Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Death Watch: R.I.P. Stars

Another bubble team bites the dust.

This year's Stars had more drama than a Gray's Anatomy DVD set. Here are the top 5 reasons they won't make it to April as a serious playoff contender:

5) Sean Avery - Let's just get this one out of the way early. Avery was the wrong man on the wrong team. His Stars teammates, coaches, and front office eventually revealed him as a pariah. But by the time they had the good sense to cut him loose, the Stars were wallowing near the bottom of the conference. In a tough Western bracket, there was no room for a slow start.

4) Inconsistency - Coach Dave Tippett deserves credit for keeping the team afloat through long losing streaks, and occasionally leading them to victories over heavily-favored opponents. But the Stars couldn't sustain their winning momentum for long, and disasterous losing streaks were a regular feature of their season.

3) Massive injury problems - Think your team's injury issues are bad? The Stars have lost a league-high 322 man-games to injury. The victims have included Sergei Zubov, Brad Richards, Jere Lehtinen and Brenden Morrow... and a plethora of minor injuries that shortened the bench nightly.

2) Horrible goaltending - The biggest question-mark for the Stars is whether Marty Turco needs to move on. Turco leads the NHL in minutes-played, an indicator of how desperately Dallas needed him to carry the team. It's clear that he wasn't up to the task this season, logging disastrous numbers and generating loads of media criticism. Turco's career might not recover from this season.

1) Post-deadline meltdown - In spite of everything working against them, Dallas was still precariously in playoff position at the trade deadline. In fact, they were as high as 6th in the West as recently as March. But just as it seemed that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, the Stars nose-dived -- since March 17 they are 0-5-2. The bottom line is that you simply have to find a way to win your games, and the Stars just couldn't do it when it counted.

It'll be a contentious offseason in Dallas, as the team begins in earnest to cut ties with the Modano/Zubov/Turco era. But all hope isn't lost -- the team's core is mostly under 30, and youngsters like James Neal and Loui Eriksson should have the Stars back in the playoffs in the next couple of years.

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Some Crazy S--- Happened This Weekend

Where to start, where to start?

Before I forget -- looks like that 5-day break was what the Bruins needed to get things turned around. They've got the swagger back, and the goals are starting to come again. By simply taking care of business in (trap) games against Ottawa and Tampa, they can lock up that #1 seed and finally breathe easy.

Now, let's get to the mayhem which transpired across the league this weekend:

- First, and closest to home, Jack Edwards had a moment of Joker-like hysteria which led to one of the most bizarre moments in his colorful announcing career. Don't ever change, Jack!

- Meanwhile, Alex Burrows jumped into the race for Lamest Fighting Technique. Hair-pulling, Alex? Really?

- Ok, here's one to cramp your brain: EVERY SINGLE TEAM in the Central/Norris Division is currently inside the playoff bracket.

- An even more surreal headline: Celine Dion wants to buy the Montreal Canadiens. I think my brain might implode from simply imagining what this would mean for hockey. Celine. Fucking. Dion. If it were any other team than the Habs, I'd feel really bad for them at this point in the season.

- Finally, for the rulebook nerds -- yes, apparently there is such thing as a five-minute major for interference.

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Saturday, March 28, 2009

Who Should We Be Cheering For? Pt. 2

Tonight's Habs/Sabres matchup will go a long way toward resolving this issue...


Matchup: The Bruins are a sort of doppelganger for the Habs, which always makes their matchups intriguing. Montreal will want to play an up-tempo game, and Boston will slow it down. The result will likely come down to which team plays with more focus.
Record vs. Bruins: Split a pair of shootouts, but are 0-3 in regulation games against Boston.
Notable Performances: It's mostly bad news. Carey Price (3.13 and .886) doesn't seem to play the Bruins with confidence, and neither do Kovalev (1-0-1, -4) or Komisarek (0-0-0, -2, broken face).
Recent play: Total meltdown in all facets of the organization, with only slight recovery this week.

Clutch players: Kovalev, Schneider, and Tanguay (Cup-winning goal) bring experience, but calling them "clutch" might be a stretch.
Coaching: Gainey hasn't shown that he can do more with this team than Carbo did.
Injury Situation: Lang and Bouillon are out. Don't be shocked if Kovalev comes up "hurt".

Playoff history: Lots. Montreal has won the past 3 series ('02, '04, '08) and has a 24-7 overall lead. 152 games in 31 series are both league records.
Tough barn: Extremely. The only upside is the likelihood that the crowd will turn against the home team.

Overall: B-minus. Negatives: This series reeks of "upset" and would undoubtedly take a physical toll on the Bruins if they were to make it past. Positives: Regardless of all else, the entire season would be declared a success if Boston ended the Habs' centennial by chasing them off the ice to a chorus of boos in the BellForum. This is a high-risk, high-reward matchup.


Matchup: New York is the most talented of the potential opponents, and plays a conservative game not unlike Boston's. This would very likely be a long, low-scoring series.
Record vs. Bruins: Split 2 regulation games, Rangers won a shootout.
Notable performances: Um... Korpiskoski (0-2-2) is the only Ranger with more than 1 point vs. the Bruins, other than Antropov (1-1-2) who played mostly for the Leafs. Lundqvist put up a stirling 1.96, .934. And let's not forget Avery's shenanigans with the Stars...
Recent play: Warming up after a terrible February; the trade deadline was a turning point.

