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Friday, October 31, 2014

Losing to the Sabres is Simply Not an Option, Like Ever

Down 2-1 with less than five minutes left in regulation, the Bruins were on the verge of the unforgivable: losing to the Sabres (the worst team in the NHL). Thankfully, the universe was still in order as Boston (6-6) rallied to tie it on Brad Marchand's goal at 14:30 then he also won it at 1:20 of overtime at the First Niagara Center. Buffalo (2-8-1) remains winless at home this season while the Bruins picked up their third straight road victory.

This wasn't the 4-0 laugher on October 18 or what the other two meetings will probably turn out to be (Dec. 21 and March 17 both at TD Garden) but the B's will take two points however they can get them these days. With Torey Krug out (along with Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller) and Matt Bartkowski a healthy scratch, no less than three Providence Bruins defensemen had to be in the lineup: Zach Trotman, David Warsofsky and Joe Morrow (making his NHL debut).

The Sabres are definitely the team you want to see in dire situations like the one currently facing the Bruins with all their injuries and uninspired play. Niklas Svedberg improved to 2-2 this season and ironically, both wins have come vs. Buffalo. Tonight, he only had to make 13 saves which is a complete joke but then you remember that Buffalo had 10 shots in an a 4-0 loss in Toronto on Tuesday.

Buffalo actually led not once but twice (I just puked in my mouth) as Drew Stafford's power play goal at 5:12 of the second period made it 1-0. Adam McQuaid tied it up at 11:36, from Carl Soderberg and Marchand, for his first goal of the season. Quaider certainly isn't known for his goal-scoring ability so it makes sense that the goal came on an easy wrist shot that took a deflection off a Sabre to elude Jhonas Enroth (34 saves).

Tyler Ennis' wrist shot beat Svedberg at 16:25 of the second period. Boston finally woke up in the third period, outshooting Buffalo 16-4 (37-15 for the game) and they were rewarded for their strong play. Marchand's first goal (only his second of the season) was flukey as Eriksson threw it at the net and it went in off Marchand's glove (unintentionally of course). It was reviewed and remained a goal which was the right call.

Of their next five games, Ottawa (5-2-2) looks like the only good team that the fortunate Bruins will have to face. The Senators come to TD Garden on Saturday night (7, NESN) for their first meeting of the season with their Atlantic Division foe.

Red Sox Sign Closer Koji Uehara to a 2-Year Deal Worth $18 Million

If you are a Red Sox fan (and why else would you be reading this?), I'm betting that you love closer Koji Uehara. Still, I have to admit that I was surprised that Boston's first move of this extremely vital offseason was signing the 39-year-old with an injury history to a two-year deal worth $18 million. I'm not that worried that last season he completely went off a cliff since the same could be said for many of his teammates and the club in general.

Despite getting shelled time after time before mercifully being taken out of the closer's role, he managed to post a 2.52 ERA with 0.92 WHIP, he was 6-5 with 26 saves, one hold and five blown saves. In 64.1 innings, he allowed 18 earned runs, 51 hits including 10 homers with 80 strikeouts and eight walks.

He doesn't rely on power at all, just pinpoint control and pitching acumen so turning 40 next April should not be as scary as it would be for most other relievers. For me, the main point of this deal is Boston signaling that they really don't have a better option in terms of a young guy coming up that could close or they haven't identified a free agent that they'd want to fill that most important role.

Get plenty of rest this winter Koji because you are going to super busy next season (and hopefully in 2016 too).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tom Brady Named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October

New England sports fans can disagree over everything under the sun but if you bash Tom Brady, then we overreact like we're all related to him. That's what made this past September so strange as the Patriots (6-2) struggled to a 2-2 start and Brady looked more mortal for long stretches than we've ever seen before. Look, we all know at some point (soon), he'll lose it and no longer be TB12. However, until that terrible time commences, leave our guy alone!

Still, as his AFC Offensive Player of the Month award for October shows (7th of his career, 1st since Dec./Jan. 2011), he has still got it and should the Pats go anywhere this season, he will be at the forefront of that. Since getting blown out 41-14 on September 29 at Kansas City, New England has rattled off four straight wins over Cincinnati, Buffalo, New York Jets and Chicago. Of those three, only the Jets game was close as the Patriots blew out the Bengals and Bears while eventually pulling away from the Bills.

In those four wins, New England has put up 43, 37, 27 and 51 points which is remarkable given how impotent they looked in September (20, 30, 16, 14). During that span where the Pats are rightfully back to contending for an AFC title and the customary AFC East title, Brady has gone 100-of-144 for 1268 yards, 14 TDs, 0 INTs and a quarterback rating of 129.1.

The biggest game of the NFL regular season is probably taking place this Sunday (4:25, CBS) at Gillette Stadium as the Broncos (6-1) stop by for the annual Brady/Manning Bowl. If Denver wins, odds are it will be because New England's defense can't get enough stops and not Brady and the offense's fault. We shall see.

