Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Game 38: End of 2014

The unofficial first half of the National Hockey League regular season came to a close on Wednesday night for the Boston Bruins. They played their last game of 2014 on New Year's Eve.

Leading up to this point, the B's have posted a 19-15-3 record (41 points), good for fifth place in the Atlantic Division. However, they are still out of the playoff structure. It is a true godsend that the B's are where they are in the standings because this team has under-performed. Head coach Claude Julien has done an admirable job with what he has been dealt with in terms of players.

The Bruins possibly (probably, in all likelihood) will need to make a deal or two to acquire some scoring power. As of right now, they are not a contender in the Eastern Conference.

With that being said, the team exploded for five goals on Monday night against the Detroit Red Wings. Will that be an aberration or just a glimpse of false hope? 

The next opponent for Boston was the Toronto Maple Leafs, another divisional foe. The Leafs were just two points ahead of the Black and Gold in the standings heading into this game, so this was another must-win contest for Boston. Both teams split the first two meetings of the season with each other. 

Tuukka Rask was back in net for the Bruins. Also, Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic each made a return to the lineup for this important night.

What a night of hockey it turned out to be. After the Leafs jumped out to an early lead in the first period, both teams combined for five total goals in the second period. This was another night where the Bruins had a different player score each goal. 

With the game tied at three goals a side in the third period, the B's out-shot the Leafs 9-2 in the final 20 minutes. They were dominant in every facet of the contest and in every zone on the ice. The puck just could not find the back of the net. After a scoreless overtime, the Leafs ended up getting the full two points by winning the shootout in the fifth round. It does not seem right for a team that was outplayed to win the game. The resilient effort by the B's was all for not. 

The Bruins will close out the homestand on Saturday afternoon against the Ottawa Senators.

Gold Star: Carl Soderberg...Another multi-point game for the Swed. Keep it going.

Black Star: Patrice Bergeron...It is quite rare for him to have a minus rating in a game. He will quickly be back to his usual self in the coming days.

Game Thirty-Eight Box Score

Monday, December 29, 2014

Game 37: Undermanned? Not a Problem

Well, the Boston Bruins did not exactly get off to the most auspicious start to the post-Christmas section of the schedule. In what looked like a favorable matchup against the Columbus Blue Jackets, they got steamrolled by a score of 6-2. 

That was absolutely embarrassing. 

Here in Boston, we are not used to seeing our teams play at an average rate or coast through games. Even though the B's have a 18-15-3 record, we are not satisfied. They are not one of the worst teams in the league and everyone out there seems to think so. Excluding the gaping holes on the roster, the Bruins needed to rebound this week. What better way to do that than a three-game homestand?

The Bruins begun a string of games on Monday night that featured teams all within the Atlantic Division. Time for some catching up. Up first were the Detroit Red Wings. 

Tuukka Rask was back in net for the Bruins after entering the game on Saturday in relief of Niklas Svedberg. Jordan Caron got a chance to play in this game after the Bruins put Matt Fraser on waivers. Also, both Patrice Bergeron and Milan Lucic did not play in this game due to undisclosed injuries. Lastly, Matt Lindblad was recalled and skated on the fourth line against Detroit. 

In the first period, the Bruins swarmed the Red Wings. The amount of pressure that Boston put on Detroit was intense. Everyone assumed that this team would come out blazing, and that was exactly the case. The Bruins recorded three goals in the first 20 minutes--the team's first three-goal period of the season. Boston out-shot Detroit 19-12 in the first period with Rask making some big stops

With the Bruins holding a 3-1 lead heading into the second period, the Red Wings started to ramp up the pressure. The Bruins did not manage the puck well early on in the period, but the scoring chances came in abundance as the minutes elapsed (especially from the Chris Kelly-Carl Soderberg-Loui Eriksson line). However, it was Detroit who capitalized on the power play to pull within one.

In the third period, Boston did not let up. The B's ended up scoring another two goals in the final 20 minutes, which made the game unreachable for the Red Wings. The Bruins racked up 45 total shots on goal in a rebound 5-2 victory on home ice. Are we back on the bandwagon yet? 

The Bruins will play their next game on Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Gold Star: Carl Soderberg...Impressive stat line, but what did not show up was him willing to go into the dirty areas and take some punishment to put his team on top. 

