Calls for Old Yelle-er

Stephane Yelle is More Popular Among Bruins Fans than Halftime Pizza

Last Wednesday, the Bruins placed Marc Savard on Long Term Injury Reserve. He joined linemate Milan Lucic on LTIR, with an expected time on the shelf of 4-6 weeks. With the Bruins languishing at .500, members of Bruins Nation panicked. They wondered how far back the B’s would fall in the standings. Would the Bruins be anywhere close to the top of the Northeast Division when these two returned? Who would score? Would the Bruins be in competition with themselves for the first overall pick in the draft?

Well, three games since the movement of their best skill player and blossoming power forward, the Black and Gold have picked up five of six points, coming behind for a regulation win over Nashville, going toe-to-toe with Philly the next night in a shootout loss and then storming back on Saturday for a miracle shootout ‘W’ in Ottawa. Taking a deuce from a lesser Western Conference team, snagging a point from a rested rival and earning a big division win is a good start to live without Savvy and the Serbian Nightmare.

Yet, it’s an off day for the Bruins, the second of four in a row, and it appears as if the desire to tinker with the team and reinvent the wheel has not taken the day off.

The Carolina Hurricanes put old friend Stephane Yelle on waivers today and immediately the Tweets were flowing as if they were Alex Ovechkin shots. Somewhere in Canada, Mrs. Yelle is printing out postings from around the innerwebs claiming how her baby boy is the savior or the Bruins’ penalty kill issues or how Stephane’s leadership and overall “experience” is the final piece of the puzzle to solving the issues on Causeway Street.

Now, the issue of Stephane Yelle’s importance the 2008-09 edition of the Bruins is unquestionable. He was as reliable a fourth-line center and penalty killer a team could want. He blocked shots, forechecked aggressively and was arguably the most dependable guy on draws late in games. If the Bruins had brought him back this year, seeing him lineup with Shawn Thornton and Byron Bitz would have been a welcome sight.

However, the brass did not bring him back, instead investing a few more dollars in Steve Begin. So far this year, Begin has performed admirably in his assigned role, causing trouble in the corners for defensemen, winning his share of faceoffs and standing up for teammates when needed. On top, he has six points so far, including goals in two of his last three games.

Some of the B’s bloggers I pay attention to see Yelle as a cheap, experienced way to solve Boston’s penalty kill issues. Yelle makes the league minimum $550,000 so cheap is a very good adjective for Yelle. He is in 14th season so experienced and veteran also are correct. Yet, while at face value it is easy to clamor for Peter Chiarelli to claim Yelle, adding him to this roster comes with costs.

1.)    Stephane Yelle is a center. Right now, the Bruins have Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Begin as pivots with Vladimir Sobotka also lining up there. In a month or so, Savard is back with Sobotka the odd man out. Trent Whitfield is a center who has played many years in the AHL and is capable of playing third or fourth line minutes if needed in an emergency and makes the same salary as Yelle. If the Bruins were faced with Whitfield as a long-term solution, I would pay for Yelle’s flight from Carolina to Boston.

2.)    However, why are people quick to dismiss Sobotka and fellow call-up Brad Marchand? In his three games, Sobotka has crashed around like the little ball of rage he is. Last game, he popped seven hits on the Senators – a team high. Followers of the Bruins have waited for him to take on a bigger role with the big club, and this month-long slot as third-line center is a great opportunity for him to show he can play the cycling, puck possession game so desired by Claude Julien while still harassing behind the far goal line. Marchand, one defensive lapse in Philly aside, has not looked out of place riding shotgun with Patrice Bergeron and Michael Ryder. He picked up his first point in his first NHL game and has done what is required – making smart moves with the puck and taking shots when able. After three games he is even despite averaging 15:00 of ice time.

3.)    The one major area associated with the desire to have Stephane Yelle come back to Boston is to fixing the shorthand struggles. The B’s are 24th in the NHL in killing penalties, allowing 10 power play goals against in 41 opportunities. Yes, Yelle is a proficient penalty killer with his ability to win faceoffs and to block shots. So is P.J. Axelsson and I don’t see many people sending smoke signals to Sweden for his return. Much like a pitcher’s ERA or a goalie’s GAA, special teams numbers are skewed this early in the season. Eight of the 10 goals allowed on the shorthand by the Bruins came in the first five games of the year. Since then, the B’s are 14-of-15, including 8-of-8 over the last three games. I am no math major, but 8-of-8 is pretty good, right? Now that Tim Thomas has his game rounding into form, and new additions to the main PK rotation like Begin, Bitz and Wheeler are getting used to the system, there may not be a need to rush to change.

