Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bruins In First After Exciting Weekend

The Bruins took 3 out of 4 points in back to back matinee contests this weekend with the Flyers and New York Rangers. The game with New York certainly lived up to the billing as the #1 and #2 teams in the conference set to battle with first place on the line. It was fun to watch these teams, who are basically built the same way, go back and forth and play a deadlocked even game for a full 60 minutes. Strong defense, strong goaltending and balanced scoring are what these teams are all about, and we got a good balance of that on Saturday afternoon.

The game was very physical from the get go with plenty of scrums and crease clearing play. The Bruins PP continued its struggles (0-4 on the day) despite being given 3 1st period chances to build some momentum. Both teams went into the first intermission tied at 0-0. It did not take New York very long to dent the twine, with Ryan Callahan scoring his 16th just 1:31 in. Shawn Thornton and Mike Rupp immediately engaged in a spirited scrap as both tried to work momentum for their team. It appeared the Bruins got a bigger lift, as just 44 seconds later Andrew Ference scored his 4th of the year, and second in as many games. Marion Gaborik would pot his 24th of the year at 14:30 and a few good shifts from the Rangers had the Bruins running around a bit. In the closing minute, the Bruins set up a good cycle game and a fortunate redirect off of a Ranger stick tied it up, giving Adam McQuaid his 2nd of the year and ended a 26 game goal drought. The third continued the back and forth and after 60 minutes, the Eastern Conference powerhouses were all knotted up.

The overtime period proved to be very interesting. The teams traded a few chances early, and then Ference gathered the puck in his defensive end. He picked up speed, carried through the neutral zone, dumped a puck in deep and gave chase. Ryan McDonagh turned and chased the puck as well and when Ference did not pull up enough (in Brendan Shanahan's words, more on that in a minute) his momentum sent McDonagh face first into the boards. Ference was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct for charging and the Bruins were left with over 3 minutes of 4 on 3 time to kill. The B's did an excellent job and Tuukka stopped what he needed to. Then with 3.6 seconds left, there was a pile up in front of the net, Rask stopped two attempts off Rangers sticks but could not get the last one as Gaborik scored his second of the night, 25th on the year. The hit by Andrew Ference could have been avoided. He could have, should have, pulled up or held up McDonagh. That being said, I believe McDonagh had some responsibility in the play as well. He slowed up and almost welcomed the hit. When you watch the video, he put the brakes on but he did not brace himself for the contact. I do not believe Ference is a dirty player and I think he tried to box him out. He certainly did not push him from behind, it was much more shoulder. That being said, I understand that is a play the NHL wants gone, and I can respect that. I thought it should have been a 2 minute penalty and I thought Ference would receive 1 game off. I watched the video from the NHL, and they talked about boarding, well Ference wasn't called for boarding and there is a real good reason for that. The referee who made the call saw it was not from behind but also felt Ference had the power to eliminate that play.

Onto Sunday afternoon and what was another thrilling installment of Bruins and Flyers hockey. I am real happy we will have at least one more year of these teams meeting 4 times before the playoffs. Both teams played Matinee games on Saturday, both looked tired at times, but both wanted to hit and hit often. The Bruins improved to 24-0 when leading by 2 goals at any point and the two most penalized teams in the NHL put on a show. It did not take long for the fireworks to start with two hits on the first shift and a first minute goal by Patrice Bergeron(15). Then Milan Lucic and AHL heavyweight Tom Sestito dropped the gloves, Lucic landing a few good shots before the referees helped Sestito up off the ice. Maxime Talbot scored his 11th about 30 seconds later to tie it up. Tyler Seguin would score his team leading 18th with the extra man after the Bruins PP once again squandered two straight chances. Freshly called up Steven Kampfer got caught circling his zone with his head down by a great crushing check thrown by hard-nosed Brayden Schenn. Chris Kelly immediately answered with his second fighting major on the year. Milan Lucic would add his 17th before the end of the very physical first period. The Bruins went into the room up 3-1 and the first period yielded 36 penalty minutes and 2 fights.

