Kelly: Bruins should beware of the Senators

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Kelly: Bruins should beware of the Senators

WILMINGTON, Mass. Who better to understand the domination of the Ottawa Senators over the last four years at the hands of the Boston Bruins than Chris Kelly?
Kelly was a member of the Senators for 6 12 years prior to his acquisition by the Bruins at the trade deadline in 2011, so he's seen life from both sides. The B's are 18-5 over Ottawa in the last four years, and Kelly will tell you it's better being the hammer than the nail.
But he'll also tell you that assuming the B's will roll over the Sens in the playoffs -- the two are likely first-round foes -- just because they've beaten them consistently in the regular season these last few years is pure folly.
If we take the approach to the playoffs that teams will roll over then wed be in some big trouble," said Kelly. "The regular season is the regular season, and the playoffs are a whole different beast. Youve seen it in the past where a team has done extremely well against a team during the regular season, and then it goes the other way during the playoffs. The regular season gets thrown out the window after Saturday.
Its all but assured the Bruins and Senators will open up as first-round opponents when Bostons playoff Cup defense begins, probably on April 12 at TD Garden, and those teams meet for the final time this season Thursday night at Scotiabank Place. It wont have the feel of a potential playoff preview, of course, as Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas were all left back in Boston to get some rest with the playoffs around the corner.
But that didnt stop Kelly from remembering the ill-at-ease feeling he had when he knew Thomas was going to start against them during his Ottawa days.
Thomas has lost only 5 of the 16 games hes played at Scotiabank Place over his highly decorated career, and he has a current nine-game winning streak in Ottawas home building. Kelly joked that whenever Boston was coming to town it got to the point where the Senators hoped Thomas would get the night off for any reason under the sun.
I was always hoping hed get the flu and miss the game, said a laughing Kelly. But once you saw that gold on the mask, you knew you were in for it.
In his career at Scotiabank Place, Thomas has 1.99 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in 16 games. He even wins exhibition games in Ottawas building, as he took the victory in Team Charas win at the NHL All-Star game in January.
But none of that matters much to the young Senators, who are readying for a surprise playoff bid. They're a group of largely young, unproven players hungry for a taste of the postseason. Only a handful remain from Kelly's days with the team.
While most NHL prognosticators picked the Senators to finish last in the Northeast Division and out of the playoffs Chara said hes not surprised Ottawa could be Bostons first-round foe. Both he and Kelly give credit to Sens head coach Paul MacLean bringing a new attitude after Cory Clouston couldnt provide the answers Ottawa was looking for.
The biggest difference we see from last year with Ottawa is that theyre really committed to the system and the structure this season, said Chara. They seem to really be paying attention to details, and the new coaching staff seems to have a lot to do with that.
Whats a little more relevant to this seasons potential playoff matchup?
The Bruins are 4-1 against the Sens this season, with the lone Ottawa victory coming in their last game in Boston, and all the Sens defensemen aside from Filip Kuba and Erik Karlsson were minus players against the Bs this year. But Jason Spezza and Daniel Alfredsson also combined for 11 points in nine games against the Bruins this season, and give the Senators their biggest wealth of postseason experience heading into the first-round match.
Alfredsson and Spezza led the playoffs in scoring the year we went to the Cup Finals (2006-07), along with Dany Heatley, so its kind of rare that all three guys would have 26 or 27 points each, said Kelly. Youve got to know where they are on the ice. Theyve been in the postseason before, but there are also a lot of new faces with postseason experience because they all won the Calder Cup with Binghamton last year. There is no shortage of playoff experience on that team.
The AHL playoff experience is obviously much different than the Stanley Cup playoffs, but Kellys point is well-taken.
The bottom line with the Ottawa Senators: Theyre a young, talented team that did well to force themselves back into the playoff picture this season, but the Bruins should have little problem picking them off in an ideal first-round challenge.
Hockey history has shown that the Bruins have been the superior hockey club for a long, long time, and hockey history doesnt lie.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

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At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it. 

