito and the guy a few seats to his left an Orr. There were a lot of couples in the crowd; it was always he in his brand new Bruins sweater and her in her Coyotes Brown. I was the guy in the regular shirt. My wife had been seen shopping online for a Jersey for me for months, so I expected her to come through with one. Sigh. When the Bruins scored there was a pretty good cheer from the crowd. It was enough to drown out the moans. And I was glad that the Coyotes scored because it was fun hearing the crowd roar. I am sure it made an impression on the kids.

A couple of things impressed me. Kobasew had a great game. This was the first time he's impressed me. The forecheck looked great, and it was refreshing to see such hustle after the misery at the end of last season. Kessel was buzzing all over. Timmy was both solid and fun to watch. I loved the save while laying on his back without his stick! The best goalies are the ones who play a little crazy. And I really liked the lines. They made sense to me. Last year's lines always mystified me. Take for instance, Lucic with Kessel and PJ. It's a combination of skills and levels of experience that compliment one another. I really liked what I saw. The fact that the Bruins won was just icing on the cake.

The evening was capped-off perfectly when they announced the three stars and Timmy was the No. 1. We couldn't have asked for a better time! All the way home I kept high-fiving my son and saying, "We got to see Timmy play and he was the first star!"

Monday, October 1, 2007

33 Years Between Games

The first time I saw the Bruins play in person was also the last time. I was a young teen and a cousin of my Father's had season tickets to the L.A. Kings. Knowing of my love of all things Bruin she graciously offered them to us when we and the Bruins both happened to be in town. I must have been dumbstruck by the spectacle because I don't recall all that much. I remember that the Bruins lost and they didn't take it very well. Near the end of the game I vividly recall Bobby Orr being sent to the penalty box so angry that he broke his stick over the boards. Back in those days the guys really hated to lose in general, but to lose to a west coast expansion team was considered downright inexcusable.

That was 33 years ago. Why haven't I been to any games since? Because I have never lived in an NHL city, much less Boston. The opportunities simply have not been there. In 1990 I did spend a week in Boston, but as luck would have it the Bruins were out of town.

Back in '95 when the old Garden was no more, most fans were saddened by the thought of all the great games and history that was going away. I was saddened by the realization that I would never see a game there. Not all dreams come true, it seems.

Today I live on top of a 9000 ft mountain in New Mexico, so my chances of seeing a game are pretty slim. The unbalanced schedule makes it seem a very distant possibility indeed. When the '07/'08 schedule came out I had a look at it out of curiosity. The second game jumped out at me: Phoenix. Phoenix is the closest NHL venue to me, although it is still quite a long way away. I wondered: what were the chances that this game would be in Phoenix and not Boston? What were the chances that it would be on a Saturday night (the only night that I could possibly make it). To my utter amazement, the game was in Phoenix on Saturday October 6. Trying not to run, I found my wife in another part of the house. She's a casual hockey fan at best. I sidled up to her and innocently asked, "So... um... how'd you like to see Wayne Gretzky in person?"

Long story short, I am finally attending my second Bruins game, this time with my wife and kids in tow. It'll be a seven hour drive to get there, but I can't recall looking forward to something so much in a very, very long time!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Same Old Same Old So Far

Although I haven't been able to see any of the pre-season games so far, what I have been reading is much less than encouraging. So far it sounds like my own worst fears for the season: a team that shows what it can do when it makes the effort, yet fails to make that effort consistently. For Bruins fans what could possibly be more frustrating than that? I mean, if they had no talent and totally sucked then we could just put bags on our heads and enjoy the game anyhow. But no--we have to be shown their potential but be left wondering why they don't make the effort to play their best every period of every game. I know it's just preseason, but with this sort of attitude, are they also going to consider the early going not worth their full effort?

This business of fighting is great if the other team wants to go because you have frustrated the hell out of them. But going just to prove you are tough ultimately wears thin. Once the season starts this team needs to be punishing. And if that gets players injured, then bring up people from Providence who are willing to be punishing to replace them until they get better. It's the price you have to pay to be a contender. Do they want it badly enough to pay that price?

It's going to be a dismal season if the players aren't held accountable. I can only hope that Julien is up to that task once the season starts. These guys need to stop talking and start hitting (with their gloves on). Every game. Every period. This is what won a cup for the Ducks last year. It's that simple.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Looking Forward

I wrote a postmortem last March that expressed what, in my opinion, had gone wrong with the Bruins in 2006/2007. It was rather long. At that time I promised a look at the positive things about the Bruins that might give us hope for the coming season. With a new season on our doorstep, here it is. I wish my list of positives were longer, but so much of this team remains a question mark.

