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…

Teams:

  • only twelve teams would have a positive goals differential on December 22nd
  • the Toronto Maple Leafs would be among the 12 and the Washington Capitals would be among the 18
  • six teams would change coaches before the new year
  • only the St Louis Blues among the teams with a change would be improved by it
  • the 3rd place Boston Bruins and 29th place Anahiem Ducks would have a powerplay of identical efficiency at 18.5%
  • the 30th place Columbus Blue Jackets would have scored more goals than the Anahiem Ducks, Los Angeles Kings or New York Islanders
  • of the six division leaders on December 22nd (Boston, Florida, Chicago, Philadelphia, Minnesota, San Jose) none would possess a top 6 powerplay.
  • Calgary and Anahiem would be the only teams without a shorthanded goal
  • the Phoenix Coyotes who lost Ilya “Humongous Big” Bryzgalov to free agency would have a better GAA than the Philadelphia Flyers (2.56 vs 2.59 through 34 games each)

Players

  • of all the players with 15 or more games played and on a point per game pace, the highest plus minus would belong to Marian Hossa +21
  • Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins would be on an identical 1.03ppg pace
  • James Neal, Scott Hartnell, and Johan Franzen would be among the top five in powerplay goals scored when all three finished outside the top 20 last season
  • Benoit Pouliot would have more game winning goals than; Phil Kessel, Jeff Skinner, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, or Daniel Sedin
  • Erik Karlsson would lead all defensemen in scoring, and be 1st about defensemen and tied for 11th overall in takeaways
  • in 31 games each Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers and Mark Stuart of the Winnipeg Jets would be the only players over 80 hits and 80 blocked shots
  • two of the top five players in short handed time on ice, Josh Gorges and Jay Bouwmeester would be on teams not among the five leaders in penalty kill time
  • that while having the lowest ice time since the 2005-06 Chris Kelly would be on pace for career numbers
  • through 28 games on the leagues blackhat Boston Bruins Daniel Paille would have zero penalties and through 35 games Andrew Brunette of the Chicago BlackHawks would have zero PIM’s as well

The Bruins have half a lot of choices to make between now and July first. They are on a pure rampaged through the league with a roster very little changed from the one that one them the Stanley Cup. Most of the team is fairly young, and it’s hard to argue that any of the unsigned players are having a negative effect on the team. Of players currently on the roster, there are two RFA, and six UFA’s.

The restricted free agents are Tuukka Rask and Benoit Pouliot. If you stretch the list to Zach Hamill who has done well in his call up games this year, and would likely be less expensive than most players that could be signed from outside. Rask has the most variables attached to his potential deal, he’s got great numbers and is arguably the best backup or 1b option in the NHL. On the other hand he’s yet to have a solid pro playoff season, has never started more than 39 games in a season. Additionally he’s had knee surgery before his 25th birthday.  Given the lack of depth in the system, unless he starts looking for over 3.5 million, I suspect he’s resigned. Realistically, a two year deal at 2.25 a year is desirable from both ends.

Pouliot is in an odd position, if he does well, even if he doesn’t live up to the hype of a fourth overall pick, he can probably get signed just about anywhere for an increase over this years contact. He’s currently on pace for his best pro goals performance, but that’s not exactly world beating. From his point of view, if he does well this season, there’s a lot of incentive to stick around given Julien’s known preference for older players over rookies, he’s likely to improve more in a second year in the system. Hamill, who has been a top scorer in the rather disorganized Providence system for the last two season. Either one could sign for as much as $1.75 depending on the role envisioned.

The unrestricted free agents are where the likeliest roster changes will be made. Chris Kelly is the UFA to be making the most noise at this point, and is one of four UFA forwards including entire fourth line. Campbell and Paille will both be 28 when next season opens, and have been important parts of the penalty kill, with limited offense. Campbell is more gritty, and can usually be counted on for solid faceoff numbers, Paille is much faster and can nearly kill a penalty himself if the other team makes one misstep. Shawn Thornton will turn 35 after his contract will go into effect. His offense isn’t what has Thornton in the NHL, but in that category he dwarfs most similar players. I honestly have no idea what the three could be signed to, but if anyone of the freeMerlot Line signs for as much as two million I’ll be surprised. Kelly, was discussed recently at length.

