Monthly Archives: January, 2014

B’s and C’s games this week: Two different directions

The Bruins are rolling. They’ve scored 6-6-6 in the past three games, and both Rask and Johnson have played out of their minds.

Carl Soderberg looks really good at center.  It will be interesting to see what they do with him there, but I don’t think he’ll stick there for too long.  Claude moved Kelly back up to 3C in the third period and put Soderberg back at 3LW, reuniting the Merlot Line.

Speaking of the Merlot Line, sweet Jesus did Shawn Thornton play well last night.  Highlight reel goal and all around good play with different linemates throughout the night.  Challenged Jovanovski to a fight in the most badass way possible, by simply dropping his gloves and motioning with his head to leave the scrum and fight.  No surprise Jovo didn’t drop em.  I still feel that Spooner should play either 4LW and have Paille go RW, or just play RW to put Paille and Spooner’s speed together with Campbell and Paille’s defense.  But I wouldn’t hate seeing Thornton in his 4RW spot in the playoffs, because Paille and Campbell really do seem to play a little better with him in there than, say, Caron.  I would definitely take Thornton over Caron, Fraser, or even Florek at this point at the 4RW spot in the playoffs.

Kelly looked pretty good for his first game back, but it’s just one game, and he didn’t play so well that he’ll not look rusty on Thursday.  It was a good sign that Claude put him back at 3C, although that may have just been because the game was almost in the bag.

First two lines played great again, and this time it was the Krejci line who was finishing.  If either one of those two lines is clicking at the level that the 1st line clicked last night and the 2nd the night before, I don’t see anyone in the Eastern Conference knocking the Bruins off.

Soderberg and Smith are ridiculous together on the Power Play.  It also makes me hopeful that, when Eriksson (probably) goes back to 2RW and Smith to 3RW, that Soderberg and Smiddy will be able to work their magic together on even strength.  Kelly will be fine offensively with those two, as he was pretty good offensively two and three years ago with good offensive linemates (Good Peverley and Good Ryder in 2011, and Good Peverley and somewhat underrated Pouliot in 2012).  And he’ll bring the defense that Smith and Soderberg may still lack.  I like that line’s prospects.

Also, Tom Gilbert looked terrible.  I’m now down on the whole Trade-for-Tom-Gilbert thing.

As for the Celtics…

They got owned by the Knicks last night, and they play the Sixers tonight in a back-to-back.  Since they’re better than the 76ers but trying to finish behind them, I’m pumped it’s the second day of a back-to-back.  Oh, and Rondo isn’t playing because of resting his knee, and maybe, just maybe, because Stevens doesn’t mind this whole tanking thing.  He’ll definitely coach to win in games, but I really hope the Celtics start resting guys for “tweaked hammies” and stuff like that.

This is a big game for the Celtics tanking chances.  The Sixers didn’t play last night and the Celtics did, and the C’s best player just happens to be sitting out.  Gotta lose this one, and I have no problem admitting that I’m rooting hard for it.

And then it’s Bruins-Habs Thursday night.  Wonderful.  A game to care about every weeknight this week.  Hopefully 3 huge wins and 1 huge loss.  Go B’s, and Go Sixers.

 

Celtics Welcome Back Pierce and Garnett

Due to depression from the Pats and life just getting in the way, the posts have been few and far between in the past week or so.  And by that I mean there have been none. My b, won’t happen again.

As for the Celtics homecoming, I was lucky enough to be at the game, and holy shit was it amazing.  The fact that tears didn’t break from my eyes themselves was a miracle.  I definitely teared up, but you know how sometimes you’re barely able to keep the liquid itself in your eyes?  That’s what was happening.  This was some emotional stuff. Those guys are legends.

The montages that the Celtics did for Pierce and KG were amazing, too.  They nailed it, and you gotta give it to the Brooklyn Nets for not trying to even talk over the videos in the huddle.  They do realize that Pierce and KG are just rentals for them, and they they really belong to us.  (KG might actually belong to Minnesota, but fuck it. He left because of how bad the franchise was being run.)  I loved seeing KG after the first timeout and then Pierce after the first quarter completely isolated on the Nets bench so that we could just focus on them.  All around brilliant.

