Bruins

Varitek, Wakefield honored with first pitch at Opening Day

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Varitek, Wakefield honored with first pitch at Opening Day

BOSTON Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek, who have 32 Red Sox seasons between them, were back on the field for the home opener Friday afternoon. This time, though, it was an honorary capacity, throwing out the ceremonial first pitches before the game against the Rays. Jim Rice and Dwight Evans caught for Wakefield and Varitek.

Wakefield and Varitek entered from left field, behind the huge American flag that draped the Wall.

It was very emotional for both of us standing behind the flag and reminiscing of our time together and trying to get the walk over with as fast as possible to get off the field, Wakefield said. Its a special day, it really is. Spending this much time with this guy and being able to share it with him today, throwing out the first pitch for the home opener was pretty special.

The pair, who announced their retirements during spring training, have not yet had a chance to fully reflect on their lengthy careers. But, in the short time theyve had, theyve managed to look back.

I have, said Wakefield. The greatest feedback I think I can get on my decision is from my kids. Im seeing such a drastic change with me being around more with them. That was the most important thing to me, is never regretting not being there for them. Now that Im home full-time with them, its a special time, the right time.

I cant follow that, Varitek said. I dont know if its going to all sink in, yet. I think getting through different stages, like that was the first time I was around the field was in spring training for the announcement and stuff. It bit a little bit and I got excited in a different way. On Opening Day, that was the first time Ive sat down and watched every pitch. Its an adjustment along those lines, but the opportunities werent here and there wasnt much more I could do because I think making that decision to stay here was the right thing to do, to retire here. My family, my kids, thats a definite bonus, too.

Among the moments that will stand out for both, of course, are the 2004 and 2007 World Series.

People ask me all the time what the best World Series win? Wakefield said. I have to say 04. For many reasons, but the history leading up to 2004 and the way it happened, coming back from three games to nothing against New York in the ALCS and getting into the World Series against St. Louis was a World Series in itself, for us, as players. Then, to go win it again in 2007 with a different group of guys was very special, too. We had a new core with Pedroia, Ellsbury and Pap, a whole different generation of players came in and we were able to win a World Series championship with those guys, too. Both of them are very special, but I think 2004 is the most special for me.

2007 was as exhausting as 04, Varitek said. Getting the first one was huge, but it was huge for a Nation, it was huge for an organization, but I was probably more exhausted at the end of07 even more than 04. There was a lot more work involved. It was a different mix of pitches. We had a veteran staff in 04. We had totally different dynamics in 07. It was easy. We had to come from behind and do those things, but in 07 I was flat exhausted.

Varitek is expected to take a job with the organization. What that is, though, remains to be defined.

Were still talking, he said. Ive had some things that have kept me busy at home, family stuff. So work in progress, theres a lot of newness, a lot of things going on but continuing to talk and trying to figure out if there can be help. But in between I keep my lines of communication open with bullpencatching coach Gary Tuck and my catchers and my pitchers and stuff.

Being given the honor of throwing out the first pitch helps them see their place in Red Sox history.

Its special, Wakefield said. More so now because Tek and I were the type of players I think, and Im speaking on your behalf, you never look back, youre always looking forward and trying to prepare for your next start or his next game or whatever. So never really had a chance to reflect on your career. And now that we both retired and being asked to throw out the ceremonial first pitch here on Opening Day and be part of the 100-year history next week and all that stuff, it kind of hits you like, 'Wow, did all that stuff reallyhappen?' And standing behind the flag and listening to the guys introduce us was pretty emotional but yet very fulfilling of a career that Ive been very blessed to have and to wear this uniform for as long as I did.

I dont think as a player that its hard to really reflect, Varitek said. I think its still new. I spent the time training and trying to get myself ready, and to turn back and all of a sudden just stop and look at your whole career, I dont think Ive had time to do that. I think its were so fortunate for what weve been able to do, you spend a lot of the time, its surreal. Like today, youre honored to be able to be here and its a blur. Alls I remember is the back of a flag, a white tent and the next thing you now were on the mound. But thats how things, because hes totally right, you push to the next step, the next level. What happened today really does not matter tomorrow. So to reflect, I think thatll take time but be appreciative of asking us to do this is huge.

NHL Power Rankings: Bubble starting to burst for Cinderella teams

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NHL Power Rankings: Bubble starting to burst for Cinderella teams

The bubble is beginning to burst for some of the Cinderella teams out of the starting gate around the NHL. The Kings have lost four games in a row and look like the offense is again becoming a problem, the Rangers are back to losing after an extended winning streak, and both the Flyers and Stars have dropped three games in a row after decent starts to their seasons amid low expectations.

There are still a few other teams like the New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights, among others, that are bucking expectations and defying convention thus far. It will take a bit more sustained success before people are truly ready to buy in on them this season. Until that happens they remain a nice little story among the true contenders vying for league dominance.  

Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s preseason power rankings:

1.  Tampa Bay Lightning (regular season record: 15-2-2, rank last week: 2) – The Bolts are on another five-game winning streak, and continue to serve notice that they were the sorta new, sorta old sheriff in the Eastern Conference. First in the NHL in goals scored, second in goals against and second in power play is some pretty amazing performance.

2.  St. Louis Blues (14-5-1, rank last week: 1) – Brayden Schenn and Jordan Schwartz are the top two scorers for a Blues team that’s fought their way to the top of the Central Division. While that’s a great story in St. Louis, it does raise questions about how long they can sustain that over the course of a full hockey season.

3.  Winnipeg Jets (11-4-3, rank last week: 5) – Three wins in a row and one regulation loss in the last 10 games for a Jets team that seems to finally be getting it. Mark Schiefele has really become a difference-maker in Winnipeg.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (13-7-0, rank last week: 6) – The Maple Leafs have won five games in a row without Auston Matthews, which is a pretty impressive feat for such a young group. It does appear like it could also be a season of streaks for a Toronto club that’s shown both extremes already this season.

5. New Jersey Devils (11-4-3, rank last week: 7) – The New Jersey home for wayward Bruins has been pretty good thus far with both Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes making the most of their next opportunity after varying degrees of success in Boston… very varying.

6. Los Angeles Kings (11-6-2, rank last week: 3) – The Kings have hit a bit of a wall with four losses in a row where they’ve scored a grand total of six goals while looking much more like last season’s bunch of Kings. Jonathan Quick will keep them in those games now that he’s healthy again, but you’re not going to win if you can’t score.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets (12-7-1, rank last week: 8) – The Blue Jackets have bounced back from four losses in a row to win three games in a row where they needed to grind it out with an on-his-game Sergei Bobrovsky. That’s pretty much how it’s going to go for Columbus.   

8. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, rank last week: 4) – Phil Kessel is leading the Penguins in scoring and Sidney Crosby has been merely okay offensively (six goals in 21 games) with a minus-12 on the season. Has the whole world of the Penguins turned upside down or what?

9. Vegas Golden Knights (11-6-1, rank last week: 9) – The long goaltending nightmare is over for Vegas as it appears that Malcolm Subban is approaching a return to the lineup. Credit to the Golden Knights for holding things together while the injuries played out, and continuing to defy the odds of what they could do this season.   

10. Nashville Predators (10-6-2, rank last week: 10) – The Predators are 5-1-1 in Music City and once again making that a tough place to play for opponents. Certainly the sight of PK Subban in a cowboy hat during pregame warm-ups is sign that the Predators players are fully buying into what’s going on in Nashville, and that makes them a very formidable opponent.

11.   New York Islanders (10-6-2, rank last week: 11) – The Isles have won a couple of games in a row and appear to have hit their stride while slowly moving up the Metro Division ranks. That they’ve done with so-so seasons for Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd certainly says plenty about other guys stepping up.  

12. Ottawa Senators (8-4-5, rank last week: 13) – Nobody has played fewer games in the NHL than the Senators, and they are just outside a playoff spot after adding Matt Duchene to their lineup. I’d say things are looking pretty good for Ottawa and where they’re set up at this point in the season.

13. San Jose Sharks (10-7-0, rank last week: 20) – The Sharks are the best defensive team in the NHL, and have the second-best penalty kill in the league this season. That’s certainly a change from the past for the Sharks, but they remain, as ever, in the hunt for the playoffs.

14. Detroit Red Wings (10-8-2, rank last week: 19) – It’s less than a week before Thanksgiving and the Red Wings are in a playoff spot. It’s a big question if they can sustain what they’ve built up this far and they do have three or four games on much of their Atlantic Division competition, but they are in a better spot than anybody could have imagined at this point.

15. Minnesota Wild (9-7-2, rank last week: 26) – The Wild have won four games in a row as Devan Dubnyk is starting to get his stuff together, and are once again in the mix in the Central Division as they seemingly always have been over the recent past.

16. Chicago Blackhawks (9-8-2, rank last week: 24) – The Blackhawks have been jolted back to life by rookie Alex DeBrincat pumping up the offense to support the longtime veteran core. They’ve won two of their last three games and scored 15 goals in those three games as well.

17. Calgary Flames (10-8-0, rank last week: 12) – The Flames have won five of their last seven games, but also gave up eight goals to the Red Wings in their last loss. Jaromir Jagr has been pretty okay since getting healthy for the Flames, so the legend keeps on growing.

18. Washington Capitals (10-9-1, rank last week: 18) – The Capitals are 24th in the NHL in goals against and Braden Holtby has been pretty ordinary for the Capitals this season. It sure feels like they’ve lost a little something defensively this season, which doesn’t bode well for their Cup chances.

19.  Vancouver Canucks (9-8-2, rank last week: 15) – All three of their leading scorers are young, talented forwards, so at least the Canucks have that going for them…which is nice. But the Sedins have five goals and a combined 15 points in 38 games, and it appears the end may be nearing for the Swedish twins.

20.  Colorado Avalanche (9-7-1, rank last week: 21) – It feels like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon have both played much better since the Matt Duchene train left the station. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but it doesn’t feel like it for whatever reason.

