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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Steelers Offer The Latest Blueprint To Stopping New England's Offense: Don't Let Them Have The Ball

Scores in NFL games can be very misleading and look no further than Sunday's Patriots-Steelers game from Sunday afternoon to illustrate that gambler's truth.

Pittsburgh (6-2, 4-0 at home) won 25-17 at Heinz Field over New England (5-2, 2-2 on road) so at first glance, you think well it was a one-score game so it must have been close. Theoretically this was true since the Pats got the ball back down six points late in the fourth quarter.

Truthfully, without any timeouts and under the two-minute warning plus pinned way back in their territory, the Patriots had no chance. Mercifully, it ended soon after as the Steelers forced a fumble that went out the back of the end zone for a safety. This came after Bill Belichick chose to try an onside kick rather than pin the Steelers deep following the score which trimmed Pittsburgh's lead to 23-17.

Despite having insane results every week (see today: the winless Rams beating the Saints), every NFL expert loves to make conclusions after each game (as stupid as that tends to be) since ESPN's family of networks has a lot of programming slots to fill. Today's lesson: keep the ball away from Tom Brady (24 for 35, 198 yards, 2 TDs, O INTs) and New England's offense.

Even without a great running game (98 yards), the Steelers were able to own time of possession: 39:22 to 20:38. Rashard Mendenhall paced Pittsburgh with 70 yards on 13 carries while Kevin Faulk led New England with 32 yards on six carries (plus 5 catches, 20 yards) in his first game back in 13 months.

Ben Roethlisberger (36 for 50, 365 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) did his best Brady impression by spreading it around to nine different receivers. Heath Miller (7 catches, 85 yards), Mike Wallace (7 catches, 70 yards) and Emmanuel Sanders proved to be better than Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 94 yards), Wes Welker (6 catches, 39 yards) and Deion Branch (4 catches, 36 yards) If Pittsburgh was a little better in the red zone (2 for 5), this one wouldn't have been so misleadingly close.

When passing around the blame pie for the Patriots, it's hard to say who's more responsible: the defense that couldn't get off the field or the offense that started each half with 3-and-outs? It's the boring answer but I'd say they're equally culpable. New England's defense actually did some nice things (5 sacks, 10 tackles for losses) but as usual, their secondary looked awful and the entire team tackled about as well as your local Pop Warner B team.

For whatever reason, the Pats abandoned the running game (43 total yards) pretty much right away and instead relied Gronk who was the only receiver who constantly got open and fought for extra yards after the catch. Pittsburgh shut down Welker and Branch save for 2-yard score from Branch.

The Steelers' first drive of the game foreshadowed the rest of the contest as they went 11 plays, 69 yards in 5:52. Roethlisberger hit Mewelde Moore for a 5-yard touchdown which was way too easy, 7-0 Steelers.

New England had the first of their aforementioned 3-and-outs before Pittsburgh closed out the first quarter with another lengthy drive. Vince Wilfork sacked Big Ben on 3rd-and-Goal from the 9 to limit the Steelers to a 33-yard kick by Shaun Suisham.

The Pats' next drive at least got into Pittsburgh territory but Lamar Woodley (2 sacks) ended it with a 14-yard sack on 3rd-and-15. Roethlisberger made one of his typical bonehead mistakes (residual effects from that motorcycle crash?) as he threw an easy interception to Gary Guyton three plays later.

Guyton returned it 17 yards to Pittsburgh's 8-yard line. After two plays, Brady hit Branch for a 2-yard TD and the Patriots were seemingly right back in it trailing 10-7.

Impressively, the Steelers weren't fazed and they went on another long drive: 10 plays, 76 yards, 5:39. Roethlisberger found Antonio Brown (9 catches, 67 yards) for a 7-yard touchdown. New England got some points on its abbreviated last drive of the half with a 46-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. Pittsburgh led 17-10 going into halftime.

By failing to score let alone pick up a few first downs to begin the second half, New England started to let this game get away from them. The Steelers had another decent drive (14 plays, 55 yards, 7:06) but they had to settle for a 21-yard field goal and a 20-10 lead.

The Patriots were moving the ball and seemingly getting into a rhythm but it stalled as they tried to pass on every down. Even worse, Gostkowski's 42-yard field goal went off the goalpost. Not making excuses because Gostkowski is one of the NFL's better kickers but Heinz Field has always famously been a hard place to kick.

Believe it or not, the Steelers had another long drive (11 plays, 69 yards, 5:54) but yet again, they had to take a 23-yard field rather than a touchdown that likely would have ended it early in the fourth quarter.

The teams traded punts before Brady and his receivers channeled their two minute drill against the Cowboys from two weeks ago. Aaron Hernandez caught a 1-yard TD to cut it to 23-17. A 3-and-out by the Pats' defense would have given the offense the ball back but they were gassed and they couldn't stop Isaac Redman on the 3rd-and-1 run that iced it.

New England had burned all of its timeouts and it was under two minutes when Big Ben curiously decided to drop back for passes on two straight plays. The Pats got the ball back but it was too late to do anything productive, game over.

The Buffalo Bills (5-2) shutout the Washington Redskins in Toronto earlier today meaning they lead the AFC East (by tiebreaker) even though they have the same record as New England. The New York Jets (4-3) were idle and the Suck for Luck Dolphins (0-7) continued to do what they do.

Next Sunday, the New York Giants (5-2) visit Gillette Stadium for a rematch of Super Bowl 42. The G-Men are always one of the tougher teams to predict since in some weeks Eli Manning looks good and their defensive line is one of if not the best in the league. Then other times, they almost lose to Miami (today) and appear to be their own worst enemy.

Marco Scutaro Will Return To Boston In 2012

It will take years to get over the fallout from the 2010 season for the Boston Red Sox. However, at some point we all have to begin to move on.

Today was a start as the team made its first roster decision regarding one of its more notable free agents: shortstop Marco Scutaro will be back in 2012 as the Red Sox picked up his $6 million dollar team option.

There's a very short list of players that were completely unscathed by the 7-20 September. Alfredo Aceves, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon and Scutaro were from my point of view, the only players that seemed to consistently care about the results and/or put up strong individual performances admist all the Popeye's and beer stained drama.

Scutaro hit a career-best .299 for the 2011 season with seven homers and 54 RBIs. He also put up a .358 OBP with .423 slugging percentage, both career-highs. If that's not enough, he hit .387 in September which was third best in the American League.

Although Scutaro turned 36 on Sunday (shameless plug, my birthday too), he should be dependable next season (3rd in Boston, 11th in MLB) as well. Fingers crossed that Boston finally pulls the plug on the Jed Lowrie experiment (too injury prone, inconsistent, terrible defensively) while they wait for 21-year-old Jose Iglesias to learn how to become a better hitter in Pawtucket. His defense is MLB-ready, he just has no prayer at the plate right now.

The Red Sox have to decide before Monday night about a $3 million dollar team option on reliever Dan Wheeler (I think they'll let him go).

Eight other players: Erik Bedard (ha), J.D. Drew (haha), Conor Jackson (yeah right), Trever Miller (nope), David Ortiz (probably), Papelbon (most likely), Jason Varitek (please no) and Tim Wakefield (see Varitek) became free agents today and Boston has until Thursday at 12:01 a.m. to exclusively negotiate with them.

In other Red Sox news, they'll start interviewing manger candidates this week. First up, Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin and Brewers hitting coach (and former Red Sox third base coach) Dale Sveum. Granted, Terry Francona wasn't a big name when he got the job in 2004 but at least he had MLB managerial experience in Philadelphia before he took over in this pressure cooker. Please tell me they can do better than these bums.

UPDATE 10/31: The Red Sox declined to exercise Wheeler's option and he's a Type B free agent. Pap and Ortiz are Type A free agents, meaning that if they leave Boston receives a first-round pick and a sandwich pick from the club that signs them. If you lose a Type B free agent, you get a sandwich pick. Boston also declined an option on reliever Scott Atchison but he remains on the 40-man roster. You know he'll be back, making 50 trips between the Red Sox and PawSox next season and for the rest of his playing career.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Patriots Release Leigh Bodden Two Days Before Facing Pittsburgh

Leigh Bodden was no longer a starting cornerback for the New England Patriots. He had fallen to third on the depth chart in the 2011 season and he didn't appear to be making the proper adjustments when it came to covering slot receivers.

