Saturday, December 10, 2011

Quick Note on Chara's Injury

For what it's worth, I turned to my son and said, "Something's wrong with Chara, he's skating funny." That was well before the contact that everyone seems to think caused the injury.

Let's just hope it's minor.

On a related note, I've heard people in the media talk seriously about Phil Kessel for the Hart this year. Come on, get real! How many goals has Kessel scored when Chara was on the ice? Or Crosby? Or Ovechkin? Or the Sedins? And people think those guys are the true MVPs? Think about it.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Ten Streak

The regular season is a long haul. Typically there is a memorable game here, a blowout there, a few forgettable losses, and on to the next. But something magical happened for the Bruins in November 2011: a memorable ten game stretch with a full season's worth of highlights.

The Bruins began the season looking good, playing sharp, yet losing consistently. In the first ten games of the season they only managed 3 wins. The Cup Champs found themselves in last place in the conference and second to last in the league.

But November brought winds of change. It started in Ottawa with a 5-3 win. Ottawa scored first. Then Shawn Thornton fought Zenon Konopka and after that the Bs picked up their play and dominated the rest of the game. Next up was the Conference leading Maple Leafs, a team the Bruins have owned for some time now. One of their three wins in October had been a 6-2 bashing of the Leafs and the Bruins continued their domination with a 7-0 drubbing and a Tim Thomas shutout. Tyler Seguin got his first career hat trick. The third game was another blowout, this time 6-2 over the Islanders. These two games made for a good confidence builder and Tuuka Rask got his first win of the season. The next two games were also blowouts where the Bruins beat both Edmonton and Buffalo 6-2. It is rare for an Eastern Conference team to go on such a blowout bender. These games were fun to watch. During this time Tyler Seguin reached second place in the league in goal scoring and he was the NHL player of the week.

Next up, Buffalo. This game was memorable for Lucic's hit on goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller came way out to play the puck as Lucic was racing for it. Rather than step aside at the last moment Looch put his shoulder down and Miller went flying. Now I'm an old-timer, so I really didn't get why this was a big deal. In the old days a goaltender gave up his special protection when he left the crease. That's the whole reason the crease is there in the first place. Goaltenders get themselves in vulnerable positions when they are trying to make a save, and it makes sense not to have open season on them. But this wasn't that situation. Miller was out playing the puck watching Lucic come at him. I'm sorry that Miller suffered some sort of whiplash injury, but I don't see why a goaltender in that position should be treated any differently than any other player.

Next the Bruins pitted their five-game winning streak against the visiting New Jersey Devils. This was a memorable game, not because it was a blowout, but because the Devils challenged the Bruins defensively in a way other recent teams hadn't. There would be no 6-goal victory against the Devils. It was tied 1-1 going into the 3rd and both teams kept scoring. It was finally ended by Benoit Pouliot late, giving the Bruins a hard-fought 4-3 victory.

The Columbus Blue Jackets visited the Garden next. This game was surprisingly close, with Blue Jackets bringing an A+ effort against the Cup Champs. It went to a  shootout where Rich Peverly scored first and David Krejci won it.

The Bruins took a  respite from their tight games with a trip to visit the Islanders, where they returned to their dominant ways, winning 6-0. Timmy got another shutout. 

Next the Bruins traveled into hostile territory to play the hated Canadiens for the third time this season. Montreal had won the first two in October, and the Bruins had something to prove. Andrew Ference's first period goal stood and the Bruins won 1-0. Another shutout for Thomas.

Next up was one of the most anticipated games of the season thus far. The Sabres hosted the Bruins for their first meeting since the Lucic hit on Miller. The Sabres were looking to redeem themselves and end the Bruins winning streak at nine. They had done some soul searching after their placid response to the Lucic hit. They were pumped and so were their fans. The Sabres brought their A+ game and the first period ended with the Bruins looking beaten down, hapless, and losing 2-0. The crowd booed Lucic the whole night and the first time he appeared on the ice Paul Gaustad took him on in a fight for the Sabres honor. Lucic clearly won the bout but Gaustad and the Sabres got high marks for stepping up, if a bit late. In a memorable showing of character themselves, the Bruins fought back and tied the game late, sending it to OT. Again it was Pouliot who scored to end it in the shootout, after nine consecutive saves by Thomas and Miller. Tim Thomas stood on his head this game and all agreed he was the number one star.

The streak ended at ten with a shootout loss to the visiting Red Wings on the day after Thanksgiving. The most striking thing about this winning streak was the string of blowouts, but the tough games were memorable too.

During this streak the Bruins scored 47 goals, allowing only 17. Tim Thomas had three shutouts, allowing only 11 goals on 240 shots, for a save "percentage" of 0.954 and a GAA of 1.57. Tyler Seguin scored 8 goals, with Bergeron, Lucic and Marchand each tallying 5. Horton managed 4, and the rest were spread out among the team, including two each for defensemen Chara, Boychuck and Ference.

Some people don't even follow the regular season, tuning in only if their team makes the playoffs. Those people don't know how much hockey they are missing!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Zdeno Chara You've Just Won the Stanley Cup!

And what are you going to do now? "I'm going to dress up like a giant pink bunny rabbit!"

What happens to professional hockey players who lose 7 out of 10 games.

Coaches can be brutal! Let's hope we don't have to see anything this ugly again for a very long time.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How Deep is the Hole?

With ten games completed, 72 remain. The Bruins have just 6 points, leaving them second to last in the league standings and dead last in the conference. So how deep is this hole the Bruins have dug for themselves? Have they already blown their chances for the playoffs?

Typically around 96 points are required to make the playoffs. Last season the Bruins posted 103 points in 82 games, or 1.256 points per game. Should they match that effort for the remaining 72 games of the season they will garner 90 points. Add the 6 they already have and they might--just barely--make the playoffs.

So to answer the question I posed, the hole the Bruins are in is about neck deep. They cannot afford to dig it any deeper!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


My wife was looking at Bruins stuff and she sent me this link, with this picture:

Anybody else see the problem here? Is it just me or is that Andrew Ference's head on Tim Thomas?

Don't believe me? Have a look here.

Hey, NHL merchandising department! That's really lame!

Can't wait until the banner raising tomorrow night!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Brad Marchand

Many fans seem to be getting worried about the fact that restricted free agent Brad Marchand has yet to be signed. I was reading about this today on another blog and it got me thinking. Some people just want the Bruins to pay him what he wants, but I think that's a bit naive. There is much more at stake than just money.

In the 2009/2010 season Marchand was brought up to the big team. I was impressed enough that when a writer suggested that the Bruins didn't have enough talent I pointed to Marchand as a counter example. I think he was sent back to Providence the very next day, which left me scratching my head and wondering if I had really seen the potential that I thought was there. The fact is that he just wasn't ready. The skill was there but he didn't have the maturity yet.

In this past season he had 21 goals, for a total of 41 points in 77 games. Those aren't the most stellar figures, but they show great promise for a rookie. On the other hand, he had two goals and an assist in game 7 of the Stanley Cup final. The question most people are asking is, which one of these players should the Bruins pay for?

But I think there is a much bigger issue. The genius of Peter Chiarelli is that he has signed players who want to play in Boston to long term contracts. He does this by leveraging the fact that the Bruins have become an organization that players want to play for. His approach is to offer more time for less money per year. The players get security and the chance to be remembered as Bruins greats in exchange for a bit less money than they might get on the free market. Witness the key contracts for Chara, Begeron, Thomas (and Savard).

With that in mind, think about this: if you were Chiarelli, what would your long term goal be with regard to Marchand? The best result would be a long term contract. But young players who have made a big splash in the league don't have the incentive to sign such a deal. Being part of three out of the four goals scored in game 7 of the cup final is making a pretty big splash (regardless of his dubious rapping skills). Players like him are looking for the big payout. So they typically want a short term contract. This puts Chiarelli in a bad position, assuming he wants to keep Marchand long term. The terms of this contract will play a major role in determining if Marchand will end up with the team in the long run and that is, in my view, what is probably holding things up.

I believe there is little need to worry about Marchand's contract this season. Eventually it will get done. But my feeling is that it will be short and in some ways he will end up unhappy. In the long run I think Marchand is going to end up elsewhere, signing long-term as the resident star of a mediocre team, or playing for a succession of teams on short term contracts.

But if somehow Chiarelli pulls off another of his astounding long-term signings with Marchand, either now or at their next opportunity, then there will be something to celebrate. It will mean more than just seeing Marchand for years to come, it will mean that Marchand wishes to become more than just another player who once wore the spoked-B. It will mean he wants the chance to one-day be added to the list of Bruins greats.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Thirty Nine Years

In the summer of 1971 my family temporarily moved north across the border to Vancouver. Yes, that Vancouver. I had seen a Hockey game before but it was in Vancouver that I was first truly bitten by the bug. It was there I first held a stick and learned to shoot left. And it was there that I discovered NHL hockey.

