Friday, November 18, 2011
Weekend notebook: Bruins have heart
By Pierre LeBrun
The Boston Bruins woke up Sunday morning, Oct. 30, dead last in the Eastern Conference at 3-7-0, having just been swept in a home-and-home by the rival Montreal Canadiens.
And yet, it's in that moment of despair that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli believes the defending Stanley Cup champions found their “on” button.
“Those two games were so public; it’s such a huge rivalry that I think it just woke the guys up,” Chiarelli told ESPN.com on Friday.
Fast-forward three weeks and seven consecutive wins later, and the heart of a champion very much beats loudly in Beantown.
“We have a really strong group. These guys went through the trenches together last year,” Chiarelli said. “You turn the page [on last season] and you face new battles and new challenges. It wasn’t a pretty one [2-1 shootout win over lowly Columbus on Friday], but we found a way to win and to me that shows the strength of the group I think when you win a game like that.”
One of my favorite statistics is five-on-five goals-against ratio: The Bruins were tops in the NHL last season at 1.40 en route to their Stanley Cup championship (Vancouver was second). And lo and behold, the Bruins were tops again entering the weekend with a 1.63 mark.
“We’re a deep team and we pride ourselves on five on five,” Chiarelli said. “It speaks to how we have scoring from top to bottom. That helped us last year in the playoffs when our power play was struggling and our even strength was so good. It helped us get through.”
Leading the way up front with 20 points (11-9) and a plus-15 rating has been sophomore forward Tyler Seguin, who has gone from little-used rookie to go-to player in his second year under head coach Claude Julien. His ice time is up five minutes per game from last season in doing so.
“The biggest thing is that he’s stronger, and he’s engaging more,” Chiarelli said. “The rest of his game has just come along once that happens. I really feel that’s the foundation of a young guy’s confidence when he’s able to win his battles and engage all the time. That’s when the player’s game blossoms.”
Little Joe is hot
Joe Pavelski leads the San Jose Sharks with 18 points (10-8) in 16 games entering the weekend, and he’s on pace so far to easily eclipse his career high of 66 points set last season.
Joe Pavelski is one of the key reasons the Sharks are playing so well this season.
He’s benefited from moving up from a third-line role last season to a top-six role this year after the Sharks moved both Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi.
“I spent more time this summer shooting and doing all the little things getting prepared for this season,” Pavelski told ESPN.com on Friday after practice. “I really focused on improving my shot. I also focused on skating so that you’re in the right position to get to rebounds. But obviously I’m playing with great players and getting more ice time.”
Two springs ago was a coming-out party of sorts for Pavelski, when he was oh-so-clutch en route to 17 playoff points (9-8) in 15 games. But last spring he dipped to 10 points (5-5) in 18 games.
He was playing hurt but doesn’t like to hang it on that.
“Yes but it doesn’t matter, not enough for an excuse,” Pavelski said. “There were guys that were more banged up than me. I had chances to score but didn’t get the job done. It’s unacceptable at that time of year. A goal here and there can really change a game around at that time of year.”
Pavelski is plus-7 on the season, and there are lots of players on his team on the plus-side. That’s a key component to his team’s start this season, Pavelski said.
“It starts in your end, if you defend better things will come for you,” he said.
My colleague, Jim Matheson of the Edmonton Journal, has an interesting piece talking about the Oilers’ need to help their banged-up blue line.
Cody Franson of the Toronto Maple Leafs is available, and we’d be shocked if the Oilers haven’t yet inquired about him. The Carolina Hurricanes also have some defensemen available. We’re hearing the names of Tomas Kaberle and Bryan Allen. The Canes are working hard to make a trade to shake up their slumping team, and they’d like to move a defenseman in return for a forward.
The struggling Anaheim Ducks are also working the phones. They entered the weekend last in the NHL in goals per game. The top dogs -- Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, Bobby Ryan -- aren’t getting it done, although you know that will come around just based on past practice. But one of the other issues has been the lack of offense from their bottom-six forward group, and really, the overall play of their third and fourth lines. The Ducks did pick up Niklas Hagman to help in that regard, but that won’t be enough.
Jeff Carter has not officially asked for a trade, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson announced. But you can bank on this: If and when Howson got a trade that made sense, Carter would likely welcome it.
New on Friday that goalie James Reimer would not be ready to play at least for another seven to 10 days, which will only intensify the Leafs’ attempts to trade for a goalie.