Plus-Minus: Bruins Sustained by Tim Thomas, Blue Line


Nov 13, 2009

Plus-Minus: Bruins Sustained by Tim Thomas, Blue Line Welcome to the latest edition of Plus-Minus, where we review the top three positives and negatives of the Bruins’ week that was.

At the beginning of this week, the Bruins seemed to be on the rebound with a resounding 4-2 win over first-place Buffalo. After that, they laid a 3-0 shutout on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins — but the offensive woes struck again when Florida came to town on Thursday as Boston dropped a 1-0 shootout loss to the Panthers.

1. Penalty Kill/Daniel Paille

When the Bruins went through their recent offensive dry spell which resulted in a three-game losing streak, one area of their game that didn’t disappear was team defense — and more specifically, the penalty kill. Since the arrival of Daniel Paille on Oct. 20, the penalty kill units have been almost perfect, killing off 31 of the last 32 power plays they have faced. The penalty kill is in the midst of a streak of killing off 17 straight power plays and has only allowed 11power-play goals this season.

Paille’s arrival isn’t the sole reason for the short-handed success, but he has definitely brought an element of speed and instinct to the penalty kill units. Paille has had numerous breakaways and spurred on others with his tenacious play. Patrice Bergeron and Steve Begin were always solid players on the penalty kill, but overall, both PK units have been a constant bright spot and the team definitely feeds off every kill they make.

“Anytime you can kill a penalty like that, guys come back to the bench and everyone is congratulating the players for a big kill,” said head coach Claude Julien following his team’s 1-0 shootout loss to Florida in which the Bruins killed off another three power plays.

2. Tim Thomas
We had him as a plus here last week, but there’s no arguing Thomas’ stats over the last week — and the fact that he has given his team a chance to win in the two games he played since last Saturday. Unfortunately, the Bruins didn’t take advantage and Thomas was 1-0-1 over his last two games.

Thomas' shutout streak in regulation and overtime remains intact, and he has not allowed a goal in 167:28 since the first period against Montreal on Nov. 5. Thomas was still credited with the shutout Thursday's shootout loss and now has two straight and three this season. His 15 career shutouts also moved him into a ninth-place tie with Don Simmons on the Bruins' all-time list.

Thomas has now allowed just six goals in his last six games and boasts a 1-3-2 record and 0.98 GAA in that span. He is 5-6-2 with a 2.05 GAA and .927 save percentage this season.

3. Derek Morris
Morris (goal, eight assists) is tied for second in team scoring and leads all blue liners with nine points. He has shown the transition and power play skills that Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli signed him for over the summer. Morris has been getting stronger on defense as well, and as they always say, a good defense leads to a good offense.

That was no more evident than during the second period of the Bruins’ 3-0 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. Morris slid across the bottom of the faceoff circle to block a shot, deflecting the puck over to Patrice Bergeron, who then fed it up to Mark Recchi. Recchi found a streaking Daniel Paille for the Bruins' second goal of the game. Recchi got his 900th assist on the play and made sure Morris was credited for making the play happen.

“You can’t forget Derek’s play to block it over to [Bergeron] and make that all happen,” Recchi said after the game.

Morris is becoming a key member of the Bruins' blue line and is playing a confident, smart and aggressive two-way game right now.

1. David Krejci

Last season, Krejci established career highs in goals (22) and points (73) in 82 games. His 51 assists ranked him second on the team behind Marc Savard, and he led the league with a plus-36 rating. Krejci had a busy offseason, undergoing hip surgery and then signing a three-year extension that will pay him $3.5 million, $3.75 million and $4 million per year, respectively. He missed the entire preseason as he recovered from the surgery, and it was understandable that he came out rusty, starting the season with only a goal and four assists. But appears that the grace period is over, and the Bruins clearly need more from the Czech center.

Julien wasn't afraid to point that out this week.

“I’m certainly not unsympathetic to what he’s gone through,” Julien said on Wednesday. “No doubt he didn’t get the same advantage as anybody else to get himself ready because he was limited [in workouts] in the middle of the summer. [But] we’re in the second month of the season now. We’ve been on the ice for two months. Somewhere along the way, whether it’s extra work on the ice, in the gym or everything else, you’ve just got to work your way through it. It’s up to him to work through it. He’s got to find his game and work through the glitches he seems to have right now.”

Krejci looked better against the Panthers on Thursday, but he — like every other Bruin — could not solve Florida goaltender Tomas Vokoun. He will need more consistent efforts, and he needs to start getting in the dirty areas — as he did all of last season — and playing hard along the boards. Krejci has shown he can succeed at this level, and it’s time to step it up in the hustle department to create and finish more plays.

2. Michael Ryder
Ryder has always persevered while playing for Julien. The two-time 30-goal scorer found success playing for Julien during his junior career in the AHL, then in the NHL with Montreal and the Bruins. After falling into the doghouse with then-Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau in 2007-08 and scoring only fourteen goals, Ryder bounced back in his first season with the Bruins in 2008-09 to notch 27 goals. But Ryder is looking more like the Ryder of 2007-08 this season with only three goals and three assists in 18 games.

Julien can only do so much, and it is really up to Ryder to figure out what’s wrong with his game. He has seen time on two different lines, most recently with Blake Wheeler and David Krejci, whom he found chemistry with last season. But he is not doing what the Bruins need him to do, and that’s light the red lamp. With the departure of Phil Kessel via a trade in September, the Bruins were depending on him to help fill a big offensive void.

Julien has always been fair to his players, but being fair means rewarding them and taking playing time away when they’re not performing. The latter has already happened to Ryder on the power play, but if he doesn’t correct his game soon, one has to wonder if Julien may think it’s time for a break — and a view from the press box.

3. Dennis Wideman

Defenseman Dennis Wideman has looked better as of late, helping to set up two goals in the win over Pittsburgh, but something still appears to be off with his game. He is turning over the puck and is allowing offensive chances for the opponents. There just seems to be a lack of confidence and a sudden hesitancy in his all-around game.

Julien — as he does with all his players — has shown him plenty of support, but at what point will Julien start the tough love? Wideman went from 25 to 36 to 50 points consecutively over his last three seasons, but this season, he has only four points and just two in his last 12 games.

Yes, he was here last week as a minus, and yes, he reportedly is battling a lingering shoulder injury, but the feeling is that Wideman’s struggles may be mental. Time to simplify and go back to basics. Wideman has the potential to be one of the premiere puck movers and defensemen in the NHL, so maybe he just needs to step back and relax.

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