Bruins have NHL on the defensive

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Bruins have NHL on the defensive

BOSTON -- Pekka Rinne finished second to Tim Thomas in the Vezina Trophy voting last year by a healthy margin despite an amazing season for the Nashville Predators.

But the Preds' puck-stopper did surpass the Bruins goaltender in one pretty significant category -- and probably the one area that playersuse as their ultimate scoreboard--when he signed a seven-year, 49 million contract with Nashvilleon Thursday afternoon.

Rinne is in the same elite goaltender class as Thomas and even finished ahead of Thomas in the Hart Trophy voting last year. Hes a 29-year-old goalie entering his prime in a positional category where most players dont truly find greatness until after their 30th birthday. Hell also be the highest-paid goalie in the NHL beginning next season when his 7 million-a-year contract kicks into gear in Music City.

So much of the game of hockey revolves around the goaltending position, said Nashville GM David Poile during the conference call to announce Rinnes signing. So many of us believe that you build a hockey team from the goaltender on out. In our estimation weve signed the best goaltender in the NHL, and he gives us the best opportunity moving forward to backstop the Predators in their quest to win the Stanley Cup.

All that being said, the former Nashville eighth-round pick has just one playoff series victory under his belt and has a tremendous amount left to prove along with his Preds' teammates.

How does this all involve the Bruins?

Theres no denying Rinnes big-bucks deal became an easier sell for an executive like Poile after watching the cheap route on goaltending go belly up around the leagueafter it was in vogue only a year or two ago. Instead it is the combination ofsuperb goaltending fromThomas along with a hearty defense and hard-working offense that have become the successful template after Boston's run to the Cup.

Everybody pointed to the successful goalie duo of Jimmy Howard and Chris Osgood with the Detroit Red Wings as the successful model for teams looking to simply load up on quality forwards and defensemen in front of the goaltenders. Philadelphia infamously tried to go with the goaltender-by-committee route last season, with disastrous results that ended with a blown apart roster.

Things are now trending in the opposite direction after Tim Thomas carried the Bruins to a Stanley Cup championship last season. Goaltending has always been important at the NHL level, but last year proved that elite goaltending can be the biggest game-changer during the postseason.

That seems to be message going around the league after the Flyers (Ilya Bryzgalov) and Predators (Linne) locked up their goalies to long-term, big-money contracts. An elite goaltender and a decent defensive system all but guarantee that a team will consistently be in the hunt for a playoff berth, and the myth of the hot goaltender in the playoffs was once again proven true with each diving, flopping little piece of goaltending magnificence Thomas authored during his brilliant postseason run.

Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli realized that before anyone.

Rinnes contract pushes Thomas 5 million-per-season pact down to the 11th-highest salary cap figure for a goalie, and certifies just how valuable Bostons franchise goaltender has become since he signed his deal three years ago.

Just little more than a year ago, Chiarelli was harangued from seemingly all corners of the hockey world for handing an aging goaltender in Thomas such a deal. The Bruins were having salary cap issues, and many called for Chiarelli to deal Thomas.

But Chiarelli wisely held on to Thomas through his hip struggles after receiving only middling offers for him two summers ago, and then reaped the full benefits when Thomas won the Vezina, Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup while putting together one of the best seasons in the modern era of goaltending. The tight cap situation, meanwhile, was eventually settled when Marc Savard was lost to a concussion and Marco Sturm was traded away for a bag full of nothing.

So those who argued it was a troublesome contract for the Bruins and, yes, I am raising my hand while I type this away on my keyboard now have to admit that Chiarelli and the Bruins got good, old-fashioned value for Thomas.

Its become even better with a motley goaltending crew of Rinne, Bryzgalov, Henrik Lundqvist, Cam Ward, Ryan Miller, Niklas Backstrom, Miikka Kiprusoff, Cristobal Huet, Roberto Luongo and Martin Brodeur all earning more money than what the best goaltender in the world will bank.

The Rinne deal could also set fellow Finnish countrymen Tuukka Rask off wondering just how much he could earn if he were dealt to another team.

But thats a story for another day.

This weeks story is about a goaltender entering his prime in Nashville that just signed a lucrative new deal, and about a 37-year-old puck-stopping war horse in Boston who's become the hot new trend in an NHL world where everybody wants to be like the champs.

Mueller aims to take advantage of opportunity in tonight's Bruins-Wings game

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Mueller aims to take advantage of opportunity in tonight's Bruins-Wings game

BRIGHTON -- Tonight’s Bruins-Red Wings game against the Red Wings should be a big chance for training-camp invite Peter Mueller as he readies to skate in a second straight exhibition game after a quiet night in the opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

The former 22-goal scorer with the Coyotes felt he was “solid” and “held his own” while not getting any shots on neta againsy Columbus. The veteran winger feels like he’s again starting to pick up the NHL pace after spending the last three years in Europe, and that’s mandatory to start making plays. 