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

Haggerty: Loss of Colin Miller not a significant one for Bruins

There will be some that will absolutely crucify the Bruins for losing Colin Miller in Wednesday night’s expansion draft, and rail against an asset that was lost for nothing. Those people will also miss the absolutely essential point that the whole raison d’etre for an expansion draft is to remove assets from each of the 30 NHL teams, and do it without a cost for the benefit of the new franchise opening up shop in Las Vegas.

It could have been much worse for the Black and Gold as some teams were shipping first round picks to Vegas to shelter their own players from expansion selection, and other teams were losing essential players like James Neal, Marc Methot and David Perron from their respective rosters. The B’s didn’t entertain overpaying simply to avoid losing a useful player, and clearly, they did lose a talented, still undeveloped player in the 24-year-old Miller, who now may be flipped to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a side deal with Vegas.

But let’s be honest here. A whole lot of people are vastly overestimating a player in Miller that’s long on tools and very short on putting them together, and they’re also vastly underestimating Kevan Miller. The younger Miller can skate like the wind and has a bazooka of a shot when he winds up and fires his clapper at the net.

But despite those clear offensive talents, Colin had the same number of points as stay-at-home defenseman Kevan this season despite the bigger, stronger and older Miller playing three less games this season. Kevan also had more goals (five) and more points (18) than Colin did two years ago in his rookie season for Boston.

This isn’t to say that Colin doesn’t have more discernible offensive skill than Kevan when it comes to moving the puck or creating offense. He does, but all that talent hasn’t manifested into real points, real offense or anything else for the Black and Gold over the last couple of seasons. At a certain point, a prospect like Colin needs to put all the tools together into production on the ice if he wants to become the sum of his hockey parts, and that hasn’t happened in two full seasons in Boston.

Instead, Miller continues to struggle with decision-making with the puck, consistency and finding ways to turn the quality skating and shot package into any kind of playmaking on the ice. Miller had his challenges defensively and he was never going to be the most physical guy on the ice, but those could have been overlooked if he was lighting it up in the offensive zone on a regular basis.

Plain and simple that wasn’t happening, and over the last season 20-year-old Brandon Carlo and 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy passed Miller on the organizational depth chart for right shot defenseman, and either Adam McQuaid or Kevan Miller would slot in as the third pairing D-man on the right side. It’s clear at this point that Colin Miller needs more time and patience if he’s ever going to develop as a late-blooming defenseman at the NHL level, and he wasn’t going to get those opportunities to develop in Boston.

So how good can Colin Miller really be if he was about to get buried on a Boston defensive depth chart without much hope of being in the starting six every night unless he was able to magically transform himself into a top-4 guy on the left side?

Clearly, there is risk here as Miller could move on to Toronto, develop into the player that posted 19 goals and 52 points in the AHL a couple of seasons ago and torment the Bruins for the next five-plus years. It would become another arrow in the quiver of those critics looking to hammer GM Don Sweeney and President Cam Neely at every turn, and it would generate massive “Why can’t we get players like that?” homages to the legendary Bob Lobel all across New England.    

But there’s just as good a chance that Kevan Miller will still be throwing hits and soaking up heavy minutes of ice time for the Bruins three years down the road, and that Colin Miller will be out of the league after never harnessing together his considerable talent. Perhaps Sweeney could have been better about securing an asset for Miller ahead of the expansion draft if he knew he was going to lose that player for nothing to Vegas.

The bottom line is that the Bruins were going to lose somebody to Las Vegas in the expansion draft, and the Golden Knights weren’t going to do them any favors by taking on misfit toys like Jimmy Hayes, Malcolm Subban or Matt Beleskey. They did instead lose a player with plenty of raw talent in Colin Miller, but it’s not exactly somebody that’s going to be missed in Boston once Carlo and McAvoy start showing just how bright the B’s future is on the back end starting next season.