Game Day: Senators vs. Bruins
No decision on tonight's starter until gametime.
Saturday, 11.28.2009 / 8:56 AM ET / Bish's Blog
By John Bishop - BostonBruins.com
The B's lines...
Join us at the live blog ------>
Netminder Tim Thomas will make his return between the pipes after missing the last six games with an undisclosed injury. Last year’s Vezina Trophy winner has a 5-6-3 record with a 2.33 Goals Against Average and .918 Save Percentage in 14 games this season.
In the opposite cage will be Brian Elliott, who has a 5-2-2 record and 2.57 Goals Against Average in his 9 games this year.
Storylines: First place in the Northeast Division is up for grabs tonight, as the Bruins (29 pts) and Senators (29 pts) square off for the second time this season. Boston claimed a wild 4-3 shootout win in their first meeting back on October 24, after the Black & Gold scored twice with an empty net in the final 1:28 of regulation to send the game in to overtime.
The Sens – who are 5-1-1 in their last seven games – are currently in a stretch where they play seven games in 12 days.
Connections: Current Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, an Ottawa native, came to the Bruins organization following seven years in the Senators organization as their Director of Legal Relations and Assistant General Manager. Zdeno Chara played four seasons with the Senators (146 pts in 299 games) from 2001-2006. Marc Savard was born in Ottawa. Senators forward Ryan Shannon was born in Darien, CT. Sens forward Shean Donovan – who is currently on IR – played the 2006-07 season with the Bruins and had 6-11=17 totals in 76 games.
Special Teams: The Bruins rank tied for 26th in the NHL on the power play overall (14.0%) and 28th at home (11.5%). They rank 2nd on the PK overall (84.9%) and tied for 4th at home (85.2%). The Senators rank 22nd on the PP overall (18.4%) and tied for 12th on the road (20.0%). They rank 8th on the PK overall (83.2%) and 14th on the road (81.3%).
For Byron Bitz and I, tonight's college hockey schedule has special significance. You see, tonight the Cornell Big Red take on the scarlet and white clad Boston University Terriers in Red Hot Hockey at Madison Square Garden.
The first Red Hot Hockey contest  served as a renewal of one of the greatest rivalries in college hockey, as the two teams battled for eastern supremacy from the late `60s to the early `80s when they were both members of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference (ECAC).
-This marks the 42nd time Boston University and Cornell have faced off, with the Big Red holding a 23-17-1 (.573) advantage.
-BU has won six of the last 10 meetings, but Cornell has come out on top in 10 of the last 16.
-The teams first met on Jan. 10, 1925, on Beebe Lake in Ithaca, with the Terriers posting a 7-2 win. They played again at the same location a little over a year later (a 1-0 BU win) and did not play again until March 11, 1966, in the ECAC Tournament, where the Big Red earned a convincing 8-1 victory.
-As members of the ECAC, the teams met at least once a year for the next 19 years - through the 1983-84 season, after which BU joined the Hockey East Association.
-The Terriers are 5-4 in the nine meetings that have taken place since they moved to Hockey East.
Many of you might remember that I am a graduate of BU ('97), so I sought out Mr. Bitz (who is a former captain of the Big Red and an '07 graduate) for a little good natured ribbing.
"How's BU this year?" asked Bitz when I asked if he were going to check in on his Big Red, postgame, as the game in MSG starts at 8. I am pretty certain that Byron knows that my alma mater is 4-7-1 despite winning the NCAA title in 2009. But I am also aware that Bitz's Cornell club is 6-2-0.
So, without waiting for my answer Bitz confidently predicted a 4-2 score, and mused that Cornell's Lynah Faithful would be there in full force.
My prediction: 6-5, Boston University, of course!
And sorry, my fellow True Believers, you will have to endure just a little college hockey talk this evening in the in-game live blog.
The Devils David Clarkson was felled by a Zdeno Chara slapshot on Friday afternoon and the forward seems likely to miss 4-6 weeks.
Devils coach Jacques Lemaire, whose team has won five straight on home ice, confirmed the injury Saturday morning before New Jersey played the Islanders.
Clarkson was injured 2:08 into the game on his initial shift after going down to block a shot by defenseman Zdeno Chara, who established a new standard in the Cisco Hardest Shot competition at last season's Honda NHL SuperSkills event with a blast of 105.4-mph.
Byron Bitz was asked about having to stand in front of the B's captain when he prepared to fire away.
"Yeah, I mean you know it’s coming hard and he’s pretty accurate," said Bitz. "He’s good at shooting around guys in that so if you’re in front you want to stay there, you don’t want to get out of the way and let the goalie see it.
"But in practice, when you’re standing in front, your life flashes before your eyes that’s for sure."
