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

List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

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List of Bruins prospects includes two familiar names

With decidedly Boston-sounding names and thoroughly familiar faces, given their resemblances to their ex-Bruin dads, it might have been easy to overlook Ryan Donato and Ryan Fitzgerald and focus on the truly little-known prospects at Development Camp earlier this month.

But on the ice, their brimming confidence, their offensive skills and the maturity to their all-around game was impossible to ignore.

When it was over, general manager Don Sweeney singled out Donato, who plays at Harvard, and Fitzgerald, from Boston College -- along with Notre Dame forward Anders Bjork and former Boston University defenseman Matt Grzelcyk -- as players who have developed significantly.
 
“[They're] just comfortable in what they’re doing,” said Sweeney. “I mean, they’ve played at the college hockey level . . . two, three, four years with some of these kids. They’re very comfortable in their own skin and in what they do.”
 
Donato, 20, is actually coming off his first season at Harvard, where he posted 13 goals and 21 points in 32 games. He looked like he was in midseason form during Development Camp, showing off a scoring touch, skill with the puck on his stick in tight traffic, and the instincts to anticipate plays that allow him to beat defenders to spots in the offensive zone. He’s primed for a giant sophomore season with the Crimson, based on his showing at camp.
 
“Every year is a blast," said Donato, son of former Bruins forward and current Harvard coach Ted Donato. "You just come in [to development camp] with an open mindset where you soak everything up from the coaches like a sponge, and see what they say. Then I just do my best to incorporate it into my game and bring it with me to school next year.
 
“One of the things that [Bruins coaches and management] has said to me -- and it’s the same message for everybody -- is that every area of your game is an important one to develop. The thing about the NHL is that every little detail makes the difference, and that’s what I’ve been working on whether it’s my skating, or my defensive play. Every little piece of my game needs to be developed.”
 
Then there's Fitzgerald, 21, who is entering his senior season at BC after notching 24 goals and 47 points in 40 games last year in a real breakout season. The 2013 fourth-round pick showed speed and finishing ability during his Development Camp stint and clearly is close to being a finished hockey product at the collegiate level.
 
“It was good. It’s definitely a fun time being here, seeing these guys and putting the logo on,” said Fitzgerald, son of former Bruins forward Tom Fitzgerald, after his fourth Development Camp. “One thing I’m focusing on this summer is getting stronger, but it’s also about just progressing and maturing.
 
“I thought . . . last year [at BC] was a pretty good one, so I just try to build off that and roll into my senior season. [The Bruins] have told me to pretty much continue what I’m doing in school. When the time is right I’ll go ahead [and turn pro], so probably after I graduate I’ll jump on and make an impact.”
 
Fitzgerald certainly didn’t mention or give any hints that it could happen, but these days it has to give an NHL organization a bit of trepidation anytime one of their draft picks makes it all the way to their senior season. There’s always the possibility of it turning into a Jimmy Vesey-type situation if a player -- like Fitzgerald -- has a huge final year and draws enough NHL interest to forego signing with the team that drafted him for a shot at free agency in the August following his senior season.
 
It may be a moot point with Fitzgerald, a Boston kid already living a dream as a Bruins draft pick, but it’s always a possibility until he actually signs.
 
In any case, both Donato and Fitzgerald beat watching in their respective college seasons after both saw their development level take a healthy leap forward.

Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

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Backes: 'Time will be the judge' on his long-term deal with Bruins

JAMAICA PLAIN – Newest Bruins forward David Backes has heard the trepidation from Bruins fans about the five-year term of his contract, and he’s probably also caught wind of St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong stating publicly that contract length was an area he was uncomfortable getting to on a theoretical extension with his outbound.

The prevailing wisdom is that the decade of rugged, physical play from the 32-year-old in St. Louis will cause him to start slowing down sooner rather than later, and the last couple of seasons won’t be as high quality as the first couple in Boston.

So what does the actual player think about any questions surrounding his five year, $30 million contract?

The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Backes confidently said that concerns about his age, or him slowing down demonstrably in the last few years of his new contract, are “a bunch of malarkey” to borrow a favorite phrase from Vice President Joe Biden.

“I’m 32, not 52. Time will tell, but I feel really good and I take care of my body. I lay it all on the line, but when I’m not at the rink I’m resting and recovering for the next time I have to pour it all into a game,” said Backes, who logged 727 hard-hitting games all with the St. Louis Blues organization over the last 10 seasons. “Time will be the judge, but I feel like [after] five years I’ll even have a couple more [seasons] after that.

“I don’t think this is going to be end. That’s my plan. I’m still going to get better over the next five years, and hopefully have a couple of opportunities to hoist that big trophy I’ve been chasing around for the last 10 years.”

One area of concern from last season: the 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games for the Blues were Backes’ lowest totals over a full season since his first few years in the league. It might be the first signs of decline in a player that’s logged some heavy miles, or it could be a simple down season for a player that’s always focused on setting the physical tone, and defense, just as much as his offensive output at the other end of the ice.

As Backes himself said, “time will be judge” of just how well the five year contract turns out for a natural leader that will undoubtedly give the Bruins a boost as a hard-nosed, top-6 forward as he moves into the Boston phase of his NHL career.

Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

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Thursday, July 28: Will the Bruins end up with Jimmy Vesey?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading after a pretty amazing, on-point succession of speeches by Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg and Barack Obama at the Democratic National Convention last night. It was quite a contrast to the absolute circus sideshow that went on in Cleveland last week.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynksi chronicles the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes, and the late entry of the Chicago Blackhawks as a suitor. Wysh still feels, as I do, that the Bruins end up getting this talented player at the end of the day.

*The details of the charges levied against Evander Kane paint an ugly picture of a hockey player doing a lot of the wrong things.

*PHT writer Mike Halford says that the Carolina Hurricanes might be ready to snap their playoff drought after extending head coach Bill Peters.

*John Tavares tells the Toronto media not to count on him ever pulling over a Maple Leafs jersey amid post-Stamkos speculation.

*Well, would you look at this? The Nashville Predators are providing salary cap and contract info on their own team website. What a concept!

*The Edmonton Oilers say they will have a new captain in place by opening night, and it will be interesting to see if they go the Connor McDavid route.

*Brian Elliott is thrilled at the opportunity to be “the man” between the pipes for the Calgary Flames this season after splitting time in St. Louis.

*For something completely different: a great feature on Howard Stern, and his transformation from shock jock to master interviewer.

Joe Haggerty can be followed on Twitter: @HacksWithHaggs