Category Archives: Analysis by BruinsUnite

Bruins Heroes and Villains: Contrary to Popular Belief…

Rewind to game 2.

First Vancouver goal: Ference may have been outplayed here, and there was, as there always is, a touch of luck involved on the deflection that didn’t clear. He was in the right position to dump the puck in from the neutral zone and that seemed like a better decision than making a pass through 3 blue jerseys. Ference did not have a perfect game but the commotion regarding this play was severely overblown and reactionary.

Boston’s first goal: Lucic did very well what he once did well on a regular basis: He won a puck battle behind the net. This allowed Krejci to make a gorgeous play, and as Lucic stood his ground in front of the net (where he belongs), he was rewarded off the rebound as Alberts was occupied with Horton, who was probably perceived to be the bigger threat. Overtime winning goals aside, Horton has not been an effective 2-way player in this series, and needs someone to create room for him if he is going to be effective. He has, on many occasions, benefited from Lucic’s presence. This is not to take his past achievements away from him, but Horton is not a hero in this series.

Credit on Boston’s first goal is also due to Johnny Boychuk, who never misses the net from the point. Luongo’s well-known weakness is his lack of rebound control, so the Bruins have to take advantage of that fact and must use their accuracy from the point to create opportunities. For this reason and others, it would have been nice to see Chara’s slapshot on occasion.This is an already defensively weakened Vancouver team and it would serve the Bruins well to have them blocking 105pmh slapshots. So our first villain is Chara. He is simply not using his size to his advantage and he has seemed sluggish on occasion in these first 2 games. This isn’t just a perception that comes from comparing his skating with Vancouver’s speed, which isn’t legendary (especially not compared to Montreal and Tampa Bay).

Chara has been sluggish in part because he was given the impossible role of playing the punching bag in front of the net on the PP in game 1, in which he took a lot of abuse. he was also used against Vancouver’s first line and on the PK. No one defenseman can do all that and still skate with the best of them when it counts most. So perhaps ironically, on the errors that stood out most for Chara (particularly on the winning goal in game 2, on which he was outplayed), he is not the primary villain. If we absolutely must point fingers, this one falls on the coach, who overworked his #1 D. It is no surprise, then, that Chara no longer appears to be the Bruins’ top D-man. Having said that, credit is definitely due to Seidenberg, who has been a hero in every respect thus far in this series and in the last.

Boston powerplay goal: Contrary to popular velief, Seguin was actually very relevant to the success of this powerplay, though indirectly. Bieksa was largely taken out of the PK equation because he was too busy mirroring Seguin, which allowed Chara’s shot from the point to be defleced by Recchi, who often knows where to go when he’s in front of the net. Recchi had all the room in the world to move around and that is probably because because he was not perceived as the greatest offensive threat on the powerplay.

Recchi is definitely guilty of a handful of giveaways at even strength and he simply cannot keep up with the speed of the game but if he can manage to stay in front of the net, his presence on the powerplay is not the liability that it is 5-on-5. We might even classify him as the hero on the PP, provided that there are 3 forwards on the ice. The 3D lineup was an epic failure on the part of Claude Julien, who needs to think offense because the purpose of the powerplay is to score. The villain in the attacking zone, then, is the coach. This is less a criticism of Julien as it is a matter of letting his players off the hook for decisions from the coaching staff that have been les than ideal.

Props to Brad Marcahnd, who was incredibly effective on the PK despite the Vancouver PP goal. The bench was yelling at him to break away with tht puck on the first Vancouver PP, and he came quite close to a breakaway. His ability to maneuver around the D and create plays has increased 10-fold since the first round of these playoffs and he is going to be a great player. With any luck, his ability will pay off for the Bruins in game 3.

Vancouver’s second tying goal: This one was tragic because Lucic finally won a battle along the boards and cleared the puck to an open Chara, who could not seem to get his stick within even 2 feet of the puck. No other errors were made leading up to the goal. Seidenberg could not easily have obtaied possession on the redirected puck. Villan? At first glance, it’s Chara. Is your car responsible if it stalls because you’ve failed to change the oil? Not really. Similarly, Chara is looking tired, and that speaks volumes about the manner in which he has been used. Chara isn’t just big, he is probably in better shape than anyone else in the league. But he has quite literally been played in every scenario and is, at bottom, a human being. Julien must reserve the use of Chara for moments when it counts most, and only for those moments. He must be used to shut down the first line, and only to shut down the first line–this despite the fact that he is a great decision-maker on the PK and PP, when he’s at his best.

