Well, the spring fling was no fun, but the fall ball was every thing the Bruins could hope for. The powerplay actually was. There was scoring from more than one line, and hits and blocked shots were served up with more interest than late taxes.

  1. Not only did the Black and Gold score first, they did it on the powerplay.
  2. The lines 19:34 TOI,  1 hit, 4 giveaways -1 for Pronger. 26:51 TOI, 7 Shots on goal, 2 hits, 3 takeaways, 4 blocked shots even for the Slovakian Stud. Round one of four goes to Chara, three more meetings this season, the next battle is joined at 7pm on 12/11 in Boston.
  3. Yes, apparently David Krejci can not only make entirely unselfish passes to set up Lucic for an empty netter, but he can also finish at 53% on the night. Of course had he tapped that puck home instead of dishing to the former Vancouver Giant, he’d have netted his first goal since October 30th.
  4. Bergeron did three important things with one sweep of the stick in the early first period. 1) He got his first goal since November 20th against the Kings, 2) he got the Bruins on the board first 3) He got the powerplay to gasp and twitch long after many had given it up as a lost cause.
  5. Tim Thomas was phenomenal Tim Thomas. Bobrovsky was merely very good.

Good game for some other players as well. Tyler Seguin got his fifth goal of the season, four of those goals have been scored away from the TDGarden. Mark Stuart finished the night a +2, the only player to do so, and Johnny Boychuck dished out a couple of the hits that remind you how scary this team can be when everyone buys in and pitches in. Michael Ryder didn’t make it into the goal scoring column tonight but had a takeaway, lead the forwards in hits, and had an assist and a +1.

The Boston Bruin’s defense is second only to the Montreal Canadien’s in goals allowed.

Andrew Ference: B, has been paired with Zdeno Chara most of the season. Has looked good their so far, and is in fact a +12 despite only having two assists on the season.  The current +/- is roughly twice the highest he’s ever finished a season with. He’s now played almost half as many games as either of the last two seasons. This may just be the best play of his career. It should be noted he’s playing with a guy who has won a Norris trophy, and who might end up on the final ballot again this year.

Mark Stuart: C-, when you’ve looked good, you’ve looked good, when you’ve looked bad, oi vey even your biggest fans can’t excuse it.  With McQuaid you look not so hot on a good shift, with Seidenberg or Boychuck you look like the Caveman we all know and love. I suggest that when paired with McQuaid you remember you are supposed to be the highly reliable veteran and direct traffic as much as possible.

Adam McQuaid: C-. as you are still technically a rookie, this grade is possibly a bit harsh, but probably not by much. You need to keep your goalmouth position better when that is your assignment, and take direction from the coaches and your teammates if you want to stick in the NHL. Otherwise you may end up the next dealt out of town.

Zdeno Chara: A-, its funny how having a working hand can affect things. Right now you have more goals than in any of your first four seasons, and are halfway to last years total. You need to give the puck away less, and try not to feed the puck to people who are gonna get steamrolled as soon as they take the pass.

Dennis Seidenberg: B, you’re leading the team in blocked shots, and second in hits to Shawn Thornton. But, you seem to have forgotten how to make the outlet passes you were making last year before your injury. Please watch some footage, maybe you’ll pickup a few more points.

Johnny Boychuck: C, hey, remember that booming shot you used to the teams advantage last year? So do we. I’m betting Julien, Ward and Jarvis all remember it too.

Matt Hunwick: C. Sorry you got exiled to Siberia traded to the Avalanche.  You didn’t shoot nearly enough, but you committed far less of the ghastly turnovers than you did last year.

Goal:

Tim Tomas: A, nearly flawless so far. you should have had another shutout in that second Washington game.

Tuukka Rask, D. The vast majority of the bad grade is not for how you’ve stopped pucks but for attitude. Last year you displayed cool confidence all season in good games and bad, shutouts and blowouts. You don’t show that same confidence in interviews this year, your body language in net and on the ice lacks the panache you showed last year. Reacquire that and I’m willing to bet the team plays better in front of you.

