Tomas Kaberle

Bruins need more from Tomas Kaberle, Milan Lucic and power play in second round

In many ways, the 2011 semifinals match between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers is the shaggy dog series of the second round. There should be no doubt that both teams boast electrifying talent and formidable players, but they also come into Game 1 in Philly with some serious questions.

If you ask me, though, the Bruins probably have the most room for improvement. A lot of people will linger on their collapse after building a 3-0 lead against the Flyers in 2010, but the biggest red flags come from Boston’s slim first round victory against the Montreal Canadiens.

Beyond nebulous, intangible ideas like “improving their killer instinct” and “regaining their swagger,” the Bruins need improvements in concrete terms as well. Let’s take a look at who (and what) needs the most improvement.

Tomas Kaberle and the power play

It’s not fair to blame all of the Bruins’ power play woes on one player, especially a defenseman who came to the team around the trade deadline. Still, there’s no nice way to put it: Kaberle has been a bust in Boston.

The bottom line is that the team acquired Kaberle with the hope that he would improve their stale power play, yet Joe Haggerty reports that the team has a 93 percent “failure rate” on the man advantage since that trade.

That seven-game series against the Habs raised an unflattering mirror up to that unsightly power play. The Bruins became the first NHL team to win a seven-game series after failing to score a single PP goal. They went 0-for-21 and actually allowed a Tomas Plekanec shorthanded goal in Game 7, meaning that the unit was “minus-1” during the series.

Again, you cannot pin all the blame on Kaberle, but he’s still the easy scapegoat. After all, he earned 22 power play points (all assists) in 58 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs this season and 25 on the PP in 2009-10. He’s obviously not making his money for lock-down defense, so he needs to justify his existence by producing offense. His descent out of favor is plainly revealed by the fact that he only received a paltry 14 minutes of ice time in Game 7.

What’s wrong with Milan Lucic?

Lucic was already well-liked in Boston going into this season. After all, you don’t draw Cam Neely comparisons out of contempt. Yet the 2010-11 campaign was far and away his best yet, as he matched his previous two seasons’ combined point totals to hit a career-high 62. Perhaps most importantly, Lucic scored a career-best 30 goals.

Many probably expected Lucic to be a force of nature against a smaller Canadiens team, yet he managed zero goals and two assists in those seven games. He also hurt his team badly in Game 6 by boarding Jaroslav Spacek. He received a game misconduct for that infraction, while the Habs received a five minute major power play.

Perhaps the postseason isn’t really the problem and something else is amiss, though. Haggerty points out that Lucic hasn’t scored a goal in his last 17 games – playoffs and regular season combined – although it stands to mention that he did accumulate nine assists in that span.

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Injuries and shaken confidence can have a big impact on a player’s performance (or in some cases, a power play unit efficiency), but a new round also brings new matchups. Perhaps Kaberle will have better luck creating chances against the Flyers’ penalty killers. Maybe Lucic will respond well to the physicality Philly brings.

Either way, if the Bruins want to see another set of matchups in the conference finals, they’ll need more from Kaberle, Lucic and their busted up power play.

Pre-game reading: NHLers sound off on poor ice conditions

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— Up top, Danny Briere recalls that famous line brawl between the Flyers and Penguins in the 2012 playoffs. The two Pennsylvania rivals meet again Saturday, outdoors at Heinz Field.

— It has not been a good year for NHL ice, and a number of players are starting to get fed up. For example, Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who said, “It’s been awful. I don’t know what it is. Even in our building this year. I thought it was really good [when we came] back for World Cup and right after that for the first little bit. But the last little bit, it’s been so bad. The puck’s all over the place.” Guess we know how he’ll be filling out his survey. (ESPN)

— The days leading up to the trade deadline can be pretty stressful for players who may get moved. And if they do get moved, the days after can be pretty tough, too. “I saw my daughters four days out of three months when I went to Pittsburgh,” said Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak, who’s been dealt three straight years at the deadline. “When I was traded to Winnipeg, I didn’t see my daughters for the two months or more I was there because of the schedule.” (The News & Observer)

— On the 2017 NHL draft, which may not have the star power of the last two drafts, but will still have some pretty good players available. Especially centers. (USA Today)

— San Jose’s Brent Burns is trying to become only the second defenseman in NHL history to win a scoring title. With 64 points, Burns is only three points back of Connor McDavid for the league lead, with Sidney Crosby in the mix as well. Bobby Orr won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the last time in 1974-75 when he piled up 135 points in 80 games for the Boston Bruins.  (Canadian Press)

— Another Shark, Joe Thornton, is just two assists from 1,000 in the NHL. Only 12 players have accomplished that, with Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963 helpers leading the way. Joe Sakic’s 1,016 are the closest to Thornton’s 998. (The Mercury News)

Enjoy the games!

