Tonight the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens squared off, and no more fitting summation of the game can be made than to reach back into the annuls of time and borrow a bit of literary history for the game so recently entered into the books:

 

It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair,

The vibrancy, effort and discipline of the two squads was just that different. Every Bruins fan watching knew that when the deeply slumping Johhny Bombchuck blew open the scoring with a strike on the Canadiens net that would have sent shivers down the spine of any of the Gaddafi supporter. Next up would be Greg Campbell’s first of the night, with Chara collecting the second assist in as many goals. Then Horton would ice the game with goal number 22. Despite their being forty minutes left to play, the Habs really only had about five minutes of sustained pressure spread out across the middle period, with none at all in the third. The final period was particularly woeful from a Canadiens standpoint because they got several powerplays, including a 5 on 3 in which the coughed up a shorthanded goal to supply Campbell with his second of the night.

Other highlights of the night:

  • Mark Recchi is now twelfth on the all time scoring list thanks to his 33rd assist of the season.
  • Watching the Habs players bounce off Chara was a thing of beauty, I’m sure the Bruins could sell a two hour video of that by the thousand.
  • Michael Ryder was possibly the only Bruin to have a bad night.
  • Patrice Bergeron needs to have his home, car and locker cleared of all snakes.
  • Tom Plekanec deserves a fine for his deliberate chop to the face of Nathan Horton
  • Tim Thomas had a masterful shutout.
  • Adam McQuaid solidified his hold on the #3 spot for Bruins defensemen in scoring.
  • Happy Birthday Jack Edwards! ( @NESNJackEdwards)

While I’m sure he didn’t quite express himself thusly, it makes a fitting way to mark the end of the night for both myself and Carey Price:  “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”

 

 

 

Tonight is games five of the season series, and the boys from La Belle Province hold the lead. The last game we all distinctly remember for its goals, hits and fights. Tonight will probably be a bit tamer.

  1. Will Patrice Bergeron’s head be in the game after his time off for “family matters”?
  2. Does the trash talk of Brad Marchand draw special attention to itself during the game and on the ice?
  3. Which Bruins powerplay will show up? The one that had a several game scoring streak ending just after the trade deadline, or will it be the one stymied by such powerhouses as Edmonton and Ottawa?
  4. Who will draw someone into taking a truly stupid penalty first, diver and turtle par excellence Max Pacioretty, or one of the two mouthy rookies?
  5. Will superstar offensive defensemen Johnny Boychuck or Hal Gill light the lamp tonight?

Bonus who to cheer:

  • Islanders vs. Leafs. No Brainer, the Islanders all the way. The worse the Leafs finish, the better the Bruins can draft (or move that pick.), plus Grabner and Taveres are more fun to cheer for than Kessel and Phaneuf.
  • Senators vs. Devils. As great as the story would be for the Devils to make the post season, and Brian Rolston, Ilya Kovalchuk and others have certainly earned huge respect, but the Senators passing the Leafs would be a very nice thing.
  • Oilers vs. Flyers. While losing to the 29th place team might make the Flyers more dangerous later, this one is still a push. The Bruins would have the same number of points as the Flyers with a Philadelphia loss and a Boston win, but false confidence could be fun to watch crumble.
  • Sabres vs. Penguins. Go Sabres go, the Bruins have had better luck against the very south Ontario team than the Rangers who are currently in seventh.
  • Panthers vs. Blackhawks. Captain Toews is an impressive player, and I like him, but the Panthers are within striking distance of the Leafs with a game in hand.
  • Wild vs Avalanche. Purely a western conference affair, but good guy Chuck Kobasew is still a Wild, and a bottom five finish for the AVS probably means a summer sell off so the Bruins might pick up some nice pieces.
  • Coyotes vs Canucks. Coyotes, Coyotes, Coyotes, not just because the Sedins can’t seem to buy and wear non-matching clothing, but because no city should lose a franchise someone is willing to buy and keep in place.
  • Predators vs Sharks. Go Predators, this is a small market team with two of the top 25 defensemen in the NHL, and they deserve the post season spotlight.

