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Monday, October 12, 2015

The Bruins (0-3) Are Off to Their Worst Start In 16 Years

The week to forget continued for the Bruins as they welcomed another top club to TD Garden this afternoon and limped away with an eerily similar loss. Tampa Bay (3-0) looked the part of defending Eastern Conference champions as they rallied from an early 2-0 deficit and fought off three power-play goals by Boston (0-3) to post a 6-3 victory on Columbus Day. This is the worst start for the Bruins since 1999-2000 and the 16 goals allowed in these three defeats is their most in 50 years.

It all started so well too as David Krejci (1 goals, 2 assists) scored on a power-play at 2:59 from Torey Krug (3 assists) and Patrice Bergeron. Loui Eriksson doubled Boston's lead after a tap-in at 11:02, another power-play strike that was preceded by slick passing from Krug and Krejci. Former BC star and Hingham native Brian Boyle cut it to 2-1 at 15:42 after the big man was somehow allowed to skate in the slot unimpeded than rip a wrist shot over Tuukka Rask (17 saves). It's been a shaky start for Rask and you can't blame all his troubles on the crappy defensemen in front of him. Ondrej Palat tied it at 16:52 with a weak shot that squeaked through Rask's pads.

David Pastrnak has been one of Boston's lone bright spots to this dark period but he looked like a child when Boyle came barreling through the neutral zone and bounced off him without breaking his slow stride. Boyle went in on a breakaway and scored on a backhander, four seconds after Tampa Bay had killed a Bruins power-play. Ben Bishop (27 saves) is another top goaltender in the NHL and he had an uneven performance although his acting ability led to a pair of goaltender interference penalties called on the B's. Eriksson added another power-play tally at 12:20 by deftly tipping in Krejci's shot with Krug getting another helper.

Tampa Bay ended Boston's 10-game winning streak vs. Lightning at TD Garden, this was their first road win here since March 25, 2010. Steven Stamkos was able to exorcise some personal demons as well since this was the rink where he gruesomely broke his leg two years ago. He picked up his 500th career point with his patented one-timer rocket at 15:17. Zdeno Chara returned today (Matt Irwin was rightfully sent to Providence after he cleared waivers) while Brad Marchand was out with a concussion but Boston couldn't muster another comeback in the third period. As good teams usually do, some fluky goals went the Lightning's way as Rask gave up a horrible goal to Jonathan Drouin at 5:38 and Valtteri Filppula sent most of the fans home early with a goal off his skate at 15:58 (it looked like he kicked it but it stood after a review).

For a team with so many problems, perhaps the best thing for the Bruins to do is get out of the area for awhile and try to regroup. They are at Colorado (1-1-0) on Wednesday (10, NESN) and Arizona (2-0) on Saturday (10, NESN). Their next home game isn't until a week from Wednesday against equally terrible Philly (0-1-1). Needless to say, for head coach Claude Julien's job security and numerous players, the B's need points starting as soon as possible.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Bruins Are Off to Their Worst Start Since 2005-06, So There Is That

Another game and another humbling defeat by the Bruins. All we can hope is that this isn't an omen for how things are going to go for the bulk of the 2015-16 season. Montreal (2-0) came to TD Garden on Saturday night and topped the B's (0-2) 4-2 in a contest that truthfully wasn't that close since Boston scored with 31 seconds left to make the final score appear a little less grotesque. Boston has started 0-2 just 13 times in their 91 years of existence, most recently in 2005-06. 0-3 is certainly a distinct possibility since the defending Eastern Conference champs-the Lightning (2-0)-pay them a visit on Monday afternoon (1, NESN).

First things first, the best rivalry in hockey has become very one-sided over the last few years. Montreal has won seven games in a row in Boston (dating back to Jan. 12, 2012) and six overall in the series that has seen the most meetings (730) of any NHL matchup. Tonight was more of the same as the Canadiens used their spectacular team speed and skill to draw six power-plays. They only cashed in on one of them (the first) but for whatever reason, the B's under head coach Claude Julien never seem to have an answer for this style for the most part. Boston's plodding and lack of creativity never looks as bad as it does when they face the Habs, every time it sticks out like a sore thumb.