Still, I have to say that I was surprised when I saw on ESPN's Bottom Line this afternoon that the Pats had released him. I guess that means he won't be making his weekly appearance on the Sports Hub's Felger and Mazz anymore.

Bodden spent three seasons in New England and they were strange ones. He came in as a free agent in 2009 and performed very well with five interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and a touchdown. That earned him a four-year, $22 million dollar deal (with approximately $10 million guaranteed).

A torn rotator cuff in a preseason game in 2010 made him miss the entire season and it was clear so far this season, that he wasn't the same player anymore (13 tackles, four assists, four passes defensed) in six games.

In Bodden's place, Antwaun Molden figures to move up a spot behind starters Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington. This is a scary proposition since Molden was picked up off the scrap heap from Houston during the preseason. I can't say I know much about him but he obviously doesn't have much of a resume.

As far as the injury report goes for Sunday's game at Pittsburgh, Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher is out and cornerback Ras-I Dowling is doubtful. Linebacker Jerod Mayo, safety Josh Barrett, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, defensive lineman Albert Haynesworth and offensive lineman Sebastian Vollmer are all questionable for New England.

For the Steelers, linebackers James Harrison and Jason Worilds, offensive linemen Chris Hoke and Doug Legursky are all out. Linebacker James Farrior and wide receiver Hines Ward are questionable.

UPDATE 10/29: The Patriots activated veteran running back Kevin Faulk from the PUP list along with defensive lineman Brandon Deaderick and placed Dowling on IR. So if you're a cornerback that can play, report to Foxborough immediately.

UPDATE 10/30: Ward and Farrior have been declared out for today's game. Mayo and Vollmer both return today. Healthy scratches for the Pats include defensive end Jermaine Cunningham (what has happened to him?), running back Shane Vereen, offensive lineman Donald Thomas (who I've never heard of) and wide receiver Julian Edelman.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Loss To Canadiens Drops Bruins To Last Place In Eastern Conference

I promise in this post or in subsequent Bruins posts this season to avoid referring to a Stanley Cup hangover or general malaise.

With that out of the way, can we all agree that Boston's (3-6-0) forgettable start to the 2011-12 season has gone from unfortunate to disaster in less than ten games? Montreal's (3-5-2) first trip to TD Garden didn't serve as much more than another punch in the gut as the Canadiens came away with a 2-1 win tonight.

Somehow a team that played last night and on Monday looked fresher and more energized than one that hadn't played a game since Saturday night. Weird right?

The biggest issue by far right now for the B's is goal scoring (sound familiar?). Yes, Habs goaltender Carey Price (29 saves) can sometimes make cameo appearances as a top NHL goalie but this evening, the Bruins made him look like Patrick Roy in his prime. Next thing you know, Boston head coach Claude Julien will be introducing him for Price's Hockey Hall of Fame induction.

Boston had plenty of chances but they can't seem to do basic goal scoring things like putting a puck over a goalie's pads on the ice or shooting blocker side rather than glove side.

Two ugly streaks were nipped in the bud by the B's in the first period. Patrice Bergeron's (2nd of the season) power play goal at 14:05 served as the first time in seven contests that Boston scored first. I don't know the number (I'm assuming it was bad) but a power play strike for them is always huge and extremely unlikely.

Speaking of unlikely, the goal was a complete gift as Bergeron lost the face-off in Montreal's zone but it was hit right back at Price who wasn't ready for it (even though it wasn't coming too fast at all). The rare hockey own goal.

Montreal's Erik Cole-their key free agent signing over the summer-tied it at 10:27 in the second period with his second of the season. He tipped Jaroslav Spacek's pass with David Desharnais getting the second helper. Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas (33 saves) was great for most of the game and as is usually the case when he gives one up, it wasn't his fault.

The juicy subplot of the second period was Habs defenseman P.K. Subban and Bruins agitator Brad Marchand going off for matching holding penalties then matching delaying the game penalties. The third time proved to be the charm as they finally dropped the gloves and treated the fans to an entertaining (albeit crappy) fight.

B's defenseman Adam McQuaid returned to action tonight and while he played well in the first period, his mistake in the third period basically cost Boston two points. His pass for Bergeron was behind him in Boston's zone which led to a Montreal rush. Tomas Plekanec's (3rd of the season) first shot was blocked by McQuaid but he couldn't stop the second and neither could Thomas. Brian Gionta and Josh Gorges assisted on the game-winner at 10:46.

The teams will travel North of the border tomorrow for Saturday night's return bout in Montreal. Boston absolutely needs to win that one in any way possible after tonight's disappointment.

The Canadiens Should Serve As A Nice Wake-Up Call To The Bruins

It could possibly snow a little bit in New England tonight and what better way to serve as a precursor to another long miserable winter than a visit from the Boston Bruins' most hated rival: the Montreal Canadiens.

When we last saw the Habs on the TD Garden ice, they were slinking off after Nathan Horton's overtime winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. Tonight kicks off six meetings in the 2011-12 regular season between the Northeast Division foes. Additionally, it's the start of a home-and-home series which concludes on Saturday night at the Bell Centre.

So far, neither team is exactly setting the NHL on fire as they are tied for last-place in the division with six points. Only Winnipeg (with 5 points) has been worse so far in the Eastern Conference. The obvious advantage tonight is that Boston (3-5-0) has only practiced since Saturday's frustrating loss to San Jose. For Montreal (2-5-2), this will be their third game in four nights and therefore they should be skating on empty after the initial jump of seeing an opponent that they despise.

B's defenseman Adam McQuaid is expected back tonight after missing two weeks worth of games with a neck/head injury. His return means that Steven Kampfer will be in a suit and tie in the press box with the other healthy scratch-Jordan Caron.

ESPNBoston's James Murphy says McQuaid will team with Andrew Ference on the third defensive pairing. Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk remains the top pair with Dennis Seidenberg and Joe Corvo the second line.

Murphy also surmises that Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Rich Peverley will be the top forward line, flipping with Milan Lucic, Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin. Benoit Pouliot, David Krejci and Nathan Horton remain on the third line while Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton are Claude Julien's fourth line aka Fribble Crew until the end of time.

Tim Thomas starts in goal for the host Bruins. Canadiens goaltender Carey Price played last night but didn't get the start on Monday so I'd expect him back in between the pipes this evening.

As Michael Felger always points out, Montreal is typically a terrible matchup for Boston. Their combination of small, fast and skilled forwards that love to dive and embellish things is pretty much the Bruins' kryptonite. I would argue that of all the playoff series' last spring, the Canadiens were the hardest out (and yes I remember it took seven games to beat the Lightning too). Bottom line is that a win tonight in front of a fired up home crowd and then two points in Montreal on Saturday would be huge for the B's as they try to put last season behind them and begin their new journey.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Adios Theo Epstein, Welcome Ben Cherington

I spent a good portion of my afternoon watching Theo Epstein's introductory press conference with the Chicago Cubs as president of baseball operations and Ben Cherington's first press conference as Boston Red Sox executive vice president/GM. Since I will never get that time back, I'll share some of my initial thoughts.

The Cubs are MLB's biggest joke of a franchise, a team that has been nothing but losers for virtually all of its existence, especially in the modern era. That's why I understand how Theo has received the amount of savior slurping that has already happened in the Windy City. Epstein doesn't have to get his hands dirty as much, he'll make more money and he faces a whole new set of challenges. What isn't to like? Sure, the Cubs might never do anything under his tenure but will most of their drunken fans even notice? I say no.

With Cherington, I worry that he'll be more of the status quo at Yawkey Way. He's worked so closely with Theo for years so who's to say he's really developed his own unique ideas and thoughts? Obviously, he's a very smart and qualified guy but let's not tip toe around the fact that Epstein left this franchise in bad shape: the formerly vaunted Red Sox farm system is almost completely depleted, the major league roster is full of bloated contracts (and players) and pretty much all of the true fans are sick and tired of this ownership group (Warner, Lucchino, Henry). Shoutout to Warner and Henry for not bothering to show up today. Ugh.

Truly the best news to come out of today was that John Lackey will have Tommy John surgery, meaning that piece of trash will miss the entire 2012 season. Fingers crossed that he along with Dice-K never throw another pitch for the Red Sox. That's a start.

