UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Greetings from Nassau Colisuem, where the Bruins soon will take the ice for their morning skate prior to facing the Islanders tonight (7:00) in Boston’s 31st game of the season.
The referees will be Francois St. Laurent and Dan O’Halloran. Derek Nansen and Pierre Champoux will work the lines and faceoffs.
Update: Approximately a half-hour prior to puck drop, the Islanders’ media relations staff handed out a correction, noting a change in on-ice officials: Dan O’Rourke and Kevin Pollock will be the referees; Nansen and Mike Cormier will be the linesmen.
Upon arrival here Friday night, many of the Bruins sat down for one-on-one taped interviews with NBC-TV, in preparation of the Jan. 1 Winter Classic (Bruins vs. Flyers) at Fenway Park.
The Bruins and Minnesota Wild, each 8-1-1 over the last couple of weeks, are the NHL’s hottest clubs over the last 10 games. No one has been colder than the Flyers: 2-8-0, who recently ditched coach John Stevens in favor of Peter Laviolette, the former Bruins assistant coach who took charge of his first NHL bench here on Long Island.
Former BU standout Freddy Meyer has been a regular again on the Islander backline, picking up six assists in 23 games this season. Meyer now has played 225 NHL games since leaving Comm Ave. in the spring of 2003.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli is not on the trip. He remains in southern Ontario, scouting junior prospects in advance of the June amateur draft.
Tim Thomas was the first netminder to exit Boston’s morning skate, indicating that he is the likely starter tonight. The Tank backed up Tuukka Rask during the back-to-back wins over Toronto at the Garden. Prior to those games, Thomas started three straight and went 2-1-0.
Byron Bitz skated on the No. 1 line with Blake Wheeler and Marc Savard during the morning skate ‘n’ sweat. Bitz, sidelined by a viral bug, missed Thursday’s game.
”It hit me during the [morning] skate,” said Bitz, shaking his head. ”And then it went all down hill from there. Not pretty.”
Expect to see these lines:
Wheeler-Savard-Bitz; Marco Sturm-Patrice Bergeron-Mark Recchi; Vladimir Sobotka-David Krejci-Michael Ryder; Danny Paille-Steve Begin-Shawn Thornton.
Matt Hunwick, the last to leave the ice this morning, is the expcted scratch on defense. Otherwise, the pairings should be:
Zdeno Chara-Derek Morris; Andrew Ference-Dennis Wideman; Mark Stuart-Johnny Boychuk.
Coach Claude Julien has been suitably impressed with Boychuk, who has played the last two games after a protracted stay in the press box.
”I guess it’s gone pretty good,” said a smiling Boychuk. ”You can always be better–I always try to push myself. When you go over the video you always see places to improve. You aren’t always going to be perfect every game, but you try….who wouldn’t?”
Boychuk picked up a goal and an assist in his two games.
Barely able to land shots with their power play, never mind score, over the first quarter of the season, the Bruins have improved considerably of late on the man-advantage. They went a sizzling 8-for-23 (34.8 percent) in the last five games, lifting them to 21st overall in the NHL. The have been among the bottom 3-5 teams on the PP all season.
Boston’s penalty-killing remains hot and this morning ranks first overall in the Original 30, killing 86.4 percent of all penalties. In the last eight games, they have wiped all but 2 of 29 advantages (93.1 percent).