The second period pretty much belonged to the Flyers and Scott Hartnell. He was snubbed as an all-star selection and it seems to have lit a bit of a fire under him as he is playing real well as of late. He recorded a natural hat trick on 3 goals that were almost identical wristers from the slot, two of those coming on the power play. He is a hard-nosed player who really has some good skills and anyone would like having him on their team. Tom Sestito, on the other hand, is a goon who would not be seeing NHL time if not for an injury ravaged team. He is a dirty player who goes high and hard very often and did so three or four times on Sunday afternoon. One of those coming on a textbook blindside late hit on Nathan Horton, who went right back after him and was handed a interference penalty. I certainly hope the league looks at that play and that player. Either way I am sure he will be on the repeat offender list before long. Bruins nation is holding their breath as I write this with Nathan Horton being evaluated for a "head injury". He did not come back out for the 3rd period. End of two and the Flyers have gotten their first lead of the day, 4-3.

The Bruins opened the third with 2 goals in about three minutes (Krejci 11th and Campbell 6th) to regain the lead. Then, the part of Hartnell's game we all remember came back into play with another blindside shot to an unexpecting opponent. This time Chris Kelly's head was whipped back when Hartnell came through and lowered his shoulder. Thornton immediately grabbed Hartnell and gave him the business. Hartnell was given a charging penalty and Thornton was given the extra so the PK was once again on the ice for the black and gold. Maxime Talbot would score his second of the day(12) to tie up the game. The game would head to overtime.

Entertaining 4 on 4 set before Kimmo Timonen picked up a holding penalty. Nothing doing on the power play and it would go to the shootout. Giroux scored on Timmy, sandwiched between stops on Read and Simmonds and Krejci and Seguin secured the extra point for the black and gold. These two games certainly lived up to expectations from the fans. The Rangers game was a wonderful game and hopefully that will not be lost in the discussion of the Ference hit. The game with the Flyers was a fun one to watch as well. I do hope those plays by Sestito and Hartnell get a good look from the league. I hope Horton will be good to go.

My concern for this team is their depth on the blue line. I know Kampfer got obliterated today, but I believe we only saw him take 4 shifts after that because he looked scared. He looked lost and he is just not panning out like the Bruins hoped he would. We see what an injury would do to this D corps and I think it needs to be addressed. With the uncertainty of Dougie Hamilton for next year, I would assume it would be another rental. I like Tim Gleason, I think he would be a good fit, a small cap hit, and someone we could give up very little for. Like Joe Corvo, hint hint.....the guy looks aweful out there, get him off the power play. Any other thoughts for mid season pickups or problem areas for this team?

Monday, January 9, 2012

Marchand Suspended 5 Games

Brad Marchand has been suspended 5 games for a clipping misconduct he was assessed Saturday against Vancouver. The video from the league office is here. I do not own any rights to the video footage.

My initial reaction on Saturday was that I was furious. My reaction to the 5 games, furious. But I must admit that the video explanation certainly helps. I think Shanahan has done a good job so far this year. It is also impossible to argue that Marchand could not have gone shoulder to shoulder, which he should have done. This was not a below the knee hit though, and that is the main component of a clipping penatly. Salo is 6 foot 2 and Marchand comes in at 5 foot 9, of course he will get lower. The other element that is very frustrating is that this exact, exact, play happened three times against Vancouver last year. Two of those times were to the Bruins. No penalties called. I have watched Marchand, and many other players around the league, use this manuever, and no calls have been made. If the league has decided to outlaw this hit, and will punish it the same way going forward, then I can be on board. However, I do think it is fair that in a game with so much chippyness and "grey area" plays, that the league decides to make an example out of Marchand. Now they claim he is a repeat offender and throw the book at the guy when it is a very commonplace hit. Thoughts? Reactions?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Bruins Douse The Flames