 

 

Some people will look at the recent fight filled hockey games by the Bruins against the Dallas Stars and the Montreal Canadiens and conclude that the Boston Bruins are just a bunch of goons. This is a bit hard to support since few teams composed of goons manage to be near the top of the goals for and against categories. Both require discipline and the Bruins possess both.

What separates the Dallas game and the Montreal game is pretty simple. The Dallas game comes from how similar the two teams are, and how similar their positions were, plus a general dislike. The Montreal game is as much about the rivalry as it is about the difference between the teams. The Habs have traditionally been fast moving, smooth skating team with small forwards. The Bruins have been built with punishing forwards and defense for decades.

In the Dallas game, the guys to drop the gloves were, for lack of a more convenient cliche, the usual suspects. Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid, and Gregory Campbell have the lions share of Boston’s fighting majors this season. Combined the three have 31 fighting majors. I’d be willing to bet that Thornton has more points than anyone else with as many fighting majors, and both Campbell and McQuaid spend a healthy chunk of time on the Bruins effective penalty kill, so labeling any of them pure goons demonstrates a slight lack of information. In the Dallas game, the fighting also started from the word go as each team, then both were division leaders set out to show they would not be run out of the building.

The Montreal game is simply the continuation of North America’s greatest sports rivalry. The two teams had played three times previously, and there had been a lot of chippy play and big hits. The two teams as a rule bring out the best and worst in each other, PJ Axellson had two fights in one night against the Canadiens which I think were two thirds of his career total. David Krejci has both of his NHL fights against Montreal this year, both times with guys who were having their first NHL fights Michael Cammaleri and David Desharnais.

In last nights game, the fighting was up and down the roster. the goalies had a “fight”, the Moen, Pyatt, Pouliot, Hamrlik for the Canadiens, and Thornton, Mcquaid, Ference,  Boychuck, for the Bruins. One should not lose sight of who started the nastiness. Price repeatedly cross-checked Lucic including leaving the crease to do so. Pacioretty went after the still healing nose of Kampfer, and Weber tossed Marchand into his own goalie. If Canadiens fans, and certain national journalists are upset by the game (in which the Bruins had less penalty minutes) they should look no further than the bench, or possibly behind the bench of the bleu, blanc, and rouge. They walked into a cave and slapped a bear in the face.

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.

2nd quarter started for the Bruins with their 11/26 game against the Carolina Hurricanes and ran through game 41 1/10 against the Penguins. The team sits at first in the division, having served themselves nuked Penguins twice in the past month.

Zdeno Chara: B+, like Bergeron a minus player in just three games in the first quarter. Leads the defense in points, goals, time on ice, leads the Bruins in shots on goals. Still needs to be more menacing. McQuaid and Stuart should not be providing the majority of the blueline snarl.

Mark Stuart: Incomplete: Injured.

Matt Bartowski: 1 game, played unremarkably. No grade.

Johnny Boychuck: C-. Still not shooting well, has zero goals, and only seven assists on the season. He has played reasonably well defensively, but if there is one defensemen on the squad who can help bring the team into the top third of the NHL in scoring, its Boychuck.

Andrew Ference: A- played far less with Chara and more with McQuaid, and still maintained a high +/-. Physical, fast and not afraid to drop the gloves for any team mate.

Adam McQuaid: B has quietly picked up the role of assistant enforcer, and has played solid defense. With only sixteen shots on goal, needs to remember what percent of shots not taken don’t go in.

Steve Kampfer (Rookie): B+  The growth curve on this kid has been scary. He was a late cut from camp, wore the C in the rookie games, and then spent the first quarter of the year in Providence. Has played 15 NHL games and has only been a minus player once.  If he keeps developing, someone else becomes expendable.

