The Bruins are in first place in the Atlantic Division while holding off the resilient Tampa Bay Lightning and surprising Montreal Canadiens, and they’re in a very good spot. The B’s haven’t lost a regulation game at home in over two months, and rank in the top 10 in offense, defense, the power play and the penalty kill. They’ve won eight of their last 11 games prior to the three-day holiday break despite injuries, illness and suspensions, and haven’t really shown any major weakness through the first three months of the NHL season.
With all those things in mind in this holiday season, here’s a list of gifts under the Christmas tree for the Bruins players, management and coaching staff for this most festive time of the year. A very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to everybody this week.
ZDENO CHARA – Good health among the rest of the B’s defensemen corps that might allow him to get some rest. Injuries and extra session hockey has Chara averaging 25:06 of ice time per game, and the B’s would love to chop that down by a minute or two prior to the Olympics and the playoffs.
PATRICE BERGERON – A step ladder for the next time he decides to drop the gloves with a 6-foot-8 defenseman like Tyler Myers. It was nice to see the emotional lift from the rest of the team after Bergeron dropped ‘em with the Buff defenseman.
DAVID KREJCI – Another second half to the regular season similar to his Olympic experience four years ago. Krejci came home from the Winter Games in Vancouver, and played at that elite level for the rest of the regular season and playoffs after playing for the Czech Republic.
CHRIS KELLY – Good health. Kelly has now had broken bones in his legs over the last two years, and could certainly use a long stretch of good health.
REILLY SMITH – A spot in a “Bear and the Gang” episode or two following his absence from the Christmas spectacular. It’s the least a team can do for a guy sharing the team lead in goals (12) and second in points (28) behind only David Krejci.
MILAN LUCIC – A spot on the Canadian Olympic team. It’s probably an uphill battle for the B’s power forward considering the big ice surface in Russia, but he’s consistently been Boston’s best skater this season thus far.
JAROME IGINLA – It begins with Stanley, and ends with Cup. He’ll have to wait until June to open this present, though.
CARL SODERBERG – A Behind the B episode devoted solely to the World of Carl Soderberg. He’s an interesting, unique guy in the B’s dressing room that hasn’t truly been captured in any interview or account quite yet.
TOREY KRUG – This year’s Calder Trophy. Krug leads all rookie defensemen with eight goals and 19 points, and saw one competitor bow out when Tomas Hertl suffered a knee injury.
BRAD MARCHAND – A strong post-Christmas rest of the season. Marchand has struggled all year, but showed strong signs of offensive life while scoring in the last two games before the break.
LOUI ERIKSSON – A second half devoid of head shots and head injuries. Eriksson’s first season has been a difficult one for the Bruins with a good November sandwiched in between two concussions.
DENNIS SEIDENBERG – A third dog, so we can all see what name his daughters would come up with next after the already excellent names of “Wiggles” and “Bubbles Lollipop” for his two family dogs.
JOHNNY BOYCHUK – Plenty of Boychuk baby clothes for his twin babies that are due in January.
DOUGIE HAMILTON – A return of the Movember Fu Manchu handlebar mustache in time for the playoffs. That thing was bad ass.
RYAN SPOONER – A permanent NHL roster spot for the Bruins, which he deserves after showing off his speed, playmaking and improved all-around game in his latest stint in Boston.
MATT BARTKOWSKI – His first career NHL goal in the regular season. Twice he’s had goals taken away from him on scoring changes.
GREGORY CAMPBELL – His own fashion line given the style he puts into his everybody clothes in and around the dressing room.
DANIEL PAILLE – A headache free rest of the season. Nobody wants to see Paille go through post-concussion symptoms as he did this month.
SHAWN THORNTON – A few games shaved off his 15-game suspension when the appeal goes to an independent arbiter. Thornton deserves some kind of consideration for a remarkably clean career as an enforcer prior to the Brooks Orpik attack.
ADAM MCQUAID – No more injuries. McQuaid has missed enough time over the last couple of years, and looked remarkably healthy throwing punches with Eric Nystrom in the last game before Christmas.
KEVAN MILLER – A chance to put together a few months worth of games for the Bruins. The rugged defenseman proven he belongs in the NHL as a stay-at-home defenseman at the bare minimum.
MATT FRASER – A couple of NHL games on the left wing to truly prove what he can do with the NHL caliber shot and release.