Celtics Open 2014-15 Season With Low Expectations By Blowing Out the Nets

It is only one game so there is no need to call the Duck Boats quite yet but even the most cynical Celtics fan (points at self) has to admit that tonight's 121-105 demolition of the Nets at TD Garden was one hell of a way to start off the 2014-2015 regular season. For a team pegged to be a lottery team (again) with no hope of getting to .500, this result makes you wonder if we're simply underestimating the C's in year two under head coach Brad Stevens.

For the first time since 2002, Boston had eight guys score in double figures including all five starters (who each hit a 3-pointer as well). Rajon Rondo (13 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds) surprisingly started despite his recent broken hand. Naturally he flirted with a triple-double in 30 minutes of action. Kelly Olynyk led Boston with 19 points and six rebounds. Jeff Green had 17 points, six rebounds and two steals. Avery Bradley scored 15 points and Jared Sullinger rounded out (no pun intended, he's fat!) the starting five with 13 points and two blocks.

Paul Pierce is now with the Wizards and Kevin Garnett (10 points, 6 rebounds) entered his 20th (!) NBA campaign, this has to be his final go-around. The Nets got rid of bozo head coach Jason Kidd for the not wanted Lionel Hollins but it probably doesn't matter who is in charge because they have no clear direction. Some Yugoslavian rookie named Mirza Teletovic, a power forward, led the Nets with a game-high 20 points, six rebounds and two blocks off the bench in 23 minutes. He'll be starting in no time if he keeps up that type of production.

Brooklyn's old guy backcourt of Deron Williams (19 points, 8 assists) and Joe Johnson (19 points, 6 rebounds) would be quite a combination say five years ago but in 2014, you know that Williams will either get hurt, disinterested or both before Christmas. Former Worcester Academy (look it up) star Jarrett Jack added 11 points off the bench for the Nets, he always seems to play well vs. Boston.

Three of the newest Celtics, rookie Marcus Smart (4 steals), Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner (7 rebounds, 5 assists) all scored 10 points off the bench. The C's might not have the best starting five in the Atlantic Divison, let alone the Eastern Conference but it appears that they'll have way more depth than last season so that's worth something, right?

This was simply never remotely competitive as Boston led 32-23 after the first quarter and 67-41 at halftime. To put it into context, they only had one 20+ point lead previously in 2014 (last season). The Celtics outscored the Nets 34-31 in the third quarter before Brooklyn's scrubs made it a little more respectable in the fourth (33-20) but not really.

All these young guys on the Celts will have a few days to hear how great they look before things get real with a trip to Houston (2-0) on Saturday (8, CSN) followed by a meeting in Dallas (0-1) on Monday (8:30, CSN). Those are two definite playoff teams in the always loaded Western Conference and Boston typically plays poorly in Texas so it figures to be a different story from this evening's fun.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bruins Blow 2-Goal Lead In 3rd, Fall 4-3 to Wild

Boston allowed the first goal on Tuesday night at TD Garden to Minnesota but after that the B's rattled off three in a row to take a commanding 3-1 leading after two periods. Unfortunately for them, hockey games still consist of three periods and their third was a disaster. The Wild (5-3-0) scored three straight goals to take a 4-3 road win.

This was an unforgivable loss for the Bruins for a couple reasons: 1) Minnesota had played last night in New York (5-4 loss to Rangers); 2) Boston last competed on Saturday (if you can call it that vs. the hapless Maple Leafs); 3) two-goal leads for them, even without Zdeno Chara, should mean lights out.

Nino Niederreiter (great name) made it 1-0 just 4:51 into the contest as he one-timed a pass from Bruins killer Thomas Vanek. In 56 career games vs. Boston, Vanek now has 30 goals and 33 assists. Has Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli ever thought about signing him?

The only real bright spot for the B's was the improving play of Seth Griffith (2 goals, 1 assist). He tied it at 18:23 with his second goal of the season, redirecting David Krejci's sharp pass right by the net. Zach Trotman had the other assist for his first NHL point.

Griffith bagged his first multi-goal game with another redirection at 5:23 of the second period. This one was even sweeter than the first as he connected with Gregory Campbell's pass and then dove in the air after it went in the net, similar to Bobby Orr in the most famous play in Bruins history.

Milan Lucic's power play goal, yet another redirect, at 16:59 gave Boston that 3-1 advantage. Torey Krug and Griffith had the assists on Lucic's second goal of the season.

Boston completely shut down in the third period, they couldn't win any puck battles and were chasing it all frame as they were outshot 18-7 and outscored 3-0.

In most circumstances, we love Captain America Zach Parise but not tonight as he cut it to 3-2 at 4:21 with a redirection from Mikael Granlund and Jared Spurgeon. Only 2:13 after that, Minnesota had tied it up as Justin Fontaine put in a rebound from Ryan Carter and that scumbag Matt Cooke (yes he's still in the NHL and not behind bars).