Boston was always a baseball town but that has changed in the last few third-place seasons by the Red Sox. The Bruins won a Stanley Cup, the Patriots are always contenders and we use to have an NBA team around here, I forget their name. Now the Red Sox have to fight for fans' attention and not simply bank on the eternal heartbreak that made everything seem so important. I know I'm not the only one that doesn't really enjoy going to Fenway Park anymore which is something I never would have thought (five or ten years ago) that I would say in my life.

As Michael Felger and Tony Massarotti have said, Fenway is a theme park. You go, pay exorbitant prices, take some pictures, sing Sweet Caroline and at the end of the game, far too many people don't really care if the Red Sox have even won or lost. Not to mention getting in and out of the park is a pain with parking and public transportation being about as difficult as possible.

Stop trying to make every last cent on the team through merchandise, useless shit (Fenway bricks) and crappy concerts (Dropkick Murphys, Neil Diamond) that nobody cares about. If the ownership group go back to caring about winning over everything, the fans and passion will return. If not, it's just going to be more of the same bullshit that has permeated through this organization since 2008.

PS. The Red Sox still need a manager and thanks to MLB's snail pace, the compensation package for Epstein hasn't been settled. Thanks Bud, you useless clown.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bye Week Non-News Item: Rob Gronkowski On the Hot Seat for Banging A Porn Star

You know how I know bye weeks suck?

When the prevailing story in New England is a picture that porn star Bibi Jones posted on Twitter (@xxxBibiJones) of her and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski this past weekend. The picture's release has already been met with a little bit of controversy as it is clearly against "The Patriot Way", which is the most self-serving cliche this team has ever had. In my book, the Patriot Way went out the window a long time ago.

Was the picture that bad in nature? Not really. Sure, it's a picture of a porn star in JUST a Gronk jersey but you can see worse than that in a Victoria's Secret catalog. Jones went on Toucher and Rich this morning and said that her and Gronkowski didn't bang but come on sweetheart. Catch TDs and bang sluts, that's just what Gronk does.

I know the Patriots PR army are probably in crisis mode thanks to their logo all over the same body that lets guys B their Ls on, but I'm sure they've spoken to Gronk in the same way the Bruins talked to Marchand for going out and celebrating too hard after they won the Stanley Cup in June.

Should Gronkowski know better? Yes but as long as he's kicking ass on the field, he should be doing the same in the bedroom. I'm sure his teammate and budding amateur porn star Brandon Spikes didn't see the big deal in all this.

No homo.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Local Guy Overshadows Joe Thornton's Return To Boston In 4-2 San Jose Win

Well the Boston Bruins are still looking for their first win streak in the 2011-12 season.

Tonight, former No. 1 pick and franchise center Joe Thornton returned with the San Jose Sharks and they beat the Bruins 4-2 at TD Garden.

It wasn't April or May but Thornton mostly disappeared like he's been known to do in the playoffs. Sure he assisted on Joe Pavelski's (4th of the season) goal 1:12 into the game but after that, Jumbo Joe was barely heard from save for a nice highlight package on the Jumbotron (no pun intended) from his days with the spoked B.

This game marked the sixth time in a row that the Bruins have allowed the first goal. They also fell to 2-4 at home and they never led in this one despite a valiant rally in the third period.

The real hero for the Sharks (3-3-0) was Essex, MA native and Boston College alum Benn Ferriero (1st of the season) who netted the game-winning goal at 8:48 of the third period.

In a very weird way, I felt like a proud parent when Ferriero's hustle to a rebound resulted in a diving goal. He was the only pro athlete from the coverage area of the newspaper I used to work for (the Gloucester Daily Times) and that motivated me enough to sponsor his page on (look it up) last spring. So while I never enjoy seeing the B's (3-5-0) lose, on this night it didn't feel quite as bad.

You wouldn't know that San Jose was the team that played back-to-back nights on the road. They had more jump than Boston from the start and that resulted in a 1-0 lead after the first which increased to 2-0 at 8:54 of the second when Logan Couture (1st of the season) scored on a nifty pass from Martin Havlat, Ryane Clowe had the second assist.

I don't usually recommend any athletes on Twitter but you have to follow Couture (@logancouture39), he's one of the funniest and most honest pro athletes I can think of.

Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves for the second straight game, this time against Jim Vandermeer, and as usual it served as a wake-up call to his teammates and the crowd.

The B's tied it up with a flurry of goals in 29 seconds early in the third. First Milan Lucic (2nd of the season) scored a classic Looch goal by stealing Antti Niemi's (37 saves) pass behind his own net then wheeling around and beating multiple defensemen and Niemi to shovel it in. Chris Kelly and Patrice Bergeron assisted on that goal.

Tyler Seguin started and finished the next one as he blocked a clearance attempt by a San Jose defenseman then started a 2-on-1 with Lucic. Seguin (3rd of the season) was the recipient of the final pass and he roofed it past Niemi who had no time to react. Kelly had the second assist.

As my friend said after the game, "Lucic and Seguin are going to make sweet music together this season." I couldn't say it any better myself, they appear to be a great match and I hope to see them on the same line for years to come.

Patrick Marleau (1st of the season) added an empty-netter with five seconds left. Boston wasted a serviceable but not great performance by goaltender Tim Thomas (26 saves).

I think I've found the clue to solving the Bruins' woes so far this season: It's all about scoring more than two goals. When they've scored 3+ they are 3-0 while they are 0-5 when they have scored two (twice), one (twice) or none(0-1). It's no secret that head coach Claude Julien's system makes Boston way more strong when playing with a lead since between Thomas and their defensive ability, it's hard to come back on them. Conversely, with their up and down scoring, it's much tougher to play from behind as we have already seen time and again.

The good news is that it should not be hard for the Bruins to focus on their final two games in October: a home and home series with Montreal. The team that everybody loves to hate comes to Boston on Thursday while the B's travel to the Bell Centre on Saturday. All would quickly be forgiven if the Bruins can beat the reeling Habs (1-4-2) twice in three nights.

UPDATE 10/23: Jordan Caron has been sent down to Providence where he'll get much more ice time. He didn't played bad for the Bruins to start this season but I guess they prefer Benoit Pouliot over him at the moment. Keep your head up Jordan!

UPDATE 10/24: Caron returned to B's practice today so he just went down to Providence for one game while Boston had a lengthy break (four days) between games. Expect him to be with the Bruins on Thursday as they host the Canadiens, although he'll most likely be in the press box as a healthy scratch.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Bruins Rebound, Beat Toronto 6-2

David Krejci returned and the new look top line dominated as the Bruins defeated the Maple Leafs (their first regulation loss of the season) 6-2 at the Garden tonight. It was a game that the Bruins had to have, especially given their disappointing start.

After a few minutes of back and forth action, Shawn Thornton dropped the gloves with fellow heavyweight (and former Bruin) Colton Orr. Although it was a fairly even battle, Thornton did a great job setting the tone for the B's tonight.

The Leafs got on the board first when David Steckel scored his first goal of the year off of a great feed from Nazem Kadri (great name). After falling behind yet again, it was up to the B's to bounce back and answer, something that they have struggled with in this young season. Oddly enough, it was the power play that tied the game midway through the first. After Jonas Gustavsson (37 saves) stopped a Zdeno Chara blast, Nathan Horton (2nd of the season) was able to control the rebound and beat the Leafs netminder.

On their next power play opportunity, Chara got another chance to put a laser beam on net, this time taking a nice pass from Andrew Ference (3 assists) and blasting it past Gustavsson from the left faceoff dot for his first goal of the season. All of this was set up by a slick pass from Tyler Seguin (1 goal, 2 assists) to Ference, which took the defense out of position just enough to free up Chara.

Your new first line center Chris Kelly scored his second goal of the year shortly after, taking a centering pass from Milan Lucic and burying the loose puck in the crease. It certainly wasn't the prettiest goal but it's nice to see the Bruins start to get back to their grinding, rush the net style of play.

The second period scoreless but the highlights were a pair of saves by Tim Thomas (26 saves; 3-2-0). The first came on Mikhail Grabovski breakaway attempt, where Thomas made a sprawling glove save while on his stomach. He also stopped a Steckel shot right on the doorstep, preserving the lead for the Black and Gold.

