A staple of the Boston Bruins, perhaps even more than the “Big Bad Bruins” image, across the last several generations has been the quality of it’s defense. Park, Orr, Bourque and now Chara have anchored the blueline in particular and the franchise at large for far longer than I can remember. The supporting cast has included some high quality players who have gone onto success in other uniforms like Hal Gill who was key to the Penguins winning a Cup over the Red Wings and current Assistant General Manager and Head of Player Development Don Sweeney. It’s also included a number of players who had very short careers, none worth naming.
Most frustrating to some is the number of men who have been what can be politely termed “enigmas” and more accurately called players with erratic work ethic and highly varied attention spans. The Bruins roster currently contains three defensemen who defy observers the ability to easily quantify them. Over the course of their careers they have been good, bad and indifferent in no predicable pattern. Two of the three were part of the Bruins cup run last spring and were at apogee. The third was acquired this before the start of the season to fill the roster spot vacated by Tomas Kaberle.
First up is Joe Corvo. When Kaberle was not renewed, it was not entirely unexpected. Who his replacement turned out to be was. During his tenure here the most positive general assessment of him was that he didn’t turn the puck over nearly as often as people feared. I’ll go further and say he looked average defensively. Given his reputation as a soft, offensively minded puck mover that’s a compliment. Corvo, who was acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes who signed and have since traded Kaberle has been more effective offensively, but much, much worse defensively. His passes to the opponents have been every bit as accurate as the ones to his teammates and almost as frequent. Worse, despite the Bruins powerplay being noticeably more effective than the one he was employed on last year for the Hurricanes, he’s on pace for less points. Given that the Bruins spent a fourth round pick on him, I guess they got what they paid for him. At least he’s an effective fighter.
Johnny Boychuk is in his third full season in with the Boston Bruins. Having passed the 200 game mark that has long been the standard for learning how to play in the NHL, it is safe to say he is what he is. On top of his more than two hundred regular season and playoff NHL games he had an extended career in the AHL where he piled up 373 games and won AHL defenseman of the year in 2009. The problem with the soon to be 28 year old is that he has regressed defensively. Offensively he’s likely to post his best NHL numbers this year, assuming Julien doesn’t bench him and he stays healthy. He’s considered an offensive defenseman by most and some will call him a two way defenseman. The problem is that he’s not displayed any particular gift offensively, or defensively. This season despite being part of the leagues number one offense he’s ranked 115th for defensemen in points. By comparison, Andrew Ference who is a defensive defenseman first and plays fewer minutes is ranked 57th in points for defensemen. His ill advised offensive pinches and turnovers have cost the Bruins on more than one occasion.
The most worrisome of the treacherous trio is Dennis Seidenberg. Last year he was the breakout star of the Bruins. Thomas had a resurgence, Marchand was a close second but the German defenseman was the heirloom sword cleaving offensive rushes with unseemly ease. In the playoffs he ratcheted his play up still further. While the media (justifiably) focused on Tim Thomas, if there was an award for defensive excellence it would rightfully have his name on it. But that’s not been typical of Seidenberg in his career. Drafted in 2001 he spent most of the next season in the Flyers lineup, regressed to the AHL the next year, was jettisoned to the Coyotes and spent most of his NHL time a marginal depth defenseman. The Bruins are his fifth team, and he’s played more than 75 NHL games just once since being drafted. Injuries have played a part in his journeyman career, as have time with franchises on extremely limited budgets. But one has to ask which is the real product, the guy we saw in the playoffs last spring? Or the one who this season is getting caught out of position with dismaying regularity. All players have a peak they hit and then quickly or slowly edge away from. Is this fatigue? It it his defense partner? Or are the three wrist injuries, injuries to both knees, concussion and broken leg taking their toll?
There is just over a month before the trade deadline. With the goaltenders covering up many mistakes for these defensemen Peter Chiarelli and Cam Neely may just look to tweak their defense sooner rather than later. Both Boychuk and Corvo are unrestricted free agents this summer. Many would move one or both of them between now and the deadline rather than lose them to free agency over the summer or accept pennies on the dollar for trades at the draft, assuming its possible to do so then for either. Perhaps it’s just fatigue and a day or two off allowing Steve Kampfer, David Warsofvsky or Kevin Miller a few reps at the NHL level is the balm for what ails them. Whatever the solution is if it isn’t employed soon the Bruins who sit just one point above the Ottawa Senators heading into today’s action could find themselves looking up at someone in the standings for the first time in a long time.