The B's didn't deserve any good bounces so it was poetic that the game-winner was a shot by Marco Scandella (who?) from the point that went off Krejci's skate and in the net at 14:07. Boston had plenty of pressure after that but they couldn't beat Niklas Backstrom (25 saves) who improved to 5-0-1 all-time against the Bruins.

For the second time in five days, the Bruins have the honor of a cupcake matchup with the reeling Sabres (2-8) in Buffalo on Thursday (7, NESN). The Sabres were blanked 4-0 by the Maple Leafs tonight and Boston won 4-0 at First Niagara Center last Saturday. As far as we know, Buffalo is still an NHL (why, I couldn't tell you) so this meeting comes at the right time for a B's club still searching for consistency as they close out the first month of the season.

UPDATE 10/29: As if they needed another injury on defense, Krug broke a finger last night so he's out two to four weeks. Joe Morrow and David Warsofsky were recalled from Providence with thoughts of sitting Matt Bartkowski who is off to a predictably terrible start.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Patriots Turn Back the Clocks With a Good Old Fashioned Ass Kicking of the Bears, 51-23

It's safe to say that nobody saw Sunday's result (a 51-23 beating handed out by the Patriots to the Bears) at Gillette Stadium coming. New England (6-2 overall, 4-0 home) was last seen in a very sketchy 27-25 win over the Jets on Thursday Night Football. Plus, Chandler Jones is out for maybe the entire season so that temporarily cast a dark cloud over the team. Chicago (3-5 overall, 3-2 away) had lost to Miami 27-14 last Sunday so they desperately needed a win to turn their season around.

You'll never find me falling into the same trap that too many people do by getting wrapped up in a single win or loss. Yes the Pats looked incredible and the Bears appear headed nowhere fast but that doesn't mean anything once they snap the ball next weekend against different teams. That's what makes the NFL so great: each week and game counts so if you lose focus for a second, you'll fall off the map.

Tom Brady (30 of 35 for 354 yards, 5 TDs) was flawless, finding Rob Gronkowski (9 catches, 149 yards) for three touchdowns. Brandon LaFell is really coming along as a weapon, he set a career-high for catches (11) and receiving yards (124), he also added a touchdown. Finally, Tim Wright (7 catches, 61 yards) caught the other touchdown and New England's defense produced a score as Rob Ninkovich scooped up a fumble by Jay Cutler (20 of 30 for 227 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) and returned it 15 yards to the end zone.

This was like a high school game between a top team and a bad team since the Patriots were up 7-0 after the first quarter before they exploded for 31 points in the second quarter (including three TDs in 57 seconds). The Bears had no idea what hit them and that made the second half nothing more than a preseason game in October. Stephen Gostkowski hit three field goals in the contest and Jimmy Garoppolo even got to take a few snaps at the end.

Gronk's most impressive touchdown was a 46-yard catch and run that was vintage Gronk. He broke a few tackles then outran some Bears defensive players that wanted no part of him. With his wide variety of injuries suffered the last couple seasons, I'm hesitant to play doctor and say "he's fully recovered" but he sure looks like a different guy than the tentative one that we saw earlier in the season.

Darrelle Revis shadowed Brandon Marshall (3 catches, 35 yards) into obscurity and added an interception at the end of the first half when Cutler threw an ill-fated hail mary. Another interesting aspect of the victory for New England was the emergence of Jonas Gray (17 carries, 86 yards) who looks like he could be Stevan Ridley Jr. while he's out for the season. In other words, he's the running back that can get those tough yards between the tackles that nobody else can (with Ridley out).

It'll be funny, at least for a few days, to hear everyone locally (and nationally) jump back on the Patriots' bandwagon. Let's not forget that Chicago is much more of a mess than we expected and it turns out that New England is in much better shape than we could have imagined. There is no doubt that the next team coming to Gillette-Denver (6-1 overall, 1st in AFC West)-on Sunday (4:25, CBS) will present a formidable challenge. The Broncos are the best team in the AFC, again, so the Patriots need to proof that they can beat them. Odds are, this outcome could decide home field in January. Let the Pats-Broncos hype begin!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

You Can Always Trust The Maple Leafs to Make You Feel Better About Your Favorite Team

We wondered how the Bruins would respond in their first full game without captain Zdeno Chara and you have to say that Saturday's 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre was early proof that Boston (5-5-0) can still be a good team without him. Granted Toronto (3-4-1) is a perpetual mess always in search of a No. 1 goaltender but the B's will take two points however they get them these days.

It should have been a shutout for Boston since Tuukka Rask made 32 saves and the Leafs didn't score their lone goal until it was garbage time: Richard Pannik put the puck in the net after a scramble at 14:27 of the third period (when it was 4-0 Bruins).

This felt like a vintage B's win since they got contributions from guys all over the lineup: a power play goal, a shorthanded goal and three points from Dougie Hamilton (1 goal, 2 assists) which tied a career-high. Patrice Bergeron's two assists put him over 500 career points, now 13th on the Bruins' all-time scoring list.