The first line had another goal early in the third when Seguin centered a pass to Lucic, which the struggling winger tapped in for his first of the year. The Bruins added another goal halfway through the third when Patrice Bergeron took a feed from Horton at center ice and skated into the high slot before lifting a wrister that beat Gustavsson high glove side for his first of the season. Just two minutes later, Lucic returned the favor to Seguin by finding him in the slot to put the B's up 6-1, bringing out the "Thank You Kessel" chants that were created last season.

Game Notes

* Is it any coincidence that on the Bruins two power-play goals, the man who drew the penalties was none other than Benoit Pouliot? Clearly he still has some of that Montreal philosophy in him.

* This may be getting redundant at this point but Seguin is the Bruins best player right now. I was impressed with not only his scoring but also his playmaking ability. His feed to Ference that helped set up the Chara goal was a thing of beauty that helped get the defense out of position. It seems as if he is using his skill to not only put the puck on net but also set his teammates up for success. His unselfish play is the thing that first line centers are made of.

* Jack Edwards line of the night: "I'm Peter Pan with a microphone." I could give you this quote in context but it wouldn't be nearly as funny.

* Clearly Julien's new lines were productive to say the least. Each member of the new first line scored and Horton added a goal in his debut on the second line. Steve Kampfer had a hell of a game in his season debut and will look to bring his offensive style of play to the Bruins' blueline.

*Another game, another bubble on the score sheet for Kessel against the Bruins. The NHL's leading scorer was held to just one shot, although he did inspire the Thank You Kessel chant, which I'm starting to loathe.

* I don't know who the new girl is on NESN Daily, but oh my god, she is flawless. Almost makes me forgive NESN for letting Kathryn Tappen leave for the NHL Network.

* Although NESN is owned by the Red Sox, so maybe they actually fired Tappen and made her say that she quit.

News & Notes Heading Into Tonight's Bruins Game vs. the Maple Leafs at TD Garden

Tonight marks the first Northeast Division game of the season for the Boston Bruins (2-4-0) as the Toronto Maple Leafs (4-0-1) visit TD Garden for the first of six matchups between the teams.

The Leafs are off to a great start, including their comeback 3-2 shootout win over the Winnipeg Jets last night at home. Former Bruins whipping boy Phil Kessel (7 goals, 5 assists) is playing some of the best hockey of his life; he leads the NHL in goals and points plus he looks more confident than he's ever been (always an issue).

Bruins center David Krejci is 50-50 to return this evening after missing the last three contests with a mysterious core injury. Defenseman Adam McQuaid (neck) has already been ruled out and he'll miss his third straight game. Steven Kampfer will make his 2011-12 debut as Matt Bartkowski has rightfully been returned to Providence after a lukewarm start.

Regardless if Krejci plays tonight or not, B's head coach Claude Julien has chosen to shake up the top three forward lines. Chris Kelly moves up to the first line where he'll center Milan Lucic and Tyler Seguin. Nathan Horton drops to the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand; finally, Rich Peverley will go to the third line with Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Caron. The Fribble Crew-aka the fourth line-of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton remains intact.

With an NHL-low 11 goals (1.67 per game when you discount the shootout goal by Seguin), it was time for Claude to make some changes in hopes of injecting some energy into his lifeless and offensively-challenged team.

Tim Thomas is expected to start for Boston between the pipes while Toronto backup goaltender Jonas Gustavsson gets his first action of the season. The B's catch a break there as Maple Leafs youngster James Reimer is one of the best up and coming goalies in the NHL.

UPDATE: Krejci is back, Caron sits in the press box (healthy scratch).

Boston Shake Things Up For Tonight's Game vs. Toronto

With more than enough of a sample size and losers of three of their last four games, Bruins head coach Claude Julien has made a few moves in an attempt to spark the underachieving Bruins offense.

The Bruins inserted Tyler Seguin into the first line when center David Krejci went down with a core injury in practice and the results have been lukewarm. The second year playmaker has looked much more comfortable with the puck amd is also skating better without it. He is clearly progressing as an all-around player and his increased role has given Bruins fans a reason to be optimistic.

However, the problem lies with his linemates Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. Both players have been struggling to put the puck in the net and have not been much of a factor early on in the season. Both have been frustrated with their play so far and that was apparent against the Hurricanes. Both players racked up the penalty minutes against Carolina and have been non-factors in most of their games so far.

Knowing this, Claude has made a switch, dropping Nathan Horton to the second line with presumably Bergeron and Marchand, while sending Chris Kelly up to the first line center position. Seguin will shift back to right wing for the time being.

Julien has been criticized in the past for being too stubborn with his lines in the past and clearly Krejci's injury forced his hand. However, this move should be a wake-up call for Horton, who has more than enough skill to be on the second line. With regards to Kelly, I'm not sure what to expect from him on the first line, as he has shown flashes at times. He's hardly the typical first line center. Still, the Bruins need a surge from their scoring, as they are currently dead last in the NHL in scoring with just 11 goals in six games. This has to improve.

The Bruins will unveil their new lines tonight against the resurgent Toronto Maple Leafs, who lead the division and feature the NHL's leading scorer-Phil Kessel.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hurricanes Take Second Straight Over Bruins, Boston Loses Control With 72 Penalty Minutes

The 2011-12 Boston Bruins are a team without an identity right now and one that is struggling desperately to find consistency.

Their four biggest issues at the moment are scoring, maintaining focus, playing well in front of backup goaltender Tuukka Rask and of course the power-play.

In tonight's 4-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes (3-2-1) at TD Garden, the B's (2-4-0) were plagued by the first three of those said problems. The silver lining was that they snapped the horrid 0-for-22 stretch on the power-play.

Boston has yet to post back-to-back strong efforts let alone wins so it should come as no surprise that they also fell to 1-3 on home ice. Yes it would be easy to blame the referees for some shady calls against the Bruins (72 penalty minutes, 4 game misconducts), but if we're being objective it was mostly their own fault.

The B's outshot the Hurricanes 34-23 and hit two posts (by Joe Corvo and Jordan Caron) to one (Brett Sutter) for Carolina but that all doesn't matter.

Carolina knocked off Boston for the second time in six days and this time, goaltender Cam Ward (33 saves) was nearly flawless. Rich Peverley (3rd of the season) finally scored a goal in front of Tuukka (19 saves), the first he's received in two starts, notching a power-play strike at 10:59 of the third to cut it to 2-1. Dennis Seidenberg and Corvo (who survived a nasty hit/fall in the first period) had the assists.

Chris Kelly sparked the team with a fight against Sutter that occured only 29 seconds before Peverley's screened snapshot went by Ward. For a guy that's not known as a fighter at all, this was Kelly's first in a Bruins uniform, it was good to see that somebody cared enough to step up when the team is playing like garbage.

Just as the crowd finally got into it, Nathan Horton picked up a dumb penalty 31 seconds later trying to goad Hurricanes supposed toughguy Tim Gleason into a fight. It didn't work and Carolina got the last laugh as Horton plus Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic (not to mention Zdeno Chara in the second period) were all tagged with 10-minute misconducts.

The Hurricanes took advantage with a pair of 5-on-3 goals by Eric Staal (3rd of the season) at 13:26 and Tuomo Ruutu (1st of the season) at 14:58 to put it away.

Anthony Stewart (2nd of the season) got Carolina off to a quick start as he scored off a rebound just 2:47 into the first period. Joni Pitkanen (2nd of the season) doubled the lead at 10:19 in the second period on a blast from the slot.

This was a really strange game and nothing illustrates that more than the fact that Bruins head coach Claude Julien got ejected late in the third period since he'd seen enough of the one-sided calls. It was nice to see that kind of emotion out of Claude, it marked the first time he was ejected in Boston.

Would you believe me if I told you the B's have only scored a pitiful 11 goals in the first six games? Yuck. Their next game is Thursday as old friend (haha yeah right) Phil Kessel (the NHL's leading goal-scorer with 7 goals) and the Toronto Maple Leafs come to the Garden. Let's hope for a better performance from this team.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Enjoy The Bye Week Ross Ventrone & Sterling Moore But Please Keep Your Phones On

The New England Patriots bye week has begun and with it, they have already made a few roster moves in anticipation of injured players returning before their next game Sunday, October 30 in Pittsburgh.

