Zdeno Chara

Renewing the Hate: Boston hosts Montreal again tonight

To some, the first Montreal Canadiens-Boston Bruins game since the controversial Zdeno Chara-Max Pacioretty hit will be unimaginably full of hate. Yet most know that the two franchises have been marinating in dislike for each other for so long that, to some degree, this won’t be too special.

After all, they’ve been hammering on each other year after year since their rivalry began in 1924.

Still, tonight’s game will certainly capture the attention of the NHL’s disciplinary brash, who must hope that the contest won’t devolve into an ugly series of fights and attempts for retribution.

On one hand, the passion might be turned down a notch or two because the game will take place in Boston rather than Montreal. That being said, the fact that Bruins forward Mark Recchi called the Canadiens out for “embellishing” Pacioretty’s injuries brings the hate right back out again. (Joe Haggerty writes that Recchi knew exactly what he was doing when he made those comments.)

While there will be a little extra dash of distaste for tonight’s game, the bottom line is that it should have a large impact on the Northeast Division title situation. The Bruins currently hold a three-point lead atop the division with two extra games in hand, but a regulation win by the Canadiens would bring that within one. Montreal has won nine of the two teams’ last 11 regular season games, so their chances of closing some of the gap are solid.

Andrew Ference took the “just another game” approach when he discussed tonight’s contest with Haggerty.

“We prepare for it to get the two points, just like every other game,” said Andrew Ference, who has played in dozens of Habs-Bruins games over the last five seasons. “That’s the reality of it. It’s not good for writing, but that’s the way it is. They are all intense games when you see the same guys over and over again, and if you happen to be tight in the standings then those games are always intense.”

As for adventure and excitement, the Bruins don’t crave these things against the Habs.

“Everybody talks about revenge and what’s going to happen – and the build-up,” said Milan Lucic. “I’m sure they’re saying the most important thing for them is getting the two points, and I’m sure for them the most important is getting the two points because they’re right behind us in the standings.”

“That’s the only thing in mind for us: to create more of a separation between us and them. All of our focus is going into the game and building on what we did [against the Devils, a 4-1 win on Tuesday night].”

So, from Boston’s perspective, the big points on the line should limit the amount of shenanigans going on. Checking in on the Montreal side of things, Habs Eyes on the Prize writes that fans have lost respect for Recchi while Hockey Inside/Out forecasts a “calm” game between the two teams.

A good recent example of a game that lacked the revenge that many expected was the first game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Bruins after Matt Cooke’s career-threatening hit on Marc Savard. Aside from Cooke being forced to fight once, it was a pretty flat encounter dominated by Pittsburgh.

So if you’re looking for a festival of fisticuffs, it might be wiser to consult the second most recent contest between the Habs and the Bruins. That’s not to guarantee that things won’t get out of hand – especially if the result gets lopsided early. But there’s enough at stake between the two squads that settling scores will take a backseat to expanding or decreasing Boston’s division lead.

Either way, it’s certainly one of the games to watch tonight, though.

DiMaio named Blues’ director of player personnel

via St. Louis Blues
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The St. Louis Blues named Rob DiMaio their director of player personnel on Tuesday.

He’s been with the organization for some time. He joined as a pro scout in 2008 and was the pro scouting director starting in August 2012.

He was also a scout for the Dallas Stars before landing with the Blues (one would assume his biggest connection is GM Doug Armstrong, then).

In case his nose didn’t give it away, he also enjoyed a lengthy hockey career over 19 seasons.

No doubt about it, this is a pivotal season for the Blues after multiple campaigns in which strong regular seasons dissolved into playoff disappointments. Perhaps DiMaio can make a difference in a heightened role?

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock

ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”