Boston Bruins

NHL on NBCSN: Penguins host Bruins on ‘Rivalry Night’

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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2014-15 campaign when the Pittsburgh Penguins host the Boston Bruins at the Consol Energy Center at 8:00 p.m. ET tonight as part of a back-to-back set of games on NBCSN on Wednesday. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game and pre-show online.

On paper, a Boston Bruins road visit to the Pittsburgh Penguins would be a likely Eastern Conference finals preview. The Penguins are doing their part despite mumps and injuries, but the Bruins might just settle for a first-round matchup at this point.

The Bruins currently find themselves right outside the East playoff mix as they trail the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final wild card spot by a single point. While their calls are mere mumbles compared to the rumbling that resulted in Randy Carlyle’s firing, there are at least some people calling for Claude Julien’s head.

Just about every Bruins headline seems to be about people needing to loose up, or stuff like teammates shrugging off in-practice fights.

Editor’s Note: Pro Hockey Talk’s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $18,000 Fantasy Hockey league for Wednesday’s NHL games. It’s just $2 to join and first prize is $2,000. Starts Wednesday at 7pm ET. Here’s the FanDuel link.

Ultimately, the Bruins come into Pittsburgh with a 19-15-6 and plenty of frustrations. They can set the table nicely for themselves going forward, however, as Thursday begins a stretch in which they play four of five games in Boston.

On the other hand, the Penguins soldier on, navigating the peaks and valleys of an 82-game season. They hope to close out a four-game homestand with a third win as David Perron continues to get acclimated to new surroundings – and a potentially lucrative linemate draw in Sidney Crosby.

One would expect it to be a big-game goalie matchup in Tuukka Rask and Marc-Andre Fleury, yet you should stay tuned for goalie nods to see if that’s confirmed. Whoever’s in net, it’s difficult to gauge what kind of test they’ll face, as both squads seem capable of creating fireworks (yes, even the struggling Bruins) yet could also lock things down, too.

That 2013 Eastern Conference finals series feels a little distant considering Boston’s woes and Pittsburgh’s many changes, yet it’s unlikely that the usual suspects have forgotten. It should be entertaining to see the two franchises renew the rivalry tonight.

Jacobs rips Bruins for ‘unacceptable’ season

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Charlie Jacobs, the new CEO of the company that owns the Boston Bruins, is not happy with the current state of the hockey club.

And that’s an understatement.

“I’d say without question this has been a very disappointing year,” Jacobs said today, per CSN New England. “It’s unacceptable the way that this team has performed given the amount of time, money and effort that’s been spent on this team. To see it delivered the way it has is unacceptable. I can tell you that at the moment it’s a very fluid situation that’s being monitored closely. I don’t have any answers for why we’re under-performing because if I did I would have tried them long ago.”

Safe to say, club president Cam Neely and GM Peter Chiarelli aren’t going to feel any less pressure to get the B’s back on track. Jacobs confirmed today that he “had several meetings in the last 24 hours” with the pair.

While adding a top-six winger would be a start for the Bruins, their problems won’t likely be solved that simply. This is a group that isn’t doing anything particularly well right now.

source:

Captain Zdeno Chara remains confident, however.

“We will make it happen,” said Chara. “We don’t just believe it will happen, we will make it happen. For this team the ultimate goal is to get our game back, and play with the system, structure and confidence.

“We are not discouraged. We’re obviously disappointed that we’re not where we feel like we should be. We’re going to be working really hard to get it back where it’s supposed to be.”

The Bruins are in Pittsburgh tomorrow to play the Penguins (on NBCSN).

P.S. — Jacobs is the son of longtime owner Jeremy Jacobs, who still, at the age of 74, plans on “being very active in the business.”

P.P.S. — Brad Marchand and Torey Krug had a bit of a scuffle at today’s practice, but they hugged it out.

Lightning coach says Palat is the Bergeron of wingers

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It’s tough to deny that the Tampa Bay Lightning’s second line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov is the league’s best. Really, the best argument might be that it isn’t a second line at all.

Johnson generated some headlines with his two-goal night on Sunday while Kucherov’s 39 points matches that of Steven Stamkos, yet head coach Jon Cooper told NHL.com that he believes Palat is the driving force of that impressive young trio.

In fact, he makes a pretty lofty comparison to a perennial Selke candidate.

“I still believe Palat is the straw that stirs the drink on that line,” Cooper said. “He’s oozing with hockey sense and he’s skilled. He is like Patrice Bergeron as a winger to me.”

Looking at possession stats (see here and here), Bergeron is almost in a league of his own, but the comparison isn’t totally outrageous. (Kucherov’s possession stats are pretty impressive, too, although he’s enjoyed somewhat easier assignments.)

At 23, Palat is likely scratching the surface of his two-way game, which makes one wonder if he’ll eventually be as dominant as the elite all-around guys like Bergeron.

One thing that might stand in his way is that the Selke is largely the domain of centers, as NHL.com notes:

The Selke Trophy has been awarded to a center for 10 consecutive seasons and 27 of the past 32 seasons because typically when you talk about forwards who play as many as 20 minutes per game, on the power play and on the penalty kill, and who are used in close situations (down a goal or up a goal) late in games, you’re talking about centers.