Now that six weeks have gone by in the 2011 NFL season, players that started on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list are eligible to start returning. For New England, that means defensive linemen Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick along with rookie offensive lineman Marcus Cannon and iconic running back Kevin Faulk can start practicing and could even play against the Steelers if all goes well.

Safety Ross Ventrone and cornerback Sterling Moore were both released although they each are eligible for the practice squad (which has one empty spot since Moore was promoted this past weekend).

Apparently Moore played on special teams (punt return) vs. Dallas yesterday but I can't say I saw him. He might have been out there or not, who knows other than him and his relatives plus the Patriots special teams coach?

I am certain that Ventrone had been playing on all four special teams units (kickoff return, kickoff coverage, punt return, punt coverage) and I almost spit out my dinner last night when I realized he had subbed in when the Cowboys were near the goalline. Luckily Dallas and its quarterback Tony Romo were too dumb to notice that scary fact.

Enjoy the time off guys but remember that you'll more than likely be needed in some capacity next week when the team fully reconvenes at Gillette Stadium.

UPDATE: 10/18 The Pats re-signed cornerback Philip Adams while Faulk, Deaderick and Brace were taken off the PUP list.

UPDATE 2: 10/19 Ventrone was signed to the 53-man roster while Moore was signed to the practice squad. Their agents (assuming they have them) must be the busiest guys in the NFL, this is absurd.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cowboys Fall To The Patriots And It's Not Even Tony Romo's Fault

I will be the first to admit that in the past week, I never once was scared of the Dallas Cowboys or particularly their bipolar quarterback Tony Romo.

I'm not enough of a honk to say I could never imagine Dallas beating New England but can we all admit that the Cowboys are the NFL equivalent of Notre Dame football? Just a completely delusional team and fanbase that think they're championship bound every season.

The Patriots (5-1) had to sweat it out at Gillette Stadium this afternoon against the Cowboys (2-3) but as usual Tom Brady (27 of 41, 289 yards, 2 TDs, 2 INTs) came through with a two-minute drive to clinch it, 20-16 thanks to an 8-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez (8 catches, 68 yards) with 22 seconds remaining.

With its third straight victory, New England has now won 20 straight regular season home games while Brady and Bill Belichick tied Dan Marino/Don Shula's NFL record of 116 wins for a QB/coach combo.

Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 74 yards), Deion Branch (3 catches, 69 yards) and Wes Welker (6 catches, 45 yards) made up for a lackluster running game (101 total yards) that had performed very well the last two weeks.

Ironically, Romo (27 of 41, 317 yards, TD, INT) makes a living of blowing all varieties of games in every way possible but this time, you couldn't really blame Jessica Simpson's ex. Wide receivers Dez Bryant (4 catches, 78 yards) and Miles Austin (7 catches, 74 yards) along with tight end Jason Witten (4 catches, 48 yards) are a formidable trio of weapons in the Cowboys passing game.

I mean if you want to get specific, the Dallas offensive coordinator and head coach Jason Garrett are most to blame as they got the ball back (up 16-13) at their own 28 with 3:36 left in the fourth quarter but they proceeded to run three safe and predictable runs. They knew Romo's late game problems so they basically took it out of his hands; I can't say I blame them but giving Brady the ball at his own 20 with 2:31 left is a recipe for disaster.

Penalty problems didn't help the Cowboys either as they were flagged 10 times for 77 yards. The Patriots only were called for five penalties totaling 35 yards.

Nevermind that New England's offense was sloppy all day (2 interceptions and a fumble, plus a fumbled kickoff), when they had to produce they did: 10 plays, 80 yards and not enough time for Dallas to do anything but have Romo end the game by throwing a hail mary out of bounds (short of the end zone).

The Cowboys defense came in with a good reputation, thanks to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan (Rex's brother). It's way too easy to make fun of the Ryans but you have to admit that they know how to coach defense, especially against Belichick. Rob's Browns team last season was the last one before today's effort that held the Patriots under 30 points.

Dallas cornerback Terence Newman had an interception and a fumble recovery while linebacker Sean Lee had 12 tackles, six solo and an interception. Safety Gerald Sensabaugh added a fumble recovery on special teams.

The Patriots much-maligned defense earned some praise with this effort since they showed that they can survive a non-perfect outing from Brady and the offense (unlike Week 3's meltdown in Buffalo). Kyle Arrington (11 tackles, 7 solo) made his fourth interception of the season while Gerard Warren recovered a fumble. Hell, Andre Carter (5 tackles, 4 solo) even provided a semblance of a pass rush with two sacks.

You had to think Romo was in for a long day when he threw a bad interception on the first Dallas drive. New England brought it to the red zone but DeMarcus Ware (5 tackles, 2 sacks) sacked Brady on third down so the Pats had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski.

The Patriots forced a punt on Dallas' next drive but Brady gave it right back as his pass intended for Branch was picked off by Newman. New England's defense was faced with a short field (at their own 23) but they pushed the Cowboys back as they had to settle for a 48-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.

On the ensuing kickoff, Matthew Slater fumbled. Luckily, Tashard Choice fumbled it right back to the Pats five plays later as the teams were tied 3-3 after one quarter.

New England's first drive of the second quarter stalled again in the red zone as Gostkowski hit a 26-yard field goal. After forcing a Dallas punt, the Patriots got the ball back and made it 13-3 with Brady's 5-yard touchdown pass to Welker. On the field he was ruled out but it was clear that was the wrong call so Belichick challenged it and it was reversed.

Romo answered with his best drive of the game, finding his boy Witten for a 1-yard touchdown pass with 33 seconds left in the half.

New England got the ball first to start the second half but they couldn't do much so they punted to Dallas.

Romo got the Cowboys down to the 7-yard line but Carter's 11-yard sack on second down forced Dallas to get more conservative (foreshadowing!) as Choice took a dump pass to the 4-yard line. Bailey tied it with a 22-yard field goal.

A 12-play drive seemed promising for Brady and Co. but they were forced to punt yet again. However, Dallas bailed them out by running into Zoltan Mesko. Four plays later, Hernandez fumbled after a hit by Bradie James.

The Cowboys couldn't take advantage of that as they eventually punted on the ensuing drive. The Patriots weren't content with three turnovers as Lee picked off Brady in Dallas territory.

The red zone proved to be a major issue as Dallas couldn't punch it in again. A shovel pass (really?) to Choice on 3rd-and-Goal from the 5-yard line shockingly enough didn't work. Pats linebacker Brandon Spikes (8 tackles, 6 solo) made the play in what was one of his best performances as a pro. Bailey's 26-yard field goal still put the Cowboys up 16-13 and in position to pull off a major upset.

New England went three-and-out on their next possession but no worries since Dallas wouldn't dare let Romo throw the ball no matter what.

You always want a bye week later in the season when injuries have really mounted but at 5-1 and sitting in first place in the AFC East, I can't complain too much about the Patriots having next week off. Their next game is Sunday, October 30 at Pittsburgh and who knows, maybe Jerod Mayo will be back by then. The Steelers are always one of the AFC's top teams but in the last decade, I feel like the Patriots usually find a way to beat them home or away.

Bruins Outlast the Blackhawks 3-2 in Shootout

Are there must win NHL games in October? After the Bruins' 1-3 stumble out of the gate, many looked towards Saturday's game in Chicago as an opportunity to test their mettle against one of the best teams in the league. I don't want to say that a loss would have been panic inducing but it certainly would be cause for concern.

In a battle of two Original Six teams, Saturday night did not disappoint. Tim Thomas made some insane saves and Tyler Seguin scored the game-winner in the shootout for the Bruins.

Bryan Bickell and Patrick Kane scored in regulation for the Blackhawks, while Nathan Horton and Chris Kelly scored for the Bruins.

Chicago set the tone early in the game, as their high energy style of play led to some quality scoring chances in the first. Kane walked in all alone and had a point blank opportunity. Thomas stayed at home and read Kane perfectly, gloving Kane's top shelf attempt. He wasn't done yet, as Kane carried the puck into the Bruins zone, before pulling off a ridiculous spin move on Joe Corvo before unleashing a nasty backhanded attempt, which Thomas turned away.

The Hawks got on the board first, taking advantage of a careless turnover by Andrew Ference that was intercepted by Bickell who walked in all alone, beating Thomas five-hole to give Chicago the early lead.

