TAMPA BAY, FL - For seven games now, Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien has had 12 forwards available. Now, heading into the match-up with the Tampa Bay Lightning Saturday night, he has 13.
With Carl Soderberg cleared to play, the bench boss has to make a decision up front for the first time this season.
"I haven't told anybody anything yet. That's why they don't know, and I haven't made that decision yet," Julien told reporters following pregame skate, when asked if Soderberg would be suiting up in his first game action of 2013-14.
He last played in the final preseason game on September 27 in Saskatoon, when he suffered his ankle injury.
Jordan Caron had a maintenance day Friday and did not practice with the team, but was back on the ice during an optional pregame skate this morning at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Julien said Friday that "he's fine" and "ready to go."
The decision is not necessarily between those two forwards, but any way it turns out, it's a difficult process.
"It's pretty obvious that it's not an easy decision," said Julien. "But again, I've got to make those decisions come game-time."
If Soderberg is in the lineup, he'll be bringing an aspect of his game that represents the B's approach heading into tonight: net-front presence.
"It’s always important and especially on the power play but it’s always good to go to the net," Soderberg said following his pregame skate. "And I scored a lot of goals in Sweden last year in front of the net in power play, and also 5-on-5, so hopefully we can do it here too."
It's an emphasis every night, but it's been something that Julien has stressed since the 3-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Thursday night.
"We don’t have real good netfront presence; when we come into the zone we don’t really have that middle drive," he had said in Sunrise. "So right now, I think offensively, that’s one of the reasons we’re not scoring as much is that we’re not as committed to those kind of things and defensively, it’s the same thing."
"We need that net-front presence from everybody," Julien reiterated following Saturday's pregame skate.
"[It's] something that is a key to our success," said Gregory Campbell, who often owns the crashing-and-banging spot atop the crease, and is coming off the Panthers' win in which he and his Merlot Line counterparts Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton were buzzing along with him.
'We’re a big team and if you look at a lot of the goals scored these days, most of them are from around 15-feet outside the crease."
Through six games, the B's only have 15 goals for, but have also only allowed 10 goal against, tied for first in the league.
"We’re not disappointed in our team we’re just not satisfied and we know we can be better."
GETTING THROUGH BISHOP
Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop hasn't lost a game between the pipes yet this season, winning his five starts for the Bolts, who have won five of their past six since dropping the season opener to Boston at TD Garden on October 3.
His 1.57 goals-against average is just a touch behind Tuukka Rask at 1.51 GAA, and he hasn't allowed more than two goals a game.
"I just think the team's playing real well, and it makes the goalie look good. So the guys in front of you are a big success for a goalie, so the guys are helping me out blocking shots, clearing the rebounds when they're there, and doing a good job of letting me see pucks," said Bishop.
"But Boston's a very good team, and will be a good test for us."
"I had a chance to play with him in college when I went to Maine so I kind of knew what to expect when we brought him in here," said fellow Blackbear Teddy Purcell. "He’s really shown his confidence the past couple of games and when you’re goalie’s confident and he’s rolling it really helps your team."
The Bruins will be looking to stop that roll and end the road trip with a four-point pickup.
"Moving our feet and moving the puck around up top and trying to get open lanes," said Dougie Hamilton, of trying to take away Bishop's eyes, something he was able to do against Florida with his first goal of the season coming on the man-advantage.
"It’s a lot easier when there’s guys in front - I think, just trying to get it through so there can be a rebound or a good screen or something and it’ll create more offense for us."
6'9" VS. 6'7"
With the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara's net-front position on the power play, if we see that tonight, it will be the first time he's trying to screen a goaltender as tall as the 6-foot-7 Bishop.
"I'll just look over him," joked the Bolts goaltender. "No, he's a big guy. He's really tough to see around. I played against Boston once but he didn't play so I've never had him in front of me. But the guys in this league are so good at screening anyways so, the D just, you get no second chances so as long as the D can prevent those rebounds, then I'll try not giving away the first ones."
IGINLA, RASK TAKE OPTIONAL
Iginla is still searching for his first goal as a Boston Bruin. Perhaps like Brad Marchand trying to "find his game," the veteran winger just has to take some pressure off of himself.
Iginla hasn't been short of bids for his first in the spoked-B. His best may have come on a backhander in close on Tim Thomas, but his lethal one-timer has also been fired off a number of times, none more than during a 5-on-3 power play against Detroit last Monday.
Following the game, Iginla said that when he has "the feeling," his one-timer goes in more often than not.
With the B's in Tampa and Iginla looking to find that, I thought I'd get Steven Stamkos' take on what makes that one-timer from the left circle so hard to stop, especially when "it's on."
"You have to get that puck out quick and the goalies are so good, they’re so athletic that they have a chance to, for you to stop the puck, if you have to set up, nine times out of ten they’re going to stop it," said Stamkos.
"So it’s an effective shot. The quicker you can get the puck off your stick the less time the goalie has to react. It doesn’t necessarily have to be extremely accurate. If it’s on net, either it’s going to go in or the goalie’s not going to be able to swallow it up and there’s going to be a rebound."
"So especially in today’s game, you have to try and release that puck as quick as possible."
TAMPA BAY OUTLOOK
While the Bruins have decisions to make both up front and on the back end, the Tampa Bay lineup won't see many chances. Pierre-Cedric Labrie, who fought Shawn Thornton in the opener, will likely be back in, after Bolts' call-up Brett Connolly played in their 3-1 win over the Minnesota Wild.
The Lightning are a team who have progressed in special teams since the last time against Boston, when they allowed two shorthanded goals, one off the penalty shot from Chris Kelly and the other from Patrice Bergeron.
With new head coach Jon Cooper at the helm, since he took over at the end of last season, the Bolts' five-on-five play has also become more dominant, as well as play in their own end.
"It kind of set the tone for our season; that game…I felt like we weren't far off," Cooper said of their opening loss to Boston. "I just kind of had this feeling that we had a big-time test, and although we didn't get the two points we came for, we play like this - not only the physical aspect we played with, we pushed back, maybe they tried to push around a little bit and we bit back."
"So I learned a little bit about our team that way, and I think it's carried on so far, and that's probably why we were winning."
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