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Friday, October 31, 2014

Losing to the Sabres is Simply Not an Option, Like Ever

Down 2-1 with less than five minutes left in regulation, the Bruins were on the verge of the unforgivable: losing to the Sabres (the worst team in the NHL). Thankfully, the universe was still in order as Boston (6-6) rallied to tie it on Brad Marchand's goal at 14:30 then he also won it at 1:20 of overtime at the First Niagara Center. Buffalo (2-8-1) remains winless at home this season while the Bruins picked up their third straight road victory.

This wasn't the 4-0 laugher on October 18 or what the other two meetings will probably turn out to be (Dec. 21 and March 17 both at TD Garden) but the B's will take two points however they can get them these days. With Torey Krug out (along with Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller) and Matt Bartkowski a healthy scratch, no less than three Providence Bruins defensemen had to be in the lineup: Zach Trotman, David Warsofsky and Joe Morrow (making his NHL debut).

The Sabres are definitely the team you want to see in dire situations like the one currently facing the Bruins with all their injuries and uninspired play. Niklas Svedberg improved to 2-2 this season and ironically, both wins have come vs. Buffalo. Tonight, he only had to make 13 saves which is a complete joke but then you remember that Buffalo had 10 shots in an a 4-0 loss in Toronto on Tuesday.

Buffalo actually led not once but twice (I just puked in my mouth) as Drew Stafford's power play goal at 5:12 of the second period made it 1-0. Adam McQuaid tied it up at 11:36, from Carl Soderberg and Marchand, for his first goal of the season. Quaider certainly isn't known for his goal-scoring ability so it makes sense that the goal came on an easy wrist shot that took a deflection off a Sabre to elude Jhonas Enroth (34 saves).

Tyler Ennis' wrist shot beat Svedberg at 16:25 of the second period. Boston finally woke up in the third period, outshooting Buffalo 16-4 (37-15 for the game) and they were rewarded for their strong play. Marchand's first goal (only his second of the season) was flukey as Eriksson threw it at the net and it went in off Marchand's glove (unintentionally of course). It was reviewed and remained a goal which was the right call.

Of their next five games, Ottawa (5-2-2) looks like the only good team that the fortunate Bruins will have to face. The Senators come to TD Garden on Saturday night (7, NESN) for their first meeting of the season with their Atlantic Division foe.

Red Sox Sign Closer Koji Uehara to a 2-Year Deal Worth $18 Million

If you are a Red Sox fan (and why else would you be reading this?), I'm betting that you love closer Koji Uehara. Still, I have to admit that I was surprised that Boston's first move of this extremely vital offseason was signing the 39-year-old with an injury history to a two-year deal worth $18 million. I'm not that worried that last season he completely went off a cliff since the same could be said for many of his teammates and the club in general.

Despite getting shelled time after time before mercifully being taken out of the closer's role, he managed to post a 2.52 ERA with 0.92 WHIP, he was 6-5 with 26 saves, one hold and five blown saves. In 64.1 innings, he allowed 18 earned runs, 51 hits including 10 homers with 80 strikeouts and eight walks.

He doesn't rely on power at all, just pinpoint control and pitching acumen so turning 40 next April should not be as scary as it would be for most other relievers. For me, the main point of this deal is Boston signaling that they really don't have a better option in terms of a young guy coming up that could close or they haven't identified a free agent that they'd want to fill that most important role.

Get plenty of rest this winter Koji because you are going to super busy next season (and hopefully in 2016 too).

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Tom Brady Named AFC Offensive Player of the Month for October

New England sports fans can disagree over everything under the sun but if you bash Tom Brady, then we overreact like we're all related to him. That's what made this past September so strange as the Patriots (6-2) struggled to a 2-2 start and Brady looked more mortal for long stretches than we've ever seen before. Look, we all know at some point (soon), he'll lose it and no longer be TB12. However, until that terrible time commences, leave our guy alone!

Still, as his AFC Offensive Player of the Month award for October shows (7th of his career, 1st since Dec./Jan. 2011), he has still got it and should the Pats go anywhere this season, he will be at the forefront of that. Since getting blown out 41-14 on September 29 at Kansas City, New England has rattled off four straight wins over Cincinnati, Buffalo, New York Jets and Chicago. Of those three, only the Jets game was close as the Patriots blew out the Bengals and Bears while eventually pulling away from the Bills.