The Bruins got on the board early in the second while on the penalty kill. Ference blocked a shot from Brent Seabrook that bounced into the neutral zone, setting up a 2-on-1 that saw Chris Kelly take a perfect feed from Rich Peverley and lifted the puck (hope Looch was watching) to beat Chicago goalie Corey Crawford and tie the game.

Less than two minutes later, Kane got his revenge for getting stoned in the first by wristing a shot past Thomas to put the Hawks back on top.

Later in the third, Horton took a feed from Boychuk, who was stationed at the end boards and found the back of the net.

Overtime featured a pair of quality scoring chances from the Bruins. First it was Seidenberg who rang the post on a blast from the blue line and next was a breakaway attempt from Peverley that was unsuccessful.

In the shootout, Seguin beat Crawford five-hole while Thomas stopped Kane, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Sharp. The B's improve to 2-3 while the Blackhawks suffered their first loss (2-1-1).

Game Notes

* My boy Jack Edwards is already in mid-season form, first making fun of the guys on Versus for mispronouncing "Caron" and then later unleashing a classic one liner, yelling "Catamount on Catamount crime!" when Thomas stopped Sharp in the third. Both were UVM alums. He's the best.

* It's always fun to see two Original Six teams play but I'm sure that I'm not alone in wanting more, especially from the Western Conference teams. There is no logical reason why we should not play Chicago and Detroit once, maybe twice a season. I'll give up a game against the Panthers to have an extra Western Conference team. For a sport on the upswing, there's no reason that fans cannot be treated to more marquee matchups.

* Boychuk had a hell of a game. Not only did he set up Horton on the game-tying goal, but he also was a monster in his own end, crushing Toews who was stick handling through the zone before getting put on his ass. He also had a crazy shift in the first, taking a hit from Carcillo before blocking a shot. He was clearly in pain on both instances but stayed on the ice like a champ.

* It won't show up on the scoresheet but Gregory Campbell demonstrated his value to the team once again last night. His fight in the first helped shake the cobwebs off of the team. Dude is game and will throw down with anyone. I love it.

* Kane is one of the best pure offensive talents in the game as displayed last night. He's great in open space but can also use his world class stickhandling to open up space for himself. His move on Corvo was something I'd pull off in NHL '12. You just don't see stuff like that everyday.

* Overall, this was a quality win for the Bruins. A great game against a great team where they relied equally on their superb goaltending as well as strong team play. All lines came to play, which is something they usually need in order to be successful.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Welcome Back Hockey: Bruins Win Thrilling Shootout Over Blackhawks

There is rarely a game in October that can turn around an NHL season; similarly, you don't expect the fifth game of an 82-game slate to be a classic and yet here we are with a gift from the hockey Gods that we all received earlier tonight.

The Boston Bruins (2-3-0) went into the United Center and snapped a two-game losing streak with a 3-2 shootout win over the host Chicago Blackhawks (2-1-1).

Nothing beats Original 6 matchups (just ask NESN which spotlighted my Tweet saying as much during the game), especially when it's Boston vs. Chicago since that juicy game usually occurs but once a regular season. Excuse me while I go start praying for a B's-Hawks Stanley Cup Finals next June.

After starting 2011-12 in a malaise, it was great to see this Bruins team respond just like they did in the playoffs last season. Taking on such a talented squad, they played physically but also stepped up in the clutch when it looked like they were going to take another loss and come back home 0-2 on their inaugural road trip.

Nathan Horton (1st goal of the season) made sure Boston would at least get to overtime as he tied it at two 7:56 into the third period. Johnny Boychuk basically made the play out of thin air as he chipped the puck in deep, won it and then found Horton out front for a high percentage shot. Tyler Seguin had the second assist, he leads the team with five points thus far.

The overtime was bananas as it was end to end action, complete with Rich Peverley getting sprung by Milan Lucic for a breakaway. Of course, Pevs went in on Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford (35 saves) and missed the net with his backhander. If missing the net equated to scoring goals, Pevs would be a 50-goal scorer every year, he does it so often.

Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas (2-2-0; 27 saves) showed why he's still the best at his position in the game. He made numerous incredible stops during regulation and in overtime but topped that by stuffing Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp in succession to clinch the shootout. Seguin had the lone goal for the Bruins in the dreaded shootout.

Gregory Campbell squared off with the formidable Jamal Mayers (first Bruins fight of the season) then later Bryan Bickell gave Chicago a 1-0 lead at 16:21 of the first as Andrew Ference turned it over in the neutral zone and handed it right to him.

Chris Kelly (1st goal of the season) answered with a shorthanded tally at 1:33 of the second from Peverley and Ference. It looked like the 2011 playoffs as Peverley and Kelly worked beautifully together to get the goal.

Kane quickly responded for the Blackhawks as he scored at 2:51 on an assist from former Bruins defenseman Sean O'Donnell and Sharp. Kane was left wide open in the slot, which is a deadly proposition and O'Donnell found him from behind the net.

You'll be hard-pressed to find a more star-studded (Kane, Toews, Duncan Keith) team than the Blackhawks (the 2009-10 Stanley Cup champions) but the Bruins didn't back down from the challenge as they outhit Chicago 40-34 and outshot them 37-29 in head coach Claude Julien's 300th win overall/181 with the Bruins.

I fully expect this win to springboard Boston on a nice run starting with their next game: Tuesday at home vs. Carolina. After losing to the Hurricanes 3-2 on Wednesday, you better believe that the B's will look like a different team this time around.

Hockey is officially back, that was a hell of a game and a win. It really got me pumped up for what should be another memorable season with the B's.

Your Sterling Moore & Marcus Harrison Update

I have to give credit to my man Marcus Harrison. After the Pats signed him yesterday, I predicted he wouldn't ever do anything for New England.

Little did I know that he would turn in what has to be the shortest stay in a Patriots uniform (assuming he ever received one) and that's saying something.

Today, New England released Harrison-a defensive tackle-and promoted cornerback Sterling Moore off the practice squad for tomorrow's game vs. the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium. An undrafted rookie out of SMU, Moore was signed to the practice squad last week and he will likely see time on special teams. He is now one of six cornerbacks on the 53-man roster.

Releasing Harrison probably means that Kyle Love and Albert Haynesworth will both play tomorrow, they are listed as questionable with back injuries. Jerod Mayo (knee) made a surprise appearance at practice yesterday and he's listed as questionable for tomorrow along with BenJarvus Green-Ellis (toe), Leigh Bodden (thumb) and Ras-I Dowling (hip) among others.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Marcus Harrison Joins The Patriots

So the New England Patriots signed some defensive tackle named Marcus Harrison today. He went to Arkansas and he was a third-round pick of the Chicago Bears in 2008.

The Pats had interest because reportedly defensive lineman Kyle Love hurt his back in practice yesterday. Who knows?

I read that Harrison showed up too fat for training camp twice with the Bears so head coach Lovie Smith and Co. had enough of this tub of goo. Fantastic, hopefully Fat Albert can mentor him here on the finer points of being lazy and useless.

In 37 career games, including just nine starts, Harrison had 43 solo tackles and 12 assists, three sacks and three passes defensed.

To make room for him, cornerback Philip Adams-who was just re-signed yesterday-was released. If this goes how I expect it to, Harrison will be dumped in a week or two and Adams or some other similar no-name bum will take his place. Ah yes, the life at the bottom of an NFL roster.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Mike Wright's Season Ends Prematurely For The Second Year In A Row

You have to feel awful to New England Patriots defensive lineman Mike Wright. For the second straight season (and fourth time in seven years), his season is coming to an early end with a trip to IR (injured reserve).

Wright missed the last seven games of the 2010 season with a concussion and he picked up another one in the 2011 season-opener at Miami. He tried to come back in practice last week but today the Pats put him on IR and re-signed cornerback Philip Adams to the 53-man roster.

You have to wonder if Wright will retire at this point. He's picked up a litany of injuries (ankle, foot, head) that have to be really breaking down his body. It's too bad because when he's healthy, the undrafted guy out of Cincinnati was productive and very easy to root for.

In 81 career games with the Pats (the only NFL team he's ever played for), he amassed 174 tackles and 15 sacks. His loss puts more pressure on New England's defensive line to produce since now they know officially that Wright is not coming back in 2011.

