The roar of battle shall flow like the mightiest of rivers.
The crys of the stricken shall haunt your nightmares until your last.
The glory won shall never tarnish.
He who falls he shall be forever forgotten.
It is after all game #699 of the NHL season. No game could be more important, no game has ever been more important. At least not until the next big matchup.
For today though we get to see the Bruins take on an upgraded version of one of the few teams to win their season series with them last year. The Rangers will get a true test of who they are, the Bruins play a style very similar to their own, and know how to win in a number of ways. There are players on the Rangers who have been to the promised land, but the team as a unit has not.
On paper there matchup couldn’t get much tighter. The two have almost identical goals allowed figures. Each team wins more faceoffs than they lose. Their penalty kills are separated by just half a point. The top point producer for each squad is a speedy right winger, Gaborik for the Rangers and Seguin for the Bruins. Each team has a defenseman with points in the twenties, Del Zotto the rising star of the Blue Shirts, and Chara Norris winner, All Star Captain and biggest of the Bruins. Looking at the comparative powerplays might imply more separation as Bruins boast a 4.6% better man advantage, but the Rangers take slightly less penalties. The biggest point of separation between the two is total offense where the Bruins lead the league and are out producing the Rangers by 3/4ths of a goal per game. With goaltending as good these two teams have, expect no more than a two goal game.
The Bruins have hit a patch of schedule that has left them playing poorly for long stretches of games, but have still won most of those games. The Rangers are coming in off a loss. Neither team can afford to let up off the throttle. At the end of the game the winner will be able to walk out of the building saying not only that they won, but that they beat the other team that has been at the top of the conference most of the season.
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.
Tonight’s game is at the Boston Garden. The Bruins have so far massacred the Leafs home or away with only this weeks game being competitive. The goal totals are 19 Boston and 5 Toronto in the three games so far this season. As mentioned earlier this week, the games do have potential playoff implications. The season series does also present the opportunity for a good drinking game.
Some key points on the Bruins:
Bruins are 2nd in goals for
Bruins are 2nd in goals against
Bruins have the best goals differential in the NHL
top performing line is Brad Marchand at left, Patrice “Selke” Bergeron at center, and Tyler “Thank You Kessel” Seguin at right wing.
They have a winning record regardless of who scores first
have the fourth best winning percentage when trailing after 2.
Some key points on the Maple Leafs:
James Reimer will be making his return tonight
2nd best powerplay in the NHL at over 23%
27th in penalty killing.
have 30 goals for in the 3rd period, their strongest
have allowed 31 goals in the 3rd period fifth most in the NHL
Phil Kessel is averaging 20:11 of TOI per game
Mikhail Grabovski leads the team in takeaways
Clark MacArthur leads the team in goals on the road
The Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs will square off Wednesday in Toronto, and Saturday in Boston. Amazing as it is to be talking seriously about the Maple Leafs and the playoffs, not to mention the importance of a two game set in November, it’s a reality. With more than a quarter of the season gone the Leafs enter this pair of games atop the Northeast.
The Bruins sit just one point behind them, and have had a strong November. With two meetings already in the bag, and the Bruins having won both games handily these two games will provide an opportunity for both teams. The Leafs can get back even with the Bruins by winning both, or at least remain competitive with a split. The Bruins with two wins can go forward knowing they have nailed down one of the tie breakers. As difficult as it is to imagine a team like the Leafs can give up over three goals a game and remain in the running, they hold a playoff spot now.
In the previous two games the Bruins won by a combined 13-2. Tyler Seguin has a hat trick, in Toronto. Phil Kessel has not had a goal and is -2. The Bruins enter Wednesday’s game without any injuries. Toronto is missing Colby Armstrong, James Reimer, Matthew Lombardi, Mike Komisarek is also on the IR.
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
The Boston Bruins have the longest winning streak of the season. The best goals differential. Lead the northeast division, and faceoff against the Detroit Red Wings Friday. Last year when the Bruins played the Wings in a home and home, they played a horrid game at home, and lost the game at Detroit on two rookie mistakes the well seasoned Wings capitalized on. Marchand and Seguin are a full season more experienced, have won a cup, and are playing with perhaps the most effective three zone forward in the NHL.
The Wings come in with a three game win streak of their own. Currently they sit in sixth place in the west, but are just one point ahead of tenth place. Detroit’s twenty second ranked penalty kill is a weakness their more dominant teams never had, but their powerplay is still running smooth and holds down the NHL’s nine spot.
Rich Peverley has a shot at his 100th career assist.
Shawn Thornton is 11 games short of his 400th career regular season game.
This will be the 21st game of the season for both teams.
Detroit’s powerplay has given up two shorthanded goals this season, the Bruins powerplay has not choked up a goal.
Detroit’s Jimmy Howard is having a career year going 11-5-1 in 17 starts, with a 1.92 GAA and a ,927 sv%. He currently leads the NHL with three shutouts, but he’s been notably better at home than on the road.
The Boston Bruins need to do not much to stay competitive in this game, and all of it right to win the game.
Physical play. The Oilers are one of the youngest teams in the league, and not a lot of size in their top six forwards.
Force the defense to handle the puck and make choices. The Edmonton blueline isn’t as gifted with high end talents as the the forward lines, they are competent middle pairing guys up and down the lineup and can be exposed.
Transition, transition, transition.
Overkill isn’t enough. The Oilers have won all their games when trailing after the first period, and two of three when trailing after two.
Team versus team not the two 2010 picks vs each other.
Look at your calender. Like mine it says we’re in the second month of the NHL season, and teams should be rounding into mid-season form. No more shakedown cruise excuses, not only are the points for real, but the rosters should be showing what they are. Some teams shot out of the gate at a breakneck pace, and others were mired in long playoff recovery.
The story of the National Hockey League in October was the most talked about trade piece of the weary Boston Bruins in years. Phil Kessel reported to camp more focused, fitter and focused. He jumped into the scoring lead, grabbed the +/- lead along the way and dragged the Toronto Maple Leafs into a conference lead. Impressive hockey, the best output of his career, and all of it unfortunately in the month in which he’s had far and away the best success of his career.
The count is four. That’s four games since Phil Kessel last scored a goal. The next night was a game against the other conference surprise, division rival Ottawa Senators, no goal. The Maple Leafs played the floundering New Jersey Devils, no goals. The next game was against the utterly inert Columbus Blue Jackets. Again not a single goal. For the one game every team in the entire league gets up for against not just the Stanley Cup Champions, but against his old team. No goals, half his normal shots, and a -1.
Still worse for the Wisconsin native is that just one of the three draft picks he was exchanged for had a hat trick. I doubt any NHL player needs to look at the game logs to know how much they played, but if he does they’ll only confirm what he already knows. Six minutes of icetime have crept out of his total in just four games. While he can’t be expected to carry the whole team, it is of note that of his ten goals just one of them has been on the powerplay.
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.