Boston Bruins: Finding Out Who's Naughty or Nice

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Boston Bruins: Finding Out Who's Naughty or Nice

(Originally posted on 4SportBoston.com )

It’s the holiday season, the time of year where people take time to reflect on how naughty or nice they've been in hopes of catching the approving eye of Old Saint Nick (hint: his last name isn’t Boynton.)

If the Boston Bruins were a young boy awaiting Christmas Day, it is safe to say they are looking back on the year and wondering just where they fall on that proverbial “Naughty or Nice” list. The ability to change status is dwindling rapidly.

Over the course of this past year, the Bruins have had some really nice moments where they behaved and did as they were told (Monday night’s 2-0 win in Ottawa). But they have also found themselves in trouble far too often for embarrassing themselves in public (a 5-1 tank job in Montreal two weeks ago.)

Do those moments result in a checkmark for “Nice”—i.e. penalty killing and faceoff proficiency—mean more than the ones forcing the “big guy” to lean towards “Naughty”—lackluster power plays and inability to score goals?

The good news is that much like Buddy the Elf, I have an in with Santa. I was able to take a quick peek at his final list as he prepares to descend upon Causeway St. Thursday night.

The first name we come across is Patrice Bergeron.

Fully rehabilitated from his devastating concussion in 2007, Bergeron has been the unequalled team leader so far this season. He centers each of the top three lines, plays point on the power play, kills penalties, and leads the team in scoring.

His ability to shut down an opposing team’s best player, while still finding space for his own offense, has him as a contender for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward. If he isn’t getting a zamboni-load of presents, no one wearing a Spoked-B is NICE.

Scrolling down, we come across Andrew Ferrence.

His season got off to a rocky start. He was embroiled in a scandal surrounding how the NHL Players Association fired their director in a seemingly scumbaggy way. He was ousted as the Bruins’ NHLPA rep, and struggled through the first few weeks of the season.

The Bruins have played 35 games. Ferrence is one of two defensemen to suit up in every one. He would earn a spot in the good column if he been overly productive any of those games .

Over those 35 games, Ferrence has 0-3-3 totals and is a -4. Harping on the lack of offense from Ferrence may be picking serious nits. But the problem with Ferrence is that so far this season, he hasn’t been making the simple plays as often as he should be.

For some reason, he began the season on the power play. After doing his best to fumble the puck out of the attack zone on a regular basis, he was mercifully relieved of those duties.

He is at his best when he is playing the body and getting pucks out of his end. I will give him credit for his play of late, taking on a larger role with the cavalcade of injuries on the Bruins’ blueline. However, for the whole body of work so far this season…NAUGHTY.

One player who has caught Santa’s eye this season is Steve Begin.

The free agent signee has filled many roles for the Bruins, serving mainly as a penalty killer and energy line ringleader. He has 10 points, many of which came early in the season when his fourth line was the only one showing up at the barn every night. He hasn’t scored a goal since October 22, but that is not his role.

Of his 35 games, he has only gone without a shot eight times. For him to be considered a success, he needs to work hard on the forecheck, cause issues for the defense and toss an occasional puck on net to create chances.

He is a key factor in Boston’s league-best penalty kill and was recently moved up to skate with Marc Savard on the first line. Begin is one of the few guys Bruins head coach Claude Julien could count on for a total effort.

His value to the team is best exemplified by his wearing the "A" as an alternate captain for 15 games, an honor awarded by the coach. NICE.

Accolades have not been going Milan Lucic’s way, except for a sweet long-term contract extension keeping him in a Bruins sweater for the next four years.

Unfortunately, Lucic hasn’t been on the ice enough to make too many people in the Hub of Hockey feel all warm and fuzzy about the extension.

Limited to 10 games because of two separate injuries, Lucic has left a void on the top line with his absence. Both of the injuries—a broken finger and sprained ankle—were random in nature, but Bruins management does not want to see this become a pattern.

To break it down in holiday terms you may understand:

Sugarplums Dancing in Their Head::Children on Christmas Eve

Milan Lucic Becoming the Cam Neely of the 2000s::Bruins Fans.

