Pats must pack their poise Saturday

621544.jpg

Pats must pack their poise Saturday

FOXBORO -- By halftime last January 16th, Tom Brady had been sacked three times by the New York Jets, he'd thrown an inexplicable pick, Patrick Chung had called for a fake punt that failed and that gaffe led to a Jets touchdown with 33 seconds left in the first half. The 14-3 deficit at the break? Too much to overcome. The year before, the Baltimore Ravens allowed late-arriving traffic on Route 1 to U-turn and head home as they built a 24-0 lead by the end of the first quarter. In neither of those games could the Patriots' starts be called "poised."
So with the feature game of this weekend's playoff slate Saturday night, the Patriots are in a position once again where they must bring composure. Can they? Will they be able to the poise missing the last two playoff games? "Once that ball's kicked off, it's a game," said Tom Brady. "And it's the same game we've been playing all season. There's definitely a heightened sense of intensity because it's one game. There's no next week. It's a one-game season. Trying to control your emotions to a point where it doesn't interfere with your level of execution is important. But sometimes you can't control that. We'll see."That Brady candidly revealed his emotions are beyond control in big games is noteworthy. The fact they have gotten that way later in his career when, for the first 10 playoff games of his career (all wins), he was as cool as any quarterback had ever been in the cauldron of pressure. Urgency is important. But there's a line between urgency and desperation and for Brady, the desire to return to the summit -- especially after doing the Icarus thing back in 2007 -- seems almost desperate. "Every play is so important this time of year that you feel like you need to execute the best," said Brady. "When you play the best teams, the margin for error is less. They're gonna be playing well, they're gonna be ready to go. We have to match that. ...We got to go out there and try to play a good. Emotions will be running high, I'm sure the stadium will be very loud, playing on a Saturday night. It's special, man, it's the playoffs. That's why we work so hard to get to this point." Working somewhat in the Patriots' favor is the fact that a deficit is a common occurrence in 2011. Not just in the past two games where the Patriots were down 17-0 and 21-0 and still won, for a slew of games prior to that New England overcame opponents' leads. "Over the course of this whole year, this team has done a great job of keeping its poise," explained Vince Wilfork. "Through good times and bad times. I think we all kept a level head and it starts with the top first. It starts with Bill (Belichick). And Bill's probably one of the best at it. Don't get too high, don't get too low."We've seen the video of Bill O'Brien's meltdown at Washington when he butted into a Tom Brady-Tiquan Underwood discussion. But, Wilfork says, that's been an exception."Even when things went wrong and we lost, you never hear no fuss," Wilfork began. "Well, every now and then," he added. "But we coulda been arguing on the sideline and fussin' all the time a bunch but we didn't. Poise is everything and I think this team has a lot of it and that's what it's gonna take. We're going to have to be able to fight through some tough situtations, some tough calls some tough things you might not agree with or statements made at the time of the battle. Your job is to fight through those and perform well and I think for the most part we've done that."Playoff experience, Brady was asked. What's it mean?"It's a different team than played in '01, '03," Brady corrected. "How these teams are gonna attack us, we'll see. We'll see on Saturday night. ...I think that's why we're gonna show up and play. Nobody knows the answer to do those things. Experience is great when you win, then when you lose it means nothing."

Report: Red Sox acquire bullpen help in Tyler Thornburg from Brewers; Travis Shaw included in trade

thornburg.png

Report: Red Sox acquire bullpen help in Tyler Thornburg from Brewers; Travis Shaw included in trade

According to multiple reports, the Red Sox have traded infielder Travis Shaw and two minor-leaguers to the Milwaukee Brewers for righthander Tyler Thornburg. The prospects heading to Milwaukee are reliever Josh Pennington and infielder Mauricio Dubon.

The hard-throwing Thornburg had a tremendous season for the Brewers last year, sporting a 2.15 ERA in 67 appearances. Thornburg struck out 90 hitters in only 67 innnings while walking 25. 

