Bruins

Sabres reveal themselves to be 'gutless'

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Sabres reveal themselves to be 'gutless'

I am sure the parade in Buffalo to celebrate the Sabres 7-4 win over the Bruins will be quite an event. I know all those January 31st 2013 Regular Season Champions shirts and hats will sell out faster than NoGoal.com bumper stickers. And while the banner raising ceremony will bring more than a tear to perpetually weepy Sabres owner Terry Pegulas eyes, it doesnt change a thing. Last night actually confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Sabres are still a flawed, gutless team and that all their moves to respond to last years incident are Band-Aids that will hurt them in the long run.

Yes the Sabres did win last nights game by a very convincing margin. Thomas Vanek might as well be ethereal as far as the Bruins defense is concerned. Offensively, he seems to do whatever he wants against the Bruins, and that was the case yet again last night, as he turned in a 3-goal, 5-point performance that was the driving force behind the Sabres win. In the other major storyline, John Scott lived up to his billing as the toughest man on two (unsteady) skates, as he pounded the brave, but overmatched, Shawn Thornton to the ice in short order.

I had said going into this game that anyone who agrees to fight Scott is foolish, because by doing so, you're making someone who gets three minutes of ice time a night because he is a marginal hockey player (marginal is being very generous) relevant. Bluntly, Scott is Goons Doug Glatt, minus the skating ability. If I was Thornton I would have told Scott to go push his milk crate and skate a shift. But I am not Shawn Thornton nor do I think I ever could be. Because Thornton did the same selfless work hes done countless times during his Bruins career. He did it in spite of the probable outcome and personal risk, and by doing so he demonstrated the fundamental difference between the two teams.

Thornton knew he was probably going to get pounded, probably knew it weeks in advance, but he still hopped over the boards, accepted Scotts challenge and took a beating for his team. Why? Because even though there is no 'C' or 'A' on his jersey, Thornton knows hes a leader in that locker room, knows what his role is and, most importantly knows what that situation demanded of him. Claude Julian probably never had to utter a word to Thornton. He just assumed that his team's fistic deterrent would do his job and be same team player hes always been.

Contrast that with how the Milan Lucic - Ryan Miller incident went down. Lucic freight trains Miller and turns to face what should have been wave after wave of furious Sabres. Unfortunately for Miller, the closest Sabres to Lucic were team captain, Jason Pominville, and assistant captain Vanek. Pominville took one look at Lucic and immediately curled, found Bruins center David Krejci and clinged for life to him like he was Queequegs coffin. Vanek, to his limited credit, actually tried to engage Lucic, but after one swipe from the hulking Bruin, Vaneks colon buckled and he turned to join Pominville, the two nestling into the safety of Krejcis bosom. This left Andres Sekera alone to get mauled by Lucic. Tyler Myers and the furthest player away from the incident, Paul Gaustad were both intercepted by linesman and other Bruins before they could get involved.

So here again we have team leaders faced with an altercation they arent going to win. Lucic would handle any of the Sabres on the ice at that time and maybe even two of them at once. But it wasnt an actual fight. Given the way the linesmen jumped in, it would never have a chance to become one, and it certainly wasnt the potential death match Thornton willingly stepped into. Yet Pominville and Vanek couldnt even be bothered to give a half assed face wash to Lucic over a linesmans shoulder. If I was the coach of those two, there would have been some embroidery work done between periods as we reassigned team leadership.

But I wasnt the coach of the team. Lindy Ruff was. And since the Lucic incident happened in the first period, he had two chances to tell his team and its leaders exactly what he thought of their lack of response and demand they rectify it. But he didnt. Instead he chose to send his teams out for two more retribution-free periods, then bitch and moan to the press afterwards like an impudent soccer dad about how it was open season on goalies.

Ruff's gutless leadership didnt end there. In the fallout after the incident, Ruff chose to cuss out the press, but not before singling out, effectively scapegoating, one of his own players. Gaustad, again the Sabre furthest away from the incident when it happened, expressed to the local media his remorse and embarrassment following that game. "I hoped I could have done more there," He said. What was Ruffs response to Gaustads remorse? Paul was on the ice. Yup, Paul was on the ice, Lindy. And so were your captain and assistant, Lindy, but you chose to feed Gaustad to the wolves. Because alienating a 3rd line center man is easier to do than it is to call out Pominville or Vanek. Lord forbid, if you actually have to be a head coach and hold your team leaders accountable. No, lets pillory Gaustad and shame him into fighting Lucic. That will fix everything right Lindy? Its no wonder the Sabres season collapsed around them shortly thereafter. But it shouldnt surprise anyone that Lindy Ruff the coach turtles exactly the same way Lindy Ruff the player did against Cam Neely.

