WILMINGTON, Mass. Cracking the Boston Bruinsopening night roster was a dream come true for Chris Bourque, but now comes thehard part. The 26-year-old Bourque has enjoyed the best NHL shot of his prohockey career in Bostonthus far, and its been impossible to take the smile from his face. But the Bruins forward isnt simply along for the ride, andhe's looking to stretch his playmaking muscles in order to showcase hisoffensive abilities. That hasnt happened through the first three games while averaging13 minutes of ice time per game. Hes been held scoreless with only a singleshot on net in three games along with a minus-2 rating while skating with RichPeverley and Chris Kelly. The oldest son of Hall of Famer Ray Bourque has beenflirting with putting up offensive numbers, of course. Bourque missed high with an empty netgoal in last weekends home opener against the Rangers and was on the ice withthe second PP unit when Dougie Hamilton and Brad Marchand finally broke throughin last nights 4-3 overtime loss. Thats a far cry from the player that led the entire AHLwith 93 points last season, however, and Bourque is looking to tap into thoseabilities now that hes getting comfortable in his new surroundings. Part of it is confidence, part of it is feeling the need toprove some things to his new teammates and part of it is simply walking theline between being a physical third-line two-way player and a skill guy looking up theice to make plays. Im getting pretty comfortable. Maybe Im keeping it alittle too simple, said Bourque, who has averaged 3:11 of power play ice timein the Bs first three games this season. Im trying to find my way. Ive feltbetter game by game, but obviously they want me to make offensive plays outthere. Ive been focusing defense first for the most part. But I also think theoffense will come after getting the nerves out in the first few games at home.Claude Julien said he sees a player in Bourque that hasntyet felt that level of confidence at the NHL level that hes shown as a topscorer in the American Hockey League. But the Bruins coaching staff remainsfully confident that Bourque will find his rhythm, and theyre still puttinghim out with Bostonssecond power play unit as they start to gel as a group. I just think right now that hes trying to feel his waythrough . . . period, said Julien. We know he can make plays. Weve seen it beforethat when he moves his feet things can happen. As a coaching staff we know whatweve seen from him in Providenceand you give him an opportunity to feel his way through a little bit. Everybody gets nervous sometimes when theyre with a newteam and everybody adjusts differently. But hes got such good vision, skilland he can shoot the puck. Those are assets for him and you hope something goodcan happen for him to build that confidence.All that being said Bourque saw three shifts for a grandtotal of 1:30 in the third period of last nights grudge match against theRangers. Hes been routinely replaced by Daniel Paille on the third line whenJulien is looking for a little more defenseexperience, and that can make it alittle challenging. Its a challenging spot to be in for a player anxious tomake an impact after passing through the Capitals and Penguins organizations,but theres also a pretty simple answer for Bourque. At every level, hes been an offensive player with the confidence that there are plays are all over the iceto be made. He needs to find that again in what is likely the best chance he'll ever get to carve out an NHL job for himself.
It’s no secret Bruins fans are getting fed up with a hockey team in decline, one that’s missed the playoffs each of the last two years. Now there are numbers to prove it.
Channel Media and Market Research, Inc. came out with its annual New England Sports survey, tabulating responses from over 14,600 polled, and, according to the numbers, the Bruins are dropping in popularity, fan support and faith in the current management group.
The B’s are holding somewhat steady with 16 percent of voters listing them as their “favorite sports team” behind the Patriots (46 percent) and Red Sox (29 percent) while ahead of the Celtics and Revolution. Claude Julien also ranked ahead of John Farrell among the big four teams in the “coaches/manages most admired” category.
But after sitting at a relative high of ranking at 27 percent for “ownership performance” in 2014 -- they year after their trip to the Cup Finals against the Blackhawks -- the Bruins now rank dead last in that category at 2 percent, behind the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and even the Revolution. Ouch, babe.
Also sitting at a lowly 2 percent is Bruins president Cam Neely in the “leadership performance” category. In "management performance," Neely has dropped from a solid 49 percent in 2014 to just 16 percent in this summer’s survey.
So B’s fans are clearly upset with a team that traded away Tyler Seguin, Johnny Boychuk, Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, and has featured a decimated defense corps for each of the last two seasons. But do the B’s fans think that things are getting any better with prospects coming down the pipeline?
In the “which team has done the best job making its product better.” category, the Patriots (35 percent) and Red Sox (31 percent) were resting at the top, with the Celtics (27 percent) a respectable third. The Bruins limped in at just 4 percent with a fan base that very clearly sees that, on paper, this upcoming season’s club doesn’t appear to be much better than last year's.
On top of that, only 13 percent of those surveyed believe the Bruins have gotten better over the last year, and 52 percent believe they’ve just gotten worse. A lowly 3 percent of those surveyed think the Bruins have the best chance of the five teams to bring a world championship back to Boston; the Patriots (79 percent), Red Sox (11 percent) and Celtics (5 percent) all ranked higher.
Finally, Zdeno Chara, Tuukka Rask and Jimmy Hayes were at the top of the list of the Boston athletes “who did not meet expectations” last season. None of that is a surprise, given the state of Boston’s defense along with Hayes’ subpar season.
The good news for the Bruins: They still have a passionate fan base. But they need to start reversing course immediately before they do lasting damage to the B’s brand.
Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading with the Olympics coming to a close . . .
-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) Kirk Luedeke sorts through the aftermath for the Bruins after losing out on Jimmy Vesey.
-- Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland gave an interview where he said the Red Wings aren’t Stanley Cup contenders this season.
-- Related to Holland’s comments, some of the media in Detroit aren’t taking the dose of reality all that well.
-- It’s a big season for New Jersey Devils forward Kyle Palmieri, who will be starring for Team USA on the World Cup team.
-- PHT writer Cam Tucker says the Buffalo Sabres still have a strong group of forwards even without Jimmy Vesey.
-- Jamie Benn is giving everything to his Dallas Stars team, and that means that the World Cup of Hockey is taking a backseat.
-- The Colorado Avalanche are nearing the end of their head coaching search as they look for their replacement for Patrick Roy.
-- For something completely different: NBC is making the argument that millenials watched the Olympics, but just not on the traditional formats.
Mike Felger and Glenn Ordway discuss a survey of New England sports fans showing that not many are happy with the Boston Bruins.