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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Bruins Pick Up Their Best Win of the Young Season: 5-3 Over Sharks

I'm happy to say that it's time to find a new way to make fun of the Bruins this season. After they were so pathetic for the first five games in terms of goal-scoring, they have awoken lately capped off by tonight's 5-3 win over the Sharks at TD Garden.

Boston (4-4) reached the .500 mark while setting a season-high in goals and scoring 4+ for the third straight game. It was also their best victory since San Jose (4-2-1) had been playing great hockey before the end of this arduous five-game road trip.

Milan Lucic tied a career-high with three assists while Torey Krug (1 goal, 2 assists) tied a career-high for points and David Krejci (1 goal, 1 assist) also had multiple points. Boston received goals from three different lines plus a defenseman and their power play even sprung to life with a pair of goals in the first two periods.

Three different Bruins scored their first goals of the season so fittingly, Brad Marchand opened the proceedings with a power-play snipe at 13:57 of the first period from Lucic and Krug. Logan Couture answered with a power play goal of his own at 16:28 when he tipped in Patrick Marleau's shot, also from caveman Brent Burns.

Boston regained the lead early in the second period as Krug whipped in a power play goal at 6:54 from Lucic and Krejci. Couture tied it at 16:52 after Marleau fed him right in front of Tuukka Rask (31 saves). Boston lost their focus for a minute as former Bruins No. 1 draft pick (in 1997!) Joe Thornton batted a Joe Pavelski pass out of the air 37 seconds later. Former UMass star Justin Braun had the second assist.

San Jose had been 4-0-1 entering the third period this season with a lead and Boston was 0-3-0 when they trailed going into the final frame but both those numbers got flipped. Rookie Seth Griffith tied it up at 4:50, putting in a rebound from Lucic and Krug at 4:50 for his first career NHL goal. Good timing right? I'm not going to make too much out of it but it was nice to see a Bruins young player step up and take advantage of a great opportunity.

This was only the third game of the season for Gregory Campbell but he showed his value to the B's with a key goal, the game-winner in fact as he tipped in Daniel Paille's shot at 10:42 after a strong forecheck. Krejci's empty-netter with 25 seconds left in regulation put the finishing touches on a solid two points against a quality Western Conference (still the far superior conference) opponent.

The B's figure to have their hands full again on Thursday (7, NESN) as they host the New York Boychuks (4-2-0), I mean Islanders. It's Boychuk's first game against the Bruins since his stunning trade a few weeks ago so he will surely get a huge ovation at least at the start of the game. The Isles fell 5-2 to the Maple Leafs tonight but they've looked really good thus far so I bet they'll bounce back from that disappointing result.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

I Hereby Propose That the Sabres Change Their Name to the Buckets of Crap Until Further Notice

In sports, just like in life, things often change pretty quickly. That's why it can be comforting to know that some things remain frozen in time seemingly forever. It hasn't always been like this but for the last few seasons, the Sabres have been an absolute disgrace to the great game of hockey and the NHL.

Only six games into 2014-15, it looks like Buffalo (1-5-0) is still the worst team in the league. Boston (3-4-0) came into the First Niagara Center tonight desperate for two points and so they put up a season-high in goals (3 from defensemen) while Niklas Svedberg (32 saves) recorded his first NHL shutout in his sixth start.

The B's finished 2-1 on their tough three-game road trip to Detroit, Montreal and Buffalo. It's hard to take much away from a matchup with a club that belongs in the AHL or maybe the ECHL but Boston must have regained some confidence which they'll need against real teams.

This was never in doubt as the Bruins scored twice in the first period and twice in the second so the third felt like a lifeless preseason contest. Dougie Hamilton opened the scoring at 9:56 of the first period. His wrist shot from the point (with a screen provided by Reilly Smith) was his first goal of the season and Patrice Bergeron assisted on it.

Less than four minutes later, captain Zdeno Chara put in his first goal of the season on a one-timer from Brad Marchand and Hamilton. Once again, Smith helped with a screen of Buffalo's hapless goaltender Jhonas Enroth (32 saves).

Before the goals commenced, Kevan Miller fought Nicolas Deslauriers in a true heavyweight battle. Boston's young defenseman suffered an upper-body injury (shoulder?) which caused him to miss the rest of the game. If he is out for any length of time, the B's do have Matt Bartkowski (he's been a healthy scratch the last few games) who is waiting for another opportunity to screw up.

At 11:40, Torey Krug kept the good times rolling for the Bruins, and their many fans in attendance, when his soft shot from the point found its way through traffic and into the net. His first goal of the season was arrested by David Krejci.