Carl Soderberg bagged the power play goal just 3:27 into the contest, his third goal of the season. Hamilton's shot was mishit, right to Bergeron who also didn't square it up but fortunately it went right to Soderberg who used his fast Swedish hands to jam it past Jonathan Bernier.

David Krejci scored a highlight reel goal in the second period at 15:58 after he blew by a clearly gassed Phil Kessel and had his initial shot stopped by Bernier before he swatted in the rebound. Dennis Seidenberg (game-high 25:59, +2, 2 blocked shots and 3 hits) and Hamilton provided the assists on Krejci's third goal of the season.

Boston sewed it up with a pair of pretty goals early in the third period. Gregory Campbell scored a shorthanded goal (his 2nd goal of the season) at 2:32, a one-timer from Daniel Paille after a killer forecheck. Hamilton, one of numerous B's that were near their hometown, put the exclamation point on one of their better performances of the season with a filthy goal where he stickhandled through multiple guys then used his speed to find space before roofing a shot by James Reimer. Bergeron and Reilly Smith assisted on Hamilton's second goal of the season.

The Bruins return to TD Garden on Tuesday (7, NESN) to face the Wild (4-2-0) who hung seven goals on Tampa Bay this evening in a 7-2 blowout win. Things ease up as Boston goes back to Buffalo (2-7-0) on Thursday (7, NESN) but then they host sneaky good Ottawa (4-1-1) on Saturday (7, NESN). On the surface, you'd say that the B's should get at least four points out of the next week but keep in mind that the Wild and Senators are probably better than you think.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Bruins Lose 3-2 to Islanders But That's Overshadowed By Chara's Unknown Injury

All in all, it was a really terrible night for the Bruins. They lost 3-2 to the Islanders at TD Garden but that is the least of their worries since captain Zdeno Chara left in the first period and never returned.

After the game, Claude Julien wouldn't specify if it was an upper body or lower body injury but TSN's Aaron Ward (a former teammate of Chara) was the first to report it was his left knee and he was going to the hospital. Yikes! Ward later said Chara will be out 4-6 weeks with a knee ligament injury and they'll reevaluate it after that to see if he needs surgery.

This was supposed to be Johnny Boychuk's triumphant return to Boston for the first time. He was fine: +1 with one shot and two blocked shots in a team-high 23:18 but few would have predicted that he'd be overshadowed by another ex-Bruin-Chad Johnson. Boston's backup goaltender from last season got the surprise start and made 30 saves to earn his second win of the season. New York's starter Jaroslav Halak has been struggling a little so perhaps a goalie controversy is brewing on Long Island?

Boston (4-5-0) was chasing it all game, going down 1-0 and 3-1 before finally waking up in the third period. The fact that those final 20 minutes were their best of the season was inconsequential since their hapless second period (the worst of the season) buried them. Let's also give credit to New York (5-2-0), their early season success doesn't look like a fluke.

As good teams usually do, the Isles also got their fair share of breaks starting with Frans Nielsen's goal. The puck deflected off Dougie Hamilton's skate right to Nielsen for his first goal of the season at 6:21 of the first period. Bruins backup goaltender Niklas Svedberg (35 saves) had no chance to stop it.

Milan Lucic finally got a goal, it only took him nine games. He tipped in Seth Griffith's pass at 18:21 of the first period with David Krejci providing the second assist (and extending his point streak to five games).

One of the best American players that you never hear about for some reason-Kyle Okposo-made it 2-1 Islanders at 1:30 of the second period. John Tavares had the primary assist, giving him an NHL-high 11 points (3 goals, 8 assists). Okposo followed up his initial shot for the goal, his third of the season.

You knew it was New York's night when scrub Cal Clutterbuck (awesome name) extended their lead to 3-1 at 9:27 of the second period. He was wide open and Martin threw almost a no-look pass to him from behind the net for his first goal of the season.

After getting embarrassed in the second (outscored 2-0 and outshot 12-6), the Bruins showed some pride with a dominant third period. It felt like they were on a power play for basically the entire time with an unreal amount of zone time, unfortunately their finishing resembled the first few brutal games of this season when they couldn't score to save their lives.

It's scary to say it but Chris Kelly is playing the best hockey of at least his Bruins career so he has arguably been their best player in October. Haha I realize that probably explains why they are currently under .500. He also pushed his point streak to five games (tying a career-high) with a timely goal at 9:49 of the third period. Johnson's only juicy rebound (that cost him at least) of the night went right to Kelly who was on the doorstep to put it in. Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson had the assists as they've been Boston's most effective line as well.

Boston has practice tomorrow before they head to Toronto for Saturday night's game at the Air Canada Centre (7, NESN). The Bruins typically own the Maple Leafs (3-3-1) but needless to say, if they lose Chara for a significant amount of time, that could totally shell-shock them (as it seemed to in the 2nd period tonight). He has been remarkably durable in his Bruins career: this is his ninth season with Boston and the most games he's ever missed is five. Ugh, let's hope for the best and that somehow it's not as bad as it sounds.