JORDAN CARON – A fresh start for another NHL team. It’s just not ever going to work in Boston for Caron, who is a team-worst minus-7 in only 19 games.
TUUKKA RASK – A Finnish metal band track in the pregame warm-up soundtrack for the Bruins. That’s his bag, and there’s way too much EDM going on while the B’s warm up right now.
CHAD JOHNSON – A Wraparound tutorial with Goalie Bob Essensa. It’s been a problem.
NICK JOHNSON, DAVID WARSOFSKY, CRAIG CUNNINGHAM – Bruins stocking stuffers based on incomplete evaluations with the team.
CLAUDE JULIEN – A nice “400 career wins” eyeglass case to go along with the spectacles he’s begun wearing on practice and game days.
PETER CHIARELLI – A trade partner with cap space. If the Bruins want to actually do anything significant prior to the trade deadline, they’ll need to move some salary and require a team willing to take it on.
CAM NEELY – A reprisal of his Seabass role in the new Dumb and Dumber movie. Neely has said he’s not in the new flick, but I tend to think he’s fibbing so he doesn’t spoil the surprise. Hmmm.
RED-HOT DUCKS ON A NINE-GAME TEAR
The Ducks set a new franchise mark by winning nine straight games going into the three-day holiday break. It’s something the Stanley Cup-winning edition of Anaheim didn’t do in 2006-07, as the most that club ever put together was win five straight. Anaheim has now had separate winning streaks of seven games and nine games this season.
Anaheim head coach Bruce Boudreau knows his team has put together a strong first three months, but also knows there’s still plenty ahead for a Ducks team positioned high in the competitive Western Conference. “Well, we haven’t done what that ’06-07 team did either,” he said. “We’re just plodding along, one at a time. Hopefully we’re getting better as the season goes on.”
The torrid Ryan Getzlaf has 12 points (5 goals, 7 assists) during the nine game winning streak, and clearly didn’t want it to end while willing his team back from a 3-1 third-period deficit against the New York Islanders in a four-goal rally.
“It’s awesome,” Getzlaf said. “That’s what we want to do. Just string them together.”
The Ducks headed into the holiday break with an NHL-high 59 points on the season, and are clearly one of the teams to beat while weathering a rough, early East Coast road trip, a bevy of injuries and the inevitable decline in the Finnish Flash, Teemu Selanne, during his likely final NHL season.
CLOWE STILL WAITING FOR HIS RETURN
Ryan Clowe has missed 32 games and been out since Oct. 13 with a concussion suffered at the start of his New Jersey Devils career, and was hoping to get into a game before Christmas. The 31-year-old is feeling better lately, and is traveling and practicing with the Devils without restrictions. But it’s not exactly how he envisioned the start of a five year, $24.25 million contract with the Devils, and has given plenty of material to those hockey evaluators that felt Clowe has a lot of mileage already on his 31-year-old body.
It scared many off during the NHL trade deadline and his subsequent foray into unrestricted free agency, but Clowe doesn’t care about any of that. He just wants to get back to playing more after missing 2 ½ months with concussion symptoms.
“I thought the next step was to play. I guess the next step is to go on the road,” Clowe said. “I let them know how I felt and they thought it was best for me to come on the road and travel with the team and get a few more days in. After [last] weekend, to be honest, I’m not really sure what the plan [was] as far as the game before Christmas. I really have no idea.”
PP PRACTICE THE KEY FOR THE PEG
The Winnipeg Jets have been dreadful on the power play this season, but have actually gone on a 9-for-28 tear over the last eight games. The increasingly impatient Blake Wheeler said the Jets have started scoring on the PP because they’ve actually started practicing it on the ice rather than just go through video work. It’s not exactly a novel concept, and it makes you wonder why Winnipeg coach Claude Noel waited so long to put the players through the PP places on the ice if it wasn’t working.
“We’ve started practicing it more, plain and simple,” said Wheeler, who blew a gasket a couple of weeks ago while saying the Jets players were “blowing smoke” to the media while shrinking from their increased competition in the Western Conference this season. “That’s huge. When you watch video, that’s a key part of it as well but I think hockey players for the most part are creatures of habit and you have to kind of go through those motions in practice to get a feel for it.
“We’ve started to do that in the last couple of weeks almost immediately from when we started doing that, the puck started going in the net. There’s definitely a correlation there.”