Boston's last goal fittingly was the prettiest of the night and one of their best of the season as Carl Soderberg finished a passing sequence between linemates Chris Kelly and Loui Eriksson at 14:48. It was Soderberg's second goal of the season and I don't normally give out fantasy hockey advice, but if Soderberg is available in your league, go get him!

The B's return to TD Garden to face two teams that are off to really good starts this season. San Jose (4-0-1) and Joe Thornton will be here on Tuesday (7, NESN) followed by the Islanders (4-1-0) on Thursday (7, NESN). Just like the Bruins needed to get away from home last week to develop more chemistry with the younger guys and new guys, now it is important that they start to raise their games and display more consistency in each game.

UPDATE 10/19: Since they haven been healthy scratches lately, the Bruins made the wise move to send Seth Griffith and Ryan Spooner to Providence where they'll get big minutes in every game.

UPDATE 10/20: Griffith was recalled from Providence while Miller is out indefinitely with a dislocated right shoulder.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Only the Jets Could Lose A Game That They Dominated So Much With No Turnovers Either

It took seven weeks but we were finally treated to a competitive Thursday Night Football game. Unfortunately it had to involve the Patriots as they held on for a bizarre 27-25 victory over the Jets at Gillette Stadium. New York (1-6 overall, 0-3 road) actually had a chance to win it on the final play but Nick Folk's 58-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Chris Jones. That was ironic since his shady penalty last year cost New England (5-2 overall, 3-0 home) a win at Metlife Stadium.

The Pats won their third straight game while the Jets dropped their sixth in a row, leaving head bobo I mean coach Rex Ryan destined for the unemployment line sometime soon. In a short week, anything can happen-hence why the Thursday Night games are usually trash (plus NFL players can't recover that quickly between contests). The Jets deserved to win this as they amassed 12 more first downs (28-16), 100 more total yards (423-323) including 155 more on the ground (218-63) and over 20 minutes more time of possession (40:54-19:06) than the Patriots. Neither team had a turnover so you can't point to that for the reason that they lost.

The only explanation for why New England came out on top is because New York settled for four field goals (22, 47, 46, 27) by Folk in the first half. If just one of those, particularly the red zone opportunities, had been a touchdown then it would have been a different outcome. Life without Jerod Mayo and Stevan Ridley was rough for the Patriots, especially with so little time to readjust. They made the Jets look like a competent offense, led by Geno Smith (20 of 34 for 226 yards, 1 TD; 37 yards rushing) and Chris Ivory (21 carries, 107 yards, TD), which is pretty hard to do.

All that talk of Tom Brady being washed up that dominated our lives just a few short weeks ago seems silly now. He's played very well the last three weeks since all the Patriots/TB12 haters circled Foxborough. Tonight, he was 20 of 37 for 261 yards and three touchdowns. New England didn't muster much of a running game (63 total yards) but four guys had four or more catches: Shane Vereen (5 catches, 71 yards, 2 TDs), Rob Gronkowski (5 catches, 68 yards), Brandon LaFell (4 catches, 55 yards) and Julian Edelman (4 catches, 44 yards). Stephen Gostkowski made two field goals, a 39-yard kick at the end of the first half and a 36-yarder in the third quarter.

I guess with Chris Jones making the play of the game on defense for the Pats, it was only fitting that another nobody-Danny Amendola-had his biggest contribution in 1.5 years with New England. His one catch was huge-a 19-yard touchdown when Brady was scrambling in the pocket and it put the Patriots up 27-19 with 7:49 left in the fourth quarter. The Jets went right down the field and scored, Jeff Cumberland caught a 10-yard pass across the middle by Smith but they couldn't convert the two-point conversion as his fade intended for Jace Amaro went too far. Sweet play call.

It's been a busy stretch for New England with three primetime games in four weeks: Monday, Sunday night, Sunday afternoon and Thursday night. They earned the extra break and they'll need it since their opponents get way tougher starting with Chicago a week from Sunday (1, Fox) at Gillette. After not playing an above average quarterback in their first seven games, you could make the case that New England gets six elite quarterbacks in a row (Cutler, Peyton, Luck, Stafford, Rodgers and Rivers) sandwiched around a bye in three weeks.

The AFC East is still a dumpster fire and the NFC remains far superior so at least their non-division matchups look like they'll be a challenge. That should only help them as they go into the postseason.

Bruins Completely Flop In Their 1st Game Vs. Canadiens Since Last Postseason

For the first chapter of Bruins-Canadiens in the 2014-15 regular season, it was more of the same carried over from last spring. Boston (ahem Milan Lucic) mentally got out of their game, their defense was a mess and the biggest issue of all continues to be Tuukka Rask's inability to beat Montreal.