I've read some disparaging things about the Bruins talent (or lack thereof) lately from fans of other teams. I can't really blame people who don't follow the B's for mistaking a roster lacking in accomplished, well-known, players for one lacking in talent. But those of us who follow the team closely can see what may not be obvious to others: from a spark here, and a play there, we can pick out those players who either have great potential and/or who play with great heart. I am convinced that the Bruins are not lacking in talent. So I guess that would be good news right there.

On a team with so many question marks, when I look at the Bruins roster some names jump out at me that I feel can be counted on. These players together give me some cause for hope for this season.

Top-six players who have impressed me at one time or another with their skill and/or work ethic are: Marc Savard, Glenn Murray, Patrice Bergeron, and Marco Sturm. My fondest wish for next year is that these key Bruins will somehow come together to make at least one highly effective scoring line. Although Phil Kessel still has a long way to go to be a star in the NHL, I was very impressed with how much he improved last year. Perhaps the best part was how he improved. I think he's on the road to becoming a confident physical player who will win the battles along the boards, and that is exactly what the Bruins need.

If you throw in the likes of PJ Axelsson, Shawn Thornton, and Jeremy Reich they should also be able to come up with at least one monster checking line that nobody will want to play against. This was one area where I was very disappointed last year almost from the start: I thought the Bruins had the potential for one of the better 3rd lines in the league.

On the blue line, I am still a believer in Zdeno Chara. While it's true that he did not live up to expectations last season in either the physical or leadership sense, I still think he has what it takes to do both jobs with the best of them. There is a reason he is so loudly booed when they play on the road, we just haven't seen it yet. Andrew Alberts deserves mention because he has consistently out performed expectations and I don't see any reason why he can't continue to improve. I think he has what it takes to be a strong consistent presence on the blue line for many years to come. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Alberts is that he is still around. Given management's penchant for trading away young players if they don't immediately live up to their promise, it's a minor miracle he's still a Bruin.

In my mind the clear MVP from last season, if there is such a thing for a team that did so poorly, was Tim Thomas in goal. He did what he needed to do to give the team a chance to win, at least until there was no longer any point to it. He rose to the challenge when they put the screws to him in mid-season to carry the team, he made the huge saves of the type that can inspire, and he stood tall under more shots on goal than anyone else. His performance in the shootouts was nothing less than spectacular, and I would dearly love to see him get the chance to take his enormous competitiveness into a playoff series. There is no way to know for sure, but I strongly suspect that he would take his play to the next level, if only given the chance to do so.

I feel the above players are more or less proven on a team full of questions. These are all players that I am glad are on our team.

To my mind the biggest question mark is not only the new coach, but the open question of whether or not any coach could bring this rag-tag group of players together in only one season. There are two schools of thought here: some say the coach is responsible for motivating the players and for bringing them together as a team (a la Herb Brooks). Others say that no coach can do that by himself; that it is ultimately up to the players themselves (with strong on-ice leaders) to dig down inside and do what they need to do to win time and again. I suspect the answer is a complex combination of the two. When they asked Lewis what went wrong last year he said that he made the mistake of thinking the players already knew what was necessary to compete at the NHL level. Whether that was ultimately his fault or that of the players depends on your point of view... It will be interesting to see if under Julien everything changes, or nothing.

The acquisition of Fernandez is another question mark. Unfortunately, free agents can sometimes cruise into town seemingly thinking that they have finally made it, only to lose their focus. Hopefully the presence of Thomas will light enough of a fire under him that he will play solidly. And who knows--maybe the competition between the two will make them both better goalies. I just hope Fernandez doesn't underestimate Thomas like so many others have. If so, he may be in for some bench time. One way or another it should be fun to watch. I see the whole goaltender question as pretty much a win-win regardless how it turns out.

Perhaps the best thing about this season for me is that my expectations are very, very, low. Last year proved how difficult it is to build a team out of a bunch of players who don't know each other, and there have been so many changes since January that I fear a repeat. It would be a minor miracle if this team makes the playoffs. Yet at the same time it is entirely possible. If they do, it will be oh, so sweet.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Searching for Bobby Orr

I recently finished "Searching for Bobby Orr" by Stephen Brunt. This is a book that leaves many varied impressions and is difficult to pin down. The title suggests the story of a search for Orr by the author, but instead it more reflects the author's frustration in writing a biography without access to either Bobby or anyone close to him. In the end his search for Bobby led to interviews, articles, game tapes, and a few people who either knew him long ago or were never on the inside.

