Monday, October 26, 2009

New-look Bruins standing tall

I should be posting here more often, since we're already 10 games into the season for most teams and this will mark the first ever Puckin' Right post to go up during regular season play. I'd like to get into a regular posting format groove where I try to post three or four days a week. The posts will have a central focus at first, followed by a series of bullet points to discuss things from around the hockey universe. We'll see how it goes, and following the World Series I definitely expect to be posting here with more regularity.

The Bruins are coming off a whirlwind week of activity. I couldn't imagine feeling much worse about the team's uneven start after losing 4-1 to the Phoenix Coyotes. Sitting at 3-4-1, showing no real signs of consistency anywhere on the ice and no cap space to inject new blood, I honestly began to wonder if the Bruins were the team I thought they were. I had no idea how many things would change in so short a period of time.

In the blink of an eye, Chuck Kobasew was dealt to Minnesota, Milan Lucic and Marc Savard were placed on IR, Brad Marchand and Vladimir Sobotka were recalled from Providence, and Daniel Paille was picked up from Buffalo in the first-ever Bruins-Sabers trade. Talk about a shakeup, and Claude Julien's new-look bunch has responded.

They battled Nashville at home to a 3-2 victory Wednesday. On Thursday they played the dynamic Phildelphia crew to a 4-3 SO loss, and earned their best win of the season Saturday at Ottawa, scoring two goals in the final 1:32 and later winning on a Patrice Bergeron beaut in the shootout.

As you can imagine, I'm feeling a lot better. The infusion of Marchand and Sobotka (two young, well-rounded forwards that should have made this team out of training camp if not for the cap situation at the time) have provided a tremendous amount of energy. I can tell Marchand is here to stay after watching his great puck-handling and speed through three games, not to mention some already-evident chemistry with Bergeron and Michael Ryder.

The penalty kill has already improved, and defensive banger Paille has been part of that improvement. Going into the Predators game, the Bruins were killing at just a 69 percent clip, but they haven't allowed power play goal in eight opportunities since.

Both goaltenders were also strong in all three contests. I could not have been more proud with Tuukka Rask's performance in Philly, stopping 39 shots in a hostile environment against one of the most stacked offenses in the NHL. Tim Thomas was superb against both Nashville and Ottawa, coming up with this insane stop on Daniel Alfredsson on Saturday. Remember in my preview how I was glad the Bruins' goaltending was one area I didn't have to worry? Well, I was definitely worried there for a while. It doesn't look like Thomas is going to be the same guy he was last year, and Rask is very much a rookie. But hopefully the good will come more often than the bad.

Through all the struggles so far, I've kept telling myself that I don't want a repeat of last year. The Bruins on '08-'09 got off to a torrid start before slowing down in the second half, and didn't have enough in the tank to beat an inferior team in the playoffs. If the B's are going to have issues, it's best to get them out of the way now.

I've mentioned here before that Pittsburgh didn't look like a playoff team as late as February last season and were skating with the Cup a few months later. It's such a long season that it scarcely matters how well (Colorado, Los Angeles) or how poorly (Detroit, Anaheim, Carolina) teams are playing in the last week in October.

Lucic and Savard are going to be missed, but the Bruins just have to tread water until they return. The indication I've seen from these last three games is that these Bruins are motivated, resilient, and are just now rounding into form as the Eastern Conference powerhouse they should be.

Onto the first edition of Puckin' Right's Around Hockey Bullet Points:
  • A lot is being made on the hockey blogosphere about five vicious hits that came out of last weekend's games. I'm not going to link to Tuomo Ruutu's astoundingly dirty, totally illegal hit on Darcy Tucker because Ruutu a) plays for Carolina and doesn't deserve to be glorified and b) has the last name Ruutu and probably shouldn't be allowed to play in the league anyway. Steve Ott, same thing, but I'll link to his anyway. There were, however, a couple of shocking culprits dishing out the pain. I agree with most that Mike Richards' check on David Booth was an unfortunate accident. We're talking about Mike Richards here, folks. But Rob Scuderi's truly despicable hit came out of left field. He literally tried to separate Jason Chimera's lower half from his upper half. This would be like Jon Lester throwing at a someone's head. I'm not sure what to make of it.
  • The best player in the league has been...Anze Kopitar? Really? Indeed. I mentioned above the improbable start for the Kings, and Kopitar's scalding-hot scoring touch is a big reason why L.A. is 8-4-0 thus far. He's been held pointless in just one game so far with five goals and three assists in just the last three games. Can he, and the Kings, keep it up? Nope. But it'll be fun while it lasts.
  • Marian Gaborik has 15 points with the Rangers and looks completely comfortable playing in New York with his new team. Because I've written that, I'm sure his hamstring will explode before you're done reading this sentence.
  • Finally, a proud moment for all UNH hockey fans as James van Riemsdyk, the highest draft choice in school history, potted his first career NHL goal in the waning moments of Philadelphia's 4-1 victory over Florida Saturday night. Congrats to JVR, and as one of the video commenters said, it's just one if many to come.
Until next time...