As for the actual game… it sucked.  It is literally impossible to really enjoy watching your team in person when you want them to lose.  Sure, it’s nice to see Rondo back and Brad Stevens being one hell of a rookie coach, but it still sucks.  Thank God KG was the one to ice it, or there may have been nothing memorable from the actual game.  At least it was another competitive loss for the Celtics — that’s what we’re looking for.

Thanks again for everything, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.  Forever Celtics.

Bruins (Hopefully) Back on Track

Bruins outshoot the Stars 41-33, go 5-6 on the PK with the lone goal coming from a guy who didn’t even know that the puck had hit his stick, and 1-4 on the PP.  Most importantly, they win 4-2 (with an empty netter), and show Peverley and Seguin who’s boss.

I’m very skeptical of how much a single win can boost any intangible or narrative surrounding a team, and that’s definitely true for confidence.  After all, these guys are professional athletes, and they already have the kind of mindsets that are necessary for them to get to that point.  And it’s the kind of team that has gone to two Cup Finals in three years, so I don’t think that a January slump would rattle the Bruins.

That being said, there probably was a little bit of a psychological boost from this win.  Their backup goalie finally had a great game, stopping 31 of 33.  As mentioned before, 1 of the 2 he missed was a BS, flukey goal.  The Merlot Line, especially Paille and Campbell, were probably the best players on the ice relative to what their expectations are on a nightly basis.  The Bruins had about 687 scoring chances on the PK, none of which went in, unfortunately.  But their PK was probably almost as threatening offensively as the Dallas PP, except for that dumb goal.  Marchand and Bergeron also played great, as they each scored, including Bergeron’s #daggerintheheart (Copyright Jack Edwards) empty netter.  Krejci and Lucic also scored on goals that either guy assisted on.

Now comes the rematch with the Blackhawks, and Tuukka will have had four days of rest in between games.  Couldn’t have asked for a much better game Thursday night.

Crawford Trade: No Real Downside

I sincerely hope that no one is lamenting the loss of Jordan Crawford.  Sure, he played better than expected for the C’s this year, and maybe, just maybe, he could play a small role for a contender.

But he’s still Jordan Crawford, the guy who takes too many shots and simply isn’t much more than a possible backup point guard.  And the Celtics aren’t going to win the title this year or next.  This would be like the Bruins trading Adam McQuaid for draft picks in a year that they weren’t going to win, or the Patriots trading an aging backup QB during a rebuilding process.  He’s not worth much, and, if he helps the team win any games this year, then it’s best to get rid of him both for the draft picks that he’ll bring in a trade and the better first rounder they’ll get after the season.

The real negative of the trade is having to pay Joel Anthony $3.8 million next year, assuming he picks up his option.  He sucks, so he’ll pick up the option.  The best bet for the C’s is do whatever they can to buy his contract next year out at a reduced price.  If Anthony believes that he can still earn the veteran minimum of $1.1 mil this year after being bought out or over the summer, he might agree to a buyout of next year’s salary of about $2.5-$2.75 million.  Considering he has literally no value to the Celtics, why not try to get that million-plus back?

Pay somewhere between 2 and 3.8 million bucks in a year when they probably won’t need every penny of cap space anyway, give up an OK backup guard, and collect either a first and a second rounder or three seconds?  Not a huge move, but nicely done, Danny Ainge.

Maple Leafs win a Typical Maple Leafs Game.

If I told you before the Bruins-Leafs game that the B’s wold outshoot the Leafs 41-26, have a slight advantage (37-34) in the faceoff circle, and have Tuukka Rask starting in net, you and I woul dboth assume that the Bruins’ performance against the Leafs was something between a beating and a throttling.

Nope, because the Maple Leafs won in the only way that the Maple Leafs seem to win.  They get bailed out by really good netminding (copyright Doc Emrick) and 2 power play goals.