December was all things considered another good month to be a Boston Bruins fan. The way the month ended with a very lucky win against the Coyotes and forty plus minutes of sleeping and most of a period of passable effort for the sedated in a loss to the Stars shouldn’t overshadow the month as a whole.
Brad Marchand: Continued his strong play on the year climbing into a tie for the team lead in goal scoring. Added his first short handed goal of the season, a powerplay assist, and two game winning goals while being a point per game player for the month. The month included being named NHL’s first star of the week when he had a five point game 3g 2a.
Benoit Pouliot: Turned in the best December of his career in goals. Continued to make Julien and Chiarelli look like they own the Midas touch, played a smart game throughout the month and moved from being a reactive part of the team going only where the system told him to being an active player and leveraging his teammates.
Andrew Ference: Boston’s favorite tree-hugging pitbull only doubled the number of points he had on the season in December. In addition to that he turned in more blocked shots than either October and November and did all of this while only taking two PIMS.
Jordan Caron: He who hesitates is lost. Jordan Caron is he.
Johnny Boychuk: The Prince Of Pinchestan continues to disappoint offensively acquiring just two points in the month, turning the puck over on numerous occasions. When he’s at the height of his prowess his play can be described as “high risk high reward”, at this point the reward portion is present in a portion statistically indifferent from zero.
Tyler Seguin: Numbers down across the board. Not just offensive numbers but things that show effort as well. No one sane expect the results of a month like November when he was over a point per game to continue, and a season long 28 shooting percentage is not sustainable. The physical, neutral zone and defensive zone play however fell into the toilet. As I’m sure someone pointed out to him, the sooner the puck leaves the defensive zone and gets to the offensive zone the better chance one has to score.
It’s been a pretty solid week to be a Bruins fan. They’ve outscored their opponents three to one this month. They have four wins in a row, Two U’s Two K’s Two Points has come together twice this month. Zach Hamill made his season debut and NHL debut as a right winger and had nine and a half quality NHL minutes playing with Jordan Caron and Chris Kelly and looking the trio looked like a line that had played together for weeks.
How’d they win? Pretty easily. The Oilers game was probably the hardest of the four games to win. Not only were the Oilers the most resilient opponent and were able to throw completely different looks at the Bruins. The Hall, Nugent-Hopkins, Eberle line is very much a speed line, while you can’t call them floaters and retain any vestige of credibility, when Hall is the largest body on the line at 194 lbs you’re not facing the physical presence of Ryan, Perry, Getzlaf. Ryan Smyth and company are a much more physical line and more likely to park themselves in the crease and stay there to get the Mike Knuble style goals. When they were down two goal they didn’t stop pressing and managed to tie the score. Probably the most entertaining game for the casual fan to watch in this nice little four game run.
Thank You Kessel was both the prediction and the reality against the Toronto Maple Leafs. It was a blow out for the Bruins, seven goals, most of them close together. Worse was the way the Leafs didn’t really try. Their skaters and goaltenders allowed seven goals on just twenty shots. That’s even very nearly as vulgar as the Flyers and Lightning refusing to move either with or towards the puck the other night.
Coming up next is a game against the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres will be coming in off a game against the Senators. The Sabres find themselves facing the first goaltender controversy since the end of the Hasek era. Jhonas Enroth has stepped into the spotlight and in five games allowed just seven goals. Ryan Miller in his last start allowed five goals. Enroth is sporting an eye popping .952 save percentage and across his 10 appearances Miller has a pedestrian .913 and has gone 5 and 5 while Enroth’s record is unblemished.
Next week finishes two games that could be labeled “trap games” against the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets. The more immediate worry is the return of the injury bug. Andrew Ference is out for Saturday. Rich Peverely isn’t taking contact in practice. Paille is not even practicing. That’s a lot of minutes, particularly off the penalty kill which gets contributions from all three. Sliding into those roster slots have been Caron who has at least been with the team since camp, Zach Hamill who had a solid season debut, Steve Kampfer who hasn’t cracked the lineup in a while and Benoit Pouliot who essentially lost the battle to Caron for the 12th forward roster spot. That’s a lot of turnover, and how well it works, particularly against good teams remains to be seen.
