Bruins, Canadiens ready for battle with first place on line

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Bruins, Canadiens ready for battle with first place on line

MONTREAL The Bruins last saw a very different Montreal Canadiens team that was in a shambles last year.

Who could forget that it was Bostons TD Garden where Habs forward Mike Cammalleri was dealt to the Calgary Flames last year in the middle of a losing effort against the Bruins when Montreal had finally waved the white flag on the season?

Or that the Bruins reeled off four straight wins against the punchy arch-rival Canadiens to end last season?

That kind of big brotherlittle brother relationship leaving off last year gives the Bruins some confidence riding into the Bell Centre for Wednesdays first showdown of the season. But it's also a new year for both storied Original Six teams and Wednesday night's battle will be for first place in the Northeast Division.

It was clearly a year to forget about for Montreal as their English-speaking interim head coach and GM Pierre Gautier were replaced after the season in favor of Marc Bergevin and French-speaking Michel Therrien.

The Bruins have plenty to be confident about while leaping out to a 6-1-1 start that puts them atop the Northeast Division, but the Canadiens are only a point behind the Black and Gold more two weeks into the season. Montreal has also built a 5-1-0 record at the always rollicking Bell Centre this year where they decimated the Buffalo Sabres last weekend, and have only improved with the addition of P.K. Subban now that his holdout is finally over.

Couple that with a healthy Andrei Markov roaming the bliue line for the first time in three years and new gritty acquisitions in Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong, and it should be business as usual Wednesday night for the heated rivals. While he's not the defensive stalwart that Zdeno Chara is in Boston, Markov is Montreal's Chara as the Habs' Captain and the defenseman that plays 25 minutes a game in all situations.

Missing him last year was a significant factor in their free fall to the Eastern Conference basement.

Youve got to remember that they ran into a lot of injuries. When you lose a guy like Markov for the entire year and Max Pacioretty, they had key guys getting injured. They were never able to get their second wind, said Claude Julien, who knows firsthand how good Markov is after coaching him as a young player blossoming into captain-worthy material for the Habs. Once you derail its hard to get back on track. They certainly werent as bad as the standings show. Now that theyre healthy with a new coach and a new GM breathing new life in there, theyve caught fire.

"Its going to be a good game and it will be a battle for first place with them just a point behind us. We also have Tampa on Saturday, so its going to be a tough week. But it all starts with Montreal. Theyre playing with an edge right now. Theres no doubt about it.

Clearly the usual suspects like Milan Lucic and Zdeno Chara will be a little more dialed in at a Bell Centre setting thats become incredibly adversarial for them over their careers. But everybody on the Black and Gold roster can get swept up in the historic hate-fest their organization has had with the Canadiens over generations, and thats why it was a perfect choice for NBC Sports Networks Rivalry Night in front of a national audience.

It will also be the introduction to the MontrealBoston rivalry for young players on both sides of the aisle like Dougie Hamilton, Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, and those fresh faces will bring their energy to the mix.

I know theyre playing good hockey. Theyre a good, fast-skating team and Carey Price is playing good in net there, said Tuukka Rask. Its going to be a tough matchup. Its a lot of fun. The crowd always gets up for those games, but its good for us too. Theyre always pretty entertaining games and Im sure it will be no exception on Wednesday.

Its a little disappointing that the Bruins and Canadiens only face each other four times this season in a 48-game shortened season when some divisional rivals are playing each other on five occasions. It's not an ideal set-up for the players, spectators and media that thrive on the inspired rivalry.

But the Bs are simply putting their heads down and playing the games on the schedule, and a battle for first place adds a little extra to the pot when it's not even needed.

Were both off to good starts, and theyre playing well especially at home, said Rich Peverley. With the rivalry its obviously a big game, but anytime youre in a shortened season division games are going to be important.

Itll be a fun game. Its always fun to play in a building like that.

Fun is one way to describe the BruinsCanadiens rivalry.

Some other ways would be passionate, electrifying, emotional and heated, and it will be all those adjectives and more when the puck drops between the Bruins and Habs before a sold-out, screaming full house at the Bell Centre.

Bruins don't poll well in latest New England Sports survey

Bruins don't poll well in latest New England Sports survey

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?

Not really.

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.

Wednesday, August 24: B's dealing with post-Vesey aftermath

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Wednesday, August 24: B's dealing with post-Vesey aftermath

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