And last night, with 13.6 seconds remaining in a 7-4 game, the real Sabres were exposed again. Vanek and Pominville were taking a faceoff across from recently called up Providence Bruins tough guy Lane McDermid. Ruff responded by calling a timeout that was originally perceived as the insulting cherry on top of a grudge match beat down sundae. When asked to explain the questionable stoppage, Ruff said the following:

Well when Lane MacDermid was lined up on the faceoff with one of our skill players, I didnt want anything to happen, Ruff said. Thats really all it was about.

I dont know whether Ruff legitimately feared a late game mugging or if he caught a whiff of his captain and assistant having a brown out in their hockey pants from the Buffalo bench. But either way, feeling the need to spare his dainty team leaders 13.6 seconds of mortal peril tells you all you need to know about the Sabres. They are still a gutless operation from the top down. So forget about the timeout being some sort of shot at the Bruins. If Ruff was really doing it to insult Boston, he would have made Scott call the time out.

Buffalo may think last nights win fixed all its toughness problems and avenged the embarrassment of last season. But the truth is that by bringing in John Scott and trading Derek Roy for Steve Ott (who managed to record a -1 in a seven goal rout) they made themselves a shallow, one line team. Great in NHL 95 on Sega where you can turn line changes off, but bad if you want to win in the NHL playoffs, where your new found security blanket wont sniff the ice.

Come this summer, there wont be any hats, t-shirts or parades in Buffalo. If the Sabres want rings, theyll have to ask Shawn Thornton to borrow one of his. Thats because in the NHL playoffs, you have to play every shift like you have something in your cup in order to hoist one on the last day of the season.

Morning Skate: PK Subban rightly recognizes O'Ree as a hockey pioneer

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Morning Skate: PK Subban rightly recognizes O'Ree as a hockey pioneer

Here are all the hockey links from around the world, and what I’m reading, while wondering when my video tribute is coming.

*Great interview with PK Subban, who appropriately lauds Willie O’Ree for his trailblazing, pioneer accomplishment of breaking through the NHL’s color barrier 60 years ago today. It was very cool that O’Ree did it with the Bruins and even cooler that he was in Boston last night from the Bruins-Habs game at TD Garden.

*Speaking of the Canadiens, old friend Joe Morrow decided to show the Canadiens digital people around Southie this week. That was his big accomplishment in these last two Bruins-Habs games.

*The Winnipeg Jets are having some big success this season, but they’ve also got some serious financial considerations coming up.

*The Colorado Avalanche continue to see attendance issues in their building, but at least there’s a reasonably better product on the ice.

*What is the value for power forward Patrick Maroon on the trade market as a rental? It certainly matters who is asking.

*Jack Johnson and John Tortorella are talking out their issues after it surfaced that the Columbus D-man wants a trade out of town.

*With Victor Hedman injured, it looks like young Tampa Bay D-man Slater Koekkoek is finally going to get a featured look with the Lightning. Per Elliotte Friedman, this is a player that the Bruins have eyed in trade possibilities in the recent past.

*For something completely different: Liam Neeson is open to returning as Qui Gon-Jinn, which adds another interesting piece to a standalone movie for Obi-Wan Kenobi.

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Haggerty: Longtime Julien targets get last laugh in Claude's return

Haggerty: Longtime Julien targets get last laugh in Claude's return

BOSTON – The lack of energy, emotion and urgency from the Montreal Canadiens in their coach’s return to Boston on Wednesday night revealed some things about that group of players. It also once again confirmed the particular brand of nowhere that Claude Julien’s Habs are destined for this season.

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On the other side, it was also mighty telling which Bruins players stepped up and made a major impact in the 4-1 victory over Julien and his hated Habs at TD Garden.

Almost to a man, it was the Bruins who faced the most criticism and scrutiny under Julien in Boston, who rose up and did the most damage against the Habs on a night their coach hoped for a triumphant return. Perhaps nobody in a Bruins uniform had a rockier road with Julien than Ryan Spooner, the speedy, skilled center who was never tough enough, aggressive enough or good enough at the little things to satisfy his demanding, old-school coach.

Some of that was clearly on Spooner as he developed his game in fits and starts in the NHL, but some of that was absolutely on a coach who never truly connected with the player, or gave him the room to grow and develop his confidence. There were many instances where Julien simply decided a player couldn’t help his team, and that would be that. In many instances, the former Bruins coach was spot-on in his determination, but there were many examples of speed, skill players such as Spooner where he was blind to their potential.