It didn't take long for Montreal to jump ahead as they drew a bogus illegal check to the head penalty on Matt Beleskey at 1:14 then 11 seconds later, David Desharnais had an easy tap-in from Andrei Markov and Alex Galchenyuk. Boston should have had at least a goal or two later in the first as Torey Krug hit the post, Carey Price (20 saves) robbed David Pastrnak not once but twice on the doorstep and Brad Marchand hit the crossbar.

Lars Eller scored a pair of goals early in the second period, sandwiched around what should have been a goal by Joe Morrow that cut it to 2-1. Instead, the Canadiens basically clinched it by going up 3-0. With Boston's lack of goal-scoring against Price-the Vezina Trophy winner-that is an insurmountable lead in most instances. Morrow's goal was off a rebound but it was ruled no goal since Patrice Bergeron slightly bumped Price (because he was pushed by a Canadien). Julien used the new coach's challenge but still lost (thereby forgoing the timeout) even though it appeared to be an easy correction.

A bounce finally went the Bruins' way as Matt Beleskey's centering pass went off a Montreal skate past Price at 14:26 of the second to make it 3-1. The first goal of his Boston career was assisted by David Krejci and Pastrnak. Mild-mannered Ryan Spooner received a boarding and game misconduct penalty for a hit from behind at 3:30 of the third. Boston was able to kill a two-man advantage for Montreal that lasted 1:05. Dale Weiss hit the post but more importantly to Boston's season, Marchand jumped into his elbow (this is how it happened) and ended up very woozy (he went right to the dressing room and never returned). Tomas Plekanec scored an empty-net goal for his 500th career NHL point and Bergeron scored a power play goal in garbage time after Torrey Mitchell got a match penalty.

Julien made two lineup changes coming into this contest with Max Talbot and Colin Miller (playing in his first NHL game) taking the place of Joonas Kemppainen and Zach Trotman. Talbot's only stat was one hit in 12:18 of ice time so it's hard to quantify any contributions he might have made. Miller had a shot on goal and blocked a shot in 16:13. Claude was happy with his performance so I see no reason why he would be switched out on Monday, why not take Matt Irwin (-2) out and replace him with Trotman? I know that messes up the whole left shot/right shot thing but at this point, do the B's really have to worry about secondary stuff like that? How about the best players play while the scrubs take a seat or better yet, go to Providence or get waived.

Call me crazy but at some point, things will click for the Bruins this season and they will look like the playoff contender that most thought they could be, right? We knew it would be bumpy with Zdeno Chara (still no need to rush him back) and Dennis Seidenberg but these first two games have been downright ugly. Julien is probably coaching for his job and you'd like to see him get a fair shake with a legitimate defensive corps, not this slop. Nobody looks good when your team has this many holes already, Tuukka Rask (34 saves) says hello. One of their major downfalls last season, Boston lacked a real identity and they sure don't have a positive one so far this young season.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Safe to Say That Wasn't Quite the Start That the Bruins Wanted to 2015-16

With their top two defensemen (Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg) sidelined for the start of the season, the Bruins' most glaring weakness became even more bleak. Their 6-2 loss to Winnipeg tonight at TD Garden will only increase the panic for Boston fans with high-octane Montreal (on Saturday night) and Tampa Bay (on Monday afternoon) coming to town this Columbus Day long weekend. Would you believe that the B's actually led 1-0 after a pretty decent first period?

Yeah, it was all downhill from there as the Jets outscored them 3-0 and scored three more in the third after Boston briefly cut it to 3-2. Tuukka Rask (26 saves) wasn't at fault so much as his awful defense which time and again let him down. Conversely, Boston generated plenty of scoring chances but couldn't finish (a huge problem last season) and therefore made Ondrej Pavelec (29 saves) look like a quality NHL goaltender which is not the easiest thing in the world to do.