For those dreams to become reality, Looch needs to be on the ice creating space for the creative players and banging in rebounds when not banging heads.

Lucic is still the favorite player of many B’s fans, me included. But for this season, he is looking at coal in his stocking and some toiletries under the tree. NAUGHTY.

If Lucic is my favorite Bruins player, David Krejci is right behind him.

Coming off a breakout season, expectations were high for Krejci. But those quickly tempered when he needed offseason surgery on his hip.

He didn’t play in a preseason game but was in the lineup on Opening Night. He didn't score a goal until his 10th game of the season. Howeverm in the 24 games since, he has scored seven goals.

On the smallish side, Krejci may be the toughest Bruin to bump off the puck. He never quits on a play and is starting to show signs of pushback when someone takes liberties with him.

He has taken over the reins on the second power play unit, and that should jumpstart his game even more.

CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty and I had differing opinions via Twitter on how Krejci played in Ottawa on the man-up. I feel that his willingness to move while on the perimeter will force penalty killers into positions of disadvantage and open shooting lanes.

Krejci has been his creative self once getting into game shape, but his passes have not been converted by his snake-bitten linemates, Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler. For Krejci, however, enjoy Christmas. NICE.

Speaking of Michael Ryder, he is struggling again, having trouble scoring despite consistently being fed tasty passes.

He has 14 points, including eight goals, but only eight of those points (five markers) have come since October 21. He has shown signs of life for the most part all season, with just one shot-less game all year. Still, a player whose sole job on the team is to score goals must be penalized if he isn’t coming through.

It has been too much “feast or famine” with Ryder, as he has four multi-point games. Consistency is needed from his spot. Julien has tried pairing him with Savard, the human passing machine, but for some reason the assumed chemistry between a pass-happy pivot and quick-wristed sniper hasn’t developed.

He could be a trade candidate if the Bruins find another team with an underperforming but highly-paid player. But it is more likely that Julien keeps giving Ryder reps hoping that the floodgates open. NAUGHTY.

You know who has been sneaky-good this year? Mark Recchi. He is like your wily older brother who lets you run around like a crazy person, hoping to catch Santa’s attention. All along, he is just doing his chores, picking up the garbage and not doing anything to anger anyone.

I have watched every Bruins game this year and read a ton of websites and newspapers. I was a little taken aback when I saw he was tied for third on the team in points with 19. He has seven goals, four of which have come on the power play and added 12 assists.

The fact that someone with 552 NHL goals and 1,461 total points is finding his way onto the scoresheet is not really a shocker, but Recchi just hasn’t hammered anyone over their head with his play.

There was some worry about how his 41-year-old body would hold up, but he has proven those concerns to be wasted energy so far.

He has acquitted himself nicely with Bergeron as part of the checking line, while doing what he has done his entire career on the PP—namely parking in front of the net and making goalies miserable.

If he comes close to 20 goals this year—the 17th time he would do so in his career—the B’s should be in good shape. NICE.

Dennis Wideman has struggled offensively this season, something that is a problem when one is considered an “offensive defenseman.”

After scoring 13 goals in each of the past two seasons and reaching 50 points last year, Wideman has just nine points (two goals) in '09-10. His shots and shooting percentage are way down, and his greatest weapon—the outlet pass—has been lacking.

He should be a bigger factor on the man advantage, combining his heavy shot with his vision to throw penalty killers off-kilter. Instead, he looks to be fighting the puck a bit, misplaying passes out of the zone when on the attack and stumbling when trying to lead the rush out of the zone.

He is most likely dealing with some sort of nagging injury and deserves credit for fighting through iy. But this year has for sure been a step back from his outstanding 2008-09 campaign. NAUGHTY.

While those players have especially earned a spot on one of Santa’s all-important lists this Christmas, others have been under close inspection and deserve mentioning…

 

NICE

Daniel Paille: When the Bruins were struggling in October, Paille was acquired from Buffalo in what didn’t originally appear to be a major move. Yet, over 28 games in Boston, Paille has helped right the penalty kill while showing the ability to move around to different lines as needed.