Clutch players: Drury is not a man you want to encounter in the playoffs. Lundqvist is waiting patiently for his diva moment.
Coaching: Tortorella has a way of motivating teams to overachieve.
Injuries: Nothing major.

Playoff history: For the past two years, the Rangers have pulled off a first-round upset. They are 3-6 in playoff series against Boston.
Tough barn: MSG itself isn't tough, but the media pressure around this series would be intense.

Overall: D-minus. Go through the checklist -- hot team, good goalie, good coach, lots of clutch veterans, intense media pressure on a matchup between a young, fragile #1 seed and a team that's pulled first-round upsets for two years running. I'll pass, thanks.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Who Should We Cheer For?

We've reached that time when playoff matchups start to become tangible. Right now, there are four teams (Sabres, Panthers, Habs, Rangers) who could likely become the Bruins' first-round opponent. The obvious question: which poison would we pick?

Over the next couple of days, we'll break down the potential matchups according to traditional "who's ready for the playoffs" categories. These should reveal any red-flags which might signal a potential first-round upset. First up...


Matchup: Early in the season, the Sabres were seemingly the only team who could figure out the Bruins. They play a fast-paced game and sometimes carry a large chip on their shoulder. Generally, divisional matchups favor the underdog.
Record vs. Bruins: Split 4 regulation games, and won a shootout.
Notable performances: Miller has been subpar against the Bruins, with an ugly stat line of 3.36 and .895. Pominville led the team with 1-6-7 and Derek Roy chipped in 3-3-6.
Recent play: Despite collapsing under the loss of Miller, picked up some timely wins against playoff competitors -- including an inspiring comeback against Florida.

Clutch player: Miller is the heart and soul of the team; he has to play big for them to win. Coaching: Lindy Ruff is the league's most stable and experienced coach.
Injury Situation: Mair and Numminen are banged up, but the real question: Is Miller 100%?

Recent playoff history: The Sabres made Conference Finals runs in '06 and '07. Historically, they lost their first 5 playoff series against Boston before winning the past 2. It was an epic matchup in the early '90s and still has that division-rival flair.
Tough barn?: Yes. Buffalo might be cursed for championships, but you don't want to play there in April. That's about the snow starts to melt and the local residents come out of hibernation.

Overall: C-minus. The Bruins would rather play a team who doesn't have their number lately, but the Sabres are clearly not a major postseason threat. The bigger question is whether the Bruins would survive this series in a condition to win the second round.


Matchup: The Panthers can't seem to crack the Bruins' defense, and even a phenom like Vokoun can only hold a game close for just so long.
Record vs. Bruins: Brutal. A tight 2-0 win doesn't compensate for their 3 losses, in which they were outscored 14-3.
Notable performances: Vokoun (2.30, .941) would surely get the start over Anderson (5.04, .864). Against the Bruins, Horton (0-1-1), Weiss (0-0-0) and Zednik (0-0-0) were invisible.
Recent Play: Cooled off considerably. They've shown little poise under pressure.

Clutch players: Vokoun. There would be a lot of pressure on Bouw, Booth and Horton.
Coaching: Rookie Peter DeBoer has done an admirable job, but is not a magician.
Injury situation: Hulking D Bryan Allen is a longshot to return from a knee injury.

Recent playoff history: None. Upset B's during '96 Finals run, their only successful playoff year.
Tough barn: No, barring any rat-throwing.

Overall: A. This is the sort of opponent that a #1 seed is supposed to draw. The Panthers are spunky but they would be clear-cut underdogs in this series.

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How Badly Is Krejci Hurt?

The Matrix.

We've been asking ourselves that question for a couple of months, but it's hard not to notice that Krejci's play has diminished steadily since he started using "maintenance day" excuses for missing practice.

The timeline of Krejci's season is telling:

10/9 through 1/29
49 games
5-11-16 on PP

1/30 - Excused from practice for "maintenance day"

1/31 - present
24 games
0-0-0 on PP

Twice in the past two weeks -- the 11th and 25th of March -- Krejci was excused from practice, again with vague references to an injury but without specific explanation. On March 5th, coach Claude Julien broke up the line of Wheeler-Krejci-Ryder which had declined in productivity along with the rest of the team. Wheeler and Ryder continued to play well with other linemates, but Krecji faded to the third line. Perhaps more telling are his time-on-ice numbers, which have dropped sharply.

Of course the Bruins are unlikely to reveal anything, as they get KGB-level tight-lipped as April approaches. But there is clearly something wrong with Krejci's game, and it's obviously tied to the past couple of months (specifically, since he scored an OT game-winner against the Caps on 1/27). If he doesn't find his game soon, it's hard to imagine the Bruins will play the kind of 4-line hockey that dominated their opponents through the midway point of the season.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Manny considering retirement... WTF???

Glove tap to Cornelius Hardenbergh for linking over to this quote, buried somewhere in the bowels of the THN website:

“Uh, no. I think this is one of my last runs. You never know, but it’s going to be a summer I think (in which) the whole family is going to have to sit down and really talk about this. It’s been a good run. I’ve had ups and downs. I’ve got to look physically at if I can still accomplish all these things."
- Boston backup goalie Manny Fernandez when asked if he wanted to be a starter in the NHL again.