Bolts rule out Callahan indefinitely following second hip surgery

Ryan Callahan
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Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan, who’s only played 18 games this year while recovering from offseason hip surgery, has undergone a follow-up procedure and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The Bolts made the announcement on Wednesday, just hours after a big 4-1 win over Edmonton. Callahan wasn’t in the lineup to face the Oilers — he hasn’t played since early January, when he skated just under 15 minutes in a loss to Philly.

The nature of this ailment has to be concerning.

Callahan, who turns 32 next month, is in the third of a six-year, $34.8 million deal with a $5.8M average annual cap hit. And this lingering hip problem comes on the heels of a disappointing ’15-16 campaign, in which Callahan scored just 10 goals and 28 points — the lowest marks since his rookie campaign.

As such, Tampa Bay is now bracing for an immediate future without a huge part of its leadership group. Captain Steve Stamkos has resumed skating, but there’s no set date for his return from major knee surgery.

Callahan, who’s been an alternate captain in each of the last three seasons, won’t be playing anytime soon either.

 

Kadri ‘not worried’ after Chiarot predicts revenge for big hit (Video)

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Toronto forward Nazem Kadri drew the ire of Jets d-man Ben Chiarot on Tuesday night for a big — albeit questionable — hit in the Leafs’ OT win.

Chiarot was visibly displeased following the game and alluded to getting even.

“It’s not the right time or place to chase him down, but there will be a time down the line,” he said, per Sportsnet. “Might not be this year, might not be next year.

“But there will be a time where the shoe will be on the other foot.”

Today, Kadri responded.

“I’m not worried at all,” Kadri said, per TSN. “I’ll be here for hopefully a few years. But like I said, if that was one of my teammates getting hit like that, I probably wouldn’t be too happy, so I expect that kind of reaction.”

Kadri’s hit, which went unpenalized, drew the ire of Chiarot’s head coach as well. Jets bench boss Paul Maurice was also visibly displeased following the game.

“He’s six inches in the air when he makes contact,” Maurice said, per Sportsnet. “In my mind, from the rear view, the first thing that moves on Benny is the helmet. Didn’t like it.”

Kadri’s been involved in a few high-profile collisions this season. He pasted Sabres captain Brian Gionta in a game earlier this month, and avoided suspension for a controversial hit on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin back in November.

Have the Blackhawks finally found their first-line LW?

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A three-point night for Nick Schmaltz, which included a nifty pass to Jonathan Toews for the game-winner, must have Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman wondering how to approach the trade deadline.

The way the 20-year-old rookie has been playing, does Bowman really need to add a first-line left winger before next Wednesday?

It’s a valid question. Only a month ago, Bowman was reportedly sniffing around the likes of Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist.

But Schmaltz has since caught fire, with two goals and five assists in his last six games. The rookie from Wisconsin had one goal and two assists in Tuesday’s 5-3 victory over Minnesota.

“He’s been really good,” head coach Joel Quenneville said, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “[Tuesday] was the most we’ve ever seen him with the puck. I don’t know how many times he evaded coverage, and all of a sudden he loses the guy on him and a play develops. That play against the grain to [Toews] was spectacular.”

Toews, of course, has been through a whole host of linemates this season, and only in the last month has the captain really started to produce offensively. Richard Panik and Marian Hossa are two veteran options to skate on his right side, but the left side has been a running audition.

Schmaltz, a first-round draft pick in 2014, only got called back up to the NHL in mid-January.

One month later, Toews is liking the chemistry that’s developed between himself, Schmaltz and Panik.

“We’ve been given the chance to spend a few games together, get some consistency, get some feel and some confidence,” said Toews. “The biggest thing for the three of us is if we go through a game without scoring, we’re given a chance to go out in the next game and try and redeem ourselves and contribute offensively.

“It’s a lot of fun, because I think we’re feeling it. [Schmaltz and Panik] are playing so well at both ends of the rink. They’re playing with a ton of confidence with the puck.”

The ‘Hawks have two games left before the March 1 deadline. They host Arizona tomorrow and St. Louis Sunday.