Dennis Seidenberg:  B, somehow, very, stealthily you’ve crept into 2nd in scoring for Bruins defensemen. The physical play and smart defense are good, but a look at the game logs will show he needs to be more on his game against physical opponents.

Tuukka Rask: C+ has half his win total in the tail end of the quarter, oddly his Sv% is his third best on the year.

Tim Thomas: A, Duh.

December was a pretty good month to be a member of the Boston Bruins. With eight wins in fourteen contests and a point in three more, there’s not to much to complain about for anyone, except maybe the Tuukka Rask fanatics who saw him defending the pipes just twice the month.

Stars:

Patrice Bergeron. I criticized him roundly for a lackluster October, and didn’t think much of his year at the quarter poll. But Bergeron was possibly the best forward the Bruins had all month, getting it done in all situations. He had powerplay, short handed, and even strength goals, he even doubled November’s shooting percentage while increasing his shots on goal about 30%.

Michael Ryder. Yes really. While his play at even strength is occasionally invisible, last month he had four of his five goals, and half of his ten points on the powerplay. Despite so many points coming when they don’t affect his +/- was not affected, he went from a -3 for the month of November to a +4 for December. He’s played well both with and without the puck, in the December finale he was a +1 in over 20 minutes of play, despite the loss.

Tim Thomas. Shocking I know, they guy who leads the NHL in GAA, Sv%, and shutouts, is a star. But it needs to be said. Despite the fact he played seven straight games wrapping around the holiday break. Despite facing the offensively stacked Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, and Tampa Bay Lightning twice each in December, Tim Thomas still put up better stats than he did in November.  In November he was a respectable, 2.29 GAA and .929 sv%. December saw him put up an inhuman 1.94 GAA and .942 Sv%. He’s the only qualifying goalie to bring a GAA under 2 into the new year.

Stumbles:

Johnny Boychuck. While his play hasn’t actually been bad, he’s not doing what he’s capable of, or what brought him to the dance in the first place. A guy who can score 20 goals in the AHL, should have at least one 26 games into an NHL season.  He averaged less shots on goal in December than either October or November.

Tyler Seguin. Is clearly having some growing pains, and has just one of his five goals this season at home, where he is also a minus five on the season. I suspect he’s about to get both feet under him, but has like much of the roster been shuffled around a bit. His stats for December offensively were what he had in November, but he’s doing things almost right to often.

Tuukka Rask. While it’s a bit of a reach to make this stick, the Bruins had a good enough month, that all three Stumbles are still a touch marginal, Rask actually did play slightly worse in December than in October.  His stats, and likely illness in the closing week, as well as some of the opponents dictated he wouldn’t play much, well, that and Tim Thomas.

Coming soon, the 1st half grades.

In the case of the Mob vs Reality docket number PS/12282101RIDIC-CJ we have the case of the “embattled” Bruins head coach Claude Julien. The charges are listed with all evidence included. Decide for yourself.

He’s been here three years and hasn’t won in the playoffs.

This is only partly true, the first year they lost in the first round, going to six with a loaded Montreal team. In that campaign, Bergeron was lost early on leaving Glen Metropolit, Peter Schaefer, Jeremy Reich with rookies David Krejci, Milan Lucic, Petteri Nokelainen, and to provide breaks for Marc Savard (who had a vertebrae broken in his back just before the series), Glen Murray, and P.J. Axellson. On defense were Bobby Allen, Matt Lashoff, and Andrew Alberts.  Clearly that was a roster with Stanley Cup written all over it.

The case in 08-09 is actually slightly better, except they won a round. They went into the playoffs and embarrassed the Canadiens, and going to the mat with the Hurricanes. The goaltending and defense were solid, any case that can me made against a 1.85 and .935 isn’t worth writing down, listening to or responding too. The two issues were goal scoring, and what I can only hope was a communication break down that led to Wideman and Montador being on the ice, together, in the defensive zone, in overtime. Add in Recchi having a kidney stone removed between games six and seven, Kessels shoulder injury, Krejci’s hip injury, and Chuck Kobasew having as many goals as the entire defense. On top of this, Bitz and Yelle, were getting ice time because there was no once else.