With a few exceptions I recall Vancouver as dull and lifeless. I remember standing outside in the rain waiting for the school bus in the mornings. It rained almost every morning, yet it never really rained. It just sort of misted a lot. Everything was perpetually wet. Summer lasted a few weeks at best. A lot of the people were like the weather: dreary and whiny. On the whole, I didn't really like it much.

It was thirty nine years ago that I walked into my 7th grade art class. My classmates were rowdy. Our teacher was new and just out of school. He told us he'd forgotten something and that we should all sit down. He went out the door and down the hall, leaving us to our own devices.

Someone started chanting quietly, "Rangers... Rangers... Rangers..." This was quickly met by others chanting, "Bruins... Bruins... Bruins.." Soon the class had split into two groups on opposite sides of the room. I remember sitting on a wide windowsill chanting "Bruins" with about half the class. It was the day of game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins were up 3 games to 2 and going into New York with a chance to win it all. A lot of people all over the continent loved the Bruins back then, mostly due to Bobby Orr. Soon we were chanting ever more loudly and I remember banging something on the windowsill in time with our chant.

The teacher came in and weakly tried to get us to stop, but we all just ignored him. Exasperated and upset he ran back into the hallway. That just made us chant more loudly. The whole school must have been able to hear us by then! After a while the teacher returned with the Principal and he managed to make us stop and sit down. Needless to say the Principal was pretty angry.

Later that night I watched Phil Esposito resume his battle in front the of net with the evil Walt Tkaczuk. Espo didn't score a goal that series, but it wasn't for lack of trying. Bobby Orr put on a clinic as usual, scoring the first goal. In the end it was a dominating win. Cheevers got the shut out and the Bruins won 3-0. Bobby won the Conn Smythe again, of course.

From that day on I have been a die-hard Bruins fan. We've been through a lot over the years. The close calls, the games that were lost that could have been won.

Thirty nine years. My oldest son will start 7th grade next year. He loves the Bruins too, of course. I wonder, what would it mean to him to see Big Z raise that cup on Wednesday?

But win or lose this has been a great ride! Win or lose on Wednesday I will remember this season as one of the best and this team with great fondness. They don't need to win it for me. I'll be back next season no matter what. But I'd sure like to see them win it for each other.

Thirty nine years ago Bobby Orr was my childhood hero. But that was so easy... he was everybody's hero. He dominated the game like no other player has before or since. My "adult" hero is Tim Thomas, and his winning would be much more sweet. After all he's been through and after all the idiots who said again and again that he wasn't good enough, it would make me so happy to see Tim Thomas take home a cup, two Vezinas and the Conn Smythe!

Maybe someday I will take my sons on a pilgrimage to Boston. Maybe, just maybe, we will watch as the number 30 is raised to the rafters to join number 4.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Jekyll and Hyde Series

I can't recall a playoff series where the home ice advantage had such an impact. It's not just that the Bruins and the Canucks are winning their home games, but that the games themselves are so completely different.

Last night's game 5 in Vancouver was much like the previous two, a tight-checking low-scoring affair. In these three games the Canucks have outscored the Bruins 5-2, recording two shutouts. The Canucks have won all three but by thin one-goal margins. The games have been close but Vancouver has always had the slight upper hand.

The two games in Boston were completely different. There, Boston completely dominated. The Bruins outscored the Canucks 12-1 and recorded one shutout.

If this pattern continues the Bruins should be favorites to win game 6 at home. But they must, of course, remember to bring their A game from the start.

And should they reach game 7, in order to win the cup the Bruins will have to break out of the previous pattern. There is some hope for that from what we saw in game 2 in Vancouver--a game in which the Bruins led at one time and was won in overtime.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Bruins Bite Back

Canucks Bullshit

It's been an experience getting to know our hockey counterparts in Vancouver. They are, after all, from that distant land of the West where Bruins seldom tread in these days of a 30 team league.

But before I start crooning, "Getting to know, you..." let me say that the experience hasn't been very positive. The Canucks organization, players, and many of their fans are Bullshit artists, plain and simple. They seem to think that the taunts, dirty hits, bites, forwards riding Thomas across the crease, not to mention the obvious dives, are simply part of Stanley Cup championship hockey. I disagree.

But they have taken things to a whole new level by not merely defending their suspended teammate Rome's despicable late hit on one the Bruins top goal scorers, landing him in the hospital and out of the playoffs. Rather, they have suggested that this was somehow Horton's own fault and that they, the poor misunderstood Canucks, are actually the victims. They have further added insult to injury (and I mean actual injury!) by their theatrical appeal to the NHL over Tim Thomas' standing up against a forward about to run him over.

Not only has all this meant that I, every Bruins fan alive, and I suspect many others watching, have lost all respect for their total lack of class, but I suspect they may pay the ultimate price for it.

You see, apparently way out west the word never got to them about the Bruins. The number one rule when playing the Bruins is simple.

Do not taunt the Bear!

Monday, June 6, 2011

It's Not Over Yet: Going into Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final

Obviously tonight's game is huge. The recipe to win is simple. The strategy that worked so well against Tampa in Games 5 and 7 isn't working well enough against the Canucks. Rather than the team that beat Tampa, what we need to see tonight is the team that beat Montreal. They need to come hard tonight, with overwhelming quickness and desperation. Once they get a two goal lead (please God, not three) then they can play the more conservative/opportunistic game.

You boys still want it, right? Then go out and take it!

P.S. I didn't have the chance to say it earlier, but I'd have sat Seguin in game 1. It worked before. And I'd be willing to bet that Thornton would have played balls out. Seemed like a no-lose proposition to me. But now it's too late.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Bruins vs. Canucks

Who wins this series? I think anyone who claims to know is either delusional or lying. I would not be surprised if the Bruins swept in four. On the other hand, I wouldn't be all that surprised of the Canucks completed the sweep. Six games? Seven? I guess that's why they play the games.

Some people seem to think the Western Conference is much stronger than the East, and therefore the Canucks will win. The Western conference has won three of the last five cups. But these days the two conferences are almost like two different leagues. Not many people follow all 30 teams. Most of us have way more experience with one conference or the other. You can cite stats between the two, but when it comes right down to it the final is between the Bruins and the Canucks, not the two conferences, so I don't think this line of reasoning says all that much.

I think of the Bruins as bigger and better 5 on 5. Most people seem to think the Canucks are more skilled, but this may just be bias. Higher skilled or just more prominent? Sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. I've noticed that various network commentators seem to underestimate the Bruins.

Both teams have been buzzing around the playoffs for several years looking for deeper success and both seem to be just a bit surprised to find themselves in the final. So I doubt there will be a big difference in desire to win.

The people who should know how the teams stack up (such as Chiarelli and various players) all seem to say the same thing: the teams are in fact very similar. So who knows?

The one thing I can say is this: I don't believe the Bruins have given us their best yet. We saw them take their game to another level in game 7 vs. Tampa but I think they can do even better.

A big deal has been made of the Bruins terrible power play and their less than stellar penalty kill in the playoffs. But the past in the playoffs isn't much of a predictor of the future for special teams because it's all about how the teams match up. There is no reason to believe the Bruins won't have a breakout on the power play. Or they could remain just as inept. Over the regular season the Bruins penalty killing was very good, although better at some times than others. So again, the potential is there. We'll just have to see.

A lot has been said about the officiating in these playoffs. Some have complained that Colin Campbell has favored the Bruins because his son plays for the team. That's completely silly of course. The biggest discipline decision regarding the Bruins so far this year was the hit Tampa's Marc-Andre Bergeron made on David Krejci. They chose not to apply rule 48 in that case. And everyone knows Campbell has excused himself from discipline questions regarding the Bruins all season long. At best you could argue that the guy who replaces him isn't entirely consistent with Campbell. Regardless, there is a report today that Campbell has officially stepped down.

Much more important, in my opinion, is how inconsistent the officiating has been. In one game every little thing is called and in the next they call nothing. Sometimes one team seems to get penalized much more than the other. The officials have been all over the map on hooking, holding, interference, and goaltender interference. This is frustrating for players and fans alike. Here's hoping for more consistency.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Bruins Play Perfect Game 7

As has already been widely reported the Bruins played flawlessly in game 7 of the Conference Final. Their game was perfect in every way. The ice was tilted towards the Tampa end all game long and when the puck came back the other way the Bruins did an amazing job of taking the puck back. And when the Lightening did manage to force their way to the net Tim Thomas and the Bruins defense always came up big. This last part was so very important--because in a game like this where one team dominates but can't score (Roloson was nothing short of amazing) all it takes in one successful rush the other way, maybe with tired forwards caught behind the play, and the game is lost. But the Bruins never allowed that to happen, particularly late in the game.