In the final analysis this book is a sort of mirrored reflection of Bobby himself. There are moments of beautiful prose when Brunt waxes poetic about Orr on the ice. "... every rush is an improvisation, a jazz solo, a flight of the imagination." But there are also dull chapters about Bobby's years growing up, falling somewhere between a lifeless listing of people and events and a compelling story. The book, like Bobby, is at times mysterious and aloof. There are hints of a dark side to Bobby, but he never comes right out and says it. In the end I was left with many questions unanswered. When I put the book down after finishing it, I was struck by how oddly thought provoking it was for a biography. Brunt lays some pieces of the puzzle that is Bobby's life on the table and it is left up to the reader to make some sense of them. I may have to read the book again to put it all in perspective.

In many ways this book is about the changing times: the expansion of the NHL in the US and the rebirth of the players association, and the establishment of Canada's national identity with Hockey on the international stage -- with the story of Bobby and Alan Eagleson weaved throughout. For Bruins fans there are several chapters about the Big Bad Bruins and how Bobby was the nucleus about which the great Bruins teams of the early 70's was built.

I got the sense that most of the material in the book was gleamed from books and articles, or by watching tapes of Orr playing. I also had the sense that the author was so familiar with other books and articles that had been written about Orr, about the times, about the Bruins, and about the Eagle, that at times he seemed to leave out too much of the back story--as if we too must have already read these other works and they weren't worth repeating. Yet Brunt goes into detail about the Bruins teams and Stanley Cups as if the reader may not be familiar with who Bobby Orr is. In the end I wanted more--much more. Particularly about Bobby's relationship with Eagleson and Orr's life after Hockey. But there was precious little of either. Orr's life after Hockey is left for a few short paragraphs in the epilogue. Despite the warmed-over recollections of great moments on the ice, there is an odd darkness, a sorrow throughout this book, as if the author has come to see Bobby as a tragic figure.

The book builds to a final chapter, titled "Betrayal." Brunt's take on Orr going to Chicago may be of particular interest to Bruins fans. We were once told that Bobby left because Jacobs was too cheap. But Brunt begins by outlining the canonical story we've all heard since: the Bruins in fact offered Bobby 18% of the team and a fat contract to stay, but Eagleson never told him of it. Instead he told Bobby that the Bruins wanted to put him out to pasture because of his bad knee and steered him toward accepting a contract in Chicago where he was wanted and appreciated. But in his understated style Brunt suggests that this story is not true either. Instead, he suggests that the Bruins originally offered a part of the team but that the league would not allow it, so it came off the table. He also points out that this offer was widely reported in the papers and was no secret. After Bobby failed a key physical exam, the Bruins were faced with the prospect of a very expensive long term contract for a player who might not ever play again. So they backed off guaranteeing his salary. We are led to conclude that the Eagle may in fact have done Bobby a huge favor by getting him a lucrative long-term contract, basically after his playing days were over. Yet this money-driven decision came at a huge emotional cost.

But Betrayal goes on. Again, with little editorializing we are given some facts and more or less left to come to our own conclusions. Much of the chapter is about Bobby taking part in the Canada Cup, something that was orchestrated by Eagleson. It is Orr's chance to finally play for his country and his last hurrah. But his knee barely lasts the tournament. The chapter ends with this quote: "That's why I like him so much," Eagleson said, "He gave his career for his country." We are left wondering just who betrayed whom? Did the Eagle betray Bobby or was it the other way around? Perhaps the answer is the one the book presents: Orr and Eagleson betrayed each other after they no longer needed one another. But there is another betrayal only hinted at: Bobby's betrayal of his teammates, Boston, and the Bruins fans. It's the sports business and nobody really blames Bobby for going to Chicago, except, perhaps for one person: Bobby himself. Perhaps this is the true betrayal--a festering, personal betrayal that ultimately led to very hard feelings. But I am only guessing. In the epilogue the book concludes that this search for the real Bobby may never truly end.