The 28-year-old was a third-round draft pick of the Brewers in the 2010 draft. The 2016 season was his fifth in the league; it marked the second time in his career that he tossed at least 60 innings. 

MLB.com ranks Dubon as Boston's 12th-best prospect, while Pennington is ranked 22nd. Dubon finished the season in Double-A Portland, batting .339/.371/.538 in 62 games with six homers, six triples and 40 RBI.

Pennington, something of a project at the time of his 29th-round selection in the 2014 draft given that he needed Tommy John surgery, made 13 starts for Short-Season A Lowell, posting a 2.86 ERA and striking out 49 batters in 56.2 innings.

More to come...

NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

bruins_brandon_carlo_101716.jpg

NHL Notes: Carlo sticking with his strengths in the D-zone

By all accounts, 20-year-old Brandon Carlo has been outstanding for the Boston Bruins.

The rookie D-man was remarkably strong and consistent skating with Zdeno Chara as a top-pairing shutdown D-man before the Bruins captain went down with injury, and he was still very good after adjusting to life without partner Big Zee over the last six games.

Carlo had a couple of assists and a plus-3 rating while topping 20 minutes of ice time in each of the games without Chara, and rightly saw it as an opportunity to show what he could without the 6-foot-9 safety net on his left side. It’s exactly those kinds of challenges that spark Carlo’s competitiveness and get the fire burning that he so desperately needs in order to play at such a high intensity level every night in the NHL.  

“Zee helps me a lot, but I feel like at the same time I have the strengths to be able to handle myself on my own in this league,” said Carlo, who leads all rookies by a wide margin with his plus-12 rating for the season. “It’s a great opportunity to get out there and build relationships defensively. I just take it as an opportunity to prove myself in this league by myself. It was an opportunity to gain some confidence in different ways. With Zee playing so well and with such great chemistry between us, it gave me a whole bunch of confidence.

“Playing with different guys and matching up against the other team’s best players or matching up with third and fourth lines and maybe taking a few more hits, it shows that I can play anywhere in the lineup. It’s another great opportunity to prove myself.”

Well, Carlo has proven himself and passed that test along with all of the other NHL rookie exams set in front of him more than a quarter of the way through the regular season.

Clearly there are obvious gifts with Carlo plain to anybody watching him for the first time. He has the 6-foot-5, 203-pound frame that simply can’t be taught and that size allows him to win battles against stronger, more experienced opponents looking to do battle with him in Boston’s defensive zone.

He also has a very good point shot he consistently threads through traffic, and that has him on pace for a very respectable seven-goal, 20-point rookie campaign without any power play time mixed into his ice time. The decision-making with the puck and the passing is tape-to-tape more often than it’s not, and Carlo usually does a good job of avoiding the kind of high risk passes that can turn into goals against while battling other team’s top line players.

He keeps it simple and keeps it focused on defense, but Carlo also shows there is more surface to scratch with his offensive game.

Some of Carlo’s talents are a little less apparent to the casual observer, however.

The defensive stick-work, in particular, is something that you notice after watching Carlo shut things down in the D-zone night after night. He uses his long wing span and king-sized stick to poke pucks away from attackers, and has an uncanny ability to sweep the puck away from speedier players that were able to get a step on the big D-man.

“The one thing is that he’s so long and his stick is so long, it gives him time to recover because as a young kid in the league you’re going to make a lot of mistakes,” said Torey Krug, who has had to learn to survive in the NHL without those particular gifts. “He has the ability to come back and recover. The second part of that is being unfazed by it. He can make a mistake on one shift, and the next shift he shrugs it off and says ‘Okay, I’m not gonna get beat like that again.’ He has the ability to overcome that. He has the right head on his shoulders with the willingness to listen, to learn and to just keep getting better.”

The stick-checking in the D-zone is exactly how somebody would teach their hockey-playing kids to utilize the stick in the defensive zone, provided those puck prodigies were 6-foot-5 with excellent strength and hand-eye coordination to boot. Carlo said it’s something he’s nearly always been able to do as a big-bodied defenseman, and that certainly was reinforced by his coaching at the WHL level with the Tri-City Americans.