Black Star: Brad Marchand...He was more concerned about being a pest than celebrating a TEAM goal, plus he was not sharp in the defensive zone. #selfish

Game Thirty-Seven Box Score

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Game 36: Ugly, Embarrassing, and Effortless

Here is to hoping that everyone across the National Hockey League had a great holiday break. 

But now that it is all over, it is back to business.

The Boston Bruins are approaching the halfway point of the season and they have a lot of ground to make up in the Eastern Conference. Even though they are in fifth place in the Atlantic Division, they have some upcoming games against opponents that are ahead of them in the standings. The time to make up some ground begins now.

The Bruins took on the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday night, hoping to end the momentum of a hot team on road ice. The theme on this night: settle some scores and get two points. 

In the first period, all was good. The Bruins and Blue Jackets each played with a physical nature that accurately portrays the style of hockey the teams wanted to play. The score was even at one, the shots were being racked off at a decent pace, and anyone could have emerged with the victory.

Then the second period happened.....

The Bruins were outscored 4-1 in the second 20 minutes, forcing Niklas Svedberg to be pulled from the game. When Tuukka Rask entered, it did not get much better--both netminders recorded the exact same stat line. To be fair, the team in front of them did not do anything. They were lazy in the defensive zone and did not come close to getting back into this game. The B's were just looking to get back on the plane to Boston as soon as possible. After a 6-2 loss to the Blue Jackets on this night, this is the type of happening that will quickly humble you. 

The next game on the schedule for the Bruins will be Monday night against the Detroit Red Wings. 

Gold Star: Patrice Bergeron...He had a goal, a plus rating, and was one of three Boston players who were 50% or better at the face-off dot. 

Black Star: Team effort on this one ......

Game Thirty-Six Box Score

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Game 35: Remember This Team?

First of all, something needs to be addressed before anything is said....Matt Bartkowski, you are lucky.

It was ruled earlier on Monday afternoon that he would not receive a suspension nor a fine for his high hit against Buffalo Sabres captain Brian Gionta. It was deemed as a "hit made with incidental head contact." That may be true, but there have been similar hits that were punished with heavy consequences. 

We all understand that he wanted to make a statement upon returning to the lineup, but he almost crossed the line. #lessonlearned

Okay, rant over. More importantly, there was a game at the TD Garden on Tuesday. This was the final game before the regular holiday stoppage for the observation of Christmas. The Boston Bruins were in action against the Nashville Predators, the same team that they lost to in a shootout just last week. 

David Krejci and Mike Fisher was a matchup to focus on all night, not to mention Zdeno Chara and Shea Weber as defensive walls. Also, Tuukka Rask and Carter Hutton were expected to shine in goal for their respective teams. Wow, how about all of these similarities? The only difference is that things have actually worked out well for the Predators thus far. The B's wanted to show them otherwise on this night even though they were 3-5-2 in their previous 10 games. 

In the first period, we saw some inconsistent play from both teams in the defensive zone. Not only was there no REAL rhythm to the game, but the puck seemed to get away from several of the players in the opening frame. The Preds and B's each scored twice, with Brad Marchand and Krejci (his first tally since returning from injury) netting the goals for Boston. Neither goal came from a drawn-up play, but they resulted from strong pressure and forcing turnovers. That is the way to do it. 

The Bruins absolutely skated circles around the Predators in the second period. Normally, the B's have been horrendous in the second 40 minutes, but they were on point here. Boston unloaded five shots on goal and capitalized on two of them to extend the lead. Physical play was also in abundance and of course there were some dull moments, but that was the B's best period of the night. 

In the third period, the Bruins had the chance to extend their lead early when they went on the power play for four minutes. After failing to score, Nashville beat Rask with a weak goal to pull within one. The Preds kept putting more and more pressure on Rask and the rest of the Bruins, but Boston narrowly escaped with a victory after adding an empty netter. The final score was 5-3 in favor of the home team. The Bruins have now won consecutive games for the first time since November. 

The Bruins will not play again until Saturday night when they take on the Columbus Blue Jackets. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Gold Star: Brad Marchand...He buried some great goals in this game. In a time of offensive peril, that was huge for this team.  