For various reasons the players in this post are highly unlikely to be traded. Some would induce a rant from the average Boston Bruins fan that’d make a Mel Gibson diatribe look as meek and melodic as the local choirs rendition of Silent Night.

Mark Stuart. As one of his biggest fans I’d be displeased to see him go under nearly any circumstance. Given the stable of defensemen behind him, it’d be foolish to send him off without getting something similar in return. At this point only two of the defensemen outside the top six have the physical gifts to be a punishing, durable, aggressive defender in front of the Bruins crease at near the same scale as Stuart. Adam McQuaid is one of them, and he lacks polish and to a degree poise, and I doubt he’s got the same locker room presence, and he’s not quite as punishing a defender. The other is Ryan Donald, at 24 he’s  now a facing a long uphill climb to make it to a full time NHL position, and the jump from the AHL to top four minutes in the NHL is not one that most could expect to make in half a season.

Johnny Boychuck, with a full season left on his contract and his skating, hitting, power play time and blazing shot, it’s hard to imagine any team willingly parting with Boychuck. He’s developed into a top four defenseman after years of toiling in the AHL. While Boychuck’s attractive tradebait, he’s not going to clear much in the way of cap space, and it’s doubtful there’s much that could be brought back with a similar or greater value for less or equal money, the odds of a team being willing to part with that talent in the first place are even lower.

No list of unlikely trade candidates would be complete without he inclusion of Tuukka Rask. He’s young, he had a highly successful regular season last year, he’s got good health and a friendly contract. He’s part of the wave of Finnish goaltenders that have swept over the NHL in the last two or three years. By himself he could probably bring back a good piece of talent, as part of a package, the Bruins might be able to unload a salary or two that other teams might not normally be willing to take on.  Leaving aside Dallas, Atlanta, and Phoenix all who have various ownership issues there are still a dozen teams with more than three million in cap space. When you consider that we’re one quarter of the way through the season and contracts are prorated on a daily basis, that makes even a four million dollar salary doable. It is likely that a team like Florida who is not expected to resign Vokoun, or Edmonton who don’t have much between the pipes might be willing to part with a couple high picks or prospects and take on a salary or two, particularly if they are expiring, to nail down what some call the hardest position to draft for.

While I doubt that the Bruins have given up on Joe Colborne yet, I suspect he’s probably not overly pleased with playing on the fourth line in Providence. Jamie Arniel was among the last players cut before the Bruins departed for their European trip, and the 2008 pick fourth rounder currently leads the P-Bruins in both goals and points. Zach Hamill, was a high pick in the notably thin 2007 draft, and might just decide to seek greener pastures. With the additions of Seguin, and Spooner to this years horde of centers, it’s not entirely outside probability that he asks to be traded. At this point all three would essentially be afterthoughts in any cap clearing trade, in regards to this years cap. Next year though Colborne’s entry level deal could prove prohibitive with the hard cap taking affect.

While in the middle of reviewing the Bruins cap crunch, I took a minute or four off to look at the All-Star Vote totals. Sure, the school yard format threatens to make a game that’s as real as Pam Anderson’s chest even worse, but that’s not the point. The point is there are players in non-hockey markets ahead of the Boston Bruin’s players.

While it makes me want to vomit to know that Carey Price is ahead of Tim Thomas in goalie voting, I can accept that. I mean seriously, it keeps the Montreal fans from flipping cars and burning cruisers so it’s a good thing for the environment, the court systems and law and order in Quebec. True Price has done little but watch better goalies get traded away in his career, but with all the work he put in helping the Smurfs on his team reach things on the top shelf I can live with this one, I guess. Besides Montreal doesn’t have anything to do with any real sports other than hockey so… But, that’s not the point.