In those four wins, New England has put up 43, 37, 27 and 51 points which is remarkable given how impotent they looked in September (20, 30, 16, 14). During that span where the Pats are rightfully back to contending for an AFC title and the customary AFC East title, Brady has gone 100-of-144 for 1268 yards, 14 TDs, 0 INTs and a quarterback rating of 129.1.

The biggest game of the NFL regular season is probably taking place this Sunday (4:25, CBS) at Gillette Stadium as the Broncos (6-1) stop by for the annual Brady/Manning Bowl. If Denver wins, odds are it will be because New England's defense can't get enough stops and not Brady and the offense's fault. We shall see.

Celtics Open 2014-15 Season With Low Expectations By Blowing Out the Nets

It is only one game so there is no need to call the Duck Boats quite yet but even the most cynical Celtics fan (points at self) has to admit that tonight's 121-105 demolition of the Nets at TD Garden was one hell of a way to start off the 2014-2015 regular season. For a team pegged to be a lottery team (again) with no hope of getting to .500, this result makes you wonder if we're simply underestimating the C's in year two under head coach Brad Stevens.

For the first time since 2002, Boston had eight guys score in double figures including all five starters (who each hit a 3-pointer as well). Rajon Rondo (13 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds) surprisingly started despite his recent broken hand. Naturally he flirted with a triple-double in 30 minutes of action. Kelly Olynyk led Boston with 19 points and six rebounds. Jeff Green had 17 points, six rebounds and two steals. Avery Bradley scored 15 points and Jared Sullinger rounded out (no pun intended, he's fat!) the starting five with 13 points and two blocks.

Paul Pierce is now with the Wizards and Kevin Garnett (10 points, 6 rebounds) entered his 20th (!) NBA campaign, this has to be his final go-around. The Nets got rid of bozo head coach Jason Kidd for the not wanted Lionel Hollins but it probably doesn't matter who is in charge because they have no clear direction. Some Yugoslavian rookie named Mirza Teletovic, a power forward, led the Nets with a game-high 20 points, six rebounds and two blocks off the bench in 23 minutes. He'll be starting in no time if he keeps up that type of production.

Brooklyn's old guy backcourt of Deron Williams (19 points, 8 assists) and Joe Johnson (19 points, 6 rebounds) would be quite a combination say five years ago but in 2014, you know that Williams will either get hurt, disinterested or both before Christmas. Former Worcester Academy (look it up) star Jarrett Jack added 11 points off the bench for the Nets, he always seems to play well vs. Boston.

Three of the newest Celtics, rookie Marcus Smart (4 steals), Marcus Thornton and Evan Turner (7 rebounds, 5 assists) all scored 10 points off the bench. The C's might not have the best starting five in the Atlantic Divison, let alone the Eastern Conference but it appears that they'll have way more depth than last season so that's worth something, right?

This was simply never remotely competitive as Boston led 32-23 after the first quarter and 67-41 at halftime. To put it into context, they only had one 20+ point lead previously in 2014 (last season). The Celtics outscored the Nets 34-31 in the third quarter before Brooklyn's scrubs made it a little more respectable in the fourth (33-20) but not really.

All these young guys on the Celts will have a few days to hear how great they look before things get real with a trip to Houston (2-0) on Saturday (8, CSN) followed by a meeting in Dallas (0-1) on Monday (8:30, CSN). Those are two definite playoff teams in the always loaded Western Conference and Boston typically plays poorly in Texas so it figures to be a different story from this evening's fun.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Bruins Blow 2-Goal Lead In 3rd, Fall 4-3 to Wild

Boston allowed the first goal on Tuesday night at TD Garden to Minnesota but after that the B's rattled off three in a row to take a commanding 3-1 leading after two periods. Unfortunately for them, hockey games still consist of three periods and their third was a disaster. The Wild (5-3-0) scored three straight goals to take a 4-3 road win.