There were a few players who stood out to me. After a let up in game 6, Patrice Bergeron had a very strong game. Going in I was very concerned that his concussion was coming back to haunt him like we saw with Marc Savard last year. Savvy came back and scored a winning goal only to fade afterwards. Apparently Bergeron's concussion really was very mild, and apparently they were just being very careful when he missed those games earlier in the playoffs. I had feared the opposite.

Two players stood out to me above all the rest. The first was Dwayne Roloson, who was the best player out there. He was the only reason Tampa was still in it late into the 3rd, and had they been able to score a goal at the other end of the ice, Roloson could have been responsible for stealing the game. The other player was Dennis Seidenberg. He seems to get stronger with every playoff game and in this one he was the dominant defensive player. When your defensive partner is up for the Norris trophy and you are the one getting noticed, that's really saying something.

The top line of Horton, Krejci and Lucic was also very solid. But they were solid as a line rather than individually, and this really describes the whole team. Hockey is the ultimate team sport and this was one of the best team efforts I have ever seen from the Bruins. I am sure that there are some Tampa fans who are mad at their team for putting in what probably looked like a poor effort in this game. And sometimes it is difficult to tell if a team is being dominated or simply not trying. To some extent the two go hand in hand because a team that isn't getting any space to play will become disheartened over time. But in this case Tampa fans should not be angry. It was pretty clear that the Bruins took their game up a notch and the Lightening had no immediate response.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Here We Go

As far as I'm concerned game 7 vs Tampa Bay is the most important game of the year. The last day or so has given me some time to reflect. It was fun going into game 6 with no pressure--knowing that the Bruins couldn't lose the series. And I have to admit to some daydreaming about going to the cup final. When the Bruins lost I was bitterly disappointed. The reality that the series could end with the Bruins going home tonight loomed over me like a cloud of dark volcanic ash. I didn't like that feeling.

I had to remind myself that following my team is supposed to be fun. If I become one of those people who are bitterly disappointed every time my team doesn't win the Stanley Cup then I could end up bitter and angry. I don't want to be bitter and angry. So I'm going into this game hopeful, but I am not going to throw anything at the TV if they lose. I am going to try to let go of the gloom and enjoy the moment.

Not only that, but if the Bruins win this game I will be happy no matter what happens in the cup final. Going to the cup final would be so cool! When I imagined how this season might end I always imagined being in the cup final. Somehow the thought of Chara holding the cup over his head--higher than any other player has ever held it--never even occurred to me until just now. Sure, I'll want them to win the cup, and sure I'll be disappointed if they don't. But that disappointment will wear off quickly. This would still be the greatest season in many, many years!

Anyhow, that's my own personal state of mind as a fan. For players, it's entirely different. Boys--it's time to show the world what you can do! Tonight you are going to score on the power play and the penalty kill is going to be awesome! Just like we have seen before. The momentum in a series see-saws from one game to the next and it's yours now. Go out there and play like it's the last game ever. Make it happen!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Mike Keenan is Wrong

The hit Marc-Andre Bergeron made on David Krejci at the end of the first period in last night's game was an illegal check to the head. I am appalled at how the majority of fans and pundits view this hit. The comments of Mike Keenen made between periods were particularly outrageous. Don't agree? Then watch the video below and then read the text of rule 48.

NHL Rule 48

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.

48.2 Minor Penalty - There is no provision for a minor penalty for this rule.

48.3 Major Penalty - For a violation of this rule, a major penalty shall be assessed (see 48.4).

48.4 Game Misconduct – An automatic game misconduct penalty shall be assessed whenever a major penalty is assessed under this rule.

It is clear from the video that Bergeron's shoulder impacted Krejci's head. Krejci was moving laterally when the hit came. He obviously did not see Bergeron coming. There is no question that this was a lateral hit where the head was the principal point of contact. Anyone who has been watching this topic knows that during the regular season this would have been called and Bergeron would have been suspended. Shame on the NHL for apparently suspending rule 48 during the playoffs. And shame on Mike Keenen for the tired old, "Krejci should have kept his head up," argument. His suggestion that the players aren't being taught well enough to be aware of where everyone is around them is ludicrous.

There are going to be times when a player gets himself into a vulnerable position. In this case it was Bergeron coming off the bench and catching Krejci unawares. A player might get caught looking down at the puck a few feet from the boards with his back to the play. Or maybe he doesn't notice the stanchion ahead when preparing to take a high hit along the glass. The question is, should we blame the player who gets hit and possibly injured, or do we expect the player doing the hitting--the one usually in control of the situation--to back off a bit? I believe this is a critical question and the future of the NHL depends on getting the answer right.

Eric Lindros, Pat LaFontaine, Marc Savard, and Sydney Crosby--all high profile players who have had their careers heavily impacted by concussions. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Looking just at recent Bruins history, not only do we have Savard missing an entire season and may never play again, but Patrice Bergeron also missed a season. He recently missed several playoff games as well. David Krejci was lucky, his teammates gave him a heads up just in time or it could have been much worse. Krejci too has a history of concussions, having missed seven games to it.

According to neuropsychologist Dr. Paul Comper, the NHL averages about 75 concussions per season. “In my opinion, really what you should do is get rid of all targeted head hits," Comper has said.

Ex NHL referee Kerry Fraser has also said that banning hits to the head was necessary, saying, “The N.H.L. must outlaw head hits.”

Here's how I see it. The speed of the game increased after the lockout in 2005. Players have less time to react and hits come with greater impact. As a result concussions have become more common. As the careers of more and more high profile players are threatened this is going to force the NHL to come to a decision: either slow the game down by bringing back the clutching and grabbing, or put a stop to the hits to the head.

I remember all too well how boring the old clutch and grab game was. I would hate to see it come back. So in my view the NHL must stop the hits to the head. Rule 48 is a good start, but it needs to be expanded. Any hit to the head is dangerous, regardless of whether it is from the blind side or laterally. I suspect the reason some don't see this most recent example as a violation of the rule comes down to whether or not it was a "lateral" hit. I believe it was, but others may disagree. The thing is--this is a technicality that should not matter, nor should it matter if the player had his head down.

Later in the same game Marchand was knocked to the ice. As he fell his stick rode up and hit another player in the face. A penalty was called and the commentator agreed, claiming that, "you must always have control of your stick." Nobody tried to blame the other player for not protecting himself. So why the double standard? When a player's back is to you along the boards you don't hit him on the numbers sending his head into the boards. You don't leave your feet to drive your shoulder into someone's head. And when a player's head is down you don't drill it. That's not really so difficult is it? Considering the alternatives, this would seem a small price to pay to keep the game we love healthy.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Bruins vs. Bolts Game 2 Odds and Ends

With all that's being said and written about the playoffs it is difficult to have something to say that hasn't already been beaten to death. But here goes.

Tyler Seguin: I think sitting upstairs watching the games helped him in two ways. Obviously as a competitor it brought out the desire to make a difference. But less obviously I think he saw what many of us watching have seen: the Bruins have been a little too tentative, a little too slow to enter the zone and too unwilling to carry the puck to the front of the net. Tyler's game was speedy, straight-up north and south, and it reaped him big rewards. This was never so obvious as when one of the Bruins (I didn't catch who) approached the offensive blue line. As he did he slowed and looked around. The puck was poked away and it fell on Seguin's stick. The moment the puck touched his stick Seguin rocketed into the zone at full speed, forcing the Bolts defense to backpedal or get bypassed. We also saw this same straight ahead style of play from Lucic, who was a monster out there. It didn't always work. Sometime he turned the puck over at the blue line, but the Bolts defense had to respect his speed and strength and started backing off. After that it really paid dividends.

Tim Thomas: I think people are being a bit harsh in describing some of the goals as "soft." But if you are the best goaltender in the game you are going to be held to a higher standard. Yes, he got beat by a great shot. But it is easy for Bruins fans to forget, because our goaltending has been so good for so long, but a player with a great shot is going to be even the best goaltender cleanly once in a while. And that five-hole goal: I think it hit a stick and dipped. Versus needs to buy their guys in the booth bigger HD monitors. There were several times last night that they didn't seem to be watching the same replays I was watching. At one point Olczyk claimed the puck had gone over the goal line when the overhead shot had clearly shown that it hadn't gotten anywhere close to being completely over it. I doubt that he doesn't know that the puck has to be completely over the line so I have to assume he didn't have a good view of the replay. And all the while this was going on, I had seen the puck go off Tim Thomas' face with his mask off and it took them several minutes to realize it!

