Top dogs battle for East supremacy

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Top dogs battle for East supremacy

OTTAWA The battle for Eastern Conference supremacy is coming at just the right time for the Bruins.

After knocking off the Pittsburgh Penguins as top dogs nearly two weeks ago and sending them into a downward spiral without Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, the Bruins pull into Philadelphia for a Saturday afternoon matinee against the top dog Flyers. Philly has won seven games in a row and leads the NHL by a wide margin with an explosive offense averaging 3.66 goals per game with the Bruins in a distant second place.

On the other hand the Bruins are a ridiculous 17-2-1 in their last 20 games, and cant seem to lose even when theyre admittedly playing a mistake-prone, sloppy brand of hockey.

Thats the kind of thing that can happen when a team is second in the NHL in offense (3.3 goals per game), first in defense (2.0 goals against per game), just outside the top 10 with a power play cranking with a 17.4 percent success rate and third in the NHL killing 87.9 percent of the penalties called against them.

So the Bruins are once again walking into a hostile arena to do battle with a hockey club thats rolling, but its also a team Boston has handled pretty well in their backyard over the last few seasons.

In fact Tim Thomas has owned the Flyers in their home rink in both the regular season and the playoffs, and the Philly Faithful will likely have vivid memories of Thomas 52-save effort in last years playoffs that effectively buried the Flyers.

The 37-year-old Thomas is 10-3 in his career with a 2.18 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 15 games against the Flyers, and has routinely dominated at the Wells Fargo Center. He should be getting the start coming off a solid 47-save victory over the Senators.

It is a challenge, but I think weve always responded well to the challenge in Philadelphia, said Claude Julien. I dont seem to recall us playing a stinker in there. We seem to match up well with that team. Theyre always interesting games and good games, and were hoping for the same tomorrow.

But they are playing well and we really need a good challenge thats going to give us a bit of a jolt. I felt like the practice that we had today is one of the best that weve had in a while, so hopefully thats a good sign.

Theres also the stunning contrast between the two hockey clubs when it comes to the health situation. The Bruins are getting massive defenseman Zdeno Chara back after he missed only two games with a knee injury suffered last weekend in Columbus, and that became something of a definite when the team announced that Jordan Caron and Steve Kampfer were being sent to Providence for this weekend.

Meanwhile Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger is probably done for the season with post-concussion syndrome, potential Hart Trophy candidate Claude Giroux is out with a concussion and the Flyers are winning despite getting waylaid in the war of attrition.

I was surprised. I didnt know why Pronger was out. I didnt see the hit until today or yesterday, said Chris Kelly. Thats a big loss for them and to the league. Hes an elite player and a lot of people in visiting buildings come to see him play.

I hope he gets well. All these guys with concussions, you never want to see that happen to anyone. The other injuries separated shoulder and banged up knees or injuries from blocking shots are a part of the game, but concussions are a different beast. I hope all of those guys that have them right now get better and are able to play again soon.

The injuries and adversity arent going to keep the Bruins from throwing their best at the Flyers, and it should be a back to basics defensive effort after the Bs allowed 90 shots in the last two games without Chara.

Its a great challenge. Theyre playing extremely well and theyve won seven in a row, said Kelly. Theyve had injuries too, but theyve had guys stepping up and playing well for them. Itll be a big challenge.

After three straight wins over the Blue Jackets, Kings and Senators that constitute the mediocrity class in the NHL these days, the Bruins need something to pull that higher level out of them. Philadelphia should be exactly what the doctor ordered when the teams suit up for battle Saturday afternoon in the City of Brotherly Love.

Top spot in the Eastern Conference is on the line, and neither team in the thriving rivalry should be budging an inch.

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

Bean: The (incorrect) case for the Bruins signing Kevin Shattenkirk

The Bruins should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. They really shouldn’t. 

Yet they might. Pierre McGuire said on TSN Radio Tuesday that his guess is that Shattenkirk, arguably the best free agent defenseman on the market, will end up in Boston.

It is remarkable how universally against a Shattenkirk megadeal B’s fans have seemingly been. A Twitter poll with over 3,600 votes this month had Bruins fans preferring Boston sign 40-year-old Zdeno Chara to a two-year, $8 million extension than the 28-year-old  Shattenkirk to a seven-year, $45.5 million deal. 

That is obviously the correct conclusion, but considering how hard the false “Chara is old and bad” garbage is pushed in this town, it’s telling that 64 percent would rather he stick around than the team build the defense around Shattenkirk. 

