Meanwhile, Miller is ready.
The 26-year-old defenseman was called up from Providence of the AHL and made his NHL debut with the Bruins on Nov. 21 against the St. Louis Blues. During his first recall, he played a total of three games (healthy scratch for one) before he was assigned to the P-Bruins, where he played three games until his latest promotion.
"It's been a good ride," he said. "Right away, it was kind of a blur when I was up the first time. I went down [to Providence] play a few games and collect my thoughts and come back up. It's been a wild three weeks. I'm just looking forward to tonight."
Since the start of training camp, even before that, Bruins coach Claude Julien has praised Miller's game and preparation on and off the ice.
"I think he's played really well for us here, and again, I don't watch him play every game but I'm told he's been pretty steady down there, too," Julien said. "First of all he's a big strong individual. He handles the physicality and the battles really well along the walls. He's also a guy that I think has made some really good first passes, not fancy but effective, and I like that from a defenseman.
"He's been reliable. I haven't seen him make a lot, if any, major mistakes. So I like the fact that he's a young player at the NHL level playing with lots of confidence and he has all the tools that's provided to him to be successful here."
Miller admits hearing that feedback from Julien has helped his confidence.
"It's obviously a great confidence booster," Miller said. "The program we have here is just unbelievable. It speaks volumes for me. I can't say enough about how good it feels for me."
YOU AGAIN: The Bruins and Penguins will play for the third and final time during the regular season when puck drops tonight. The teams split the first two games, with Pittsburgh posting a 3-2 win on Oct. 30 at Consol Energy Center, before Boston earned a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 25 at TD Garden. Despite a four-game sweep over the Penguins in the Eastern Conference finals last June, the Bruins are 2-8-1 in their last 11 regular-season games against Pittsburgh.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE LATELY: The Bruins are 6-2-1 in their last nine games and 10-3-2 in their last 15. Boston is coming off a dreadful 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at Bell Centre in Montreal. In that game, the Bruins dominated the first and third periods, but couldn't keep the Habs at bay in the second as they scored a pair of goals en route to victory. The Penguins enter Saturday's game on a season-high five-game winning streak. They defeated the San Jose Sharks 5-1 on Thursday night at Pittsburgh. The Bruins are 12-3-2 on home ice this season, while the Penguins have an 8-6-1 road record. Pittsburgh is 3-0-1 in its last four road games.
MASKED MEN: For the second consecutive game, Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask will face another top goalie in the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury. Rask is 14-7-2 with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in 23 games. Fleury is 16-7-1 with a 2.01 GAA and .922 SP in 25 games. Rask has a 2-5-0 career record against the Penguins, with a 2.73 GAA and a .903 SP. Fleury is 11-5-3, including two shutouts, with a 2.27 GAA and a .924 SP against the Bruins. SPECIAL TEAMS: The Penguins own the best power-play unit in the league with a 26.5 percent success rate. During Pittsburgh's current five-game recent winning streak, it has been dominant on the power play, going 8-for-16. Pittsburgh has killed off 27 of its last 29 penalties in the last 10 games. Boston's PP is ranked 17th in the league (17.3 percent), while its penalty-killing unit is fifth. In the last six games, the Bruins are 3-for-19 on the PP and 15-for-18 on the PK.
KEY INJURIES: The Bruins will be without the services of defensemen Johnny Boychuk (back) and Adam McQuaid (lower body). Pittsburgh star Evgeni Malkin will miss his second consecutive game due to a lower-body injury.
Julien explained the injury was the result of Boychuk's back "locking up" due to a muscle spasm after he was on the receiving end of boarding hit early in the first period of Thursday's 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre in Montreal.
He had to be helped off the ice on a stretcher.
If he continues to progress, it's possible he could miss only three to seven days.
"Johnny's doing better," Julien said. "We dodged a pretty good bullet there. Those kinds of injuries could have serious consequences. We feared the worst and we got as good of news as we could get.
"When he was down, he couldn't breathe. He couldn't move, either. On the medical side of it, our trainers, the Montreal doctors did the right thing. They took him off on a stretcher, took him to the hospital and got him checked out."
Prior to the injury, Boychuk had jumped into the rush and went to play the puck behind the Montreal net when he was hit by the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty at 4:28 of the first period. Boychuk was taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to a nearby hospital to be examined by a specialist. He was then cleared to return to Boston with the team and reassessed by team doctors on Friday.
