(Originally posted on 4SportBoston.com )
The win was very important for the B’s as the Senators entered the game with a one point lead over the Bruins in the standings. With the regulation victory, Claude Julien’s team vaulted over the Sens in both the division and conference from seventh to fifth place.
There is still plenty of hockey left in the 2009-10 season, but divisional games between teams separated by one point in the standings are important no matter what month the calendar says. Even winning in overtime would have kept the B’s in seventh place in the playoff chase, so putting forth a shutdown effort accomplished goals both for the present and potentially for the future.
When a team looks at the final score and sees that the opposition was “bageled”, attention is rightfully turned toward the goaltender. Any praise heaped on Tim Thomas after the win was rightfully deserved.
The reigning Vezina Trophy winner recorded his third shutout of the season on the strength of a 29-save effort between the pipes. It was the Bruins’ first blanking since a 3-0 defeat of Pittsburgh on Nov. 10. Of his three bagels, the 29 saves were the most he was called upon to make in any of those wins.
He was at his best in the first period, making 11 saves when the defense was not at their best clearing the puck. He flashed his right pad on a tricky tip shot from Jarkko Ruutu nine minutes in, making sure a shot that may or may not have been on goal had no chance. About 1:40 later, Thomas came up with two back-to-back saves on Alex Kovalev and Peter Regin.
The whole five minute stretch from 9:00 to 14:00 was a busy one for the Tank as he stopped the Future Mr. Carrie Underwood—Mike Fisher—on the doorstep and then had to regroup when Josh Hennessey was left all alone in the slot.
Thomas was at his uncontrolled—yet collected—best in the opening stanza, covering for his defenders when they made mistakes and making sure the Bruins went to the dressing room with no goals allowed.
Thomas’ answering of the bell was important because the B’s struggled to find the back of the net for the first two periods of the game. It wasn’t for a lack of trying – the Bruins sent 22 shots on goal over the first 40 minutes – but the struggles that have plagued the forwards over the past few games carried over.
The Marco Sturm-Marc Savard-Steve Begin line handled itself well early in its first game together, sending a few shots towards goal early and getting some jump from the opening shift.
Michael Ryder-David Krejci-Blake Wheeler found themselves together again and Krejci and Wheeler clicked for a pretty two-on-one early, however Ryder sent Krejci’s saucer pass over the net from in close. It was a tough angle for Ryder, who was just as likely to hit top shelf as he was go over the net. Ottawa Goalie Brian Elliot took away the bottom half of the net, forcing extra air under Ryder’s attempt.
The Bruins were the better team in the middle period, despite the Sens putting more shots on goal. Any Ottawa shot was stopped by Timmy and he was able to snuff any rebounds or direct them to safe areas.
The Bruins put together a pair of nice power plays in the second, with the majority of the productive minutes coming from the second unit quarterbacked by Krejci. He was patient, finding space and making crisp passes to initiate the play.
Both Bruins man-advantages in the second featured more time running offense than collecting errant passes—something not always a given with the Black and Gold’s PP.
However, the Bruins began the third period with no advantage on the scoresheet and desperately needed to strike first. With a four-game losing streak hovering over the team, falling behind despite playing a good game could have been demoralizing.
In the first three minutes of the final period, the Bruins best overall player all season came through in an interesting circumstance. Normal fourth-line center Vladimir Sobotka was dinged by a slap shot from Zdeno Chara—owner of the NHL’s hardest shot. Rather than switch the whole line, Julien sent out Patrice Bergeron to take the draw and double shift.
Bergeron then combined with Byron Bitz to force an Ottawa defender into blindly firing the puck around the boards, and the biscuit ended up on Shawn Thornton’s stick. Thornton then quickly sent the puck in on net, with no real intention of scoring. However, Elliot mishandled the rebound, sending it right out to Bergeron who deposited an uncontested shot behind the lazy goalie for a 1-0 Bruins lead.
A good bit of coaching? Or some well-timed puck luck? Either way, it was the type of hard-earned goal the Bruins have been lacking for the most part this season.
The Bruins added to the lead with 6:53 to play after another group effort. Chara rubbed out an Ottawa forechecker, and sent a short pass to a curling Savard at the circle in the Bruins’ end. Savard took one stride and fired a pass tape-to-tape onto Sturm’s stick. Sturm broke in from the side pretty much all alone and made a quick deke before beating Elliot for the 2-0 lead.
The B’s amped up the defense over the final six minutes—best exemplified by Sturm’s sliding block of a bomb from the point. They also got a little lucky as a shot from the circle went through a screen and by Thomas before he even move—but JUST wide. The Senators pulled the goalie for the final two minutes, but could not generate any true chances and the B’s completed the shutout for Thomas.
Overall, it was the type of team game that Julien has been asking for repeatedly over the past few weeks. Players who have much expected of them (Savard, Thomas, Sturm) stepped up and rose to the challenge. Young defensemen like Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid acquitted themselves well and did not cause any damage in their own end.
