Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hockey Day in Canada, Game day @ Florida

Before I delve into the Bruins-Panthers match up tonight, just want to wish all our friends to the north a happy Hockey Day In Canada. This country wide event is a thirteen hour plus celebration of all things hockey. From youth games to minors, from sledge hockey to a triple header of NHL games featuring the six Canadian teams playing each other. I may not be Canadian, but every year this is like Christmas day for me. As usual, Ron MacLean does a great job hosting the event, this year from Cambellton, NB. If you have the NHL Center Ice package, or the NHL Network, you can the whole event live in the States. Check out the CBC web site for more info on this great day for hockey.

Now, for something completely different. The Bruins couldn't be any farther away form that enchanting hockey atmosphere being portrayed on the CBC today. No, the B's are in sunny Florida, ready to end their mini-vacation of deep sea fishing, golfing and lounging at team owner Jeremy Jacobs' 45,000SQF mansion. But it wasn't all sun and fun for the boys. Coach Julien reports that the team had a couple of very good, high intensity practices. Julien also provided some subtle and not so subtle inspiration to the players. Or should I say, to Phil Kessel?
Julien has removed Kess from the power play units. Yes, I said unitS, plural. The Bruins leading goal scorer will not be on either PP unit. Kess is mired in a thirteen game goal slump, and Julien has seen enough. I think these comments (copied form Fluto Shinzowa' blog on, italics are mine) speak volumes. "Right now, our power play needs to score," Julien said. "If he's struggling to score, it's not about giving somebody candy for no reason. It's about working at it and getting himself back to scoring goals. Right now, our power play was 2 for 3 last game. It did a great job. Phil wasn't on it, but we know that Phil will be on it again at some point. He's got to understand that he's got to work his way out of this. We're pushing him to try and do some extra things just to try and build his confidence and try to shake things off. But if you're going to sit and wait for things to turn and feel sorry for yourself, it's going to take a lot longer." One thing you have to admit about Claude, he sure doesn't leave much to the imagination. He rarely calls players out, but he seems to know when the time is right to send some kind of message. Hopefully Kess responds as well to the comments as he did to the benching in the playoffs. (For the record, I think Kess has been playing fairly well. He's getting chances, just can't bury anything right now. I think the "message" is more about the rest of his game. Defensively, he's been a little soft of late).

The game itself is a big one for both clubs. Boston needs to start getting on a little bit of a roll again. That win in Carolina should help a lot. But if they stumble tonight, all the good vibes of the past week will be gone and they'll be starting from scratch again.

For Florida, they're in a battle for their playoff lives and every point is crucial. They're currently sitting in 7th, one point behind the imploding Canadiens. But they're also only point away from 9th place. The bottom of the East is going to be a battle right to the end. Which puts the Florida management team in a bind. Do they deal Bouwmeester so they can get something for him before he walks as a UFA? Or, do they ride him for as long as they can, and hope he puts them over the top? Tough spot. They desperately need a good playoff run to regain the fan interest. But losing a commodity like Bouwmeester for nothing will set them back for years.

Florida's offense pretty much comes from David Booth, the lone Panther with 20 goals. Nathan Horton is next with 17G, and Stephen Weiss leads the team in points, with 10-31-41 numbers. This isn't exactly Detroit or Washington when it comes to scaring you offensively.

The D is a lot like their offense in my eyes. Seems to be loaded with decent, serviceable pieces once you get beyond Jay-Bo. Boynton, Skrastins, Cullimore, McCabe, Welch.....all nice players in their own right. But I don't see one I'd prefer over anyone on the Boston roster.

In net, they're getting some very good play of late from Tomas Vokoun. Vokoun holds a 2.47 GAA and a .925 save % on the year. He's only two games over .500, but that's clearly not of his doing. TV is scheduled to get the start tonight.

For Boston, the key to the game is to match the work ethic and desperation Florida is sure to bring to the game tonight. This is another one of those games where the B's clearly have more high end talent and much more quality depth. Basically, if it was all based on skill, this would be a breeze. But as we know, without a 60 minute effort, all the talent in the world doesn't matter. The good news is, I suspect that the guys are feeling good about themselves again. And when they start to feel good, they generally play with a lot of energy. I fully expect a great effort, so that's bad news for the plucky, but over-matched Panthers.

Rough stuff

Florida isn't much of a brawling team, but there always seems to be some animosity when these teams meet up for some reason. Earlier this year Lucic bloodied and battered Nick Boynton after Boynton challenged him for a big hit Looch had made on his teammate. Good on ya Nick, but I'm sure he has no desire to see Lucic again.
Florida will be getting Nick Tarnasky back in the line-up tonight, and he's a willing combatant. But again, he may not want to revisit the beating he took from Looch last year.
Anthony Stewart is a candidate, and probably a good fit for Thornton.
Beyond any potential fights, I'd look for both teams to throw the body around quite a bit. Florida knows they aren't as skilled as Boston, so hitting is a good way to limit the skill guys. And for the B's, they know they're a better team when they get physical. After a few days off, nobody is sore, tired or generally beat up. Fresh legs lead to more hits.

Predictions As stated, Boston is the better team (not that over the years that's mattered with these guys). So I see a relatively "easy" win for the good guys tonight. Something along the lines of 5-2. Your goal scorers are Kessel (he loves a challenge, he may have 2), Bergeron (he's going on a roll, I can feel it), Sobotka (come on..he is so due, he's getting calls from obstetricians to schedule an inducement), Savard and Wideman. Thornton (speaking of guys that are due!) will have a go with Stewart.....even if it's one of those occasions where he probably "should" turn him down. Thornton almost HAS to drop the gloves soon. The B's are in danger of losing their identity of a tough team. It's more than him, and more than fighting I know. But still....come on. One fight so far this month as a team? So again, Happy Hockey Day In Canada everyone. Go B's-Kynch

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