4.)    It is always easy in times of struggle to revert back to what is familiar and comfortable. Faithful followers of the spoked-B remember fondly Yelle leading the penalty kill last year when the Bruins were the best team in the East during the regular season. Purveyors of the waiver wire and transaction column in the daily paper see a name they recognize and are ready to drop a young player who is performing well to add a guy who was cut by the fourth-worst team in the conference. This isn’t Mike Knuble, Brian Rolston, Bill Guerin, Joe Thornton, or even Aaron Ward – all ex-Bruins who would be welcomed, if not needed, additions to the locker room. This is no disrespect to Yelle, but teams in the NHL are more inclined to go young with a role like his if possible. 20-odd games of full-fledged NHL time for Sobotka or Marchand is more important to the Bruins right now than plugging a hole with a veteran. Crazy thing is, if Yelle was put on waivers last Sunday, maybe Chiarelli thinks about adding him before Daniel Paille. Or, if this was February and the so-called PK problems still plagued the B’s, snagging Yelle or a player of his ilk is an absolute no-brainer. But in October, with 72 games left? A move like this would be similar to the baseball teams signing Jesse Orosco every year because he was a lefty reliever. Why not see if your young guy can do it first before going back to the scrap heap?

The Massachusetts Lottery Presents: Thanks Phil!

With the New York Islanders’ win over the Hurricanes last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs are the only team left in the NHL without a win. In fact, besides an OT loss on opening night to the Canadiens, the Leafs have only come as close as a one-goal loss in a 2-1 loss to the Senators. The pride of Canada have scored 15 goals over their eight games while allowing 35. All this adds up to a four-point lead in the race for the top spot in the 2010 NHL Draft for the Bruins. Rumors out of Toronto have a possible Nov. 3rd debut for Phil the Thrill. Hard to see the addition of Kessel changing too much in Toronto’s favor. He may increase the goals for, but as all Bruins know, he probably won’t want to risk injury to his hip again with a trip to the danger area known as the defensive end. Bruins should have the maximum number of ping pong balls locked up by the Olympics.


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Bruins Snag a Point From Flyers

Tuukka Rask Came up Big for Boston All Night

Tuukka Rask Came up Big for Boston All Night

So the Bruins have played nine games this year. I am not really sure how I feel about the fact that a shootout loss to the Flyers may be the third-best game the Bruins played so far this year.

Facing a team widely considered a favorite to win the East, dressing at least four players no one ever hoped would be seeing significant ice time this year and playing on the road the night after a tough win at home, a sub-par effort from the B’s tonight would have been a reasonable guess. Instead, the Bruins again rallied from a pair of deficits to snag a well-earned point on the road against a very good – and at the moment sufficiently better – Philly team.

All the major stat lines favor the Flyers – including the win column – but as a Bruins fan, I am pretty content if not downright happy with taking the old Broad Street Bullies to the skills competition. Don’t forget, the Fly Guys were at full strength and had not played since Saturday. Health, rest and hunger to get back into an actual game were all on the Flyers’ side. The Bruins weathered the storm, and went toe-to-toe with the Flyers. The final difference was a nifty, yet convoluted move from Claude Giroux baffling Tuukka Rask while a hockey player’s snipe from Michael Ryder plum beat Ray Emery – but not the dastardly post. So, the Flyers get the extra point. Yay. Whoopie. Unless that point is the difference between a playoff spot or early gold for the B’s (it won’t be) or home ice in a playoff series against the Flyers (eh, maybe but too early to tell), I am okay with the plucky moral victory.

Fans got a look at the Winter Classic hats

Fans got a look at the Winter Classic hats

Big Bad Bruins…
1.) Smart money was on Tim Thomas getting the start tonight to build off his strong play in the third against Nashville. However, Tuukka Rask got the nod and was a big factor in the one point coming Boston’s way. He made 36 saves, including an acrobatic stone job on Ian Laperriere on a one-timer. The three Philly goals can all be placed on someone else’s blooper real. The Pronger bullet would have went wide if it hadn’t clanged off Mark Stuart’s shinpad. The Darryl Powe goal happened because Stuart was down after Steve Begin clipped him with a high stick and Powe was left wide open. The Aaron Asham goal came because Brad Marchand forgot that he was in the NHL and not the AHL when it came to defense. In the shootout, Rask made a very nice sliding stop on Mike Richards and then Giroux’s jazz hands bested him. Clearly Tuukka’s best game of the year.
2.) At the risk of tooting B&B’s horn, in this space last night, increased production from the defensemen was mentioned as a key area for improvement over the next few games. Nice to see the blueliners read this column! The D came through with two goals and two assists tonight. Derek Morris led the way with a PPG and an assist. Chara had a pretty assist on the Morris goal with a no-look backhand pass. He was also jumping into the offensive zone late to add a new dimension to the attack. If the defense can contribute like this without allowing odd-man rushes, the dropoff in scoring may not be as bad as expected.
3.) Vladimir Sobotka is acclimating himself nicely so far. He had a team-high four hits and a pair of blocked shots in just 9:23 of ice time. Max effort from him on all 10-15 of his shifts in a game is all Claude Julien requires from him.

