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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