Another pretty spiffy month for the Bruins.  True, they were shutout once, and lost two games in a shootout, but they won nine of fourteen, maintained their position at the top of the division. Of the losses, two came to playoff teams. The unfamiliar Los Angeles Kings and the Penguins who the Bruins still have a winning record against.

Stars:

Patrice Bergeron:  17 points +13 in 14 games outscoring all others in the month, where’s the surprise in finding him here again? Heck, the NHL even got it right and named him first star of the month.

Brad Marchand:  Coincidence you say? A pox on your house! Putting a speedy, aggressive winger who has no fear of contact, a willingness to hit, shoot and play hard on a line with a future hall of famer and a legit three zone center who excels at faceoffs, puck protection and shredding opposing defense can lead to good things? Really, are you sure? Well apparently Julien knew this.

Zdeno Chara:   A half dozen goals and assists apiece and a plus seven are pretty snazzy stats. Add in the fact that his four powerplay goals allowed the team to stay out of the NHL’s bottom third of team in powerplay percentage.  He also added a shorthanded goal on the month. That’s captain material.

Stumbles:

David Krejci: While at this point its clear to everyone he’s stumbling along through an injury, its past time he sat out a couple games to his feet back under him. Jack Edwards commented during a recent game that he was repeatedly flexing a knee on the ice isn’t good news. The fact that he had zero goals in January, and his shots on goal went down a full third from Decembers total is not good at all. Even with Savard out, the both Krejci and the team will be better off with him taking a several days off to get healthier.

Blake Wheeler: I’m still impressed by his work ethic, but at his salary he needs to produce goals. With just once goal in January, and being a minus in two of the last three Bruins games, he needs to stop over-thinking his shots and let them go. He actually had a four game points streak during the month but failed to convert the momentum.

Shawn Thornton: January is the only month of the season he did not record a goal. We expect more from a high end sniper.

Like most legitimate sports fans, All Star events at most inspire tepid interest and usually only to give me something to focus my scorn on while waiting for real games to be played again.  When the player draft was announced my lack of whelm for even the skills completion was dulled seriously.  Add in several of the leagues top players either not being able to be there, having bad seasons, or otherwise unable to participate and you had a recipe for blah that hindsight tells us almost had to be exceeded.

The fantasy draft was done live and having nothing better to do and the state of tv being what it is, there wasn’t even anything better to watch. Besides, like most people I wanted to see who would go last, which teammates would be split up and who if anyone would have a personality I hadn’t suspected revealed.  With twenty two first timers at the weekend, and guys like Brad Richards and the rookies there were a lot of faces even hardcore NHL fans had trouble placing.

Eric Staal, captain of the host cities team was given huge cheers at every opportunity. Nicklas Lidstrom, six time winner of the Norris Trophy was his opposite number and received a lot of respect. The rising star of the weekend, and almost certainly the prize pick of the last draft was Jeff Skinner.

The draft was at least as interesting for watching the guys in the audience as it was for figuring out which team to cheer for, especially after teammates were split up. While the splitting of the Sedin twins was given the most attention, the other dynamic duo to go to different teams was Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas, each of whom has won the top award for their position.  Seeing how many teammates and former teammates were taken by each captain was not in any way surprising.

While I’m hardly Phil Kessel’s biggest fan, I’m kinda shocked he wasn’t picked higher and used in the fastest skater competition.  Speaking of the fulcrum of the most spectacular trade within the Northeast/Adams Division in recent memory am I the only surprised that Kessel was chosen as the Maple Leaf’s All Star? He’s not leading the team in points, Clarke Macarthur holds that position. He’s also not leading the team in goals, that’s Mikhail Grabovski. He’s not leading the NHL in any stat, and in fact had the worst +/- of any participant I can think of. Even Elias who was his teams token representative has more points, and a +/- that betters Kessel’s by 13. Is this perhaps an indication by Brian Burke that Grabovski and Macarthur can count their stay in Toronto as winding down? Or is it just an attempt to deflect attention from Kessel’s cap glutting salary, limited utility, and what was given up (Tyler Seguin, Jared Knight and a first in 2011) to acquire him? Who knows.