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.

Well That Was More Like It: Patriots Win 37-22 at Bills Thanks to 4 TDs from Brady

Since my chosen occupation is sportswriter, I'd like to think that I can always find the right words, phrases or sentences to describe almost anything (within reason wise guys). However, tell me how you can sum up Tom Brady's 23-2 career record vs. Buffalo? For the second week in a row, New England (4-2 overall, 2-2 away) started to look like themselves again and this time they took their show on the road with a 37-22 win this afternoon vs. Bills (3-3 overall, 1-2 home) at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Brady (27 of 37 for 361 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs, 139.6 QB Rating) has quieted the doubters the last few games and he had another stellar performance. This one was vintage TB12: he hit 10 different receivers with passes led by Brandon LaFell (4 catches, 97 yards, 2 TDs), homeboy Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 94 yards) and Julian Edelman (9 catches, 91 yards). The most promising part of the passing game (alliteration much?) was that Tim Wright (1-yard) and Brian Tyms (43 yards for his 1st career NFL TD) also caught touchdowns.

Without question, the win took a toll on the Pats though (how much we'll find out tomorrow) as Jerod Mayo and Stevan Ridley suffered potentially season-ending knee injuries. Plus it sounds like Dan Connolly picked up another concussion which is really bad news since Brian Stork was inactive, New England's offensive line is still a nightmare.

The pattern is usually that the Bills play the Patriots tight in Buffalo and then get blown out in late December at Gillette Stadium. For a while, Buffalo hung around today but they never led, not even once. New England was up 13-7 at halftime so they outscored the Bills 24-15 in the second half. Kyle Orton (24 of 38 for 299 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) was fine by his low standards but Jamie Collins picked him off and Chandler Jones forced and recovered a fumble. I still don't understand why the Bills benched E.J. Manuel for him but then again, they are the Bills so logic or intelligence rarely applies when talking about them.

Buffalo lost the turnover battle 3-0, capped off by a C.J. Spiller fumble right before halftime that the Pats converted into a 53-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski (3 field goals, 4 PATs). What was Buffalo doing, why didn't they just kneel like every other team in the league would have in a heartbeat?

After a scoreless first quarter, that set the NFL back 20 or 30 years, New England opened the scoring with a 1-yard play action pass from Brady to Wright. It was all set up by a pass interference penalty drawn by Edelman in the end zone.

Sammy Watkins (2 catches, 27 yards) took a one-way trip to Revis Island which left Scott Chandler (6 catches, 105 yards) and Robert Woods (7 catches, 78 yards) to pick up the slack. Woods caught a 7-yard touchdown from Orton which tied it at seven, the only that Buffalo knotted it up. Gostkowski missed a field goal earlier, because of Danny Aiken's garbage low snap, but he made up for it with a 42-yard kick then the bomb at the end of the second quarter.

I don't want to make too much out of it since it's the NFL and almost everyone makes a play at some point in their career (except for Danny Amendola) but Tyms' long post route and grab between two defenders was a revelation (and a replay of what he did multiple times in the forgotten preseason). Brady hasn't benefited from a legitimate deep threat since Randy Moss was traded to Minnesota. We'll need to see Tyms do it more often but at least this was a very positive start in his first game back since his suspension.

UPDATE 10/13: As we suspected, Ridley (ACL, MLCL) and Mayo (knee) are both done for the season due to their injuries. Yuck, those are two big holes for the Patriots to fill right when the team finally looks good.

The Bills didn't fold, well not right away, as Fred Jackson responded with a 1-yard touchdown run to cut it to 20-14 (as close as they would get for the rest of the contest). Gostkowski's 43-yard field goal put New England up two scores (23-14) heading into the fourth quarter. LaFell was the story in crunch time with a beautiful 18-yard catch and run and 56-yard bomb where he broke a tackle sandwiched around Chris "Hollywood" Hogan's 8-yard touchdown catch (and 2-point conversion by Woods).

It wasn't their best performance of the young season but the Patriots' defense did more than enough for a road win against a divisional "rival." Zach Moore (who?) recovering a fumble was neat and Collins' interception showed his game-breaking ability but my favorite part besides Revis blanketing Watkins was that Rob Ninkovich had three sacks among his six tackles (4 for loss). He was a ghost for the first five games so this was something to build on for one of their team leaders.

They are back in sole possession of the AFC East but there is no time to rest for the Patriots since they have the unfortunate honor of hosting the Jets (1-5) on Thursday (8:25, CBS). If you've learned anything this season, the Thursday Night games are a complete trainwreck. Without fail, every week one team has shown up while the other mostly gets their doors blown off. Since it is at Gillette Stadium and the Jets are playing like one of the worst teams in the NFL (not named the Raiders or Jaguars but do they count?), I'd expect the Pats to be a double-digit favorite.

