Need Not Apply: Begin All the Outside Help Bruins Need

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They re-signed forwards David Krejci, Mark Recchi and Byron Bitz as well as defenseman Matt Hunwick, but when the Bruins stopped looking for outside talent after the signing of Steve Begin, did the Black and Gold stop short prematurely?

Whether or not the B's re-sign last season's leading scorer Phil Kessel, Hub fans will be screaming from the Tobin for another sniper. But why? With Kessel last season, Boston netted 3.29 goals per game — the highest amount in the Eastern Conference and second only to the Western Conference's Red Wings.

What about that big, nasty defenseman everyone in Boston was drooling for at the trade deadline?

With a healthy Andrew Ference (who missed 35 games last year) and a healed Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara (who played the entire postseason with a shoulder, knee and groin injury), Boston will be back to last season's form where they posted a league-low 2.32 goals against. The departure of D-men "Sheriff" Shane Hnidy and Steve Montador open up the door for Hunwick to join Chara, Ference, Dennis Wideman, Aaron Ward and Mark Stuart to protect the league's best goalie in Vezina Award winner Tim Thomas.

What lacked hitch in the B's giddy-up last season was their penalty killing unit, which ranked 12th in the NHL at 82.4 percent. Even at the Garden the B's couldn't shut the door with the man down. At 80.4 percent, Boston was ranked 19th in the NHL at killing penalties on its home ice.

That's no way to treat your fans, is it?

To put it in perspective: the Islanders, who notched fewer overall wins (26) than the B's had at home (29) and averaged 4,000 less fans at the Nassau Coliseum per game than Boston did at the Garden, had a higher home penalty killing unit of 81 percent. Nashville, who ranked 27th in home attendance last season and finished last in the West's Central Division, had a second-best home penalty killing percentage of 88.7 percent.

Leading this unit for the most part were the veteran tandem of P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle — both free agents whom the B's have all but waived off into the sunset. Likely to take the lead role in Boston's PK unit will be Begin. But who is this guy?

"Steve is a gritty, honest player with a very strong work ethic," Stars co-general manager Les Jackson told the Star Telegram back in February when Dallas acquired him from the Habs. "He's good on the penalty kill and he is a competitor in every sense of the word. We think he'll be a very good addition to our group as we continue to fight toward the playoffs."

Gritty and honest sounds a lot like Axelsson because that's exactly the type of player he is. Interestingly enough, both players appeared in the league in the same season — 1997-98 — although Begin wasn't a regular until 2001. Although Ax has about 200 more points on his resume than Begin, the former Flames, Canadiens and Stars winger has over 200 more penalty minutes in almost 400 fewer games played.

Like Axelsson and Yelle, Begin is destined for the fourth line, but his services will extend beyond physical play, energy and excitement.

“He’s a versatile player, a useful player, a gritty player,’’ Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told the Boston Globe back when the B's signed him in early July. “He’s a guy that can slide a little bit up the lineup. He can kill penalties. He’ll wear the emblem on his sleeve. There are a lot of good things about him.’’

“I bring energy and finish checks,’’ Begin added. “I like to chip in once in a while. It’s a bonus when I do. Mostly, I bring a lot of energy. I’m a team guy. I play for the team."

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