We're inching closer to gametime, but head coach Claude Julien seemed very focused on tonight's contest as early as this morning.
It's been a while since the Bruins have seen the Senators, but Coach Julien didn't see any need for the B's to change their game.
"I thought the game that we played there was actually a decent game," said Julien of the team's trip to Ottawa earlier this season. "We had to pull our goalie for the last two goals before winning it, but I think it is a team that is very aggressive and as I’ve mentioned, structured.
"They're just a team that is not easy to play against."
But what does Julien want from his team in terms of countering their division rivals?
"Hopefully a few more goals and a win that would be nice," said Julien. "[Let's] see if we can’t win one within regulation.
"We have another tough task ahead of us a team that has been playing well.
"No matter who has been in their lineup, they are structured well enough even with having some injuries they seem to be playing some decent hockey.
"We should have our hands full tonight."
Pregame video from this morning's skate is online at bostonbruinsTV.com.
This goalie 1A, 1B thing might put me out of the starting netminder prediction game permanently.
Tim Thomas left the ice first -- generally a clear indication that he would be the starter -- but wait, Timmy did not say that he was going to play. Neither did Tuukka Rask, who answered a couple of questions for me after Thomas spoke.
And during his media scrum Coach Julien said , "I told both goalies to be ready. I'll make my decision later."
So, while my guess remains Thomas based on his earlier departure from the ice, feel free to draw your own conclusions.
I'll have the final answer at about 6:30 p.m.
BTW: Thomas did sound as if he were excited to make a return against Ottawa.
"Yeah, I mean it’s a bigger game against a division rival [so it] can be more exciting," said Thomas. "You know the crowd will be there with you and it helps the energy."
Obviously, the biggest news on Friday may have occurred earlier in the day.
"He will probably be out for around four weeks," said Peter Chiarelli of Milan Lucic on Saturday. "It could be less; with these things it is difficult.
"It could be less and it could be a little more."
The media asked Chiarelli if he were relieved at the timetable for Lucic's return.
"Well, certainly when I saw the injury happen, you look at the stress on the lower knee and the ankle, I certainly expected worse," said the GM. "I think that if you look at it real close, he broke the fall with his hand.
"That probably took some stress off of the knee."
Chiarelli said that he had not spoken to Lucic at length.
"I am sure he is disappointed," he said. "We get him back for three or four games, now he is gone for a month."
The team is disappointed, of course.
"It is consistent with the rest of the year," said Chiarelli of the team's injury issues. "It looks like it is going to be a challenge all year.
"All teams have their challenges, but this is pretty consistent."
Coach Julien agreed.
"Well it’s something we’ve been dealing with since the beginning of the year and injuries are part of the game," he said. "We just have to go forward with what we got.
"That’s always been the case and that’s what we have to deal with right now.
"Obviously, you lose a pretty good player who has a pretty good impact on games at times [but] we’ve been without him for a month and we’ll have to deal with it for a little longer, now."
Julien implied that the relatively short recovery time for Lucic was somewhat of a relief, but cleary he wasn't going to celebrate.
"You could look at it that way if you want, but just having a guy injured is never good news," said the coach. "So, we’ll hope that he heals quicker and is back sooner than expected."
Looking at the bigger picture, Julien pointed out that there was more than the Bruins season at stake -- Lucic was on track to compete for a spot on the Canadian Olympic hockey team that will compete in the Vancouver games in February.
"It’s not easy, especially when you want to play and you know what’s up ahead for him. I mean he was a guy who was considered with the Olympic team ," said Julien. "That kind of stuff, I’m sure doesn’t help, but he’s a pretty optimistic individual that looks at things...in a positive way.
"Hopefully that’s the last of his injuries this year and when he comes back he has a good, strong finish."
Eyes on Ottawa
Sometimes you just can't predict how a coach will react to a loss.
Case in point: Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien after yesterday's shootout setback to New Jersey.
"I think they know that [the team played well] for the most part. They know how we feel," he said of his B's. "They also know how they play.
"If we were to play a terrible game and lose in a shootout, we might say we did not deserve it anyways.
"I think there are times when you say, ‘listen, it is what it is,'" said Julien.
The important thing is moving forward -- and focusing on the in-division matchup with Ottawa.
"I guess right now, we set the table for [Saturday]," he said. "We are talking about Ottawa.
"We have to win that game."
Rask Continues to be on Task
Clearly nobody was pointing a finger at Tuukka Rask following the shootout loss. After all, the rookie goalie stood on his head for much of the game.
"Tuuka [Rask] has been good every time we have called upon him," said Julien about his goaltender. "Whether it was this year, or last year when we played that game and a few more the year before. He is a good goaltender.
"Tuukka has won us some big shootout games as well," continued Julien. "So he certainly shouldn’t be hanging his head over this one."