Blah, Blah Bruins…
1.) Tough night for the pairing of Ferrence and Stuart. They were each -3. Hard to fault them 100% – especially Stuart who was in the wrong place at the wrong time twice – but with the other four defensemen adding positive contributions, they need to be the ones most concerned with stepping up their games.
2.) Brad Marchand learned a valuable lesson in the difference between the NHL and the AHL in the second period. He gave about 35% effort when marking Asham and watched as the career fourth-liner blew by him to score a goal. Just as Marchand is a top guy in the American League but a depth guy on the big club, Asham would be a first-line player in the AHL. Everyone in the NHL is quicker and stronger. Full effort is required on defense in The Show and if you can’t or won’t give that, enjoy life in Providence or Hershey or Grand Rapids. I don’t think this will send him right back top Providence, but after a good showing last night this was one way to get the bad one out of the way.
3.) David Krejci got worked in the faceoff circle, losing 67% of his faceoffs. As a top-two pivot, that is unacceptable.


Up next, the Bruins head to Ottawa for a divisional game on Saturday night. This is the first Northeast Division game of 2009-10 for Boston. The Senators are 5-2-1 this year and are two points north of the B’s in the standings. The key for the Bruins during this stretch without Savard and Lucic is to keep even in the division, so points against those four teams are of high importance.

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Bruins Mix and Match Way to a Win

Welcome to the Show Brad Marchand!

Welcome to the Show Brad Marchand!

Kind of an old school win for the Bruins tonight, grinding their way to a 3-2 win over Nashville. Old school in the sense that the B’s didn’t try to fancy their way around their opponents. Rather, they bore down in the face of adversity and came up with a group effort reminiscent of the early stages of last season.

As disheartening as it is that a win over the lowly Predators is a “huge win” it is just as promising that the guys in the Bruins’ locker room realized the importance of this contest and came away with the two points. Let’s remember the factors working against the Bruins heading into tonight’s game:

1.)    Leading scorer Marc Savard was placed on the Long Term Injured Reserve List with a broken left foot. He will be out for about 4-6 weeks while he recovers. Apparently he broke the bone in the preseason and still was Boston’s best player over the first seven games of the year. Pretty impressive.

2.)    Freight train on skates Milan Lucic had a screw inserted in a finger on his right hand, also landing on IR. He too is slated to miss about a month. He has arguably his best game of the year in Dallas last week – the game in which he broke the digit – and is relegated to the press box until December.

3.)    The team traded away a 20-goal scorer in Chuck Kobasew on Sunday. While he wasn’t the second coming of Cam Neely, Chucky was a competent player and was well-liked in the room.

4.)    The team added Daniel Paille from Buffalo in exchange for a few draft picks. He is a former first round choice of the Sabres and had fallen out of favor up in Buffalo. Adding a new face from outside the organization can be a tricky situation at times.

5.)    Two players, Vladimir Sobotka and Brad Marchand were called up from Providence. Would they fit in seamlessly or would they be out of place?

6.)    Shawn Thornton was out with injury. He had been one of Boston’s best overall players so far, thumping in corners, scoring a goal and playing the fourth-line role perfectly. He is the heart and soul of the team, how would the players react without him?

Those were just the tangible issues facing Claude Julien’s team tonight. Never mind the mental games going on in Tim Thomas’ head as he struggles early in the season or how players such as David Krejci or Blake Wheeler would react due to their own struggles. Management has shown they are willing to make a deal to change the mindset of the team and that a valuable component can be moved if needed. Theoretically, the Bruins’ locker room should have been a bit toasty tonight with all the fires lit under their asses.

Imagine the panic and frustration around the Hub of Hockey after the first period when the B’s trailed the Predators – they of the five-game losing streak coming into the game – by a score of 1-0. It is safe to say Claude also felt some frustration and unloaded on the team in the intermission. Before the fans could even get back from the restroom or beer line, Michael Ryder had tied the game with a nice goal 26 seconds into the second period. Marchand started the scoring play with a nice chip of the puck at the blue line through a defender onto Ryder’s stick. The sniper went cookie jar on Dan Ellis, finding the top shelf to even the game.

Five minutes later, ex BU standout Colin Wilson scored his first NHL goal, picking up some garbage in front of the Bruins’ net. After a 3-on-2, Wilson was left open as the B’s were a bit slow to backcheck. He took a swipe at a puck that trickled over Thomas and the Preds had the lead again, 2-1.

Bergeron tied the game again six minutes later with a hard-working goal in the slot. A good shift from his line resulted in a shot from Zdeno Chara. Bergeron took a few whacks at the rebound and found the back of the net for the third time this year.

In the third period, the Bruins finally claimed the lead with a Steve Begin goal. Begin was finally rewarded for his effort all season, taking a wraparound pass from new linemate Paille and going top shelf on Ellis for a 3-2 Bruins advantage.

The final 12 minutes of the game saw the B’s generate a few chances, but focus mainly on clamping down on defense to protect the lead. Timmy Thomas came through many times, with notable stops on Steve Sullivan and Patric Hornqvist to end the game. The Preds battled to the end, working with the goalie pulled, but the Bruins were there to reject any advances before they lit the lamp.

