Scott Burnside and Craig Custance look at whether a few slumping teams can snap out of their funk and if Boston is still the favorite in the East.
Burnside: Greetings, my friend. How is Boston? These past couple of days have put me in mind of that old Tom Petty tune, “Even The Losers,” get lucky sometimes. Columbus wins its first game of the season by spanking Detroit, no less, then Calgary comes up with a huge win at home Wednesday night against Colorado dealing the Avs their first road loss of the season. Finally, the beleaguered Canadiens stun Philadelphia at the Bell Center Wednesday night with a 4-1 thrashing for just their second win of the season. This victory came just hours after Habs GM Pierre Gauthier fired assistant coach Perry Pearn. Now if there is anything more wishy-washy than firing an assistant coach I'm not sure what it is (OK, firing a trainer would be even more wimpy but I digress). My question to you is whether you think these wins will amount to anything or just a blip on the horror radar for these three struggling squads.
Custance: Boston is great, as it always is. Now that I'm back in town, it seems like the finals were just yesterday, although Bruins fans may not feel that way right now. I recommend the Guinness Beef Stew at the The Black Rose next time you're in town. After watching the Montreal Canadiens dismantle the Flyers Wednesday night, I'm very curious to see if they can continue that momentum against the Bruins on Wednesday. If we needed any reminder as to just how important Chris Pronger is to the Flyers, last night's game was a great example. I liked how Erik Cole came to life in the second period last night; his line was really strong. It's about time, too. As for the three teams you mentioned, I think it's important to note that despite brutal starts, two of the three aren't too far behind in the playoff race. Montreal sits three points behind eighth-place New Jersey, and Calgary three points behind eighth-place St. Louis. Columbus, I'm afraid, dug too big a hole to recover.
But don't underestimate the pressure relieved by these wins. Here's how James Wisniewski described the feeling in Columbus before the win: "You grip your stick a little tighter. Negative energy comes into your head. You invite that power of negative energy and things start snowballing." At least, momentarily, that snowball is slowing down. Any chance of one of these three making the playoffs in your mind?
Burnside: No. Don't think so. I didn't have any of them in my preseason playoff grid (and we all know that grid is as good as gold). The Habs likely have the best chance of the three to crawl into a playoff spot given the mediocrity that generally assembles itself
in the lower end of the Eastern Conference playoff race, but still think they're too small up front and not good enough down the middle or on the blue line. I am curious to find out what kind of buzz you get in Boston, though. Having spent a lot of time there during the Eastern Conference final and then the Cup final, the emotion for the Bruins around the city was impressive. But my sense is that there is kind of a malaise that hangs over both the team and the city since the start of the season. GM Peter Chiarelli has pretty much assembled the same squad for this season with Joe Corvo subbing in for Tomas Kaberle -- and that's pretty much it. Is that too much familiarity for a team trying to repeat?
Custance: That familiarity was supposed to be the strength of this team. Unlike some of the past champs, the Bruins brought everyone back. When I spoke with Peter Chiarelli at the draft, he said he especially liked the character of the team, and he wanted to be extra careful in messing with the chemistry. That character is certainly being tested right now. In the past two years, we've seen the two extreme examples: Chicago turning over half of its roster while scrambling to get under the salary cap, and Boston doing exactly the opposite. The bottom line is, no matter what you do, there's going to be lingering effects of a long playoff run the previous season. Duncan Keith's comments during the first round of the playoffs really stuck with me. All season long, he shot down speculation that he was tired and then finally came clean during an interview during the playoffs. It's an exhausting process and the short summer is hardly enough time to recover. The one plus the Bruins have is Tyler Seguin, who isn't suffering any hangover. I've enjoyed watching that line of Seguin, Chris Kelly and Milan Lucic. They created lots of offense Saturday night against the Sharks and may be the key to the Bruins emerging from an early-season funk. I still don't see Boston winning the division, but I know you disagree.
Burnside: Well, I picked Boston to win the Northeast Division almost by default.
I wasn't sold on the whole chemistry issue in Buffalo, even though I
liked the Sabres to be a playoff team and didn't like the rest,
Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal to even make the playoffs. I expect the
Bruins to get back on track, even though they've been a pretty ordinary
3-5 start, including a disappointing 2-4 record at home. Of course,
their play in front of the hometown faithful in the final two rounds
of the playoffs were key to securing their first championship since
'72. I'm curious to see how Claude Julien uses Tim Thomas after his tour de force of a season last year. Does he try and spell him more
frequently and keep him fresh or give him the bulk of the starts again
over one-time starter Tuukka Rask? These two games against the Habs
will be interesting given their tumultuous history -- both short-term and
over the years. Do you think this marks an emotional turning point for
the defending champs? Does it need to be?
Custance: It doesn't need to be. It's early. If I'm the Bruins, my only concern is making the playoffs. Forget the division. Let's not forget that, even with all their struggles, the Blackhawks were one game away from knocking out the Vancouver Canucks in the playoffs last spring. Corey Crawford was outstanding in that series, and if Boston gets to the playoffs, there's not a matchup it can't win, especially because of its goaltending. Both Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas are capable of winning a playoff series. I got the sense that the Bruins would lean on Rask a little heavier in the early portion of the season, considering Thomas' workload last season. It's still a good idea despite Rask's slow start. He's winless in two starts but with a respectable 2.52 goals against and .915 save percentage. Not that Thomas needs any more external motivation, but getting Rask on track and playing lots of game would likely bring out the best in the reigning Vezina champ. I don't think it's out of the question that we see these two goalies battling this spring for the opportunity to be the starter come playoff time. I'll say this: Montreal always brings out the emotion of the Bruins, so if we don't see a spark Thursday from Boston, then I'd be concerned. I fully expect to see that energy and emotion return. How does Pierre always end these debates? Oh yeah -- until tomorrow, my friend.