The Canadiens (4-1-0) outlasted the Bruins (2-4-0) 6-4 tonight at the Bell Centre. Rask gave up five goals before he was mercifully pulled in the third period, in 18 career regular season starts vs. Montreal, he is 3-11-3 with .902 save percentage. Lucic further disgraced himself (and likely cost himself some money) by making a lewd gesture to the crowd after a boarding call with 1:20 left in regulation. This wasn't cool or funny, the B's were only down 5-4 at the time but that effectively ended it. He got a 10-minute misconduct and P.A. Parenteau scored an empty-netter to clinch it.

If you want to take a positive from this, Boston's offense finally woke up with a season-high four goals. They also blew two separate leads but that's another story. Zdeno Chara's power play goal, a tip in, was answered by Max Pacioretty's power play goal 2:30 after that in the first period. In the second, Boston's defense started to spring a leak or 10 as Brendan Gallagher made it 2-1 before Carl Soderberg tied it. Loui Eriksson gave the B's a short-lived 3-2 lead before they fell apart at the end of the frame. Jiri Sekac scored his first NHL goal and Parenteau slammed home a one-timer with 24 seconds left.

Gallagher's second goal (a slow motion redirect from a mile away) was incredibly soft and signaled the end of the night for Rask. Niklas Svedberg came in and credit Boston for showing some life as Simon Gagne potted his first tally as a Bruin. That was as close as they would get though as Lucic's selfish idiocy (granted the boarding call was probably based on his less than great reputation) sealed their fate.

Gallagher had a career-high two goals and an assist, Pacioretty put together a three-point night as well (1 goal, 2 assists) while David Desharnais, Alexei Emelin and Tomas Plekanec each notched a pair of assists. David Krejci, Chris Kelly and Lucic all had two assists for Boston in the loss.

After a back-to-back on the road against Atlantic Division rivals, Boston gets a day to regroup before closing out this trip in Buffalo on Saturday (7, NESN) at the First Niagara Center. The Sabres (1-3-0) are still one of the NHL's worst teams so the B's have to take advantage of that and come home with two more points. I expect Svedberg to get the start then, I never thought he'd get the call tonight since head coach Claude Julien wouldn't put him in that spot.

UPDATE 10/17: Lucic was fined $5000 by the NHL for his tomfoolery, the highest amount allowed without having a hearing.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Simon Gagne Will Lead the Bruins to the Promise Land & Other Hot Takes

It took longer than it should have but the Bruins (2-3-0) finally got the job done tonight at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit (1-1-1) as they outlasted the Red Wings 2-0 in a shootout (David Krejci, Reilly Smith) for a 3-2 victory. Boston snapped a three-game losing streak and exacted some revenge on Detroit who had beaten them 2-1 at home last Thursday (sweet scheduling, bro).

Twice the B's took the lead only to have the Red Wings quickly answer. David Krejci scored his first goal of the season at 5:12 of the first period after Chris Kelly sprung him on a breakaway (something Boston is normally allergic to) and Krejci beat Jimmy Howard (37 saves).

Tomas Tatar took advantage of a turnover by Kelly to score against Tuukka Rask (18 saves) at 8:40 of the first period. Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan had the assists.

Even though they came into tonight with four goals as an entire team, Boston's second line has been pretty solid. They were rewarded for a ferocious forecheck as Brad Marchand stole the puck behind Detroit's net then moved it to Patrice Bergeron who tried a wraparound. Howard stuffed that but it popped right out to Smith who didn't hesitate to snipe it by Howard for his second goal of the season. That made it 2-1 Bruins at 13:31 of the second period.

After killing off the first three power plays successfully, Boston predictably allowed the tying goal. Maine product (so is Howard) Gustav Nyquist shot through traffic and by Rask at 2:56 of the third period.

There was plenty of time for the B's to end this earlier but Simon Gagne and Milan Lucic among others were stopped from in tight in the last minute of regulation. Speaking of Gagne, who made his Bruins debut in his 800th career NHL game, he was surprisingly pretty effective even on the fourth line with Ryan Spooner and Daniel Paille. They still don't have a legitimate top line right wing (they're still basically holding auditions every game) but Gagne over Caron and Robins is clearly an upgrade for a team that has scored six total goals (1 less than Arizona had tonight vs. Edmonton).

Things don't get any easier for the Bruins as they visit Montreal tomorrow night (7:30, NESN), the first meeting of the Original Six rivals this season. Boston played there in the preseason but that hardly counts, let's call it the first real game vs. the Canadiens since they won Game 7 last postseason at the Garden vs. top-ranked Bruins.