Tuukka Rask: His nine wins are more than defending Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas, and his 1.92 GAA and .933 save%  are both second in the NHL. He has just two regulation losses in his last nine games and went 4-1-1 over a key stretch when Thomas was out injured.

He may not see enough time in net to get in the Rookie of the Year race, but if he plays like he has every time his number is called, the Bruins will be at or near the top of the division, if not the conference.

His development will allow Julien to employ a goaltending system similar to the late 1980s when Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin were more equals than starter and backup. Not feeling like you have taken a step back when starting the second keeper allows a team to play its normal game no matter who is in the cage.

Shawn Thornton: Boston’s own “Little Drummer Boy” has done all the little things over the first half of the season. In his role as enforcer, he has dropped the gloves nine times. He has five points and could push for a career high by the end of the season.

Most importantly, he has symbolized professionalism for the Bruins on a night-in, night-out basis. His commitment to forechecking, responsibility in all three zones, and accountability when on the ice has resulted in him receiving frequent praise from Julien.

 

NAUGHTY

Blake Wheeler: In his sophomore season, Wheeler hasn’t fallen too far off in the attack zone, scoring seven goals and picking up 17 total points. He is roughly on pace to match his rookie campaign offensively, but has taken a big step back in his own end.

He is a team-worst -9 after finishing last year +36, second in the NHL behind Krejci. For Wheeler to be -9 on a team that has allowed the fourth-fewest goals in the NHL is alarming. He needs to shore up his game in his own zone if he wants to stick with the Bruins.

Byron Bitz: All the credit in the world to Bitz for his effort. He gives his all every night and does whatever is asked. But, he needs to work on his finishing, both on scoring chances and in fights.

When it comes to scoring goals, he seems to have a knack for finding some open space and allowing himself to be an option. But, he frequently misfires on wide-open chances.

Julien realized Bitz isn’t the right player to roll with Savard and reshuffled, so the obviousness of Bitz’ lack of touch should diminish.

I expect him to flourish in his role with the energy line where he is comfortable. It also wouldn’t be a bad idea for him to take some time with Thornton or team VP Cam Neely and pick up some pointers on how to fight a bit more successfully.

No one will ever complain about a player having some jam in his game and being willing to have a go. But a player who is 6'5" and 215 pounds should be more of a presence when the bell rings.

Very minor gripes, not wholly Bitz’ fault, but he plays a role that could be filled by any number of players and needs to develop reasons why he should consistently be that player.

Today’s holiday festivities will close with a little “Christmas Karaoke” as a few members of the Bruins family have sent in some “Long Distance Requests and Dedications” this Christmas season.

“Walking In a Winter Wonderland”: Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs sends this song out to Mother Nature in preparation for the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. She complied last weekend with a nice little pregame blizzard to set the stage, but Jacobs would love if some more snow was sent over to Fenway in the day leading up to the outdoor game.

The stage is set for a beautiful event (“It’s a Beaut, Clark!”) and some nice, non-frigid wintry conditions to combine with Fenway Park’s charm would make this the best Winter Classic to date.

“Deck the Halls”: Johnny Boychuk sent this out to Matt Stajan in honor of their big collision Saturday night in Toronto. Boychuk registered the biggest hit of the season so far by a Bruin, decking Stajan as he twirled across the neutral zone with his head down. Fa la la la la la la la la la.

“All I Want For Christmas is My Two Front Teeth”: Duh, it’s a hockey column.

“All I Want for Christmas is You”: Savard was seen submitting this request to a few players, namely Ilya Kovalchuk and Teemu Selanne. Savard’s numbers are down this year because of both injury and lack of a certified gunner on his wing.

If the Bruins feel they are the proverbial “one player away” from a legit Stanley Cup run this spring, look for Peter Chiarelli to invest some of his prime trade chips to bring a sniper to Boston to ride shotgun with Savard.

Kovalchuk is the marquee name on the market (allegedly) and has played with Savard before. He will be extremely expensive both to acquire and then sign.

A player like Selanne could be had as well, since the Ducks are most certainly heading south for the winter.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Or, in the words of Terry O’Reilly…

"Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Fight!"

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