"Searching for Bobby Orr" is for the most part an interesting read for those interested in Bobby's story. But it suffers from changes in tone as if it were written by three different people. And although the book doesn't expound conclusions by the author about some of the controversies surrounding Bobby, he leads the reader to some interesting conclusions of their own. But in the end, I am left wary of those conclusions because it is abundantly clear just how much has been left unsaid, particularly by Bobby himself.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Fickle (a rant)

I'll admit it up front: I'm a big fan of Tim Thomas and it would be heartbreaking for me to see him traded before he had a real chance to prove himself with the Bruins. Some might wonder how I could say that, given that he started for nearly all of last season and a big chunk of the one before. But I do not feel that the rest of the team played hard enough, consistently enough, or well enough to give him that chance last year. I saw every game played last season but 2. I watched carefully. I felt the ups and downs; remember both goaltenders struggling as the season began. I recall how the team seemed to be finally moving forward and how Timmy stepped up and stole game after game. I recall the long road trip that ended with a disaster in Nashville. I recall the tailspin that came after. I recall how time and again the defense would let a guy stand right in front of the net and leave Timmy out to dry. I recall the strings of close games where the B's could not score, and game after game lost by a single goal. And just when things started to look up again the trades came. I saw the heart of the squad (Premeau) go elsewhere and I saw a group of players lose any chance to become a team. And of course I watched every ugly game as they fell flat on their faces in their doomed playoff run.

The biggest highlight for the 2006-2007 Boston Bruins was the shootout. Savard loosened things up with his rally caps. Sturm showed that he really had a scoring touch. Kessel shined, becoming the closer. And Tim Thomas, free of his teammates to go one-on-one with the best goal scorers in the league proved that he had the competitiveness to beat them again and again. On a team where the defense was fickle, where the offense was fickle by failing to control the puck, where the coaches failed miserably to install some competitiveness and responsibility, Tim Thomas was not fickle. He showed up every night, night after night, and he made spectacular saves and stole games.

And yet, some fickle fans wanted him gone from the first week of the season. He's not a true No. 1 they said. When Thomas was stealing games and the media touted his big saves and the team seemed to be coming together before Xmas, they all shut up. But they were only biding their time. The first slip up, the first time the team's fortunes changed, and they were at it again. Thomas is not a true No. 1 goaltender, they chanted, as if saying it often enough would make it true. What did these people want? There is just no way you could blame the poor play of last season on the goaltending, unless perhaps you sat in a little room and looked at only the stats, never seeing a real game. What did these people want? I finally concluded that what they wanted was a "name" in goal. It didn't matter how good Timmy was. What mattered was his reputation. And since he'd come out of nowhere and played for a team that sucked Thomas didn't have one. A true No. 1 goaltender, it seems, is a goaltender whose name everyone recognizes, nothing more.

The fickle Boston media was more subtle. They didn't come right out and claim that the two-season winner of the seventh player award wasn't a true No. 1 goaltender. But whenever the subject of improving the team came up the articles all had a certain slant to them. Often it was merely speculated that Chiarelly was looking to improve the goaltending. Or when he said he wanted to improve in that area they assumed he meant Thomas, and not a backup. Regardless, as the summer came it was clear that the media wanted a "name" goaltender too. Giguerre would do, for instance.

And of course, Giguerre would be a great acquisition for the team, as would Kiprusoff and a few other of the top elite. But they were a pipe dream.

When it came time to make a move in the off season the first priority should have been to add a left wing to the top line to make it a true scoring threat, and to add some grit up front so the team could forecheck better, possess the puck, and not play in their own zone all night. But what did the fickle GM do? He made goaltending his No. 1 priority. And did he net Giguerre? Of course not. We get Fernandez, who in my estimation is at best simply on the same par as Thomas, and at worst is a head case who lacks the competitive edge that Thomas brings.

I hope that Chiarelly somehow gets around to doing something to put one decent scoring line on the ice next season. But the same fickle wags who complain that Timmy isn't a No. 1 also calmly talk about trading away Muzz, the teams top scorer. That, instead of simply adding a veteran winger to the already accomplished tandem of Murray and Savard.

I hope that Chiarelly trades Toivanen rather than Thomas. Because mark my words, if he sticks with Thomas and Fernandez, Timmy is going to win the No. 1 spot, and that would be fun to watch. I hope that Chiarelly holds on to Muzz and builds on what we have that already works rather than starting over yet again. If he doesn't, it will be another doomed season, another doomed coach and maybe I'll just tune in during the fall of 2008 and see what the new GM brings to the ice.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Chiarelli's Mistakes

As far as I'm concerned the Chiarelli honeymoon ends today. When he announced that Dave Lewis was fired as head coach Peter Chiarelli said, "I made the assessment that his way wasn’t compatible with our guys." But why did it take a full season to figure that out? Why did he tell Lewis he had a job next year at the end of the season? Why, then, did he hire Lewis in the first place?

