Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bruins Puckbag: An Assortment of Observations on Boston and Providence

The Hockey News, which understandably favored Washington to win the Stanley Cup at the start of this season, is now picking the seventh-seeded Caps to dethrone the defending champion Bruins in the opening round. One of the three NHL columnists at Yahoo! Sports, namely Sam McCaig, is likewise predicting the upset.

As for this author, I see Boston repressing the resurgent Caps in six or seven on the strength of superior depth and goaltending, but the likely opponent in the conference semifinals will be the potent Pittsburgh Penguins. And let’s just say whoever comes out of the Rangers-Penguins matchup in the conference final ought to be the favorite to win the Cup.

In case of a postseason emergency, the likes of forward Lane MacDermid should be a go-to Black Ace. His physicality makes him blend right into the fourth line and is an indispensable trait in the playoffs.

The P-Bruins, currently No. 11 on the Eastern Conference leaderboard need too much help from other games in the final weekend of the AHL season to salvage their playoff hopes. First-year coach Bruce Cassidy could earn a second try on the grounds of a second-half turnaround. But if this sequence of an insufferable start and a vain cramming session happens again next year, much like it did in 2010-11 under former higher-up Rob Murray, he should be gone by this time in 2013.

Fun fact: In his NHL coaching career, Claude Julien has never participated in a playoff series that only lasted five games. Between his lone playoff run with Montreal in 2004 and his first four behind the Boston bench, he has been a part of three sweeps, one six-game bout and seven Game Sevens.

The Bruins just announced that their commemorative 2011 championship book will soon be on the shelves of libraries across New England.

Top prospect Dougie Hamilton leads all defensemen with nine assists and 11 points so far in the Ontario League playoffs. Hamilton’s Niagara Ice Dogs will have a chance to sweep the Brampton Battalion tomorrow night and advance to the OHL’s Eastern Conference final.

Over in the OHL’s Western Conference, Jared Knight and London Knights lead the Saginaw Spirit, two games to one, in their conference semifinal series.

If Kevan Miller, who leads his fellow P-Bruins by no fewer than 14 points in the plus/minus column, is not named the team’s top defenseman this weekend, there is no justice. Kyle MacKinnon and Calle Ridderwall could both legitimately challenge Miller for rookie of the year accolades.

Craig Cunningham, another first-year pro, may be the only P-Bruin to have seen action in every game this season. He may be co-leader on the team with 19 goals and third in the point department with 35. But as evidenced by a minus-nine rating, his defensive aptitude isn’t up to the same par as MacKinnon, Ridderwall and certainly Miller.

Consistency counts when it comes to selecting a recipient for virtually any award. There was not much of that to be found in any individual Providence player this season, but I would say this year’s MVP should be split by goaltenders Anton Khudobin and Michael Hutchinson. Khudobin had to bail out one of the league’s flimsiest defenses when he was available while Hutchinson has actually accrued better numbers when filling in.

The most beneficial aspect of the concussed Nathan Horton sitting out for Boston’s playoff run is that he can put his mind at ease in every sense of the word. The fact that he is not under the impression that he will be permitted, let alone expected to take up any strenuous activity this spring should help his recovery all the more.