After watching the draft, and seeing the goalies, defense, and BlackHawks past and present assembled, it was to many a foregone conclusion that team Lidstrom was a better structured team. With the collection of talent there it wasn’t possible to have a bad team but one was clearly better. Yet when the skills competition was over Team Staal stood tall with a very respectable win. I wonder how many people adjusted their position on the teams at this point? The early first period of the actual game probably had more adjusting and even some complete reversals going on. In a real game a four goal lead early in the first would probably get ugly. In an All Star game…well, there’s no need or ability to get where you already are.  Team Lidstrom eventually won, and Tim Thomas continued his string of All Star game decisions by winning number three, the longest in NHL All Star history.

Overall their were only two big disappointments on the weekend; the game not counting as one since no one expects them to be good. The first was the lack of push given to some of the stars who are not named Crosby or Ovechkin. Stamkos is young, hugely talented, and I’ve not yet heard anyone cry at having to look at him. Jeff Skinner has a teen heart throb glow in public that probably gives security fits, not to mention he’s a dynamic talent himself. Both of them are in non-traditional hockey markets, and anything that can be done to boost their local and national exposure can’t hurt the game. Loui Eriksson is rising over the lonestar state, while Boston born Keith Yandle is the leader of the pack out in Phoenix. Both teams have experienced ownership questions and a fitting salute to those fan bases would have been reassuring and growth inducing.

The other disappointment was of course the National Anthem singing. The Canadian anthem is heard infrequently by most Americans and seems to have a vastly different flavor each time. For those of us who have a team from north of the border in their division, we’ve come to expect a certain level of verve and energy, I failed to find it. Worse was the American Anthem, far, far worse. Clay Aiken was truly, unbelievably bad. I’m not sure if he’s never actually heard The Star Spangled Banner sung, or if the person who did sing it for him was utterly tone deaf and had a range of three notes, none of them consecutive. Steven Tyler recently sang the anthem here in Boston and was lucky to avoid being booed. This performance was irretrievably worse, it was the national showcase for a league that has trouble getting respect from the media, and attention from fans of other sports.  By allowing someone so utterly unfit for the privilege granted them, the league signaled their lack of serious pursuit of creditability. Any number of singers, male or female could have turned in a better performance. Unquestionably there are at least a dozen American Idol participants who made it to Hollywood that could have done better. Here’s a tip; pick someone with an album that has songs with a lot of vocal range on it. They will probably do a great job. Alicia Keys, Faith Hill or Toni Braxton would have brought down the house, and their male counterparts like Toby Keith, Jamie Foxx, Chris Brown, or Enrique Iglesias would have done the song justice.

As for the Guardian Project, great drawing.

It’s time once again for a look at how the best and most interesting of the NHL’s rookies match up against the 2,971,249,619.63 Ruble man.

Starting at the backend with the goalies, the once clear leader in this position has come back to the pack a little, but bursting onto the scene is James Reimer who has the dubious distinction of being the Toronto Maple Leafs newest rookie goalie.  In just eight games he’s become the teams leader in GAA and Sv%. With about one fourth as many starts at Giguere or Gustavsson he’s just two wins short of “The Monster”. Among rookies with more games, only Corey Crawford has a better GAA than Reimer’s 2.24, and no rookie net minder who has played more has a better Sv%.

The names to know:

  • Segei Bobrovsky with a .920 Sv% and 2.42 GAA “Bob” is what the rookie goaltending situation is like. With 21 wins in just 32 games for the Philadelphia Flyers the Russian is 11 in wins for NHL goaltenders and tied with Ryan Miller and Henrik Lundquist, but just 4 wins behind the league leader Jonas Hiller.
  • Corey Crawford of Chicago owns the GAA lead among rookies with at least fifteen starts and is .23 ahead of Bobrovsky, while only .001% behind Bobrovsky in Sv%.