In a game that was over 1:14 after it started, Thursday night at the Garden the Bruins put together a full 60 minute dismantling of the Calgary Flames. 12 players recorded points, including 3 point games from Horton, Seguin, Bergeron, Krejci, and Pouliot. Two goal nights from both Bergeron and Horton helped pace the Bruins largest offensive night in 13 years. Add to that Tuukka Rask's 3rd shutout of the season, which improved his running tally of 1 goal over the last 275 minutes between the pipes, and you have another thorough domination by the Black and Gold. The score and shots on goal differential (42-25 in favor of the Bruins) were not even entirely indicative of how one sided this game was. As Andy Brickley called it, "Men against boys". The Bruins dominated long stretches of the game and had offensive zone possessions which frequently lasted minutes due to the non-stop fore check and crisp cycle game. The Bruins ability to grind and their killer instinct were both on display Thursday night. The Bruins got on top early and never looked back or took their foot off the pedal. Late in the game, the boys were still blocking shots, getting sticks in passing lanes, and being responsible in all three zones. In short, the fundamentals never stopped and we watched Bruins hockey in its purest form. Scoring from all four lines, energy, effort, and consistency. With the score 8-0 midway through the 3rd period, it would have been very easy for the Bruins to start looking forward to Saturday's rematch with the Vancouver Canucks. Instead, they continued their dominance and looked very much like they were now playing to keep Calgary off the board. A tripping penalty on Gregory Campbell put the PK on the ice, and their hard work once again yielded an opportunity with Danielle Paille netting his 7th of the year. This trait is something we did not see in prior years. The Boston Bruins relaxed when they got up, and that usually led to some interesting finishes, including some very frustrating losses. This team knows they have a target on their backs, and they are playing with a chip on their shoulder and a swagger that is a true pleasure to watch. This is not a team that is just getting the bounces or riding a hot goaltender. This team appears to be poised for another run. A team that plays their system and plays it well. Their team depth, offensive prowess, defensive mentality and ferocious work ethic (and attitude) can carry this team once again to the pinnacle of hockey.

Saturday, January 7th. It's the day all Bruins fans have had circled on their calendars for months. The return of the Vancouver Canucks. Sure, it is only another two points at stake and the winner will not be hoisting anything on Saturday afternoon. However, the pure hate that grew in that 7 game series, players and fans alike, has not been forgotten. I will not pretend to know the players mindset right now, maybe it is just another game for them. I doubt it, given the character, integrity, and attitude of this franchise, but maybe. So I will stick to what I know best, the mindset of the rabid fan. The mindset of the people that flooded the garden last June, sat on the couch, or took over the local sports bar. The person who watched as Raffi bleeping Torres stole game one. Watched Alex Burrows and "The Bite". Then, 11 seconds into overtime, he is the hero of game 2. Got excited for it to shift back to Boston for game 3, and then watched in silence as Nathan Horton lay on the ice. Sick to my stomach and unbelievably furious, I could not believe the turn of events for my Bruins. Then something clicked with the start of the second period. Inspiration was found. Confidence was gained. Someone poked the bear and the rest is history. Tim Thomas clearing out his own crease. The Sedin punching bag. The flat tires. Lord Stanley being returned home. It is all history now. But for those of us that truly love this sport, we will never forget where we were, what we did, what we felt on the night Big Z and the boys got to lift the cup. You know what else we will never forget? The unthinkable level of despise for the Vancouver Canucks that was reached by all of us. So, to some, the matinee on Saturday may be just the 38th game in a long season for a measly two points against a Western Conference team we usually see once a year. But to the masses in the city of Boston, in New England, and to true Bruins fans everywhere, this is about more. It is about putting another exclamation point on last spring. It's about showing the hangover is really over. And it is about telling a Western Conference powerhouse that if you want Lord Stanley, you are going to have to come through Boston to get it. That, my friends, will prove to be no easy task. Saturday the puck drops at 1:00. Let's go Black and Gold!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Bruins Roll Into Christmas On High Note