The Detroit Red Wings can’t seem to get far ahead of the game on the injury front. Shortly after hearing that Pavel Datsyuk was nearing return, word emerged of the latest injury to hobble Darren Helm. The center is ruled out for the weekend with a suspected shoulder strain or sprain. While Stephen Weiss is favored to center the Red Wings’ second line in place of Helm, a returning Todd Bertuzzi could sub in (for Weiss) on the top unit with Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist. But coach Mike Babcock hasn’t promised anything.
Coach Alain Vigneault thinks all of his defensemen stink except Ryan McDonagh. Ok, maybe that wasn’t exactly what the New York Rangers coach said recently, but he definitely wants a greater effort from his corps of blueliners. Vigneault wasn’t shy about his preference for John Moore over Michael Del Zotto either. You get the sense Del Zotto wouldn’t see any action at all these days if he wasn’t being flaunted for a trade.
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And seeing Johnny Boychuk, a veteran defenseman, being taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to an area hospital during Boston's 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night at Bell Centre, the Bruins' depth becomes crucial once again.
It's still too early to know how long Boychuk will be sidelined with what appeared to be a back injury. The good news was that he was released from the hospital and was able to return to Boston with the team.
"Definitely, it's going to be a little while before he's good to go," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "I don't know exactly how much time, but the good news is he's coming back with us tonight and he'll be reassessed by our doctors back in Boston."
Currently, the Bruins have Kevan Miller, who was recently called up due to an injury to fellow blueliner Adam McQuaid, but Miller was a healthy scratch for Thursday's game. McQuaid, who is suffering from a lower-body injury, did not make the trip to Montreal and his status remains unclear.
If more reinforcements are needed from Providence, Julien is comfortable with the depth in the organization.
"We've talked about it all year and it's about using it when you need it," Julien said. "[Miller has] been good and [David] Warsofsky is down there and he's good as well. There are some players we feel comfortable with, if we need them, they can come up."
After Boychuk's injury, it was the fourth time this season the Bruins have been forced to play with five defensemen for the majority of the game. Torey Krug's ice time increased, as did Matt Bartkowski's. But Julien wasn't ready to blame his defensive corps as the reason why the Bruins lost Thursday's game.
"You look at Bart tonight, I think Bart skated well and we played with five and handled it well. Again, our whole team is really what we need to look at in the second period, as far as what's to blame," Julien said.
The organization's depth was on display during the postseason last year as the Bruins reached the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. Boston was without the services of defensemen Andrew Ference and Dennis Seidenberg early in the playoffs, so Krug was called up from the P-Bruins, while Bartkowski and Hamilton were also pressed into service.
The way those young defensemen played, the Bruins never felt the effects of losing a pair of veteran blueliners at the most important time of the season.
Current Bruins forward Jarome Iginla saw Boston's depth from the other side when he and the Pittsburgh Penguins were swept in the Eastern Conference finals last spring. Now, he's seeing it first-hand.
"That's a big strength of the organization, is the amount of depth," Iginla said. "The guys who can step into the lineup, but also the guys who are already in the lineup that can handle more minutes. We have a lot of young guys that are very good, very poised. Whether Torey Krug or Dougie Hamilton have to play a lot more tonight, or Bart, they can handle that. Millsey's come up and played for us, and defense is usually a position that the older you get and being a veteran is definitely a plus.
"It's a huge strength and hopefully Johnny won't be out too long. It is something, just being here a few months, being able to see all the depth is definitely a big strength."
Overall, the Bruins are one of the best teams in the league because Julien has the ability to roll four lines. He also has a solid defensive corps, along with one of the best goaltenders in Tuukka Rask. The depth has been one of the reasons why the Bruins have made two trips to the Cup finals in a three-year span. In order to produce another deep run into June this season, that blueprint will need to continue.
"Well, you need that if you consider yourself an elite team," Rask said. "When guys go down, you need guys to step up. So far it's been good. We've had some good guys step in for injured guys and it's a lot of credit for Peter and his staff to keep it going that way."
With the injuries mounting, they have to.
Rask hasn't had the best luck against the Canadiens, and with Thursday loss, he's 2-9-2 in 13 career games against Montreal, while Price improves to 17-8-3 in 28 games against Boston.
Time and again this season, Rask has bailed out his teammates and stolen a few wins. The Bruins couldn't reciprocate Thursday night, playing well in the first and third periods, but imploding in the second as Montreal scored twice.
