In the NHL, the optional practice is mostly for youngsters and players rehabbing from injuries. But yesterday morning, when on-ice attendance was optional, one Bruins player stood out among the six who went for a spin on the TD Banknorth Garden sheet: Michael Ryder.
The $12 million right winger, who officially became a Bruin July 1, was brought to Boston to score goals. But through seven games, he had only one.
So while most of his teammates stretched and took brief twirls on the stationary bikes, Ryder was on the ice with Vladimir Sobotka, Petteri Nokelainen, Matt Hunwick, Chuck Kobasew, and Manny Fernandez, looking for the juice that's been missing from his stick.
"Just trying to get my timing back," said Ryder. "I think it's a little off right now. Just trying to get everything back on track."
In 2005-06, when Ryder put 30 pucks in the net with Montreal, he winged 243 shots on goal, averaging three per game. This season, Ryder is on a similar pace, averaging 2.9 shots per match through the first eight outings. Trouble is, those shots haven't been getting through. He had two shots and an assist in last night's 5-4 victory over the Atlanta Thrashers.
"We've seen him work hard," said coach Claude Julien. "We've seen him create some good chances. We've seen him have those good chances. He hasn't buried them yet, but I think we all know when you're talking about this game, we hope he's going to find his touch soon."
The Bruins believe that in 2007-08, when Ryder stumbled through a 14-goal season with the Canadiens, it was the result of a lack of ice time and confidence. He averaged only 1.9 shots per game.
"I'm definitely getting a lot of good chances in the slot area and around the net," said Ryder, who had 16:26 of ice time last night. "There are just certain times when I know I can get a better shot off than I did."
While Ryder attempts to regain his touch, the Bruins are hoping he finds a way to finish soon. Phil Kessel has been the go-to sharpshooter, but the Bruins need Ryder's shots to hit the back of the net instead of goaltenders' equipment.
"Right now it's a little bit like Bergy [Patrice Bergeron]," said Julien. "Last game, he gets that goal, and you hope that will get him going, and hopefully Michael will follow that.
"Once he gets going, he can score in bunches. At the same time, I can tell you that when he starts to score, he's pretty consistent as well. We see the positive signs. Now it's just a matter of getting that break and getting that confidence of being able to score on a regular basis."
Circles are a bit off
It wasn't until yesterday morning - and thanks only to the sharp eye of Mick Colageo of the New Bedford Standard-Times - that the Bruins found the faceoff circles in the west end of the Garden were painted incorrectly when the sheet was installed Sept. 9. The circles were painted 24 feet away from the goal line, not the regulation 20.
Because of the error, last night's game featured two deviations from procedure. First, the Bruins defended the west end to start the third period instead of going back to the east end. Second, the teams switched ends upon the first stoppage after the 10-minute mark of the third period.
TD Banknorth Garden president John Wentzell said in a statement, "Of the many logistical tasks the Garden operations team is called upon to perform each season, painting and marking the ice sheet is one of the more routine and straightforward. Therefore, this oversight is simply an inexcusable and disappointing error for which we apologize to the Boston Bruins and the NHL at-large."
According to the Bruins, the circles will be repainted prior to the next home game (Saturday against Dallas).
"It had absolutely no impact on any of our games," said Julien. "I don't think that played a role. Today they tried to make it fair. There's human error in everything we do. I didn't make a big deal about it even when I found out."
A cut above
On Friday, Milan Lucic, author of his first career hat trick last night, met with the two fans who were injured when his check on Toronto defenseman Mike Van Ryn shattered a pane of glass Thursday night. Lucic gave the fans - a brother and sister visiting town - several jerseys, hats, and T-shirts. The fans suffered facial cuts . . . Yesterday was Kobasew's second day on the ice since the season opener. "Just doing the basics and trying to get better," said Kobasew, who has a fractured ankle. "Every day, we're looking to see improvement now." Kobasew was expected to miss three weeks. "Right now he's on pace to hopefully be back sooner rather than later," said Julien. "It's encouraging. Still, he's going out there for a few minutes each day, and this is his second day now. It's getting a little better but we'll give him some time." . . . Yesterday was the first time all 30 NHL teams were in action since the 2005-06 season opener.