December 23rd. The Boston Bruins pre-Christmas schedule comes to a close and boy have they given us something to be happy about. A marvelous move by Pouliout, Marchand's first career hat trick and Tuukka Rask's second straight shutout led the way as the Bruins demolished the Southeast division leading Florida Panthers. The Bruins go into the break much in the same way they have gone into every game since the page turned leaving October in the rearview mirror. They made a statement. A loud, enthusiastic, and very clear statement. The Bruins completely outclassed the Panthers in a game that was even more heavily one way than the score may appear. All but four Bruins notched a point, Marchand leading the way with 5 and Bergeron chipping in with 3. Special teams continued to play a big role, the B's scoring on both the PP and kill. Tuukka turned away 31 shots for back to back shutouts for the second time in his career. The Bruins put on a clinic tonight, thoroughly dominating even strength, including a 4 on 4 goal. The layers they employ, the clogging of the neutral zone, the heavy fore check, and the board game are paying dividends, and in a big way. To make the night even sweeter, Philly came out with a losing effort at Madison Square Garden, moving the Bruins back into first place in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand.

The Bruins 23 wins is the best in the NHL, and trail only the Chicago Blackhawks, by 1 point with 2 games in hand. The Bruins have an overall record of 23-9-1 and continue to be at the top of the power rankings. Now I understand the power rankings do not mean a whole lot, but here are some numbers and a statement you cannot argue with. The Bruins are the hottest team in the NHL. I don't mean this week. I don't even mean this month. They have overcome some injuries, a suspension to their top line winger, and have improved that power play (although I'll admit, it would have been tough to go backwards) without the ultra talented playmaker, Marc Savard. Since November 1st, the Bruins have gone an unbelievable 20-2-1 and have outscored their opponents 97-38. Tyler Seguin leads the league at a +26, and there are 5 other Bruins in the top 10. The Bruins are a +34 in the 3rd period. There is more distance between the Bruins and the second place team then there is between 2 and 23rd. The goaltending has been phenomenal. I challenge you to come up with any logical argument to support a claim of a better tandem anywhere in the NHL. Would you believe that Tuukka's numbers are actually better than Timmy's? Tukka has a GAA of 1.66, Thomas is coming in at a 1.84. Tukka has a slight edge is save percentage, .944 to Timmy's .943. Thomas is tied for the league lead with 4 SO's, Rask with 2. Maybe the most beautiful stat of all is starts. Tim Thomas is barely in the top 20, coming in at 19. That means that this team is playing at an elite level and resting the tenders at the same time. Timmy is a tank, pun fully intended, and has shown to be a horse that can carry a heavy work load. Imagine how good he could become time for a playoff run with fresh legs. This team seems to have fixed their problems with only playing well in front of Thomas.

Probably the biggest aspect of the game that has changed for this team, the killer instinct. They do not sit back and collapse on their goal or play a red line and dump game. This team ramps it up and once it smells blood, it goes in for the kill. Hopefully that Flyers series a couple years back has completely cured them of that game plan. As we wind down on the first third of the year, there are some really telling stats to look at. The Bruins only have 4 players with double digit goals, and only have two players in the top 20 there. The Bruins only have one player in the top 30 for total points. Yet this team leads the league in goals scored per game(3.52) and goals given up per game(1.88).This team is second in total goals scored(116), trailing the Flyers by 2, and number 1 in total goals given up(62). Is that not astounding? This team does not have an Alex Ovechkin. It is a team based on consistent production from all four lines and believing and playing within a system that starts in their defensive zone.

