Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Game Day VS Tampa, 3/31/09

The boys look to keep the momentum rolling tonight against the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning. While it certainly doesn't have any of the pent up animosity of the Philly game, or the tradition of the Leafs, tonight's tilt is just as important. These are the games Boston simply has to win. In the grand scheme of things, it isn't a "must-win" per-se, but it's very important for the players to keep the good vibes going. They took care of business over the weekend on the road, now they have to get their mojo going at home again. Last week's win over NJ at the Garden was a great start. Really hate to blow that by losing to an inferior team. I can't see that happening tonight. It looks like the bulk of the B's roster is starting to find it's groove again. Lucic and Krejci most notably. Both are coming off terrific games against the Flyers, and I see no reason the hot streak shouldn't continue.

Tampa, as usual, is led by Vinny Lecavilier and Marty St. Louis. Beyond that, they're average at best. Newcomers Lashoff and Karsums are getting big minutes for the Bolts......Which should pretty much tell you the state of that franchise. Although, to be fair, rookie Steve Stamkos is showing signs of the player everyone expected him to be.

On defense, they're worse. They've had a mind boggling TWENTY-ONE different players suit up on D for them this year. 21!! I had to go back and check that three times....incredible. Of the bunch, there isn't a single "star" type. Definitely a team you can have your way with in the offensive zone (as their +/- proves). All you have to do, is be willing to out-work them. Skill wise, they simply can't compete. BUT, the Lightning do play with pride, so an effort is required to beat them.

In net, well, lets just say they haven't played as many guys as they have on D, but it's close. They've used five different goalies this year. None of whom are exactly in the Martin Broduer category. Although Mike Smith, somehow, actually has decent numbers for them (2.62GAA & .916 save%).

Tampa does have one fairly legit tough guy, David Koci, who we all remember bleeding all over the Garden ice last year while with the Blackhawks. That's really about it, although lately it seems frustration has been building for Evgeny Artyukin, as he's been looking for bouts the last couple times I've seen him play. At 6'4", 255lbs, he's had a tough time finding takers though ("Arty's" highlight of the year was an absolute beat down of Tom Kostopolous...at least in my opinion).

Quick B's thoughts- Before I get into predictions, I wanted to hit on a couple random Bruins thoughts I've been talking about with friends lately.

MONTADOR- GOOD LORD MONTY! Hey, I love the fact that he's willing to drop the gloves with anyone. I do, really. But come on....sooner or later you actually have to WIN one of those bouts.....or at least make them close? He fought in both games this weekend, and was embarrassed in both of them. It gets to the point where it's counter-productive. Watching a teammate take a beating, especially on the road, doesn't always work to inspire the team. I know people will say that the B's scored three goals after his fight in Philly. But please, I really don't think that bout had much to do with it. Beyond his lack of fighting skills (which we knew coming in), I'm incredibly disappointed in his overall play. I liked the acquisition when the B's got him at the deadline. But he hasn't looked anything like the player I remember him being. Not sure why, but he hasn't been very good, either on D or as a wing.

At this point, he HAS to be the healthy scratch. No way Julien can justify playing him over either Hunwick or Bitz. The fourth line, with Bitz on it, has a decent amount of skill. But mostly it has a ton of energy and decent size. Bitz, mark my words, could end up being a very important playoff performer. He just seems like that kind of kid, as does Hunwick (joining Lucic as guys I expect to only get better in the playoffs).

SHAWN THORNTON- Speaking of the fourth line, I have to get something off my chest about Thornton. Now, let me preface this by saying a like him a lot. Hell, when I got a jersey this year, it was his name & number I chose for it. So I'm not a "hater" by any means. BUT, he is quickly approaching Georges Laraque status. And no, I don't mean that as a compliment. Thornton, like Big Georges, seems to be so caught up in this "code" crap, that he's losing sight of his role (or should I say, a PART of his role). If you're supposed to be your team's designated "tough guy", you simply HAVE to have some intimidation in your game. Thornton has completely lost that. If he feels like he needs to fight you, he waits for you to accept his invitation. If he does engage in a fight, he instantly stops punching whenever he has any kind of advantage. See the Orr fight for the most pathetic example of this. Orr is NOT a guy who lives and works by any "code". Yet when Thornton got his the jersey over Orr's head (however briefly) he waved the refs in to break it up. Raise your hand if you think Orr would have stopped punishing in that situation? The thing about this whole "code" BS that bugs me is, two fold.

A)In the "old days" (pick an era, right up until just a few years ago), the idea of fighting a guy was to hit him in the face as hard and as often as you could. If you got the jersey over his head? Great, that was the idea. Now he can't hit you back. If you took him to the ice? Tough, he should have better balance. Keep swinging until it's broken up. Seriously, go back and watch video of any of your favorite fighters. NOBODY stopped once they had the upper hand. Not the Miller/Byers/Jonathan types, or more tellingly, not even a guy like Bobby Orr.
So why is this "code" so pronounced now? I say it's because they're all just one big happy family. Union brothers. Making a ton of money, so nobody wants to risk injury, effectively killing the golden goose.

B)the other thing that drives me nuts about "the code" is, guys like Thornton practice it, even against guys who aren't as "respectful". Again, see Orr, Colton. Why would you pull up on a guy that you KNOW would hammer away on you for as long as he could? Has that player earned that respect? Not at all. I just don't understand it, but hey, I guess unless you do it for a living you can't understand. Still don't like it though.

But my most concerning issue about Thornton is....he's stopped hitting. Watch him closely tonight. Watch how many times he pulls off of wide open hits. I respect the fact that he's careful about not hitting from behind. I'm proud to say that the Bruins don't have a team full of cheap shot artists, and I'd never want him to play like that. But for the love of God, he's a fourth line winger. He HAS to be more physical. Even the hits he does have, are generally laughably soft and ineffective. Again, another area of intimidation that is completely missing from his game now. Perhaps he's playing hurt, and can't throw the body around the way I'd like. But if not, he needs to pick up the intensity big time.

OK, enough negativity (for now). I like KingKrej's prediction (see his post below) of 6-2 B's. Seriously...that's what I was going to go with. But, since picking the same score as him is lame, I'll go with......7-3. And the three comes from the fact that it very well could be Manny in net tonight for Boston. Julien want to get him a couple more games, so tonight makes sense. Your goal scorers tonight will be-Wheeler, Ryder, Rechi, Savard, Lucic, Hunwick and Bitz.

Hard to tell if any fireworks will happen. I doubt it, but if there are any, I'm going to say Lucic has a go with Artyukin. Two big guys, but Lucic should win in a fairly entertaining bout. Go B's-Kynch

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