Thursday, May 7, 2009

Who are these guys?

"Well, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
Tell me, who are you? (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)
'Cause I really wanna know (Who are you? Who, who, who, who?)"

Watching the Bruins so far this series, I can't seem to get that great Who song out of my head. Because surely this Bruins team I've watched over the past week or so looks nothing like the team I've been watching since October.

So tell me Bruins, who the f@*k are you!? Are you the poised, confident team that dominated the regular season and cruised past the Canadiens in round one? Or, are you the team I've seen the last couple nights? You know, the one that for some reason can't make a good decision to save it's life. The one that treats every puck like it's a radioactive super-ball. The one that is getting out-worked at every turn.

Personally, I think the last two games are more fluke than anything else. Sure, the B's have lost two straight. But all they have to do is win Friday and they take back home ice advantage. That is why finishing first was so important, right? Home-ice? Well, trailing by one game is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. Especially not when you're the better team. Give Carolina their due, but they are still not the better team. What they are, and this can be very dangerous, is a confident underdog. Seems like nobody told them they aren't supposed to go very far. Any time an underdog plays with that kind of care-free attitude, they can cause problems for the favorites. But, that can change fairly quickly as well. All it takes is for the favorite to remember all the things that got them where they are. So, what does that mean for Boston?

All the B's have to do Friday night is, play Bruins hockey. Which as we all know, is a simple, grind it out style with flashes of speed and skill thrown in. For whatever reason, the B's have let Carolina dictate the pace of play. For as much speed as Boston has, they're still much better when they play a little slower. I'm not suggesting they need to sit back and trap or anything like that. Rather, they need to just relax a little. Wait for plays to develop. Hang onto the puck instead of looking to get rid of it instantly. In case this sounds familiar, it's pretty much what I wrote before game 2. But nothing has changed. They don't need to do anything special. Stick to the original game plan, and as they say, everything else will take care of itself.

The most glaring stat that just jumps off the page at you from game 3 is shots on goal. The Bruins had a measly 19 shots after three periods? Simply not enough, by a long stretch. A big part of their game plan is to drive to the net and get shots through traffic. At times they had better net-front presence, but had a miserable time getting shots through. This is partly because of Carolina pressuring the points aggressively or blocking shots. But it's also largely because Boston simply didn't attempt enough shots. Again, I don't mean they should simply throw anything and everything they can towards goal (although, that certainly has it's merits as well), but they HAVE to make a concerted effort to get more pucks on Cam Ward.

Beyond the obvious need to shoot more, the B's have to keep ramping up their physical play. They were better at it in game 3, but they can definitely do better. And I fully expect that they will. I look for two guys to really assert themselves physically in game 4. Milan Lucic for one, will come loaded for bear Friday. He's a smart kid, and a proud kid. You know he sees that his team needs more emotion. And trust me, if your team is looking for someone to spark some emotion, you can do a lot worse than Looch.

The other Bruin I expect to rebound with a much better all-around effort, especially physically, is Chara. Big Z had a rough game all around in game 3. He was soft on clearing attempts, he absorbed nearly as punishment as he doled out and was just generally "off" all night. Not a chance that Z lets that type of performance slide. Expect a very very big game from the big man.

Since I'm talking about who I expect to play a big role Friday night, I need to give credit to the guys that I think had very solid games Wednesday. For starters, Michael Ryder was very strong all night. Yes, he took a minor penalty, but he was strong on the puck in all three zones, and was working as hard as anyone on the ice. If he continues that, the "hockey gods" Coach Julien mentioned are sure to reward him with a goal or two.
Chuck Kobasew also seemed to be a "going concern" for most of the night as well. Chucky, while not the pure scorer type, is more than due to bang home a couple. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. His crash the net style is exactly what this team needs more of, and he'll be rewarded soon.

All of the above considered, the elephant in the room is the B's power play. Or, what is allegedly the B's power play. I don't recognize it, but they say that's what it is, so I'll believe them. So far, it has been a non-factor. In fact, it may be worse than a non-factor. It's actually become a rallying point for the Canes. Any time you kill a penalty, it gives your team a boost. Well, the B's are making it look way too easy for the Canes. The PP has actually cost the Bruins momentum. That has to change. If they can't make the power play a weapon, they have no chance to win the series. And here again, I think they'll get it rolling.

So I guess the bottom line for me is, Carolina isn't as much beating Boston, as Boston is beating themselves. Poor decisions in all three zones. Poor clearing attempts. Too few attempted shots. Not physical enough. A futile power play. What do all of those things have in common? They're self-inflicted, and easily correctable. Julien gave the boys the day off today. No practice, optional skate or video session. Just a day for them to get away from the rink and clear their heads. At first blush, my reaction was that may not be a great thing. I mean, do we really want them sitting around dwelling on the loss? But then after thinking about it some more, I agree with the coach's decision. Not to be a blind follower, but I do believe in Claude. He's had teams in worse situations than this (lets not discuss his last playoff rally, ok?) and come out on top. He knows his team better than anyone, and I'm sure he didn't arrive at this decision lightly. He has faith that his players are professional enough to figure out what needs to be done. And of course, an extra day to rest their legs can't hurt either.

But, if Julien really wants to impress me, he will tweak his lineup a bit. As good of a rookie season as he has had, Blake Wheeler just has to come out of the lineup. He has literally contributed nothing offensively (zero points in 7 playoff games). And he provides nothing in the physical department. His supposed value was on the penalty kill, mainly as a short-handed scoring threat. I'm sorry, but that is way too narrow a job description to be useful on a playoff roster. Byron Bitz's style of play would absolutely be a huge boost right now. He plays a simple game. He plays strong along the boards, and just chips pucks in and out. Oh, and he also isn't afraid to get his nose dirty in the corners or in front of the net. He's a big guy that actually PLAYS big (unlike Wheeler). Bitz on the forecheck is fun to watch. He makes things happen out there, and the B's desperately need some of that positive energy. Wheels may find his way back in the lineup, and very well may be a contributor down the road. But for the foreseeable future, it HAS to be Bitz.
The other change is dependant on Andrew Ference's health. If Ference is ready to go, they need to sit Montador and insert Hnidy. Monty, other than that abysmal clearing attempt that led to Staal's goal, hasn't been "awful". But he hasn't been very good either. Too many times he fails to get the puck out, or keep it in at his offensive blue line. His defensive zone coverage has been suspect at best. It's long past time to call the Sheriff. Hnidy, at least will give them a more physical presence (Monty is missing more hits than he's making at this point). And Sheriff Shane isn't nearly as likely to go running around to find hits, thus putting himself out of position. He knows exactly what he is and how he has to play to be effective. The way the B's are playing, the more cool heads they have in the lineup the better.

So, deep breaths everyone. Losing two straight has taken over the story, when the story should be simply that this is a 2-1 series. Looked at in that light, it doesn't sound nearly as scary does it? With a win Friday night, the B's are right back where they started. All square, but then it will be a best of three series. Does anyone NOT think the Bruins can win two of three, with two of those on home ice? Exactly.

Since I have a boat load of "real life" stuff on my plate Friday, I'll attempt another quick prediction now. I predicted a B's 4-2 (or 5-2, depending...) win in game 3. For some reason, I like that number again. Your goal scorers for this on will be Ryder (he's earned it), Kobasew (he's DUE), Lucic (he's been getting playing well, and will look to up the intensity even more, which helps his whole game) and Chara. Z will be firing pucks all night, but his goal will be on a back-door play on the power play. Yes, I said power play goal. In fact, the B's get at least two on the man advantage. Go B's-Kynch

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