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Break points

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff January 22, 2009 09:49 AM

It was one year ago today that the 2007-08 edition of the Boston Bruins suffered perhaps their most humiliating loss of the season, an 8-2 manhandling via the Montreal Canadiens, who, at that point, had stretched their consecutive winning streak over Boston to nine games.

To recap, Michael Ryder scored in that game – for Montreal – and Alex Auld, a mostly forgotten name these days despite some decent play for Boston down the stretch last season, stopped just three of seven shots in net before being replaced by Tim Thomas. That is, as they say, not good.

These days, Auld is just 9-11-5 for the Northeast Division-worst Ottawa Senators, and the Bruins hail their best one-two goaltender punch since the days of Moog-Lemelin. Ryder (who entered last night 1 for 11 in shootout tries) is scoring game-winners thanks to hunches by Claude Julien. And the Bruins, 24-19-5 on Jan. 22 one year ago, head into this year’s NHL All-Star break with 73 points, tied with the Sharks for most in the NHL.

The midseason (or some semblance thereof) reviews are in, and according to Scott Burnside of ESPN.com, no team deserves a better grade than the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins.

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Burnside hands out A’s to the Washington Capitals and Montreal Canadiens, but Boston is the only Eastern Conference team to receive an A-plus from the hockey writer. San Jose and Detroit receive them in the West as well.

CNNSI.com’s Allan Muir gives serious midseason consideration to Marc Savard for the Hart Trophy, Thomas for the Vezina, and Julien the Jack Adams, but awards them to Alexander Ovechkin, Steve Mason, and Bruce Boudreau, respectively. He does hand out top honors to Dennis Wideman for the Norris Trophy.

Naming Wideman as the league's top defender when he wasn't even considered the best blueliner on his team by the All-Star selection committee might make this seem this an out-of-left-field choice. But we can all agree that a particular league process is open to some second guessing, can't we? I mean, Mike Modano over Loui Eriksson? When will Ashton Kutcher pop out?

Look, Zdeno Chara has the reputation as the tower of power in Boston's zone, but the truth of it is that Wideman has been the best all-around defender on the league's best defensive team from Day One. Acquired from St. Louis in exchange for Brad Boyes in one of those rare deals that benefited both sides, Wideman has matured from a mistake-prone puck fumbler into an exceptional two-way player in just two years. The numbers back it up. Logging nearly 26 minutes a night, Wideman has 27 points and is a plus-24. The only thing hampering his candidacy is a lack of recognition. That starts to change right here.

Despite the injury bug (Milan Lucic, Phil Kessel, Marco Sturm, Patrice Bergeron, etc, etc.) that has plagued them, the Bruins keep on kicking, with a 10-point lead on Washington in the East, and are 6-3-1 in the month of January.

Ross McKeon, of Yahoo! sports, writes: “Nothing against the marvelous story unfolding in Boston, the glorious young talent in Washington, Chicago and Pittsburgh and the gritty efforts put forth in Calgary, Anaheim and Philadelphia, but the Stanley Cup will land in either San Jose or Detroit at postseason’s end. It’s really that simple.”

On Feb. 10, old friend Joe Thornton and the Sharks show up at the Garden for what’s going to be the most highly anticipated game of the regular season. And while it might not go a long way toward supporting McKeon’s claim, it certainly could at the least give us a glimpse of what to expect around these parts come…June. June?

Nope. Not going there. Not yet anyways. After 10 years, you sort of learn to whisper about those things when the time is right.

Well, feel free to whisper. Just, really, keep it down, will ya?

2 comments so far...
  1. The younger Bruins did gain some valuable experience last season despite losing to the Toilet Bowl Lids. Players like Kessel, Lucic, and Krejci I think will flourish in the postseason. As long as the defense keeps to its stingy and tight ways, to go with marvelous goaltending, the Bruins will come out winning more of the 3-2 or 2-1 scores most common in the playoffs. A commonly overlooked trait of this team right now is it's calmness- even when down (i.e. when Toronto led 3-1 last night) - which is how good teams continue winning and persevering in tough circumstances. The mix of veteran leaders like Chara, Savard, and Axelsson combined with "The Kids" should equal more good Bruins hockey to come.

    Posted by Pete Albert January 22, 09 07:01 PM
  1. Eric,

    No curse exists on the Bruins so we don't need to whisper, THEY ARE GOOD!

    Add to that well coached with a great mix of young and veteran talent, remind allot of the "04 Red Sox dare I say....everyone stepping up when needed. It is amazing given the injuries to key components that they keep on rolling and keep pace with those San Jose Sharks (let's not crown Jumbo Joe with a cup just yet).

    Goaltending, defense and the ability to move the puck make this year different than rrecent or not so recent teams.....when was the last season you felt confident that the Bruins could maintain possesion during a power play, yet alone score with any efficiency? Gifted young talent gets us there.

    Hats off to Peter Chiarelli ad the coaching staff of the Providence Bruins over that past few years....keep rolling out the kids.

    Posted by C. Vincent Vitto January 23, 09 09:50 PM
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