The defensemen due new contracts monetarily might do best to let the market set their value. With Suter, Brad Stuart, Josh Gorges, Chris Campoli, the resurgent Sheldon Souray and other leading the pack if they sign close on the heels of those players, they might do well for themselves, wherever they sign. Johnny Boychuk is 27, and a former AHL defensemen of the year, last season he didn’t have the offense expected of him, but has bounced back pretty well so far this season. Joe Corvo will be thirty five when his next contract starts and has been very uneven in games this year, he was picked up for a for 4th round pick. Depending on where Boychuk finishes the season points in points and minutes and length of deal, his contract will probably be in the three million neighborhood. With zero goals, and the implications of a 35+ contract, I’m expecting to see Corvo in another uniform next season.

The Bruins got off to a god awful start in October, had ten wins in a row to start November and after 21 games they look a whole lot better.

Patrice Bergeron: The longest tenured skater for the team has done it all, all season. Even when the team was doing it’s zombie shuffle through October there was never a night he looked bad, disinterested or poorly conditioned. He’s done it in all areas and ways. Huge hits, five goals, a team lead in assists, second leading scorer on the team, dominant in faceoffs, and has been a key piece in reviving the powerplay even when he doesn’t figure into the powerplay goal. Leads the team in powerplay time, leads forwards in short handed time…  Grade: A

Gregory Campbell: Second among forwards in shorthanded time, has like the rest of the team had a better November than October. Unfortunately the Merlot Line’s October was a key reason for the teams failure to thrive. Grade C-

Jordan Caron: While he’s been in and out of the line up, and had numerous linemates, it’s tough to get a grip on where he fit into the equation. He’s getting an incomplete, but if I had to grade his total effort I’d give him a C weighted on his rookie status and the chaos that was the first month. Grade: Incomplete

Zach Hamill: Looked ok in Camp, was the pace setter in Providence before being called up, contributed while he was here showing more speed, toughness, and ability than his detractors would ever of credited him with. got an assist and was plus 3 in just two games. Not enough time to fairly grade him. Grade: Incomplete

Nathan Horton: Has had the most uneven of seasons. A month of being wretched, a couple weeks of being about what we expect of him. In just his second season here has gotten Julien to coach via the media which is highly unusual for him. Frustrating to watch. Grade: D+

Chris Kelly: Has been one of the guys shuffled around a great deal this year skating with: Horton, Lucic, Hamill, Caron, Peverley, Marchand and Pouliot among others. Has performed above what anyone most expected of him. Tied for third in goals on the team, tied for second in plus minus huge penalty kill minutes, a shorthanded goal, a game winning goal, a good fight… Grade: A

David Krejci: Last years leading scorer in the playoffs has been a no show this season. He did enter the season with a nagging “core” injury that eventually caused him to miss a game. Has looked very slow, disinterested and is currently tenth on the team in scoring. Has points in just five of his games this season, and has only had one streak of consecutive games scoring (3). Grade: F

Milan Lucic: Like Horton has had an up and down season, but has kept the up higher and done what he needs for himself and the team to succeed of late. Has played with passion and interest for most of the last three or four weeks and despite his linemates he’s second on the team in goals, and tied for third in points overall. May want to threaten to beat his linemates in practice if they don’t play better. Grade: C+

Brad Marchand: One of the four forwards who hasn’t taken nights off this season. Even when he doesn’t score you hear his name, you notice him play no matter who else is on the ice. Successfully plays the body, the puck and his opponents minds took on and beat the larger PK Subban in a good fight. Tied for third on the team in scoring, has the most underrated passing skills on the team, second among forwards for time on ice, second on the team in takeaways. Grade: A

Daniel Paille: As part of the Merlot Line he and was less dependable than needed in October, but certainly not the whole of a problem that stretched up and down the lineup. Got a nasty facial injury a few weeks back missed a couple games and jumped back in the lineup without a hint of rust. On pace for his best goals performance as a Bruin in this his third season here. Grade C-

Rich Peverley: The Swiss army knife of the Bruins lineup has played up and down the lineup, on both wings and three lines. Is scoring at a pace that will bring him near his career highs. November has been much better than October for him. This month he’s been a minus player just once, in October he was four times including three straight.  Should probably ask guys what athletic supporter they use instead of attempting to guess with the blade of his stick. Grade: B

Benoit Pouliot: I don’t honestly understand how or why he’s beaten out Hamill and Caron for the 12th forward position, but his effort is commendable. Uses his speed and willingness to drive the net to open up chances. Has taken a lot of just plain stupid penalties. Grade: D

Marc Savard: Teams most engaging Twitter use. Has a good handle on the teams mood and his ability to predict the performance of the team is uncanny. Grade A

Tyler Seguin: Leads the team in scoring and plus/minus. Has made enormous strides year over year in his defensive play as well. Needs to focus on better passing and not be so impatient. The itchiness to get rid of the puck tends to lead to sometimes costly turnovers. Could stand to throw the body or rub guys out along the boards more often.  I end up saying it twice a game but if he could pass as well as he can shoot and skate the Bruins could win games by double digits.  Grade A-

Shawn Thornton: The third member of the Merlot Line has done his best to stem the tide in games, and has been the leader we saw last season this month, but was one of the more notable flops in October. Grade C

It’s a mystery to Bruins fans the globe around how it is that Benoit Pouliot is back in the lineup. Here’s the top ten  reasons why:

10: Claude Julien feels bad for guys the Habs dropped.

