Bruins Showing Signs of Life

Let’s face it, last season’s success set some very high expectations for this year’s Boston Bruins.  If they do in fact end up having the type of season that we know they are capable of having, this most recent 4-game home stand (Nov. 5 – Nov. 12) will be looked back at as the point where they started to gain some traction traction after a less than thrilling opening 14 games (6-7-1).  The Bruins headed into the opener of this home stand against the Canadiens having suffered back-to-back shutouts on the road to the Rangers and Red Wings, so they were woefully in need of some offense.  They had not scored in six plus periods, they were 0 for their last 20 power plays (and last in the NHL), and were still looking for back to back victories five weeks into the season.  Would they be able to break some of these less-then-desirable streaks? On top of all this, it was announced that David Krejci krejci_06032009 was out indefinitely with the swine-flu swine flu. Although this home stand was not a complete success, it was a huge step in the right direction, as the B’s gained six out of a possible eight points (2-0-2), and Bruins fans exclaimed “Finally!” each time the aforementioned streaks were thankfully put behind them.

In the first game, it took 59 minutes against Montreal Canadiens, but the Bruins finally broke their scoring drought of 194:06 as Patrice Bergeron beat Price with 52 seconds remaining in the third period when he popped a goal-mouth rebound in to tie the game at one.  This was the 37th shot of the game for the Bruins, who ended up outshooting the Habs 43-26, but lost in a shootout.  But the Bruins had one monkey funny_monkey off their back….they had scored a goal….Finally.  Carey Price had a solid game in net for Montreal, but I still think he’s extremely overrated and would be surprised if he plays this well against the Bruins in any of the remaining Bruins/Canadiens games this season. I had to watch this game on DVR because I went to see Ben Folds BenFolds385x292 at Brandeis. This video is far away, but you can still hear Ben punchin’ the ivories.

It would not get any easier for the Bruins next game, as the Northeast division leading Buffalo Sabres (9-3-1) came to town with arguably the hottest goalie in the NHL in Ryan Miller.  But the Bruins caught a break, as rookie netminder Jhonas Enroth, recalled from Portland of the AHL on Wednesday, made his NHL debut between the pipes.   The Bruins (Finally) got a power play goal from March Recchi on a tip-in of a Derek Morris shot, then another PP goal from Zdeno Chara chara to gain a 2-0 edge after the first period.  These were the B’s first power play goals in seven games, and Chara’s goal was also his first of the season.  The monkeys were flying flying monkey off the Bruins backs now.

The first period also featured a good Thornton/Montador fight, with a clear decision being awarded to Shawn Thornton over former Bruins-stiff and current Sabres-stiff Steve Montador in this bout.  This was also the first Garden appearance for Sabres’ rookie defenseman myers Tyler Myers, who at 6′ 8″ is an impressively agile player and looks to be a star of the future for the Sabres.  He had a beautiful assist on the Sabres’ second goal. But the Bruins were finally playing with the kind of confidence we had become accustomed to last season, and Byron Bitz made it 3-0 early in the second stanza, showing again why the Bruins fourth line is the best in the league.  Sure, there are no all-stars amongst the fourth line of Bitz, Steve Begin and Shawn Thornton; but they continually shut down the other teams top lines and frustrate the opposition by keeping the play 180 feet away from the Bruins’ goal.  With 1:29 remaining in the second, Bergeron fed Marco Sturm for a 4-1 Bruins lead.  This was Sturm’s first goal in 12 games, and the Bruins will need him to get back on track if they want to replace the offense that went to Toronto this past offseason in the form of Phil Kessel.  Serendipitously, this was also the night that Kessel scored his first goal of the season for the Maple Leafs, as he returned three weeks ahead of schedule. This game also featured solid penalty-killing by the B’s, and that is one aspect of their game that has been solid all season.  The Blake Wheeler/Michael Ryder/Vladmir Sobotka line is also developing some nice chemistry, and that line produced several solid scoring chances. The 4-2 Bruins victory also featured a good bout between Thornton and Paul Gaustad, as well as more solid play from emerging defenseman Mark (don’t call me ‘Martha’) Stuart.