Johnny Boychuk and Andrew Ference, while excellent in many areas, are not suddenly going to become better than they are. They are going to turn the puck over at times. That’s just something that Bruins fans are going to have to come to terms with. This team is as good as it is and not better, and it was good enough to win at least one of the first 2 games in this series in Vancouver. But it did not. Part of the blame for that falls on the coaching staff, and the rest falls on Vancouver’s ability to attack. We have to accept that fact. The coaching staff isn’t perfect and this tam has come this far on the basis of heart, and not talent. Take pride in that fact if you’re a Bruins fan. The Bruins don’t have a Stamkos but they have guys who are willing to sacrifice their bodies for the puck. This goes a long way and brings us to the final point.

Michael Ryder and Tyler Seguin will not hold on to the puck if it means being hit. Call it a conscious decision or call it instinct, but this this is the team we have to work with and these are the facts. The good news is that these 2 forwards have murderous offensive ability and must be played alongside players who are capable of creating space. Seguin could not have done in this series what he did in his first 2 playoff games because his opponents now know he’s a threat and they’ve therefore been able to do a good job at shutting him down. Pair him with someone who will take out the D and he’ll sink 2 goals per game for this team. Natural goal scorers are rare and the Bruins are very lucky to have him. He doesn’t need a good passer who is also afraid of taking the body; he needs the physical play of his teammates. So coaching is a key factor in Seguin’s performance. He needs more than 6 or 7 minutes of ice time.

Here’s to hoping that the Boston Bruins carry out justice for Patrice Bergeron tonight. As a human being and elite player who is respected all over the league, this team cannot allow him or the game of hockey to be ridiculed in the way it has been throughout this series. They must use their size and strength to set boundaries for a disrespectful Vancouver team. This will bring the momentum they need to once again play with confidence, which is probably the single-most crucial element missing thus far in this series.

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The Boston Bruins: A Code of Integrity

For many of us, it is clear that our Boston Bruins embody integrity. Throughout the regular season, instead of hearing rumors about extracurricular drunken player excursions or domestic abuse charges, we are bombarded with charity events. Our Boston Bruins have a captain who has climbed Mount Kilimanjero; Andrew Ference and Zdeno Chara are also involved in Right to Play, whose mission is to improve the lives of children in some of the most disadvantaged areas of the world “by using the power of sport and play for development, health and peace.” (Source)

The Boston Bruins certainly make mistakes, like any group of mortals, and nothing is more indicative of this fact than the now infamous green finger event involving Andrew Ference. When he shows us his middle finger, however, we’re shocked exactly because such behavior is uncharacteristic our Boston Bruins. The last time we drafted a rat like Brad Marchand, for instance, it was two and a half decades ago. But even Marchy is loved because although he’s a regular disturber, he doesn’t stoop to Averian antics or resort to feminine antics involving his teeth.

Marc Savard was also involved in a biting incident, as we know, and although there was speculation as to whether Carcillo was tugging on Savard’s front teeth, no one thought this was acceptable behavior, if it did indeed take place. But let’s not shame the memory of one of the best centers ever to wear a Bruins jersey. Marc Savard, who stands 5’9″, was always the first to jump to the defense of his teammates and wasn’t afraid to stir it up. He was also not the kind of player to stoop to the level of cheap-shotting highly respected players with the moral character of someone like Patrice Bergeron. The same cannot be said of players like Alex Burrows, who had, admittedly, toned it down this past regular season.

Had the cowardly Burrows even transpired with some other player, like Brad Marchand or Milan Lucic, there would likely not have been much commotion regarding the incident. But the outrage wasn’t primarily about his non-suspension, even though Jarkko Ruutu was suspended 2 games for the exact same act. The outrage wasn’t over the scrum, either. It was over the fact that the well-respected Bergeron entered the scrum merely to push aside the instigating 3rd man in. There was no observable hostility of cheap-shotting on his part.

Scrums are part of the game, and sometimes, so are cheap shots. Yet you won’t find Lucic sucker-punching a player like Kevin Bieksa or conveniently falling over rival Carey Price with intent to injure–you can take that promise to the bank. With the aggression of the Boston Bruins comes a code of conduct centered on honor and respect.

Emotions can get the better of you in intense contexts. The Boston Bruins, despite their undeserved reputation, are rumored in some circles to be ‘dirty’. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a Boston Bruins fan, we are often taken aback by teams like the Philadephia Flyers and the Montreal Canadiens for this very reason–we forget that not everyone follows the same code.