Things began on a good note for the home team as David Krejci scored just 5:36 into the first. David Pastrnak stole the puck behind Winnipeg's net then passed to Krejci (with the help of a Jets' skate) and he calmly finished on his backhand. The goal was determined to be unassisted but I thought Pastrnak should have gotten credit for his hard work, oh well. The Jets tied it at 5:26 of the second period on a one-timer by Mark Scheifele from Dustin Byfuglien. Matt Irwin did not have a good debut for the Bruins as he was stripped of the puck leading directly to Winnipeg's second goal by Blake Wheeler (his one-timer was assisted by Andrew Ladd) at 9:17. The Jets punctuated a strong frame with tic-tac-toe passing that ended with a goal by former Sabre Drew Stafford, assisted by Adam Lowry and Ben Chiarot at 17:39.

To Boston's credit they came out with some energy to start the third and were quickly rewarded as David Pastrnak scored on a sweet wrist shot that beat Pavelec up high from a tight angle. Matt Beleskey (his 1st point as a Bruin) and Kevan Miller had the helpers on what was the first of hopefully many goals by the young Czech winger. As fast as you could say we miss Johnny Boychuk, the Jets put it away with a pair of goals. Irwin got caught up ice leading to a 2-on-1 break for Winnipeg and Chris Thorburn's shot went in Boston's net off of Krejci's stick (similar to an own goal in soccer) at 5:17. If that wasn't ugly enough, rookie Nicolas Petan scored in his first career game when fellow rookie Andrew Copp's pass bounced in off the heel of his skate at 9:51. Burmistrov's empty-netter with 3:38 left in regulation sent the disappointed Bruins fans streaming for the exits.

Montreal kicked off its campaign with a 3-1 win at Toronto last night. They will be well rested and ready to go on Saturday against their bitter rivals that they have owned for the last couple years. If we're being positive, things can't get much worse for the Bruins than they were this evening. Then again, the Canadiens are expected to be one of if not the top team in the Eastern Conference yet again so it could very well be another blowout on Causeway Street on Saturday (7, NESN). Just in case, you better start drinking early this weekend to ease the possible pain.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Until Further Notice, The AFC East Continues to Run Through Foxborough, MA

If the Bills are the biggest threat in the AFC East to the Patriots in 2015, it should be another cakewalk to a meaningless division title. Poor Buffalo (1-1 overall, 1-1 home) was all geared up for the annual Rex Ryan (who is now 4-10 against the Patriots in his career as a head coach) Week 2 Super Bowl vs. New England (2-0 overall, 1-0 away). In fact, the Bills looked the part of a true contender for the opening drive of the game and then in the fourth quarter which was mostly garbage time until they made it interesting in an eventual 40-32 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

Tom Brady (38 of 59, 466 yards, 3 TDs), Julian Edelman (11 catches, 97 yards, 2 TDs), Rob Gronkowski (7 catches, 113 yards, 1 TD) and Dion Lewis (98 yards receiving, 40 yards rushing, 1 TD) shredded what is supposedly one of the top defenses in the NFL. Other than Rex Ryan's crazy lack of discipline (14 penalties, 140 yards) and attention to detail, the biggest tangible question surrounding the Bills is whether Tyrod Taylor (23 of 30, 242 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs; 43 yards rushing) can be a starting quarterback on a playoff contender. Throwing mostly short yardage passes might work in the regular season against garbage defenses (hi Indy) but that's not how you get to the postseason.

Buffalo received the opening drive and went 80 yards in 10 plays: rookie Karlos Williams capped off the 5-minute drive with a 2-yard touchdown run. New England bounced back with an 8-yard touchdown catch by Edelman. The Pats then took advantage of two very short fields to go ahead 21-7 on Lewis' 6-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter and Gronk's 2-yard touchdown catch early in the second quarter. Former Dolphin Charles Clay's 9-yard touchdown catch cut it to 21-13 but Dan Carpenter missed the extra point. Those were Buffalo's last points until the fourth quarter when the Patriots had expanded their lead to 37-13.

