Chances are this will help
Drills seek to improve touch
WILMINGTON - For the first segment of yesterday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena, Bruins goaltenders Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask remained in the dressing room. Their services were not required.
Instead, the four nets positioned around the rink - two at each end, the others at the boards on either end of the red line - were guarded by foam blocks rather than netminders.
“Maybe getting some confidence,’’ cracked Gregory Campbell about shooting over lifeless objects instead of butterfly goalies.
At one station, the Bruins practiced two-on-zero rushes. They approached the net with quick passes, then buried their shots from close range. At two other nets, one player stood in front of the net while another shot pucks at the blocks. The net-front player turned, controlled the pucks, and lifted the rebounds into the nets. At the last net, one forward drove to the net while another fed him the puck, then he lifted a backhander over the blocks.
The message: Bear down on your chances.
“We’re trying to improve our scoring and get a little better in those areas,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “What we practiced today is something that’s important for us. Not a bad thing. We’ve done it in the past. Not the first time. It’s helped us along the way.’’
The Bruins scored twice in Saturday night’s 4-2 loss to San Jose. After the game, Julien pointed to at least four instances in which the Bruins, with just a touch of finish, could have beaten Antti Niemi. But for whatever reason - lack of confidence, not enough practice, too much pressure - what should have been goals turned into whiffs.
Yesterday was one step toward curing that ill.
“It’s more about repetition,’’ forward Daniel Paille said. “I think it’s harder with the [blocks], because you’ve got to get it up quicker. I think it’s good practice for us to get it going.’’
Over the last few games, especially in last Thursday’s 6-2 beating of Toronto, the Bruins were pleased with their breakouts, speed in the neutral zone, and clean entries over the offensive blue line. Defensemen tracked down pucks efficiently. Forwards came back hard to serve as outlets. The D-men hit the forwards with tape-to-tape passes. Because of how hard the forwards backtracked, they had plenty of ice in which to generate speed the other way.
Where the Bruins haven’t been as successful is with their in-zone offensive cycling. Goalies such as Niemi have had to make the first save, but haven’t been forced to make second or third stops. Too often, the Bruins’ scoring chances have been of the one-and-done variety instead of the repeated flurries that tax goalies and defensemen.
If the Bruins want to improve their chances and jack up their scoring pace (2.25 goals per game), they’ll have to turn the space near opposing goalies into Occupy Net-Front Area.
“We’ve got to score some goals, right?’’ Campbell asked. “Although we’re known as a pretty solid defensive team, our defensive game isn’t where it should be quite yet. We’re going to have to score some goals, too.
“Working on those little things on a clean sheet of ice - I know there’s always an opportunity after practice when the ice is poor - and having the opportunity to make plays, feel the puck, put it in the net, and really bear down, I think, is a model for us right now. Bear down with the chances we’re getting.’’
Caron back up
Jordan Caron, assigned to Providence Sunday, was brought back up yesterday before practice. Caron skated on the third line with David Krejci, Rich Peverley, and Benoit Pouliot.
Caron will remain with the big boys to serve as the 13th forward. But with Providence playing Albany on Sunday, the assignment gave Caron a chance to see game action. He had been a healthy scratch for the two previous games.
“It was great,’’ Caron said of playing Sunday. “I felt confident out there. I felt fresh. I wasn’t used to getting that much ice time. But I think it went pretty good. My legs were good.’’
Caron was the left wing on a scoring line with Zach Hamill and Carter Camper. Caron assisted on one of Hamill’s two goals in Providence’s 3-2 overtime loss. He skated on the power play and penalty kill.
“He got better as the game went on,’’ Julien said. “First period, he was trying to get his legs underneath him. Second and third, he just got better and better.’’
Strength on faceoffs
San Jose coach Todd McLellan noted after Saturday night’s game that the Bruins often set up their forecheck - he called it the hardest one his team has faced - off their draws. Initiating the forecheck is just one benefit of having the best faceoff percentage in the league (54.9). “The fact that you start with the puck makes a big difference vs. chasing it,’’ Julien said. “We want our centermen to keep getting better. It’s not just centermen. There are nights where I think our centermen are decent, but they end up on the losing side because the guys around them didn’t battle and didn’t win the battles to get the puck to be in our possession.’’ . . . Adam McQuaid remains day-to-day. He didn’t have any limitations in practice yesterday. McQuaid could return Thursday against Montreal . . . Because the Bruins don’t play until Thursday, they had a long practice yesterday that ended with a hard skate. They will not practice today.