The code of integrity in question was highlighted by Kevin Bieksa himself last month, when he argued that his team had crossed a line that put into jeopardy the integrity of the game of hockey itself:

“I know guys will do whatever it takes for a power play to win a game,” Bieksa said. “But sometimes they’re crossing that line of integrity. I think for the better of the game, for the good of the game we need people to stay on that line and not cross it, and not dive and exaggerate for calls.” (Source)

Our Boston Bruins are not merely playing for the Stanley Cup in this final round; they are playing for each other. This is what they do. Their last game with the Tampa Bay Lightning was one of the most intense and hard-hitting hockey games many of us had ever witnessed, and not one penalty call was made. To the admission of both coaches, this was not due to officiating leniency but to the fact that both teams respected the boundaries of physical play.

There is a place for hard-hitting hockey, and many of us want to keep it that way. There is also a place for fighting, and many of us very much want it to stay that way. There is no place, however, in a Stanley Cup final for hits aimed at the termination of budding careers or feminine antics of the kind that will be permanently recorded in the history books. If the Boston Bruins lose this series, they will do so with integrity. If they get their name on the Stanley Cup, it will be for their ability to play hockey.

Win or lose, as the world watches these two teams battle it out for the greatest prize of all, one great result that will come out of this Stanley Cup final is that the world will be able to judge for themselves the character of this Boston Bruins team. This is a we can be proud of. This is a team we’re already proud of.

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Watch your Back: Here are the Biggest and Baddest Bruins of all

Watch out for… (From this post)

No, not Lucic (primarily). Yet this is what the Vancouver media has been advertising. The Canucks might be surprised to learn that Milan Lucic is no longer the greatest threat when it comes to physical play. Who to watch out for, then? Here’s my subjective list, in order of perceived toughness, taking into account recent play but not discounting a sudden resurgence of malice.

It’s not about the number of hits. It’s about momentum. And maybe some killer instinct.

6 Facts Not Advertised in the Media About the Canucks / Bruins Match-up: NHL Playoffs 2011

1. Playing Lesser Teams <=> Larger Number of Points

Let’s begin with a few lesser-known facts about the Vancouver Canucks and their supposedly legendary season.

The Vancouver Canucks racked up a lot of points in the regular season, finishing with a whopping 117. Impressive? At first glance, yes. Yet 24 of those games were against teams within their own division. That’s just how the cookie crumbles in the NHL.  Very notably, however, these 24 teams, for the Canucks, included Edmonton–the worst team in the league, Colorado–the second worst team in the league, Minnesota–21st overall, and Calgary–a team that ended with one more point overall than the New York Rangers.

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2. Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo’s  playoff save  percentage: .922

Tim Thomas’ playoff save  percentage: .929

To put this into perspective, it’s best to judge on the basis of longevity and a large enough pool for judging performance. Thomas made 560 saves, while Luongo has only had to make 487. Contrast this with the Lightning’s Dwayne Roloson, who made a total of 500 saves, many of which were against Boston. Roloson’s final save percentage in the playoffs was .924, which puts him a cut above Luongo. Let’s not forget that Luongo has also logged fewer minutes (1,075:46) than Thomas (1,124:41), whose team has trusted enough to start him in all 18 games played.

Most interestingly of all, however is the fact that Roberto Luongo’s save percentage behind the twins has fallen to a shocking .880 (Source). This could be a statistical anomaly, and Luongo might be much better now, but there is no concrete set of data to demonstrate that fact.

On the other end of the ice, the Bruins have Tim Thomas, who is capable of quite literally stealing games. Bruins fans are hoping this won’t be needed, but it’s comforting, to be sure.

In the end, we are left with the reality that Luongo is known to allow at least one softie per game. He can clearly be very good, but reliability is everything when clutch time comes around. How will he handle it?

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3. Place Your Bets! (But not on Scoring Chances?)

Canuck optimism lies in the following line of reasoning: “If the Bruins had trouble scoring on the Tampa defence, what chance do they have to generate offence against the Canucks back end, which makes the Lightning group look woeful by comparison?” (Source)

Good argument. On the face of it. Gallagher offers an analytical response, which would have us think back to the game played between these two teams in the regular season:

That one was won by the Bruins right here in Vancouver for several reasons. First, the … Bruins were extremely successful in keeping Vancouver to the outside the entire game. Their big, physical team had the Canucks shooting from the outside and settling for shots from the point through a maze of players in front whenever Vancouver had the man advantage. The prevailing wisdom after the game was that eventually one of those Christian Ehrhoff, Alex Edler, or Mikael Samuelsson rockets would make it through if the same game was repeated again and again but that sort of reasoning is pretty sketchy. Nothing got through for Tampa at even strength Friday night in a game when they were largely kept to the perimeter.

