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Pittsburgh vs. Boston Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (12-5-0-24) vs. Boston Bruins (7-7-2-16)

Where: TD Garden
Tuesday, November 10, 7 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9

Season Series: The Penguins and Bruins meet for the first of four meetings in 2009-10. Each team won twice last season, including once in the other’s building. Sidney Crosby led the Penguins in scoring with five assists in four games. Currently injured Marc Savard had five points (2G-3A) for the Bruins.




Previous Meeting: Mar 15, 2009
PIT 6, BOS 4
Game Highlights
AP Recap  
Limit Scoring Chances: The Penguins have seen their goals-against figure rise the past two games because Los Angeles and San Jose were able to generate more shots (67 combined) than most previous opponents, which in turn led to more quality scoring chances. Despite the Bruins’ struggles to score goals, they still have a talented roster which showed signs of breaking out with four goals against the Sabres on Saturday.

Power Play:
With both teams possessing top-notch goaltending and missing the services of key offensive talent, goals might be at a premium. Each team has had their struggles with the man-advantage in the early going, but if one of them can break out of their slump that could make all the difference in what should be a hotly-contested battle.
Boston struggled following the lockout, missing the playoffs in each of the first two seasons after the National Hockey League’s return in ’05-06, but they appear to have turned the corner and moved back into the group of elite teams. The Bruins posted the best record in the Eastern Conference during the ’08-09 season, winning their most games (53) since the Bobby Orr Era in 1971-72 – also the last time they won the Stanley Cup. Boston was eliminated from the postseason in the quarterfinals by the Carolina Hurricanes last spring in a tightly-contested seven-game series.

The Bruins’ resurgence has coincided with the naming of Claude Julien as head coach on June 21, 2007. A defensive-minded coach, Julien’s system has proven to be perfect for a team built around a solid defense led by Zdeno Chara and great goaltending with Tim Thomas. Entering this season Julien had a career record of 213-134-64. He won the Jack Adams Award last season for leading the Bruins to the second-best record in the NHL.
Already one of the tougher teams in the NHL, Boston added even more of a physical presence to the lineup when they signed free agent defenseman Derek Morris away from the New York Rangers. The 12-year veteran joins his fifth team following stints with New York, Phoenix, Colorado and Calgary. In his first year in the black-and-gold Morris is off to a fast start offensively, ranking second on the team (tied) with nine points (1G-8A). His plus-4 rating is tied with Marco Sturm for highest on the Bruins.

Offensively the Bruins have added two new faces to the mix, checking-line performers Steve Begin and Daniel Paille. Begin has stepped up with the absence of centers Marc Savard and David Krejci to post eight points (2G-6A) through the first 16 games. His career high in points is 23 (11G-12A), set with the Montreal Canadiens in ’05-06, so he is well on his way to challenging that figure. Paille, the 20th-overall selection in the 2002 draft, fell victim to a numbers game in Buffalo and was acquired from the Sabres for two future draft picks on Oct. 20. He is a skilled offensive player who registered 19 and 12 goals for Buffalo the previous two seasons. Paille has four assists in nine games with the Bruins. 
An offensive juggernaut last season, scoring has been an issue for the Bruins early this season thanks to a rash of injuries to their big guns and the preseason trade of 36-goal scorer Phil Kessel to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Among the walking wounded are Marc Savard and Milan Lucic, along with a sick David Krejci. It’s tough to receive the production you expect when your top-two centermen and most-physical net-front presence are missing. Stepping into the void is supremely-gifted playmaker, but oft-injured Patrice Bergeron. Bergeron has shown no early-season effects of past concussion issues, leading the Bruins with 10 points (5G-5A). Teaming with Bergeron on the top line has been Marco Sturm and future Hall of Famer and former Penguin Mark Recchi. Sturm, a six-time 20-plus goal scorer, has recovered from a torn ACL which limited him to only 19 games in ’08-09, as he has three goals and five assists though 16 games. Recchi, still going strong at 41, was great for Boston at the end of last season after arriving from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline. He scored 10 times in 16 regular-season games and added six points (3G-3A) in 11 playoff contests.