The Bruins will open up the after Christmas stretch on the road with a December 27th game in Phoenix before heading to Dallas and New Jersey. They then return home for four starting with the second night of a back to back against the Calgary Flames. After that, most of January will be on the road. Sandwiched in their will be three matinee games highlighted by a January 7th afternoon rematch with the Vancouver Canucks. While the schedule is not easy, this team is playing so well and seem so confident that I cannot wait to get back to hockey again. What a blast! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. 'Til Next time, Let's Go Black and Gold!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Bruins Shine, Dominate Pens

The Boston Bruins are feeling pretty good about themselves right now, and Monday night proved once again why. The B's went into Pittsburgh to play the Eastern Conference's best team, the Crosby powered Penguins. Well, the Bruins took the measuring stick and beat the Pens up and down the ice, outhitting, out battling, and dominating play for long stretches. Tim Thomas stood tall on multiple occasions and the whole Bruins PK deserved first star honors tonight. After some egregious officiating, the Bruins were left to kill two separate 5 on 3's, one for 1:37 and another for a full 2:00. The Bruins came out strong, consistently gaining entry into the offensive zone and spending some big chunks of time down there. To go along with great play by the forwards, the defensemen have been joining in lately and have been letting shots from the blue line go with regularity. McQuaid let one rip that ended up in the back of the goal, but it was disallowed for a un-penalized goaltender interference (correct call). The Bruins set the tone early and often, but both teams left the ice after one without anything on the scoreboard.

The second period started great as well, and the hard work paid off less than 3 minutes in. A blue collar shift by the fourth line wielded an opportunity in front of Fleury that Campbell took a swat at, got blocked, but elevated his second attempt over Fleury's mitt. Great effort and will to win, which is a staple of this teams and we are fortunate to see night after night. Benoit Pouliot got in on the action a little while later when he roofed a beautiful shot from the slot, once again the opportunity provided via grit and toughness. Sandwiched between those goals was a spirited bout by Brad Marchand, who was on his way to the box for tripping, and old friend Matt Niskanen. I do not think this team needed a lift so to speak, but they play much better when they are angry and physically involved. Brad Marchand provided that, and lit a bit of a fire as opposed to simply serving his two. The guys were excited about it, and the PK took care of the rest. The chippiness picked up from there. The second ended with the camera fixed on Crosby, who was yelling at David Krejci, I believe for messing up his hair. Let me expand upon that comment real quick. I will say a few things about Sidney: He is phenomenal. He is excellent. He is the best offensive player in the NHL (Although I think Datsyuk is 1A). But the guy suffers from Tom Brady syndrome. He wants to push and shove and use some nifty stick work, but do not do it back to him because he immediately looks to the refs. He doesn't dive and I am not saying he is dirty or cheap, but he is certainly one of the biggest cry babies in the sport. I'm getting off my soap box now.

Tyler Seguin notched a PP goal, his 13th of the year, 1:07 in after an absolutely beautiful play and set up by Patrice Bergeron. Matt Cooke broke up the shutout halfway through the 3rd after an unfortunate bounce on Seidenberg but great pass by Joe Vitale, more on him momentarily. It is always an aggravating feeling to see Matt Cooke playing this game while Marc Savard is at home, probably sitting in a dark room because of him. The Bruins once again showed the character of their team and their willingness to play for each other. Vitale, for the second straight rush, invaded Timmy's crease, this time bumping him and actually pushing down on Thomas's head. Like usual, 5 white sweaters were there immediately, gloves and sticks littering the ice. From the scrum emerged a nice lengthy bout between Soupy (Greg Campbell) and Vitale. Both combatants exchanged big blows, Vitale landing the final one before the arm weary warriors toppled to the ice. Whether or not you consider it a win or a loss for Campbell, there is no denying what it says about him as a teammate and person. Tim Thomas postgame echoed the value of the act, saying that Campbell's willingness to stand up for him was much appreciated. He went on to add that with this black and gold team, these acts are unsolicited. The Bruins do not need to be called out in the media and will not be made to look timid in their resolve to be there for each other, and to a man, this team believes in that. While the Bruins were heavily outshot 46-27, thanks in majority to some lengthy home cooking calls and a 23 shot 3rd period, the two teams were dead locked at 16 scoring chances a piece. The defenseman did a great job of forcing shots from the outside and keeping the lanes open for Timmy to track the rubber. He is currently riding a career best win streak at 10 in a row. The Bruins are on a 15 game point streak, going 14-0-1, their longest since the club went 17 games in a row without a loss back in 1983. The Bruins will embark on a nearly 1500 mile trip to Winnipeg for a Tuesday battle with the Jets before returning to the Garden to host the surging Panthers. This 3 game in 4 night trip will certainly test the Bruins, but they appear to be up to the challenge. Later start time tomorrow night, puck dropping around 8:30. Lets hope the boys can keep playing well and go after a new record streak of their own. Let's Go Black And Gold!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