Then there is last year. The previous years Vezina winner is quietly on the shelf with a hip injury that no one was talking about.  Savard had his brains scrambled then lied his way back into the line up, half of the top four defensemen entering the post season were on the shelf, the previous seasons top goal scorer was on the shelf with a knee injury. During the brutally physical Buffalo series Vladimir Sobotka has his shoulder separated. Mike Richards tosses a sixth roster player on the scrap heap with an open ice hit that cracks Krejci’s wrist.  Mean while, back on the ice, Trent Whitfield, is playing big time NHL minutes, Milan Lucic is nearly recovered from a high ankle sprain that limits the mobility of someone who’s never been a great skater and is one of the best two physical presences left on the ice. Zdeno Chara has finally removed a cast he’d worn since October. Behind Chara are, Hunwick, rookie Boychuck, and the ever reliable Denis Wideman. Adding depth to the addled Savard and the singled out by survival Bergeron are Steve Begin, Miroslav Satan, and the NHL’s elder statesman Mark Recchi who led all Bruins in goals in the playoffs last year.

He plays veterans too much and doesn’t give young players enough time.

Not really an operative complaint on a team that’s not failed to reach the playoffs and have a winning record in his tenure. Are other rookies getting more time than Seguin, yes absolutely.  Among rookie forwards, Seguin is ranked 13th with none of the twelve players ahead of him having played less games. Of the players ahead of him, Logan Coture, Mark Letestu, Bryan Bickell, Jake Dowell, Mikael Backlund and Tyler Ennis all played in the NHL before this season. Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, and Magnus Paajarvi represent an unfortunate percent of their talent given that two of them are one and two in goal scoring for their team.

Of the other true rookies there is David Stepan, Jeff Skinner, Alexander Burmistrov and at the start of the season, none of their three teams were expected to make the playoffs back in September except possibly as bubble teams.  The Rangers have had a lot of injuries up front with Drury, Gaborik, Frolov and others spending time on the shelf, giving more ice time to a player two years older. Jeff Skinner looks like the steal of the draft, but let’s face it, on his team anyone who could skate, and show up who ended up playing part of the season with Eric Staal was going to look pretty damned good. Skinner has worked hard to be second in scoring on his team no doubt, but how much of an accomplishment is that on a team that’s 16th in goals for, one point out of last in their division, and two points out of the lottery?

But he skated Wideman, and Ryder when they #$%&\@!.

Yes, as the coach he did. Look at the AHL stats for the Providence Bruins last season, hint hint, they did not qualify for the playoffs. Look now, Wideman is gone, Ryder is third in scoring and has gotten much less time and far more linemates than the two men ahead of him.

He doesn’t develop young players!

You mean like David Krejci, Johnny Boychuck, Tuukka Rask, Milan Lucic, Blake Wheeler, Brad Marchand who have all stuck with the club in his tenure? Or do you mean guys like Matt Lashoff, Byron Bitz, Vladimir Sobotka, Phil Kessel who were all traded away for building blocks? Yes, I can see your concern, I have a great microscope.

But Chicago fired their coach last season and went on to win the Stanley Cup!

The Chicago BlackHawks were incredibly loaded, with the exception of their goaltending there wasn’t a single position on that team that didn’t make other clubs drool with envy. The cap sodomization they inflicted on themselves ensures they will be lucky to even make the playoffs this year as half their roster turned over. They were also lucky enough to have all their key components reasonably healthy all at once.  More importantly as this years New York Islanders amply demonstrate, just dumping a coach doesn’t always improve things, not that it saved Macleans job.