New England's defense combined for eight sacks (their most since 2003) and three interceptions (by Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler). The Bills have much higher paid defensive players like Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams but there was no question that Chandler Jones (6 tackles, 3 sacks) and Jamie Collins (11 tackles, 2.5 sacks) were the most dangerous guys on that side of the ball at least on Sunday. Stephen Gostkowski's 46-yard field goal made it 24-13 heading into halftime for the visitors. LeSean McCoy (89 yards rushing, 27 yards receiving) doesn't seem to be Rex's favored type of physical running back despite his superior talent.

Gostkowski opened the scoring in the third quarter with a 21-yard field goal followed by a 22-yard touchdown catch by Edelman and a 50-yard field goal. After getting blanked in the third, the Bills showed some fight in the fourth on Robert Woods' 32-yard touchdown catch (that went right over Butler's hands). New England outsmarted themselves trying to run up the score when they just could have burned the clock and gotten out of Buffalo smoothly. Instead, they turned it over on downs and the Bills inched closer on Taylor's 7-yard touchdown run then truly made things interesting on a 24-yard touchdown catch by Sammy Watkins (who had burned Bradley Fletcher) following a fumble by Brady.

New England drove 72 yards in seven plays (3:01) and made it 40-32 on Gostkowski's 25-yard field goal with 1:15 remaining. Ryan iced it with his game-ending interception on an overthrow by Taylor. In the first two games this season, Lewis has been a revelation that looks like he'll be a very useful weapon if he can just hang onto the ball (he fumbled for the second week in a row). Today, the pleasant surprise was provided by Aaron Dobson (7 catches, 87 yards) who actually looked like an NFL player. New England only dressed three wide receivers and while Edelman can come close (tying his career-high with 19 targets), they need other guys to turn to once in a while. Danny Amendola had his customary one catch but at least it was a great one: a sweet diving 29-yard grab on the final drive.

So much changes from week to week in the NFL that is really silly to draw any type of conclusions from results between other teams, particularly this early in the season. With that said, the fact that Miami struggled so much in their Week 1 victory at Washington then followed that up with a 23-20 loss at Jacksonville (1-1) this afternoon shows that they seem to be their usual mediocre selves. How is Joe Philbin still employed there? If the Jets (1-0) lose tomorrow night in Indy (0-1) as expected, the Patriots will be up one game already on the rest of the soft AFC East.

New England's Week 3 meeting with the Jaguars next Sunday (1, CBS) has all the makings of a trap game: they are going into a bye week after that and they know that they can sleepwalk and still beat lowly (but improving!) Jacksonville. That's why I can picture the Pats looking terrible but still beating the Jags by a few scores. They always have a game like this, especially early in the regular season when they are getting the kinks out and some useless team (think Oakland last season) comes to Gillette for their beating. Prepare to be frustrated since I know that the Patriots will be double-digit favorites at home.

Friday, September 11, 2015

It's a New Season (2015) but The Patriots Still Own the Steelers

Our long national nightmare is over: that debacle which shall not be named has passed and the 2015 NFL regular season finally began tonight at Gillette Stadium as the defending Super Bowl champion Patriots beat the Steelers 28-21. Typical of an opener, there were plenty of highlights for both teams but also a boatload of mistakes and things to correct in the weeks to come. New England (1-0) used a near flawless performance by Tom Brady (25 of 32 for 288 yards, 4 TDs, 0 INTs) to propel them past Ben Roethlisberger (26 of 38 for 351 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) and Pittsburgh (0-1).

Brady passed Brett Favre for the most wins as the QB of one team (161). Rob Gronkowski tied his career-high with three touchdown catches as he picked up where he left off: he's scored in seven straight games (including playoffs) dating back to last season. For whatever reason, New England typically shreds Pittsburgh's defense and this was no different despite the fact that Dick LeBeau left and former assistant Keith Butler took over as the defensive coordinator. Cheech (LeVeon Bell) & Chong (LeGarrette Blount) each missed the game for their weed infraction last season while Martavis Bryant sat for the first of his four-game suspension for a similar sticky icky icky offense. DeAngelo Williams surprisingly was very effective, gaining 127 yards on 21 carries for Pittsburgh. Each club was also shorthanded on the offensive line since centers Maurkice Pouncey and Bryan Stork were out with injuries.

