The Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Panthers Thursday night at the Garden brought Claude Julien his 246th win behind the Boston bench, inching him one victory ahead of Milt Schmidt for second place on the club’s all-time list. Next in line: Art Ross at 361.
“Not even something we need to talk about,’’ mused Julien when asked about aiming for Ross’s No. 1 slot.
The ever-gracious Schmidt, who celebrated his 95th birthday March 5, sounded quite satisfied with his No. 3 standing in the Bruins history books. Not surprisingly, the Hall of Famer had only praise for the 52-year-old Julien.
“I know Claude very well and I call him from time to time,’’ said Schmidt, who still resides just outside Boston. “I saw him just the other night when the Bruins saw fit to celebrate my birthday, which was very nice.
“I told him then that I thought nothing but the best of him. He does an outstanding job.
“I just think today’s players are so much more difficult to handle than when I coached, for the most part because they make so much more money.
“And with 30 teams in the league, so many more jobs, honestly, I’m not sure today’s players realize how much more fortunate they are than players of the past. Or that they fully appreciate what an honor it is to play in the National Hockey League.’’
Schmidt played and coached in the NHL’s six-team era. Coaches in those days had the perceived luxury/advantage of being able to threaten players with demotions to the minor leagues, where there was a perpetual source of talent eagerly awaiting to be promoted.
“It wasn’t always a good situation, believe me,’’ said Schmidt, refuting somewhat the power of the demotion hammer. “I always felt that you never wanted to downgrade a player.
“Send a player down, and you never knew — you hurt a player and he might never come out of it. And I always thought, ‘If I send a player down, am I going to hurt him?’
“But, still, some I sent down and they were fine. They came out of it to be standouts.’’
Asked for a name or two, Schmidt hesitated, then laughed and said, “Well, no, I’m 95 now, so the names don’t come very easily. But I can tell you that I think Claude is doing a great job.’’
Often when talking to groups or individuals, said Schmidt, he likes to summon the memory and words of Lou Gehrig, the Yankee icon whose playing days and life were cut short by ALS. In his famous farewell speech of July 4, 1939, at Yankee Stadium, the faltering Gehrig told everyone that, despite his bad break, he was “the luckiest man on the face of this earth.’’
“Well, move over, Lou, because you’ve got another man here in the name of Milt Schmidt,’’ he said. “I’m one of the luckiest, too.
“To my dying day, I’ll be grateful for having played in the NHL and all the good things it meant in my life.’’
NO ROOM FOR DEBATE
Stars aren’t in the same orbit
The Bruins are back in Pittsburgh for a Sunday matinee, and the Penguins, not surprisingly, are back running with the big boys (including the Bruins) in the NHL East.
Interesting contrast of careers between Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who leads the NHL in scoring (47 points headed into Saturday’s play), and the enigmatic Alex Ovechkin in Washington. Crosby continues to blossom and dominate, while Ovie’s production, along with his overall development, has turned decidedly ho-hum the last two-plus seasons.
Entering Saturday, while Crosby led the charts, Ovechkin’s line read 10-12—22, ranking him T-35 in goals (his raison d’etre) and T-41 in points.
When they entered the league together in October 2005, the debate centered on which one would enjoy the better career. Well, here in their eighth seasons, Crosby — his head clear of post-concussion cobwebs — is leaving Ovechkin in the dust.
Crosby is a center and not a wing, which means he should be able to make those around him better. Put double check marks in that box. Entering Saturday, he was one of four Penguins among the league’s top 20 scorers (along with Chris Kunitz, James Neal, Kris Letang).
Crosby doesn’t set up all of those guys, of course, and he often works with the benefit of some extra room when fellow superstar Evgeni Malkin is healthy and in full stride (he had missed 7 of 10 games entering Saturday). But without question, Crosby is back to being the best player in the league (he won the Hart Trophy as MVP in 2007), while Ovechkin is looking like yesterday’s news. Not good in this era of instant information.
The key difference seems to boil down to Crosby typically getting more done with less. That’s not to say he has less talent than Ovechkin. Hardly. But he plays a very refined, smart, puck-possession game, and it can be infuriatingly difficult to separate him from the puck. Like Ovechkin, he has that extra gear, and he jumps to it perfectly on the rush to deliver passes or pot relays from others.
Ovechkin’s game, in skiers’ terms, has turned into a “yard sale” — he’s the downhill skier who wipes out and litters the slopes with skis, gloves, poles, helmet, goggles, and lunch money. He isn’t making anyone else better, and no one seems to be able to help him work more effectively or productively.
Ovechkin is strong, powerful, equipped with a devastating slapper that he loves to unload. Entering Saturday, he had 107 shots on net, second only to Evander Kane’s 121. But for all that shooting, 33 guys with fewer shots had more goals.
Better career? Looks from here that the debate is over, although both players are young enough (Crosby 25, Ovechkin 27) that the trend could change. But I doubt it.
Crosby is tracking toward greatness, among the best ever to play the game. Ovechkin, once a lock for 50 goals a year, looks to be operating with a malfunctioning GPS, tracking toward a dead end.