A very big confidence booster for this melting pot of a team heading into tomorrow’s big battle with Winter Classic opponent Philadelphia. The Bruins will need more of the same against a very good Flyers team in a hostile Wachovia Center.

Big, Bad Bruins
1.) Can’t say enough about the play of Patrice Bergeron tonight. He scored a big goal, played solid defense as always and won 65% of his faceoffs. He did a good job on the PK and was the best player on the ice. With Savvy out until December, this is Bergeron’s offense now and he needs to be a go-to guy.
2.) On a night where the four forward lines were all in their first games together, it was hard to find one that really looked that way. That shows the versatility of the team and the professionalism of the players. Excuses would have been plentiful if the Bruins looked lost tonight, but they rallied around each other and moved past any of that to move forward.
3.) Hard to say any of the new players looked out of place. If I had to grade them; Marchand – A, Paille, B+, Whitfield – B, Sobotka – B. Marchand had reason to be the most nervous, playing in his first NHL game, but picked up an assist, worked well with two veteran players and got under the skin of a few Predators along the way. Paille won’t be asked to do too much with the Bruins – mainly defense and penalty killing. Lowering expectations on him may be a good thing. It will allow him to focus on his role and not live up to a first-round pedigree. Sobotka was the last player sent down in training camp and is one an interesting line with Whitfield and Wheeler. Hard to gauge how they will interact as a group, but look for Sobotka to go hard on the forecheck and backcheck in what appears to be a grinder’s role. Whitfield, a veteran player, did what old guys know is the best way to get NHL ice time – he went unnoticed. He won more draws than he lost and played his position. He is probably a short-term plug while Thornton heals up and it is always nice to have experience, especially in trying times like these.

Blah, Blah Bruins
Not a lot to find fault with tonight. Expectations have been tempered for this team by sane observers based on the injury hand dealt. While Chara and Derek Morris each picked up assists, there is still a need for a bit more offensive production from the blueline. The backend has only come through with four goals. The loss of Dennis Wideman didn’t help matters, but he is back and after hopefully when he has his legs back his offense returns as well. Also, while Tim Thomas made some very good saves to hold the fort late, he still allowed a softie for the second goal. He needs to corral that puck and limit second and third chances – especially when his team is expected to take a step back in terms of their own scoring. That is just nitpicking, though.

A Quick Look Ahead …
Not a lot of time to rest for the B’s as they take on Philly tomorrow in the City of Brotherly Love. The Bruins played a tough game tonight while the Flyers have been off for five nights. Will it be a fresh team overpowering a tired one? Or will the B’s be in game shape while the Fly Guys are rusty? In a matchup of what many felt were two of the top-four teams in the East, this may not be an accurate barometer. The Flyers like to fire pucks on net at will with the likes of Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and even IR-constant Danny Briere leading the way. Their defense jumps in the play frequently as three of the top five scorers in burnt orange are defensemen. The Flyers have struggled after opening the season with three wins. Two regulation losses and a shootout defeat in the last three games have erased some of the glow coming off the Flyers after the first week. Knowing the way the Flyers like to play, I wouldn’t be shocked if they try and up the intimidation factor in the early going. With the Phillies nine outs away from a trip back to the World Series as this is being composed, times are good in Philly and the Flyers want to keep pace. Given the current state of the Bruins’ lineup, it may be in their best interest to play pacifist and see if they can net a few power play goals early.

The Massachusetts Lottery Presents: Thanks Phil!
The Bruins and the Mass Lottery unveiled a new instant game this week that features the Bruins. In honor of the Bruins partnering with one lottery, the weekly check on how bad the Maple Leafs are is now sponsored by the Massachusetts Lottery.

The Leafs still find themselves at the bottom of the league. After picking up a point on Opening Night with an OT loss to Montreal (a game Toronto had a late lead in), the Leafs have not sniffed a point since. Over the past 14 days, Burkie’s Bunch has been outscored 28-11 for an 0-6-0 record. They have allowed a power play goal in six of seven games – and two PPs scores in four contests. The future doesn’t look any brighter as Toronto heads out on a five-game roadie to finish October. On the plus side, Phil Kessel has been practicing and looks to be ahead of schedule with a probably mid-November return instead of mid-December. That only speeds up the projected date where he gets benched by Brian Burke for lack of defensive effort or grit.

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B’s Trade Chuck Kobasew

Chuck Kobasew is Off to Minnesota

Chuck Kobasew is Off to Minnesota

Well the off day after a disheartening loss in Phoenix sure became a little bit more exciting at around 8:15 Sunday night when the Bruins announced that they had traded winger Chuck Kobasew to Minnesota for the rights to 2009 4th round pick Alexander Fallstrom, minor leaguer Craig Weller and a 2011 2nd round draft choice.

A trade by the Bruins is not a big surprise here. The team has been up and down all year with not much consistency. Kobasew is a player who is attractive to other teams and was high on the list of possible tradepieces. His play so far in 2009 moved him right up to the top of that list.

