Haggerty: Thornton's season should be letter-worthy

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Haggerty: Thornton's season should be letter-worthy

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com Bruins Insider Follow @hackswithhaggs

Leadership in hockey can be a funny thing.

Any successful team is built on the bedrock foundation of tireless work, controlled anger and the willingness to stand up for wronged teammates. The Bruins had all these traits last winter.

Zdeno Chara became only the second European to hold an NHL captaincy on a Stanley Cup winning team last June and boasts all three qualities in high order.

Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi were Charas trusted assistant captains from Game 1 at the O2 Arena in Prague all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against the Canucks.

The Black and Gold leadership was as good as it gets. Those three players helped navigate the Bruins through a challenging regular season and chose the correct times to call together players only meetings at key points in the season.

It was Recchi, Bergeron and Chara who convened a meeting in Pittsburgh in January after the Bruins had imploded in the third period against the Canadiens at the Bell Centre. It was the same three individuals who managed to prevent any potential front-office tension from spilling over into the dressing room during times of trouble, and kept the team focused once the CharaMax Pacioretty zoo was created in Montreal.

The leadership truly couldnt have been any better for a hockey team full of big personalities and considerable talent, and they were fully supported by a strong cast of veteran characters like Andrew Ference, Shawn Thornton, Chris Kelly and Shane Hnidy.

But times change and hockey teams evolve, and the balance within the leadership group was significantly altered when three-time Stanley Cup champion Mark Recchi decided to call it a career at age 43.

Recchis calming, paternal effect on young players was uncanny, and his unyielding toughness while playing through kidney stones in the 2008-09 playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes was the stuff of legend.

Theres no way to replicate that in the Bruins room.

Signing a marginal vet like Chris Clark to a camp tryout isnt going to get it done either. But life will go on for the Cup champions in their attempts to repeat, and the team needs to go about the business of naming another assistant captain.

Claude Julien and the Bruins have a couple of choices: Go back to their previous policy of rotating the second A around the team and giving it to three or four players for a period of time through the season, or simply name one high profile leader of hockey men as the assistant captain.

Julien made it clear during the State of the Bruins that it would be a decision made by the group inside the walls of their dressing room without feedback from the outside.

If its a permanent assistant captain chosen to replace Recchi, then there can really be only one choice: Shawn Thornton.

The Bruins' tough guy is universally respected within the Bs dressing room, is now one of the longest tenured players on the roster, and is the only player whos decided to make Boston his permanent home. The hard work, emotion and courage so intrinsically linked to hockey greatness serve as the framework to his game, and Thornton already boasts everything but the letter on his sweater.

It was the Bs enforcer, after all, who helped create one of the turning points in the season when he scored a pair of goals and single-handedly helped the Bruins beat down the Atlanta Thrashers as the vultures circled around Julien during a team slump last December. It was Thornton who went after Matt Cooke two years ago to clean the slate with the Pittsburgh hatchet man, and right the ultimate wrong.

Thornton is always the honest voice within the dressing room, telling teammates what they might not want to hear and demanding accountability from everyone up and down the lineup.

It was Thornton who always offers to help a new players transition to the Bruins' way of doing things. It was Thornton who opened his home in Charlestown to Byron Bitz several seasons ago when the rookie didnt have a permanent place to live, and has similarly taken young players from Tyler Seguin to Tuukka Rask under his wing.

There may even be some truth to the whispers that it was Thornton who finally approached Brad Marchand during his wild, shirtless week of celebration in Boston following the Cup victory and advised the Bs rat to cool down and head back to Halifax for a while.

While its true there arent many enforcers wearing the C or A on their sweaters around the NHL these days, Thornton has become the heart and soul of the Bruins as much as any other player on Bostons highly successful hockey club.

No. 22 is coming off his best season as a pro and knows exactly what it takes to win as the only two-time Stanley Cup champ on the Bs roster headed into camp. The positives of giving Thornton the A on his sweater far outweigh any potential negatives that could be out there.

While Ference or perhaps even a younger player like Milan Lucic might be a reasonable selections as an assistant captain in Recchis stead, theres really only one name that could lend the kind of leadership Boston will need in their attempts to repeat as Stanley Cup champs.

The Bruins should vote Thornton in 2012 if they again want to be on a winning ticket this time around.

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

Haggerty: Good, but not good enough, again the story for Bruins

Haggerty: Good, but not good enough, again the story for Bruins

BOSTON – The all-important results continue to elude the Bruins at the time when they need them most.

The Black and Gold lost their third game in a row, 1-0, to the Chicago Blackhawks at TD Garden Friday night when they allowed the game-winning goal with less than 90 seconds remaining in regulation. It was a simple defensive breakdown and some great tic-tac-toe passing with Marian Hossa finishing things off, but it also felt like a game where the Blackhawks coasted against a wounded Bruins team for 58 minutes before turning it on when it was winning time.