The Bruins had failed in their first six chances to win back-to-back games, and they now had a seventh chance to finally accomplish this against the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.  The Penguins came to Boston on 11/10/09 with several key players out, with Evgeni Malkin evgeni-malkin-nick-jonas being the most notable. Sidney Crosby was in the lineup, but entered the game with zero points in his last four games, the longest such drought of his career…and it would stretch to five games after tonight.  The Bruins were also still undermanned (Savard, Lucic still out), but were somewhat buoyed by the return of David Krejci from the swine_flu_pig swine flu. There was a familiar name on the back of #12 for the Penguins, as Chris Bourque small_bourque (yes, son of Bruins legend Ray Bourque) was picked up off waivers by Pittsburgh from Washington earlier this season.  The first period featured good sustained action, but the game remained scoreless going into the second period.  Matt Hunwick put the Bruins up 1-0 early in the second period, scoring a goal that slipped under the crossbar and eluded the on-ice officials.  After continued play of 1:20, there was finally a stoppage of play, the tape was reviewed, and the B’s had a 1-0 lead. In the third period, Derek Morris, who is showing himself to be a solid free-agent signing, blocked a shot that led directly to a breakaway goal by Daniel Paille.  It was Paille’s first goal as a Bruin, and Mark Recchi’s assist was the 900th of his career (in 1,507 career games).  Tim Thomas was solid when needed, and made several big saves to earn his second shutout of the season.  Pittsburgh’s Marc Andre-Fleury made the save of the game on David Krejci late in the third period to keep the Penguins within two goals at 2-0. The impressive win by the Bruins was capped off by a 180-foot open-net goal by Patrice Bergeron that took all the right bounces…..if this was plinko Plinko, it would have been a $10,000 shot.  So the Bruins had beaten the Sabres and Penguins for their first back-to-back wins of the season….FINALLY.

The last game of the four game home stand welcomed Tomas Vokoun and the Florida Panthers to the Garden.  The Bruins always seem to have problems with Florida at home, and on this night Vokoun would make sure that those problems continued.  Tim Thomas was almost as good, and this save in the first was definitely his best of the game, if not the season.  But Vokoun stymied the Bruins at every turn, and even Thomas’ second straight shutout (and third of the season) did not ensure two points for the Bruins, as Florida won in a shootout, 1-0.  Stat of the game:  the Bruins outshot Florida 19-1 in the second period (40-23 overall).  There was one bout worth noting, as Shawn Thornton scored a decision with a take-down of Bryan Allen in the second period.  There are going to be a couple of games over the course of the 82-game season where you have to tip your hat to the opposing goalie, and this was one of them.  The Bruins inefficiency in shootouts is somewhat troubling, but these stats show that there are some teams that have fared worse in shootouts since the NHL adopted this game-deciding format in the 2005-2006 season.  So three consecutive wins was not in the cards, but the Bruins had succeeded in getting points in all four games in this home stand (2-0-2).

Jack Edwards jack1 continues to make me turn down the NESN audio and turn the radio to 98.5 FM for the game play-by-play, as he remains an annoying clown clown in the TV booth.  Gems such as “(Frolik) slams into (Mark) Stuart and he’s an executive desktoy!” make me wonder what is more important to him….calling the game, or making sure he squeezes in as many useless, meaningless non-sequitor soundbites as possible.  He also called Vokoun “Brodeur” during the OT period.  Even Andy Brickley, a talented color commentator who also works on VERSUS national broadcasts, seems to be tiring of Edwards’ shtick.  I never thought I would say this, but I miss dale-arnold Dale Arnold.

The Bruins (8-7-3) head into Pittsburgh for Saturday’s (11/14/09) game looking to get back to their winning ways after the aggravating shutout at the hands of the Tomas Vokoun.  With Evgeni Malkin evgeni-malkin back in the lineup for the Penguins, and Tuesday’s 3-0 shutout at the hands of the B’s still fresh on their minds, the Bruins have their work cut out for them.  But the Bruins’ play has been trending up Trending-Up as of late, and with the imminent returns of Milan Lucic (possibly 11/19 or 11/20) and Marc Savard (should begin skating next week), Bruins fans have reason to believe that trend will continue.

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