One of the newest Patriots Dion Lewis (15 carries, 69 yards; 4 catches, 51 yards) took advantage of his temporarily expanded role with Blount out. James White never saw the field and Brandon Bolden (5 carries, 1 yard; 1 catch, 12 yards) might as well have stayed home too because this game belonged to Lewis when it came to the patchwork running backs for the Pats. He is listed at 5-foot-8 but he's probably closer to 5-foot-6, regardless he looks shifty and hard to take down despite his small size. He won't get nearly the same touches with Blount back next week at Buffalo but he could become Shane Vereen's replacement at least when it comes to the short passing game that Brady loves to utilize. Lewis even fumbled in the fourth quarter near the goal-line after making a 19-yard catch but head coach Bill Belichick didn't put him in the doghouse like you'd expect (his hand might have been forced by the lack of depth).

The biggest weakness of New England this season figures to be their secondary. Malcolm Butler theoretically looks ready to be a No. 1 corner but it is scary with no real dependable guy beside him (veteran castoffs Tarell Brown and Bradley Fletcher could have sizable roles). Antonio Brown is perhaps the toughest wide receiver to cover in the NFL so Butler had a real test right out of the gate. Brown had nine catches for 133 yards and a touchdown but those numbers are slightly misleading since he caught an 11-yard touchdown with two seconds left in the contest. You know that the Patriots offense will put points on the board so all they need from the defense is the occasional stop and timely turnovers. Tonight they had three sacks and an interception by Duron Harmon after Roethlisberger threw into double coverage in the fourth quarter when the Steelers trailed by 14 points.

After a scoreless first quarter, New England went up 14-0 in the second quarter on a pair of touchdown catches by Gronk (16 yards and 6 yards respectively). Josh Scobee had a rough first half in his Pittsburgh debut: he missed two field goals before hitting a 44-yard kick with three seconds left in the second quarter. Scott Chandler's first catch as a Patriot was a 1-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter making it 21-3. Pittsburgh cut it to a two-score game with a 1-yard run by something named Will Johnson while Markus Wheaton caught the two-point conversion. The Steelers got stuffed in the red zone early in the fourth quarter and settled for a 24-yard field goal which cut it to 21-14. Gronk's hat trick was completed with a one-yard touchdown catch on the ensuing drive.

The Patriots get a few extra days to rest and prepare for the Bills next Sunday (1, CBS) in Orchard Park, NY. Buffalo hosts Indianapolis this Sunday in what should be an interesting matchup. Say what you will about Rex Ryan but he always seemed to get the most out of the Jets and they usually gave the Patriots tough games. On the other side, the Steelers will host the 49ers next Sunday in their home opener. Unless their defense improves drastically (which I can't see happening), I don't think that the Pats will see Pittsburgh again this season. Actually, I hope that they meet in the playoffs since I think I know how that will turn out (in New England's favor of course).

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Maybe There Is a Method to Don Sweeney's Madness After All

This is such a wasteland on the American sports calendar every year and it certainly doesn't help when the Red Sox are so unwatchable and irrelevant by the middle of May. I'm trying to (partially) rationalize why we tend to overreact to any significant trades involving our local teams that come at this extremely dull point of the summer. Case in point, the Bruins last week looked like a drunken mess as they traded Carl Soderberg to Colorado for a sixth-round pick, Dougie Hamilton to Calgary for three picks and Milan Lucic to Los Angeles for Martin Jones, a minor league defenseman and a pick. We wondered, "what the hell is Don Sweeney doing?" He doubled up on the crazy by rewarding mediocre defenseman Adam McQuaid with a four-year contract.

For a change from last week's constant drama and unending questions, today brought some sense of clarity for the Black and Gold. First, they signed coveted free agent left wing Matt Beleskey to a five-year deal worth $19 million. He's the exact same age-down to the day-as Lucic (27) but unlike the former Bruin, his career trajectory seems to be trending upwards. Last season, he put up a career-best 22 goals in the regular season (65 games) followed by eight goals in the postseason for Anaheim. Granted playing with Cory Perry and Ryan Getzlaf would turn almost anyone into a 20-goal scorer but Beleskey similarly should bring size (206 pounds), toughness and the left-handed shot that they were looking for. Put him with David Krejci and David Pastrnak or Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand then we might have something.