Chiarelli and Lewis planned a long-term rebirth for the Bruins last summer, but
Chiarelli didn't stick to it. So either way you cut it, it's a mistake. Either Chiarelli made a mistake by hiring Lewis, or he made a mistake by firing him after only one season. But that wasn't his first mistake as Bruins GM, nor was it his first regarding the coaching job. Chiarelli's first mistake as GM came before he even took over officially. It came when he allowed Mike Sullivan to hang on in limbo long after he would have the chance to find another coaching job. In my opinion that was despicable. They say it's "just part of the game" but if you look at the winners around the league and elsewhere a hallmark is that they treat their personnel with respect. The Bruins haven't done that in many years, and I believe this more than anything else has gutted a once great team. I had hoped that the Chiarelli era would be different.

Chiarelli's next mistake? That would be to listen to those who think he should go after J. S. Giguere. The problem with the Bruins isn't goaltending--it isn't even lack of talent in general. I believe that if you put Tim Thomas in a Ducks uniform at the begiining of this season rather than in a spoked-B he'd have lifted the Stanley Cup. He's an excellent goaltender, but more importantly, he's a fierce competitor. Conversely, if you had put J.S. Giguere in a spoked-B the Bruins fans would be whining about how awful he turned out to be. Behind Thomas is Hannu Tiovanen who despite his very poor season has the skill and athletic ability to one-day carry a team deep into the playoffs. Maybe that day will come this season. And waiting in the wings is Rask, who is the highest-touted goaltender prospect out there. Assuming Giguere would even accept an offer to come to Boston (and he'd be an idiot if he did) it would come at a huge price and would be a colossal blunder.

So forget goaltending. As I see it the Bruins have two main problems: 1. the players don't believe in each other and are not motivated to play hard physically, and 2. the present makeup of the team isn't balanced enough. If we are lucky the new coach will solve problem 1. But it will take some very hard choices and some expert negotiating by the GM to solve problem 2 without giving away the farm. I believe the Bruins need more strength and grit up front. The only way to get that in short order may be to trade away some of the speed and skill. I don't mean trade Murray--he's the kind of player the B's need. I mean trade away Bochenski or even Bergeron. Because the biggest mistake the Bruins have made wasn't Chiarelli's--it was made in the post-lockout when a premium was placed on speed and skill over grit for the "new NHL." But the "new NHL," where speed and skill mattered most, did not last. Anaheim just proved that beyond any shadow of a doubt.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Above the Quiet There's no Buzz

"Years of silence, not enough
Who could blame us giving up?

Above the quiet there's a buzz
That's me trying" -- Nick Hornby

While that might well describe the team effort this season, it brings to mind something else: the Bruins buzz. There isn't any. Not even the tiniest whisper.

There was a time when the Bruins were on every hockey fan's mind, regardless of where they lived or who they rooted for. They were everyone's team. Some hated them, most loved them, and everyone was talking about them. The buzz was deafening.

At the time we all knew it was special. Some may have realized it would one day pass. But few would have predicted that it would one day fade into near silence.

Even the worst team in the league gets people talking, if only about how bad they are. But the Bruins now live in that nether world of obscurity between 8th place and the bottom. As far as the hockey world is concerned, the Bruins are simply forgotten. How else can you explain how one of the top five most talented and exciting players in the world, third in points behind only Crosby and Thornton, didn't make the cut for the all-star game? If you think about it, that's rather extraordinary.

The thing is you can't make the all star game without at least a little buzz.

Look at Pittsburgh last year. There was enormous buzz, even though they were pretty bad and rumored to be moving. People watched them just to see Sid the Kid. But nobody, and I mean nobody--watches the Bruins unless they bleed black and gold.

I don't usually play wannabe GM unless it's NHL '07, but I'd like to see some buzz. I know PC is working toward a Sabres kind of team that rolls three scoring lines. It seems he dreams of fast forwards swirling into the offensive zone and overwhelming the defense with their speed. And that may yet come in time. But until then, we need some buzz. Until then, we need something to get people talking about the Bruins again.

I think that thing could be a high-scoring first line. We already have two of the pieces. With Savard at center and Murray on right wing, all we need is a big-time, high-scoring power left winger. If we get one line scoring at league-leading levels--and with Savard we can--that would cause some buzz. And that buzz might spark the team. And that spark might bring back some pride. And with pride this team can make the playoffs.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

An Embarrasing Win in Ottawa

With most Bruins fans either getting ready for baseball or talking about next year, I thought I'd write a few words about the Ottawa game. The Bruins are following the classic struggling team form by rebounding from a string of losses in important games to beat a hot team, now that the pressure to succeed is gone. Of course, every win from now on in only hurts their draft position, which is pretty funny. Unless you are a Sens fan! Losing to the Bruins at home must have been rather embarrasing!