Through seven games this season, Kobasew has one assist. His place on the third line may be a factor in his lower point totals so far, but he also saw his spot on the power play diminish lately. Throw in the fact that he makes $2.3 million this year and next, well you have a prime candidate for a trade. The fact of the matter is, He was not going to skate on the first or second line and wasn’t going to get much power play run. The going rate for third-line grinders sure isn’t $2.3 million a year, especially not on a team as against the salary cap as the Bruins.

A few of the bloggers/Twitterers I follow wondered why it was Kobasew and not Andrew Ferrence whose bags were packed. That is a good question, and I wouldn’t cry over Ferrence being shipped out like I did when Craig Janney was traded. However, as weird as it is to say this, Ferrence has more value to the Bruins right now on the ice and could have more trade value later in the year.

With the injury to Dennis Wideman, the Bruins are rolling out pretty much every NHL-ready defenseman they have right now. If Ferrence is dealt, unless you get a top-six D-man back, you will go with journeyman Andy Wozniewski or not-ready Jeffrey Penner. If Johnny Boychuk keeps playing as he has the first three games, Wideman’s return could begin the process of trading Ferrence. However, Claude Julien seems to like Ferrence, so who knows what will happen. Keep in mind that this is the last year of Ferrence’s deal, so he will be very attractive at the trade deadline to a team who may be looking to dump salary.

Back to Kobasew. The winger went over 20 goals in each of his two full-ish seasons in Boston. However, with the addition of Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler, the sudden maturation of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Blake Wheeler and the health of Marco Sturm, Chucky found himself off a scoring line and playing more of a matchup game against the oppositions’ best line. The defense-first mentality has hindered his scoring numbers so far this season. Again, his cap hit of $2,333,333 this year and next is a lot to pay a third-line winger when you will need that money to take care of many other players.

My thought is that Peter Chiarelli and Julien feel they can get a solid defensive game out of Vladimir Sobotka, whose crash and bang capabilities will mesh well with Bergeron and Recchi. Sobotka is one of those tweener players who score regularly at the AHL level but play more of a grinding role in the NHL. In his first few go around in Boston, he has played a fourth line spot. A slot on the third line gives him a few more minutes and a chance to show a bit more offensively than already seen. Sobotka can consider this his audition for a full-time role with the big club.

Taking a look at what the Bruins received in return for Kobasew, it is the usual mix of prospect/journeyman/draft pick that teams get in a salary dump. The big piece is probably Fallstrom. He was chosen in the fourth round by the Wild ion the 2009 draft. A native of Sweden, Fallstrom graduated from certified hockey factory, Shattuck St. Mary’s in 2009 and is a freshman at Harvard right now. He had 154 points in 114 games in high school. The Crimson have him listed at 6-2, 200 lbs.  Just 19 years old, Fallstrom should had some more size to his frame over the next four years in Cambridge, putting him in prime position to join the Bruins when he graduates – provided the B’s don’t lure him out sooner.

Weller is a 28-year old with 95 career NHL games between the Wild and Coyotes. He has a modest 4-10-14 scoring line over those 95 games, but his true value is probably best shown by his 127 PIM over that span. With Byron Bitz most likely moving up to play with the second line while Lucic recovers from his broken finger, Weller could skate on the fourth line for a while or serve as the extra forward while Brad Marchand fills that role. Weller makes $600,000 this year so he is a cheap safety net with some NHL experience.

The final piece of the puzzle is the second-round pick in 2011. This will give Boston another high pick to use or trade as it sees fit. As of tonight, The B’s have two firsts in both 2010 and 2011 and a pair of seconds each year. When February and March come around this year, the Bruins will have lots to offer teams in terms of prime draft choices, prospects and expiring contracts.

It is always tough to see a player get traded who hasn’t really done anything wrong. Kobasew could have played 82 games as the right wing with Bergeron and Recchi and no one would mind. He would hopefully score 20 goals and complete one of the best shutdown lines in the league. At the same time, it is just as likely that the Bruins can get 10-15 of those goals from other players while also freeing up space for hopefully a bigger move in the spring or over the summer.

Lots of shuffling today for the B’s, with Lucic going on Long-Term Injury Reserve, Sobotka, Marchand and Guillaume Lefebvre being recalled, Weller and Fallstrom arriving via trade and Kobasew heading out. Expect Sobotka and Marchand in the lineup Wednesday against   Nashville at The Garden.

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Nice Road Win … Off to Slap Shot

It is nice to see the dancing bear again. He hasn’t been around much this year with only three trips out of the cave in six games. More complete efforts like last night and we can expect visits on a much more frequent basis. Away from home ice for the first time in the 2009-10 season, the Bruins went hard for three periods, outskating and outworking Dallas for most of the game. For a squad that had allowed lesser teams to steal three points in the last two games simply because they competed more, the Bruins appeared to have learned their lesson heading into the game in Big D.