Black Star: Matt Fraser...With only a little over five minutes of ice time and a minus rating, why bother even dressing him for this game?

Game Thirty-Five Box Score

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Game 34: This is Awkward

Ummmmmm yeah. It really is a bit awkward. A hockey game played on a Sunday night? That is a very interesting scenario to say the least.

No matter how many football games that are on and no matter what the status is of particular fantasy teams during championship weeks (this guy), this night was all about hockey.

The Boston Bruins returned to the TD Garden on Sunday night against the Buffalo Sabres. After a mediocre road trip, the B's wanted to salvage this Christmas week and catch the Florida Panthers and Toronto Maple Leafs in the Atlantic Division standings. Every. Point. Matters. 

The encouraging news is that the B's took the first two meetings in Buffalo back in October. Yes, the Sabres are a smidge better this year, but they do not have the consistency. Boy, looks like the kettle is calling the pot black. Regardless, this divisional game should have been solid and worth watching.

Tuukka Rask got the start in net for the Bruins as he opposed Jhonas Enroth. Matt Bartkowski finally made his return to the lineup after the demotion of Joe Morrow to Providence. Unfortunately, Bartkowski's night did not last long.

In the first period, he lined up Sabres' captain Brian Gionta with a shot to the head that resulted in a fighting major and game misconduct. He will be hearing from the league offices shortly.

As for the rest of the period, the Bruins got out to an okay-ish start. What really stood out was the incredible puck control by the Black and Gold, an aspect of the game of hockey that is underrated. Dougie Hamilton put the B's on top early with a beauty of a power play goal, and the penalty killing was great after the Bartkowski situation. Overall, not too bad of a start. 

The second period, however, was a disaster. They let the Sabres dictate everything, including shots on goal. They eventually took the lead over Boston. If it were not for a tip in off the stick of Chris Kelly, the Bruins would have been trailing in the second frame. The Sabres played with an edge for the rest of the night and the B's could not contain it.

Eventually, Buffalo acquired a 3-2 lead in the third period. The echos coming from the TD Garden crowd was alarming because the product on the ice just was not there for most of the game. The lack of effort in the second half of the game was pathetic. With the extra attacker on late in the game, Hamilton saved their skin and knotted the tying goal to send the game into overtime. That set up Loui Eriksson to score yet another game-winning goal to give the Bruins the full two points. It was not pretty, but they got the win....much like another Boston sports team on this day. 

The Bruins will play their next game on Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators.

Gold Star: Dougie Hamilton...All of a sudden, he is becoming the B's most valuable player. He racked up another three points in this game (2 goals and 1 assist) and is starting to throw his body around. 

Black Star: Tuukka Rask...Allowing three goals to a struggling team on home ice is not good, especially when you could have had a couple of those back.

Game Thirty-Four Box Score

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Games 31-33: Trying to Get Back Into the Playoff Picture

The front half of the Boston Bruins' schedule this season has been bombarded with lots of road games and road trips. Normally, that would be a great thing to have a home-friendly second half of the season. With the Bruins basically hovering around the .500 mark, that really does not matter. 

Up next on the slate was a three-game road trip through the Central Division. All three of their opponents have winning records and are threats in the Western Conference. The Nashville Predators were on top of the list for Boston on Tuesday night.

The Preds are clearly the front-runners as the surprise team of the year. After hiring head coach Peter Laviolette, trading for James Neal, and giving Pekka Rinne time to re-surge as an elite goaltender, this was going to be one of the toughest games of the season for the Bruins. 

As it turned out, it really was. However, the B's hung with Nashville as both teams exchanged goals that featured some gorgeous pin-point accuracy. Milan Lucic and Reilly Smith netted the tallies for Boston, but the Predators eventually emerged with the two points in a shootout by a score of 3-2.

After wasting little time, they took the ice Wednesday night against the Minnesota Wild. David Krejci made the trip with the team, and eventually made his return to the lineup after missing several weeks with an undisclosed injury. Niklas Svedberg was in net for the Bruins since Tuukka Rask got the start on Tuesday. 

This game was all about strong neutral-zone play and hard battles along the boards. That part of the game went to Minnesota, but Svedberg was ridiculous in goal on this night--he made 35 saves in 60 minutes. At the end of the night, the Bruins stopped their slump and won this game on the stick of Loui Eriksson in overtime. Carl Soderberg posted two points in this one for his troubles. 