New England could make a few roster moves in the short week too since they figure to need another running back, linebacker and possibly offensive lineman. Get some rest everybody!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

We're Still Waiting for the Real Bruins to Show Up This Season

In three games so far this season, the Bruins have scored a grand total of three goals (for non-math majors, that's one per game). We can complain about new lines or other aspects of the team but with that simple stat, it's surprising that Boston (1-2-0) has already won a game. Tonight, they flatlined with a 4-0 no-show against the Capitals (1-0-1) at TD Garden. What made it so disappointing was that they kind of did the same thing, with less gross results, in Thursday's 2-1 loss at Detroit.

Alex Ovechkin scored twice, Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burkovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had two assists and Braden Holtby recorded his 12th career shutout with 29 mostly soft serve saves. It was the first time that Holtby had ever blanked the B's. Ironically, the last time that Boston had been shut out in regular season was basically a year ago (Oct. 10, 2013) vs. Colorado (2-0) which was also the third game of the season.

The disturbing part about this slow start is that the Bruins haven't exactly played the iron of the NHL: Philadelphia, Detroit and Washington are all teams that figure to be battling for some of the last playoff spots in the weak Eastern Conference right down to the wire.

Bobby Robins got into his second fight of the season (both at home) but this one wasn't particularly smart since it was preceded by a kneeing penalty. Ovechkin cashed that in with a patented one-timer from the faceoff dot at 11:26 of the first period on assists from John Carlson and Backstrom. If that wasn't easy enough, Ovi doubled Washington's lead at 18:39 after a simple cycle down low by Backstrom and Karl Alzner left him wide open as he went to the net.

You hate to write them off too soon but with the way they've struggled to put the puck in the net, or even create dangerous chances, it felt like it was over when Mike Green netted Washington's second power play tally at 10:34 of the second period. He was assisted by Kuznetsov and Backstrom on another one-timer that beat Tuukka Rask (17 saves).

Playing with Ryan Spooner and Mark Fraser, Milan Lucic has been a ghost so you know that he's frustrated. Green hit him from behind so Lucic took exception to it and was called for cross checking and a 10-minute misconduct. He might as well have gone after him harder and gotten some more frustration out because that was pointless.

Carlson added the final goal in garbage time, one last one-timer that Rask said was deflected, at 18:46 from Burakovsky and Kuznetsov. Woof. The Bruins were rightfully booed off the ice by the few remaining fans after the game ended.

There is only one way to go from here: up. The B's will try to find their game on Monday afternoon (1, NESN) in their customary Columbus Day matinee-this time against former Bruins great Jarome Iginla and Colorado (0-1-0). Since Rask has started all three games thus far and played every minute, I would expect his backup Niklas Svedberg to make his 2014-15 Bruins debut. Rask isn't the issue by any means but head coach Claude Julien has to be prudent about giving him a break when he can, especially in this busy stretch to start the year (four games in six days).

Boston hadn't lost two straight in regulation since January 7 & January 9 last season. The last time that they dropped three straight in regulation was March 10-15, 2012. Eventually, David Krejci and Gregory Campbell will return (but Johnny Boychuk won't) and the Bruins are bound to start looking like themselves again, right? Even if they don't have those guys on Monday, there is no reason that they can't put these three forgettable contests behind them as they try to play like the team that many picked to win the Eastern Conference.

UPDATE 10/12: The B's made a minor move this morning: sending Craig Cunningham down to Providence and recalling Seth Griffith. This new fourth line changes everything!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Bruins Open 2014-15 With 2-1 Win Over Flyers

A pretty dull 2014-15 regular season opener got a jolt of energy late in the third period as Chris Kelly of all people notched the game-winning goal with 1:51 left in the third period. From there, Boston held on for a 2-1 victory over Philadelphia at TD Garden. The B's outshot the Flyers 33-20 but without David Krejci (who's on IR), Boston's reshuffled lines couldn't generate too many great scoring opportunities.

Steve Mason (31 saves) is Steve Mason so even though he had a fine game for nearly 59 minutes, his fatal mistake of trying to hit a floating puck with his blocker (rather than gloving it) led to Kelly's goal, probably the easiest non-empty netter of his career. Adam McQuaid and Carl Soderberg had the assists on Kelly's goal.

Reilly Smith only played two preseason games but that didn't matter since his chemistry with linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron seemed to carry over to this season. He gave Boston a 1-0 lead at 10:39 of the first period with a power play goal. He one-timed a sneaky pass by Soderberg with Bergeron providing the second assist.

For a few days at least, the B's have a new cult hero: 32-year-old journeyman Bobby Robins who went to UMass Lowell and made his NHL debut last night after 499 games in the minors (that's insane). He's no Shawn Thornton but that's his job and he didn't disappoint, dropping the gloves with Luke Schenn in the second period.

Tuukka Rask (19 saves) appeared to be on his way to an easy shutout but Sean Couturier tied it at 4:19 of the third period. He redirected Jakub Voracek's pass with Matt Read also getting credit for an assist.