The winning goal was a cross-ice pass from Tanner Kero to Hossa, with the puck sliding right between the legs of Adam McQuaid in the slot, and Hossa picking a corner while giving Tuukka Rask zero time to react side to side.

“We had a game plan in place and our guys executed well, they were ready to play,” said Claude Julien. “One little mistake and it’s in our net, and you lose yourself a pretty important hockey game.”

So, now the Bruins have taken only one point in their past three games, have dropped behind the Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic Division standings and continue to skate around like they’re wearing the weight of the entire organization on their shoulders.

“At the end of the night it is another loss and that’s the biggest thing. Did your team play fairly well? I think so. I think we competed hard, but then again you’re dealing with some growing pains. We had an icing late in the game so that’s not necessary, but the winning goal that goes through three of our guys and in our net with a minute-and- a-half left,” said Julien. “We have to stand there again, and take the responsibility for our own actions. It’s unfortunate because that minute-and-a-half that was left in the game kind of tarnished everything we had done for the first 58 minutes.

“I thought we played pretty well against a good team. We had contained the guys that we needed to contain. We didn’t score any goals – I don’t think we did a good enough job there - we had some chances but again you got to find ways to score goals. That’s where we are at.”

Clearly, the Bruins didn’t give up a ton defensively and Rask had been solid for the first two-plus periods, but there was also a sense Chicago didn’t bring its best game either when Boston outshot the Blackhawks 17-6 in the opening period. It was also clear that, aside from a couple of good, early chances from Tim Schaller and Brad Marchand, along with a Joe Morrow breakaway chance, the Bruins offense wasn’t doing enough work to get closer to the Chicago net for any sustained pressure.

So, instead of a solid result with dark clouds swirling over Causeway Street that a big change is needed to jolt a stagnant team, the Bruins hang up another loss where they outshot their opponent and end up with nothing to show for it.

These are the kinds of losses that test morale and togetherness and could either be taken as a sign of things tightening up for the Bruins or of things continuing to spiral away from a team that just needs wins at this point.

“I’m sure everybody’s feeling down right now because we lost, but you can’t start pouting too much. You’ve got to move on,” said Rask, who allowed one goal on 22 shots in the loss. “[There’s a] big game coming up Sunday, and next week, so it’s a loss and we have to move on. [We have to] get ready for the next one. I’m sure guys are pissed today, but tomorrow’s a new day.”

Tomorrow is a new day for everybody on the Black and Gold including Julien, who is scheduled to still run practice on Saturday as the B’s bench boss before speaking to the media prior to the team leaving for Pittsburgh. So, it’s business as usual after another loss on Friday night in a classic Original Six matchup that’s clearly most of the luster from where it was at four years ago, but one can only sit and wonder how much longer business as usual cuts it for a hockey club that continues to flounder. 
 

Julien sidesteps job security question with "shock journalism" comment

Julien sidesteps job security question with "shock journalism" comment

BOSTON -- With three crushing losses in a row at a time when results are really all that matters, the Boston Bruins are reeling at the wrong time during the regular season. The B’s tried their best to win a game 0-0 with strong defense against a sleepy Chicago Blackhawks bunch on Friday night, but ultimately coughed up a Marian Hossa goal in the final minutes for a 1-0 regulation loss at TD Garden.

The defeat continued a swirl downward for the Black and Gold over the last week, and was a second straight shutout loss on home ice for the first time in almost 15 years. The losing stretch has also kicked up the chatter that Claude Julien is in trouble as head coach of the Bruins, and the hockey club’s underperformance up and down the lineup is ultimately going to cost the NHL’s longest tenured bench boss his job.

The Ottawa Senators have passed the Bruins in the Atlantic Division, and it’s only a matter of time before the Toronto Maple Leafs move by them as well with both Toronto and Ottawa holding six games in hand on Boston. Combine all of this with the B’s having missed the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons leading into this one, and it shouldn’t be at all surprising that Julien is squarely on the coaching hot seat.

The B’s bench boss was asked about his job security after the Chicago loss, and clearly didn’t appreciate the tough, but appropriate question.

“Well, I’m not into shock-journalism,” said Julien in a prideful tone. “So I’ll stay away from that question if you don’t mind.”

The Bruins posted their Saturday schedule shortly after Julien and the B’s players had addressed the media following the loss, and sure enough the embattled coach is scheduled to address the media post-practice as part of the regular practice day routine. So it doesn’t seem that a move with Julien is imminent this weekend despite another loss, but both the coach and the players know something is going to happen to shake things up with this team if they continue to struggle.

“Right now it’s a results based situation, so if you’re going to keep losing games then probably something’s going to happen,” said Torey Krug. “But right now we’re just pretty down emotionally after this game, so I don’t want to look at the big picture. I just [want to] focus on what’s going on in this room, and hopefully we can come back with a good effort the next game.”

A good effort might help Julien’s standing with the Bruins in the short term, but it’s impossible to imagine the B’s bench boss making it through the rest of the Bruins regular season given all of things working against him right now.