And given that Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin have been force fed to anyone who hears anything about the NHL since before the lockout was over, it’s not a shock that they are top five vote getters, hell they might even deserve it. Chicago is one of the largest cities in North America, so last seasons Norris Trophy Winner Duncan Keith is a natural as well, and he does deserve it. Nicklas Lidstrom is pushing triple digits in age, and as the hockey fans have more sense and class than the hacks who vote people into the Hockey Hall of Fame, it’s not surprising Lidstrom is on near the top given that this is probably his last hurrah. But alas, that’s not the point.

Even that whiny, one zone, overpaid git Phil Kessel is high on the list. Given that Toronto fans are delusional enough to believe they got the better of that trade, and thought they’d be in the playoffs this season, I’m kinda surprised he’s not even higher. I’m going to have to guess that his failure to top the list is due to the passionate love Leaf Lovers have for the Raptor’s who are just as dynamic as the Maple Leafs. I wonder if Brian Burke is GM of them too?

The point is there are players in non-hockey markets ahead of the Boston Bruin’s players. Here’s some of the various players from redneck crossroads, hick towns, and places where belt buckles and NASCAR are more popular than hockey, high school diplomas and hygiene that somehow have players ahead of the Bruins players on the All Star ballot count. Also included are things that just plain baffle me.

  • Michael Cammilleri (@MCammalleri13), in more games has the exact same number of goals as Michael Ryder. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, is there ergot in every dish of poutine in Quebec?
  • Alex Semin aka “Little Drummer Boy”

has more votes than Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci combined.

  • Ilya Kovalchuk who has four goals and $100 million contract has almost twice as many votes at Milan Lucic who has about three times as many points and more than twice as many goals.
  • Mike “What’s Defense?” Green has more votes than someone who actually has won a Norris Trophy. Honestly, can the Washington Capitals just reassign him to wing where he belongs? I’ll even cheer for him playing there since his complete lack of defensive play will be less noticeable there.
  • Ok, let’s leave aside the fact that he’s the captain of Toronto, and that as their continued cheering of Kessel proves they have no taste there, how is former Calgary Flames “stud” first among the Maple Leaf’s blueliners in votes? He’ll get confused, at this point he’s used to coming in second.  How in the hell is this head case ahead of Johnny Boychuck?
  • Max Talbot of Pittsburgh, Jason Spezza of Ottawa, and Jussi Jokienen of wherever, are all ahead of Milan Lucic in ballot count? I didn’t even know any of the three were actually playing in the NHL this year. Sure, the Senators play in a building that’s quieter than a library, but they are at least a hockey market (sorta). I do have to admit I am impressed that the Sidney Crosby fans in powder blue knew the name of another player on their roster. Very impressed, Kudos.
  • As far as pure shock value goes, near the top has to be Zach Parise getting more votes than Shawn Thornton. Leaving aside any other year of their careers, Shawn Thornton is far more deserving of being there this year, and would be the only player at the All Star game who’s interviews didn’t threaten Ambien’s market share.
  • Brandy Brandon “The Slasher” Dubinsky is somehow getting more votes than any Bruins forward.
  • I do think it’s really amazing that everyone who’s ever been to a Carolina Hurricanes game sent in a vote for their favorite figure skater Jeff Skinner.

But, I have no problems with Sean Avery getting votes, I think it’d be good for coverage for someone who might play with an edge, say something interesting, and has the skill to pot a goal or two to be there.

Today’s game is the second of back to back games for both teams. The Bruins downed the Rangers in New York, the Panthers went into the ATL and stole the Thrashers cookies. Former Bruin’s Denis Wideman and Marty Reasoner (part of the trade that shipped out Samsanov, and brought in Lucic) will no doubt get a warm reception, or at least Wideman will.  The Panthers are having a surprisingly good season so far and have an even record 8-8-0, but still rest securely at the bottom of the Southeast division. A closer look at their schedule reveals wins over the nearly simmering Flames,  the Minnesota Wild, Atlanta Thrashers and the New York Islanders for half their win total.  The Flyers, Stars, and Senators were a different story.  For the Bruins, Adam McQuaid must again be nervous of his roster spot with Boychuck staring hungrily over his shoulder.