Tyler Seguin leads the team in points, has earned a huge increase in ice time over last year with much improved three zone play, and has done at wing and center. This could be an even more interesting year to watch him than many fans expected.
Patrice Bergeron leads all forwards in time on ice with almost twenty minutes a game, leads the team in powerplay time (on a powerplay that is slightly better than the playoff version), and has been a physical force on the ice above being positionally sound, and his normal three zone play.
Chris Kelly leads the team in shooting percentage, captains a penalty kill unit that is over 90% at home this year, has a short handed goal and managed to find and beat the one member of the Carolina Hurricanes that hasn’t perfected the Claude Lemiexu turtle.
David Krejci who’s stats tell the story, as does his having plunged from fifth in time on ice per game last year to tenth this year.
Joe Corvo has been a turnover machine, ineffective at full strength, possesses a team worst -6 and despite four times as much powerplay time has the same number of powerplay assists as Andrew Ference.
The Merlot Line had an uncharacteristically bad month. Last year they were for multiple long stretches the most consistent line on the team and better than many teams third lines, this month they looked like marginal NHL players.
How broken can they be, they just won the Stanley Cup? Very. They are two wins below the next worst team in their division, and one bare point off the league basement. They aren’t scoring goals, they aren’t hitting. They aren’t blocking shots, and surprise surprise they aren’t winning. The last possible route has two lanes for fixing it although the first one often leads to the second.
Fire everyone below ownership. Get rid of everyone from Neely down to the third assistant stick boy. Many would say that if they didn’t prepare a team ready to compete after winning everything they clearly can’t be trusted with long-term stewardship of one of the NHL’s oldest teams. Coaches gone. Trainers gone. General manager and assistants gone. Jeremy Jacobs has stressed in recent years how much he and his son love the team. Is it time for them to show it by giving it a shot in the arm?
Getting rid of Julien is probably pretty easy. Coaches take the fall all the time. The Bruins powerplay is awful and has been for years. He’s blamed for driving the NHL October 2011 first star out of town for being overly demanding and stifling of young players. He’s characterized as overly defensive and inflexible. He can go and take the little dogs with him.
Chiarelli is even easier. With a history of bad trades and worse free agent signings he’s literally cost the team millions of wasted salary dollars. No one needs to be reminded he strengthened a division rival by sending them the current AHL points leader Joe Colborne, an additional first round and second pick in a disastrous trade for Kaberle who was clearly the wrong choice to fix the powerplay. Then there are trades like the Bochenski for Versteeg “deal”, the acquisition of Patrick Eaves for Aaron Ward, only to buy out eaves before the ink was dry.
Thirty goal scorer Michael Ryder came to Boston and his goal scoring touch was on life support the whole time. Manny Fernandez was an aging old goalie with knee and back problems brought in to “solidify” the goaltending position. In two seasons Fernandez played in all of 32 games. The 2008-09 season saw him ride Tim Thomas’s coattails to a share of the Jennings award despite being 25th in Sv% and 20th in GAA. Some other names that will make Bruins fans cringe that we have only Peter to thank for: Schaefer, Begin, Allen, Montador, Lashoff and more.
Worse in the eyes of many who would advocate just blowing everything up he’s failed to build a farm system that can regularly feed players to the parent club. The AHL affiliate is bad enough that it’s playoff record going into last seasons final weeks was worse than the parent clubs and has had a revolving door for coaches. Then there is the fact he’s failed repeatedly to find fixes for the powerplay.
Traveling the second option is possibly harder but almost certainly closer to necessary. When a coach not known for throwing players under the bus publicly does so in an unprompted manner, they may have just punched their ticket out of town. Given that questions of commitment have followed one of them since being drafted, and injuries have followed the other a change of scenery might just do the trick. This seasons powerplay bandaid Joe Corvo is third in PPTOI, but has not out performed Andrew Ference who is playing less than one third the minutes on the man advantage. Former AHL defenseman of the year Johnny Boychuk has clearly stagnated with his points per game tailing off over his three seasons in Boston. The numbers don’t lie. When you look at the backup goaltender, not only does Tuukka Rask get uninspired play in front of him, his performance in the playoffs is noticeably worse than his regular season numbers across his career.