This was an unforgivable loss for the Bruins for a couple reasons: 1) Minnesota had played last night in New York (5-4 loss to Rangers); 2) Boston last competed on Saturday (if you can call it that vs. the hapless Maple Leafs); 3) two-goal leads for them, even without Zdeno Chara, should mean lights out.

Nino Niederreiter (great name) made it 1-0 just 4:51 into the contest as he one-timed a pass from Bruins killer Thomas Vanek. In 56 career games vs. Boston, Vanek now has 30 goals and 33 assists. Has Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli ever thought about signing him?

The only real bright spot for the B's was the improving play of Seth Griffith (2 goals, 1 assist). He tied it at 18:23 with his second goal of the season, redirecting David Krejci's sharp pass right by the net. Zach Trotman had the other assist for his first NHL point.

Griffith bagged his first multi-goal game with another redirection at 5:23 of the second period. This one was even sweeter than the first as he connected with Gregory Campbell's pass and then dove in the air after it went in the net, similar to Bobby Orr in the most famous play in Bruins history.

Milan Lucic's power play goal, yet another redirect, at 16:59 gave Boston that 3-1 advantage. Torey Krug and Griffith had the assists on Lucic's second goal of the season.

Boston completely shut down in the third period, they couldn't win any puck battles and were chasing it all frame as they were outshot 18-7 and outscored 3-0.

In most circumstances, we love Captain America Zach Parise but not tonight as he cut it to 3-2 at 4:21 with a redirection from Mikael Granlund and Jared Spurgeon. Only 2:13 after that, Minnesota had tied it up as Justin Fontaine put in a rebound from Ryan Carter and that scumbag Matt Cooke (yes he's still in the NHL and not behind bars).

The B's didn't deserve any good bounces so it was poetic that the game-winner was a shot by Marco Scandella (who?) from the point that went off Krejci's skate and in the net at 14:07. Boston had plenty of pressure after that but they couldn't beat Niklas Backstrom (25 saves) who improved to 5-0-1 all-time against the Bruins.

For the second time in five days, the Bruins have the honor of a cupcake matchup with the reeling Sabres (2-8) in Buffalo on Thursday (7, NESN). The Sabres were blanked 4-0 by the Maple Leafs tonight and Boston won 4-0 at First Niagara Center last Saturday. As far as we know, Buffalo is still an NHL (why, I couldn't tell you) so this meeting comes at the right time for a B's club still searching for consistency as they close out the first month of the season.

UPDATE 10/29: As if they needed another injury on defense, Krug broke a finger last night so he's out two to four weeks. Joe Morrow and David Warsofsky were recalled from Providence with thoughts of sitting Matt Bartkowski who is off to a predictably terrible start.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Patriots Turn Back the Clocks With a Good Old Fashioned Ass Kicking of the Bears, 51-23

It's safe to say that nobody saw Sunday's result (a 51-23 beating handed out by the Patriots to the Bears) at Gillette Stadium coming. New England (6-2 overall, 4-0 home) was last seen in a very sketchy 27-25 win over the Jets on Thursday Night Football. Plus, Chandler Jones is out for maybe the entire season so that temporarily cast a dark cloud over the team. Chicago (3-5 overall, 3-2 away) had lost to Miami 27-14 last Sunday so they desperately needed a win to turn their season around.

You'll never find me falling into the same trap that too many people do by getting wrapped up in a single win or loss. Yes the Pats looked incredible and the Bears appear headed nowhere fast but that doesn't mean anything once they snap the ball next weekend against different teams. That's what makes the NFL so great: each week and game counts so if you lose focus for a second, you'll fall off the map.

Tom Brady (30 of 35 for 354 yards, 5 TDs) was flawless, finding Rob Gronkowski (9 catches, 149 yards) for three touchdowns. Brandon LaFell is really coming along as a weapon, he set a career-high for catches (11) and receiving yards (124), he also added a touchdown. Finally, Tim Wright (7 catches, 61 yards) caught the other touchdown and New England's defense produced a score as Rob Ninkovich scooped up a fumble by Jay Cutler (20 of 30 for 227 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT) and returned it 15 yards to the end zone.