  1. Will the Garden faithful come up with a cheer just for Wideman as they did for the equally missed Phil Kessel?
  2. Can Patrice Bergeron pierce the strippers veil the Panthers insist is a defense to light the lamp?
  3. Can a Bruins forward not named Patrice Bergeron finish the night at over 50% in the faceoff dot?
  4. Can the officiating possibly be as bad as last nights?
  5. Will anyone finally recognize Blake Wheeler or Matt Hunwick for the hard work and solid play they have exhibited this season. Both have played well in the last two weeks or so.

I’ll be at the Garden tonight for the game, probably won’t have time for a pregame meeting, but tweet me @pucksage and say hi.

With the season series now even, these two teams have a better idea who they are. Both games have been 3-2 affairs, both games featured some mind numbing saves, and each team has left the ice with two points in its goodie bag. Tonight the Bruins goal scorers were Milan Lucic, Tyler Seguin, and Mark Recchi. For Lucic that was his seventh goal leaving him just two goals and six points short of his total for last season. Tyler Seguin tested the twine with a great individual effort to steal the puck and take it to the hole.  Recchi is now at career point 1497, and I’m sure hopes to punch his ticket into the 1500 club before turkey day.

Todays 5:

  1. No Johnny Boychuck in tonights lineup, and Adam McQuaid was not on the ice for either goal against the Bruins tonight.
  2. Both goalies showed up big in the first, and kept the score sheets clean with save after save, but in the second the Rangers jumped to the early lead, the only one they would have. It’s hard to say who had the better jump early.
  3. It appears we got the good Stuart tonight, while the goobers compling stats were awe insiringly deficient in their compliation of hits, Stuart had a shot on goal, a shot missed, and an assist. He also logged a massive 4:10 of short handed time on ice, beating the next Bruins defender by well over a minute. Chara on the other hand had me wanting to put my hand over my eyes once or twice.
  4. Le Sigh
  5. Tonights game featured more than a few good saves, and two soft goals, but I wouldn’t call it a shootout or a duel, just a hard fought well structured match up between two original six teams who came to win.

If tonights calls against the Bruins were indeed, as some have speculated, an attempt to show the leagues impariality towards the Bruins and Colin Campbell’s son, it was a rousing success, the boarding call on Chara was NFL level bad, and the injury free, no shift missed high sticking call that was still called a double minor clearly announciated either imparitiality or inept officiating, take your pick.

Tonight is round two of of the season series between two resurgent teams. Last season the Rangers missed the playoffs, and spent the summer licking their wounds. The Bruins limped into the playoffs with a woozy Savard, Stuart, Siednberg, and Sturm all out of action and Sobotka would be playing with a separated shoulder before the playoffs were over. We know how the Bruin’s season ended, and both teams have sipped deeply from the victory cup early in the season. The Rangers stand fourth in the conference after eighteen games, and the Bruins are sixth after fifteen.

In the first game of the season, the Bruins came out flat and were further deflated in a losing effort when Johnny Boychuck was cut from the roster by a Brandon Dubinsky slash that broke his arm. It’s possible Brandon Dubinsky might have to keep his head on a swivel this game as Boychuck has traveled with the team and may make his return to the ice tonight.

  1. If Boychuck is in, will McQuaid sit? To me it’s a no-brainer, despite his fighting spirit he hasn’t been even average in his own end and could probably benefit from a game or two in the press box with the coaches going over plays throughout the game.
  2. Which team will come into the game with the most energy? The Rangers who gutted out a win against the Penguins, or the  Bruins who aside from an early minutes surge by the Devils had a fairly easy night against the Devils?
  3. Which Mark Stuart will we see tonight? While Stuart might have put himself on a most wanted poster with his meteor strike hits against the Devils in the last game, this season has not seen his best stretch of play.
  4. Can Patrice Bergeron finally get his second goal of the month? He’s hit at least three posts and been stonewalled by goalies right and left, but he didn’t score 31 goals a couple years back accidentally.
  5. Will we see a shootout or a goalie duel tonight?