Tomas Plekanec beat Rask to the short side, top right corner with a shot from a tough angle near the bottom of the right faceoff circle to tie the game at 1-1 at 9 minutes, 16 seconds. Montreal gained its 2-1 lead at 17:42 of the second when Max Pacioretty's backhander from the high slot made its way through a scramble in front and beat a sprawled-out Rask. The Habs racked up 18 shots in the second period. Boston managed just seven, none of which were real scoring chances.
"It's weird how we do it sometimes, turning it on and off like that," Rask said. "We started off great, then the second, I don't know if the start was that bad, but I felt like they had a couple of shots and I gave them some rebounds there and they scored. They got the crowd into it, then took it over from there. You always want to play a perfect game as a goalie and not give them an inch, but today in the second period they got a little too much momentum."
Boston did regroup and mounted a decent attack in the third period, but Price was too good and made 16 saves in the final 20 minutes.
"We had lots of chances and Carey stood tall for his team and we weren't able to finish," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "At the same time, we didn't need to be in that position. It turned the whole game around and what they did to us in the second we were supposed to do to them, and we didn't do it."
After losing Johnny Boychuk to what appeared to be a back injury at 4:28 of the first period, it was the fourth time this season the Bruins were forced to play with five defensemen. Twice Boychuk has been injured in the first period, while Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid have also suffered injuries early in games. Being short a defenseman does change how Rask needs to play.
"Yeah, it's not the first time. Especially when that happens, as a goalie, if you have to play the puck you want to be extra careful, make the right play and help your D out by talking to them," Rask said. "I thought we played good with five D after that and didn't have too much trouble in our own end."
MONTREAL -- The Montreal Canadiens gained control of the top spot in the Atlantic Division with a 2-1 win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night at Bell Centre.
Prior to the game, the Bruins had four days off between games, while the Canadiens have played four games in six days and showed no ill effects of their recent schedule. Montreal won many of the physical battles, especially in the third period, and did not allow Boston a chance for a comeback.
Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty scored for Montreal, while goaltender Carey Price made 32 saves.
Gregory Campbell scored Boston's lone goal, and goaltender Tuukka Rask made 25 saves.
With the win, the Canadiens have won four straight and are 8-0-1 in their last nine games.
The Bruins gained the early lead when Campbell scored at 17:35 of the first period. Boston defensemen Dennis Seidenberg made a strong play in the neutral zone as he intercepted a pass and kicked it to teammate Milan Lucic. In transition, Lucic created a burst of speed in the midst of a partial 2-on-1 before passing to Campbell, who finished for his second goal of the season. The Canadiens managed only three shots in the opening period.
"I thought our first period was still good, we had no issues there," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Our second period was atrocious and embarrassing and that cost us the game. If we would've played the middle period like we did the first and third, we'd be standing here with a win right now."
Montreal took over in the second period and scored a pair of goals to gain a 2-1 lead.
Plekanec beat Rask to the short side, top right corner with a shot from a tough angle near the bottom of the right faceoff circle to tie the game at 1-1 at 9:16. Montreal gained its 2-1 lead at 17:42 of the second when Pacioretty's backhander from the high slot made its way through a scramble in front and beat Rask, who was sprawled out. Montreal registered 17 shots in the second period. Boston managed only seven, but not one quality scoring chance.
Boston was much better in the third period and created opportunities, but Price served as Montreal's closer in this one and denied the Bruins.
Julien refused to blame the loss on the Bruins' long layoff, or anything else, for that matter.
"All excuses that aren't acceptable," Julien said. "You've got to take the blame for what you did and didn't do and we didn't show up for the second period and we allowed them to score two goals on us. That's the only place that cost us the game. I liked our third period. We had lots of chances and Carey stood tall for his team and we weren't able to finish. At the same time, we didn't need to be in that position. It turned the whole game around and what they did to us in the second we were supposed to do to them and we didn't do it."
SCARY MOMENT: Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk was injured and taken off on a stretcher early in the first period and transported to an area hospital. He jumped into the rush and was hit behind the Montreal net by Pacioretty and crashed into the end boards at 4:28 of the opening period. Pacioretty received a boarding penalty on the play. Boychuk got to his knees but remained in that position as trainers from both teams, EMTs and Montreal's team doctor tended to him. Boychuk was taken off the ice with his head and neck securely locked onto the stretcher. It's the fourth time this season the Bruins have been forced to play with five defensemen due to an injury in the first period. On Thursday, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara played nearly 30 minutes, finishing with 29:50 of ice time.