Well that's an interesting turn of events. Fernandez hardly seemed to be at the end of his rope, having only just recovered from a devastating knee injury and playing pretty well through the first half of the season. At one point he won 7 games in a row, lost one, then won 6 more straight.
But sometime in January it seems that his back started to give out, and he's only started 5 games since 1/08. The numbers in those starts are ugly - 5 losses, 22 goals against, and a save percentage that starts with an 8.

Maybe the severity of Manny's back problem was disguised by Tim Thomas' stranglehold on the starting position. His struggles were downplayed as "maintenance", but his recent performances suggest he's not going to find many bidders on the open market this summer. That leaves him in goalie limbo -- does he try to plug out a few more seasons as a middling backup, or hang 'em up before his time?

In either case, this would seem to cement Tuukka Rask's position as heir-apparent to the backup spot next season. The only question now is how much Thomas is going to be seeking in contract negotiations.

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Around the League

First, let me just say: I think it's brilliant to have a 5-day layoff at the end of March. I think the league should seriously consider letting every team have this sort of break, kinda like Hype Week before the Super Bowl, to rest their players and let injuries heal.

One of the perks of this scheduling fluke is that it allows us to stop and take a breather from our own teams -- let's face it, 82 games is a lot and burnout starts to set in about halfway into the season. There's a lot going on around the NHL that's worth following, so now's a good time to take a look around the league.

In the Northeast Division:

After last night, it's understandable that Sabres fans are feeling a little giddy.

WTF happened to Montreal? The words "living nightmare" jump to mind... coach fired, stars wilting, playoffs in jeopardy, fans revolting, media trouble of all sorts. Lions in Winter gives us a fantastic breakdown of how the Bruins leapfrogged the Habs over the past couple of years, in the super-slow-mo chess match of roster management, to win this most unexpected of division championships.

Toronto's taking the worst possible approach to teambuilding: finishing too low for the playoffs but too high for a lottery pick. T.O. Sports has a look at their stock of prospects; if you're into that sort of thing, Stanley Cup of Chowder has a similar scouting report on the Bruins' college prospects.

Now that Ottawa has recovered from delusions of a playoff run, they turn to more important issues: the history of the Marsh Peg. Blogosphere 1, Mainstream Media 0.

Elsewhere in the Eastern Conference:

Litterbox Cats has a great perspective on Nathan Horton's career to date -- and his last-gasp attempt to prove he's not a bust in Miami.

Meanwhile, Simon Gagne has quietly come back from Bergeron-like concussion problems to be a key scorer for the Flyers. Something to chew on as the Bruins decide what to do with Patty.

Of the 3 division leaders, the Caps seem most likely to have an early exit in the playoffs. Puckhead's Thoughts explains that they might not be ready to handle the nastiness of a 7-game series.

We should absolutely fear the Penguins.

Out West

Fear the Fin has a great breakdown of even-strength play this season. Considering how important it is in the postseason (ever hear of a Game 7 OT power play?), the chart is a goldmine of insight for who to watch in April.

The LA Times prints an outstanding interview with Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. The topic -- a real-time account of what he's thinking during an offensive rush.

Some disharmony in the Canucks locker room after young players get loose-lipped about taking pay cuts.

In addition to all his other virtues, Cal Clutterbuck is also one hell of a trash-talker.

If you like Top 10 lists...

And who doesn't? Whet your appetite with THN's top 10 celebrations.

Then feast on the main course: a top 10 rundown of "goalies gone wild". If the world didn't already know the name Tuukka Rask, they do now.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Death Watch: R.I.P. Kings

Western teams are finally starting to fall out of the playoff race as we round the final turn of the regular season. This week's victim is the Kings, whose chances were rendered trivial by their 2-0 loss to the Blues last night.

The postmortem on the Kings' season is pretty simple -- they didn't score enough to win.

The Kings set a new NHL record by being shut-out an astonishing 9 times (that's roughly 1/9th of the complete season schedule) so far this season. Furthermore, they scored only 1 goal in 14 more of their games, meaning that roughly once per 4 games they required a shutout to win.

Surprisingly, they actually pulled it off from time to time -- 5 shutouts and a solid debut by goalie Jonathan Quick kept them in the playoff race. But with only 9 games left, a 4-win deficit, and five teams to leapfrog in order to get to the final playoff spot, hopes of squeaking in the back door have faded.

But there is hope on the horizon: the Kings seem ready to compete over the long-term in the brutally physical Pacific Division. They have perhaps the league's most promising blueline, led by rookie standout Drew Doughty and youngsters Jack Johnson, Kyle Quincey and Matt Greene. Kopitar, Frolov and Brown could be the forward nucleus of a dynasty in LA, but only if they add enough goals to the roster to take the next step. The Kings will spend the summer trying to decide whether now is the time to make a move for an elite scorer (think Gaborik) or if the young talent needs another year to build.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

Death Watch Update: Stretch Run Edition

This is going to be a much more frequent feature over the next two weeks. With only about 10 games to play per team, the playoff bubble is quickly shrinking.


These teams are toast, and probably wishing they'd lost more often for draft purposes.



Blues - WTF? These guys were out of contention by training camp, and were pronounced "DEAD" on the very first Death Watch in January. Since then they've been winning 3 out of every 4 games, and are now only a single victory away from the 8th seed. Their 3-game series against Columbus will have the atmosphere of the tournament in "Bloodsport".