A couple of notes:

I miss Muzz and PJ. Sometimes I look at the roster and think, "who are these guys?"

It was nice to see Chara smile again.

I think Wideman has really come along in the last few games. He's been hitting more than I expected and he seems pretty good at it.

MacDonald has been a very pleasant surprise. After how poorly Toivanen and Finley fared when thrown into the Bruins defensive grinder he's been impressive!

Jeremy Reich. Wow. Can we order three more of him, one for each line? Please?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Post Mortem Part 1 -- The Bad

With the season all but over I've been doing some reflecting. I recently read with interest what Ference had to say to the Herald on March 22. I listened to Kevin Paul Dupont expound. What they both said seemed to gel with what I have been thinking myself.

First to the question I have been struggling with: is there really anything wrong? Many say that's obvious given the fact that they didn't make the playoffs or even mount a halfway decent attempt at a playoff run. But for a team that is new from top to bottom, much like an expansion franchise, it really isn't fair to expect the playoffs in the first year. So again, is there something deeply wrong?

A lot of the less patient fans began griping about the Bruins way back in the fall. The goaltending isn't good enough, they said. York and Dempsey sucked, they said. I advised patience, particularly about the goaltending. Since then we've seen a lot of games and we've seen a team that struggled badly early-on improve. Thomas went on to prove he is a very capable No. 1 goaltender who can steal games, although not every night. The power play and penalty kill are two areas where the coaching staff has definitely had a positive impact. The power play in particular has really excelled. This team began the season quite capable of taking 5 penalties per period. That number has come down. So it is tempting to simply say this was a rebuilding year and that next year will be better. But again, is that a reasonable expectation or is there something seriously wrong?

The game that summed up the season for me was the last home game against the Habs. The Bruins came out on fire in the first period, dominating physically and emotionally. Kessell and his line scored the first goal out of pure hustle. It stood in stark contrast to the rest of the season, which looked flaccid in comparison. Chara finally used his size to stand up players at the blue line and didn't hold off on the boards like he was afraid to hurt someone. In fact, their second goal came moments after he made a huge hit in the offensive zone. Finally, the Bruins had awakened! Perhaps in time to make the playoffs (a long shot), but definitely in time to beat the Habs at home, which should always be a moment of pride for any player who dons the spoked B.

But as the second period started the edge slowly came off their play. The hits became less brutal. The hustle faded. The tide turned and by the 3rd the Habs were dominating the play.

As the guys on Mythbusters would say, "Well there's your problem!"

Since before Christmas we've heard Dave Lewis sing the same song. The players have to pay the price. But by and large they never did, or at least when they did, they didn't do it consistently. Looking back, it was like each player only felt he had to prove himself for a period here, and a shift there. But when, I ask, did the team ever prove itself? The answer is they never really did. And that I believe, is two problems: inconsistent play from every player (except Thomas, Savard, Murray and Axelsson). And a lack of pride in, feeling of belonging to, and ultimately a responsibility to--a team.

So back to the question, can we expect these serious problems to be solved by this time next year?

Fans have been complaining about Lewis starting early last fall. I've heard the complaints so many times: he doesn't let the kids have a chance to play, he doesn't keep the lines together consistently, he instructs the team to go into a defensive shell at the wrong moments, he benches players who are playing well in favor of those who aren't, and he doesn't use his time outs properly. Many fans read these things so often they stop questioning them, accepting them as fact. But I think those complaints are all nonsense. If true we'd have to believe Lewis is completely stupid and knows half as much about hockey as the typical fan. I don't think that very likely. In fact, considering that he identified the main problem with this team months ago, I'd say he knows exactly what he's doing. In fact, I think many of these things fans complain about are signs of Lewis struggling for ways to motivate and hold accountable the players. But after a full season the bottom line is: it's not working!

I don't know whether or not Lewis can make the players accountable next season or not. It's up to Chiarelly to decide that. If Lewis sticks around look for the gloves to come off the coaching staff next season. Look for real accountability. Look for stars like Bergeron to sit on the bench. Look for the players to be bitter about the way the coaches treat them. If by Christmas we are still seeing spotty efforts by individual players then in my opinion Lewis will have failed.