All four lines did their jobs and created chances. Tim Thomas made the routine saves and the sublime ones. The defensemen cleared the puck and made good breakout passes. It was a total team win and clearly something to build on heading into tonight’s game in Phoenix. A few quick thoughts about last night’s tilt…

Big, Bad Bruins
1. The line shuffling from Claude Julien certainly paid dividends last night. Sturm-Savard-Ryder were all over the ice, creating chances off of transition and causing mismatches down low. Savvy responded with a pair of goals – both from fun angles. For a player often credited with a pass-first, second and third mentality he certainly enjoys throwing the puck on net from quirky spots when he has the chance. This is a true sign of his intelligence as a player. He knows that goalies and defensemen expect him to pass so they cheat off him a bit. Unlike Joe Thornton who sometimes would force passes in these situation, Savvy is more than willing to just fire the puck on net. That is how he scored both his goals tonight and how many of his find twine. If his willingness to fire away results in goals off his stick, that is super. If it leads to teams having to refocus attention on him as a shooter, thus opening up passing lanes to the big snipers, even better.
2. Nice to see the Bruins have a clear advantage in face-off wins. They out-drew the Stars, 32-23. All three of Boston’s top centers were in the 60% range on wins. Steve Begin was an even 50% in his 10 attempts. The best sign is Patrice Bergeron winning 10-of-16 against Dallas’ top line. Those wins are big possession swings when the opponents’ big guns are on the ice. Of course, no win was prettier or more important to the one by Patrice that led to his tip-in goal off Mark Stuart’s stick.
3. Timmy Thomas looked like the goalie who wrestled away the starting job a few seasons and won the Vezina last year. He was always in position for the first save and when rebounds needed to be handled, his flair of the ridiculous poked out again as well. He made all 27 saves called upon to make for his first shutout of the season. After a few games where he looked sluggish and off his game, this was a nice bounce-back for Tank. He should get the nod again tonight in Phoenix.
4. I have given Andrew Ferrence a lot of grief so far this season fo rhis work on and off the ice. So, it is only fair that I credit him when he plays well. He was second on the team in ice time with 21:49 as part of the second pairing and did a good job on the penalty kill. Once again he was sacrificing himself to block shots, getting in the way of three Dallas offerings. And he was a +2 for the game as well. All in all, a good night for Ferrence, who can be a useful member of this team when in the right role.
5. Nice to see a more physical presence from Milan Lucic. He finished the game with five hits. As mentioned in the blog on the line changes, Looch’s game should fit well with Wheeler and Krejci. The trio had some good puck movement and a few chances, but nothing to show for it on the scoresheet. With Savard and Bergeron’s lines picking up the scoring, this was a good chance for three players with five season of experience between them to find some common ground on the ice.

Nothing really negative from the game so we will bypass the Blah, Blah Bruins segment to move on to a great event I am heading to today.

Anyone who is a fan of hockey, raunchy movies, the 70s or all three is probably a Slap Shot fan. You can count me in on that. This film is the first R-rated film that my dad and I watched together. I was like 11 (Thanks, Dad! I won’t tell Mom.) Needless to say, the film and its memories mean a lot to me as it does to any hockey fan. Well, today out in Annville, Pa., where Boards and Blades Headquarters are located, there is a screening of the movie being held at the Allen Theater. The Allen is an old theater with one screen that shows some current films and old ones and is a real neat part of this little town I hibernate in. The Allen is partnering with “Play it Again” a charity organization that is raising money for Breast Cancer Awareness to show Slap Shot on the big screen for the first time since it’s original run in 1977. Even better, Steve Carlson, better known as Steve Hanson from the film will be there tonight to introduce the movie and answer questions. Afterwards, he will join us at the watering hole next door for a few drinks, “None of that root beer.”  For more info on the event, click here.

And to send you off into the day, a few of the Hansons’ highlights…

Full recap of the even with pictures and video (hopefully) tomorrow.

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A Little Mix and Match Before Heading Out on the Road

Coach Claude Made a Few Changes Today

Coach Claude Made a Few Changes Today

If you do something you are supposed to be good at only 40% of the time, you will get some suggestions on how to do things better (Unless you are Ted Williams. Then you get a batting title and a fancy luxury club named after you.)

So, with the Bruins’ record at 2-3 after the season-opening homestand, head coach Claude Julien opted to shake things up at practice today with a few line changes. Only two lines were affected, but they are significant changes in terms of role defining.

The first move was moving Milan Lucic to the second line and shifting Michael Ryder up. The second alteration saw Blake Wheeler move from left wing to right wing on the second line.

These are really the only two lines you can move parts around on at this time. The Recchi-Bergeron-Kobasew line seems firmly entrenched as the third/defensive line and the Thornton-Begin-Bitz line has done just about everything a coach could ask a fourth line to do.

There are three things to take from these moves.