And what a great story that's going to make for the grandkids. (Old codger's voice) "It was the conference finals and we were playin' the old Litnin' team. There was a wild scramble in front of the net. I'm sprawled on the ice with a defenseman on top of me and I see the puck first hit one post, travel down the goal line, and then hit the other. I'm scrambling to get up and my mask comes off. The next thing I know a high shot comes from beside the goal and hits me just over the eye! Just like the olden days before goalies had masks. You didn't know that did ya? Yep, they once played without any face protection at all! And kids, wouldn't ya know it bounced off my forehead and into the net! I shook it off and put my mask back on and we finished the game. We went on ta win that series and the Stanley Cup."

Tomas Kaberle: Keven Paul Dupont recently called Kaberle a "joke" after his mistake behind the net that lead to a goal on game one. He also stopped just short of calling Chiarelli an idiot for trading for him. But as usual, KPD is more about being obnoxious than writing something worthwhile. Sure, his article likely struck a chord with the fans who were angry about the loss and Kaberle made a great scapegoat. But how cheap is it that? Any blogger could have done that.

The truth is that after a terrible start against Montreal, Kaberle has actually played pretty well. Yes, he didn't have his strongest game in game one against the Bolts. But anyone can make a mistake. How many times has KPD been wrong about the Bruins, for instance? More than I can count... Should he be roasted for it? I wonder sometimes if this guy has even laced up a pair of skates? I see little evidence of it in his commentary. Anyhow, Kaberle said he could play better and last night he did. He brought something the Bruins lack: a bit of cleverness and trickery. Credit where credit is due: there were many times Kaberle was the key to the Bruins gaining entry to the zone and without that you can't score.

Shame on Versus: I've said it here before. Shame on any network for telling us about how the crowd was pumped up by the national anthem rather than showing us. The anthem is part of the game. Show it dammit!

Shame on the Officiating: is it just me or has the officiating been terrible this playoffs? Inconsistent calls. Refs out of position and missing obvious penalties. Head scratchers where you watch the replay again and again and wonder what the ref could possibly have seen. For once the calls seemed to go the Bruins way last night, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating.

Marc Savard: it was so great to see him in the building!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bruins vs. Bolts: Going Into Game 2

There was much talk about the typical defensive posture of the Bolts during the long wait for the series to begin, much of which came from the Bruins coaching staff. It looks to me like the Bolts coaches took advantage of that by changing things up big time. Everyone expected a defensive struggle but this game was wild, going end to end for much of the first period. The Bruins did a pretty good job of skating with them, but you got the feeling this was not the game they had prepared to play. To the Bolts coaching staff I say: nicely done.

So what have we learned from game one? For starters, the Bolts are very well coached and playing near their potential. The frustrating thing about that is how clear it seems that the Bruins have not played up to their true potential, even though they have won two series. On paper the Bruins are the much better team, with better goaltending, better defensive play, greater depth, and more lines that can score. But as we saw last night none of that means anything if they don't put it all together and play with focus.

I believe the Bruins have the depth to win this series, but there is no question how important Bergeron is to this team. The thing about Bergeron is that his role isn't obvious. Serious hockey fans who follow the Bruins all season know full well how important he is, winning faceoffs, killing penalties, scoring, and winning the battles along the boards. He's also the best guy out there when they are sitting on a lead as the last seconds on the clock wind down. But the most striking thing about Bergeron comes when you watch a replay of his line scoring. If Bergeron is out on the ice and a goal is scored you can almost always trace it back to a play he made that set it up in the first place.

Perhaps the most worrisome thing I learned from game one was how potent the Bolts power play is. This is one area where missing Bergeron hurts badly, but even then it seems that the Bolts PP matches up a bit too well against the Bruins PK. It would really help for the Bruins to get their own power play rolling.

About that-- I'm not one to second guess the coaches. After all, they know more than I do about the game and the players. Of that there is no doubt. But it has become painfully obvious to me what the root problem is. Long time Bruins fans know that Brick talks about how much he likes it when a forward comes off the half wall. The Bruins haven't done that at all this season. Well, actually, there was one exception. In the series against Philly someone, I think it was Krejci, had the puck poked away along the half wall. He was forced to chase it out in front of the net. And guess what? It lead to their first power play goal of the playoffs!

It looks to me like this: it has become increasingly difficult to gain entry into the zone to set up the power play for every team, and particularly for the Bruins. So the Bruins have adopted a conservative puck control approach where the emphasis is on keeping control of the puck. That means that they don't allow themselves to come close to a defender. So carrying the puck into the "danger zone" in front of the net is considered a bad idea. The end result is that everything stays outside to the point where the passes get longer and more dangerous and... you guessed it--they turn it over. If I were the coach (and thank God I'm not) I would scrap all that and tell them to attack the damned net every chance they get.

One last observation. Some "fans" and sports personalities have a lot of nerve. The very idea of tuning into a team only after they have reached the conference finals and then complaining bitterly because they lost the first game of the series... how utterly obnoxious.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Difficult Days

These days between the end of one series and the start of the next--these are the difficult days. Despite the daily stories in the sports sections, blogs, etc, all we can really do is wait. Waiting is not a lot of fun under normal circumstances, but when Patrice Bergeron went down that tunnel in the last game against the Flyers, it became downright painful.

Forget for a moment how important Bergeron is to the team, as a leader and perhaps the best all around player in the game today. We remember him lying there on the ice after hitting the boards that awful day in 2007, and the long road to recovery after. Some people have forgotten: he could have died. The bones in his nose were almost driven into his brain. But he was "lucky." He only had a concussion. For those paying close attention, we knew that from that day on it was only a matter of time before his career would be ended by it. And what about his future afterward? What will be the long term result of that hit? These aren't fun things to think about.

I've been reading that some fans think Bergeron may return to the playoffs. Really? After what happened with Savvy last year? Recall that he rushed back from a concussion for the playoffs and even scored the winning goal his first game back. And what is he doing now? He's not even up to coming to the games to watch for God's sake. A "mild" concussion for another player might be something to get over quickly and return, but not Bergeron. Not with his history. It would be a huge mistake for him to come back this year. Period.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Impressive Win over Flyers in Game 3

I have been waiting since the start of the playoffs for a truly impressive effort by the Bruins and this one finally qualifies. The Bruins scored twice in just over a minute and never looked back. The Flyers, who desperately needed this win, were never in it.

I would usually never dream of calling this a series before the fat lady sang, but this one is over. After what happened last year there is no way the Bruins are going to lose this series. The Flyers may take one or maybe even two games before they head for the golf course, but they will not win this series.

It amazes me how the playoffs in the eastern conference have progressed thus far. To be perfectly honest, I don't think either the Caps or the Flyers deserved to pass the first round--at least not in any normal season. The Caps fortunes rested too much on Ovechkin. Shut him down and they are just a good team. They also didn't have the goaltending for the long haul, which seems to be a theme this year.

The Flyers have looked completely outclassed in the second round, making one wonder how they ever got past the first. I think it says more about how unready Buffalo was for the playoffs than how good the Flyers are. The Flyers too lack the goaltending to go any further.

It's possible that when this is all over the marquee match-up in the east will be seen as the Bruins and Canadiens. On the other hand, watching the way the Lightening utterly dominated the Caps makes me think that Tampa may be the real deal. With a conference final between the Bruins and the Lightening all but assured, I am already looking forward with great anticipation to the start of the series. Is Tampa as good as they appear to be? Or did weak opponents make them look better than they are? And will the Bruins--having met their stated goal for the season of reaching the conference final--just resign themselves to the golf course once again?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Some Thoughts Going Into Game 2 vs. the Flyers

Ok, I don't say this sort of thing very often, and to be honest it makes me very uncomfortable. I am squirming in my seat as a type. But here goes: deep breath... the Montreal Canadiens are a very good hockey team.

The B's win in the first round was less than impressive. Many of the games were close and could have gone either way, including the game 7 OT. Yet... the Habs had been successful against them all year; they knew exactly how to beat them. And the Bs spotted them game 1 by turning in a lackluster effort. Yet somehow they still won the series. That's impressive, if not very pretty.

The Flyers are a step down in comparison, as are Washington and Tampa. None of those teams have the complete package to win a cup, and none of them match up against the Bs the way the Habs did.

That said, I think the Bruins are fully capable of losing in the second round again. After all, they were the better team last year too--and look what happened.

I keep thinking about this game a few seasons back. As I remember it the Bruins were fighting for a playoff berth at the end of the season. They had to win the game in regulation in order to keep their chances alive. The score was even with the seconds ticking off in the 3rd period. The Bruins had a power play going and Marc Savard yelled at the coach to put him in. He jumped over the boards and arced across the zone yelling and banging his stick on the ice. He got the pass and buried the puck in the back of net with just seconds remaining. That's what it takes to go deep in the playoffs.

I miss Savvy and I wish he could be a part of this run. But we have seen signs of this kind of competitiveness--the desire to be the guy who goes out there and wins the game--in this year's squad. I see it in Horton. It shows up in Bergeron from time to time. Kelly may have it. I've even seen it in Chara, although he hasn't made good on it so far--but the desire is there. I saw it in Lucic last year. But is it enough? Will they all step up?

The way to the cup final is clear Boys. Are you gonna go for it?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Going Into Game 6

The Bruins went into Montreal and won two games. That was impressive! They won game 5 too, the first home win for a team in this series. For those following in the media this may sound like the Bruins are now dominant in the series and the favorites to win.

Not so fast. Game 5 was one of those low scoring see-saw affairs that went to overtime and somebody had to win. Montreal sat back for most of the game playing defensively and waiting for the an opportune moment to strike. It almost worked.

I expect game 6 to be different. I think it will be more end to end and I expect a higher score--maybe 4-3. The Bruins may well come out the winners. On the other hand if Montreal gets a two-goal lead it could go the way of game one, where the Habs played shutdown all the way to the end.

A solid road victory for the Bruins over a very good and desperate team would be very impressive.

On the other hand, I feel I've seen this movie before. The desperate Habs win game six. Game seven goes to overtime and is won on a fluke bounce of the puck. Speaking for Bruins fans, I think we can agree that we'd prefer them to win tonight.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Versus Anything Else, I'd Take Anything Else

Playing in Montreal has proven to be a good thing. Not only did the Bruins win, but Versus didn't carry the game. That meant that I could finally watch the playoffs with the sort of grin only crazy Jack Edwards can bring.

The first two games in Boston were exclusively carried on Versus, at least for those of us not in New England. Now... I've never had anything against Versus.

Until now.

I knew I was in trouble before the drop of the puck in game one. The Versus crew did the usual pregame goaltender meet and greet. They started off with Price, telling us how how amazing he was, never mind the mediocre stats they were displaying. I just found it amusing. When they finally stopped gushing about Price they turned to Thomas, almost as an afterthought, and said something to the effect that, "he's pretty good too." But they didn't say that like you might have expected them to, it was more in a begrudging way. At first I thought I was imagining things. Then they showed Thomas' stats and never mentioned that they lead the league or that the save percentage was an all-time single season record. I would have thought that would be of interest! And when it was mentioned that Timmy might win the Vezina, the other guy quickly jumped right in and said that Price was a legit Vezina contender too. Really? It was just plain ugly. I'd be willing to bet that the French broadcast showed more respect. Seriously. I would take that bet.

It was just weird. I mean, Versus is a US network--I can't think of any reason they'd expect Habs fans to be watching in larger numbers. And hey--I watch other market broadcasts from time to time so I'm no stranger to the usual bias. It doesn't often bug me that much.

But that was just the start. Every time they would talk about the Habs their comments would enthusiastically celebrate them, but when they talked about the Bruins they sounded... unhappy, forced.

But even that wasn't all of it. The broadcast team also seemed really unprepared. When they talked about the Bruins everything was a little off the mark. For instance they made a big deal about Julien choosing to play Thornton over Seguin. Huh?

That's only one example of the commentary being a bit "off." It just went on and on like that.

Imagine you are at a large party at your Mother-in-law's. Imagine too that you just had a recent success at work, where you do something highly technical. You may not have to imagine this next part: your Mother-in-law loathes you.

So she starts telling everyone how wonderful you are, in a disingenuous way, and inaccurately describes the nature of your success at work.

Watching Versus (or is it really NBC now?) cover this series was just like that. I was infuriated before they even dropped the puck! I mean, I wanted to hit something! Not fun. Not fun at all.

And shame of all shames... they showed commercials rather than the national anthems! It's the playoffs for god's sake!

But I did find a solution to the Versus problem during the first period of game 2. I tuned in to the Bruins radio broadcast on the web and listened to it with the TV muted. In the two minutes it took to hook it all up it was already 2-0 Habs. But even then the tension eased. And though the Bruins lost that game I was no longer irritated to the point of chewing nails!

P.S. It occurs to me that a clarification may be in order. I have no problem at all with local broadcasts being biased. Like most Bruins fans I want Jack Edwards to be biased! But Versus takes away my ability to watch the local broadcast via their exclusivity agreement. They are a national broadcast and must celebrate both teams equally.

P.P.S. I just read that Versus signed a new contract with the NHL that gives them and NBC exclusive rights to all the playoff games starting in the second round. God help us.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Time to Make Some History

The Bruins are now down 2-0 in the series and will play the next two games in Montreal. Here are some interesting statistics to ponder.

Times the Bruins won in Montreal this season: 0

Times the Bruins have been down 2-0 in a playoff series: 26

Times they have come back to win from 2-0: 0

So it's either time to make some history or time to fold like a cheap pair of figure skates again.

So what's it gonna be boys?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Bruins vs. Habs: Game 1

As a Bruins fan I'm not sure what's more upsetting about this game: the idea that the Montreal coach already knows exactly how to beat Julien's squaud, or the way the Bruins came out in the 3rd period--looking beaten even though they had 20 minutes and were only down by a single goal.

Actually, I do know the answer to that question. The Habs appear to know exactly how to beat the Bruins--just go back and look at how Pilly beat them last year and how Carolina did it the year before. It was exactly like what we saw last night: a tight defensive game where no Bruin is given more than a fraction of a second to make a decision. I tuned into the OT between the Sharks and Kings last night and it was like watching another sport. The ice looked bigger and everyone seemed to have more room.

Ok, so Julien needs to adjust. Maybe he can and maybe he can't. Maybe the players will listen and maybe they won't. That's not what upsets me.

What I can't forgive is the way they came out flat at the start of the 3rd. The Bruins should all be ashamed of themselves. Giving up when they were only down by a goal? With 20 minutes to play no championship team gives up even when they are down by three goals. I get that it must have been frustrating given how they took it to them for the entire second period and couldn't score. But you don't give up!

You find a way to win.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Into the 2011 Playoffs; A Look Back at Recent Bruins History

The 2011 playoffs start tonight against the Montreal Canadiens. I thought it would be interesting to have a look back at how the Bruins got here and how this year's team compares to teams of the recent past.

The current Bruins era began in the summer of 2006 with the hiring of Peter Chiarelli as the new GM. Even before he began his official duties he put the foundation of his Bruins in place with the acquisition of Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard. The Bruins were a clean sheet at that time. Owner Jeremy Jacob's referred to his team as being manned by "AHL Players." Chiarelli held on to a few core players, including Glen Murray, Patrice Bergeron, Marco Sturm, Mark Stuart, and P.J. Axellson. The former GM had left Chiarelli a present, although few realized its significance at the time, with one of his last official acts: the signing of Tim Thomas to an NHL contract. Chiarelli's choice for Head Coach was Claude Julien but he wasn't available. So Chiarelli hired Dave Lewis, the closest thing to Julien he could find at the time. There was a lot of young talent on the way up: goaltending phenom Tuukka Rask, Brad Boyes, Milan Jurcina, Phil Kessel and David Krejci. Some were still in the pipeline and others were debuting with the big club.

In that first season the new Bruins struggled. They failed to make the playoffs, finishing 13th in the conference with 76 points. They were 13th in goals for and 14th in goals against, with the second worst goal differential in the league (-70). The team had a horrible habit of coming our flat in the second period.

Tim Thomas won the 7th player award.

In my post mortem that season I said, "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."

Things improved in Chiarelli's second season (2007-2008). In the summer coach Claude Julien became available and Chiarelli wasted no time replacing Dave Lewis with him. The other big move was to pick up Manny Fenandez, who most expected to become the Bruins No. 1 goaltender, although some of us knew better. In February Chiarelli traded Brad Boyes for Dennis Wideman. Other new names to appear on the roster were Milan Lucic, Shawn Thornton, Jeremy Reich, Vladimir Sobotka, and walk-on Glen Metropolit.

That season the Bruins made the playoffs, finishing 8th with 94 points. Once again they were 13th in the conference in goals for, but they had become a respectable defensive team, finishing 5th in goals against. Tim Thomas beat out Fernandez as the starting goaltender. He and Chara were selected for the All-star game in February. The Bruins were the last team in the league to lose back to back games.

Tim Thomas won the 7th player award for the second year in a row.

The Bruins faced Montreal in the first round of the playoffs. They stumbled badly in game one in Montreal, often appearing overwhelmed. I recall Dennis Wideman in particular playing like he'd forgotten how to lace his skates, much less start a breakout. In the end the Bruins took it to game seven but lost 5-0.

Afterward I wrote, "I can't recall the last time I was absolutely certain that this team played all the way to its potential, leaving nothing on the ice. Everyone associated with the Bruins should be very proud."

This was Glenn Murray's last season. It ended with an ugly buyout of his contract. Over the summer Julien claimed that the team, which was now sound defensively, would need to improve on offense.

Chiarelli's third season (2008-2009) saw more improvement. They finished on top of the eastern conference and second in the league overall with 116 points. Their offense exploded with a conference leading 274 goals and their defense remained solid, leading the conference in goals allowed. Their goal differential was +78.

Thomas and Chara were selected as all stars again. Thomas won the Vezina as best goaltender, Chara won the Norris as best defenseman, and Julien won the Adams as best coach.

This was also the year Lucic won the hearts of Bruins fans by fighting every tough guy in the NHL, and ultimately winning the 7th player award.

The Bruins faced Montreal again in the first round but swept to an easy victory in four games. In the second round they faced Carolina. During this series Milan Lucic emerged as a game changer. Carolina was a good defensive team with playoff experience. They shut the Bruins rolling offense down and the Bruins didn't seem to know how to respond to it. The Bruins lost in overtime in game 7 on a fluke bounce of the puck.

Afterward I wrote, "So who do we blame for this loss? Timmy? The D-man who let Walker in front of the net? I say, nobody. The Bruins played their best, but in todays NHL it's not like the 70's and 80's. No team can dominate to the point where they can expect to win it all, no matter how good they are. It takes talent, hard play, great coaching, and yes--luck, to win a cup. It was the Hockey Gods who decided this one, and I am good with that."

Over the summer Phil Kessell was traded to Toronto.

Chiarelli's fourth season (2009-2010) brought great expectations based on their previous success. But they got off to a terrible start, playing as if the games didn't really matter. Tuukka Rask replaced Fernandez as the backup goaltender. Both goaltenders suffered from the poor play of the team early on and neither played all that well. But it was Thomas who seemed to get the brunt of it.

One bright spot was beating Philadelphia in the Winter classic. Marco Sturm scored the winner in OT. Thomas made the U.S. Olympic team but was not playing well enough to be the starter.

The team had started to play better but unknown to the outside world Thomas suffered an injury. Rask emerged as the starter after that and played quite well. After a pretty dismal season a strong playoff push won them 6th overall with 91 points and another playoff berth. Somehow they had sunk to 2nd to last in the league in goals for, but they were still near the top in goals against. Their goal differential shrank to +6.

Late in the season Marc Savard was elbowed from behind in a vicious hit to the head by Matt Cooke of the Penguins. He was unable to return until late in the playoffs and he was not himself.

The Bruins faced Buffalo in the first round of the playoffs, beating them in 6 games.

In the second round they faced the Flyers. They won the first three games and seemed poised to win the series. But after that they seemed to lose their heart. Even though they both played, injuries to Savard and Lucic took their toll. Their rookie goaltender Rask played well, but lost his edge as the playoffs went on. In the end the Flyers made a historic comeback to win four straight and move on to the conference final. This was seen as a collapse of historic proportions by Bruins fans.

Chiarelli's fifth season (2010-2011) was solid. Savard tried to come back but his concussion sidelined him for the rest of the season and playoffs. Many new faces were added to the lineup, including Nathan Horton, Chris Kelly, Thomas Kaberle, and Rich Peverly. Rookie Brad Marchand made his mark on the team and won the affection of the fans by playing with heart and grit, winning the 7th player award. Tyler Sequin, the 2nd pick overall, showed signs of becoming a great player, but was not yet fully ready for the NHL.

After off-season surgery Tim Thomas returned to Vezina form and set the all-time record for save percentage in a season.

The Bruins finished 3rd overall in the conference with 103 points, 3rd in goals for and 1st in goals against.

Going into the playoffs this year, this is clearly Chiarelli's best team yet. It has the goaltending necessary to win a cup and it has finally achieved a good balance between offense and defense. Except for Savard they are healthy. Chara and Lucic will lead the team, playing with both hunger and heart. It looks like Horton, in his first playoff series, will as well. Expect solid play from Bergeron and skilled puck movement from Krejki. Being healthy has given coach Julien a means to build a fire under his underachievers, Ryder and Paille. And finally, a cup run usually depends on the lesser stars to step up. Marchand, Thornton and Campbell look ready to fill this role.

In short, only heart, desire to win, and perseverance stand between this team and the cup. That, and the Montreal Canadiens.

Bring it on!

Monday, April 11, 2011

In the Meantime

The playoffs are finally here! Well, actually we have to wait til Thursday. It's too soon in my book to start talking about game one. So in the meantime I'm going to squeeze this in.

Dear NHL Scheduler:


Out west the Hawks' season ended with a home and home vs. Detroit. That must have been something to watch with the playoffs on the line for Chicago.

But the Bruins get New Jersey.

In fact, the last four games on the B's schedule were against the Rangers, Islanders, Ottawa, and Jersey. Only one of these teams is a long time rival and only one is even in the same division. None of these teams were recent playoff opponents. And last season both the Rangers and Islanders missed the playoffs altogether.

This is an exciting schedule to end the season on? Seriously?

For goodness sakes, after the way the playoffs ended last year for the Bruins Philly should have been in there. Pittsburgh would have been a good choice. Montreal of course. Buffalo even.

And what about the other playoff teams in the east? Philly ended the season against the Rangers, Ottawa, Buffalo, and the Islanders.


Montreal ended against New Jersey, Chicago, Ottawa, and that powerhouse in Toronto.


Pittsburgh ended against Florida, New Jersey, the Islanders and that powerhouse in Atlanta.

Hit the snooze button already!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Bruins Choke (again)

Despite all the changes in the lineup, last night the Bruins looked exactly like the team that gave up four straight against the Flyers in the second round last year. This game was a microcosm of last year's playoffs: the Bruins came out so dominating that everyone wrote the other team off. But they got a little sloppy and the other team began to build momentum. And then they collapsed like a cheap pair of figure skates.

I don't blame Horton. The Bruins were defending a one-goal lead when Horton fought Callahan for the puck along the boards in his own zone. Both Krejcki and Lucic were skating up the ice looking to break out when Horton lost that battle. With Dubinsky in front of the net undefended it was a simple matter to score. Lucic could have played deeper, picking up Dubinsky. But it was Krejcki who made the mistake. Prior to the goal he floated around the slot ineffectively. Then he failed to finish a check along the boards. And finally, he made the mistake of moving toward Horton, leaving the man open in front of the net. This begs the question--can this young inexperienced kid really lead the Bruins top line, and along with it the rest of the team, very far into the playoffs? Or in the end will we come to the bitter conclusion that Marc Savard matters after all?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Could the Bruins Win the Conference?

With four games remaining the Bruins find themselves four points behind the conference leading Flyers and Capitals.

The Bruins have four games remaining against the Rangers, Islanders, Senators, and Devils.

The Caps only have three games left in their schedule. Unfortunately they are against weak teams: two games vs. the Panthers and one against the Leafs.

The Caps should win all three games, but I would not be surprised if the Panthers didn't steal one. That would leave them with 107 points. It is not impossible that the Leafs might steal one too. We will have to see.

The Flyers also have three games remaining against the Senators, Sabers and Islanders. The Sabers are clinging tenuously to a playoff spot so this could be a tough game for Philly. But after watching the Sabers play the Caps yesterday I don't know... who plays defense so badly that with time ticking away they let Ovechkin have half the defensive zone to himself and allow him to repeatedly crash the net? Buffalo that's who.

The Bruins should win against the Islanders, Senators and Devils, which would give them 105 points. If things play out this way the game against the Rangers on Monday is the key. If the Bruins win they could end up with 107 points and a tie for the conference title and have a good chance at second place overall. But for that to happen the Bruins have to run the table and either the Flyers or the Caps must stumble. One other thing: if Philly stumbles the Penguins are right on their heels and they could switch places with them. So the Penguins are still in the mix too.

I am hoping the Bruins end up at least in second place. This would be a very good thing in my opinion because I really don't want to see the Bruins play Montreal in the first round. Montreal seems destined for sixth place so they would match up against the team in 3rd. Currently that's the Bruins.

The Habs would be perfectly happy to play the spoiler and then get swept in the second round. If Montreal is indeed good enough, then I would very much like to see them in a higher round--particularly in the Conference final. Just not in the first round.

One way or another the next week is going to be interesting!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Chara's Hit Reckless

First off, when I said a while back that the B's would own the Habs for the rest of this season I was wrong. Very wrong. As others have said the Habs are a tough team and they know how to beat the Bruins. The Bruins are either going to have to be very lucky in the post season or they are going to have to figure out how to beat this team (more than once).

Second, I was (unfortunately) right about the Bruins play heading for a downhill slide. The good news is that they have reverted to their earlier defensive style. The bad news is that once again they can no longer score. Since when is it ok to just dump the puck out of the defensive zone and let the other team attack again? And worse yet--they aren't playing all that well defensively. Once again, the main issue with this team is consistency. May Claude Julien and the Gods of Hockey brings some balance to this team.

Now for Chara. I'm nothing if not consistent in my views on this. Chara didn't intend to hurt anyone. But that's what Randy Jones said. It's what Matt Cooke keeps saying. The bottom line is that the players have to be alert enough not to make the reckless and dangerous play--unless we are willing to sit back and watch the game's best skill players go down one by one, possibly forever.

I'd write more but this guy already said exactly what I was thinking:
Chara avoids suspension for Pacioretty hit

Friday, March 4, 2011

Surging Bruins Win Ugly Against Lightning

Ok, I admit it. I didn't really enjoy last night's game against Tampa very much. I'm not entirely certain why. Maybe it was being forced to watch the game on the NHL network, which always seems to run the other team's broadcast. I really missed Jack's fun-filled insanity! Maybe it was how tightly the game was played.

But perhaps it was something more. For starters, I thought the Bruins were terrible. They seemed off in just about every way: even the shortest passes often didn't connect. Timmy looked rusty and was more lucky than good in the first period. And they kept dumping the puck out of their own zone giving up possession, which drove me crazy. They looked like a team that was losing their edge, like a team on a long winning streak that was almost out of gas (and magic). But of course the other way to look at it is that they still won the game even though they had trouble executing. I guess the next few games will tell which way this team is headed.

The Lucic line has become a dominant force to be reckoned with. I watched "Looch" and "Horty" on the bench and those two are developing real chemistry. They clearly share a strong desire to win and it shows on the ice. Unlike previous years, when somebody needs to step up and score these guys are going to find a way. Just look at how that winning goal came about!

But I was also troubled that they played just a bit dirty. That vague line between playing hard and tough and taking cheap shots may have been crossed just a bit and that's not something I want to see more of. Unlike a lot of pundits I get why Looch went after the guy who drew the tripping penalty. It was a dive! But the cross check to the face that came in the scrum later was over the top. There were also a couple of reckless knee-on-knee hits.

Maybe these guys are going to have a let down, or maybe they will fight through it. We'll just have to see. One thing I know is this: as long as they don't lose any key players to injury this team has more than enough Stanley Cup magic in it.

Friday, February 18, 2011

New Look Bruins

Word is coming down that today has been a big trading day for the Bruins.

Outgoing: Blake Wheeler, Mark Stuart, Joe Colborne, the B’s first-rounder in 2011, and a conditional pick*

Incoming: Tomas Kaberle, Boris Valabik and Rich Peverley

Outgoing NHL stats:
Wheeler in 58 games: 27 points, 11 goals, 16 assists, +8, 32 penalty minutes
Mark Stuart: 31 games, 5 points. 1 goal, 4 assists, +8, 23 penalty minutes

Incoming NHL stats:
Kaberle (D) in 58 games: 38 points, 3 goals, 35 assists, -2, 16 penalty minutes
Peverley (C) in 59 games: 34 points, 14 goals, 20 assists, -16, 35 penalty minutes
Valabik (D) in 23 games: 3 points, 0 goals, 3 assists, +3, 36 penalty minutes

The Bruins also recently acquired:
Chris Kelly (C) in 57 games, 23 points, 12 goals, 11 assists, -12, 27 penalty minutes

*Toronto will receive a 2012 second-rounder if Boston advances to the Stanley Cup final this season or if Kaberle re-signs with the Bruins.

Valabik seems likely to play in Providence.

Quick analysis: Chiarelli's penchant for obtaining centers over wingers continues. The stats alone suggest that the Bruins will have the potential score a lot more points, but the main incoming players have negative plus/minuses with their other teams. How these guys fit into the room and Julien's system will make all the difference.

EDIT: I originally misread the first round pick sent to Toronto as being Toronto's first round pick (which the B's currently hold). Given this I no longer think they overpaid for Kaberle. These deals appear to me to be more excellent work from Peter Chiarelli. I don't write about it much, but Chiarelli seems to be a force to be reckoned with among GMs. One way or another it seems only a matter of time before the Cup comes back to Boston.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Trouble Bruin

How quickly things can go downhill. As it stands now the Bruins have some big problems; problems that I think may be bigger than similar ones they have faced in recent years.

For starters, they need to get the defense back. While we were all celebrating the wild win against the Habs I had this nagging worry at the back of my mind: sure they won the game, but they let the Habs score 6 goals. Beginning that night the Bruins--arguably one of the best defensive teams in the NHL--have allowed an average of 5 goals per game. Claude Julien needs to get the players thinking defense again and fast. I get the impression that they changed up their game some--forwards now work to open up space and use their speed as an offensive weapon, but it is working both ways. They are scoring more goals, but giving up even more. There are too many odd man rushes with speed; too many turnovers at both blue lines; and they aren't clogging up the neutral zone. Playing like the Oilers of old may be great fun, but it's not getting the job done.

Another problem that needs to be addressed is their power play. It has struggled all season and Claude needs to find the time to get it on track while they still can. If Chiarelli can land the right player to QB the PP before the deadline that could help a lot.

But the biggest problem is more difficult. The Bruins played near the top of their game against Detroit and San Jose and came up losers. This wasn't a lack of effort or a poor performance, the Bruins simply weren't they better team. The Western Conference is so competitive this year that I fear whatever team wins the Eastern Conference final is going to get crushed, the Bruins included. There is only one solution to this one: the whole team has to work harder to get better between now and then.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Beat Goes On

Some random thoughts about last night's game against the Habs and the Bruins this season in general:

I hope somebody got a really good picture of the six Bruins in the penalty box. I would love to have it as a poster or desktop wallpaper. Hell, they should put it on a billboard come the playoffs.

I recently posted that the Bruins players didn't really seem to get the rivalry with the Habs. I think it's safe to say they do now!

What was up with that TSN Bruins love fest carried on Versus? Strange broadcast.

Somebody should ask Cherry and Milbury about their claim that the remarks made by Ference with regard to the Paille hit were going to be poison for the room.

It was very entertaining to read the Montreal paper's version of last night's game. The Montreal press draws a picture of a wild high scoring affair that the Habs were in until the very end that also had a few "brawls" in it. No mention is made of what those who watched the game saw: a serious beatdown by the Bruins.

If you want to win against the Bruins the last thing you want to do is to go into their own building and try to push them around. As the Avs have discovered twice now (slow learners) and the Habs found out last night, the Bruins will beat the crap out of you AND you will lose the game.

Espo told a story in his book about his first shift in the NHL. He lined up against his childhood idol Gordie Howe. At the drop of the puck Howe smacks Espo in the face, splitting his lip. Espo asked him later what that was all about and Howe said something to the effect that had Espo not stood up to him Howe would have owned Espo for the rest of his career. While it can't be said that the Habs backed down last night they did come out on the losing end in most every way. I feel confident that should these two teams meet come playoff time the B's will own them.

That mental aspect of the game is so important. A team can win by reputation alone before the game even starts. I'd put the recent B's game against the Sharks in that category. I swear the way they played the Bruins made the Sharks look BIGGER. And I swear the Sharks have something going on with those white jerseys that just make them look big. Another team the B's seemed a little awed by was the Kings. Should fate bring the B's against either of these teams in the Cup Final it could be interesting. Maybe too interesting.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Andrew Ference is a Stand Up Guy

Andrew Ference simply told the truth about Daniel Paille's hit on Raymond Sawada. He said nothing that should have been considered criticism of his teammate. Essentially I agree with this post. Paille made a mistake in judgment that got someone hurt. So what? Nobody is accusing him of intentionally trying to hurt anyone.

Don Cherry and Mike Milbury, who criticized Ference for speaking the truth, are paid very well to make hyperbolic statements. The more ruckus they raise the more attention they get and the attention brings higher advertising revenue. They aren't paid to speak the truth. If you watch Milbury closely it appears that he knows full well that he is only doing what is expected of him. He's playing a role. But I think Cherry may have been playing this role for so long that he can't tell the difference between the entertaining nonsense he sputters and what's real anymore.

Anyhow, what I'm wondering is where is Dan Paille in all this? Shouldn't he have been the one saying what Ference said? Why didn't he stand up and tell the truth? The few quotes I have read from Paille seem to indicate that he disagrees with what Ference said. If so, then he needs a reality check. Either he is being baited by the press, who often misrepresent what others have said in order to get a "rise" out of the person they are interviewing, or his character is something less than stellar. If there is any resentment in the room from Paille then I think he needs to man up.

Andrew Ference stands up for what he believes in. He also stands up for his teammates on the ice where it matters most. Ference is one of the most underrated defensemen in the NHL and I think an underrated player by Bruins fans. He is currently +19, trailing only Chara (+23) among B's defensemen. I for one am glad he's a Bruin.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The All Star Game is Fun

Stephen Harris wrote this article about the all star game. I've been meaning to comment on it but only now have the chance. In this article Harris says that, "...certainly people who have any fondness or respect for the NHL, should look upon the All-Star Game with nothing but contempt." How dare he say this. It's one thing to voice your opinion, but to suggest that everyone must agree with it is rather narcissistic. Worse than that, he implies that anyone who does not look upon the game with contempt isn't a fan of "true" hockey.