21. Philadelphia Flyers (8-6-0, rank last week: 14) – The Flyers have scored a grand total of one goal in their last three games, which is also a three-game losing streak for the Broad Street Bullies. Who would have guessed that offense would be a major issue for this group?

22. Anaheim Ducks (8-7-3, rank last week: 17) – The Ducks have points in four of their last five games, and finally seem to be pulling things together a month into the season. This isn’t the same team that was a Western Conference powerhouse a couple of years ago, but they can still be a heavy, formidable foe on any given night.

23. New York Rangers (9-9-2, rank last week: 16) – The bad news for the Rangers is that the six-game winning streak is in the rearview mirror. The good news is that Rick Nash seems to have found his game, and is producing offense for a Blueshirts group that needs everything they can get.

24. Boston Bruins (7-7-4, rank last week: 23) – The Bruins, through injuries and major inexperience, are slowly sliding down into oblivion before Thanksgiving, and are going to need to find some things to hang their hat on if they want to survive the month of November.  

25. Dallas Stars (9-9-1, rank last week: 22) – The Stars are 2-4-1 in the month of November, and have been outscored 24-7 in the losses this month. It really feels like there is a compete problem in Big ‘D’ where they shouldn’t be getting dominated like that from a talent standpoint.

26. Montreal Canadiens (8-10-2, rank last week: 25) – While it’s good that Charlie Lindgren has stepped up and been pretty good for the Habs in an emergency-type situation, it’s an absolute disaster that Carey Price is banged up again for Montreal. This is a season where everything that could go wrong pretty much has for the Habs.

27. Carolina Hurricanes (7-6-4, rank last week: 27) – The Hurricanes have taken seven of their last 10 points, but it’s not really making much of a dent in the Metro Division. The one truly encouraging sign has been some very good goaltending from Scott Darling and Cam Ward.

28. Edmonton Oilers (7-10-2, rank last week: 28) – The Oilers seemed like they might be pulling out of their early-season funk, but then lost four of their last five games to stick close to the Pacific Division basement. It’s been a rough start for Cam Talbot, and that’s been one of the big differences for the Oil.   

29. Florida Panthers (7-9-2, rank last week: 30) – You have to wonder where the Panthers would be if they hadn’t brought in a player like Evgenii Dadonov, who has been one of the best offensive players on the team this year. That’s a nice win for Florida’s management group to get him back in the fold this season.

30. Buffalo Sabres (5-10-4, rank last week: 29) – So many sticks to break for Jack Eichel, so little time.

31. Arizona Coyotes (3-15-3, rank last week: 31) – The Coyotes have gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. That is considered a major roll for them, so they have to be getting pretty excited out in the desert.

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Young Celtics playing high-level defense without fouling a lot

Young Celtics playing high-level defense without fouling a lot

When you’re an NBA rookie or early on in your career, there’s so much to learn, especially when it comes to playing defense.
 
Despite having at least two players with a year or less experience in the starting lineup and at least three or four other rookies who see regular action, Boston’s top-ranked defense has been able to do the seemingly impossible – defend without fouling a lot.
 
Boston comes into tonight’s game against Atlanta averaging 19.8 fouls committed per game which is the ninth-lowest total in the league.

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Celtics guard Kyrie Irving has some ideas as to how the team has been able to defend without fouling a ton.

“Our length, being able to communicate on the fly, having a system that’s predicated on shrinking the floor, just being very active,” Irving said. “Obviously, we’re going to foul. But the times we don’t foul, we limit teams to some tough shots, some tough two’s or some tough contested threes; I feel we put ourselves in great position. And then when you have guards down there rebounding as well as bigs down there boxing out and staying active it makes all our jobs easier, all five connected out there. We understand the importance of valuing each possession.”
 
The qualities that Irving talks about make sense when you’re talking about the qualities of an elite team defensively.
 
But for the Celtics to have so much youth tossed into such prominent roles, it is unusual to see everything seemingly come together so quickly.
 
“They utilize their length appropriately,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “They’re both long for their positions; that helps. So, you’re not playing Jaylen at the 3 (small forward) as much, and Jayson (Tatum) at the four (power forward) as much. You’re playing them at the two (shooting guard) and three (small forward) a lot. So, they can use that length rather than try and have to battle.”

Irving points out there’s added incentive to play at a high level defensively without fouling.

“If you don’t, you’ll be on the bench,” Irving said. “Brad has made that very clear. If the effort isn’t being put out there, and you’re not paying attention and you’re not preparing the way all of us should be preparing, that goes from the head coach all the way down to the 15th guy, if you’re not preparing the way you should and not perfecting your craft outside the game and that’s being very diligent, understanding what we’re trying to do in strategy, understanding our system, why it works, and why we’re doing it, then why the hell would you expect to play? So, he made it very simple. All the guys understand that. We’re a young team, but what we’re trying to accomplish will take a lot of energy and effort and focus. They understand that at a very young point in the season.”

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