Friday, January 11, 2008
The Bruins have played several bad games this year, but last night was the first time all season that they made me mad. And what did they do to make me mad? THEY were mad.
The Canadiens came to town last night, looking to go 5-0 against the Bruins on the year. Canadiens/Bruins is supposed to be a rivalry, but this year it is no contest. A packed Garden crowd of 17,565, many of which were Quebecois vacationing in the relative tropics of Boston, saw the Bruins fly onto the ice with fire and passion. Almost immediately, a Bruin was in the penalty box. It was Chuck Kobasew, who got 2 minutes for boarding at 1:59.
Now I love physical hockey. There are many occasions when taking a penalty is appropriate. But not against Montreal, and the best power play unit in the NHL. Montreal scores on 25.1% of their man advantage opportunities. Meanwhile, the Bruins’ penalty kill rate of 78.2% is good for 27 th in the NHL. The Bruins should have been trying to reduce their shorthanded time, not increase it.
The Bruins killed their first penalty in impressive fashion, not allowing Montreal to cycle the puck much, disrupting the Habs’ power play before it could really get set-up. Then Marco Sturm got 2 minutes for elbowing about halfway through the first. Tomas Plekanec snuck in the back door of the crease, tipping in Andrei Kostitsyn’s pass to make it 1-0.
But penalties weren’t the only evidence of the Bruins playing on edge. When given scoring opportunities, they made questionable decisions and stuttered passes. They were pressing and uncomfortable when close to Montreal‘s net. Before the Canadiens’ opening goal, David Krejci hesitated in the high slot just long enough to be poke checked and lose the puck. It was the first of many glaring miscues for Boston.
Then came Montreal’s second goal. Milan Lucic and Aaron Ward both went for a hit on Michael Ryder in Montreal’s defensive zone. But Ryder was still able to get the puck out, and thanks to all the additional attention, the Canadiens were off to the races. Maxim Lapierre, Christopher Higgins and Roman Hamrlik were on a 3 on 2 breakaway. Higgins wristed a shot that burrowed underneath goalie Tim Thomas, then slowly dragged across the crease behind Thomas before Lapierre finished the play by knocking it in. 2-0 Montreal.
In the 2nd, the Bruins came out a bit calmer, but it didn’t last. Another power play goal put Montreal up 3-0. Boston got one back thanks to luck. Aaron Ward shot wide of the net, the puck bounced off the end boards, then off of Cristobal Huet’s skate, and into the net. If there were such a thing as And1 Hockey, this would be the ultimate goal, but it was simply a lucky bounce.
Lucic scored a real goal in the 3rd to make it 3-2, but Mathieu Dandenault scored a brace of goals, one at 11:56 (thanks to some horrible neutral zone play), the other at 18:49 to wrap it up. The Bruins fell to 0-5 against Montreal on the season, and have lost 15 of 18 against their northern rivals.
What irritated and surprised me was the lack of emotional control demonstrated by the Bruins. This was a team that kept its cool against the Flyers team that injured Patrice Bergeron, but somehow let their tempers go crazy against Montreal. Stupid penalties, poor passing, defensive miscues, and anxiety in the face of scoring were the fruits of Boston’s emotionalism. A 5-2 loss was the ultimate result.
The Bruins now sit at an uneasy 7th in the Eastern Conference with 46 points, only 1 point ahead of the 9th place Rangers. Keeping emotions in check won’t be easy as the B’s travel to Philly on Saturday.
But there is some good news in the “Hub of Hockey.” Zdeno Chara was voted in as a starter for the All-Star Game. The Providence Bruins of the AHL are a blistering 25-5-3. The Baby B’s will be sending a pair to the AHL All-Star Game.
Boston is in a vital stretch of games. They go to Philadelphia on Saturday, then host Toronto, and the Rangers before playing the Rangers at MSG, then traveling to Montreal, then hosting the Islanders. In the tight race for the Eastern Conference playoffs (7 th through 12 th separated by 3 points), this sequence of games may make or break the Bruins’ campaign for post-season hockey.