B's End Historic Month On High Note

The Boston Bruins have ended November with their franchise best month since December of 1969. They are without a doubt the hottest team in the NHL. The Bruins were sitting in the basement when the calendar flipped to November, and knew that this month was going to be pivotal for them if they had any pipe dreams of a repeat hoist come summer. The black and gold answered their critics and themselves going 12-0-1, giving up only one of 26 possible points, that going to the western conference's Red Wings. Last night opened a home and home series with the division rival Maple Leafs up in Toronto, league leading point getter Phil Kessel once again entangled in the story lines. There was a lot of talk about how much this game meant to Toronto, who had gotten throttled on two earlier meetings with the Bruins to the tune of 13-2, including a 7-0 slashing on home ice. Still, Toronto found themselves at the top of the Northeast Division heading into the clash.

Both teams came out strong, with Toronto notching a PP tally from Grabovski to get the scoring started. Milan Lucic added a PP goal of his own to tie the game in a fast paced first which saw the Bruins have a slight edge in possession and shots, 17-16.  Tim Thomas was once again a major factor, in the process adding to a career best win streak at 9 in a row. David Krejci opened the second period scoring with his fourth of the year. Joffrey Lupul tied it up a few minutes later before a Zdeno Chara put the Bruins ahead for good who has been red hot as of late with his 5th of the year. Three third period goals by the Bruins, Pouliot(3), Lucic(10) second of the night, and Marchand(9) added an empty netter, finished off the Maple Leafs in front of a sellout crowd. The score was not completely indicitive of the type of game played. It was a fast, physical, and even game up until about halfway through the third period, where not many teams can play with the Bruins. It definitely had a playoff feel to it, and it think it is safe to say Boston wants no part of helping Kessel with any success as they seem to have his number pretty well dialed up. Boston will be home at the Garden for the second half of this home and home Saturday night. The Leafs will want to extract some revenge, and once again the division lead will be up for grabs. Phaneuf should be a bit fired up due to some late game physicality he came out on the short end of, and I would not be surprised to see Colton Orr sitting on the visitors side. I expect another physical matchup with these two original six franchises.

With that, November is gone and this team will need to continue their hot streak if they want to stay in a playoff spot. The division lead looks to continue changing hands due to whoever has a night off, and the eight Eastern Conference playoff spots are separated by a measly 6 points, with 9,10,and 11 less than 13. December has not started off to bad though. We woke up this morning and learned that Timmy has been named the NHL first star for the entire month of November. To go along with that David Krejci has been inked to a three year extension. The news conference will  be held at 1:00pm on NESN. I think this is a great move by Cam and Peter. There have been a lot of trade rumors lately involving David due to his slow start. It was my opinion that he was a franchise player and someone to continue to build your team around. Apparently management felt the same, and maybe the security of the contract will take some pressure off of 46 and he will get back to his normal level of play. For everyone keeping track, that is a huge UFA taken off the to do list come the off season. Big decisions are still to be made with Rask, Marchand, Lucic, and Horton set to come off the books. Happy Holidays and here's to the boys making this holiday season even more magical. It all starts Saturday night at 7:07. Let's Go Black and Gold!!