Bruins notes: Kaberle finally turns corner

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Bruins notes: Kaberle finally turns corner

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

TAMPA Just when the Tomas Kaberle bashing was starting to reach Wideman-like levels, something miraculous happened for the puck moving defenseman.

The light bulb actually started going off for the longtime Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman, and he put up respectable back-to-back efforts against the Tampa Bay Lightning after a shaky start. Its imperative that a defenseman shake off his mistakes, and use that selective memory to keep pushing forward while breaking out with the puck and slicing through the bogged down neutral zone.

Kaberle has done that recently, and its making a difference.

I know everybody here is rooting for me and everybody here is playing hard and trying to do well, said Kaberle. It means a lot. Everybody cares about each other here and they should be. Not every game is going to be your best game, and youre not always going to be successful.

But Im trying to play my game. I feel a little better the last two games and its important for me to get my confidence back. We always talk a lot before the game about what were trying to do out there. There are a lot of plays to be made out there. Its not necessarily about making one play.

The uptick in play -- which saw him notch a pair of power play assists in the Game Two win at TD Garden and perhaps develop some chemistry with Tyler Seguin on the man advantage coincided with a bit of a heart-to-hear conversation between the embattled defenseman and the Bruins head coach.

The heart of the talk: dont get weighed down by what is or isnt happening on the power play, and simply focus on the rest of the hockey game. That talk appears to have gained some traction for Kaberle, who has listened up and started making plays with confidence in all three zones.

I think he's played really well in the last couple of games, said Claude Julien. We had a conversation about maybe taking some pressure off his shoulders about everything that wasn't going right about the power play. Fingers kept pointing at him. He's more than just that.

He's a good puck mover. He can play a pretty good game when he's on top of it. And we have confidence in him.

Kaberle struggled in Game One while playing more than 17 minutes of ice time, and its probably not a coincidence that his uptick in play over the last two games is linked to his minutes getting carefully rationed out. In the battle of match-ups and pitting strength against strength, the pairing of Kaberle and McQuaid is used selectively to blossoming results against the Bolts.

Kaberle himself now has five assists and a plus-6 in 14 playoff games with the Bruins, but still has only 18 shots on net. At this point its been determined that the 33-year-old isnt going to be sniping too many pucks on the man advantage, but he has shown some good creativity recently while moving his feet and keeping the defense guessing as to what hes doing with the puck.

In his own words Kaberle got way too stationary with his positioning, and was getting wildly predictable while letting his power play unit get bogged down by it all.

Sometimes going away from the set play is going to make the difference and you dont want to do the same thing all the time, said Kaberle. Then things get stationary and they know where youre going to go.

Sometimes you need to make the play that they dont expect.

There were moments in the last two games where Kaberle was moving all around the ice on the PP from his point position to the half-wall and then back again. That movement and rotation began opening things up for his teammates, and created some of the seams that led to his two PP helpers.

I think he's relaxed a little bit which has given him some confidence in his game. I think the last two games he's been a better player. He's passing. He's more poised. He's a little bit more aggressive, said Julien. He's not sitting on his heels. I think that's made a big difference in his game. We say it almost every day when we talk about players, it's about confidence. That word "confidence" plays big.

Plenty of cameras and recorders out for Shane Hnidy and goalie coach Bob Essensa as talk stirred up about the Atlanta Thrashers moving into Winnipeg starting next season with Hnidy from the Winnipeg area and Essensa proud of his six seasons as a member of the Winnipeg Jets. The move isnt official and hasnt been approved by the NHL Board of Governors, but it appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Shawn Thornton was kind enough to assist reporters in doing their jobs as he continuously yelled Shane Hnidy is available, and hes from Winnipeg! during media availability in the visitors dressing room at the St. Pete Times Forum. When Hnidy and Essensa did speak, they both spoke with uniform joy that NHL hockey was finally returning to a place that had been mourning its loss since the day it left.

Winnipeg might not be a booming metropolis or a city teeming with night life, but its a city that will wrap both arms lovingly around their hockey club.

The support is there. The economy is different than it was. Youve got the building in place and theyve got a great ownership group that knows how to run things successfully, said Hnidy, who makes his off-season home in Winnipeg. Anybody thats played on the (AHL) Moose had nothing but great things to say about it. Guys love playing there. Most of the negative stuff that comes out is from people who arent familiar with the area.

From a coachs standpoint as Essensa is coming from, a city like Winnipeg is the perfect place to have a group of players focused on winning hockey games rather than where to hit on Friday or Saturday night postgame.

Theres something to be said for those small-town Canadian teams that the players and the community really rally around, he said. They dont have maybe as many distractions as a big American city. From that standpoint, youre focused on hockey, youre focused on your teammates and I think the team and the city is better off because of it.

The biggest question is whether players go to Manitoba if they have other alternatives, but its not like there was a steady stream of players gravitating toward Atlanta once they hit free agency. The lure of playing for a Canadian team with Canadian-born players is a pretty strong thing.

Its tough to say. Certainly, with salary caps and whatnot, if Im getting x amount of dollars in Tampa and the same amount of money in Winnipeg, maybe Im leaning towards going to Tampa but, like I said, I think theres a quality to playing to Winnipeg that cant be matched anywhere else.

Tim Thomas was the subject of questions around the Bruins room today despite his absence from practice, and Claude Julien had a pretty keen observation when it came to his 37-year-olds motivations in the playoffs. Its pretty clear Thomas knows he may not get many cracks at the Stanley Cup, and this is his time to make it happen while hes young enough and dominant enough to still get his name on the shining piece of hockey heaven.

You have to remember, where Tim is right now, he's never been there, said Julien. He's accomplishing things that he hasn't accomplished yet, like a lot of players on the team, like a lot of us. We want to move forward.

There's a lot more than -- for him, it's nice to win Vezina trophies, but to win the Stanley Cup would be nice for him as well. So everybody is pushing in that direction. I think he's one of those guys that, where he's at in his career, his age and everything else, when those opportunities come, you want to make sure you make the best of it.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Tuesday, Dec. 6: The Bruins-Panthers connection

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Dave Dombrowski is collecting stars and talent over at Fenway Park. I dig it.

*Interesting piece about switching teams in the NHL and leaving behind old allegiances when the job calls for it.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Harvey Fialkov looks at the connections between the Bruins and the Florida Panthers, and more specifically with the Panthers and the Boston-area.

*A rumor round-up across the NHL including the humorous nugget that the Bruins are looking to move Jimmy Hayes. Yes, they are looking to move Hayes. They are begging some other NHL team to take on the player and the contract for somebody that has one point since last February. It’s not happening.

*Escrow is at the heart of the next negotiation between the NHL and the NHLPA, and I really thought it was going to be years before I’d have to even think about the CBA again.

*Tough break for the Florida Panthers losing Keith Yandle for a long period of time after he was injured last night vs. the Bruins. FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mike Halford has the story at Pro Hockey Talk.

*Wild coach Bruce Boudreau talks his “bucket list”, which includes a lot of movies and even a stint as a movie reviewer for the Manchester Union Leader back in the day.

*Sounds like Pat Maroon might want to sit out the next few plays after calling hockey a “man’s game” among other things.

*For something completely different: Yup, I’m pretty okay with the Red Sox blowing up the prospect cupboard for Chris Sale.