DROP 'EM: It was inevitable the Bruins' Shawn Thornton would drop the gloves with someone from Montreal. At 10:18 of the second period, he squared off at center ice with Brandon Prust. The Montreal forward took exception to an earlier hit by Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton on the same shift, so Thornton obliged and the two went toe-to-toe for at least a minute. The Bruins entered the game with a 50-21-10 record when Thornton registers a fighting major.
SCRATCHES: Bruins forward Jordan Caron and defenseman Kevan Miller were the healthy scratches. Fellow blueliner Adam McQuaid (lower-body injury) did not make the trip and remained in Boston.
MOMENT OF SILENCE: Prior to the game, the Canadiens honored the life of Nelson Mandela, who passed away Thursday, with a moment of silence and showed his picture on the video board.
UP NEXT: The Bruins will host the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at TD Garden. It's the last game at home before the Bruins head out for a four-game road trip through Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.
MONTREAL -- Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk has been cleared to travel with the team back to Boston, after he suffered an injury and needed to be taken off the ice on a stretcher and transported to an area hospital during the first period of Thursday night's 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre.
After the game, Boychuk returned to the arena to take the team bus to the airport.
"He was cleared to fly back with us," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "He's still obviously injured. We don't know the severity of it and I don't know all the details, but it was an injury serious enough to bring him to the hospital. Definitely, it's going to be a little while before he's good to go. I don't know exactly how much time, but the good news is he's coming back with us tonight and he'll be reassessed by our doctors back in Boston."
Boychuk was injured when he jumped into the rush and was hit behind the Montreal net by the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty. Boychuk hit the end boards at 4:28 of the first period as he was battling for the puck. Pacioretty received a boarding penalty on the play.
Julien didn't think the hit was dirty.
"It was deserving of a two-minute penalty," Julien said. "I looked at it and it was, and I'm being honest, I don't think it was more than that. I think it's probably the way he went into the boards that did most of the damage. I don't think it was the severity of the hit.
"We have to be honest if we're going to clean up this game, and to turn around and say it should've been a game suspension, I don't think so."
After the team’s morning skate Thursday, Bruins coach Claude Julien said Krug will be a game-time decision.
“He looked pretty good there this morning, and it will be game-time, but I would be extremely surprised if he doesn’t play,” Julien said.
Krug blocked a shot during Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and skated gingerly off the ice, but he was able to return. He did not practice during Monday’s optional session or on Tuesday. He returned to practice Wednesday.
“Yeah, I’m good. Just maintenance,” Krug said after the Thursday morning skate. “It was perfect timing to have a couple of days off to re-energize and get that maintenance.”
Krug was wearing protective guards on both his skates Thursday and said he’s considering wearing them in the game for extra protection.
“The reason I’m here is because Andrew Ference took a shot off the foot,” Krug said, referring to the former Bruins defenseman, whose injury in the first round of the 2013 playoffs forced the team to call up Krug from Providence.
During that playoff series against the Rangers, Krug proved he could play and be effective at this level. This season, he has experienced some growing pains with his defensive game, but offensively he continues to contribute. He has seven goals and nine assists for 16 points, including a plus-5 in 27 games.
"There have been highs and lows,” he said. “It’s constant reminders that I could go out and make a mistake at any time. I’m confident in what I’m able to do. The coaching staff and my teammates are always in my ear, making sure to remind me of the little things you do to make sure you’re an NHL [caliber] defenseman every night.”
Krug played a preseason game at Bell Centre, but this will be his first regular-season game here.
"I don’t know what to expect tonight,” he said. “Even in preseason it was pretty special skating out there in front of their fans, and it’s a fun building to play in. I played against Montreal in our building last year, and the speed of that game was very similar to a playoff game, so I would assume it will be the same thing tonight. It’s going to be fun.”
In fact, he’s the only Bruins player not to have played a game here.
“It should be pretty exciting,” Smith said. “I’ve never played in Montreal but have heard great things about the arena and the fans. They’re playing well right now and that’s the biggest factor. It’s a big game and there’s a lot on the line. It should be fun.”
When the Bruins played the Canadiens at Bell Centre during the preseason, Smith did not play that game. He expects it to be loud and has been told by his teammates how emotional it will be, but Bruins coach Claude Julien expects the 22-year-old forward to handle it well.
“He acts like a guy who’s been around forever,” Julien said. “He’s very calm and doesn’t let those kinds of things get to him. He’s the only guy on our team who hasn’t played here, but I don’t think it will affect him. He’s such a cool competitor, a cool individual, and he just goes out there and plays. I think it’s going to be fun and exciting for him to play here for the first time.”