9: He got a no competition clause inserted in his contract.

8: Julien is waiting for him to take more penalty minutes than shifts to bench him.

7: The guys in the press box pick on him too much.

6: Jordan Caron, Zach Hamill and every other member of the Bruins organization not on the roster are zombies and the Bruins front office is trying to keep the plague from spreading.

5: He’s in the lineup to make Caron and Hamill look better in preperation for a trade.

4:  He’s a number four draft pick.

3: Dennis Wideman told him how to stick to the starting roster.

2: Jordan Caron is actually employed only to babysit Juliens daughter when they are on the road.

1: Benoit Pouliot makes up the starting roster.

The Boston Bruins are undeniably the hottest team in the NHL. In fact they are the hottest team in North America. The Montreal Candiens have gone 6-3-1 in there last 10. If history has taught anyone even one thing about the rivalry between these two teams it’s that records don’t matter, streaks don’t matter it’s all about what happens when the puck drops.

The Bruins lost both halves of the home and home set in October to the boys of the Belle Centre. In those games they were outscored 6-3. The Habs last game was four nothing pasting of the New York Rangers.

This game marks the first time Zdeno Chara will play in Montreal since the legal system in Quebec ended its months long embarrassment of an investigation.

Benoit Pouliot is currently slotted in to the right of Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. If he does play it will be his first regular season game against the Habs in the Bell Center.

Carey Price has given up more than two goals in a game just once in the month of November.

The Bruins have scored less than three goals just once in November.

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.

I looked at the standings this morning. I’m willing to be the depression rate among Bruins fans will climb exponentially as more and more crack open their internet browser and do the same Given where things stand right now, the Bruins would be looking at the serious possibility of drafting first. Thanks to an hour of gong show hockey by the Flyers and Jets, coupled with their own continued sloppy play and what is almost certainly the best game of the year for Carey Price, the team finds itself in 29th place this morning.

Among the four teams that went to the conference finals last year, the Bruins made the least and least dramatic moves since. The Sharks booted Heatley and Setoguchi  and turned them into Burns and Havlat. The Lightning brought in a better performing back up goalie, allowed several free agents to find new homes, and are giving a hungry rookie his time to shine. The Canucks let some of their underperformers in the playoffs go, and brought in a legitimate (if slumping) power forward to help provide secondary scoring.

You can call it confidence or complacency but the Bruins most dramatic move of the off season was flipping a fourth round pick to a conference rival for defenseman who’s greatest claim to fame is having been arrested for punching a woman in a Boston bar. One of their top power play producers retired, the other, just as he was edging back into productivity was allowed to walk. They were replaced by a #4 draft pick who is the least skilled forward to play for the Bruins in the last half decade.

The powerplay is ranked 24th in the NHL. The team that finished the season with the best goals for to against numbers has given up more goals than they’ve scored. In the second period this season they have given up twice the number of goals they’ve scored. The only two players who appear to be trying their best for sixty minutes both wear masks.

Peter Chiarelli’s plan for creating competition for jobs in training camp was to bring in a 35 year old who’s best days are long, behind him, and to pick up a the twice discarded Pouliot. No signings during free agency of what might be legitimately considered a top six or even top nine forward, no trades to improve team speed or size or goal scoring. Not even a trade to pick up a draft pick or two. Not a single draft pick was kept in town to infuse hangover central with a little more enthusiasm. Khokhlachev, Spooner, Knight or one of the other skilled forwards could have been spark enough that even if eventually sent back to their junior teams the Bruins would have to have more points than the Winnipeg Jets, or the Ottawa Senators.

For that matter, picking up Wayne Simmonds as they Flyers struggled to get under the cap on the cheap would have added a very Bruins-like player to the roster and one who had a lot to prove. The Senators picked up Filatov for not a great deal, even with the questions that surround him and his former team, no one who has seen him and Pouliot play can doubt which of the two is more skilled.  Bergenheim had five goals in seven games against the Bruins in the conference finals, and Joel Ward was the Canucks own personal nightmare, both were available this off season if a complimentary piece is all that was wanted.

