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ATR: Bruins Prove They’re For Real With Impressive Victory

As the old saying goes, “to be the best, you have to beat the best.” For the Boston Bruins; mission accomplished.

Much has been made of the Black and Gold’s resurgence in the “Hub of Hockey,” and rightly so. The team is hotter than Hanzel in Zoolander right now, reeling off an 11-1-1 record in the month of November and sitting comfortably atop the Eastern Conference standings. Still, there have been grumblings that the B’s are more pretenders than contenders at this junction, but following Saturday night’s decisive 4-1 victory over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Detroit Red Wings, those grumbings have been quieted considerably.

The Bruins have been beating all comers as of late, but many saw the test against Detroit as the true indication of their ability. The Red Wings feature some of the game’s premier talents, including forwards Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa, and perrenial Norris trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom. They’ve also been the closest thing to an NHL dynasty in quite some time, enjoying a nice run of success in the late 1990’s and again in the last few seasons. It seems every year, the Wings are the real deal, including 2008-2009. Coming into the game on Saturday, the Wings actually sported a better record than Boston, checking in at 15-3-4 to Boston’s 15-4-4. These facts simply reiterate how impressive the win over Detroit really is. 

If there’s a such thing as a statement game in late November, this was it.

Kobasew Proving His Mettle

On November 7, the Boston Bruins were an average 10-7-4, a middle of the pack club playing in the tough Northeast division. On November 8, Chuck Kobasew returned. Since then, the Bruins have gone 9-1-1. Coincidence? Based on Kobasew’s play, it’s doubtful. 

Since his return, the winger from Osoyoos, British Columbia has posted 5-6-11 totals in 11 games, good for a point per game average. It’s not as though he’s been seeing first line minutes this year, either. In fact, he was seeing mostly 4th line action on a line with Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton for the first few games after his return, but recently has found a home skating alongside Patrice Bergeron and PJ Axelsson on the 2nd line. 

Kobasew brings a tenacity to his game that B’s fans can identify with, and although names like Lucic, Kessel, and Krejci have been garnering most of the headlines during their recent run, if Kobasew continues his quality play, it won’t be long before the rest of the league takes notice. 

Sturm’s Return Could Make Bruins Offense One for the Ages

Lost in all of the success as of late has been the absence of Marco Sturm. The German born winger has been a mainstay in the Bruins top six since his arrival in Boston in late 2005, and has been a consistent performer during that time, potting 27 goals in both the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 campaigns. 

Sturm has missed the last six games with what has been termed an “upper-body injury,” and the Worcester Telegraph and Gazette is reporting that the injury is actually post-concussion syndrome, a result of a hit Sturm suffered against the Chicago Blackhawks on November 12. Still, it appears his return is imminent, and the Bruins offense is going to be close to lethal by that point.

The presumed move is simple, with Sturm slotting in alongside Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew on the 2nd line, and PJ Axelsson moving to the 4th line to skate with Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton. Here’s a visual look:

  1. Lucic – Savard – Kessel – This line is arguably the most exciting unit in hockey. Savard is at the top of his game, making jaw-dropping plays on a nightly basis. His chemistry with Kessel is palpable, and the latter’s game-breaking ability is 2nd to none on this club. He’s on pace for 40 goals, many of which should be of the highlight variety. Toss in the fan favorite Lucic hitting everything that moves, and you have one potent 1st line.
  2. Sturm – Bergeron – Kobasew – To me, this is the biggest improvement the Bruins can make to their offense at this point. Axelsson has been lost in the offensive zone this year, and frankly his lack of production has hampered Bergeron considerably. Put Sturm in his place and suddenly you have two wingers with tremendous speed and goal-scoring instincts centered by a cerebral playmaking center. Sturm and Bergeron have had chemistry in the past, most notably in 2005-2006 when the two skated alongside Brad Boyes to form a pretty impressive unit. Kobasew and Boyes profile as similar players, so perhaps this line can find similar success as the former. If so, look out.
  3. Wheeler – Krejci – Ryder  – This line was formed just a few games ago, and so far the results have been incredible. Ryder had 2 strikes on Friday against the Islanders, and Wheeler has a goal in each of his last 2 games, and as a whole these three have looked very impressive. Quite simply, they’re probably the best “3rd” line in the NHL.
  4. Axelsson – Yelle – Thornton – Axelsson is a perfect fit here, seeing 4th line energy minutes and providing a steady defensive presence. He’s been miscast on a scoring line all year long, and this unit could be one of the best 4th lines in hockey. 

With Marco Sturm back in the lineup, the Bruins appear to have four lines who can contribute on any given night. When’s the last time that could be said around these parts? 

Week in Review

Not a bad week for the B’s, but at the same time it was a bit weird to see the Black and Gold fall in regulation as they did on Wednesday against the Buffalo Sabres. Still, beating the defending champion Red Wings more than makes up for it. 

As mentioned earlier, the B’s struggled a bit on Wednesday, and Derek Roy single-handedly buried Boston on the strength of his two goals. Matt Hunwick and Phil Kessel tallied the two goals for the Bruins, and Tim Thomas took the loss, suffering his first defeat in regulation since October 30. 

The Bruins bounced back on Friday, avoiding any turkey-induced hangover by dismantling the New York Islanders 7-2 in front of a sold out matinee at the new Garden. The B’s actually started out a bit flat in this one, falling behind 1-0 before notching five consecutive tallies to take a commanding lead. Seven different Bruins scored in this one, and Milan Lucic put the finishing touches on a total team beatdown, handling tough blueliner Brendan Witt in an entertaining 3rd period bout. 

These two games served as a buildup to Saturday night’s marquee tilt with the Wings, and the B’s did not disappoint. Although Boston was outshot 8-0 in the first 10 minutes of the game, Michael Ryder fed a streaking Blake Wheeler for a one-timer at the 10-minute mark and Wheeler blasted home the shot to give the B’s an early 1-0 lead. Phil Kessel and Chuck Kobasew scored next for Boston, and David Krejci found the twine in the 3rd period to send the defending champs back to Michigan with nothing but long faces to show for their efforts.

Looking Ahead

Reid’s Picks:
Last Week: 1-2
Record to Date: 7-3

  • Thursday, Dec. 4 @ Tampa Bay – The Bruins bring their red-hot squad to Florida to take on the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bolts fired new coach and noted mullet-enthusiast Barry Melrose after just 16 games, and the Lightning haven’t seen much success since interim bench boss Rick Tocchet took over, as they sport a 6-10-7 record as of December 1st. The Bruins should handle struggling Tampa Bay just fine in this one, prevailing 4-1. 
  • Saturday, Dec. 6 @ Florida – The B’s stay in the Sunshine State on Saturday, taking on the Florida Panthers. Boston dispatched the Panthers 4-2 in Boston on November 21, and the disparity in talent between these two clubs will be too much to overcome. The Bruins take down the Panthers 3-0, sweeping through the tropical weather and coming back to the frozen tundra with a 2-0 record.

Parting Shots

I leave you with the Lucic-Witt fight from Friday. At this pace, we may have to rename this section Milan’s Punching Shots.

Around the Rink is a weekly hockey column, published on Mondays. If you have any comments or questions for Reid, he invites you to e-mail him at reidATsportsofbostonDOTcom. Maybe you’ll make it into the next column.

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One comment for “ATR: Bruins Prove They’re For Real With Impressive Victory”

  1. Bruins were 7-3-3 on November 7.

    Posted by 1 | December 3, 2008, 2:24 pm

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