Bruins, Canadiens ready for battle with first place on line

992885.jpg

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.

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

Julien wonders whether Bruins shutout loss was fatigue-related

BOSTON – The Bruins didn’t show anything on the ice in Monday afternoon’s 4-0 matinee loss, and that’s not really any kind of an overstatement.

The scoring chances were almost nonexistent despite 32 shots on net, the second period was dreadful as the Bruins gave up three goals over the course of a six minute span and there was zero added urgency in the third period once the B’s fell behind. The emotion was missing from the drop of the puck to open the game and it never showed up once the Islanders began taking control of the game.

MORE:

It was a bitterly disappointing result after the Black and Gold had played so well in their previous five games, and put in strong, winning efforts against the Panthers, Blues and Flyers.

On Monday afternoon, the passes were sloppy and errant all over the ice, there was zero physicality and the Bruins buckled once the Isles turned the intensity up just a little bit in the second period. The game was basically over once Nikolay Kulemin snapped one home wide open from the slot area with Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid and David Krejci all blowing their defensive assignments, and then Tuukka Rask followed it up by allowing a softie to Josh Bailey from a bad angle close to net.  

So Bruins head coach Claude Julien termed it a “flat” performance once it was all over with, and openly wondered whether it was fatigue-related result linked to the compacted schedule Boston has played through this season. Monday marked the seventh straight day that the Bruins held some kind of formal skate, though most of the veteran B's players stayed off the ice during last week's Wednesday off-day practice in Nashville.   

“We were flat tonight, obviously, flat from the get-go. I think that first half of the game, we didn’t give much until they scored that first goal. We were able to stay in, but we certainly weren’t generating much ourselves, from that point of view,” said Claude Julien. “His is really the first year, for me as well, going through a condensed schedule, and I’m certainly not using that as an excuse, is it fatigue?. . . But we were flat tonight. How do you explain it? I don’t know. I know that it’s frustrating. I know that it’s disappointing. That’s all I can say.

“Whether it’s mental fatigue, whatever it is. We made some mistakes tonight like, from the goals you look at, we weren’t even in the position that we’re normally in. So we were totally out of whack, as far as even defending. When you give that first goal that much room in the middle of the ice, your D’s go on the wrong side, your weak-side forward is way on the other side, and you open up the slot area, that’s something I haven’t seen much of this year. I think it said a lot from our game tonight.”

The compacted schedule certainly could be a factor for a Bruins team that’s played more games than anybody else in the Eastern Conference to this point, but the B’s also had 48 hours to recharge after winning a Saturday matinee over the Flyers. So the fatigue excuse seems a little far-fetched for a hockey club that’s no-showed a few too many times this season, and did it again on Monday afternoon against one of the worst teams in the NHL.