Ducks Down Bruins in Boston

Video courtesy of Biz Jacobs

BOSTON — The Anaheim Ducks have played a league-most 37 games, but they didn’t look the least bit tired on Monday night as they skated rings around the Bruins en route to a 3-0 win.

This was a game where the scoresheet fails to properly tell the story, for while Jonas Hiller made 45 saves for the shutout, he didn’t have to work nearly as hard as Tim Thomas, who stopped 22 of 25 shots in the loss.

The younger, faster Ducks consistently won the races to the puck in all three zones, all but rendering impotent the Bruins’ dump-and-chase strategy. Many of the Bruins’ shots came from long distance and from bad angles, making Hiller’s result (a 45-save performance) seem far more spectacular than it actually was.

Ducks rookie forward Brandon McMillan enjoyed his first career multi-point game, and was the third star of the game for his efforts. He opened the scoring by burying the rebound of a Luca Sbisa point shot past a prone Thomas just under six minutes into the first period.

The Ducks’ second goal came when Lubomir Visnovsky blasted the rebound of a Teemu Selanne shot past Thomas. And their third marker took the life out of both the Bruins and the crowd, when Corey Perry battled his way through three seemingly disinterested Boston defenders to score a shorthanded goal late in the second stanza.

Clearly frustrated by his team’s performance, Bruins coach Claude Julien attempted to shake some life into the roster by juggling his forward line combinations, and the results definitely represented an improvement. In particular, the line of Patrice Bergeron, Mark Recchi and Tyler Seguin played quite well together, demonstrating chemistry that might just earn them some more time together in the future.

And in a move that’s seemed inevitable since his acquisition from the Panthers, Nathan Horton was placed alongside Marc Savard. Without question, Savard is the pivot most likely to turn Horton into a 40-50 goal scorer, and it’ll be interesting to see whether Julien gives them more time to develop chemistry.

While the Bruins’ offense was frustrated by Hiller, it was the defense that was most disappointing. They struggled to get the puck out of the defensive zone, and they didn’t compete particularly hard in the battles nor the races for the puck. Needless to say, it came as no surprise when the fans started chanting for the proverbial guillotine to fall upon Julien.

Though it may be premature to be calling for a coaching change, the situation does bear watching.

Currently sitting in eighth place nearly halfway through the season, the Bruins have without question been a huge disappointment thus far. They’re only in eighth place despite playing much of the season in front of the NHL’s finest netminder. Thomas (15-4-3 record, 1.70 GAA, .948 SV%) has been consistently spectacular to this point, and he deserved much better than he got on Monday night. Of course, the same is true for back-up Tuukka Rask, whose record (2-7-1) belies the quality of his play (2.57 GAA, .927 SV%).

If the Bruins have a glaring need, it’s their lack of a puck-moving defenseman (and power play quarterback). The trade for Horton was a good one, but the corresponding departure of Dennis Wideman to Florida has left a considerable hole in the lineup. Rookie blueliner Steven Kampfer (an Anaheim draft pick) was seeing first-unit time alongside Zdeno Chara says far less about Kampfer than it does about the Bruins’ lack of a true power play quarterback. And given the team’s cap conundrum (only¬†$288,793 available) it’s going to take some creative bookkeeping and roster manipulation to fill that pressing need.

One possibility could be Minnesota Wild blueliner Cam Barker. With a cap cost of $2.8 million, swapping Blake Wheeler for Barker in mid-January would be a fairly efficient use of the remaining space.

There’s no guarantee that Barker would be a perfect fit in Boston, but he’s got the skills to quarterback an NHL power play and he’s only two years removed from a 2008-09 performance in which he tallied 40 points in only 68 games for the Chicago Blackhawks (including 34 assists, 5 PPG, and 24 PPA). With only four points and a -8 rating in 26 games this season, it’s clear that Barker isn’t a great fit in Minnesota. Meanwhile, the Wild might have interest in bringing a former Golden Gopher alternate captain back to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”

Food for thought as the Christmas trade freeze rapidly approaches…


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