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Hockey Notes

Bruins’ timing could be off with regard to scoring

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / December 27, 2009

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Over the course of his Hall of Fame coaching career, Scotty Bowman found one tool most valuable. Ice time was his silent cudgel and his ultimate carrot.

Known for saying little and explaining less (that touchy-feely stuff is why they hire assistant coaches and team shrinks), Bowman always went with his best performers, which didn’t always mean going with his top players. If the best performers on a given night also were the ones with the most impressive résumés and greatest pedigrees, well, hey, sometimes serendipity just happens, you know?

Bowman was at his best on game night, when the bench was his world, his stage, and all the players his players in it. Once the puck was down, if one or more weren’t up to their specified tasks, be they raw rookie or seasoned veteran, Bowman wasted no time in bumping them to the end of the bench (see: superstar Sergei Fedorov, a regular bumpee in Detroit), amending line combinations or defensive pairings on the fly.

Everyone quickly understood the Bowman Way: arrive prepared and take absolutely nothing for granted - especially the privilege of punching the time card.

The Bruins, frustrated in the offensive end throughout the first half of this season, are among the league’s bottom-feeders when it comes to keeping the players considered to be their most talented offensive performers on the ice.

Is there a connection? Possibly. Although, before we take a closer look at the numbers, let’s remember that coach Claude Julien apportioned ice time among his forwards virtually the same last season when the Bruins finished second only to Detroit in total goals. The allotting of time, and the pulling of a player’s emotional strings along with it, doesn’t always influence performance or guarantee pucks going in the net.

Of the 30 NHL teams, only Boston, Buffalo, Nashville, Phoenix, St. Louis, and Vancouver as of Wednesday did not have a single forward averaging 20 minutes of ice time. Of those half-dozen teams, only the Blues were without a playoff seed through games of Tuesday night.

Headed into Wednesday night’s game against Atlanta, Patrice Bergeron led Boston forwards with average ice time of 18:52. Of the other 29 clubs, only the Blues, with Andy McDonald’s 18:28, had a team-leading forward with a lower average than Bergeron.

Bergeron would not make it into the top three average ice times (forwards only) of 14 other squads. Boston’s second- and third-busiest forwards, Marc Savard (18:24) and David Krejci (17:35), also were among the least-played No. 2 and No. 3 forwards in the league.

No surprise, but big minutes typically translate to big points, as true today as it was in Bowman’s time. Note the top 17 point-getters as of Wednesday morning, with their average ice time. Only Henrik Sedin, Zach Parise, and Dustin Penner were averaging under 20 minutes. And the average time for the top 17 was 21:00.

Player, team G-A -P Time

1. Joe Thornton, San Jose 10-41 -51 20:27

2. Marian Gaborik, NYR* 25-22 -47 22:29

3. Henrik Sedin, Vancouver 16-31 -47 19:16

4. Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh 22-21 -43 22:07

5. Alex Ovechkin, Washington 23-18 -41 21:26

6. Dany Heatley, San Jose 22-19 -41 20:13

7. Ryan Getzlaf, Anaheim 10-31 -41 22:27

8. Corey Perry, Anaheim 16-24 -40 21:35

9. Zach Parise, New Jersey 15-25 -40 19:45

10. Nicklas Backstrom, Wash. 12-28 -40 20:52

11. Brad Richards, Dallas 10-30 -40 20:10

12. Tomas Plekanec, Montreal 7-33 -40 20:06

13. Martin St. Louis, Tampa 7-33 -40 21:54

14. Patrick Marleau, San Jose 23-16 -39 21:15

15. Dustin Penner, Edmonton 19-19 -38 19:53

16. Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles 16-22 -38 21:37

17. Paul Stastny, Colorado 9-29 -38 21:34

* - league leader among forwards

One way for Julien to try to shake his squad from its offensive lethargy could be to increase the ice time of his most skilled forwards. But again, there is no guarantee that will change anything.

What is proven, though, is how Julien has apportioned his ice time among his top three forwards again this year. Last season, he played Savard, Bergeron, and Krejci the most, and the three averaged 18:07. This year, the same three have led the way, with their average at 18:16 as of Wednesday.

If Julien added about three minutes to each of them, and played them the average 21 minutes of today’s top offensive performers, the results could be vastly different. Maybe not. If he added, say, an average 90 seconds to his three other busiest forwards - increasing Marco Sturm, Mark Recchi, and Michael Ryder from 16:10 to around 17:40 - the results could be vastly different. Again, maybe not.

No doubt those “borrowed’’ minutes would leave Boston forwards 7-12 with far more humble time sheets. Some would see their ice time cut in half. The guarantee is that there will be some unhappy campers on Lines 3 and 4, guys who will be clamoring, possibly grousing, for more time.

What we know for sure is that TOI among Boston’s forwards is all but guaranteed. The line combinations change, often because of injury, but the work is constant, measured, and assured. We also know that production is off, significantly.

The greatest challenge for the 2009-10 Bruins has been scoring. The greatest challenge of all for Julien could be from within, taking a less egalitarian approach with who works, when they work, and how much time they’re on the ice. Like Bowman, he has his ways, and those ways earned him Coach of the Year honors last season. But that was last season, and as Bowman proved with his legacy, the only shift that matters is this shift and the one that may not follow.

READY FOR HIS CLOSEUP

Sanderson’s struggles headed for silver screen

Shep Harmon, ex- of Newton and a pal of both Bobby Orr and Derek Sanderson, is some 18 months into a venture aimed at bringing the Turk’s life story to the silver screen.

“It will focus on the art of Derek’s life,’’ said Harmon, speaking by phone from his winter home in Florida, “and his phenomenal recovery from terrifically bad circumstances.’’