1.)    Marco Sturm is back. He has 2-1-3 totals in five games riding shotgun with Marc Savard’s passing abilities. His 14 shots are tied for most on the team by a forward. He is doing what is expected of the left winger with Savvy. He is catching the passes and firing shots on net. Savard can whirl and twirl passes all night, but if the guy on the other end can’t catch them or isn’t able to convert at a decent rate, then all those passes really become are breakouts for the opposition.

2.)    On the contrary, Milan Lucic isn’t performing as expected on the other side. Looch has three assists but no goals so far. A few helpers is a good thing from Lucic, but I think it is safe to assume the coaches and management staff expected him to develop a bit of a net presence and score a few rebound goals on the 12 Sturm shots that didn’t go in the net.

3.)    Michael Ryder and his wrist shot are going to get a chance to add another option for Savard. He is a better north-south skater than Lucic and adds the added dimension of a defense-stretching pass on both sides of the ice. If you recall, last year when Ryder was signed by the Bruins, it was hoped he and Savard would play together. It didn’t work right away and they went their separate, successful ways. With the team’s overall struggles at the moment, this isn’t a bad time to revisit the pairing.

I think that a little switcheroo with the lines is a good way to spark a team. Hockey is different than the other sports in that the game is really managed down to small units in lines and defensive pairings. How they mesh and fit as a unit really matters. The only other grouping in sports that really comes close is the offensive line in football. In baseball, individuality is paramount pretty much. Same in basketball. In hockey, only at certain special moments will a coach put out his best five players no matter the position and have a go at it. The Pittsburgh Penguins very rarely have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the ice at the same time. They can play together, but the team is better as a whole with those two guys separated.

A hockey coach mixes and matches players based on how he feels they will come together. A player like Savard excels with fast sharpshooting wingers. A player like Lucic needs more of a puck-possession, grinding game.  Giving Savvy another sniper and putting Lucic with guys like Krejci and Wheeler who are very good at creating offense off the forecheck is a good move right now. One of Lucic’s best skills is the punishing check on the defender who is retrieving a puck in the corner. Savard would rather skate the puck in and create a scoring chance off a nifty pass. Neither is wrong, they are just different. I think a sequence of Krejci lofting a pass into the far corner, Lucic tracking down the D, Krejci picking up the loose puck and dishing to Wheeler in the slot is much more likely to happen if you used Looch’s previous linemates. At the same time, Ryder seems a better bet to take a tape-to-tape pass right inside the blue line and fire in stride before the goalie can recover. Credit to Julien for making a change and not falling into the trap baseball managers often do of expecting things to work themselves out.

The one area I am still waiting to see some movement in is the power play. The Bruins are 4-for-29 on the man advantage. All of those goals came in the 7-2 win over Carolina. Besides that game, the Bruins have had trouble getting shots on goal and keeping the puck in the zone. The top unit has very good point presence in Zdeno Chara and Derek Morris. Obviously Savard and Sturm will be on that unit. Ryder had been playing with them before and I think now that they are playing as a unit normally, they should stay together. My issue is with the second unit. Dennis Wideman mans the point when healthy and that is where he belongs. I will not understand why Andrew Ferrence has seen time on the other point. He has only eight power play goals in 5624 career games. Only one of those came wearing a Bruins sweater. He is more likely to fumble a pass and lose the puck than bomb a shot on goal. Against the Avs on Monday, he mistook Krejci for Matt Hunwick and jumped into a scrum for a puck, allowing Colorado a shorthanded goal. His role as a 5-6 defenseman should be tenuous at best. Instead, he is playing extra minutes on the power play. Let him excel in his shot-blocking, defensive role and not add pressure to be a scorer as well. Instead, put Patrice Bergeron back on the point where he has been for the last three years. He is a smart player who can make the good pass to create chances. Plus, he and Krejci can play the two-man game on the boards without losing anything. Then you put Recchi in front and Kobasew roves around depending the setup of the play. You have two full lines playing together on the power play and then when it is over can go to the fourth liners to allow a chance to regroup or come back with a fresh Wheeler-Begin-Lucic to keep pressure with about 13 hits on a shift. I also wouldn’t be opposed to figuring out a way to get Lucic some power play time, but he has to earn that with growth as a player in front of the net.

We shall see how these changes play out on Friday at Dallas. The Stars are playing some good hockey and are rolling over Nashville as this column is being written. We will take a bigger look at that game on Friday.

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Saturday Means the Bruins Win, Right?

Has Anyone Actually Bought These?

Has Anyone Actually Bought These?

Exactly one week ago, the Bruins were in the same position they are tonight. They were set for a Saturday-night home game a few days after being toasted at home. The Black and Gold responded with a 7-2 thumping of Carolina to get back in the good graces of Bruins fans, momentarily washing away the disdain of the blowout loss to the Capitals.

Well, the eyes of Black and Gold Nation are once again upon the Garden and are slightly rolling at the thought that this team is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender. Big-time teams don’t lose 6-1 to Anaheim in a game they controlled for the first 20 minutes. Championship-caliber squads push back when adversity rears her ugly face. With the lowly New York Islanders the opponent tonight, we will know just what type of team makes its home on Causeway St. this year at the end of tonight’s game.