If defense wins championships here are some future household names:

  • John Carlson of the Washington Capitals is leading all rookie defensemen in blocked shots and takeaways. He’s also third in scoring among freshmen blueliners.  Carlson is the leader among his class of defensemen in shorthanded tie on ice, leading the next comparable player PK Subban by 28 seconds per game.
  • Cam Fowler heard the Ducks call at the draft back in July having slid all the way down to twelfth after most scouts had him neck and neck with Hall and Seguin. Today, he sits atop the rookie defensemens scoring race, also taking top honors among the same group for powerplay points. Among all rookies he’s seventh in scoring.
  • Kevin Shattenkirk in 9 less games is just one point behind Fowler in scoring for the Colorado Avalanche, and has a +/- that is 8 better.

Among forwards, the race has been altered by the team dynamics. Brad Marchand of the Bruins is playing on a line with the Bruins leading scorer Patrice Bergeron and is having a blazing hot stretch that has seen him pocket 12 of his 23 points since January first, including a 4 point game in Colorado. Taylor Hall has seen his team winnowed by injuries and been moved from wing to center.

  • Logan Couture of the San Jose Sharks is perhaps the only bright spot for a team that has spent quite a bit of time in the division basement and is outside the playoffs heading into the All Star break. He leads all rookies in goals, and is second in scoring. On the Sharks he is one of just 8 players with a positive +/- and leads the team with a +11, a five count ahead of his next nearest teammate.
  • Jeff Skinner leads all rookies in scoring, and is a +3 on a team whose total goal differential is -3 and is baying at the heels of the Atlanta Thrashers for the final playoff spot in the east. If the Hurricanes do indeed make it into the playoffs, win lose or draw this man needs to get a serious percentage of the votes for Calder.
  • Taylor Hall has scrambled his way into third in rookie scoring despite a lack of quality on his team for support. Third in goals, third in points, he leads his team in goals and is just one point off the team lead.
  • Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins has played more shorthanded time per game than any of the six forwards who have scored more with 1:33 of time per game with a man in the sin bin. He is tied for all NHL short handed points with five and leas the entire NHL in shorthanded goals. For rookies he’s seventh in hits, second in shooting percentage, first in +/-, all in a package (generously) listed at 5’9.

Assuming I were voting on the Calder Trophy race and it was due today my top five would be: 5th Bobrovsky 4th Couture 3) Marchand 2) Carlson 1) Skinner

Ilya Kovalchuk has a line of 14-15-29 -29 in 48 GP. This would make him 4th in rookie scoring. His -29 is worst in the NHL, 44.8% of his points have come on the powerplay.

This is a feature that will run about every two weeks with improbable stats and situations in the National Hockey League.
If I told you in September…

  • in All Star week, that Evgani Malkin would not only be not in the top ten league scorers, or on the All Star team, but behind Patrice Bergeron, rookie sensation Jeff Skinner, Dustin Byfugelien, Brandon Dubinski and Mikko Koivu… while sitting at #50
  • the Boston Bruins would have a rookie with a shot at catching Taylor Hall who’s name was not Maxime Suave, Joe Colborne, Jordan Caron, Jared Knight, Tyler Seguin, or Ryan Spooner, but Brad Marchand…
  • that the same rookie would lead the entire NHL in shorthanded goals ahead of players like Mike Richards, Pavel Datsyuk, and and other well known penalty kill game breakers.
  • the Boston Bruins would be #5 in goals for, with little help from Marc Savard.
  • the New York Islanders, Toronto Maple Leafs, Carolina Hurricanes and Buffalo Sabres would all have better powerplay percentages on 1/24 than the Washington Capitals.
  • that Michael Ryder (7) and Mark Recchi (6) would combine for as many powerplay goals as Alexander Semin (6), Mike Green (5), and Alexander Ovechkin (2) at the end of January.
  • Kari Lehtonen and UFA to be Brad Richards would be leading their team to the second largest division lead in the NHL (5 points)…
  • the LA Kings would be staring down the barrel of the trade deadline with the third stingiest defense in the Western Conference, a goal differential of +13, and still sit four points out of the playoffs and nineteen points out of the division lead to a team with a goal differential of -7
  • that Ilya Kovalchuk would have the most goals on the New Jersey Devils, and the worst plus minus with 14 and -27.
  • that Peter Budja, Johan Hedberg, and Maple Leafs rookie James Riemer would have more wins than Tukka Rask
  • the Dallas Stars division lead, and +14 goal differential would be in spite of having the lowest ranked penalty kill of any playoff team.