“There were not a lot of teaching points there. The stick is just something that I’ve always just loved using,” said Carlo. “Whenever I was on 1-on-1’s with my teams the guys would hate going against me because my poke check was so good. It’s just something that I really took pride in, developed and just got better and better with over time. There are certain things guys have told me [over the years] like using the straight back-and-forth instead of the windshield wiper [stick check].

“With my size I kind of had to adapt to the long stick, and I really enjoy using it [as a defensive weapon]. It gives me an extra step and an extra opportunity to get the puck away from guys too, particularly when they get behind me. It’s nice that I can use that long reach to get me out of sticky situations at times.”

Claude Julien made certain to point out that it’s something Carlo brought to the table prior to joining the Bruins organization, and was noticed immediately by the Providence Bruins coaching staff last season in his handful of games with them. It’s something of a rarity for a 19 or 20-year-old player to have that kind of stick technique down to a science to the point where it becomes a defensive weapon for him at the NHL level.

It’s also something that’s made Carlo’s transition to the NHL almost seamless despite just eight games of AHL experience entering this season.

“Most young guys always have two hands on their stick and it’s up around their waist, and you have to do a good job of teaching them to keep one hand on the stick with sticks on pucks,” said Julien. “Those are the kinds of things where it’s hard [sometimes] to break younger players in because for some reason they’re told to keep two hands on their sticks when they’re younger. At this level we need the one hand to have sticks on pucks.

“That’s what came out of last year when he first got to Providence. He had a very good stick and that’s what we were told. He had that before he came here, and that was one of his strengths. You continue to work with him because that has been one of his best weapons. Zdeno is probably one of those guys that’s going to tell you it served him extremely well, so he’s learning from the best when he’s playing with [Chara]. No doubt that’s been a big part of why he’s able to play here right now is because he defends well, and he uses his stick well.”

It’s exactly those kinds of fundamental strengths that have the Bruins believing they’ve got the real deal in a top-4, shutdown D-man in Carlo, and that the 20-year-old Colorado native has played himself into a big part of the big picture future for the Black and Gold. 

ONE TIMERS

*Seeing Brad Marchand lose it on a linesman Saturday afternoon in Buffalo reminds me of his preseason comments on getting on the good side with the refs this season. Marchand had just engaged in a scuffle with Rasmus Ristolainen, and then the Bruins winger engaged in a verbal scuffle with one of the officials during the ensuing face-off. Cameras caught Marchand saying “Do your job! Do your job!” before dropping a couple of clear F-bombs his way before the puck was dropped. Well, so much for racking up the brownie points to change the reputation with the refs, eh Brad?

*In case it isn’t already obvious, expect the Bruins big trade acquisition prior to the deadline to involve a top-6 forward that can put the puck in the net rather than a top-4 defenseman. They could use both, of course, but they are looking to find somebody that can finally fill into Loui Eriksson’s left wing role on David Krejci’s line, and both Ryan Spooner and Tim Schaller haven’t been perfect solutions for the playmaking Krejci. Certainly the Black and Gold will look at 22-year-old Frank Vatrano when he comes back as well, but there’s no telling how long it’s going to take a youngster like that to fully come back from foot surgery. The Bruins may just hedge their bets by going out and getting another winger after putting together a whole collection of centers on the roster this summer.

*Continued prayers and thoughts for Craig Cunningham as it sounds like he’s on the road to recovery in very slow steps out in Arizona. He is a great kid and deserves all the positive thoughts that Bruins Nation can send out to him.

*If you haven’t already, go out and pick up fellow Bruins writer Fluto Shinzawa’s new book entitled “Big 50: Boston Bruins: The Men and Moments that Made the Boston Bruins.” The Boston Globe writer goes deep into the B’s history books for some Old Time Hockey anecdotes and characters, and also gives you a close-up view of the last 10 years as he’s covered the daily doings of the Black and Gold. It’s not that big of a book either, so it looks like the perfect Christmas stocking stuffer for the Bruins fan in your family.

Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.