Hey Look, Some Good News About The 2011 Boston Red Sox

Right now, the Boston Red Sox deserve all the negative press and publicity that they're getting. From clueless owners, an enabling former GM and former manager down to the despicable players, they are about as unlikable as I can ever remember in my lifetime.

However, we'll take a quick second to fete one of the few non-toxic players from the infamous 2011 squad. Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury received the American League comeback player of the year award today along with Lance Berkman for the National League.

Other than Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Papelbon (let's remember he was in a contract year) and Alfredo Aceves, Ellsbury was one of the only team members to not look so bad in yesterday's expose in the Boston Globe by Bob Hohler. If anything, you felt bad for Ells as Jed Lowrie is supposedly the only other guy on the team that he's close too (must be an Oregon thing).

After a nightmarish 2010 when he only played 18 games due to rib injuries ("front and back"), Ellsbury bounced back in a bigger way than I think anybody, even a pink hat, could have ever dreamed in 2011. In his fifth MLB season, the 28-year-old Oregon State product hit .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBIs, 119 runs, 46 doubles, 5 triples and 39 stolen bases in 158 games and 660 at-bats. His 364 total bases and 83 extra-base hits led MLB.

He was also the first leadoff hitter in Red Sox history to get 30 homers and 100 RBIs in the same season while also becoming the franchise's first 30-30 player (homers, stolen bases). His plate discipline was way better too with a .376 OBP and .552 slugging percentage.

Using all his unique skills including Gold Glove caliber defense, he's become one of the most electrifying and talented players in MLB. I'm extremely bias but I believe that he should be picking up some much bigger hardware in a few weeks as AL MVP. Along those lines, Boston has to do everything in its power to lock him down long-term since coupled with Pedroia, he should be the face of the team for the next decade.

Bruins Fall to 1-3, Lose in Raleigh

The Bruins continued their disappointing start to the 2011-12 season, dropping their third of four games last night to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2.

Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin scored for the Bruins, while Tim Thomas made 31 saves in the losing effort. The stars of the night for Carolina were Joni Pitkanen and Yuri Tulusty, whose strong effort all game long was rewarded with a goal in the third that turned out to be the game-winner.

The first period featured some great back and forth action including a great stop by Thomas on the Hurricanes first real scoring chance of the game. After a wide shot produced a weird carom behind the net, Tulusty found the puck at point blank range in the slot. Thomas came out of his net to challenge the shooter and absolutely stoned him one-on-one.

Carolina netminder Cam Ward also had a key stop early on in the first.Johnny Boychuck unleashed a blast from the right wing that was turned away by Ward, only to find the struggling Milan Lucic on the doorstep with a wide open net. Lucic couldn't bang home the rebound, thanks in large part to Eric Stall's defensive effort in the crease.

Carolina scored first on the power play, as Pitkanen set up with the puck on the half wall. Cradling the puck, he forced Zdeno Chara to make a decision. Rather than pursuing the puck, Chara retreated towards the crease in an attempt to cover Staal, who is always a threat to score down low. Taking advantage of the extra space, Pitkanen let off a shot that got by Thomas and gave the Canes a 1-0 lead.

Carolina doubled their lead in the early stages of the third, when Anthony Stewart beat Gregory Campbell and then went low stick side on Timmy, a save he should've made.

The Bruins then quickly responded as Seguin scored on a bad angle wrist shot that beat Ward high gloveside. His partner in crime Marchand scored halfway through the third, one timing a redirected pass from Patrice Bergeron to cut the lead to one. That was all that the Bruins would get, as their attempt with the man advantage failed.

The B's have to rebound and quickly. They will face an extremely skilled Blackhawks team on Saturday night. It's still earl, but they can't afford to let this season get away from them early on.

Game Notes:

* Although the power play hasn't produced at all this year, they have certainly made strides in their strategies. Seguin has looked very comfortable on the man advantage, especially with open ice. He is starting to become more aggressive, especially without the puck, which is one of the reasons why Julien put him on the top line to replace the injured David Krejci.

* The best example of this was leading up to his goal in the third. He started off close to the Bruins bench, but curled to the opposite side of the ice, before taking a pass from Horton and simply skating around McBain before putting a shot on net. His movement without the puck is going to set him up to make plays in open ice, especially on the first line.

*Much has been made of Lucic and Horton's slumps throughout last season as well as the first few games of this season and for good reason. They have started out slow and haven't really been aggressive thus far but last night was a step in the right direction for both of them, putting up their highest shot totals of the season and generating several scoring chances, none better than Lucic's open net chance.

*Although I need to see Lucic finish better. He walked in all alone in the third and unleashed his patented ice level wrister that Ward kicked away. Lift the damn puck!

*Scary moment for the B's when Adam McQuaid knocked his own ass out when he caught an edge and slammed his head into the boards behind the net. He was clearly on dream street and eventually went into the dark room to get treated. I dont think that he will be playing on Saturday night. Look for Matt Bartkowski to get some more playing time in Darth Quaider's place.

*McQuaid could've just been looking for a KFC Double Down and a Bud Light in the locker room though.

*I love the new presentation on Versus. The ten-year deal with NBC has made the NHL a bigger player than ever in American sports. With the NBA out for the first few weeks, now is the best time for the league to grab all the attention they can. Hockey pretty much every night? Hell yeah!

*Doc Emerick is becoming insufferable. I like his goal calls but that's pretty much it, he screams on nearly every shot. However, I did learn that Tulusty means "fat" in his native Czech language. I wonder what "Beckett" translates to.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hurricanes Pick Up Their First Win Of Season, At The Bruins' Expense

It is less than a week into the 2011-12 NHL season so pardon me if I can't quite work up a lather yet about the Boston Bruins' lame beginning.

The defending Stanley Cup champs have gotten off to a slow start; their first road game of the season was tonight at the RBC Center in Raleigh Center and the host Hurricanes (1-2-1) picked up their first win with a 3-2 triumph over the B's (1-3-0).

With seven goals in four games, it's clear that putting the puck in the net has been Boston's biggest issue so far. Let's not forget that the power play is still a hot mess, off to a rousing 1 for 18 start (picking up where they left off in the playoffs).

David Krejci missed the game with a midsection injury so Tyler Seguin got the bump up to center on the first line with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton flanking him. Boston still needs Krejci but for one game at least, Seguin (1 goal, 4 shots, 7 of 9 on face-offs) was a more than suitable replacement.

B's goaltender Tim Thomas (1-2-0) got his third start and yet again, it wasn't his fault that his team failed to get two points. He made 31 saves but was the victim of some bad luck and a shaky defense in front of him.

Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward (26 saves) showed why he's one of the more underrated guys at his position with a strong showing.

After a scoreless first period, Carolina opened the scoring 42 seconds into the second frame with a power-play strike from defenseman Joni Pitkanen (1st of the season). Former Bruins great Tomas Kaberle and Jussi Jokinen assisted on the goal. Pitkanen was by the face-off dot and he took forever to fake a shot twenty times before finally unleashing a low one that found its way past Thomas. It appeared like Erik Staal screened Thomas on the play, regardless he should not have been able to park there so easily.

Boston bumbled through three straight scoreless power play chances and predictably, they didn't get a call the rest of the night (the B's had the last three penalties).

When Carolina's Anthony Stewart (1st of the season) scored 3:42 into the third (from Tim Brent and Tim Gleason) on a shot that trickled past Thomas at the post, I was firing off an angry Tweet but Seguin interrupted my venom with a sick top-shelf wrist shot just 25 seconds later. It was his first of many this season, from Horton and Adam McQuaid. It was a juicy glimpse of what Seguin can do when he has room to shoot.

Something called Jiri Tlusty (1st of the season) iced it with his game-winner at 13:32 from Brandon Sutter and Patrick Dwyer. He was unmarked in the slot and made Thomas and Co. pay for that.

Boston was about to go on another ill-fated power play but Patrice Bergeron hit Brad Marchand with a nice cross-ice feed for a one-timer and the Bruins' second goal (Marchmont's second of the season). Former Hurricane Joe Corvo had the second assist at 16:35.

I'm not going to say time ran out on the Bruins since it never really felt like they'd ever tie it before regulation ended.