If I told you all these things in September, how many would you believe?

Today the Boston Bruins faceoff with the Avalanche, in Denver.  Not only do they face a high powered Colorado team that is currently fourth in the NHL in goals for, they have to face their traditionally sloppy afternoon play. As a team they have been poor to awful in day games for years. Even the games they do win, it’s usually much more of a contest than it should be. This is something they will need to fix, especially if they are going to have a successful cup run. Games against Vancouver, Dallas, Pheonix or Anaheim played out west will be well off their normal 7pm ET starts.

Matt Duchene, David Jones, John Michael Liles and company will try and gain separation from Chicago and Minnesotta. With a win today, and a Ducks regulation loss the Avalanche would jump from 8th to sixth in the tightly packed west.  Duchene is just one goal from his twentieth of the season, and just a couple points below a point per game season.  Former Bruin Matt Hunwick knows his old team well enough to cause problems if no one keeps an eye on him.

For the Bruins, Patrice Bergeron will look to slide back into scoring form having been kept off the score sheet two games in a row. Milan Lucic might just be able to break loose and push the Bruins goal scoring pace a little harder than he has of late. Tim Thomas can climb into second place in wins today if all goes well, if it goes really well he can once more put Henrik Lundquist behind him in shutouts.

In the aftermath of the debacle that was the end of the playoffs for the Boston Bruins, lost amid the hype of the Wideman for Campbell and Horton trade, and essentially nonexistent when compared to the talk of drafting Taylor Hall or Tyler Seguin, or maybe both, was the trade of Vladimir Sobotka to the St Louis Blues. Sobotka was the potential scapegoat for the too many men on the ice penalty that sealed the teams fate.  In reality he was one of the gritty cogs that got the team to the dance and kept them on their feet and on the floor until the last song was played.

We know that he played most of his playoff games last year with a separated shoulder, while David Krejci’s season ended when he failed to maintain awareness of opposing players and was plastered by a Mike Richards hit. So while Sobotka represented a financial risk to acquire as a trade piece, Krejci was so as well. Let’s take a head to head look at the two.

David Krejci:

  • Is playing on a division leading team that is currently seventh in goals for, and best in goals against.
  • has played 749 minutes
  • Is currently 7-23-30 +10 on a team with a goal differential of +39
  • 49.2% for faceoffs for the season
  • Cap hit: $3.75 million

Vladimir Sobotka:

  • Is playing on a team 4th in its division that is 20th in goals for and 16th best in goals against
  • has played 669 minutes
  • Is currently 5-15-20 -1 on team with a -8 goal differential.
  • 51.2% for faceoffs for the season
  • Cap hit: $750,ooo

That’s the baseline. Taking a look a bit deeper into their stats is a little more interesting. On special teams. Krejci has spent more than 112 minutes on the powerplay to produce just 5 powerplay points, all assists. Sobotka has played roughly 40 minutes with the man advantage and produced 3 points, one of them a goal. For those playing at home that’s roughly one powerplay point every 22.4 points for Krejci, and one about every 13.34 minutes for Sobotka. On the penalty kill Sobotka has a shorthanded goal and is sixth on his team in SHTOI, Krejci has no shorthanded points and is 9th on his team. A couple of the other telling stats, Sobotka has recorded 85 hits, and Krejci 29. In blocked shots Krejci has a slight edge with 25 (in fewer games) to Sobotka’s 23.