Something has to give. When you go from first to worst without significant changes in on ice personnel, the problem needs to be addressed. Nuking the team or off ice leaders, trades to fill needs, or simply a shakeup it is past time to live up to fan expectations of a creditable title defense. The season after a championship win shouldn’t be a sedate victory lap it should be a tour de force that shows why the team is the top food chain.
The Toronto Maple Leafs rolled into town undefeated with the hottest forward in the NHL playing on their right wing. They pierced Thomas quickly. Then Colton Orr made himself the first to dance with Shawn Thornton on the new year. That was the last time you could say Brian Burkes squad was in holding their own.
After Steckel’s goal, the Bruins would go on a run to score six unanswered goals. This included two powerplay goals. The score sheet was more cluttered than Wayne Gretzky’s trophy case. Hits, shots, faceoff wins came in bunches. Andrew Ference had three assists, blocked four shots and made two solid hits. Patrice Bergeron took nine shots on goal and scored his first of the year. Milan Lucic ran people over and collected a goal and two assists.
Tyler Seguin set up Zdeno Chara’s first of the season, then set up Milan Lucic’s first of the season as well. The second year forward had to wait nearly ten minutes after his helper on Lucic’s before being set up for his second of the year. Steve Kampfer returned to play twelve and a half busy minutes in which he went plus two, dished out hits, blocked shots and brought a steady, speedy NHL ready presence to the blueline. Tim Thomas was Tim Thomas on a light work night with just twenty eight shots coming at him.
The most important thing about this game was what didn’t happen; they didn’t drop off after going down early. Nearly as important is they played to win until the end. Six goals, even if against a backup is not something that happens by accident. None of the goals were bobbles, they all beat Gustovsson clean. No one was sitting on the goalie when the puck went in, no reviews, all the goals were hustle and sweet feeds. Saturday will be a big test, when the Sharks come to town. Summer pickup Martin Havlat should be joining the team on the ice and should slide onto a powerplay that already has Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.
The Bruins played a great first period putting shots on Ward early and often. Unfortunately Ward looks to be back in the form that helped the Hurricanes win a Stanley Cup a few years ago. The second period was mostly more of the same. Then things got ugly. Chara reacted to two members of the Hurricanes throwing punches at Nathan Horton playing in just his fifth game since getting cold cocked and being lost to a concussion by Aaron Rome.
Jeff Skinner continued the aggression he displayed against the man who won the Calder Trophy the year before. The nearly as large as Tyler Myers was lucky enough to have the calls made down the middle. Fair officiating being all any sane fan, player, official or league wants. The Bruins on the other hand were not. Chara was called for high sticking when the stick never made contact. Marchand was given a misconduct for pointing out there was no actual contact. Later the head coach would be tossed from the game for shaking his head at the announcement of a Milan Lucic misconduct that might have deserved a two minute roughing call.
On to the Bruins failures. I’ll leave the failures and faults of Paul Devorski and Wes McCauley to others. Bartkowski made it clear why he was out of the line up with a couple turnovers and ended up playing just 4:29. With Chara receiving one of the NHL’s near mythical instigator penalties, a misconduct and his five for fighting that left Boychuck, Corvo, Ference and Seidenberg to do the heavy lifting.
The lack of depth on the blueline lead to some overly cautious play. At any given point when the Bruins gained the offensive zone, the defense could be seen at least three or four feet outside the offensive zone. Given the aggressive play of the Carolina Hurricanes and their group speed this can be useful to contain chances or with inexperienced defensemen when trying to keep a lead, But of all four of them Boychuck who has played over two season in Boston plus the Stanley Cup run. At least four or five times a period the Bruins would send or lose a puck back to the blueline and only find lots and lots of space.
Next up was a lack of support along the boards. This was largely due to the defense being passive and highly defensive. But there were also breakdowns that saw the breakup of the top three lines as we knew them. By the end of the game Caron was skating with Bergeron and Marchand. Pouliot and Lucic had switched places by the start of the third. And Chris Kelly skated more than one shift, including the one just before his fight, with Milan Lucic on his wing.
Chris Kelly had a good fight, his first as a Bruin in the game. Jordan Caron had several good passes a nice hit and sweet dish to the crease right as the forward there was being cleared. The Bruins even got their second powerplay goal of the year with Peverley putting one past Ward from Corvo and Seidenberg. Amazingly despite the monster minutes both would play in a game that got ugly, neither Boychuck or Seidenberg were minus players.