Kings - They've been tenacious, but the clock is running out. Their next 4 games -- Blues, Stars, Preds, Stars -- are all must-wins. After that it's a home-and-home against Phoenix. That stretch will either make or break LA's season.

Sabres - It's been tough to watch this train wreck after such a spunky season from Buffalo. A 1-5-1 stretch in March is poison, especially when it involves two losses to Ottawa. This week's games against Florida and Montreal are a last-chance opportunity for the slumping Sabres.

Stars - Yeah, they're only 3 points out of the 8th seed. But the Stars have an unfavorable schedule and just lost Brad Richards. They're already staring up the bracket at 4 other bubble teams, so there is almost no room for error as this team tries to right its losing streak.


Panthers - This might be one of the NHL's best stories of the season, but also its most under-reported. GM Jacques Martin made an incredibly ballsy move at the trade deadline by not dealing Bouwmeester, gambling that the Panthers could make the playoffs and possibly convince their stud defenseman to give it another year or three in Miami. Today the Cats are only a point behind Montreal for that precious 8th seed.

Predators - If the most under-reported story isn't the Panthers, maybe the Preds deserve that title. Quietly, they're on an 8-2-3 streak that's got them in the 8th seed... for now. Nashville, virtually devoid of marquee players and led by obscurities like JP Dumont and Pekka Rinne, has a brutal schedule down the stretch.

Ducks - It's time for someone to be a hero in Anaheim, which fights for its playoff life tomorrow night in Nashville. The Ducks are on a mini-streak (3-0-0) but are one of the league's least consistent teams. Anaheim has to avoid the too-predictable losing streak, or they're going to be done in short order.

Wild - Hobbled by injuries, the Wild are going to count on Marian Gaborik's return to spark them into the playoffs. An ill-timed road trip and a schedule full of desperate teams won't make it any easier for Minnesota, who will need a good push to overcome the other Western bubble teams.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

What's On The Line Tonight?

Think about it this way:

IF the Bruins lose tonight
AND the Devils win their next game against the Wild (likely)...

THEN Jersey could pull into a tie for the Conference lead with a game in hand on Sunday.


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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

5 Damn Good Reasons Why... Brodeur Is Greater Than Roy

5) The Eyeball Test

Would you rather watch a goalie do this:

Or this:


4) Roy quit.

I can't emphasize this enough. Roy QUIT on Montreal. Q-U-I-T. He skated off the ice, spat a few profanities, and never wore the crest again*.

It is a fundamental moral value of sports, regardless of place and circumstance, that you don't quit. Never ever. You don't quit on your teammates, your fans, your self. Even when you just got drilled for 9 goals in the worst game of your life, you suck it up and punch a few water coolers and get at it again tomorrow. Quitting is unforgivable, and Habs fans sully the dignity of their franchise when they insist that they don't care.

* until they kissed his ass enough to come back and celebrate himself for an evening.

3) Brodeur didn't beat his wife, he just screwed her sister.

Would you rather be Chris Brown or Hugh Hefner? Double checkmate.

2) He did it better, faster.

Numbers don't lie.

Brodeur has been in the NHL for 15 years, playing a total of 986 games. He has won 56% of his games, with a GAA of 2.20, a save% of .914 and 100 shutouts.
Roy was in the NHL for 19 years, playing a total of 1029 games. He won 54% of his games, with a GAA of 2.54, a save% of .910 and only 66 shutouts.

Brodeur played 70 or more games in 11 different seasons. Roy never hit that mark.
Brodeur won 40 games in 7 different seasons, including 48 in 06-07. Roy only hit 40 a single time.
Brodeur's performance was better than Roy's in 12 of their 15 shared seasons.

And most importantly, Brodeur didn't get to order a trade to a Cup-contending team. His numbers are all consistent with the ups and downs of his franchise.

1) If you ain't first, you're last.

There is only one way for an athlete to cement his legacy: he either does something first, or he does it the most.

Can you name the guys who will come after Roy on the career wins list? Of course you can't, because you don't care. Nobody does. When Brodeur wins his next game, Roy will forever be consigned to the ranks of Curtis Joseph, Chris Osgood, and Sean Burke as "guys who are in the top 20". Only one guy gets to be on top, and that's the one who's going to be a true legend.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Bruins vs. Pens: Somehow, This Could End Up Being Lame

You would think this matchup would be one of those A-plus, scalper's wetdream, destiny-making games. The defending Eastern champ on a hot streak, the would-be Eastern champ recovering from a slump, both of them pissed about their recent play, one of them playing for a playoff seed and the other for the President's Trophy. Chara and Malkin. Sid and Savard. Tim Thomas and Sergei Gonchar. The stuff that hockey fans just friggin' love.

But it looks like there might be a little bit of rain at this picnic:

- The goalie matchup will in fact be Fernandez vs. Garon. I taste vomit in the back of my throat.
[edit: glove tap to BewareoftheBear at espn.com for pointing out that Tim Thomas is in fact the likely starter for Boston, at least according to the team website. Looks like Manny is now a true backup...]

- A weird 3:00 starting time... who is watching hockey at 3 in the afternoon?

- Both teams playing back-to-back nights, and both of them were disappointing yesterday. The Bruins narrowly beat the dead-last Isles, the Pens lost to the hopeless Sens in a shootout.

- Neither Raymond Bourque nor Mario Lemieux has announced plans to suit up for this game.