With the 3 million dollars in cap hit difference between the two, had the Bruins kept the slightly younger Sobotka who will be an RFA come July 1, given that Sturm spent more than a quarter of the season on the shelf, it’s a given the Bruins could have retained Sturm’s services or gotten more for him since the team would still have been under the cap with the other injuries as of the time the German winger returned.

Of the many things I find absolutely fascinating about hockey is the making and breaking of lines. Players are tossed together by injures and demotions, cold streaks and red hot scoring streaks. Sometimes lines are broken up and shuffled to get better matchups against a given opponent, some times a player or player will simply abandon their skill set and start having amorous relations with a canine, other times some has been traded.

One of the most famous lines in recent Bruins history is the “700lb Line”, none of the three players is still with the team, but all are remembered. Joe Thornton centered Mike Knuble and Glen Murray. Thornton was the fresh faced youngster with the unbelievable hands and vision. Knuble was the crease front presence who was damn near impossible to move. Glen Murray had the mind numbing release. They were undoubtedly the three most talented forwards on the team at the time, and playing together it showed.

A few years back during the very, very dark days Brad Boyes, Patrice Bergeron and Marco Sturm gave the Garden faithful something to cheer for. They were clearly the first, and until recently only three man threat since the demise of the 700lb Line. All three exhibited above average speed, Bergeron slid from the right wing where he was drafted to the center position where Bruins fans have come to adore him. Sturm was absolutely predatory on the left wing dishing out hits, passes and goals. Boyes showed up for work and rocketed the puck on net from anywhere he could get a heartbeat free of interference.  This line was clearly 80% of the teams total talent in their season together, and what little there was to cheer about was usually the result of this lines work.

Still more recently we saw the emergence of two young players, and the resurgence of a third. Blake Wheeler was drafted by the Phoenix Coyotes at number six but chose to get his education instead. Some might say the educational pursuit was in part because of the financial state of the then struggling franchise. Peter Chiarelli did little but wave a contract at him, and signed him without having to give up a draft pick or prospect. David Krejci split the previous season between Boston and Providence, with some time on the IR thanks to Adam Mair. Michael Ryder had earned his way into the dog house in La belle province, and in the off season signed with his old teams arch rivals. Together the three would prove very, very effective. Seventy goals would come from the trio, as the third line.

Last season, very briefly we saw a combination of Vladimir Sobotka, Daniel Paille and Blake Wheeler formed one of the most effective lines of the injury riddled season. Towards the end of one period they played together they completely took over the game and cycled the puck at the netmouth getting off several shots, cycling and holding on to possession for over a minute. Had the period been about 2 seconds longer Sobotka would have potted a goal as he had one waived off for finding the twine as the horn sounded. Sobotka was at his finest in a Bruins uniform at center, hitting everything in site, winning faceoffs consistently, passing well and making very good use of his linemates. Paille looked like a genuine top six forward, and Wheeler looked like he’d regained his rookie prowess. I wish the line had been given another week or two, they might just have made a lot of noise.

Marc Savard has had plenty of linemates since arriving in the Hub. Everyone from PJ Axellson and Glen Murray to Phil Kessel, Marco Sturm, and more have cycled through his wing. Some have worked well, most notably the pairing of Lucic and Kessel. In seasons past, Ryder has been tried several times with Savard, much to the disappointment of everyone. Despite Savard being a point per game player most of his career, and Ryder being a multi-time 30 goal man, the two were clearly less than the sum of their parts regardless of who they were linked up with. This season newcomer Nathan Horton has been infused into the paring and the chemistry of the three is quite interesting. Horton and Ryder can both deliver solid hits and have a great release, Savard is still struggling back to his pre-concussion form, but the three are just fun to watch together. If they can keep getting good chances they can will do a lot of damage.