The Bruins do have some legitimate cause for putting up less impressive numbers than fans could hope. The inconsistency and lack of continuity on the ice is not something that can be entirely blamed on the short summer. Leadership has claimed their are constantly looking for ways to improve the team, and that they wanted to create competition for jobs at camp,. One free agent signing, a tentative at best promotion of a prospect and the brandishing of an injury plagued forward with less points than last seasons rookie number six defenseman don’t lineup with those statements very well.  I’m not sure when the media and fan backlash will begin, and while no small part of it should be aimed at the players it is no secret that organizations can only be as good as their leadership.

The greatest rivalry in sports rejoins the fray. As always PuckSage, PuckSage.com, the NHL, The Bruins, Canadiens and anyone else you might try and blame your problems on assume no responsibility for your actions but promise to Like the Youtube video of you doing something regrettable.

Take One Drink:

For each fist pump of Rene Rancourt, or one for each bar in which an alternate singer misses a note.

Each time Carey Price is shown doing the Dryden pose.

Tim Thomas is shown smiling.

Someone mentions Perry Pearn

The words “hot seat” or “hangover” are used to describe either team.

Take Two Drinks:

Each time the Subban hit on Marchand is played.

For each replay of video from this springs playoffs.

For each injury injury mentioned.

If a Montreal skater switches between forward and defense at any point in the game.

Take Three Drinks:

If there is a post whistle scrum involving P.K. Subban and no one gets between him and whichever Bruins player he’s annoyed.

If there is a replay of Jack or Bricks best lines from the playoff series.

Each time the broadcast makes it to a commercial break without mention to the Chara-Pacioretty hit from last season.

Take Four Drinks:

If the all time record for the teams is mentioned.

Someone mentions the last time the Canadiens won the Stanley Cup.

Cole scores a goal.

Pouliot scores a goal.

The pain of hearing about “The Kids” in Edmonton drives you to needing pain relief.

Video or screen shots of something that happened in the game make it to twitter or a major blog before the end of the game.

Skip A Drink:

When Subban or Marchand are on the ice and someone else on their team is doing most of the jawing.

If Chara loses it because someone took liberties with a team mate.

 

The Bruins are practicing in new lines. Some, me included, think it is well past due. The previous split had the lines falling into a top six-bottom six split that really wasn’t characteristic of how the Bruins played and won. Last year with Ryder, Horton and Bergeron on three separate lines they split the guys who had at least once scored thirty goals in the NHL.  This year with a third line on which Kelly was the highest offensive achiever, Ryder and Recchi departed the talent was compressed.

Tyler Seguin for all his growth isn’t yet ready to be a first line player against NHL competition. On a third line, the way they were constructed to start the season, he was underused and lacking in complimentary offensive talent.  As the new look lines are constructed he’d still be playing with Kelly at center and Lucic on the left wing. If Lucic has indeed come out of hibernation he’ll provide a physical presence that can’t be ignored and with Seguin’s speed the two could be just as complimentary if not more than Lucic and Kessel were.

Bergeron and Marchand are still together. I’m not sure if this is pure chemistry or if Bergeron is supposed to smack Marchand in the head when he gets out of line and there is no coach in reach but either way the two will now be skate with the man picked up when Wideman was jettisoned. Nathan Horton’s size is certainly an upgrade to Peverley. While Horton isn’t as speedy as Peverley he’s the highest scoring winger to land on Bergeron’s wing in his career.  Bergeron and Horton are two of the top ten scoring forwards from the treasure trove known as the 2003 draft and putting them together could be magic.

David Krejci’s and Rich Peverley split time at center between Pouliot on the left and Caron on the right. Assuming it finally shakes down to Caron-Krejci-Peverley you have Peverley’s top shelf speed, Caron who plays a similar game to Matt Moulson of the New York Islanders and Krejci’s high level passing and solid shooting, when he remembers too. With Pouliot the Bruins have what today looks to be a slightly smaller, slightly faster Byron Bitz. Hard working, reliable within certain parameters, but not the horse you’re gonna ride to the winners circle.

With the new line configurations you get back to something like the balance you had last season. Krejci has a better shot than he is given credit for, mainly because he seems to forget he’s allowed to shoot it. Rich Peverley has not ever played with centers as good as Bergeron and Krejci has still had solid numbers. If management is right and Pouliot can contribute at the level of Peverley or Marchand then he’ll be a great addition to this line, if he can’t he’s on a one year contract and development of Caron and other prospects should take priority.