With very few changes in the roster, the Bruins opening night lineup is pretty easy to nail down. For the sake of discussion the guys in bold are going to be playing unless injured. The guys in italics are the guys on the bubble who have camp to prove they deserve the spot and the guys underlined are the most likely trade candidates.

Milan Lucic – Marc Savard – Nathan Horton

Tyler Seguin – Patrice Bergeron – Mark Recchi

Blake Wheeler – David Krejci – Michael Ryder

Daniel Paille – Greg Campbell – Shawn Thornton

Zdeno Chara – Denis Siedenberg

Mark Stuart – Johnny Boychuck

Andrew FerenceMatt Hunwick

The bubble players are where I expect to see the most interesting battles. For forwards its almost a given that Brad Marchand will be held in Boston very late, and may even make the roster. Jeremy Reich is another guy who could be that thirteenth forward quite easily, he’s a veteran with a lot of leadership abilities and no one questions his toughness or willingness to put himself on the line for the team. Jordan Caron, Maxime Suave, Joe Colborne are probably the three who will push hardest for Michael Ryder’s roster spot. The Bruin are in need of an offensive renaissance and if Ryder doesn’t come out of the gate firing on all cylinders he may find himself on the injured reserve or assigned to Providence in favor of one of these youngsters. Not to be forgotten is the seventh or potentially sixth defense spot if Ference or Hunwick are found lacking or sent elsewhere.  McQuaid has the inside line, but Alexandrov is quite likely to push hard as well. Delahey has similar size and physicality.

The next tier of players is even more intriguing. As high as Caron and Colborne were drafted no one would find it a huge surprise if one of them snatched a roster spot from a veterans hands. Despite his off seasons surgery, Suave was one of the very last players sent packing from Bruins camp last fall and has a wicked shot, so even he wouldn’t be a huge shock. Jamie Arniel, Jared Knight, Yannick Rinedeau, Jeff Penner and Zach Hamill all have various things to prove. Hamill’s whole NHL career probably comes down to this camp. He was drafted in the first round of a truly weak draft class in 2007, he’s proved to be slightly less unspectacular than most of his year mates. That draft has to date produced only six players who have played more than 100 NHL games, the 2008 draft has produced five. Hamill has to jump over guys who are bigger, more physical and already have Julien’s trust and respect and I’m not sure he’s going to do that while at the same time going around Caron, Colborne and the rest in the first tier of prospects. If he can’t make the roster, he may want to ask for a trade anywhere he’ll be on the roster.  Jared Knight has to prove he can translate the skills that make this jaw dropping highlight reel to the NHL level and handle the physical play and speed of full grown men.

Arniel’s proved at least to me that the issues that marred his draft year are behind him, now he needs to bury all thought of his being among the players most responsible for last years pathetic AHL Bruins campaign. He’s got the disadvantage of having a few injuries, and a small frame but I think I like his chances better than Hamill’s as he’s got a bit more of an edge.  Yannick Rinedeau lit up Juniors in his final season like he was firebombing them, a series of injuries and the move to the pro-ranks have left his reputation in need of the polish that only a breakout effort in camp and a good early season can provide.  Jeff Penner faces two problems in cracking the lineup, first is a severe shortness of NHL time on a team that lives or dies by its defense, and second is his small size.  With Ference and Hunwick not even close to two hundred pounds, adding the 183lb Penner to the roster in a conference that has Kovalchuck, Ovechkin, Staal, and other large aggressive forwards might be a liability the Bruins can’t afford. Among the positives are good speed, willingness to take a hit, and having made good on his limited playing time in the NHL. In his first NHL game, Penner faced the star studded Washington Capitals and was tossed all the way into the deep end with almost nineteen minutes of playing time.  Particularly telling was his two minutes of penalty kill time, and the fact that he played several shifts with the dealt and unlamented Denis Wideman.