Sharp-shooting Michael Ryder justified the Bruins decision to give him a mega-bucks deal during the 2008 offseason when he rebounded from a down year in ’07-08 to score 27 goals his first campaign in Boston. He has six points (3G-3A) so far in ’09-10. Center David Krejci emerged as a top talent last season, finished second behind Savard on the Bruins with 73 points (22G-51A). He was rewarded with a contract extension in the offseason. Perhaps trying too hard to live up to that deal, Krejci is off to a slow start with only one goal and five points through 14 games. 
Boston has built a rock-solid defensive corps that prides itself on being physical defensively and capable of adding offense at the other end of the rink. Leading the charge is reining Norris Trophy winner and the tallest player in league history, 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara. Impossible to get around at one end, and a player whose shot you probably wouldn’t want to get in front of at the other, Chara has grown into his body and has become a complete defenseman. His 19 goals last year were the most by a Bruins defenseman since Ray Bourque hit the same figure in 1996-97.

Boston’s defense is more than just Chara. Dennis Wideman is an underrated two-way blueliner whose career has taken off since arriving from the St. Louis Blue for sniper Brad Boyes in 2007. Wideman has scored 13 goals in each of his two seasons in Boston, while his 50 points (13G-37A) and plus-32 in ’08-09 were each career highs. Former Penguin Andrew Ference was a crowd favorite during his time in Pittsburgh and is a perfect defensive defender in the new NHL with his blend of skating and physical play. Matt Hunwick is a 24-year-old former University of Michigan product who added even more firepower to the Boston defense with 27 points (6G-21A) in 53 games last season. Through his first 82 games at the NHL level Hunwick has 31 points (9G-23A) and a plus-11 rating.
A late bloomer, Tim Thomas bounced around the hockey world from the University of Vermont to Finland to Sweden and finally to the American League before finding a permanent home in Boston following the lockout. It has been worth the wait as Thomas has established himself as one of the premier netminders in hockey, and a serious candidate to backstop Team USA at the upcoming Winter Olympics.

Thomas was exceptional during the ’08-09 campaign, winning his first Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in the NHL, being named First-Team All-Star and sharing the William Jennings Trophy for fewest goal-against per game with Manny Fernandez. Thomas led the league in both goals-against average (2.10) and save percentage (.933), while his 36 wins ranked sixth. He uses an unconventional style between the pipes, relying more on acrobatics than any particular method to stop the rubber.

Backup Tuukka Rask, the Bruins’ goaltender of the future, recently inked a two-year contract extension, giving Boston enviable depth in the crease. The 22-year-old Rask is in his first full-time season with the Bruins after winning 60 games the past two seasons for the Bruins’ AHL affiliate in Providence. He has a 3-1-1 record with one shutout in ’08-09.
A few eyebrows were raised when the Phoenix Coyotes used the fifth-overall selection of the 2004 NHL Draft to select Blake Wheeler from Breck School in the Minnesota high-school ranks. Following three years at the University of Minnesota, Wheeler chose free agency over signing with Phoenix, inking a deal with Boston. He posted a solid rookie campaign with the Bruins in ’08-09 and has been one of their more consistent performers this season.

At only 23 years of age Wheeler has the potential to grow into one of the top power forwards in the game. He already has the height at 6-foot-5, and he still has plenty of room to grow as he is currently listed at 205 pounds. Playing in 81 games as a rookie Wheeler recorded 45 points (21G-24A) and finished second in the league behind teammate David Krejci with a plus-36. Wheeler was named MVP of the Young Stars Game at the 2009 All-Star game after recording four goals and an assist.
Few teams have been as decimated by early season injuries to key players like the Penguins have, but if there is one team, it is the Bruins. Center Marc Savard, the Bruins leading scorer with 88 points (25G-63A) a year ago has missed the past nine games with a broken foot. He remains out indefinitely. Joining Savard on the long-term IR list is bruising winger Milan Lucic. He suffered a broken finger and is expected to sit at least the next couple weeks. Center David Krejci, the team’s second-leading scorer in ’08-09, returned to practice Monday and should rejoin the lineup against the Penguins after missing two games with H1N1.
“I felt that our team has been working hard in the last couple of weeks and probably deserving of a better fate. When you don’t score and you don’t win games you have to find a way to keep team focused and that if you stick with it, someday it will turn.”

– Bruins head coach Claude Julien’s post-game quotes to the Boston Herald following Saturday night’s 4-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres.

2.38: The average number of goals scored per game by the Bruins in ’09-10, down almost a full goal per game compared to the 3.34 they averaged in ’08-09. 

Author: Jason Seidling

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