MAKING HIS LIST
Chiarelli looks to go shopping
With the April 3 trade deadline fast approaching, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli continues to shape his wish list, one that likely includes help for his third and fourth lines, especially now that Chris Kelly is sidelined indefinitely with a cracked tibia (compliments of a menacing Chris Neil hit).
Two of Chiarelli’s best deadline moves came in the spring of 2011 when he acquired Kelly (via Ottawa) and Rich Peverley (via Atlanta) in separate deals.
Chiarelli also will look for help on the blue line, where last spring he added Greg Zanon and Mike Mottau as insurance at the deadline. Just a couple of names to keep in mind back there are Sergei Gonchar (Ottawa) and Ron Hainsey (Winnipeg), both adept at moving the puck.
Gonchar was here briefly (22 games total) as a deadline pickup in 2004. An unrestricted free agent come July, he could probably be had for as little as a fourth-round pick.
Hainsey, out of UMass-Lowell, is also headed to UFA, but no doubt would be harder to pry loose from the Jets, unless they plummet out of the playoff picture. Hainsey’s numbers are down (0-8—8 into Saturday’s play), but the ex-Habs first-rounder (No. 13/2000) still has the wheels and touch to help.
“It’s the same list every year, it really is,’’ said Chiarelli. “You look to add depth, and rather than target, say, a top six forward, I like to define [the process] as looking right through the lineup.’’
Sabres might lop off more
The move to ditch Lindy Ruff and bring in Ron Rolston as interim coach hasn’t changed fortunes in Buffalo, where what looks like a fourth DNQ in six seasons is raising questions about whether the Sabres will be able to keep franchise cornerstones Ryan Miller, Jason Pominville, and Thomas Vanek beyond next season. All are on target to become UFAs in July 2014.
Such is the stuff that can lead to GMs getting fired. The Boston roster was very much in flux, and Joe Thornton just months beyond his trade to San Jose, when Mike O’Connell was canned in March 2006.
“Do we become a younger team or do we become a team that’s going to build and try to get this core group of guys a chance to move forward?’’ mused Miller last week. “Or are we not the core anymore? Who knows?
“They’re not decisions we make. We react off management and circumstance.”
Added Vanek, “It hits you, how quick it goes. Here are two guys [Chris Drury and Mike Grier] who mentored me, and they’re done playing hockey.
“You definitely want to be in a spot where you give yourself a chance of winning.”
Meanwhile, club owner Terry Pegula remains silent on all subjects.
The old college try
No knowing whether NHL players will participate in the Sochi Olympics next February, although there is a growing sense of fait accompli that the league will OK a fifth journey to Olympus. If so, the likeliest coach of Team USA will be Rangers boss John Tortorella or perhaps the Penguins’ Dan Bylsma. Jack Parker, who last week announced he will retire from his Boston University job at season’s end, would be an interesting, poignant choice. He was runner-up in 1980 and eschewed other opportunities in years since. Typically, half the US roster has roots in the college game, so having a college coach back there wouldn’t be hard for the majority, if anyone, to accept. And, let’s not forget, Herb Brooks was a college coach when he helped make the miracle happen at Lake Placid.
As the weekend approached, Carl Soderberg remained in Sweden, though not in the Linkoping lineup. The future Bruin (we think) was suspended for four games last week for delivering a high stick during the Swedish Elite League playoffs. “From what his agent tells me,’’ said Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli, “the club they’re facing in the playoffs, HV71, had a guy chasing him all night, and finally he gave him a cross-check. The stick hit first in the shoulder, and then the head, but they’ve got a near-zero-tolerance policy over there, so . . .’’ So, without the 6-foot-3-inch pivot, it could mean Linkoping exits the postseason early and Soderberg is on Causeway Street sooner instead of later. “Who knows?’’ said Chiarelli. “Let’s not forget, I have to sign him first.’’
Show of strength
Jonathan Huberdeau, who was on Causeway Street Thursday with the Panthers, entered Saturday as one of 22 NHLers with a dozen or more goals. Among the leaders for Rookie of the Year, Huberdeau scored all but one of those goals at even strength, and none shorthanded. A good measure of effective play. Of the 22 in his group, only three others — Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis and Carolina’s Jiri Tlusty, each with 13 goals, and Colorado’s Matt Duchene, with 12 — also had but one power-play goal.
Tlusty is having an impressive season with the Hurricanes. Originally a Maple Leafs first-round pick (13th/2006), the Czech pivot was dealt in December 2009 for the all-but-forgotten Philippe Paradis (living the dream these days with AHL Rockford). Tlusty, who turned 25 Saturday, finally began to display some touch last year, and entering Saturday, he ranked third in Carolina scoring (13-9—22). No telling, but had he stuck around Toronto, he might have blossomed as Phil Kessel’s setup guy.
Clear choice on visors
Word out of the Rangers room last weekend was that Marc Staal, felled by a slapper that drilled him over the left eye, should be back on the job in 2-3 weeks. