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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Who woulda thunk?

The Bruins continue to not suck. In fact, they are playing some of the best hockey I have ever seen a Boston Bruins team play. Now granted their two games against Tampa, who has the lowest point total in the NHL, should not have been challenging, and they were a Tim Thomas save away from ending up in OT, after leading by 3 goals almost the entire game.

But still you have to admire the way they have been playing, and they have not fallen into any of the traps that winning teams often do. I believe they are too young to be jaded, and their yutes are so jazzed to be in the NHL, and their coaches are doing nothing to discourage them. So you are just not seeing many nights when the team takes an on-ice vacation.

It is so encouraging to see young players like Wheeler and Krecji playing so well, and veterans like Axelsson and Yelle and Savard feeding off their energy. Granted, it takes an open net for PJ to score, but he and Bergeron our out there grinding away regardless of whether the puck is going in for them. Bergeron skates so hard every shift, and he is so disruptive to the opposition, that whether he scores or not is no big deal (especially since everyone else does.

You have to give lots of credit to Phil Kessel too. This guy has grown up so much physically and mentally since that benching in the playoffs. He used to look like Calvin (from Calvin and Hobbes) flying off the sled everytime he got hit. Now is is staying on his skates, properly braced, and even dishes out a few hits. He is also able to waterbug across the ice with the puck, finding seams and getting off a powerful and accurate wristshot that has caught opposing goalies flat.

It is almost too much fun to be a Bruins fan.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

On Top of the World (Well at least the East)

It has been a while but now that everyone is on the bandwagon, who needs to blog about the Bruins?

But here goes with some randomeness anyway.

I like the new black 3rd sweater except for the reebok-ness of it. I don't like the sculpted look. Hockey must be played in sweaters, even if they are not the old woolies. These things are like muscleshirts, not sweaters. The blackness is cool, but with black pants and socks it is a bit much. Why not add a bat-cowl and cape? I do like the fact that there is no bottom stripe on the shirt - because that only accentuates the "I've didn't tuck in my shirt" look of the reboks. Ick.

It was hilarious how worked up the hab-goblins got over Lucic. I am the farthest one from the ice level, to say the least. But to me it seemed like Georges did his job as he sees it. He is not a cheapshot goon, he is an enforcer, and he would not take a cheapie at Lucic and he would not take an instigator. But to my eyes he went about it wrong. If he had slammed Kessel twice Lucic would have fought George without hesitation, regardless of what Julien or anyone else had said to him. I am not even saying cheapshot, just a good cleanout. The only way it would not have happened would be Chara getting there first. Tactical error by the scabs, and good for them.

How bout that Tim Thomas. Leading the league and all. Are there still people who don't think he can hold down an NHL job?

The maturing of Phil Kessel is a marvel to behold. Maybe Joe Thornton could have used Caude Julien as a coach early in his career. Or maybe it is just something in Phil's makeup that makes him actually respond to challenges.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good News Bad News

A point in the home opener but a shootout loss. Oh well. The Bruins played pretty well and Thomas came up with big saves several times, but the Pens goalie played a great game and could only be beaten once, by Kessel. Bergeron continues to get great chances but he has been snakebitten. My guess is that when one does go in, the dam breaks and he gets a bunch. The Bruins played very solidily all game, with every line looking good in spots, but no domination. But remember that was against a Stanley Cup finalist, minus Mr. Hossa of course, but still a potent team. Their injury to Gonchar takes a lot off the top though. People are dumping on Wheeler, who might have set folks' expectations too high by scoring in the first game. Brick said it right though: in the third period he praised that line for playing a good shift and getting the shift's final line change in the Pen's zone, setting up the first line for a good shift (they muffed it, but...). I remember Steve Hienze when he was a third liner saying to me "My job was not to hurt the team." This was just before he started scoring a ton, and we were talking about how his role had changed. My point is that for a rookie like Wheeler, his job #1 is to skate his shift and get acclimated to the NHL without hurting the team. He is not expected to carry the team like a Crosby was, and he is not expected to be a one-man wrecking crew like Lucic was last year. So I am willing to wait, and by all appearances, so is Claude Julien.

Buffalo next, and I assume we will see Manny, continuing the rotation. That puts Thomas in against Toronto, and Manny against Atlanta. That's fine with me.

Another guy who gets crap is Shane Hnidy, but I thought he played just fine last night. In fact the entire defense had a good defensive night - no huge costly gaffes. The attack was very good, lots of chances, just that Sabourin played very well in the Pens net. Some weak work on the Bruins shootout though.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Not So Good

A 4-3 loss to the Wild, and the best you can say is that the team kept playing and made it interesting in the 3rd period. Also positives about Marc Savard, with 3 goals in 2 games. Another good sign is that Savard and Ryder seem to have some synergy, and Ryder contributed in a way not entirely expected - he sent the two passes that Savard scored on, rather than the other way around. My thought is that the bigger Savard is a threat to score himself, the more effective his passes will be. In the old days, Adam Oates was the best passer in the NHL, but he didn't shoot nearly enough and teams played him to pass. I don't think Savard is quite the passer Oates was, but it is close, and if Savard can also be a threat to score, that bodes well for the Bruins.

Not so good - the goaltending and defense. Fernandez made the Greater St. Paul area quite happy, but no one in Bruins gear, with two awful goals allowed, and the other two marginally better. The only thing that absolves him in any way is that the defense was not so good either. But the fact remains that the Bruins allowed only 26 shots - far fewer than Tim Thomas faced against the Avs, and still came up short. And after the game, the initial story quoted MF as calling himself 'courageous' for playing in the third and not allowing another goal! He faced down every one of those five shots! Does that imply that his natural inclination was to cower in the dressing room for the third period?
Turns out it was a bit of a misquote, as later stories added a parenthetically 'courageuous (for the team)' to clarify or sanitize his remark; we will never know which.

The trade of Andrew Alberts is a bit of a surprise, but not totally because he was not in the line up after having a spotty pre-season (mistake prone in the exhibitions). It is ironic that he was traded to the team that put him out for the season with a concussion last season, but the Flyers were hurtin' and Alberts in their system could be effective if paired up correctly.

The injury to Chuckie K sucks. Is he brittle or unlucky? Hard to say, but he was injured coming from Calgary, and broke a bone last season, and then another one this season. Not is not a good trend. Fortunately the Bruins have a bunch of young guys that should get a cup of Joe with the club while Kobie is out. It doesn't sound like a long term injury but time will tell.

The next game is in Montreal against the hated ones. It will be interesting to see how the lineup looks in goal and on defense, with Alberts traded away to a desperate Philly (2 injured d-men). Also with Kobesew out (fractured ankle) whether the Bruins call up Sobotka or drop a second shoe with a trade now that they have some cap room.

Friday, October 10, 2008

A Good Start

While the defensive results might have been dicey, it was great to see the Bruins score five goals in their 5-4 away opener win vs Colorado. A road start is tough (last seasons the Bruins played in a handful of other team's first home games and were bruised by it) but the Bruins hung in there. I could not have wished for better starts from Ryder, Wheeler, Krejci, and Kessel, at least on the scoreboard, and Lucic looked better, picking up an assist and playing on a tough and solid 4rth line.

Not so spiffy was the Bruins defense. Ward worked hard but he was off position too much. Ference not a lot better. Hnidy also tries hard and makes the most of marginal talent. Chara wasn't impressive (a stinky -3 despite his assist), Wideman was OK, as was Stuart. Thomas faced way too many shots again, but he was up for the challenge and came up big in the last seconds against Sakic. Tim was classic Thomas, making some huge stops but you will never see the guy in a goalie training video.

I was overjoyed to see Bergeron playing again, but I felt he was a little restrained on the physical contact. That does not bother me much, because the last thing I want to see is another injury. Bruins have enough beef out there so that Patrice can work on the finesse. I thought Marco Sturm was the invisible man, and Kobesew wasn't exactly Mr. Everywhere either. Yet Chuckie ends up with two points, as did Patrice. Ryder was on the ice for two Avs goals, but he was also on for two Bruin's goals including his own. So that is a wash, even if he ended up -1.

Friday night, no Bruins game, but it is centre ice preview night, so I get to watch a bunch of other teams. Montreal vs Buffalo and a distinct lack of diving - a surprise. But all's well that ends well - Montreal lost in a shootout. Rangers look very strong, Lundquist very sharp. Yet Chicago tied it up in the first. Florida was up 2-0 on the Canes and squandered that. Atlanta was 1-0 vs Washington early, faltered, but then chased Theodore out of the Capitals net and scored another 3 on his backup. The Isles and Devils were 1-1 but NJ scored the winner in the third. I will be heading back to watch some more free hockey later.

So it was a great start, and we will see if CJ starts Manny against his old team the Wild in the next game. Five is nice, but this Bruins team has to prove they can score consistently if they want to make the playoffs. It looks to me like a lot of teams have improved. Toronto under Ron Wilson looked very decent against Detroit. I have to say that they played much better without Sundin; I think they previously got used to sitting back and letting Mats do it all, and that became a set of diminishing returns as he aged. He was a great player, but he had become just good, and I think the younger guys deferred too much to him and Tucker. Well both of them are gone, and my guess is the Leafs will actually be stronger for it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Game on!

This is it - the start of the regular season, and does it get any better?
I am jazzed to see the Bruins play tonight, and waiting until 10pm will be torture.
I am cruising the net at lunch to find out who is starting and what the lineup looks like, and who is on the Avs, and all that.
I was sad to see Sobotka sent back to Providence, but I was heartened that he scored in the AHL opener against the Lowell Devils, so he is rising to the challenge and I am sure he will be back in Boston soon.
I was also disappointed to see Peter Schaeffer essentially released, because I was hoping the guy would step up early the way he did at the end of the season. But apparently not enough to keep him around, unless the demotion was a motivation ploy. But he should not need that kind of prodding, so my guess is that the staff just did not see the fire needed to take the next step (like toward the net!).
I am bound to have more to say later, so I will stop now and resume after work.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Goaltending shuffle? Not again!

So I just watched the Bruins lose 4-3 to the Capitals. Both teams were resting their star players for the most part. Tim Thomas let in 4 goals, and did not look particularly sharp. However, compared to several Bruins defensemen, he looked like a HHOF player. Alberts had a rough night, and Lashoff, Hunwick, and Wideman were not that much better. Nokie and Sobotka played well, and Blake Wheeler had a nice goal.

But my worry is that Fernandez sat out the previous game with Detroit because of a swollen thumb. It is like somebody has a Manny voodoo doll. The guy is getting dinged up all the time. So Tukka Rask played and beat Detroit 2-1. But if Timmy isn't sharp and Manny is on the treatment table all the time, that will hurt the Bruins start. Worse, if they have to call up Tukka and risk his development so that Thomas does not die from exhaustion, that is double bad. This team really needs Fernandez to be available and play well, or they could be in for a rough season. Or they need to find another Alex Auld and send Manny to the minors or farther.

I would love for Manny to be the #1 goalie he was expected to be, but you have to admit that so far Boston has little to show for that trade except for a salary cap sinkhole.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Finally, the Bruins are Back!

The Bruins first pre-season game is in the books, and to me there is only one thing that matters: That smile on Bergy's face.

The fact that it was a win against the habs is icing on the cake. A pre-season win (or loss) is fundamentally meaningless, but it is never meaningless when a player like Patrice Bergeron can come back from a career threatening injury to play like his old self.

Of course it is nice when the habs get their heads handed to them (almost literally in the case of Steve Begin on the wrong end of Shawn Thornton's fists). It was also good to see Manny Fernandez play again, and for Kevin Regan to get some time in net.

Another guy who had a standout night was Vladimir Sobotka. He had two goals and was "flying all over the ice" according to Fluto's blog.

Nice to see that Phil Kessel is playing well and was not about to let one of the Kostityn sisters (Andrea) get away with a cheap shot on Sturm. Bergeron looked good centering Sturm and Kessel. That is some serious speed at wing, and if Bergeron is truly back, this could be one of the best second lines in the league.

I am not so sure about Savard-Lucic-Ryder. I think the world of Milan Lucic, but I wonder if he is the right player at this time to be a first line winger with Savard. But at least he is getting the chance to succeed, and we can all hope.

And if not Milan, then who? Axelsson? No. PJ is my favorite Bruin but not on the first line, because that doesn't get it done on the scoreboard. Schaeffer? Good possession player on the boards but not really able to pass effectively from there. Sobotka? I don't think he is a first line guy at this point. Steph Yelle? Again, not first line.

Fluto's latest blog says that Tukka Rask gets the start tonight, with Regan as backup. Tim Thomas is not dressing again, but that just seems designed to let the other guys show their stuff, not any worries about TT.

The worrisome part is that Zdeno Chara did not play last night and is not suiting up for tonight's game vs the Fishcakes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Will Bruins Fans be Happy Campers?

The Bruins start camp this week with the rookies in first, then the vets. That is business as usual. Also as usual there are questions in goal and up front, where last season scoring was always iffy. The curious part is that with goal scoring such an issue, there does not seem to be much room for younger players to displace the veterans. The Bruins seem 'blessed' with a lot of veteran players who are vastly experienced at not scoring goals. PJ Axelsson, one of my favorite players, nonetheless is hamhanded in front of the net. Peter Schaeffer showed flashes of offensive competence last year, but more often than not he was dancing along the boards rather than roughing it out front where the goals are. Milan Lucic showed so much promise, and delivered in the physical departments, but he really was not a constant scoring threat. He will be interesting to watch this season, to see if any Iginla rubbed off on him, after he spent some of the summer training with Iggy.

Of course we all want the difference maker to be Patrice Bergeron. Looking back it is really quite remarkable that the Bruins made the playoffs with the injury to Bergeron, and after that to Alberts, after losing Fernandez and having to scramble to get Alex Auld to back up Thomas. This season I hope Patrice will be back and trying to prove to everyone that he can rebound from that head shot.

In goal the big question is Manny. Will Fernandez play the way he did at Minnesota and Dallas, or the way he didn't last year at Boston. Tim Thomas will be Tim; strong when fresh, weak when overworked, and a coin flip whether the next shot will result in a spectacular save or a disastrous goal. The young goalies barring injury will be making coach Murphy look good in Providence, biding their time.

On defense the quest ion is Chara's shoulder. Zdeno is like the Atlas of myth, literally carrying the Bruins on his shoulders, and if one of then is not healed, that will shake the Bruin's world. At the now-annual Bruins season ticket holder meeting a week or so ago, the reports were that he will be ready and in camp, but I did not hear anyone saying he was fit and ready - it sounded a bit iffy. If Chara has to play carefully, it takes a good deal off the Bruins defensive game.

That leaves a lot of weight on the Bruins other vet defensemen, none of whom can tear up the league or put fear in the hearts of opposing forwards. They are solid but not spectacular. The guy who could rise above and make a difference is Dennis Wideman. If Wideman has matured and has a breakout year, that could propel the Bruin up two or three spots in the East. It would be great also if one of the younger defensemen stepped up from Providence, or if Andrew Alberts is able to come back from his own season ending injury to play well.

To me, this is the best time of the off season, when anticipation peaks and hopes are high, and the Bruins have just as much chance as any team to lift the cup at the end of the year. We can dream, can't we?

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Bruins Look Forward

On the brink of another hockey season, the Bruins are looking to build on their 'meager' accomplishments from last season.

Well, to a Red Wings fan at least, making the final playoff spot and losing in Round 1 is meager. But for a team many picked as dead last, it was heady stuff to make the 2008 playoffs in spite of losing Patrice Bergeron and Manny Fernandez to injury.

Many talented young players, such as Milan Lucic, David Krecji, Phil Kessel, and Vladimir Sobotka, stepped up to the NHL level and propelled the team to the playoffs.

But still, the team squeaked into 8th place and fell in the first round to the hated Scabs, adding insult to injury, literally (Marc Savard's cracked vertebrae, courtesy Steve "Crosscheck from Behind" Begin).

Now, with Bergeron and Fernandez back, and the young guns having a season under their suspenders, things should be looking up for the Bruins. Coach Claude Julien brought the right qualities to a team that needed organization on defense and a confidence boost. We will see where he can go from here.

Michael Ryder, the primary off-season acquisition, and Stephane Yelle, potentially this season's Glen Metropolit, need to be slotted into the lineup, replacing and hopefully exceeding the departed Glen Murray and Metro. There are several more rookies contending for few openings, so training camp should be interesting.

Speculation immediately began that either PJ Axelsson or Peter Schaeffer would have to hit the road to make room for both Yelle and the young guns. With Yelle making 750K and the Bruins scraping their heads on the salary cap ceiling, something probably has to give.

Personally I think it is more Chiarelli's stockpiling as best he can against the possibility of early season injuries. Yelle is cheap, experienced, and flexible. If a Kessel or Krejci or even Savard come up lame after camp, the Bruins will need experienced bodies to fill in, as Metropolit did last season.

Another question mark is Manny Fernandez. He is healthy, supposedly. But hey, he was healthy last season, wasn't he? Yeah, for about a week. Then it turned out that his knee was still not right and he was compensating to the degree that other injuries occurred. But this season will be different - Manny will be #1. However, if he is not, Chia will have to scramble again to find this year's Alex Auld, so as not to blow the cap numbers by calling up Tukka Rask at the cost of $3m to back up Thomas. IF he gets injured again, Manny could end up being a $7.5m black hole in the lineup ($4.5m for MF and $3m for TR).

But right now, before training camp begins, there is a bright and shiny new season of hockey to look forward to.

Welcome to BruiNation

I decided to move the Bruins portion of my addled thoughts into a separate blog. This is a placeholder first article.

The Other Mattbnh