As for the team problem, I doubt any coach can fix that--not in a year or even two. Before the beginning of last season when Bruins fans were excited about their new team, I read a comment by a journalist (I forget who) that at the time infuriated me. He said that the, "Bruins have forgotten how to win." I was incensed because how could a team that had been rebuilt from top to bottom be categorized like that before they even had a chance to play? I think I see now what he meant and he was right. What I failed to realize is that winning as an institution isn't something that any random group of people can accomplish out of the starting block. Learning to be a winner takes time and effort and continuity. So of course they have forgotten how to win.

In my opinion, the downfall of this team began with the loss to the Habs in the first round in 2004. It was the culmination of O'Connell's work and it wasn't good enough. Then came the lockout, where the strategy of the owner was to gut much of the team and start over. The final nail in the coffin was the "new NHL" with its promise of players free-wheeling around unhindered, a low contact high-scoring affair like an all-star game. No team bought into the "new NHL" like the Bruins did. A premium was placed on speed and skill. The players themselves, particularly Joe Thornton, bought into it. Much of this "new NHL" was a mirage, even in its first year. And now that the "new NHL" once again looks very much like the old one, where emotion and courage and grit and physical play can still trump skill, the Bruins will have to get bigger and badder again in order to get back their winning ways.

The fact is, Jacob's lockout strategy destroyed our Bruins. They are gone. That link to successful teams of the past is broken and will never come back. They will have to find a way to forge a new culture of winning, and unfortunately that could take many years.

Next time: Part 2 -- The Good

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Throttle

I've been thinking about the 2006-2007 Bruins and although they have come a long way since the start of the season, overcoming a host of problems, it seems to me that they have consistently been plagued by one major difficulty throughout: throttle control.

No team can play every shift of every game at 100% throttle for 82+ games. There are natural ups and down during the season, and during each game.

I often wonder if individual players don't know, somewhere in the back of their minds, that if they go flat out every shift that they run the risk of sitting out much of the season with injury.

So when do you coast a bit? And when do you turn it on? As a team fighting for a playoff berth, as a team fighting for momentum in a game, and as a player.

Early in the season this was an obvious problem during games. They lacked confidence in everything from the system to each other to their place on the team and it really showed. One of the ways it showed was that they were clueless as a unit when to take it to the other team. Another way it showed was their reaction to another team turning up the heat on them, often utterly collapsing when pressed in their own zone. And another was their reaction to truly getting beat; I don't think it was coincidence that their big slide happened after the Nashville game. After the game the coach seemed perplexed. He said that they had played well. Yet they clearly had their asses handed to them! I think that game led to a team meltdown.

As the season progressed they got better during games, sometimes taking it to another team when behind, and collapsing less and less in their own zone. But I think the problem is still there, it just isn't as obvious.

When the season started they'd come out at 75% throttle for two periods and then try to turn it up in the 3rd. But they soon discovered that it was often too late by then. Then they went through a time when they'd dominate the other team in the first period, only to give up the lead in the other periods. Unable to go 100% all the time, they seem to me to always be searching for that opportune moment to turn up their throttle.

Despite all the talk about momentum and coming out desperate in the first period, the Bruins came out just a bit tentative against both the Caps and the Rangers. They were able to fight back against the Caps, but the Rangers are a much better team. Why didn't they come out at full throttle? Why didn't they stand up on the blue line? Playing defense isn't rocket science! Just be brutal when the other team enters the zone! Poke checks are nice, but you sometimes have to make them pay the price.

From here on out it should be easy. Full throttle all of the time, from start to finish. And when a player enters your zone, for God's sake throttle him!

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Lesson in New York

I think the reason the Bruins lost tonight was (tongue firmly in cheek) because the Rangers scored seven goals and the Bruins didn't score any. Ba-rump-bump.

I can't really say I was all that surprised. I knew going in that the Bruins can expect real trouble from the Rangers. And the Islanders. And the Thrashers. And the Flyers.

I know that any of the die hard complainers still paying attention will likely be very bitter, blaming Chara, the effort, the coaches, the GM, etc. I thought they gave it a good try. But you don't always win. The Rangers are one of those teams that are much better than they often play, and this night they brought their best.

I've looked at this season from the beginning as a rebuilding effort. Like Lewis I saw them someplace between 7th and 12th place at season's end. There have been so many lessons learned (and a few that weren't). The question in my mind is, can the Bruins learn how to suck it up and beat the Rangers on their next (and last) try? I'll be interested to see.