Also, Tuukka had another bad game, meaning that, in his past 7, he’s had 5 terrible games and 2 awesome ones.  That’s weird, but, considering he’s Tuukka, he should be fine in the long run…

So long as Claude gives him from freaking rest.  The league leaders in games started for goalies this year is Antti Niemi at a ridiculous 41, Marc-Andre Fleury and Mike Smith at 38, and Tuukka and CAAAARRRR-RRRREEEYYY at 37.  And the Bruins have played one fewer game than both MTL and SJS… and, oh yeah… Tuukka is going to be the starting goalie for Team Finland in the Olympics… and, oh yeah again… this is his first full season as the starting goalie!

Claude has gotta rest Tuukka.  It doesn’t matter if the Chad Johnson backing up Tuukka is actually the wide receiver who goes by OchoCinco, they have to rest him a little more.  He’s on pace for about 67-68 regular season starts, a few more for Team Finland, depending on how they break down their goaltending in the Qualifying Round, and 20+ starts in the playoffs, assuming the Bruins go as far as we want them to.  We could be looking at 95-100 starts from October to June.  Slow him down.

Tuukka should start Sunday in the matinee against the Blackhawks that few people will watch because they’re busy taking heart medication to get through the AFC Championship game 2.5 hours later.  But he can’t start against the Seguins (Dallas Stars) Thursday night.

And screw Toronto.  Hockey sucks sometimes.

 

Hell of a Day to be a Boston Sports Fan

The Patriots won by 3 TDs (at least I predicted 2), and they somehow invented a new way for a Belichick to win in the playoffs.  Never pass the ball.  And damn it worked.  LeGarrette Blount our beast moded Marshawn Lynch on a day when he went beast mode.  Ridley looked like the guy they drafted.  And the defense got the turnovers that would be key against the Colts. And no injuries.

And then the Bruins solve like all of their temporary issues from the past few games in a night.  Eriksson comes back, helps death immediately, and records the only primary assist of the night.  B’s kill the lone penalty they faced, and Tuukka gets a 26 save shutout.  Exactly what they needed.

Damn, it’s good to be a fan here.  8th AFC championship in 13 years and a Bruins team that will likely have a decade long streak of contending in the playoffs.

Pats Tonight: Get Hyped

I’ll look like an ass if I’m wrong, but, the more I think about it, the more I think we’re headed for a 10-20 point Pats victory tonight, along the lines of the divisional game vs. the Texans last year.  There’s a ton of analysis out there, so I won’t try to copy any of it, but here are two points that I think that a lot of people are missing, and they both involve the teams’ secondaries.

First, remember how the Pats secondary has gotten shit on the past few years (with reason)?  Yeah, well, two guys that Belichick cut from those teams, Darius Butler and Sergio Brown, are playing heavy roles tonight.

And Secondly, Belichick is a beast when it comes to shutting down the number one option for an opposing team, especially if it’s a WR (Fine, this one has been talked about a lot this week… still maybe not enough though).  If Reggie Wayne was healthy, this game would be entirely different.  But I don’t see TY Hilton having a big game tonight, and I don’t trust Trent “first round pick” Richardson, who might not even play, or Donald Brown to tear up the Pats defense.  For all the “Andrew Luck is on fire” or “Andrew Luck is clutch” talk, let’s remember that he still threw three picks last week.

Literally anything can happen in a single elimination tournament.  But I’m not as worried as one might think. Go Pats.

Bruins: Eriksson back, But Team in a Slump

So it’s a legit question to wonder whether or not the Bruins’ past two games have meant anything more important.  I might be biased (fine, I am, but screw it), but I’m gonna say it’s a slump.

First reason why: Tuukka is obviously better than the 86% goalie he’s shown over his past 5 games.  That’s all the analysis I need here.  That’s just the truth.

Second: What’s happened in the past two games won’t repeat itself.  Although +/- is way overrated, it should be noted that the Krejci line gave up two goals without scoring any.  That’s the kind of thing that is gonna happen every once in awhile, but rarely.  I’m not worried.  In the Anaheim game, the Bruins lost on special teams 4-0.  Yeah, that’s definitely gonna stick.