Harris also makes a case for the all star game causing harm because, "The things that really matter in the NHL has (sic) nothing to do with what takes place in this game."

I could not disagree more. The All-star game is fun. So what if it isn't about real hockey? Call me an idiot if you must but I enjoyed much of it this year. I enjoyed seeing the players have fun during the team selection. I nearly fell off my chair laughing at Ovechkin taking a picture with his phone of Kessel sitting all alone--the last player chosen. The devilish look on his face was hilarious!

There were also a few highlights during the skill competition that made it worth watching. And the game itself... that was actually pretty special. Sure, the first period was like watching paint dry and the second wasn't much better. But I had a feeling that with this new team structure that if the game was close near the end we might see the play pick up. Sure, there was no hitting, yet the final minutes had some real intensity to them. Not a cup final, of course, but far more intensity than I have seen in previous games. It was fun!

I don't know where Harris gets this idea that the all-star game is primarily designed to bring new fans to the sport. I think those days are long over. The Winter Classic is the better forum for that. Give people--even non Hockey fans--some credit. They know that an all-star game isn't a true representation of the sport. It's a chance for people (kids above all!) to see their favorite players have some fun. The NHL expanded in the 1980's not because of the all-star game but because of Wayne Gretzky and a fledgling ESPN that brought the sport to a wider audience of sports fans. Growing the game today is more about bringing great players and championships to non-traditional hockey markets like Dallas, Tampa, or Raleigh.

That doesn't mean that the all-star game can't be better. Personally I think the fan balloting is a joke and I'd like to see it go away. It's really just a marketing ploy to harvest names and addresses for the NHL to send out catalogs to. What I'd like to see is for the selection to be a real honor rather than an online popularity poll. For that to happen it has to be about the players, not the fans. I'd like to see the players choose the all stars. Let each team nominate three players via a player secret ballot. Then let all the players in each conference vote on the 45 players nominated and take the top 9 forwards, top 6 defensemen and top 3 goaltenders for an 18-man talent pool. Finally, use this year's system for picking teams.

Intent to Injure

In a wild game last night against the Dallas Stars Daniel Paille was penalized under NHL rule 48 (Illegal Check to the Head). He was also given a match penalty at the discretion of the referee. This morning the NHL announced a 4 game suspension of Paille and a fine of $23,118.28.

The Stars' Raymond Sawada is reported to have suffered a broken nose and a separated shoulder.

Here is the main part of rule 48:

48.1 Illegal Check to the Head – A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted.

I agree completely that this was an illegal hit to the head under this new rule and agree with the four game suspension. But something is not completely right here. Section 5 of rule 48 reads:

48.5 Match Penalty - The Referee, at his discretion, may assess a match penalty if, in his judgment, the player attempted to or deliberately injured his opponent with an illegal check to the head.

This part I am having trouble with. I have heard the pundits weigh in on this one and too many, in my opinion, are comparing this hit to the Matt Cooke hit on Mark Savard last year. When it comes to this last part--"intent to injure" I couldn't disagree more. These hits are completely different.

Watching the play develop last night I saw a resurgent Dallas team get a couple of good bounces of the puck to get behind most of the Bruins defense. When Paille made that hit he was making a good defensive play as Sawada was driving to the net in control of the puck. Sawada had is head down and Paille used poor judgment when he unloaded on him from the side. But how did the referee determine that he "deliberately injured his opponent?" Did he call in a mind reader? Shame on him for assuming this was anything more than poor judgment on a back check.

If you compare this hit to the Cooke incident there are several major differences. The first is that the hit came behind the play. Savard did not have possession of the puck. Second, the hit was a blindside from behind. Third, Cooke was seen to have intentionally raised his elbow for the blow to the head as he skated by. Even in this case we can't know what was going through Cooke's mind. He may have simply been careless--misjudging his speed and the effect of the impact of his elbow on Savard's head. How will we ever know? Intent to injure or not, it seems to me that the Cooke hit was much more reckless. Unlike the Paille hit this was not a part of the play. When it comes to being behind the play, as far as I'm concerned Cooke might just as well have mugged Savard with a tire iron in the parking lot after after the game.

Rule 48 didn't exist at the time of the hit on Savard and famously Cooke didn't even receive a penalty. I wonder what the NHL would do if that same hit happened today? Give him a six game suspension? I think there needs to be a distinction drawn between these sorts of hits when it comes to the sentence handed down. It also should not be based on "intent" which is impossible to know. Intent was a mistake. I think recklessness is a better way to discriminate one from the other and the situation should matter. It is far more reckless to hit someone from behind who is going to tag a puck for icing, or behind the play without the puck, than when making a split second decision on a defensive play in front of the net.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Bruins Find Another Gear (Return of the Curse? part 2)

After the "collapse" against the Habs the Bruins moved on to Pittsburgh. Late in the second period of that game I was struck by how similar it was to the Habs game, only this time the Bruins were the ones down by two. It wasn't just the score, but the way the game was playing out. It was another tight checking affair with relatively few good scoring opportunities. For a fleeting moment I wondered if this game would end the same way--with the Bruins the ones making the comeback victory. As quickly as the grin came with that thought it faded. After all, the Bruins have not shown much of an ability this season to turn up the heat, to find that extra gear, when they need it. But in the end this was exactly what they did.

Just as the Habs had done two nights before the Bruins got two late goals to tie the game. But this comeback was very different. The Habs had scored two fluky goals to tie and won it later in OT. But the Bruins victory over the Pens was much cleaner. The B's suddenly began to dominate the play, to really take it to them. A goal seemed likely, if not inevitable. When it came everyone knew the Pens were in deep trouble. People have claimed that the Bruins collapsed against the Habs. Maybe so, maybe not. It depends on how you look at it. The Pens game was much more clear: the B's took it to them and they wilted under the pressure. Of that there is no question.

So my confidence is thus restored in the Bruins. Some fans have been complaining a lot lately, calling for dumping players like Savard (give me a break) or for the coach to be let go (who would replace him?). To them I point to last season. It was in fact a lot worse than this. The Bruins have been inconsistent this year but they have shown us glimpses of greatness as they did last night. Last year we had none of that. All we had at this point last year was faith the Bruins could put it all together come the playoffs.

Now about last years playoffs: it's easy to forget everything except that embarrassing four-game collapse in the second round. But think back now to the games that came before that. The Bruins looked unstoppable. They could switch into that extra gear we saw last night at will and pretty much score any time they needed to. I see no reason to believe that same team isn't still there waiting to come to life again in the playoffs. We saw a peek of it last night. If they somehow manage to stay healthy this time around they could go far. With with a little luck--all the way.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Return of The Curse?

Near the end of the game against Montreal things got so boring I started writing this blog in my head. It was boring because the B's were leading by two and had the habs completely shut down. Here is what I had been working on:
Although not their best game of the year this was the Bruin's strongest and most consistent effort so far.
Soon afterward the habs scored two goals to tie the game and went on to win it in overtime. Many are claiming this was another monumental collapse and to a certain extent they are right. But look at the two goals that tied it up. They were both tough goals that the habs couldn't repeat if you gave them ten games to try. The first was a weak shot from the boards that went off a skate and then made a fluke jump over Tim Thomas' stick. The second was the result of two players sliding into Thomas. A skate just barely dislodged the puck from Thomas' leg and it dribbled in. All the while the Bruins were keeping play to the outside forcing low percentage shots just as they were supposed to. When they had the chance they took it to the other zone rather than just sitting back. It's difficult for me to fault them for their play, if not the result.

The overtime was a different story however. The crowd, who had been booing their team earlier on, was now fully pumped and loud. The momentum was all on the habs side. For the Bruins to pull off an OT win under these conditions would have been a major victory. It would have been one of those spunky "oh yeah?" "in-your-face" moments that great teams are made of. But they didn't. What worries me most about the character of this team this season is that they never do.

Ive said for a couple of years now that the players on this B's team don't always seem to get the rivalry with the habs, not in the same way that long time fans do. Maybe its the huge turnover in the faces suiting up in Montreal. Regardless, there have been too many lackluster efforts (like the previous game this season in Montreal) as if somehow the habs are just another team in their division. They should have big red circles on the schedule around every game with the habs knowing that the fans expect these to be the biggest games of the regular season. The hard truth is that historically the habs have owned the Bruins. What happened in this game has happened before too many times. It is the Bruins curse. It has happened in the playoffs. It has happened to great Bruins teams that should have won a cup but ran into the rouge et blanc on the way. Speaking for long time Bruins fans, we're all pretty sick of it. My only solace from this loss is the (weak) hope that the players will play the habs with a chip on their shoulder the rest of the season and perhaps into the playoffs.