Friday, February 13, 2009

Game Day @ Devils 2/13/09

Friday the 13th....who better to play than the "Devils"? Well, for the suddenly "struggling" Bruins, maybe New Jersey isn't the best match up. If Boston hopes to avoid having "The Rock" in Newark become their own Camp Crystal Lake, they have to show up willing to play a full 60 minute game tonight. The bruins largely out played the Sharks Tuesday night....for two periods. Then for some reason, they decided they could sit on a one goal lead. We all saw how well that worked out. Not to over react, but the B's really have been struggling in the third periods lately. Not as noticeably as Tuesday, where they gave up 4 unanswered goals, but they've been far from sharp.

So, three days after facing off against the best team in the West, the Bruins get to try and bounce back against the number two team in the East. A team that, frankly, Boston doesn't match up all that well against. Usually when I think of teams not matching up well, it's because one is much bigger, faster or more skilled than the other. In this case, the match up is tough for Boston because the Devils are a near mirror image of themselves. Defensively sound, ready to pounce on mistakes and solid (at times spectacular) goaltending. The biggest difference is experience. The Devils are loaded with guys that have been around a long time and have played many many playoff (and playoff type) games. Having said that, one statistic jumps off the charts to me. NJ is a better ROAD team than they are at home. It isn't a huge difference, eleven games over .500 on the road compared to seven games over at home, but it's interesting. It isn't surprising that a defensive minded team is a good road team. That style generally is effective as the visitor. New jersey has been known to suck the life out of road buildings with their dull play. But the Devils, experienced as they are, you would expect to carry that style into Newark as well (Have I mentioned what a fiasco it is having this team based in NEWARK?). Maybe they try to entertain the home crowd a little more than they should? Then again, maybe it's nothing and I'm reading too much into it. I was just surprised they had a better road record.

As far as the game itself goes, Boston's first priority has to be to shut down Zach Parise. I know, I never thought I'd be typing those words either. But Parise is turning in a career year for the Dev's. THIRTY FOUR goals and thirty three assists warrant a bit of extra attention, no? Patrick Elias is also having a nice year, with twenty-two goals and forty assists. Jamie Langenbrunner rounds out the top three, with seventeen goals and thirty assists. Langenbrunner may not have a ton of goals, but as usual, he has a knack for scoring the timely ones (including the OT winner last time these two teams met). Expect Parise to see an awful lot of Zdeno Chara tonight. A physical mismatch if ever there was one.

On the Bruins side, they have a roster full of guys that need to elevate their games. Krejci, Wheeler and Kessel are the three names that come to mind. Wheeler seems to have hit the "Rookie wall" head first. Julien sent him a message in the Flyers game, by benching him for most of the third period. He was somewhat better against San Jose, but not nearly the threat he can be. I'm not surprised or upset that he's slowed down. He's played more games already than he did in college. I get that. But I also understand that he needs to find a way through it, and soon. The good news is, I fully expect him to. With the injuries to Ryder, Kobasew and Nokie, Coach Julien has been forced to juggle his lines. One of his first moves was to switch Wheeler back to his natural right wing spot. Don't be surprised if Wheeler gets a little boost by the swap. Any time a young player is struggling, it never hurts to move them into a more comfortable position, so they can just play, and not have to think as much.

Krejci, being a pass first play-making Center, may be struggling lately in part because of Wheeler's "slump" and Ryder's injury. Be that as it may, during the last couple weeks I've also noticed a dip in his, as Julien would say, "compete level". His wingers may be slumping or out of the lineup, and he can't control that. But what he can control is how hard he works. I'd like to see a little more jump and effort in his game tonight. When you see him lazily reaching with his stick for loose pucks, you know his line is in trouble. Again, he's a young guy and lulls are expected. Just like Wheeler, I think Krecji is talented and mature enough to get through this minor rough patch quickly.

Kessel, I'm not sure I'm too concerned about. He seems like he's SO close to going on a hot streak. He's starting to get some real good chances, only to either be robbed by a great save, or hitting a post. I'm really not worried about Kess at all. If Lucic continues to play the way he did against the Sharks, that should open things up for Kess and Savard.

As I mentioned, injuries have forced some line changes, as well as a couple call-ups. Vladimir Sobotka and Martin Karsums will see plenty of ice tonight (well, that's the plan anyway....we all know they'll have to earn every shift). According to Fluto Shinzowa of the Boston Globe, Sobotka was skating the LW with Krecji and Wheeler. This could be a very important game for Vlady. He was a huge surprise bright spot for the B's last year, especially in the playoffs. He's been tearing it up in Providence. But he's yet to make an impact in his previous call-ups to Boston this year. Playing on a line with two highly skilled players could be his last best chance to show he deserves a longer look with the big club.

As for Karsums, who knows? Apparently he'll be on Bergeron's right, with Axe manning the Left Wing. I know his previous stint in Boston, three games, is a very small sample size. But I wasn't overly impressed with his game. Not that he was "bad". He was just...I don't know, "there". He didn't look like the high skill level guy I keep hearing he is. Granted, when a kid like him comes up, especially to a team like the Bruins who are defensive minded and playing great hockey, their first and foremost thought is "don't screw anything up". So being "down" on Karsums wouldn't be fair. But, with the B's recent trouble scoring, the Karsums and Sobotka's of the world have to be ready to bring their offensive games with them. I expect Sobotka to, I'm hoping Karsums does. We'll see.

I know I know....I've been expecting some rough stuff out of the B's for awhile now. Frankly, I'm stunned we haven't seen any fireworks in recent B's games. In fact, Boston has no fighting majors since February first, when Shawn Thornton beat down Alex Henry in Montreal. That's only four games, I know. But, that's two games against Philly (the NHL leader in fighting majors at the time, and a team that runs around throwing cheap shots at will), Ottawa (with Chris Neil, and a team with a long history of fight filled games vs Boston) and San Jose (a game in which emotions could have and maybe should have boiled over). So, should we expect anything different tonight? Very tough call. Thornton did go with Salvador the last time they played NJ. But I wouldn't expect Salvador to be looking for a rematch. And Thornton is still (presumably) wearing the visor to protect the gash on his forehead (compliments of a puck he took while sitting on the bench). Clarkson and Rupp are the most likely combatants for NJ, each with thirteen bouts under their belt so far. I think this game is important enough for the B's that somebody sends a message fairly early. Either with a big hit, prompting a response which leads to the gloves dropping. Or maybe just an outright challenge to a Rupp or Clarkson. In either scenario, my money is on Looch to be involved. He seems to be "feeling it" a little bit lately. He's also a smart kid, and probably sees that the B's aren't playing with as much energy as they usually do. His bouts always seem to give his team a shot in the arm. Look for him to renew acquaintances with David Clarkson tonight in a decent tilt.

Boston needs this one badly. No, it isn't a "must-win"...those don't come until mid-April. But the boys need to get their game back on track. So, I expect maximum effort. And when the B's are playing hard, they're tough to beat. I'm calling a 4-1 win for the good guys tonight. Kessel, SOBOTKA, Wideman and Wheeler are your scorers. As I mentioned, look for Lucic and Clarkson to have a go. That will probably be all in the fight department, but I fully expect a "chippy" game. Lots of hacking and whacking after whistles and big hits all night. It should be a fun game.
Go B's-Kynch

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