For a team entering a four-game stretch against teams from the Southeast division, the B’s needed to take the two important points inside their own division. Three of the Bruins’ four next games are against teams below them in the standings—including two against Atlanta—so just because the opponents aren’t Original Six teams doesn’t mean they will be easy.
The positive note is that the B’s will enter this stretch on a positive note rather than a desperate one.
It’s been a few games since the Bruins have dropped the gloves, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take five ourselves in this week’s “Five Minute Major”
1. He didn’t find a way on to the scoresheet in Ottawa—and hasn’t over the past two games—but David Krejci is developing into a complete player who can control a game in all areas. Savard may get a lot of the press as the Bruins’ most skilled center, but Krejci is the Bruin most dangerous with the puck on his stick.
His ability to dangle around defenders keeps plays alive when other players would be forced into turnovers. At 5-11, 176 lbs. Krejci doesn’t seem like a skater who would be overly sturdy on his feet, but defensemen around the league are figuring out very quickly that he can’t be pushed around and swatted away.
His numbers aren’t leaping off the page at the moment—mainly because his linemates haven’t been finishing his passes—but Krejci is quietly becoming an all-around threat at center on the third line.
2. One area of Krejci’s game that is coming along at a speedy rate is his play on the power play. He quarterbacks a unit with Recchi, Wheeler, Boychuk and Wideman/Hunwick—normally rolling over as the second unit.
However, in the second period, that group came out at the start of a man-up because Savard’s line had been out when the penalty was drawn. Krejci adeptly ran the show, moving the puck and freeing up passing lanes.
Watching him make a move and show one thing before switching up to another was a breath of fresh air after seeing countless Bruins’ PP opportunities halted by mishandled connections.
Sure, the B’s didn’t score, but it felt like they had an actual idea as to what to do and were reading and reacting with each other. It was no surprise that they started the Bruins’ next power play later in the period. Kicking off a PP with the Krejci group is not a bad idea for Julien.
They seem to be clicking better at the moment, and if you toss out Savard and Bergeron next against a team’s second PK line, it creates a mismatch at the tail end of the power play as well.
3. With his assist tonight on Sturm’s goal, Chara tied for the team-lead in helpers with 17. That puts him halfway to his career high with more than 50 percent of the season left. Chara’s goal total is down this year (only two goals through 34 games) but he is getting on the scoresheet via setting up goals.
Chara facilitating the offense is a positive development for the B’s. When he is involved, jumping into the play and causing defenses to pay attention to him in the attack zone, it frees up room for everyone else.
Tonight, he was credited with four shots on goal and another four missed shots. Overall, he is getting pucks on net and creating rebound opportunities for teammates.
His one power play goal this year is alarming, but so is the overall production of the Bruins’ power play. Something tells me that if more pucks were funneled to him at the top of the umbrella, both of those numbers would go up.
4. In case you missed it on Saturday night, Johnny Boychuk absolutely lit up Toronto’s Matt Stajan in the neutral zone. While the plastering ignited the now-obligatory scrum, it was without a doubt a clean hit.
Stajan had his head down like he was playing in his first game. Boychuk, a rookie playing in his eighth career game, was looking to make an impact and timed the hit perfectly.
The impact was devastating and Boychuk did leave his feet afterwards, but the idea that it was a dirty hit is silly. Stajan admitted after the game that the reason he probably got clocked in the head was because he was skating like a Weymouth Youth Hockey mitey mite.
However, The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa claimed today in his blog that the hit was not “respectful” in nature. He says that when a defender sees a player skating with his head down, he has to pull up.
Playing both sides, Shinzawa says that doing so is “tough to do in a split-second, but it’s the right play to make.” He further exaggerates the situation by likening the hit to when Patrice Bergeron was railroaded from behind by Randy Jones two years ago.
The problem is, the two situations were completely different. Stajan was an attacking player coming at Boychuk looking to make entry into the zone. On the other hand, Bergeron had his back turned to Jones who was finished his check with the boards involved.
The high-speed impact, blood drawing, and visual ferocity of the Boychuk hit leads viewers to quickly call it questionable if not dirty. However, subsequent viewings reveal that it was a hockey play, one made countless times a season by a defender in good position on a balls-out, head-down skater.
CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty had a negative reaction upon first glance, but after the game allowed that while the check was violent, it was not dirty or illegal. The fact that Shinzawa, a normally reasoned scribe borderline calls Boychuk disrespectful surprises me.
(See the video at 4SportBoston.com )
5. Finally, in a new feature to 5MM loosely titled “Random YouTube Clips Involving the Bruins” I give you the excellence that is Blake Wheeler’s conference-title clinching goal for Minnesota in the CCHA Final Five.
To set the stage, the Golden Gophers were playing North Dakota in the final in St. Paul in front of about 20,000 Minnesota fans. Wheels hustled down the ice in overtime hoping to prevent an icing call and ended up scoring one of the most athletic and acrobatic goals I have seen. Imagine him netting one of these in overtime in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the Black and Gold …
(See the video at 4SportBoston.com )