Third: Eriksson makes a huge difference, and thank Bill Belichick (God) that he’s back tonight.  Reilly was a great fill in on the second line, but that leaves the third line in a tough spot.  Fraser has done ok, but his offensive zone starts are over 66%.  Even though Soderberg’s is only 52% and Spooners is “only” 58%, it’s clear that Julien can’t trust the third line defensively.  That will change with Reilly replacing Fraser, but especially with Kelly replacing Spooner.  Basically, Eriksson’s absence affects the defense of two lines.  Eriksson, Bergeron, and Marchand probably comprise the best defensive line in the league, and getting Fraser out of the lineup will help the third.

And again, there’s that thing about Tuukka being possibly the best goalie in the league.  He’s a 93+% goalie, not a 85+% goalie.

Shawn Thornton is back, meaning that he, Loui, and Tuukka are all in the lineup tonight.  Tuukka needs the night off in the next game, but, against a team like the Sharks, the Bruins want all their aces in the deck.  Confidence wins are also clearly overrated, but this is probably as much of one as the B’s will have all season.  That being said, if they do lose, it’s not time to write them off, because the regular season will never be anything close to a foolproof predictor of the postseason.

 

Bruins Point Totals and Projections through the First Half

As of the first 41 games of the season (so not including the Saturday game against the Jets), here are the point totals for the Bruins.  I included the first 12 forwards and 6 defensemen, plus Bartkowski, Spooner, Caron, and Fraser.  The projected points are based on how many each guy has and prorating that to an 82 game season.  I also included the career highs for anyone who has played at least a full 82 game season. You’ll notice that Dougie doesn’t have a career high, because the point totals in a 48 game season, his only full season so far, are obviously thrown off.  Then I threw in the difference between the projections and each guy’s career high, just to show how each guy is producing relative to the best point-scoring season we’ve seen from him.

Player Position GP G A P Projected Points Career High Difference Shooting % TOI/G
1 David Krejci C 41 9 27 36 72 73 -1 10.3 19:23
2 Reilly Smith R 41 14 17 31 62 20.0 14:21
3 Milan Lucic L 41 12 18 30 60 62 -2 16.4 17:21
4 Jarome Iginla R 41 13 15 28 56 98 -42 11.4 18:20
5 Patrice Bergeron C 41 10 14 24 48 73 -25 8.5 18:20
6 Brad Marchand L 41 10 10 20 40 55 -15 14.5 15:45
7 Torey Krug D 41 8 12 20 40 9.0 17:31
8 Carl Soderberg L 33 5 14 19 47.2 8.9 13:38
9 Zdeno Chara D 40 9 9 18 36.9 52.0 -15.1 9.8 25.01
10 Loui Eriksson R 24 5 9 14 47.8 73.0 -25.2 11.6 16:31
11 Johnny Boychuk D 38 2 10 12 25.9 16.0 9.9 2.9 20:50
12 Dennis Seidenberg D 34 1 9 10 24.1 1.9 21:50
13 Ryan Spooner C 14 0 9 9 52.7 0.0 13:07
14 Dougie Hamilton D 29 3 5 8 22.6 5.7 19:07
15 Matt Bartkowski D 26 0 8 8 25.2 0.0 18:11
16 Daniel Paille L 34 5 2 7 16.9 20.0 10:35
17 Chris Kelly C 29 3 4 7 19.8 11.1 14:59
18 Gregory Campbell C 41 2 4 6 12 5.9 11:43
19 Adam McQuaid D 23 1 3 4 14.3 5.6 16:11
20 Shawn Thornton R 27 3 0 3 9.1 7.9 8:06
21 Jordan Caron R 23 1 0 1 3.6 3.3 11:05

There are a few things to note before we take these numbers as gospel.  First, the career highs are obviously unrealistic for someone like Iginla.  Second, they’re unrealistic and/or meaningless for anyone under Boychuk (and honestly, probably for Boychuk also), because guys who don’t score a lot either have had one random season of outperforming themselves — Daniel Paille getting 35 points in 2007-08 — or Chris Kelly scoring 39 two years ago, which doesn’t matter much since he’ll never be expected to get that again.

