It was quite a week for the Bruins, who hit rock bottom with a loss to the lowly Leafs on Tuesday after being swept by Detroit in a home-and-home series. But they bounced back with wins over the Islanders and Senators, picking up reinforcements along the way with a trio of trades in advance of next week’s trade deadline.
The Bruins likely won’t be active at the deadline now that they’ve gotten their shopping done early, but there’s plenty still on tap as they head out West to complete a season-long six-game road trip. As they head across the continent, here’s a look at a half-dozen items from the past week that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks in this week’s edition of the Bruins Shootout.
1. At practice Monday, Claude Julien gave a preview of the line combinations he will likely use for the start of the club’s Western swing. That included newcomers Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly on a line with Michael Ryder. That could be an effective third line, but the Bruins might be better served with Kelly on the fourth line alongside Greg Campbell and Shawn Thornton, with Tyler Seguin skating with Peverley and Ryder. Kelly anchored a very strong third line in Ottawa with Chris Neil and Jarkko Ruutu, and he could have similar success with another tough guy that can play (Thornton) and a versatile forward (Campbell) who’s less of an agitator than Ruutu but a better all-around player. And best of all, that would be Boston’s fourth line, rather than Ottawa’s third, which gives an indication of the depth the Bruins could roll out to wear down opponents.
The key to that plan would be if Seguin is ready to play regularly on the third line. His play has picked up since being scratched twice earlier this month with 3-2-5 totals in his last six games, but he needs to earn his ice time with more consistent effort at both ends of the rink. If Seguin can do that, the Bruins will have a balanced attack that will be tough to stop.
2. The Bruins scored just once on five opportunities with the man advantage in Tomas Kaberle‘s debut on Friday, but the power play showed immediate improvement. There was better movement and puck possession as the first unit in particular created consistent pressure. Kaberle showed both his knack for keeping the puck in at the point and his slick passing skills. Having a legitimate power-play quarterback like Kaberle not only makes Zdeno Chara a more effective weapon teeing up one-timers from Kaberle, but it also takes Mark Recchi off the point and puts him back down low, where his net-front presence can be used to better advantage. The only issue with Friday’s alignment was the use of Kelly on the second unit. He’s better served in a penalty-killing role, but the addition of Peverley to the lineup on Tuesday should give Julien another skilled forward to use on that second unit and make the Bruins more dangerous for the entire length of the penalty.
3. While the Bruins gave up a big chunk of their future by sending 2008 first-round pick Joe Colborne and their 2011 first-rounder to Toronto for Kaberle, they also improved their future prospects a bit in a more subtle way. Boston didn’t part with the Leafs’ first-rounder they own to complete the Phil Kessel trade, and that pick could end up even more valuable if Toronto falls further in the standings without Kaberle. Leafs general manager Brian Burke may have improved his club significantly in the future with the assets he acquired in that deal, along with sending Kris Versteeg to Philadelphia for the Flyers’ first-round pick, but those moves should also benefit the Bruins in the form of another lottery pick.
4. Another detail from Friday’s deals that might have gotten lost in the shuffle is that the Bruins will once again need a new team representative for the NHL Players’ Association. Mark Stuart, who was traded to Atlanta along with Blake Wheeler for Peverley, had served as the Bruins’ rep since the start of last year. He took over after previous rep Andrew Ference chose not to run for reelection at the start of last season when his role in the controversial ouster of NHLPA director Paul Kelly was the cause of some divisiveness in the Bruins’ room. Boston does have other veteran players who have been active in union affairs to turn to for leadership until a new player rep is chosen. Recchi served on the committee to investigate Kelly’s firing and Tim Thomas was on the committee that reviewed the NHLPA constitution prior to the hiring of Donald Fehr as new executive director in December.
5. The wins over the Islanders and Senators did more than just halt Boston’s losing streak; it also benefitted both of the club’s goalies. Thomas got a much-needed rest with a couple of nights off and Tuukka Rask regained a little confidence with his first back-to-back victories of the season.
Thomas still leads the league with a 2.02 GAA and .938 save percentage but has allowed 14 goals in his last three starts. He was overdue for a break. With Rask starting Thursday and Friday and the Bruins off until Tuesday, then not playing again until Saturday, Thomas can finally recharge a bit both mentally and physically.
“You don’t get that much time off in the season in general, so it’s nice to get it when you do,” Thomas said. “It’s nice mentally to see the team get some wins and it does take some of the pressure off when you do get back to playing.
“And it was nice to see Tuukka get a couple of wins in a row and so he can feel good about himself,” Thomas added.
6. A slight wardrobe change might help explain Rask’s turnaround. He debuted a new mask that featured former Bruins goalie Gerry Cheevers and the Zakim Bridge, among other images, against Detroit on Feb. 11, but was pulled after giving up five goals in two periods. He had the old mask back on when he made 34 and 32 saves for win against New York and Ottawa, but Rask denied any superstition was behind the switch. Rask stated the new mask was not comfortable because it pinched his cheeks, but he was still planning to wear it once he has it properly adjusted. Thomas, however, had some doubts about seeing the new mask again. “That only lasted one game,” Thomas said. “He scored on himself and that was it.”
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