So in spite of the name-brand label, this one looks like a relative dud compared to next Sunday's matchup with the Devils.

Good news -- after this game, the Bruins play only 2 games in their next 12 days. That'll give them some time to breathe and relax before hitting the home stretch.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Weekend Links

Speaking of features that I had let slide, here's your weekend reading:

Cast your vote in this extremely important survey.

Not a good sign for the Bruins that the coaches are pulling "stress relief" gimmicks in practice.

Also Bruins-related, a great rant on NESN's weirdness.

List-master Down Goes Brown gives us the top 10 "staged" fights, including a PJ Stock classic.

The Habs got booed off the ice last night. Happy 100th!

How will Gerber impact the Leafs? Barry Melrose Rocks chimes in.

From the Rink's update on the Langway Award (best defensive defenseman) leaders... go Z!

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Death Watch Update: R.I.P. Avs, Coyotes

Western Conference teams have proven surprisingly resilient this season, but eventually someone had to fall out of the playoff race. Say goodbye to the Avs and Coyotes, who fought bravely until the trade deadline but finally gave in to harsh reality. It's obituary time...

Colorado was actually hanging around the playoff bubble for much of the season, outperforming expectations with a better-than-.500 record as of early February. But beginning with a loss to the cellar-dwelling Blues, they ripped off a brutal stretch of 3 wins in 13 games... all of the losses in regulation.

In fact, the Avs are a case study in the absurdity of the charity-point system. On one hand, they have an impressive 9-1 record in the shootout and have won an additional 2 games in OT -- racking up 11 "bonus" points for clutch victories. On the other hand, they have a paltry 1 point due to SO losses, by far the fewest in the league (in fact all other teams but the Devils have at least 5). In the Western Conference, 1 charity point will send you golfing in early April. At least the Avs can play spoiler: 13 of their final 14 games are against teams still in the playoff race.

Only a point ahead of the Avs are the woeful Coyotes, who were at one point the darlings of the league. After a home victory against Detroit on January 20th, Gretzky's squad was 24-19-5 and dreaming of home-ice in the first round of the playoffs.

Then the bottom fell out. Phoenix won only 1 of the next 10 games, abruptly falling out of the playoff race and finding themselves as sellers at the deadline. It's been eight games since they last scored more than 2 goals in a game, and losing Olli Jokinen didn't help in the scoring department. The Coyotes are now a loss away from the conference cellar, and it's difficult to imagine where the franchise will go from here.

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Who To Start On Saturday?

Interesting choice for Claude Julien tomorrow -- does he go with Tim Thomas or Manny Fernandez against the Islanders?

The matchup is a bit more important than it would seem on the surface. The Isles just beat the heavily-favored Canadiens in overtime, having completely outshot the "newly motivated" Habs on their home ice. They'll come into Boston with little to lose and a lot of mojo. Meanwhile the Devils will be playing in Montreal and practically obligated to win for Marty Brodeur. If we go ahead and ring up the 2 points for Jersey, that puts them 4 points behind Boston with a game in hand. This doesn't make the Isles game a must-win, but it's definitely a better-win.

If Julien puts Manny between the pipes, it will be at risk of another meltdown that would cost the Bruins a critical win. If he goes with Thomas, he faces an even more difficult decision the following day against Pittsburgh.

I'm thinking Fernandez will get the start, and he'd better make a lot out of it. A loss to the Isles might consign him to a permanent role as unpopular backup... a reputation he had just recently overcome prior to the Rangers game.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Something To Brighten Your Day

So, last night was not the game we hoped it would be. Columbus is perhaps the ballsiest team we've played all season, and frankly the Bruins didn't match their character. Despite the game being (more or less) decided by poor officiating in the third, this wasn't one of those "we got jobbed" games. The Jackets were determined to win and the Bruins didn't execute against their defense. We need someone to step up and take a crosscheck in the back of the neck in order to get to a rebound.

But don't get discouraged. 14 games is a LONG time. 14 games ago we were getting ready to play the Sharks.

Here's a little balm for our wounds, courtesy of Wade Belak in last night's Caps/Preds tilt:

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Bruins vs. Blue Jackets: God We Need A Win

- Oddly, this is the longest road trip left in the season. And it's the 2nd-to-last (Kings) game against any Western Conference opponent.

- Even in spite of their recent struggles, the Bruins have won more games on the road than any other team in the NHL. That seems pretty incredible to me, but the facts is the facts.

- Not that Columbus is an easy arena, but thank god this game isn't in Philly or Buffalo or Montreal. Tim Thomas is going to be under a lot of pressure to play well after Manny's shenanigans in New York. The Blue Jackets fans will dog him like anyone else, but at least he's not going to be dealing with too-familiar hecklers.

- Speaking of which, let's lay off Fernandez until his next game. Yes, he blew it. But he's also the backup goalie behind a Vezina-candidate ASG-winning fan favorite, who happens to make 1/4 of Manny's salary. Confidence is always an issue for goalies, especially with Manny and especially this season. We don't want the guy to have a mental breakdown going into the playoffs.

- Just a hunch, but I'd expect some significant line movement in this game. As noted in the previous post, there are a few too many guys on the slump right now.

- This is the first of 5 straight games against teams currently ranked 8th or lower in their conference. 13 of Boston's final 15 opponents fit that description... that should scream "hot streak", shouldn't it?

Check out a nice opposing blog at Light The Lamp.