It’s been a different story under Bruce Cassidy, who has brought out the best in Spooner this season as evidenced by his game-winning goal against Julien and the Habs Wednesday. The goal gives the red-hot Spooner three in his past four games and has him on a pace for a career-best 16 goals and 40 points this season while also importantly turning into a plus player on the ice.  

Spooner carried the puck straight through the guts of the Montreal defense toward the net and attempted to make a centering pass toward Matt Grzelcyk at the far post. Instead, the puck bounced off Jonathan Drouin’s skate and into the net to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead in the second period.

Boston scored two more goals in the one-sided game, but it was Spooner’s goal that stood as the game-winner in Claude’s not-so-triumphant return. After the game, Spooner was asked whether it felt good to score against a coach that had doled out so much tough love to him in the past.

“It was just another game for me, I just want to help out,” said Spooner, who was clearly playing it down given some of his critical words for Julien in the past. “It was nice to score though...Yeah, for sure. I just think that we have a good mix here.

“We have some guys who are young that stepped up for us and that’s huge. I mean, to be one of the top teams in the league you have to have some guys that are 18, 19, 20 [years old] that are going to step up and we’ve had that so that’s been good for us.”

Clearly, Spooner had a little something extra in this one from the drop of the puck, though. The speedy winger led the Bruins with four shots on net and threw a whopping four registered hits perhaps in an effort to show Julien some of the hardness that he’s developed in his game. This has been a consistent trend in Spooner’s game this season, though, as he’s put up 22 registered hits in 23 games played this season, which actually gives him more than Brad Marchand (17) while No. 63 has even played in 12 more games than the Spoon Man.

Spooner wasn’t alone, however, in shining on Wednesday night in Rendezvous De Claude.

David Pastrnak was another young player that had his ups and downs with Julien in his first three seasons. He found himself on the bench on more than one occasion when puck management or defense became an issue. Pastrnak scored the Bruins first goal after doggedly chasing the puck and turning it over from Jeff Petry behind the Montreal net. He finished with six shot attempts, a goal and a plus-1 rating in 14:57 of ice time.

David Krejci certainly had his moments of frustration as a creative offensive player dealing with Julien in their long time working together, and once again he stepped up as well vs. the Habs. Krejci finished with a goal and two points along with a team-best plus-2. He also absolutely dominated in the face-off circle with a 16-for-20 performance and crushed young players Drouin and Jacob De La Rose.

Judging by his recent, pretty disconnected comments about seeing Julien behind the Montreal bench, it’s fair to say that Tuukka Rask was another Bruin not overly worked up about last season’s coaching change. Rask wasn’t exactly facing wall-to-wall challenges from a pop-gun Montreal offense that only managed to scratch out 22 shots on net, but he stopped 21 of them while standing tall as Boston killed a 5-on-3 power play in the second period.

Rask improved to 13-0-2 in his past 15 decisions dating to Nov. 29 and has surpassed Andrei Vasilevskiy (13-0-1 from Oct. 9 – Nov. 16) for the longest such run by a goaltender this season. So, Wednesday night’s showing in Julien’s return was yet another example of a Bruins player who appeared happy to make sure the coach’s much-hyped return was cloaked in defeat.

Just don’t expect any of them to publicly gloat about it, or hint that there might have been some motivation with Julien on the other side.

“Gain as many points as you can. They’re all important games, especially divisional matchups,” said Rask. “You try to get points like we have. Still a lot of games left, so trying to keep our game the way it’s going. Our effort and battle have always been there. Execution sometimes is not there, but I think that’s what it all comes down to. Just effort, battle level and how well your head is in the game…a lot of it is just being a smart hockey player.

“You know, you understand what you do right and what you do wrong and then you correct the mistakes. Then you go out there and execute them. I mean it’s pretty simple to say it, but I think the guys we have here are really smart hockey players. They understand.”

The “effort” and “battle level” Rask was referring to is something that was lamented as missing many, many times in Julien’s final couple of years in Boston. It clearly went AWOL for the Habs on Wednesday night in a game that should have been emotional and urgent.

It was telling so many of Julien’s former critical targets left with a victory and their former coach shuffled out of the Garden lamenting in two languages that his Montreal team “laid an egg” in Boston. While Julien might have deserved better given his long body of work, it’s clear his former Bruins players earned the better result as they received a little measure of revenge in the place it matters most, the scoreboard. 

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