“It was a good adjustment, but hopefully tonight I show a little more skill, a few more pucks to the net and create some more offense,” said Mueller. “I would rather play in most of the [exhibition] games, to be honest with you, and to get in-game-like scenarios and prepare yourself for each and every game. In my position I’m happy that I’m playing tonight and hopefully I can keep trying to impress the people [making decisions].”

The 26-year-old former first-round pick will be in a favorable spot, skating in a possible third-line, right-wing audition with Ryan Spooner and Matt Beleskey. He'll also serve as another established player in a more veteran-laden lineup Wednesday night vs. the Winged Wheels at TD Garden. With Frankie Vatrano out for the next three months, these are the kind of chances Mueller needs to knock out of the park if he wants to fend off younger competition for one of those B’s roster spots up front. 

“It definitely favors the type of game I want to play,” said Mueller, when asked about the chance to skate in a spot with Spooner and Beleskey that he would likely fill whre he to crack the NHL roster. “With two skill guys, hopefully we can create some chemistry and some offense early and obviously that helps with the flow of the game. Hopefully I can just showcase my skills and the work ethic that I’m trying to bring to the team. Overall, hopefully we have a good game tonight.”

Sean Kuraly is also playing in his second straight exhibition, and will move over to the left wing skating with Austin Czarnik and left wing Zachary Senyshyn in what amounts to a kid line for the Bruins. One would expect the same goaltending rotation in this game, with Malcolm Subban getting the first two periods and Daniel Vladar getting the game’s final 20 minutes. Here are the line combos and D-pairings according to the rushes during morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena:
 
Beleskey-Spooner-Mueller
Kuraly-Czarnik-Senyshyn
Gabrielle-Moore-Ferlin
Blidh-Acciari-Hickman
 
Grzelcyk-McQuaid
Lauzon-C. Miller
Arnesson-Casto
 
Subban
Vladar
 

Bruins' Zboril uses criticism and Twitter hate as motivation

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Bruins' Zboril uses criticism and Twitter hate as motivation

BRIGHTON -- It’s easy to see that Jakub Zboril , one of the Bruins' 2015 first-round pick, has come a long way in a year.

“I feel more comfortable,” said Zboril. “After last year, when all of the people saying something about what they didn’t like about me, it really pushed me forward. I told myself I wanted to be in better shape and so I worked really hard at it.”

The 19-year-old wasn’t in very good shape for last season's training camp after coming back from a knee injury, and that carried over into a junior season for the Saint John Sea Dogs (6 goals and 20 points in 50 games). That was a drop from his 13 goals and 33 points in 44 games prior to hearing his name called by the B’s on draft night.

Zboril was back at peak effectiveness in the playoffs for the Sea Dogs with a couple of goals and 10 points in 17 games, but the chain of events caused some to wonder if the Bruins had drafted something of a bust.

It seems ludicrous, considering Zboril is a 19-year-old talented enough to be selected 13th overall in the entire NHL draft, and even more so now that he’s showing much more in his second camp with Boston. It was some good and some bad for Zboril in his preseason debut against Columbus on Monday with a misplay leading to a goal against, but Zboril also kicked off the transition pass that helped the Bruins score their first goal of game.

“From last year I think he’s made big strides,” said assistant coach Jay Pandolfo. “He’s a young kid that’s only 19 years old, and he’s going to keep getting better. So that’s what you want. The structure in his game and the overall attitude [is better]. He was a little young last year. He’s in better shape. He’s done a lot of things that we got on him for last year, and he’s taken it and listened, he’s working hard. He’s done a good job.”

It’s a long shot for Zboril to crack the B’s roster this fall, so he’s likely headed back to Saint John for another junior hockey season after watching fellow prospect Thomas Chabot get a lot of the No. 1 D-man playing time last season. He quickly shot down any possibilities of playing in Europe rather than going back to the Quebec Major Junior League, and said there could still be plenty to learn in his final junior season.

“Right now where I am, I can just learn from myself and pushing myself,” said Zboril, of going back to junior. “What I can take from last year is that my role on the team changed, and I had to be more of a shutdown D. I had to show my defensive abilities, so I improved a lot from the year before. I think I can be more of a defensive defenseman too, so there’s that.”

Still, the so-so season last year had its impact in a positive fashion with Zboril really stepping up his game. But it’s also had its drawbacks as the Czech-born defenseman was forced to deactivate his Twitter account because of the harsh criticism and messages he was getting from hockey fans. Disappointingly, Zboril said most of it was coming from people in Boston that claim to be Bruins fans, and that it was like “people just spitting on you.”

“It was really pushing me down a lot,” said Zboril. “After some games when you know you weren’t playing really good, then you go on Twitter and you just see . . . people just spitting on you. So I had to delete it.”

Zboril said he’s much happier since getting off social media. But it’s a shame that a bright young prospect’s first impression of his future NHL city was the flaming dumpster of keyboard warriors that should forever be known as “Bruins Hockey Twitter.”