Those circumstances, explained the 62-year-old Harmon, included Sanderson’s well-chronicled addiction to alcohol and drugs, “as well as some real black adventures that bordered on the criminal.’’ (Editor’s note: What really went on in that Channel 38 broadcast booth?!)

Chris Pappas, originally from Westborough, is in the process of polishing his screenplay, and it will be produced, said Harmon, by Hollywood’s Aaron Lubin, a partner of Ed Burns. Ideally, a budget and shooting schedule will be finalized in January.

Matt Damon would be a logical Orr double, provided he could mastah the Parry Sound, Ontario, lilt. Maybe the Kelowna, British Columbia-born Taylor Kitsch (“Friday Night Lights’’) as Sanderson? Tough to find someone with all of the mojo of Sanderson, who, when asked during his early ’70s heyday what he had before a game, said, “A steak dinner and a blonde.’’

Sober now for 30 years, the 63-year-old Sanderson has spent the last 16 years as a financial adviser in downtown Boston with Howland Capital, his client list including a number of NHL players.

“Making sure they don’t squander their money aimlessly,’’ Sanderson said, “so when they’re finished, they have something to show for it.’’

The hardest part of staying sober, he said, was giving up the friends and places that made for a destructive social network.

“But fortunately, things change,’’ said Sanderson. “I got sober. I got married, two sons . . . hey, you grow up. It’s never easy staying sober, because you’re only one drink away.

“The hardest part is being able to accept ‘one day at a time’ [the Alcoholics Anonymous credo], you know, get in a program, get a sponsor, do what you’re told, basically. Let go and have faith in yourself and your friends, like Bobby and some other special people in my life. You don’t get better alone.’’

Etc.

Senators have a deal for bargain hunters
Surprising, if not shocking, to see the Senators slashing ticket prices as much as 30 percent for a good number of their Scotiabank Place games in the second half. One of their promos is borrowed straight from Chapter One of the Hartford Whalers (Forever .500s) marketing plan. To wit: the Metro 4 Pack offers four tickets, four hot dogs, and four soft drinks for a total of $99 (Canadian) for a handful of games, including the Jan. 5 tilt vs. the Bruins. According to a league source, the Senators rank second only to Phoenix for falloff in ticket sales and revenue this season. Four tix, four dogs, four drinks. What next? Risto Siltanen acquired on waivers?

Points in Thornton’s favor
It’s abundantly clear that Jumbo Joe Thornton, hatched in the Hub of Hockey incubator, is intent on making Canada’s Olympic roster. As of the Christmas break, Thornton had scored in 17 of the Sharks’ last 18 games, posting a sizzling 6-23 -29 line, a pace that would deliver 132 points on an 82-game template. He never has surpassed the 124 points he put up with Boston and San Jose in his MVP/trade season of 2005-06. No way Canada general manager Steve Yzerman can keep him off the Vancouver roster, which was the bet around Olympus prior to Thornton’s stick catching fire in November. Thornton, 30, still remains very reluctant to shoot (a Dany Heatley specialty) and again might not average two shots a game this year after landing but 139 in a full slate of 82 games last season. But no arguing with the results. He went into the break No. 1 in league scoring (51) and first in assists (41). By the way, Jumbo’s favorite vacation spot: Thailand. During a recent TV hit following a game, he said he and his wife dash there at every opportunity.

Loose pucks
Rumors around Atlanta, where Thrashers boss Don Waddell last week reported a snag in contract talks with Ilya Kovalchuk, have the star Russian winger looking to gross $100 million over 10 years, with a hefty portion of the payout front-loaded (like the Marc Savard deal and many others over the last two years). Remember, Alex Ovechkin wrenched $124 million over 13 years out of the Capitals, which makes $100 million/10 years both believable and likely - even if the “snag’’ delivers Kovalcash to unrestricted free agency July 1 . . . Phil Kessel’s secret sauce has chilled, dating back to his return-to-Boston game Dec. 5. In his last 11 games (going into last night against Montreal), he is a lackluster 3-3 -6 and a minus-4, a stretch like many he had in Black-and-Gold silks. “He’s not skating. He looks like he’s a little tired,’’ a miffed coach Ron Wilson noted to the Toronto media. Assessed Kess: “I haven’t been terrible, but I know I have a lot better in me.’’ . . . The Bruins are back to work today in Florida, tomorrow night in Tampa. Lightning star Vinny Lecavalier began showing signs of life before the holiday break, going 3-4 -7 over four games. They’ll need that and more from the big man if they hope to avoid a third straight postseason DNQ . . . From the Book of Ugly Stats: The Hurricanes are 1-13-4 on the road this season . . . Based on reports (always open to interpretation) out of the Kontinental Hockey League, ex-Capitals coach Glen Hanlon lost his job as the Dynamo Minsk coach in October and then lost his job as coach of the Belarus national team in November. Belarus will pull into Vancouver for the Olympics with Mikhail Zakharov directing the bench, aided by ex-Bruins bench boss Dave Lewis (keep an eye out for too-many-men-on-the-ice infractions). Lewis is still collecting on the four-year pact he inked upon taking control of the Spoked-B in the summer of 2006 . . . The rink having been closed for 72 hours, today is the final day of planned inactivity at Fenway prior to Winter Classic preparations kicking into high gear tomorrow, four days ahead of the NHL’s puck drop in the Back Bay bandbox. The long-range forecast is for a 40 percent chance of a snow shower, with a high of 37 degrees. All in all, not unheard of for an early April Red Sox opener. Wonder if the goalies will be ahead of the shooters?

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at dupont@globe.com; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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