Wednesday, December 12, 2007
DESPITE INJURIES, BRUINS CLIMBING THE STANDINGS
With the Patriots at 13-0, and the Celtics at 17-2, very little attention is being paid to the Boston Bruins In fact, the Sports section of yesterday’s Boston Globe focused mainly on a retirement home for former racehorses. This was despite the fact that the Bruins crushed Buffalo 4-1 on Monday night, and are now second place in the Northeast Division.
The Bruins are 6-5-2 within the Northeast Division, including a 3-0-1 mark against Buffalo, and a 3-0-0 record against the Maple Leafs. The only major obstacle within the division has been Montreal, who have outscored the Bruins 19-8 in their four victories.
What impresses me the most about the Bruins so far is their ability to perform despite losing key players. After losing Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins are 10-6-3, and have risen from eighth in the conference to fourth (actually, the Bruins are tied with the second most points). Manny Fernandez went down earlier in the year, which made Tim Thomas the #1 goalie, until he got a groin injury against the Devils a week ago. Twenty year old Finn Tuukka Rask filled in for a few starts, but his lack of experience (and his poor performance against the Canadiens), resulted in the acquisition of Alex Auld.
Auld started against Toronto on Saturday night. The Leafs got on the board first thanks to some European style passing by Pavel Kubina diagonally across the neutral zone, springing Jason Blake on the near side wing. Blake wristed one past Auld to put Toronto up 1-0. The assists went to Kubina and former Bruin Hal Gill. Gill had gotten the puck near his own goal line before finding Kubina in the neutral zone. Toronto’s possession consisted of two passes, a little skating by Blake, and a shot. That was enough to give them the lead.
The Bruins’ goal would look eerily similar, only this score was on the power play. Aaron Ward took the puck from behind his own net, found rookie Matt Hunwick in the neutral zone with a long pass. Hunwick hit Chuck Kobasew in the high slot, and the Bruins’ leading goal scorer beat Vesa Toskala with a wrist shot to tie the game. Hunwick’s assist was his first NHL point.
In the second period, Boston netted the game winner. After being denied on a wraparound opportunity, Brandon Bochenski was able to tip his own rebound back to Dennis Wideman at the blue line. Wideman drove a slap shot threw a thin lane, and past Toskala to give the Bruins their first lead of the game.
The rest of the night would feature Alex Auld in the butterfly making save after save, and moving from post to post beautifully. He made 25 saves on 26 shots, winning his debut with Boston. Auld has played for four different teams (Florida, Vancouver, Phoenix, and Boston), and has won his debut with each one.
Monday night, the Bruins beat Buffalo 4-1, but that score is deceptive. Buffalo outshot the Bruins 45 to 21. Buffalo won 64% of the faceoffs. The offensive opportunities that the Sabres mounted were more sustained and more numerous. However, when the Bruins had chances, they capitalized on them. And when Buffalo had chances, they were stopped by Mister Auld.
The Bruins got on the board early, about 6:30 into the first period. Buffalo had been having difficulty moving the puck out of their own zone, and it proved fatal. Some nice forechecking by Glen Murray forced a cross-ice pass that was intercepted by Marc Savard in the high slot. From there, it was easy for the NHL’s leader in assists to slap it into the net for his sixth goal of the year.
Forty-four seconds later, the Bruins went ahead 2-0. This time it was Savard with an assist, as he centered the puck to P.J. Axelsson in front of the net, and the veteran Swede finished the job.
Buffalo was able to get a power play goal which came at the end of about 100 exhausting seconds of possession inside the Bruins zone. But any momentum they might have built was crushed as Milan Lucic passed to a net crashing Peter Schaefer, who built the lead back to two goals.
A scoreless second period saw Auld stop all 20 shots he faced. The Bruins iced it in the third with a Glen Metroplit backhander. Some third period penalties on Buffalo allowed Boston to run the clock out and leave western New York with two points.
Tim Thomas should be back after another week or so. And it appears as though Alex Auld will be his backup when he does return. Manny Fernandez may be going under the knife as his left knee continues to cause him problems. Fernandez played a few games for the AHL’s Providence Bruins, but still had some problems with the butterfly position. Bruins’ GM Peter Chiarelli had this to say about Fernandez:
“He can’t push off 100 percent in the butterfly with the left leg. He can push off 95 percent, but not 100. So he was trying to keep the leg straight or avoid that push. He changed his style. You know sometimes when you go to the post, you’d go down in a pure butterfly? Well, he wouldn’t. He’d keep one leg up. So he was overcompensating, and he had some groin problems and the back problem because of that.”
With Thomas and Auld, there may be no need for Fernandez to come back.
The Bruins end their three game road trip in Atlanta tonight, facing the Thrashers for the first time this season.