Boston didn't get too long to enjoy these two points as they hopped on a plane to Detroit (there is still an aiport there, right?). They'll face the Red Wings tomorrow night (7:30, NESN) in Detroit's season-opener. We already know that Krejci is out and Red Wings star Pavel Datsyuk won't play either as he nurses a shoulder injury.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Patriots End Tumultous Week w/Statement Victory Over Bengals, 43-17 on Sunday Night Football

The main reason that it's so hard to bet on the NFL(and I never do it for real) was on full display tonight at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots (3-2 overall, 2-0 home) were coming off a horrific 41-14 loss to the Chiefs (2-3) on Monday Night Football so naturally, on a short week against a supposedly better team (than KC), they dominated for a 43-17 win. Everyone outside of their locker room legitimately doubted them so they responded with their best performance of the young season.

New England won their 32nd straight game at Gillette vs. AFC opponents (in the regular season) and kept pace with the Bills (3-2) who won 17-14 at the Lions. Tom Brady (23 of 35 for 292 yards, 2 TDs) had his top output of 2014 and the Pats got a 100-yard rusher (Stevan Ridley had 113 yards on 27 carries) which makes them 39-1 under Belichick when a guy reaches the century mark in rushing. Shane Vereen (9 carries, 90 yards) almost got there too for the Pats.

In many ways, this felt like the polar opposite of Monday night. The Pats jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter (first time this season that they scored on the opening drive), on a 1-yard run by Ridley and a 17-yard catch by Tim Wright (5 catches, 85 yards). Cincinnati had an extra week to prepare (coming out of a bye week) so it was somewhat stunning (though they are the Bengals after all) since it looked like they hadn't done anything special to get ready for New England's must-win in a primetime contest.

A 23-yard field goal by Mike Nugent averted the first half shutout for Cincinnati (3-1 overall, 1-1 away) while Stephen Gostkowski added two late field goals for the 20-3 lead. Not surprisingly given the final score, the Patriots' defense responded from Monday's embarrassment. They forced three fumbles: recovered by Jamie Collins, Duron Harmon (who stepped in for the injured Devin McCourty) and Kyle Arrington.

Cincy's quick strike offense was in effect when Andy Dalton (15 of 24 for 204 yards, 2 TDs) hit Mohamed Sanu for a 37-yard touchdown early in the third quarter that cut it to a two-score game (20-10). That was the last signs of life for the Bengals though as Rob Gronkowski (6 catches, 100 yards, TD) caught a 16-yard touchdown and six seconds later on the ensuing kickoff, Brandon Bolden forced a fumble and Kyle Arrington scooped it up and ran nine yards for the TD.

The great A.J. Green (5 catches, 81 yards, TD) caught a 17-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that made it 34-17 Patriots. Gostkowski stayed busy with three more field goals in the fourth that put the game way out of reach. They even survived an major scare as Darrelle Revis went down with a shoulder injury but returned to action later in the game.

Here are some numbers that show how much New England rolled and how it could have been an even bigger blowout if not for eight more penalties (12-4) called on them: they picked up 13 more first downs (30-17), were far better on third down (6 for 16 vs. 0 for 7), ran 34 more plays (82-48), gained 185 more total yards (505-320) and rushed for 141 more yards (220-79).

The Pats meet the Bills next Sunday (1, CBS) in Orchard Park. The two top teams (at this moment) in the AFC East will battle for first-place in the division with former Patriot Brandon Spikes leading an improved Bills defense. I won't waste anyone's time trying to predict how that will go. As we saw tonight, contrary to popular belief it's not time to count out Belchick, Brady and the Patriots just yet.

UPDATE 10/8: Patriots re-signed OL Chris Martin and DL Joe Vellano to the practice squad.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Honestly, What the Hell is Happening in Foxborough?

A bizarre week for the Patriots got even weirder as word came out this afternoon that they had surprisingly released second-year wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins. From a production standpoint, this move makes sense since he's only caught six passes for 53 yards this season and been inactive for two of the last three games but not injured as far as we know.

Still, this former undrafted rookie was a guy that was hyped up last season by everyone in the organization and now they're deserting him? It's not like the Pats are loaded at wide receiver. Without him, they are left with only Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Brandon LaFell, Aaron Dobson and Matthew Slater (primarily a special teamer).

I read that this could be temporary and they could re-sign him next week (to save money I'm sure) but if he's on waivers, you'd have to think that somebody would claim him. He also has practice squad eligibility for what that's worth. I really don't understand this. He's not a star by any means and we haven't heard rumblings of drama with him (like Dobson) plus Brady supposedly enjoyed working with him. Last season he started eight games and had 32 catches for 446 yards and four touchdowns.

The final aspect of this that's unexplainable is that wide receiver Brian Tyms is eligible to be activated for tomorrow's do-or-die game vs. Bengals but New England won't do it. They're also leaving cornerback Brandon Browner inactive since they have the option to do that for a week coming off suspensions before they have to make a real decision. For Thompkins' roster spot, they promoted linebacker Ja'Gared Davis from the practice squad (to cover for Nate Ebner on special teams while he's out).