Overall, Smith has played well in his first season with the Bruins. He has five goals and 12 assists for 17 points, including a plus-3 rating in 27 games.
IT’S ABOUT TIME: This will be the first time this season the Bruins and Canadiens face off. Boston and Montreal are the top two teams in the Atlantic Division and this rivalry will heat up again once the puck drops. Players on both sides are genuinely excited for this game and it should be a typical high-intensity game between these two rivals. This is the 722nd all-time meeting between these teams with the Bruins having a 270-340-103-8 record. More recently, the Bruins are 0-2-1 in their last three games against the Canadiens.
WHAT HAVE YOU DONE LATELY: The Bruins have had four days between games since their 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets last Saturday at TD Garden. Coach Claude Julien gave his players Sunday off with an optional practice on Monday. They’ve practiced the last two days and went through their normal morning skate on Thursday at Bell Centre. The Canadiens are coming off 4-3 shootout win over the New Jersey Devils Wednesday night in New Jersey. Montreal is 7-0-1 in its last eight games. Boston is 6-1-1 in its last eight games with a 10-2-2 record in the last 14.
MASKED MEN: Two of the best in the NHL will be in net tonight with Tuukka Rask facing Carey Price. Rask is 14-6-2 with a 1.90 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. Price is 12-8-2 with a 2.00 and a .937. Rask has not played since a 3-2 win over the New York Rangers on Nov. 29. Price did not play against the Devils Wednesday night as backup Peter Budaj helped Montreal to a shootout win. Rask is 2-8-2 in 13 career games against the Canadiens. Price is 16-8-3 in 28 games against Boston.
STRONG START: Julien has emphasized the importance of a strong start against the Canadiens, especially at Bell Centre. As Julien explained after the team’s morning skate, the Canadiens are a tough team to rally against in at home. They do a good job protecting the lead if they can get it. If the Bruins want success Thursday, they have to start strong in the first period.
KRUG READY: Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, who has been dealing with a minor lower-body injury since blocking a shot against the Blue Jackets Saturday in Boston, will be a game-time decision against the Canadiens, but all signs point to him being in the lineup. After the morning skate, Krug said he felt good and Julien admitted the young defenseman looked good during the skate. Julien went as far as to say he would be extremely surprised if Krug wasn’t able to play.
Chris Kreider has had a very unique development path. He was drafted in the first round out of high school, won a gold medal at the World Junior Championships and went to two straight World Championships competitions as an under-20 player, which is rare. He was average at times in college, but was really impressive in his NHL debut during the 2011-12 postseason with the Rangers. Kreider had a mediocre first full pro season in 2012-13 between the AHL and NHL, but now his career has taken yet another turn, this one for the better, with a great start in 2013-14.
The progression he's made has been quite evident. "[Kreider] needed to learn defense and how to play without the puck," Rangers director of player personnel Gordie Clark said. "He's a very intelligent player who worked hard in the summer to improve." Clark said that because of how Kreider was able to dominate at the lower levels, positional work wasn't as important. "I used to go up to [Boston College head coach] Jerry York and ask how is our rover doing," Clark said in reference to Kreider's positional play.
I had Kreider ranked 41st in my summer Top 100 NHL Prospects after he performed below expectations last season. I had considered putting him even lower, but when I passed around my ranking to scouts for feedback I got one vigorous defense saying, "With his elite speed, shot and power potential, I still think he's one of the game's top prospects."
With the improvements in his game, Kreider has begun to fulfill that promise this season with the Rangers. He's been one of their best players and has the second highest GVT among Ranger skaters -- hockey's version of Wins Above Replacement -- without the positional adjustment, even though he's played fewer games than most of them. Kreider, never projected as a top-end, puck-possession type player, has also been the best possession forward for the Rangers, despite playing against the opposition's best players. This has so far been a true breakout season for Kreider.
Now, that hasn't been good enough for Kreider to jump into the lead spot in my Calder Trophy power rankings. Here's the list, which is based on a combination of quantitative and qualitative evaluations:
In my first set of rankings for this season, I saw Jones as the clear No. 1 rookie, but since then he's tailed off a bit in his play and had some ice time taken away by the return of Roman Josi to the lineup. His usage has subsequently ticked back up with Shea Weber's injury. It is close now between Jones and Tomas Hertl for the top spot, but Jones still remains the most impressive rookie so far. His combination of athletic skills and hockey sense are elite. That's not even taking into account where his game is relative to his age and position, which speaks very highly of his future potential.
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