Meanwhile we have the Habs on my birthday! Incidentally, it will be Robert Gordon Orr's too. I've always said that any win against the Habs is as good as a first round playoff victory (or at least it feels as good). So here's hoping I'm not disappointed!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Huge Win

Forget about the Caps having lost 8 in a row. Forget about how they were playing for nothing, long since out of the playoff race. This was a team that smelled blood on the Bruins and they wanted the kill and they wanted it bad. It seems a silly thing to say, but this game had playoff intensity. The B's came out hitting and the Caps hit right back. The B's took it to them in the offensive zone and the Caps took it right back.

And the puck kept going into the Bruin's net.

I was downright angry at the end of the first. Not at the players or the coaches, but at the Hockey gods who seemed to take some perverse pleasure in putting the Bruins behind the eight ball. With every missed pass, missed shot, and bounced puck I became angrier. Kolzig was standing on his head and looked unstoppable. I kept thinking, is this how the season ends?

It was the end of the second and the Bruins were on the power play, down 2 goals. The crowd was roaring as they set up in the zone. I thought, "Here it is. This is when they will score and get back into the game." And no sooner had I thought that when the Caps broke free and scored a shorty! It's all over right?


If there were a Stanley Cup for shootouts, the Bruins would be a contender. With the feisty goaltending of Thomas and the Rally-Cap inspired goal scoring of Sturm and Bergeron they are a force to be reckoned with. Add their secret weapon Phil Kessel and they are almost unbeatable!

That's one game down, twelve to go; 2 of 20 points likely required for the playoff drive. As with all the big wins this season, this game stands by itself in my mind. No matter what the next game or the rest of the season brings, right now, tonight, the Bruins are winners.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

By the Numbers

I've run the numbers for the Bruins chances to make the playoffs with 13 games left:

Projecting to the end of the season based on present performance starting at 7th place:

93 NYI
90 CAR
90 TOR
89 NYR
88 MON
84 BOS
83 FLA

If nothing changes the Bruins will finish 12th. So is it too late for the Bruins? Ignoring the likelyhood of playing well for the moment, is it even possible for them to make the playoffs? The answer is yes. The 8th playoff spot can likely be had with 91 points, which would mean the Bruins would have to pick up 20 points in the remaining 13 games. That works out to going 10-3. And how likely is that given their record this year? The Bruins went 10-3 during a stretch in November/December so
it really is possible, although I'll leave how likely it is up to the reader. The key thing to look for from the Bruins in the closing 13 game stretch is 3 losses. If they lose more than 3 games it is unlikely they will make the 8th spot.

There are two other factors I haven't considered here: the play of the other teams in the hunt and the fact that the Bruins are going to play two of the teams in front of them, something which can work very much for or against them depending on the outcome. The Bruins play the Canadians three times and the Rangers twice. That's five key games, of which they need to win at least three. Taking both games against New York would all but guarantee passing them, assuming the Bruins do reasonably well in their other games. I've heard it said that for the Bruins to make the playoffs other teams would have to do poorly, but that's not yet the case. Their future is still in their hands.

There is no question in my mind that the Bruins have the talent to win these games to make the playoffs, and even upset Buffalo in the first round. We've seen flashes of a great team all season long, but only here and there. We've basically been waiting for them to get their act together from the beginning. If they finally do it, they can do great things. Otherwise it'll be an early tee time.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

If the Bruins Made the Playoffs

We may not get the chance to see the Bruins in the playoffs this year. So here's a simulation of what we will likely otherwise miss:

Game 1: they come out befuddled and confused and play poorly. Timmy is hung out to dry by the D. They spend the whole game in the box, including two 5-on-3's that come when Chara shoots the puck over the glass on the PK. It's a humiliating 4-1 loss.

Games 2 and 3: they look like a champion, working hard, playing good strong defense, and scoring loads of goals, including an OT winner. Timmy plays strongly. Both games are wins. Fans start to think they might actually win the series...

Game 4: this is the game they forget to show up for. An embarrassing loss 7-1 in which we see Timmy relieved in the second period after giving up 4 goals in the first. Some dolts think its his fault, but most realize that his team let him down.

Game 5: They play a strong game, maybe the strongest of the series. Timmy stands on his head! But they lose by a fluke goal early in the 3rd when a puck bounces off of Ference's skate. It's a hard loss 1-0.

Game 6: They give it a good effort, but don't play their best. Their play isn't exactly bad, but there's no passion from anyone. It's a 4-1 loss.

There's always next year!