Friday, October 30, 2009

Bruins Cup is Half Full

It's actually pretty hilarious. The B's get off to a slow start to the 2009/2010 season and all of a sudden it's 2007 again. Ah, yes, the spring of 2007. The Bruins had no talent. According to many hockey pundits Chara had proven to be a waste of money. Savard was was a good setup man with nobody to set up and a lousy back checker to boot. Tim Thomas was a minor league journeyman goaltender who wasn't good enough technically to start in the NHL for a real team. Taken together, the team lacked the talent to score more than two goals per game. And so on. Of course, last season Chara won the Norris, Savard was in the top tier in points and developed a reputation for good back checking (+25), Thomas won the Vezina, and as a team they scored 270 goals and were second overall in the standings. Yet only a few months later I'm suddenly reading all the same things from 2007 again as if all of that was some sort of summer daydream.

Wow. Apparently Phil Kessel and Chuck Kobasew were the only reason the B's scored that many goals, and their superior defensive play made Timmy look way better than he really is. I say again, wow. Ok, so there is always some Boston "sports" fan who tunes in for the playoffs and two or three games each year who is going to comment on how the Bruins have no talent after a loss. And there is always the odd Habs fan in there too. But what really got me annoyed was this little video made after only seven games. I have no idea who Charlie Pierce is, but he's full of it. He claims that, "I watched them beat Detroit last year simply by outworking them and now they can work as hard as they can... they don't have any talent on this team." That doesn't even make consistent logical sense, much less reflect reality.

The Bruins have plenty of talent, even without Savard (injured), Kessel, and Kobasew. Their problem through game ten had been inconsistent effort. They failed to outwork other teams and failed to play physically. Last season, even with Savard and Lucic in the lineup, if the rest of the team failed to work hard and play physically they ended up losing. Hockey is after all the ultimate team sport. Compared to earlier on, I thought last night's game against New Jersey was a huge improvement. If they are going to lose a game, then that's the way to lose it. The team played hard all night long, won battle after battle along the boards, finished their checks, got up ice quickly, passed well, and made few mistakes. It's a shame they lost, but they could have just as easily come out the winner. Had the puck bounced the other way this nonsense I have been reading about how they don't have enough talent and how Thomas gave up soft goals would have likely been replaced by equally over-the-top praise. I also think the recent come from behind victories are good for the team. By the time the playoffs came along last year they had forgotten how to do that. Although they should not be digging these sorts of holes in the first place, learning to dig themselves out may come in very handy during the playoffs.

Now back to the Kobasew trade. It took a while, and I admit to being shocked by the move, but I finally got it. Not being privileged, I didn't realize how well Marchand had done in training camp. All I knew was that he was still playing with a spoked-P and I didn't give him much thought. But I see now that Chiarelli was sort of keeping Marchand in his back pocket. By moving Kobasew he was clearing space among the veterans to allow Marchand to come up. At the same time he was able to pick up Paille who at best has untapped potential, and at worst brings some grit to your third line. Far from pressing the panic button, this was a shrewd move on Chiarelli's part. I don't know how anyone could watch Marchand's play and claim he has no talent.

So am I worried about the Bruins? In a word: no.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pressing the Panic Button

I wasn't that surprised about the B's start this season. They play like a team that spent the summer reading their own press releases. They seem to have their sights on the playoffs, something that is clearly a bit premature in October. A great game here, a great period there, a solid shift from time to time. But not much in between. But as I said I sort of expected it. They'd either get their acts together or they wouldn't, and if they didn't it would likely be at the cost of the coach's job.

What I didn't expect is what happened on Sunday with the Kobasew trade. I mean, WTF? Kobasew is a solid 20 goal scorer who plays strong in the corners. We were, after all, led to conclude that the main reason that Kessel was let go was so that we could keep guys like Chuck on the roster. I was at the game in Phoenix on Saturday and it seemed to me that Kobasew was playing hard. Sure, his line with Bergeron and Rechhi is snake bit in the scoring department, but I figured they would work through it. I have now read something like five articles claiming that Chiarelli pulled the trigger on this trade to shake the B's up. Yet when somebody actually asked him about it he said that wasn't why he did it. In fact, he said that this was a trade that had been in the making for some time. So I say again, WTF? Chiarelli has replaced a proven 20-goal scorer in Kobasew with a big under acheving kid named Daniel Paille. This guy only managed 12 goals last season and he was basically given away for a song by Buffalo. Either Chiarelli is a genius, he knows something we don't, or he's completely lost it.

We're just seven games into the season. Going into the game tonight against the Preds I don't know who this team is anymore. Savy and Looch are injured--likely for a while. I miss PJ on the PK. Dennis Wideman is still out on defense. Bergeron works so hard in the corners, yet often gets double teamed off the puck because he gets no support (maybe that will change). Both goaltenders are playing "ok" when we need them to stand on their heads. Blake Wheeler is so slow that when he breaks into open ice with the puck he usually gets caught from behind before he can get a shot off. Krejci starts his nifty moves only to have the puck poke checked away. The PK is just plain pathetic and the PP is almost as bad. Worst of all--half the time nobody seems to remember how to check. Big and Bad my ass!

Friday, October 9, 2009

The Good and the Bad of Losing 6 to 1

Losing to the Ducks 6-1 at home was just plain ugly. But as an early-season game I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand I think it underscores the teams greatest weakness, yet I am also left with the hope that this loss will begin the process of building a better team.

The Bad: this was a textbook example of how to beat these Bruins. In this loss I see the same Achilles heel that Carolina used to eliminate the B's in the playoffs just a few months ago. The recipe for beating the Bruins is to hold on for the first period. Keep the B's from scoring more than one goal, two at the most. This will frustrate them because they come out hard in the first and are used to getting a good lead. A hot goaltender can be a real asset against them. Just bide your time and stave off the attack until the second period. The B's have a bad habit of coming out flat in the second, and staying that way if you find success against them. This tendency can be traced way back to the Dave Lewis days. If they have a big enough lead going into the second then it's hard to spot, but if they fall behind they will always fall flat. So take it to them in the second and get the lead. By the third period (if not sooner) the B's will be in panic mode. Just be opportunistic. Wait for the turnovers and odd-man rushes (they will come) and extend your lead.

The Good: I find myself almost welcoming this loss, and the ones like it that will surely follow. Because if the B's are to go far into the playoffs they will need to overcome their weakness; they will need to learn to play hard in the second period and learn how to come back from behind without giving the game away in the process.

This may be a long fall. But my fingers are crossed that it will only make them stronger.