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Some Distressing Numbers

Phil Kessel since 1/6 - 22 games, 3 goals, 5 assists, 64 shots, -1

PJ Axelsson since 1/10 - 26 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, 30 shots, even

Blake Wheeler since 1/27 - 19 games, 3 goals, 5 assists, 46 shots, +5

David Krecji since 1/29 - 19 games, 3 goals, 5 assists, 38 shots, +8

Milan Lucic since 2/1 - 14 games, 2 goals, 5 assists, 20 shots, -4

Marc Savard since 2/10 - 13 games, 0 goals, 11 assists, 18 shots, -2

TOTAL: 113 games, 13 goals, 37 assists, 50 points, 216 shots, 6% shooting, +8

The goal-scoring column and shooting % are particularly scary. Now this isn't the most scientific way to look at the team's production because the timeframes aren't constant. Savard began to slump later, and less severely, than Kessel for instance.

But it does tell us something valuable: the top two lines (other than Ryder) have been struggling since the New Year, and the slumps are starting to "cascade" from one player to another. Note that Krecji's and Wheeler's production dropped almost simultaneously, as did Lucic's and Savard's.

Depth scoring is great, but stars must play like stars. For the first half of the season the Bruins looked to have taken a quantum leap into Cup-contender status. But if these lines don't find their game soon, they will look more like the same lunchpail squad couldn't score enough to beat Montreal last April.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

This Season Just Got A Little Crazier

Habs GM Bob Gainey just fired Guy Carobonneau and replaced him with... Habs GM Bob Gainey. No other details for now.

I guess when Gainey said a couple of months ago that hiring Carby was "the best move [he] ever made as GM", what he really meant was that it was the best way to insinuate himself back into the locker room when the media pressure starts to build.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

What To Do With Axelsson?

Prior to Thursday's game I suggested that it's time for Claude Julien take Axelsson out of the lineup -- Douglas Flynn of the New England Hockey Journal picks up that same tune in yesterday's article.

"This is not a call to see the end of Axelsson’s days as a Bruin, just a suggestion that his name should not be automatically penciled into the lineup every night, especially against more physical opponents where some added size up front could come in handy."

The Bruins shouldn't be callous toward P.J., who has been a pretty loyal and classy player through some of the organization's darkest times. But with as much class and dignity as possible, it's time to start rotating him out of the lineup if he's not going to produce at least as many goals this season as guys like Stuart and Hnidy.

Over the past several games, the Bruins have been pushed around by teams like the Ducks and Flyers. And even when they are physically aggressive, as they were in out-hitting the Coyotes 31-10, the Bruins are still having trouble creating traffic in the crease and -- most importantly -- burying rebounds and deflections.

Byron Bitz is 4 inches taller and 40 pounds heavier than Axelsson, and despite his low skill set he's a better goal-scorer because he does a lot of dirty work in front of the net. More importantly, he's got great chemistry with Thornton and Bitz on the 4th line. Even in the Bruins' worst games this season, the grinders have generally pulled their weight and frequently create offensive chances off the forecheck.

With all due respect to P.J. -- and I don't mean that to be a cliche', he really does deserve the respect of the organization -- it's time for him to become a utility backup rather than a nightly contributor.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Post-Trade Bruins vs. Post-Trade Coyotes

What would otherwise be a late-season stinker -- the slumping Bruins trying to score 2 garbage points against the brutal Coyotes -- will be a little more interesting because it happens to fall on the day after the trade deadline.

Do the Lineup Shuffle!

Rink Rap takes a shot at guessing Claude Julien's line combinations, pairing Recchi with Savard on the first line and moving Lucic to the third with Bergeron. Here's what I would do:


That's right, I'd scratch Axelsson's unproductive butt. He's goalless with 3 assists in his last 18 games, which wouldn't be so bad if he weren't -5 on the best even-strength team in the league. If he plays he'll likely bump Bitz off the roster, which seems both unproductive and unfair to a quickly-developing young player.

Disagree? Post your "If I was Claude Julien for a day" lines in the comments.

A few positive notes:
- The Coyotes are going to be a fundamentally different team since they shipped half their roster to other cities this week. At the very least they will spend the first part of the game adjusting to new linemates and a new system. Frankly, there's no reason this one should be close after 2 periods. If it even comes close to OT, that "panic" button will begin to look tempting.
- Milan Lucic is "good to go" for tonight's game according to Julien.
- Tim Thomas will get the start in what should be a confidence-building effort.
- Mark Recchi's locker is conveniently located in between Blake Wheeler and Byron Bitz, both rookie wingers. That trade was about more than just power-play goals.
- Danny Picard says there were a lot of smiles in the locker room this morning.

Good previews as usual over at SBNation, from Stanley Cup of Chowder (Bruins) and Five For Howling (Coyotes). Looks like they're still sore over the Wheeler thing.

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Trade Reactions From Around The NHL(osphere)

Why write a blog when you can have other people write one for you? Here are reactions to yesterday's trade deadline, from people who know their teams better than I do:

Dennis Kane on the Habs' quiet day: "I think any team that is outshot 45 to 25 every single game needed to make a trade today. But hey, what do I know? Oh yeah, I know they get outshot 45 to 25 every single game."

Heroes in Rehab on Brian Burke's kinship to Rocky: "This is just step one of the process. Rocky wanted to make it to the end of the fight; Brian Burke’s goal today was simply to re-stock the draft pick cupboard as capably as he could."