A recent line that was clearly less than the some of its parts was Tyler Seguin and Blake Wheeler flanking David Krejci. I’ve quipped that this “Charmin Line” was a touch too soft, and their play against Pittsburgh proved this as Jordan Staal and company ran this line over right and left.  Despite the greats speed of Wheeler and Seguin and the sweet feeds of Krejci, the trio was ill fitted from the word go and never managed to look like they were all reading from the same playbook.

It will be very, very interesting to see what lines emerge throughout the rest of the season. A move that will bring in a powerplay threat is almost a certainty, and that means someone will go and the lines will be shuffled once more. As interesting, if less immediate is the question of what the lines will be like next fall as we’re likely to say good bye to anywhere from two to four of the teams current forwards. One line that might be very interesting next year is the threesome of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Jordan Caron. I think they could be a three headed monster that a lot of teams would have a great deal of trouble with.

While I don’t particularly see Moulson as a likely Bruins acquisition there are several reasons he might be a good fit. Chief among them are that he’s a natural left wing. Currently the only one of those we have is Milan Lucic. Michael Ryder, Mark Recchi, Blake Wheeler, Nathan Horton, and Shawn Thornton are all most comfortable on the right. Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin have played all three positions at one point or another. Patrice Bergeron was drafted at right wing where David Krejci has also played on the right.

Other markers in Moulson’s favor as a Bruin are his having reasonable size at six one and two ten. He’s a former 30 goal man, and at 26 he’d slide smoothly into the age bracket of the Bruins core.

Based on what the Islanders need most one a solid defenseman, and a good second center. Realistically this could mean Krejci or Boychuck going back. Moulson and Boychuck are both UFA’s this summer, Krejci still had one more year and is still an RFA at the end of his deal. Aside from the salary a straight Boychuck for Moulson deal is a potential plus for both teams.

A more interesting deal might involve two forwards such as Wheeler and or Krejci and or Paille for Moulson. This would clear more cap space and allow one of the hard working prospects in Providence back on the scene with time on the clock before the deadline for any further tweaking.

These are awards strictly for members of the Boston Bruins, and picked by me.

The Jack Edwards Award for Most Exciting Interview.

Front Runner(s):

Blades The Bear, shows more excitement than anyone else when interviewed, and makes clear his energy level.

The Andy Brickley IQ Boost: awarded to the player with the most year over year improvement.

Front Runner(s):

Shawn Thornton has contributed with his fists per usual, but has a career high in goals as a well. He’s just three away from setting a new career high in points as well.

Tim Thomas, the jump from last years mediocre play to this is not just a result of a healthy hip and hand, he prepared better.

Brad Marchand leads the Bruins in short handed points, and is the best performing rookie on the team. He’s played a game less than Seguin, seen negligible powerplay time, and has passed Seguin in points. On top of that his +/- went from a -3 last season to a +14 at the halfway point.

The Ray Bourque Award for Consistent Excellence:

Front Runner(s):

Patrice Bergeron. He’s currently leading the Bruin’s in points, and is near or at the top of the chart any way you break them down: Even Strength, Short Handed, Powerplay. He get’s it done in all three zones, and does pretty much everything at a high level.

Tim Thomas, leads the NHL in shutouts, GAA, Sv% and added two assists. While there are guys ahead of him in wins, all have played more  games.

Don Sweeney Standing in Shadow Award, going to the most under appreciated player.

Michael Ryder, he leads the team in powerplay goals, yes he has a -3 overall, but 42% of his production is on the powerplay.

Dennis Seidenberg, is number eight in the league in blocked shots, and less than half the guys in front of him have more goals than he does. He’s also second in scoring among Bruin’s defensemen.

The Bam Bam Cam Power Forward of the Year for the power forward that uses all his tools to help the team.

Front Runner(s)

Nathan Horton, has three fighting majors already this season, and is high on the goal scoring ranks, throws the body and when healthy is visible in all three zones.

Milan Lucic, the comparisons to Cam Neely started early and haven’t really stopped. They also haven’t really panned out. This season they just might. He currently leads the team in goals, and is second overall in points.

More awards may be added as the season goes on.