McQuaid ran head first into the boards (how many times has he done that in the last year?) in the third and didn't return. Don't be surprised to see him held out of the next game with Matt Bartkowski getting another shot after being a healthy scratch for the last three contests.

It won't get any easier as the B's will remain on the road the next few days before meeting the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night. After failing to really show up against two subpar teams (Carolina and Colorado), expect Boston to at least make a game of it in Theo Epstein's new home.

Theo Epstein Takes His Talents To Wrigleyville, Leaving Fenway In Smoldering Ashes

As soon as I heard the first rumors in August of Red Sox GM Theo Epstein heading to the Chicago Cubs, I've only had one reaction: it makes too much sense for him to pass it up.

He can swoop in once again and save a team that has a cartoonish "curse." Hell, if Dan Shaughnessy isn't there within the next year and writing his next book "The Curse of Steve Bartman," capitalizing on the only subject matter he ever cared about, I'd be shocked.

Well it looks like thanks to the worst September collapse in franchise history (7-20) and meddling owners that don't know what they're doing anymore (besides trying to get every last cent from fans), the Brookline native Epstein has decided to ditch Yawkey Way for Wrigleyville and I say good for him.

Since being hired in 2002 at age 28 (the youngest GM in MLB history), Theo has lived a charmed life doing his dream job, albeit under an insane amount of pressure and scrutiny (granted that comes with the territory). The Red Sox broke their 86 years of futility by winning the 2004 World Series (with a big assist to former GM Dan Duquette) and they won again in 2007 which was much more of Theo's doing. Still, after missing out on the playoffs the last two seasons (and finishing in third in the AL East both times), coupled with not having a postseason win since 2008 despite one of the highest payrolls in MLB, it was time for Epstein to make a move.

The Cubs reportedly have signed Theo to a five-year, $15 million dollar deal for him to join the team according to Sports Illustrated's Jon Heyman, with a $3.5 million dollar transfer bonus. As part of the package, Chicago has to send prospects and or cash to Boston, not major league players. I'm sure it'll take some time for all the formalities to sort themselves out but this is a done deal as far as I'm concerned.

I'm sure he'll get a higher rank than GM/executive vice president like the one he carried in Boston. He has to have aspirations to be president of a team but Larry Lucchino had always blocked his way with the Red Sox to do that.

Chicago hasn't been in the World Series since 1945 and as everyone knows, they haven't won a World Series title since 1908. Going there presents Theo with a whole new challenge, it was clear through all his free agent misses that last few seasons particularly that there wasn't much left for him to do here. The boy wonder had outgrown his formerly pathetic team.

Personally, it couldn't come at a better time for Epstein since the Red Sox are as much a mess as they've ever been in the last decade thanks to them forcing out manager Terry Francona two weeks ago (and launching their latest undeserved smear campaign) along with being stuck with an extremely dysfunctional and unlikable group of players.

Good luck to Ben Cherington, the assistant GM weaned under Theo, who will likely take over for his former mentor. The Red Sox have to rebuild the farm system that was so instrumental in bringing them their second title. They have no prospects anymore like they used to and even worse, they've made so many mistakes in free agency since 2004. Letting a computer (hi Carmine) use sabermetrics to make important decisions was groundbreaking but it has to be counterbalanced by old fashioned scouting and baseball knowledge.

Having the most money or getting the flashiest free agents doesn't guarantee anything, just look at the four remaining teams (Detroit, Texas, Milwaukee, St. Louis) in the playoffs, they're all middle of the road payrolls that have spent money wisely and orchestrated great trades. It also shows that there are good baseball teams outside of the ones in the East (Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies) that get all the attention from the national media.

Big picture, the best we can hope for is that the Red Sox owners (Tom Warner and John Henry) along with Lucchino pack their bags and decide they've gotten enough out of this investment. Unfortunately, that's unlikely anytime soon.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dan Gronkowski Returns To The Patriots

One of the great buddy comedies (that hadn't been created) was nipped in the bud a few weeks back when the New England Patriots cut tight end Dan Gronkowski.

Well fear not, Patriots and Gronk fans, because Rob's older brother is back! After waiving offensive tackle Thomas Welch on Monday, the Pats had an extra roster spot available.

Dan played in the first two games of the season for New England (at Miami and vs. San Diego) but he was cut after injuring his hamstring. He's known more for his blocking prowess than receiving abilities. Along those lines, who knew Rob could block like he has the last few games?

For a time this season with Aaron Hernandez out with a knee injury, the Patriots made the risky decision to play with only one active tight end (Rob Gronkowski) against the Bills. Hernandez returned against the Jets on Sunday and while he wasn't at full speed, just having him out on the field opened some lanes for Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Deion Branch.

If you're a fan of the Gronkowski brothers, and who isn't, Chris Gronkowski (the third brother in the NFL) comes to Gillette Stadium on December 4th with his team, the Indianapolis Colts. By then maybe he'll be on the Patriots too. It sounds insane but I wouldn't be shocked to see that happen.

All I know is that two Gronks is better than one.

Rich Peverley Receives A Three-Year Extension From The Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli has been extremely proactive recently, as he has signed and extended many core members of the B's in order to create a palpable chemistry.

It looks like he is going to continue down that path, as the Bruins have announced a three-year contract extension for versatile forward Rich Peverley. There is a $3.25 million dollar cap hit.

Peverley came to the Bruins from the Thrashers last season at the trade deadline (for Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart) and was a key player for Boston, joining the third line with Michael Ryder and Chris Kelly, the latter another trade deadline acquisition from Ottawa.

In 23 games last season, Pevs had four goals and three assists. Like most of his teammates, he stepped up his production in the playoffs with four goals and eight assists. Statistically, his best season was 2009-10 with the Atlanta Thrashers (now the Winnipeg Jets) when he put up 22 goals and 33 assists.

This year, Peverley has been promoted to the second line, taking the retired Mark Recchi's spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. So far this year, Peverley has two goals (both against Tampa Bay) and is a plus-2 in three games.

Peverley may end up bouncing back and forth between the two lines but the Bruins will continue to utilize his speed and skill on both the power play and the penalty kill.

For an undrafted player out of St. Lawrence University, Peverley is proof that some guys take longer to develop than others. After three stops in his NHL career (Nashville, Atlanta, Boston), Peverley has found a home and a bright future in the Hub of Hockey.

Two other Bruins notes: David Krejci left practice today with an unspecified leg injury. He didn't travel with the team to Carolina today so I doubt that he'll play tomorrow night. Look for possibly Tyler Seguin to get the call up to first line duty with the underachieving Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.

Also, Versus will air a special called "Raising the Cup" about the Bruins tomorrow at 6:00 p.m on their show NBC SportsTalk. It's about the ceremony that just happened last week at TD Garden before the season-opener vs. the Flyers.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tuukka Rask Deserves Better This Season

One of the more underrated storylines from last season for the Boston Bruins was the struggles of backup goaltender Tuukka Rask. It's not like he was awful by any means but it seemed like every time he got a start, his teammates sleepwalked in front of him.

Unfortunately, Rask's (0-1-1) 2011-12 season got off to a similar note as he stopped 35 shots this afternoon and yet still lost 1-0 as the Colorado Avalanche (1-1-0) knocked off the lethargic Bruins (1-2-0) at TD Garden on Columbus Day.

Milan Hejduk scored the only goal, at 7:57 of the third period from Jan Hejda and Matt Duchene. It was a strange play as a linesman blocked B's defenseman Johnny Boychuk out of the play and then Hejduk's shot went off Zdeno Chara's leg. No doubt Rask would like that one back since he normally makes that save but still, can Boston please give him some goals?

It wasn't Patrick Roy in net for the Avs but Semyon Varlamov had 30 saves for the shutout. Colorado was 0 for 3 on the power play (including a brief 5 on 3 advantage) while Boston checked in at 0 for 2 on the power play.

You don't have to be a genius like Lightning head coach Guy Boucher to figure out why the Bruins lost two of their first three games at home; they only scored five goals and four of them were in one tilt.

Hitting the road will likely be a good thing for the B's chemistry plus they can finally put last season's Stanley Cup to bed. They have two challenging games away from home before they head back to Boston.

First up they play in Carolina on Wednesday, always a tough place to get two points before meeting the Blackhawks in Chitown on Saturday night in what should be a filthy game.