Needless to say, the Patriots could use a win in the worst way vs. Cincinnati. It certainly wouldn't cure all their problems but at least it would give them some type of positivity to rally around. There hasn't been any of that around them for weeks.

UPDATE 10/6: Thompkins was reportedly claimed off waivers by Oakland so there goes the idea that he'd be back here. Nice going Patriots. Browner and Tyms were both activated while the Pats released DL Joe Vellano and put DL Michael Buchanan on IR.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Happy Trails to a Great Bruin: Johnny Boychuk

Everyone knew that the Bruins had too many defensemen going into this campaign and worse, they were coming dangerously close to the salary cap so somebody had to go sometime soon. Unfortunately, that was finally sorted out this afternoon as veteran Johnny Boychuk was traded to the Islanders for a pair of second-round draft picks and a conditional third-round pick.

He'll never be an All-Star or on the Canadian national team but Boychuk is the type of guy that you love when he's on your favorite team. He's smart, tough, dependable and always seems to step up in the postseason (13 goals, 14 assists, +20 in 79 career games). He is set to become an unrestricted free agent next summer so after five years in Boston, he's gone.

In the prime of his career at age 30, Boychuk is coming off the best season of his NHL life: 5 goals, 18 assists, +31 in 75 games. As always, the Islanders are rebuilding and looking for leaders, particularly on defense where they've employed numerous turnstiles for years. It's ironic that he landed there since the same two teams played last night in a preseason game and watching the Islanders' live stream from their website, their announcers mentioned Boychuk trade rumors repeatedly. I guess they knew something that we didn't.

Bigger picture for the B's, this means that shaky Matt Bartkowski has likely "earned" a spot for 2014-15. I think most fans wanted him off the team but clearly, Boychuk had more trade value to the Isles and could bring a better haul in return. Boychuk won a Stanley Cup with the Bruins in 2011 and he will always be remembered fondly in these parts for his huge hits and booming shot (Johnny Rocket!). In many ways, he was an ideal Bruin for this very successful era under Claude Julien.

UPDATE 10/7: The Bruins' roster was set for the opener with Matt Fraser, Bobby Robins and Ryan Spooner all making it while David Pastrnak will start in Providence with Jordan Caron. The biggest news is that David Krejci starts on IR with an undisclosed injury. Malcolm Subban and Brian Ferlin were recalled, Marc Savard went on long-term IR then Gregory Campbell and Anthony Campbell are on non-roster IR. Got all that?

Week 5 Injury Report: Patriots vs. Bengals on Sunday Night Football

Without question for as long as I can remember, there hasn't been a week nearly as tumultuous as this one has been for the Pats at least when it comes to poor results on the field. After taking a 41-14 beating in Kansas City (2-2) on Monday Night Football, New England (2-2) turns around for another primetime matchup: vs. unbeaten Cincinnati (3-0) on Sunday Night Football (8:30, NBC) at Gillette Stadium.

About the only good thing to come out of all their terrible play this season is that most Patriots fans are finally learning to be a bit more objective with their favorite team which isn't a bad thing. There are so many issues for New England to address at the moment that you can't help but question many of their core beliefs: 1) not spending too much (leaving plenty of open cap space), 2) skipping over the top talents in the draft and 3) letting the offensive line become a revolving door of nobodies.

A staple of the Patriots when they were good is that they never lost back-to-back games and when people started to question them (like this week or the whole season so far), they rally around and pull off a resounding response that ends in a victory. It's not an original thought since everyone has said it but this game vs. Cincinnati truly represents a crossroads for head coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the team/front office. If they win, some semblance of hope will return. If not, yikes this will only get uglier.

Today's injury report lists safety Nate Ebner (finger) and offensive lineman Cameron Fleming (finger) as both out for Sunday, no big loss there since they are two of the bottom players on the 53-man roster. Jamie Collins (thigh), Alfonzo Dennard (shoulder)-who has missed the past three games-defensive lineman Dominique Easley (knee), Dont'a Hightower (knee) and Chandler Jones (shoulder) are all questionable for New England.

For the Bengals, something called Brandon Thompson (knee)-a defensive tackle-is out. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion), wide receiver Marvin Jones (ankle) and guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) are all doubtful. Defensive end Margus Hunt (shoulder) is the lone guy on Cincinnati that is questionable.

Enjoy the afternoon games on Sunday and get ready for what should be a fascinating contest on Sunday night. I'll update this before kickoff in Foxborough with the incomparable Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Think those good thoughts!

UPDATE 10/5: Bengals inactives are Jones, Burfict, Zeitler, Thompson, RB Rex Burkhead, DL Will Clarke and DB Chris Lewis-Harris. For the Patriots: Ebner, Fleming, Hightower, OL Josh Kline, RB James White, DL Zach Moore and CB Malcolm Butler.