Week 7 Injury Report: Patriots vs. Jets

Thursday Night Football is a disgrace; the games are terrible with one team usually blowing out the other that doesn't bother to show up. Having NFL teams play twice in five days is insane. Into this fray steps the Patriots (4-2) who host the Jets (1-5) tomorrow night (8:25, CBS) at Gillette Stadium. Did I mention that just like last year when they played on a Thursday night (possibly the worst football game in history), it is supposed to be pouring all night?

I'm not going to mention Jerod Mayo or Stevan Ridley (oops, I did) because they are clearly out for the rest of the season (although they haven't gone on IR, yet)after suffering injuries last Sunday in New Orleans. Other than them, offensive lineman Cameron Fleming and safety Nate Ebner remain sidelined with their finger issues (maybe they were all cut off?).

Seven Patriots are questionable: Brandon Browner (ankle), Jamie Collins (thigh), Dan Connolly (concussion), Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee), Dont'a Hightower (knee), Matthew Slater (shoulder) and Bryan Stork (concussion). Browner is looking to make his Patriots debut and he hinted the last few days that he'll play. Connolly and Stork are vital since New England had just started to sort out their horrible offensive line.

It is much more cut and dry with the Jets who have only one guy that is doubtful-safety Josh Bush (quadriceps). They don't list anyone as questionable while linebacker Trevor Reilly (knee) and former Patriots great-wide receiver Greg Salas (wrist/ankle) are out.

If I get a chance, or more likely if I remember, I'll be sure to update this tomorrow night before the opening kickoff.

UPDATE 10/16: Mayo and Ridley went on IR today while RB Jonas Gray and OL Chris Barker were activated from the practice squad. The Pats inactives are Ebner, Fleming, Stork, Connolly, RB James White, WR Aaron Dobson and CB Malcolm Butler. The Jets inactives are Reilly, Salas, DL T.J. Barnes, OG Dakota Dozier, OL Wesley Johnson, WR Chris Owusu and DB Josh Thomas.

Monday, October 13, 2014

So When Is It Too Early to Start Worrying About the Bruins This Season? (I'm Asking For a Friend)

In the past two very successful seasons, the Bruins never lost three games in a row in regulation (the last time was March 10-15, 2012). Four games into the 2014-15 regular season, they've already "accomplished" that Panthers-esque feat. Gulp. David Krejci returned to action on Monday afternoon vs. the Avalanche but it didn't seem to make much of a difference as Boston (1-3-0) lost 2-1 to Colorado (1-2-0) at TD Garden. Certified Bruins killer Daniel Briere scored the game-winning goal with 0.5 seconds left in regulation in the usual Columbus Day home matinee.

You never see a buzzer-beater like that in hockey so it figures it would happen to the B's right now. Backup goaltender Niklas Svedberg (28 saves) made his season debut for the B's and it was a mostly positive performance despite the weak goal he allowed. Earlier on the same shift as Briere's goal, he had stopped reigning Rookie of the Year Nathan MacKinnon on the doorstep.

The Bruins stuck with their average of one goal per game (never more than 2) and believe it or not, that's still better than the Avalanche. Colorado hadn't scored a goal coming into today (getting outscored 8-0 in 2 ugly losses) so obviously Jamie McGinn got the honors of drawing first blood for a team that's expected to return to the playoffs and possibly win a round or two next spring. His shot snuck through Svedberg at 3:28 of the second period, assisted by Tyson Barrie and Matt Duchene. Needless to say, Tuukka Rask would have stopped it while he polished his Vezina Trophy.

Boston's lone goal was potted by Loui Eriksson, who else, on the power play no less at 7:50 of the second period. Reilly Smith threw the puck at the net and it deflected off Carl Soderberg's body in front before he passed it to Eriksson who backhanded it by Reto Berra (27 saves) for his first goal of the season. It was Boston's second power play goal of the season.

There really wasn't much else to this one other than Adam McQuaid's fight with Cody McLeod later in the second period. It has to be a good sign for McQuaid's health that he was willing to drop the gloves with a fellow heavyweight albeit a ginger.

The best news for the B's is that they won't return to the Garden for more than a week (next Tuesday vs. San Jose) so they get some good bonding time this week in Detroit (Wednesday), Montreal (Thursday) and Buffalo (Saturday). You can laugh but that probably means something with the new guys/young players on the team.

They owe the Red Wings a loss after last Thursday's no-show in the Motor City. Bruins-Canadiens games need no introduction or further hype (it's also Montreal's home opener) while Buffalo continues to be one of the worst teams in the league that the B's typically treat like the Pats against the Bills.

UPDATE 10/14: After hanging out with the club during the preseason, the Bruins signed veteran forward Simon Gagne to a one-year, one-way deal worth $600,000. Bobby Robins (subject to clear waivers) and Jordan Caron were sent down to Providence.