Of course, Shattenkirk is not a bad player just because he’s been overrated in recent seasons. He’s a decent second-pairing defender and strong power play asset who can be penciled in for 40 points a year. The Bruins already have that in Torey Krug, and he makes less than Shattenkirk figures to command. Shattenkirk is also a righty who plays on the right, which is not a need for the Bruins, whereas Krug is a left shot who plays both sides. 

Add in the Bruins’ cap situation due to some bad contracts and they why of Shattenkirk would be a bad signing doesn’t need to be re-hashed. By this point, the explanation’s been given a few times in a few different places. 

So what would the Bruins’ actual case for signing Shattenkirk be? 

TO KEEP IT MOVING 

Last season was encouraging for Bruins fans because it saw them reach the playoffs for the first time in three years while also seeing young talent emerge. Yet they still only made the playoffs by two points, something of which Don Sweeney and Cam Neely are undoubtedly aware. 

So for all the good signs, this could be a fringe playoff team again if more improvements aren’t made, and missing the playoffs for the second time in three years would mark a step back in the eyes of ownership, perhaps putting jobs in danger. It would be a shame if money were spent irresponsibly for the sake of saving jobs, but Shattenkirk would definitely make the Bruins better next season, even if it crippled them financially down the road. 

TO PULL A CHIARELLIAN FREE AGENT SWITCHEROO

With McAvoy set to be a top-pairing player and Brandon Carlo a good second-pairing option, the Bruins do not have a need for a highly paid right-shot defender. That doesn’t mean they don’t have needs elsewhere. 

Last offseason, Peter Chiarelli made the controversial move of trading Taylor Hall, one of the best left wings on the planet. He did it to get Adam Larsson to help build Edmonton’s blue line up, then he went out and signed Milan Lucic in free agency to replace Hall. 

If the Bruins truly have designs on adding Shattenkirk, perhaps they could have something similar in mind: Trade someone like Carlo for either a left-shot defenseman or a left wing, then replace Carlo with Shattenkirk. 

This would still not be financially palatable, however. When the Oilers traded Hall for Larsson, they swapped a player with a $6 million cap hit for a player with a $4.16 million cap hit and replaced the original player (Hall) with a player in Lucic who carried a $6 million cap hit. So essentially they netted one player for an additional $4.16 million. 

Carlo is on his entry level contract, so unless the Bruins traded him for a player on an entry-level deal, they’d be spending a lot of money in any maneuver that involved replacing him with Shattenkirk. 

TO GO ALL-IN ON POST-CLAUDE LIFE

Claude Julien’s detractors lamented his affinity for responsibility. They loved it when Bruce Cassidy was more open to trading chances. 

Well, you like trading chances? Shattenkirk’s your guy. He’s a good skater, a good offensive player and a sub-par defender. You put Krug, Shattenkirk and McAvoy as three of your four top-four defenseman and you’ll be a long way from the days of Chara, Seidenberg and Boychuk, for better or worse. 

BUT, KEEP IN MIND . . . 

They for sure should not sign Kevin Shattenkirk. 

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Morning Skate: What does trading a first-rounder get you now?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading, while wishing that Gordon Hayward and Paul George were already in Boston, like, yesterday.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Elliotte Freidman gives his 30 thoughts for the week, including the trade value of a first-round pick right now.

*It could that non-unrestricted free agents steal all of the thunder on July 1 with massive contract extensions a la Connor McDavid.

*PHT writer James O’Brien has the Detroit Red Wings taking potential fliers on a number of veteran D-men that are out on the free market.

*With free agency right around the corner, the legendary Stan Fischler details the sad end to Bobby Orr’s career in Boston, where he was lied to about the offer extended to him and ended up playing things out with the Chicago Blackhawks in a way that it shouldn’t have gone. The sight of Orr in a Blackhawks sweater is one of the real all-time NHL oddities out there.

*The NCAA is eying college hockey expansion in NHL markets, including the University of Illinois and Pitt, and, from what I’ve been told, perhaps UNLV and maybe even Vanderbilt. This is a great thing for amateur hockey players and anybody that can’t get enough of the game.  

*Ex-Senators defenseman Marc Methot holds no ill will toward the Sens after being dealt from Vegas to the Dallas Stars following his selection in the expansion draft.

*Josh Ho-Sang shares his wisdom to Islanders prospects as a 21-year-old somebody that’s gone through the ups and downs of being in their shoes.

*As we referenced above, Connor McDavid is closing in on a massive contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers that will probably make him the highest paid player in the NHL.

*For something completely different: My heart goes out to this Roslindale family fighting through a situation with a child who has a life-threatening disorder. They have a Go-Fund-Me page, so please give if you can.