Sweeney won more support by trading away oft-criticized forward Reilly Smith and Marc Savard's $4 million cap hit to Florida for former BC star and Dorchester native Jimmy Hayes. Smith scored 20 goals two seasons ago but that went down to only 13 this past campaign. That coupled with the fact that he does literally nothing else made him easily expendable. I would normally bitch about the Bruins giving him that silly extension last year but I'm tired so oh well. Hayes' numbers were pretty similar to Smith's last season (19 goals, 16 assists) and his huge frame (6-foot-6, 221 pounds) should help the Bruins crash the net better (something that nobody consistently does for them).

Now it's time to sign some NHL-caliber top-six defensemen since at the moment, Boston has like four that they can reasonably count on: Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug and McQuaid (kind of). Matt Bartkowski signed a one-year deal with Vancouver and Gregory Campbell agreed to a two-year deal with Columbus; needless to say after their rough performances last season, most Bruins fans aren't sad to see those two leave town.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Sadly, The Celtics Still Remain Stuck In NBA Purgatory

The unfortunate reality of today's NBA is that your favorite team is going nowhere unless they have multiple All-Stars and/or reside in a sunny location like LA or Miami. Even worse, places which should be attractive to free agents like Boston or New York are not at all, meaning that one of the league's marquee franchises-the Celtics-will be nothing more than a slightly above average team until they can hoodwink a former player to trade another franchise guy (thanks again Kevin McHale for Kevin Garnett).

Armed with four draft picks last week (2 in each round), we hoped that Boston would move up to get an impact player. Instead, GM Danny Ainge stuck with all four to get a mostly uninspiring group: Louisville guard Terry Rozier, Georgia State guard R.J. Hunter, LSU power forward Jordan Mickey and William and Mary (yes they play basketball there) Marcus Thornton (the other one). Free agency began last night at midnight and as expected, the Green and White have been pretty quiet thus far. There has been whispers about free agent power forward Greg Monroe (who would be perfect for the C's) but that died down rather fast as he got wooed by more likely suitors.

All Boston has done so far is sign former Raptors power forward Amir Johnson (2 years, $24 million) and re-sign power forward Jonas Jerebko (2 years, $10 million) and swingman Jae Crowder (5 years, $35 million). Don't get me wrong, these are all decent players that will help but truthfully, they don't bring the Celtics any closer to that elusive Banner 19. They are all role players and that'll probably never change.

Johnson is quite a success story since he skipped college and was drafted late in the second round (56th overall by the Pistons) in 2005. He's 28 and he's coming off of a six-year run North of the border. Last season, he averaged 9.3 points per game, 6.1 rebounds and he shot 57% from the floor and 41% on 3-pointers. He's 6-foot-9 and 240 pounds but not the most physical guy so you won't see him battling too much down low (a big issue for the undersized Celtics last season). He is a good shooter with decent range for a big guy.

Jerebko was a complete unknown when he was traded here last season for Detroit. At 28, he is a perfect bench player as he showed in 29 games with the Celts (7.1 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game, 41% on 3-pointers). Likewise, Crowder seemed like a throw-in from the Mavericks to complete the Rajon Rondo deal (remember him?) but he can really play. A versatile and tough defender, he brought an edge to the C's as they made that surprising run to the playoffs before they were swept by the Cavaliers in the first round. After not getting much of a chance to show what he can do in Dallas, Crowder made the most of his opportunity last season: averaging a career-best 9.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and one steal per game for Boston in 57 games. He turns 25 on Monday so a longer contract makes sense since he is currently one of the Celtics' best players (really).

Where else does Boston go from here? Your guess is as good as mine; just don't count on them bringing in any big names. With head coach Brad Stevens and a bunch of coachable, hard-working, team-first players, the C's are destined for another playoff spot and a quick exit once again when they go up against one of the East's best teams like Cleveland, Chicago or Atlanta. Are you having fun yet?