Die By The Blade on trading for Dominic Moore and sending Ales Kotalik packing: "One thing I know about Dominic Moore is that he gives 100% all the time. That is something we didn't get from Ales Kotalik despite all of his talent."


Five For Smiting, feeling a little grumpy after the Vermette/Leclaire deal: "We still have the worst defence in the history of everything. The goaltending still blows moose balls, at least until Pascal straps them on for real next October. Other than a mid-second rounder, we have no extra draft picks. And you managed to add around seven mil a year to our cap number, which pretty much kills any hope we had of re-signing Mike Comrie. "

The Pensblog on picking up Guerin: "No matter what he does, there will always be some fanboy that needs more. And that sucks. If you're upset with Shero's moves at the deadline, get real."

Lighthouse Hockey on getting a conditional pick for Guerin: "Obviously Garth Snow would have preferred that 2nd-rounder in 2010 that Boston sent Tampa Bay for a similarly aged Mark Recchi. But once the Bruins made their move for a winger, the Penguins likely held all the leverage."

Rangers Report on Sather's moves:"In simple terms, they got better for this year, didn’t give up much of the future, and as long as they don’t re-sign either Nik Antropov or Derek Morris, they will have a little more salary cap space this summer for signing Dubinsky, Callahan, Mara and whomever else they really want to keep."

On Frozen Blog, on holding one's cards: "A pill that seemingly swallows bitter this morning will prove to be good medicine when jerseys bearing names like Carlson, Varlamov, and Alzner are moving about Verizon Center ice together in the not-too-distant future."

Boltsmag on Tampa's asset management: "I compare it to the old joke about a little boy who goes to school with a five dollar bill. He brags to his friend he has one five dollar bill and is offered three one dollar bills in trade. “Three is more than one!” the friend tells the first boy."

Blueland Chronicle, feeling a little underwhelmed: "All in all a pretty unimpressive trade deadline. Not all of which is Waddell's fault, of course, because of the economy and over-cautious market and stuff. But still..."

Hockee Night on Sammy Pahlsson: "Hawks are developing a puck-control offense, albeit still not at the level of Detroit, and winning faceoffs are a big part of that. Pahlsson immediately becomes the guy the Hawks want taking faceoffs in the defensive zone late, when they have a lead, and the other team pulled their goalie. He will win that shit, you can bank on it."

Matchsticks and Gasoline on giving up the farm for Jokinen: "Overall, I'm ambivalent bordering on dissatisfied. But we'll see how this plays out on the ice..."

Fear the Fin on Moen and Huskins: "It all comes down to heart and experience during the playoffs, and while these two guys aren't gamebreakers, they do provide depth. "

Earl Sleek on sending Montador to the Bruins: "The Bruins got themselves a really useful player, and in fact I think they're more playoff-ready now than if they used Phil Kessel to land Chris Pronger."

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Rangers Load Up, And Other News

Looks like the Bruins' Sunday-afternoon game against the Rangers might be even more colorful than usual.

The Rags have decided to go all-in for this year's playoffs, making a couple of big moves:

- Acquired forward Nik Antropov from Toronto for a draft package
- Acquired defenseman Derek Morris from the Coyotes for Kalinin, Dawes and Prucha
- Picked up Sean Avery off waivers from the Stars

The good news is that none of these moves are going to help the Rangers in the long run, as they maintain their reputation for trying to get a Cup the easy way instead of building a real team. The bad news is that they suddenly have one of the league's most potent blue lines, combined with a larger and nastier set of forwards than they've had in a long time. Oh yeah, and they've got a decent goalie too.

Other news from around the league as the trade deadline mercifully passes:

The Flames and Pens are the high-rollers of the day. Pittsburgh steals Bill Guerin from the Isles for a conditional draft pick in a last-ditch attempt to salvage their season. Calgary mortgages a large chunk of their future for Olli Jokinen and Jordan Leopold. Somehow both of these teams expect to get big results out of perennial postseason underachievers.

The Ducks get the award for Most Enthusiastic, making five transactions on top of the Whitney/Kunitz trade a few days ago. None of it will amount to much, other than stocking the fridge for a quick rebuild.

The Coyotes decide it's time to strip down and rebuild... again. Anyone got an empty arena in need of an NHL franchise?

Buffalo acquires Dominic Moore and Mikael Tellqvist, meaning nothing.

Brian Burke used his managerial genius to translate Moore and Antropov into a couple of 2nd-round picks and Martin Gerber. Ouch.

The Sens took another step toward a #1 draft pick.

The Habs completed another phase of Project Letdown, quietly running out the clock. No Vinny, no Marty, no nothin'.

Peter Forsberg retired.

What didn't happen: Florida didn't move Jay Bouwmeester. Tampa held on to both Lecavalier and St. Louis. Pronger and Niedermayer still play for the Ducks. The Blues retained Tkachuk for the rest of the season. The Avs didn't deal Smyth, Hedjuk or Laperriere. And Manny Fernandez is still a Bruin.

Shifts in the balance of power: New York, Calgary and Pittsburgh take big steps up. Boston and Philly get marginally better. Buffalo and Dallas make minor tweaks. Toronto, Ottawa, Anaheim and Phoenix are toast.