This was like a high school game between a top team and a bad team since the Patriots were up 7-0 after the first quarter before they exploded for 31 points in the second quarter (including three TDs in 57 seconds). The Bears had no idea what hit them and that made the second half nothing more than a preseason game in October. Stephen Gostkowski hit three field goals in the contest and Jimmy Garoppolo even got to take a few snaps at the end.

Gronk's most impressive touchdown was a 46-yard catch and run that was vintage Gronk. He broke a few tackles then outran some Bears defensive players that wanted no part of him. With his wide variety of injuries suffered the last couple seasons, I'm hesitant to play doctor and say "he's fully recovered" but he sure looks like a different guy than the tentative one that we saw earlier in the season.

Darrelle Revis shadowed Brandon Marshall (3 catches, 35 yards) into obscurity and added an interception at the end of the first half when Cutler threw an ill-fated hail mary. Another interesting aspect of the victory for New England was the emergence of Jonas Gray (17 carries, 86 yards) who looks like he could be Stevan Ridley Jr. while he's out for the season. In other words, he's the running back that can get those tough yards between the tackles that nobody else can (with Ridley out).

It'll be funny, at least for a few days, to hear everyone locally (and nationally) jump back on the Patriots' bandwagon. Let's not forget that Chicago is much more of a mess than we expected and it turns out that New England is in much better shape than we could have imagined. There is no doubt that the next team coming to Gillette-Denver (6-1 overall, 1st in AFC West)-on Sunday (4:25, CBS) will present a formidable challenge. The Broncos are the best team in the AFC, again, so the Patriots need to proof that they can beat them. Odds are, this outcome could decide home field in January. Let the Pats-Broncos hype begin!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

You Can Always Trust The Maple Leafs to Make You Feel Better About Your Favorite Team

We wondered how the Bruins would respond in their first full game without captain Zdeno Chara and you have to say that Saturday's 4-1 win over the Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre was early proof that Boston (5-5-0) can still be a good team without him. Granted Toronto (3-4-1) is a perpetual mess always in search of a No. 1 goaltender but the B's will take two points however they get them these days.

It should have been a shutout for Boston since Tuukka Rask made 32 saves and the Leafs didn't score their lone goal until it was garbage time: Richard Pannik put the puck in the net after a scramble at 14:27 of the third period (when it was 4-0 Bruins).

This felt like a vintage B's win since they got contributions from guys all over the lineup: a power play goal, a shorthanded goal and three points from Dougie Hamilton (1 goal, 2 assists) which tied a career-high. Patrice Bergeron's two assists put him over 500 career points, now 13th on the Bruins' all-time scoring list.

Carl Soderberg bagged the power play goal just 3:27 into the contest, his third goal of the season. Hamilton's shot was mishit, right to Bergeron who also didn't square it up but fortunately it went right to Soderberg who used his fast Swedish hands to jam it past Jonathan Bernier.

David Krejci scored a highlight reel goal in the second period at 15:58 after he blew by a clearly gassed Phil Kessel and had his initial shot stopped by Bernier before he swatted in the rebound. Dennis Seidenberg (game-high 25:59, +2, 2 blocked shots and 3 hits) and Hamilton provided the assists on Krejci's third goal of the season.

Boston sewed it up with a pair of pretty goals early in the third period. Gregory Campbell scored a shorthanded goal (his 2nd goal of the season) at 2:32, a one-timer from Daniel Paille after a killer forecheck. Hamilton, one of numerous B's that were near their hometown, put the exclamation point on one of their better performances of the season with a filthy goal where he stickhandled through multiple guys then used his speed to find space before roofing a shot by James Reimer. Bergeron and Reilly Smith assisted on Hamilton's second goal of the season.

The Bruins return to TD Garden on Tuesday (7, NESN) to face the Wild (4-2-0) who hung seven goals on Tampa Bay this evening in a 7-2 blowout win. Things ease up as Boston goes back to Buffalo (2-7-0) on Thursday (7, NESN) but then they host sneaky good Ottawa (4-1-1) on Saturday (7, NESN). On the surface, you'd say that the B's should get at least four points out of the next week but keep in mind that the Wild and Senators are probably better than you think.