Anything less than a convincing win tonight and the wheels may already be coming off this season. Losing to Ovechkin and his band of assault weapons known as linemates is understandable. Getting trounced at home once or twice a year happens. However, it is imperative that an end be put to that streak tonight. Excuses along the lines of “It’s early,” or “We are still finding ourselves,” will not be acceptable any longer. There are some serious leaders in that locker room in Chara, Recchi and Thornton. They need to set an example and show the 20 men in the room that the tide of this season changes right now.

On paper, the Bruins are fortunate that the Isles are coming in and not an actually talented hockey team. The Coyotes-East are having troubles on and off the ice and are looking for their first win of 2009. An overtime loss and a shootout defeat show that the Isles have that plucky capability of hanging around, but Dennis Potvin and Mike Bossy aren’t rolling over the boards tonight.

At the same time, the Isles are a fun team to have in town because they bring the most recent #1 choice in the Draft in John Tavares. The 19-year old has jumped right onto New York’s top line and has 1-2-3 totals in his two games. Scott Gordon has gone the opposite of what the Bruins did with Joe Thornton in 1997, putting Tavares in all situations early and showing tremendous faith in the rookie.

Anyways, off to the preview…

Why the Bruins Will Win the Game
1. More Talent. For all the talk about grit and grinding and role players, hockey still comes down to who has more talent more often than not. In this matchup, the Bruins prevail. Up front, there is much more skill wearing Black and Gold. Tavares could arguably be the best player on the ice, but after that the Isles have very little scoring threats. If the actual hockey players whose names match the Bruins’ sweaters show up tonight, the third line guys who get first run on Long Island.
2. Contributions from Defensemen. The Bruins have seven points from their blueliners through three games. In last Saturday’s win over Carolina, they jumped in the play often and came through with two nice goals and a boatload of assists. New York has three total points from defensemen. Mark Streit is a weapon on the point, but after that you don’t have to worry too much about them jumping in the play. It just isn’t their game. Boston should take advantage of this by sending Wideman or Hunwick up a few times early just to see what happens.
3. Fighting for Playing Time. The good thing about putrid performances like the two we have seen so far is that a coach gets all the leverage. There aren’t many guys on the Bruins that should feel happy with how they have played this season or comfortable with their roles on the team as of right now. Some of those guys, i.e. Wheeler, Ryder, Kobasew, Hunwick, Ferrence are in real fights for not only a contract but playing time on this team. Chucky is 0-0-0- with a -2 after three games. Wheels is 1-0-1 with a -2 and Ferrence is 0-0-0 despite an ungodly amount of undeserved time on the power play. If these guys want to keep their position as they currently stand, they need to plaster themselves all over the Isles – and the scoresheet – tonight.

Why the Islanders Will Win
1. Hunger. This young, underdog team took the defending Stanley Cup champions to a shootout in overtime before losing. They followed that up with an OT loss at Ottawa. Two points in two games isn’t bad for a squad not many believe in. Still, a team led by Doug Weight and Brandon Witt will not be satisfied just hanging around. They want a win. And they should see some blood in the water with this Bruins team. Imagine what will happen if the Isles pop in a few quickies tonight.
2. Brendan Witt Kills Someone. I don’t know why, but Witt is one of my least-favorite players in the NHL. And I mean that in a good way. From his days with the Capitals, it seems like he always is involved in something against the Bruins. He genuinely seems to hate losing (good team for him then, huh?) and always there to defend his teammates. If I had to guess, his personal job tonight will be to do whatever it takes to anger Milan Lucic (So far Witter, if you want to anger Looch maybe just go to your own net. He hates having to go there…) and throw him off his game.
3. Billy Smith Score a Goal.

Pabst Blue Ribbon Key Matchup
Chara vs. Tavares. I expect Big Z to be the most angry Bruin tonight. The captain has to take personally how the team has played in two of its first three games and is a sure bet to let loose a few big body checks on someone. Look for those to be directed at the young rookie, Tavares. There aren’t many 6-9 players you need to navigate in juniors, so this is likely to be Tavares’ first crack at someone like this. Big Z needs to set the tone for his team and roughhousing the other team’s best player is a good way to do that.

Puck Predictions
While on paper this is a mismatch, the way the two teams are coming into the game says different. The Isles are playing pesky hockey, staying in games against much better teams. The Bruins are up and down like a yo-yo. My guess is Tuukka Rask gets the nod in net tonight and plays a very good game. I am going out on a limb and calling a Gordie Howe Hat Trick for Chara and the Bruins respond once again with a 3-1 win over the Isles. Goals come from Chara, Recchi and Krejci. This could be a very chippy game as the Bruins are riled up and the Isles have a few players in Witt, Weight and Tim Jackman who are always up for some pugilistic endeavors.

Random poll question:
Who finishes with more hits? The Begin-Thornton-Bitz line or the Red Sox in Anaheim?

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