A final relevant factoid on this Matter: Boston is in first place this post-season 5-on-5 at plus-20. “The Bruins have outscored opponents, 48-29. The Canucks’ goal record at even strength is 31-31.” (Good summary in NYT)

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4. Groin Injury: Kesler’s Back! 

Today’s Update: Ryan Kesler is back and is expected to play but he’s thought to be dealing with a groin injury, according to NBC Sports. But is he at 100%? If not, should we care? Indeed we should.

Kesler missed part of Game 5 of the Western Conference finals due to the injury. He said he feels good, but we’d be surprised if he said anything else this deep into the playoffs. Kesler has been a huge part of the Canucks playoff run and he should be a major factor in the Stanley Cup finals, even if he isn’t 100%.

Kesler is perceived to be so important, in fact, that his presence or absence has predictions hanging:

“If Ryan Kesler plays, I can see the Canucks winning this series in six games,” said Weekes, a commentator for Hockey Night in Canada, Versus and NHL Network. “But if Kesler is seriously affected by injury or has to sit out, my pick would change to the Bruins in six games. Kesler is so important to his team.” (Source)

Kesler has seven goals and 18 points in 18 games. Interestingly, however, the Boston Bruins have a way of neutralizing offensive leaders. Take Steven Stamkos, for instance, who managed only 2 goals in 7 games against Boston.

Kesler may or may not be healthy, but the likelihood that he is at 100%, while unknown, might seem questionable in light of the fact that he played significantly fewer minutes in Game 4 (see chart below). Was this due to his condition? Why else would he be playing fewer minutes? Maybe it was due to the fact that he had not registered a point in the previous 2 games, and had only one assist in the prior game.

CBS Sports Opponent G A P +/- TOI
05/15 SJ 0 1 1 0 22:19
05/18 SJ 0 0 0 1 20:55
05/20 SJ 0 0 0 0 22:57
05/22 SJ 1 0 1 -2 18:59
05/24 SJ 1 0 1 1 29:17

Playing over 29 minutes in the 5th game against San Jose probably didn’t help Kesler’s injury–whether or not it was making itself heard at the time (read: whether or not he reported any pain).

But he did come back to score! Is this good reason for praise? Not on its own. The goal was scored 5-on-3 and he was a minus 2 in that game.

In light of these facts, as well as the final one to appear tonight, savvy Bruins fans are not in a state of panic.

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5. Catch me if you Can

The Sedin twins don’t like to get hit, and they’re relatively slow. Conversely, a fact that has become hard to swallow (for lack of recent precedent) even for Bruins fans is the speed of this new Boston Bruins team. The Bruins boast a tremendous amount of speed in Daniel Paille, Rich Peverley, David “The Matrix” Krejci, the highly underrated Gregory Campbell, Brad “The (new) Rat” Marchand, and of course, Tyler Seguin on the second and sometimes even the third line.

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6. Watch out for…

Casual fans might be surprised to learn that Milan Lucic is no longer the greatest threat when it comes to physical play. Who to watch out for, then? Here’s my subjective list, in order of perceived toughness, taking into account recent play but not discounting a sudden resurgence of malice.

It’s not about the number of hits.  It’s about momentum.  And maybe a dash of killer instinct.

The Cult of Lucic

The Lucic Revival of Boston Bruins Hockey

The hearts of long-standing Boston Bruins fans have been broken throughout the present post season over the performance of former golden boy Milan Lucic. For those just tuning in, Milan Lucic brought life to the the Boston Bruins. It was only 2 years ago that Lucic arrived on the scene with his “board-rattling and glass-shattering hits and bare-knuckle beatdowns. The response elicited by that style of play shocked even Lucic.” (August 2009) Suddenly, “Boston was a hockey town again.” It’s only since Lucic’s arrival on the scene that Boston started to hear this phrase again after a drought that started after the departure of ‘Bam Neely’–the goal-scoring destroyer who originally inspired the term “power forward.”