The Bruins wrapped up the road trip on Friday night against the Winnipeg Jets as they looked to sweep the season series.

The Bruins played from behind for the entire game after the Jets grabbed an early goal, so chasing the lead in any game is never beneficial. Winnipeg was just too tough an opponent on home ice. Costly mistakes and missed opportunities for Boston proved to be the downfall. They lost the final game by a score of 2-1 and are returning home with a 1-1-1 record on the road trip. 

Boston will play a Sunday night game next on the schedule. Its opponent: the Buffalo Sabres.

Gold Star (combined): Milan Lucic...He had a goal against Nashville, but the bigger story here is how he has been playing in the absence of some key players. When he gets going and uses his size, he is a straight-up force.  

Black Star (combined): Daniel Paille...He has done nothing all season. He is barely getting ice time on the penalty kill, which is a huge part of his game. Naturally, he was a no-show on this trip.

Game Thirty-One Box Score

Game Thirty-Two Box Score

Game Thirty-Three Box Score

Current Playoff Standings

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Game 30: Divisional Games Matter

What better way to spend your Saturday afternoon than by watching the Boston Bruins play a hockey game? 

Rhetorical question or not, this matchup was going to be intriguing. The B's closed out the week by hosting the Ottawa Senators in a matinee game. This was the second time this season these two Atlantic Division foes squared off, with the B's getting the better of the Sens back in November. 

The Senators just recently fired their head coach and the team is not at full strength, so this was an opportune time for Boston to steal a victory before heading out on yet another road trip next week. Ottawa does have a stud in Bobby Ryan, and he is a legit offensive weapon. The Bruins were going to have to be cautious with his line throughout the day.

Tuukka Rask was back in net for Boston on this day as he opposed Robin Lehner. The player output remained the same as Thursday, but the line combos were often mashed up throughout the afternoon. 

In the first period, the puck remained near center ice with neither team really dominating the other. They each got very few scoring chances and had brain cramps full of sloppy play. Overall, it was a pretty listless opening 20 minutes. Craig Cunningham did break through for the Bruins on the penalty kill to record his first-career NHL goal--a shot that should have been saved by Lehner, but a goal nonetheless. 

The Senators started to pick up the pace in the second period as they put immense pressure on the B's defense. Rask made several big stops, but he did let one get by on a beauty of a play by Mika Zibanejad. Loui Eriksson was able to put the Bruins back ahead after some great zone time in the Sens end. 

Unfortunately, the Senators tied the game up at two in the third period to send the game into overtime. After a scoreless and ridiculously entertaining extra frame, Ryan was the one who ended it in the shootout and gave the Senators the full two points in this game. Rask finished with 29 saves. 

Up next for the B's: a road trip through the Central Division. 

Gold Star: Torey Krug...He played a well-rounded game for a full sixty minutes. He was all over the ice and contributed in a big way at both ends of the rink.

Black Star: Zdeno Chara...He really is still trying to shake out the rust since returning to the lineup. So far, he has four minor penalties in the last two games.

Game Thirty Box Score

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Game 29: Marquee Matchup

Arguably, the Boston Bruins just completed the most difficult part of their schedule in terms of competition and distance traveled. The West Coast road trip that covered California and Arizona is in the books.

The bad news is that the B's only salvaged two points out of a possible eight. We all think that since they won the final game of the four-game swing that everything is sweet and peachy.

Come on, guys. You are better than that. Unacceptable. 

The Black and Gold returned home for a couple games this week against some stingy opponents. On Thursday night, the Bruins welcomed the Chicago Blackhawks into the TD Garden. 

If you are playing with house money, then picking Chicago to win the Stanley Cup this year would be a safe bet. The Blackhawks are scorching hot right now and are clicking in all three phases of the game. With Brad Richards and Kris Versteeg proving to be excellent acquisitions in recent seasons, the 'Hawks are loaded and equipped to win it all.

As for the Bruins, Zdeno Chara returned to the lineup after missing several weeks with a knee injury. On the other hand, David Krejci is extremely close to returning to the lineup. In a strange note, Simon Gagne is on personal leave from the team, forcing him to miss this "Original Six" matchup. 