Novel concept to practice something that you’re not doing well, isn’t it? The failure to make adjustments is just one of the many reasons a Winnipeg team that locked in its young corps this summer is failing to produce wins in a more challenging Western Conference. Another is the vast overrating of their own players that led to big contracts for guys like Blake Wheeler, Zach Bogosian and Andrew Ladd that would be depth players on better NHL teams.
INCONSISTENT SENS GET A VERBAL BLASTING
The maddening inconsistency of the Ottawa Senators continues as they languish low in the Atlantic Division standings four points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final wild card spot. Erik Karlsson looks better and Jason Spezza has played well, but the Senators are ranked near the bottom of the league in goals against while goaltender Craig Anderson has been awful between the pipes.
They lost four of five games headed into their final game vs. the Penguins prior to the three-day holiday break, and they spanked Pittsburgh by a 5-0 score behind three points from Karlsson and a shutout, 27-save effort from Anderson. Ottawa GM Bryan Murray didn’t make any deals prior to the holiday roster freeze even though he probably could have, but he also didn’t remain a shrinking violet when he didn’t like what he saw following a loss to the New Jersey Devils.
The verbal spanking got the message through to the underachieving Senators players.
“Pulling out all the expletives, ‘wake up, wake up and show up,’” summarized winger Bobby Ryan. “I think what I took most out of it we can be the most maddening team he has ever seen. We show up and play a great 64 minutes against St. Louis and then play zero against a team like New Jersey.”
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
Toronto GM Dave Nonis on the recent struggles of his Maple Leafs team that have been chronicled by the HBO 24/7 cameras: “Do I like what’s going on? No. We have to find a way of getting out of this as a group. Players. Coaches. Management. No one is going to help us. I’m getting a lot of offers on players, but the offers are all a joke. I’m not about to trade a quality player for someone who can’t help us. That’s what’s being presented our way.
“If I could make changes this afternoon I would, but it has to be a positive move for the organization. Look, there’s no one coming over the hill to help us. We have to do it ourselves.
“Our team has to look internally before we look externally. It’s not that we haven’t played well. We have at times. We just haven’t sustained it for multiple games. That’s the frustrating part.”
*Team Canada GM Steve Yzerman was on hand to watch Matt Duchene and the Colorado Avalanche play both the Dallas Stars twice last week, and the Avs superstar put up four points in those two games. The 16 goals and 34 points in 33 games speak for themselves for Duchene. Interestingly enough, Jamie Benn was shutout in both of those games vs. the Avs and Seguin only had a goal and an assist in a lopsided loss to Colorado in the first of the two games.
*Speaking of the HBO cameras and 24/7, the Pittsburgh Penguins had a wealth of advice for the Leafs and Red Wings players, coaches and management after their experiences a couple of years ago. It was reported that Nazem Kadri actually turned down a chance to be miced up in the game where Sidney Crosby called him a “joke” during a captain’s debate on the ice with Dion Phaneuf. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma clearly didn’t love everything that the camera and microphones picked up while they were trailing his team, but he also felt the responsibility to open the access doors to the hockey fans that love the inside look at the NHL.
“Yeah, there were some things I didn’t want my son to hear or see,” Bylsma said. “At the same time I think the exposure that 24/7 gives to the game is positive.
“I think people are interested to hear the officials conversing with each other on the ice. And yes, sometimes players say things. It’s like in the dressing room. It’s not always perfect. There are some bleeps.
“It’s not like the HBO people are trying to catch you with your pants down or hiding around the corner trying to catch you doing something. It’s very straightforward and cordial.”
*Best of luck to Phoenix Coyotes captain Shane Doan, who was suffering from a mystery illness that’s been diagnosed as Rocky Mountain Fever. It’s a tick-borne bacterial illness that affects the cells in the lining of blood vessels, causing the vessels to leak, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms include headache and fever, which Doan previously said he experienced.
“There’s an uncertainty of how long it’s going to take him, and that’s why it’s hard to describe it because ideally you’d like to say after the holidays, another week or 10 days of rest, he’ll be ready to go,” Maloney said. “But that may not be the case. It could very well take weeks and weeks and weeks. We just don’t know.”
As somebody that dealt with Lyme Disease 13 years ago, I can tell you that any tick-borne illness is no joke. Best wishes to Doan for a full recovery, which it appears he’ll have after the Coyotes medical staff figured out what was going on at an early enough stage in the illness.
Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.