As for the guys for whom the differences between career highs and projections actually matter, the only ones to be somewhat concerned about are the second line guys, including Eriksson.  Bergy will likely never hit 73 again, but 48 is too low.  48 is lower than we want for Eriksson also, although it’s obviously hard to tell with him given the concussions.  Marchand has picked his game up recently, but his totals are relatively low, and his slow start could be to blame for Bergeron’s and Eriksson’s low numbers.

Lucic and Krejci are right up where they have been at their peaks, which is awesome.  Krejci has been on a tear recently, and, even with Lucic’s goal scoring coming back to earth, Iginla has stepped up his scoring, so the first line is beastly.

The most realistic way to look at this is through a positive lens, and that’s not me being biased.  The first line is clicking at the level that it was with Horton two or three years ago, and I’d rather have Iginla’s defense over Horton’s, so you gotta love the first line.  The second has picked up its game, and, if Eriksson comes back close to 100%, should be a little worse offensively but easily better defensively than what they had with Seguin. The third line puts last year’s to shame, as Reilly Smith is on pace for as many points as Lucic — although those numbers will go down when he’s not with Bergeron — and Soderberg and Spooner are both getting more than a half point per game.

Kelly will come back and stabilize that line’s defense, but I think it’s clear from these numbers that Spooner really needs to be put at 4RW, no matter how out of place it seems originally.  Thornton adds almost nothing offensively, and adds very little defensively, minus his awesome ability to flip the puck 100 feet high to center ice when clearing the zone.  Spooner’s and Paille’s speed on the fourth line could make the fourth line almost as offensively dangerous as the Merlot Line was in last year’s playoffs, and, as the New York Rangers could tell you, that’s saying something.

Bruins-Predators Recap:

So Niklas Svedberg is a beast.  The Swedish  netminder (don’t I sound like Doc Emrick?) stopped 33 of 35 shots in an overtime win vs. Nashville, and it should be noted that the first goal was not his fault.  As Mr. Carey Underwood (Mike Fisher) rushed up the right wing, Torey Krug and Ryan Spooner both forgot how to pick up the guy rushing up the left wing, who only could have scored if he got a rebound that Spooner or Krug easily could’ve cleared.  That’s why Claude doesn’t rely on either of these guys for big defensive minutes, and it’s a legit reason that Claude might not play Spooner in the playoffs.

Svedberg looked almost as fundamentally sound as Rask, actually, and his post-to-post speed was awesome to watch when I’ve gotten used to a non-Tuukka goalie this year having terrible speed across the goal line.  There is one big exception to saying that his fundamentals are in Tuukka’s league: Rebound control.  Tuukka is possibly the best in the league at keeping rebounds out of harmful areas, and Svedberg is far from it.  He’s better than Chad Johnson, and he will be the starter if Rask goes down.

Svedberg’s performance is the key point of the night, but here are some other quick observations that I noticed first hand last night when I was in the Garden.

  • The first and second lines looked great from a chemistry standpoint yet again.  If they’re clicking, they’re a really good team, to give you a little John Madden analysis.
  • Krejci especially has looked ridiculous in the last week or two.  Either the “A” on his sweater or the Olympics may be motivating him, if it’s something intangible. Or he’s just playing great because he’s a really good player.
  • Marchand is back on track, as evidenced by his highlight reel goal in OT.
  • Soderberg and Reilly Smith are great on the powerplay together, with the goal line-backdoor play always a viable option.  The Predators picked up on it last night, but that opened up Bergeron for a possible shot from the slot.
  • Jordan Caron played well last night. This is a big deal because it’s Jordan Caron.
  • Matt Bartkowski played the most minutes of any non-Chara Bruins defenseman.  Considering that Claude has treated him as the 7th defenseman both in last year’s playoffs and earlier this year, that’s great to see.  He should easily get Top-4 minutes.
  • The biggest negative from the game was being outshot 16-3 in the second period, which is a pretty big negative.  The Bruins’ biggest weakness is their tendency to fall asleep at times, and, unfortunately, it looks like that’ll be a definite possibility throughout the season yet again.  They’re a “The only ones who can beat us are ourselves” kind of team.