Recall that in 2009,
Lucic, along with popular tough guy Shawn Thornton and imposing captain Zdeno Chara, struck a chord with fans longing for the days of the Big, Bad Bruins and Don Cherry’s “Lunchpail Gang.” (August 2009)

Coach Claude Julien took a chance on Milan Lucic, who couldn’t even manage to get on a roster that would allow him to be seen by scouts. This was perhaps the most impressive decision Julien ever made. Despite Lucic’s sluggish skating ability and seemingly clumsy style, Julien hunted him down, decided he would teach the kid to skate and capitalized on his physical presence. Boy did this pay off for the Bruins in the following 2 playoff seasons, in which Lucic became the talk of the town and the most hated player amongst oopponents–hands down. No one on the team cared whether Looch ever scored a goal. His mere presence was enough to create the kind of momentum that would bring the Bruins a 4-0 sweep in the playoffs against their long-time rivals, the favored Habs, and a 6-game win against Ryan Miller in 2010. They finished second that year in the goals against category, second only to Vancouver, and finished first the year before. To say that Lucic played a big role in this area would be a wild understatement. Getting past the bulldozer, big Z by his side, was a feat every team dreaded. These were the Big Bad Bruins.

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Disaster

For those of us who experienced the transition of this team through the cult of Lucic, the golden boy’s current performance is not just disappointing, it is a disaster. In the last playoff season, Lucic averaged one minute of PP time on ice per game and had 2 PP goals in 13 games. He also administered 46 hits and did wonders for the momentum of the game. The same goes for the previous playoff year in which he played 10 games. He didn’t score in his 42 seconds of PP time per game that year but had a total of ZERO giveaways and administered 37 hits. The momentum he added to the game is not something you’re going to read off his numbers, however, and this constitutes the biggest hit of all to this team.

This playoff season, Lucic has accumulated 16 giveaways in 15 games and only 6 takeaways. Number of hits: 36. He had more hits in 10 games in 2009, but more importantly, the nature of those hits are far from awe-inspiring and they don’t belong in the same category. He’s a shadow of himself on many levels.

Yet we cannot lay blame upon the man himself as though he refuses to be better. There is no doubt that he wants to be better.

The present puzzle isn’t going to be solved by reminiscing and rewarding Lucic with PP minutes for his performance in previous years. His time on ice must be reduced. He is almost single-handedly neutralizing the first line.

If he cannot be moved to another line on pain of disrupting the team, then he must at the very least be removed from the PP. He isn’t earning it. There is no conceivable justification for having him on the ice 5 on 4.

Milan Lucic was not the sole reason why the Bruins gave up a 3-goal lead in Game 4 against Tampa, but consider this. He is a very significant factor in the first line equation, he is currently dulling the PP and he assisted Tampa’s winning goal. Had the Bruins scored one PP goal in Game 4, they might have won that game despite their other blunders. Similarly, had the first line produced just one 5-on-5 goal, The Bruins might very well have won that game.

This is not the time to accuse Milan Lucic of bringing down the team, but it might just be the time to point the finger at Claude Julien for his first line and PP choices. Let him off the hook for not calling a time-out in the 2nd period and focus on the real issues (in any case, Tampa didn’t score again after the 3rd goal in the second period, so a time-out at the time would likely not have prevented further damage). Let Julien off the hook for choosing to play his defensive system that led to a breakthrough in finding a way across Montreal’s trap, and in neutralizing Stamkos, St. Louis and Lecavalier in a Game 3 shut-out.

Do not let Julien off the hook, however, for his PP and offensive line choices in the present playoff round, which has caused even atheists to turn to prayer after witnessing the tragedy that was Game 4. Do not let Julien off the hook for seeing to it that the only Bruins forward with more PP time logged is David Krejci. This is inexcusable and there is no jusitification for Lucic’s presence on the PP. That feeling of dread we experience when a Bruins PP is forthcoming, for some of us, has turned into a dread of seeing the number 17.

Make no mistake. We love our golden boy. We still belong to the cult of Lucic because we know just how big and bad he can be. But we’re facing a rival cult right now, and that’s the cult of Boucher, whose team is happy to sacrifice it all–even in the face of a 105.9mph slapshot. And let’s be honest: Many of you didn’t think the Bruins could make it this far. But they have, and it’s no longer enough to have knocked off the 2 greatest rivals in recent history. It’s time to show Boucher and his disciples what this team can do.

We all want Lucic back but removing him from the front lines isn’t treason. The focus must be on winning and yesteryear won’t matter Wednesday as our Bruins play the most difficult game of the post-season to date.

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