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Bruins trade for experience (Recchi), depth (Montador)

Looks like Pete Chiarelli's going to settle on 2 moves today:

To Anaheim:
F Petteri Nokelainen
To Boston:
D Steve Montador

To Tampa:
D Matt Lashoff
F Martins Karsums
To Boston:
F Mark Recchi
2010 2nd round pick

It would appear that these deals went hand-in-hand. By acquiring Montador, Chiarelli gained enough depth on the blueline to safely unload Lashoff. Ultimately, this means that the Bruins traded 3 futures for 2 roster players and a decent draft pick.

It's not the blockbuster Kessel-for-Pronger deal that the media would've loved, but this certainly improves the Bruins' prospects in both the present and future.

For the present - The Bruins just got a little more experienced, a little deeper and a little more stable. Recchi is a much-needed left handed winger, but more importantly a steadying hand in the locker room and a resource for young LWs Lucic and Wheeler. Montador adds depth to the defensive corps, and in the event that a defenseman is injured he will make Claude Julien's decisions a little easier. Neither move will have a dramatic effect on the roster, but both make the Bruins slightly more playoff-ready.

For the future - Lashoff is a solid prospect for Tampa but he didn't appear to have much of a future in Boston after making little out of his chances with the Bruins. Karsums was simply a casualty of the depth chart. The only significant loss is Nokelainen, who has been on IR for a month and looked to have been leapfrogged by prospects like Bitz and Sobotka. And in the process, the Bruins acquired a 2nd round pick -- recent players the Bruins have drafted in the 2nd or later include Lucic, Sobotka, Hunwick, and rookie sensation Kris Versteeg.

Considering the Bruins' cap constraints and the conservative nature of this trading season, I have to give Chiarelli props for improving the Bruins' Cup chances without making any painful sacrifices.

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Bruins trade for Montador

Rumors that the Bruins might acquire Jordan Leopold just came to an end -- he was shipped to the Flames. Also, the Ducks took Chris Pronger off the market, squashing those rumors as well.

BREAKING NEWS: As I was typing this, the Bruins traded Petteri Nokaleinen to Anaheim for defenseman Steve Montador. Not much of a move, Montador will be a depth player who can chip in occasionally. Presumably this was a matter of getting something for nothing in the short term, as Noke was unlikely to return to the roster this season and the Bruins will need depth for the playoffs.

In other Northeast Division news:
- The Jackets shipped Pascal Leclaire to Ottawa for Antoine Vermette. This was probably the best shot the Sens had at acquiring a long-term starting goaltender without having to go to the draft. But they'd better hope he recovers from an injury and awful start this season.
- For some reason the Sabres decided they'd rather give Tim Connolly $9 million than trade him.
- The Leafs picked up Martin Gerber after he was waived by the Sens. Their goaltending situation remains a 6/half-dozen situation. The Leafs also signed some guy named Erik Reitz.

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Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Do the Bruins REALLY need a defenseman?

Lots of scuttlebutt today surrounding the Bruins, who seem very likely to make a move before noon tomorrow. Most of the chatter concerns the following:

- Left wingers - Erik Cole, Keith Tkachuk
- Defensemen - Chris Pronger, Jordan Leopold, Tomas Kaberle, Ruslan Salei, Derek Morris, Pavel Kubina

The consensus seems to be that the Bruins will trade for a puck-moving defenseman (if the sheer volume of rumors is meaningful).

Here's what the Bruins are currently sporting at D:
1st pairing
Chara - Norris candidate, projects to set a career high in goal scoring.
Ward - Perhaps playing a role outside his ability, but he's one of the more reliable vets on the team.

2nd pairing
Wideman - Already working on a career high in scoring, top-10 in the league.
Ference - Despite injury troubles, has matured as a puck-mover and scored 1/2 ppg.

3rd pairing
Stuart - Has scored a career-high 5 goals so far, despite being a shutdown guy.
Hnidy - Adds a lot of grit at the back end of the lineup, not something to be taken for granted.

In addition, Claude Julien has the option of activating any of the following to fill holes along the blue line:
Hunwick - A natural defenseman who at one point was the team's most productive blueliner.
Axelsson and Bergeron - Forwards who play the point on the man-advantage.
Lashoff and Boychuk - Prospects currently in Providence, both having spent time in Boston recently.

So, what's missing here? The Bruins blueline corps features two top-quality point men, several hulking defensive defensemen, and plenty of sandpaper. Julien can pair Chara and Wideman for an All-Star quality offensive duo, or put out Chara and Stuart in a "prevent" situtation. For speed he can pair Hunwick with Ference. If things get rough he can rely on The Sherriff and Mental Ward.

This isn't to say the Boston blueline (see what I did there?) can't be upgraded -- Pronger and Kaberle could step right into that top pairing with Chara and look pretty scary. But how much would that improve the Bruins as a team? Chara and Pronger are 30 min/game players, and Wideman is highly productive at 25 per game... meaning there would be 35 minutes of total ice time remaining for Ference, Ward and Stuart.

It made sense at the beginning of the season for the Bruins to trade for a defenseman, but standout seasons from the majority of the defensive corps have eliminated the need for any drastic moves. Considering the sacrifice it would take to acquire an All-Star defenseman at the trade deadline (surely a productive roster player or high draft pick), the Bruins could be much more productive by acquiring a forward to provide scoring depth and veteran leadership. Going after a defenseman at this stage would be soooo 2008.

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