Now, for game action.

In the first period, the 'Hawks jumped out to an early 2-0 lead after dominating the neutral zone. The Bruins started to battle back as the game progressed--they tried to utilize their "pack it in" game plan more than ever to try and stabilize the superb speed and skill possessed by Chicago. 

Boston definitely played the more physical game against Chicago on this night. As a team you can record as many hits as you want, but it does not reflect on the scoreboard. The Bruins did crawl back after coming within one goal (which incidentally lit some fire and sparked the team), but the early hole was too much. The Blackhawks won this game by a score of 3-2 to compile their eighth-straight victory. 

The Bruins will play their next game on Saturday afternoon against the Ottawa Senators.

Gold Star: Patrice Bergeron...He led the team in shots on goal and recorded an assist; just another busy night at the office. 

Black Star: Dennis Seidenberg...This was a rare down game for the gritty blue liner. He did not communicate with his teammates well, leaving them vulnerable.

Statement From Gagne

Game Twenty-Nine Box Score 

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Games 25-28: Red-Eyed Week

^ That is what is referred to as the one week during the NHL season when the Boston Bruins head over to the West Coast and play in some arduous games that test and prepare them for the light at the end of the tunnel.

The other part of that is the late-night puck drops for us back here on the East Coast. Missing sleep and writing--the crazy things that we do for the love of our sports teams. 

Somewhere in that ridiculous cliche is a string of truth: The Stanley Cup Final preview could have taken place during this road trip. 

Although that seems unlikely at this point, the Bruins were most looking forward to the camaraderie that occurs with team bonding during a grueling trip. With that being said, they squared off against opponents that they only see a couple times a year. As a fan, that is a real treat for that to happen this early in the year. 

Zdeno Chara and David Krejci remained in Boston to rehab their respective injuries, so the B's were bringing along a few young guns to add depth to the current roster. Up first for Boston were the Anaheim Ducks on Monday night, followed by a showdown with the Los Angeles Kings on Tuesday night. Both teams have tremendous All-Star caliber players at every position. 

Was this going to be easy? That would be an emphatic "NO," especially with the Bruins emerging with only two total points against the three California teams last season. 

The Bruins held their own against the Ducks during the first half of the game, but Anaheim scored three-straight goals against Tuukka Rask to end its losing streak and knock off Boston by a score of 3-2. Brad Marchand and Simon Gagne were the goal scorers for the B's. In LA, the Kings blanked the Bruins 2-0 behind an incredible game from opposing netminder Jonathan Quick. 

Milan Lucic really has been gelling well on a line with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson--he recorded a goal in back-to-back games prior to this trip. That trio was a no-show during the first two games. They combined for a minus-six rating and no points. 

Thursday night came with hope and aspirations for the B's, as they traveled to San Jose to take on the Sharks in the third game of this road trip. The Bruins beat the Sharks earlier in the year. This time around, the Sharks sought retribution. Boston held an early 2-0 lead, looking to carry over the effort possessed in the first two games. However, it then fell apart. Three different players recorded two goals for San Jose and that was plenty good to get past Boston on this night. The final score was 7-4 in favor of the home team. Rask made 37 saves in what was the worst outing of his career. #ironic

The road trip concluded on Saturday night against the Arizona Coyotes. The Bruins finally righted the ship and exploded for five goals. They scored nine total goals in the final two games of this road trip, an encouraging sign for a team who has been struggling to score. Boston secured two points in the finale by knocking off a struggling Coyotes squad (now 0-5-2 in last seven home games). 

Now, it is time for some sleep! 

The Bruins will not play another game until Thursday. They will face off against the Chicago Blackhawks. 

Gold Star (combined): Reilly Smith...He recorded a pair of goals against San Jose and a pair of assists against Arizona, and was aggressive in neutral-zone rushes. The line switch must have lit a fire under his behind. 

Black Star (combined): Milan Lucic...He always seems to do this: those moments of ineptitude. This was a period of time where he was ice cold, which led to him being somewhat ineffective throughout this road trip.

Update on David Krejci

Game Twenty-Five Box Score

Game Twenty-Six Box Score

Game Twenty-Seven Box Score

Game Twenty-Eight Box Score