He’s lost the lockerroom! They aren’t showing any emotion! Their powerplay sucks!

I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been moved on him. I’m also pretty sure that a team that goes out and beats down Atlanta, when the only guy on the on the ice who is a well respected fighter is the one who got the cheap shot in the first place, and the rest have combined for less NHL fights than Lucic has had in one season is “showing some emotion”. Also, I’d be hard pressed to explain a powerplay that has essentially the same personnel as last year jumping from 23rd to 13th in the NHL if the players have stopped listening to the coaches.

The defense rests.

Thanks to @ScottyHockey for the fact check.

With Mark Stuart on the shelf until as late as February recent Bruins acquisition Steve Kampfer is in. Mark Stuart blocked a shot early in the Bruins over time win against the Buffalo Sabres. While this is the second broken hand for Stuart in two years, entering last season Boston’s “Caveman” was the team ironman.  With the stats updated through last nights game, Stuart is just one blocked shot below Captain Zdeno Chara, and in third overall.

Kampfer is a Michigan native, and like Stuart came up through the college ranks instead of heading north to play major juniors. Listed at 197lbs, he’s larger than either Ference or McQuaid and gives the team three sub 200lb blueliners. With Boychuck and McQuaid totaling a spare 105 NHL games and now Kampfer added to the mix, one has to wonder how long the Bruins defense can remain the NHL’s stingiest.

On the plus side Kampfer was among the last cuts made from the NHL roster at the end of the preseason. More importantly he hasn’t spent any time sulking. Like Jamie Arniel who had a cameo earlier this season, Kampfer took the time in Providence to prove it wasn’t where he belongs. At the time of his recall Kamfer was second overall in team scoring, first in defensemen, and first in assists. His stat line of 3-13-16 +10 is good enough to be tied for sixth in AHL defensemen scoring.  The first year pro was also tied for 8th in rookie scoring in the AHL.

If Kampfer can achieve a similar level of performance in the NHL, he might just jump into the Calder Trophy race. Given the nature of the Bruins defense, more injuries are not a probability, but a certainty. Hell, if he plays well enough one or more of the current top six could find themselves sent packing. Despite his frequent pairings with Chara in the preseason, I’d expect that he probably won’t see more than 12-15 minutes a night over his first half dozen games if there are no other injuries.

The Boston Bruins seemed set to close out the game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Tim Thomas was doing his best to convince the world he could leap tall buildings in a single bound. Greg Campbell and Nathan Horton had given the team a 2-1 lead. The team had returned the physical play of the home team at every turn.

Then the tide was turned. The teams top penalty killer, best three zone forward and emotional epicenter was sent to the box with two and half minutes left. The Leafs leaped forward peppering Thomas with shot after shot and eventually pulling Giguere to skate six on four. Moments later Kris Versteeg, once traded by the Bruins to Chicago for Brandon Bochenski, sticks in a sweet feed to tie it up. Not content with the previous substandard call, the officials proved they could scrape the bottom of the barrel a little more and allow a Toronto player to draw a call in overtime by stuffing Boychucks stick into his shirt.  We go to overtime.

The first goal against Thomas was indisputable, even in a league with the “intent to blow” rule. The Phil Kessel goal has been ruled both ways any number of times. The puck was not in sight, no angle showed the puck anywhere before the officials raise their hands.

Sadly, as bad as the officiating was, and it would need to improve greatly just to be putrid, I can’t blame them entirely for the loss. For the first time this season the Bruins hung Tim Thomas out to dry. In all three periods of regulation, and in overtime the Bruins were outshot. The Leafs had 26 hits and 21 blocked shots to the Bruins 22 and 17. Despite Bergeron going 60% in twenty five faceoffs, the Bruins barely held even with the Leafs in that stat. Complacence, overconfidence, or just lack if commitment, those things will fuel a loss regardless of the individual play of even as skilled and important a player as Tim Thomas.