It would be a bummer for Palat if he’s disregarded, but the Lightning have to be very excited about the possibilities with him and their other impressive young players.

Poll: Are the Preds legit Stanley Cup contenders?

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The Nashville Predators are one of the big surprise teams of the 2014-15 NHL season.

Probably the biggest, actually.

Even with a healthy Pekka Rinne in goal and Norris Trophy candidate Shea Weber on the blue line, we can’t recall anyone who predicted the Preds would be 25-9-4 after 38 games, good for the highest points percentage in the NHL.

In fact, prior to the season, online sportsbook Bovada set Nashville’s point total at just 76.5. To fall short of that now, the Preds would need to finish something like 12-31-1. That’s how good they’ve been, relative to expectations.

So, with a spot in the playoffs seeming all but assured, the question is begging to be asked — do the Preds have what it takes to win it all?

The argument for ‘Yes’

Nashville has the second-best goals-against average in the NHL. And if there’s one thing that recent Stanley Cup winners have shown us, it’s that defense wins championships.

Goals against of past six Stanley Cup champs
2013-14 Kings (1st, 2.05)
2012-13 Blackhawks (1st, 2.02)
2011-12 Kings (2nd, 2.07)
2010-11 Bruins (2nd, 2.30)
2009-10 Blackhawks (6th, 2.48)

And as the Preds showed this weekend, they can also put the puck in the net. Nashville’s offense is now tied for seventh in the league, averaging 2.95 goals per game. Five-on-five, no team has a higher goals for/against ratio than the Preds, at 1.47.

The argument for ‘No’

It’s more of a subjective one. No matter how good Nashville’s numbers look right now, and no matter how much talent they have in goal and on the back end, can a team really win the Stanley Cup with Mike Ribeiro as its first-line center? Because that’s who it is for the Preds — the 34-year-old who signed for peanuts after he got bought out by the Coyotes due to “behavioral issues” and has never entered the conversation when debating the truly elite centers in hockey.

That conversation has been limited to the likes of Jonathan Toews, Sidney Crosby, Ryan Getzlaf, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Patrice Bergeron, Joe Thornton, and Anze Kopitar. You know, players that have won Stanley Cups. Or Hart Trophies. Or Selke Trophies. Or Conn Smythe Trophies.

Go ahead and search the list. Try to find a team that’s won the Stanley Cup without a top center with some serious credentials. You won’t find many.

Time to vote!

The Bruins wouldn’t really trade Lucic… would they?

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Some interesting stuff from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman this morning, courtesy Nichols on Hockey:

“The only thing I’ve heard about Lucic I think there’s at least one team, I believe, that’s asked about him and I don’t think there was a deal to be made there.

“Lucic, I mean if you trade him. Here’s the thing with Boston. I think the question with Lucic is he’s not a $6 million player right now, but he can be one. He is a guy who emotionally controls a team. When Boston was at its best, Lucic was very much their emotional core. He can play a major role. I think the question is – there’s two questions. No. 1, is something wrong with his body that it’s finally breaking down because of the role he’s played? No. 2, are they trying to get him to play whistle-to-whistle and he’s simply lost his effectiveness.

“I think one of the biggest questions being asked in Boston as an organization right now is, ‘What has happened here?’ and, ‘How long-term is this? What does it mean?’ I think the Bruins are being asked about him. I think there’s a lot of hard, internal questions being asked about, ‘Do we do it, or do we think that there’s still a lot left to give because if we do trade him, we change the makeup of our team in a major way.’ “

This, of course, coincides with one of the worst slumps of Lucic’s career — six goals in 39 games, one in his last 15 — and head coach Claude Julien recently calling out the burly power forward.

“His whole game, I think,” was Julien’s reply when asked what Lucic needs to improve, per the Boston Globe. “We’d like to see him do a lot more than what he’s done. He’s a heavy player and everybody talks about him hitting — yeah, that’s one part of his game — but he’s also a guy that with his size and strength he can go to the net hard.

“He can get his nose dirty in those areas and maybe that increases his goal production and stuff like that.”

You can tell B’s are choked about this season slipping away. They started the year 13-8-0 and have gone 6-7-6 since, and guys are venting. Tuukka Rask used the word “embarrassing” to describe Sunday’s loss to Carolina and, following Saturday’s OT loss to Ottawa, Julien said Lucic — who recorded just a single shot on goal — has “got to be capable, of, again, more than one measly shot.”

In terms of contractual mobility, Lucic’s an interesting case. He’s still only 26 and has just one year remaining on a deal that pays $6M annually. But he also has a modified no-movement clause and, with free agency looming at the end of 2015-16, could be in line for another payday… assuming this current slump is something he can break out of, and not the beginning of a downward slide.

Per the Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa, the extension Nick Foligno recently inked with Columbus — a six-year, $33 million deal — could factor into Lucic’s next contract. There’s still plenty that could happen to change that, but it’s definitely something teams thinking about acquiring Lucic would take into consideration.

The bigger issue, though, is what Friedman stated above — would Boston be willing to dramatically alter its persona during the course of the season? Outside of captain Zdeno Chara, there’s no player that embodies the Bruins quite like Lucic, and it’s tough to predict how profound an effect his departure would have on the club.

The flip side, of course, is that many a NHL team’s been burned by focusing on what a player’s done in the past — rather than what he’ll do in the future.