Overall it was an ugly loss with several good things embedded in it. Despite multiple and successive five on threes the Bruins killed much of their interestingly acquired penalty time. Best of all they finally showed some life. Chara, Lucic on down to Kelly, Rask and the rest showed they are fully engaged, possibly for the first time this season. With luck this is the Dallas game the Bruins fused in last year.
For those wondering I asked what the last time a coach was tossed out of a game. Here’s the answer I got.
@pucksage most recent one I can recall is Tortorella in Nov 2006
The best thing that can be said about the Boston Bruins as a team this week is that they got less bad as the week went on. Certain individuals shined and, some were invisible.
The Columbus Day game against the Avalanche showed the worst of the team. Tuukka Rask is the only reason they were in it at all. Even Seguin and Marchand looked to have come back to earth a little. While the Avs are off to a very good start, I don’t think I’ve seen a single creditable prediction they would make the playoffs and are simply rolling with one of those early season runs while better teams are finishing their shakedown cruise. Non existent puck protection and an unending audition for zombie parts in the next Night of the Living Dead remake made it amazing they only lost 1-0.
When it was time to throw down with the Hurricanes they were against collectively sluggish. Marchand and fellow sophomore Jeff Skinner introduced themselves with some just short of penalty festivities. Marchand and Seguin would both score goals in the third. It looked suspiciously like Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic actually remembered what the two hundred dollar twig in their hands was for as each managed three shots on goal and Horton got an assist on Seguins goal. Tim Thomas was the goalie left out to dry this night as Jiri “The Big Picture” Tlusty, and Anthony “Six Minute Man” Stewart would be handed pucks by sluggish defenders to tuck into the net.
Against the Chicago Blackhawks things were slightly better. Calling it a sixty minute effort would be more than a stretch, but there were times when you remembered this was almost the entire Stanley Cup winning roster. Lucic, Horton, and Boychuck all had their best games of the season. Boychuck was key on Horton’s goal skating hard behind Crawford’s net and sending a hard, flat pass to Horton for a quick shot over the goal line. Unfortunately the sustained good efforts didn’t really start until the second period, and were undermined by a boarding penalty by Bergeron, and a Tony Romo like pass to the opposition by Andrew Ference. Bergeron’s boarding penalty was just dumb, he and the Blackhawk were alone and he didn’t even try reaching around or going in from the side. Chris Kelly got the teams first shorthanded goal of the season off a Ference feed. With a little more effort, like say any time in the first period, the Bruins could have done in a BlackHawks team that includes former Bruins Steve Montador and Sean O’Donnell on it’s blueline in regulation. Instead, they needed to go to the skills competition. Thomas closed the door to three pretty damned good Chicago players, Seguin got the only goal needed for the Bruins.
Brad Marchand, Tyler Seguin, Tuukka Rask, Tim Thomas all looked good.
It was widely speculated during the off season as to who would get the A that spent its time most recently on hall of famer Mark Recchi’s chest. The top names mentioned were Andrew Ference, David Krejci, Dennis Seidenberg, Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton.
Krejci was left out even though he wore the A in a few preseason games. Given his lack of vocalization, and his expiring contract I’m not sure this comes as a as much of a surprise as some might think. Dennis Seidenberg for all he contributes is logically eliminated simply because of who he frequently plays with, captain Zdeno Chara.
The reasons for Thornton and Lucic being left off are almost the same. The NHL front offices don’t like fighting. Lucic for all of his thirty goals, smart defensive positioning, and willingness to talk to the press is still best known for swinging his fists. Shawn Thornton despite being an adopted Bostonian for all his work in the community, down to earth presence, and very much blue collar work ethic is known exclusively for his fighting.
To the average NHL observer there is no difference between Shawn Thornton and say a Colton Orr or Donald Brashear. For Lucic it is almost worse, he’s gotten disciplined for some rash acts, and drawn recent media attention for an public confrontation with his girlfriend. Some might say the NHL offices aren’t quite as observant as the average fan, blogger or beat reporter, and there is some evidence to support this. While Thornton’s point total last year was the equal of Colton Orr’s entire career, and poor Shawn is victim to Julien’s cruel belief that every player should have a regular shift it is easy to see how some could confuse the two. Milan Lucic in turn is expected to finish this his fifth year with more goals in those five year than Donald Brashear had in a NHL career that started back in 1993 and run until 2010 obviously they too are cut from the same cloth.