Blake Wheeler

This fight epitomizes Blake Wheelers season as a Bruin.

He tried hard, he meant well but the results just weren’t there. Despite seeing his TOI go from a respectable rookie average of 13:41 to a solid 15:47. he scored less, assisted less, and went from rookie sensation to a hairs breadth away from team scapegoat. Fortunately for Wheeler, Wideman, Ryder and other seemed to fail far more spectacularly far more often. While many have called his season “disastrous” that’s far from true. Despite spending the early part of the season with both the rushed back Krejci and Michael Ryder weighing him down he scored only three less goals. The seven less assists are clearly more indicative of the effort of his linemates last season. The one thing no one could accuse Wheeler of last season was giving up. He played with effort as he adjusted to the bulk he packed onto his frame.

Next season, assuming he follows in the footsteps of other college players turned NHL regulars, he’ll exceed either of his first two seasons. More than a few former college players have taken until their third season to adjust to the heavier, longer schedule, the more physical game and the quality of competition. My hope is a 32-35-67 line for Blake Wheeler this year, but I’ll be satisfied with anything over twenty-five goals.

Johnny Boychuck on the other hand did to fan, and team expectations what he did to the opposition in this hit.

Going from  seventh defenseman to top pairing in the course of season takes a lot of things, Boychuck seemed to have all of them working for him this year. Having started the year in the pressbox after winning the award for the best defenseman in the AHL, Boychuck had to wonder how much ice time he was going to get with the return of Chara, Wideman, Stuart, Ference, and Hunwick and the addition of veteran Derek Morris.  He played just three games in October, and none at all in November. With injuries attacking the Bruins blueline, December was to be his coming out party.  Potting his first two goals in the eleven game span and playing as much as 24:14 he took the jump from the AHL to the NHL and ended the question as to if he’d end up back in Providence.  Playing with Mark Stuart brought out the best in both players and several nights they were the best paring on the ice. Physical play, reasonable skating and a howitizer of a shot make Boychuck a creditable NHL defenseman, an even keel, willingness to play tough and work hard make him a must keep Bruin. By the time the playoffs rolled around with Stuart & Seidenberg on the shelf, no one had any doubt he was a go to player as he topped thirty minutes three times in the second season and looked competent and confident doing so.

For the next campaign Boychuck must fine tune his game to take better advantage of his defensive partner, and make smarter outlet passes.  He’ll not only be playing for a top four position, which he deserves, he’ll be playing for his next contract. With Sturm, Recchi, and Ryder likely gone at the end of this year there will be some money available. With both Chara and Bergeron also in contract years, and with Knight, Suave, Caron, Colborne, Alexandrov and some guy named Seguin in the mix that money is going to have to be hard earned.

Milan Lucic
Lucic’s season can be summed up in this clip.

After getting hit hard by one thing, he’d battle back and get knocked down by something else. Fourteen games were lost to a broken finger almost before the season started, and another eighteen came off the table to a high ankle sprain that didn’t seem to fully heal until the playoffs. With these injuries plaguing the bruising winger, the center he works best with off the ice twice, and last years opposite winger now on another team it’s hard to saw how much of Lucic’s failure to thrive his his third season is his fault. He was visibly slower after the ankle injury for a long time, but I’m not sure he came into training camp with the same fire as he had the two precious seasons.  By the end of the season he had turned the corner and took a four game point scoring streak into the playoffs.

Lucic’s challenges for his fourth season, in which a hefty contract kicks in are simple. One is stay healthy, two is provide the grit and aggression that makes him feared when his gloves are on his hands or the ice, and third adjust to whomever he plays with quickly. He is a huge fan favorite, but that could change. With Wideman out of town, and Ryder potentially demoted, bought out or traded the position of team scapegoat is wide open and disappointing fans is as quick a path to the outhouse as just being a bad player.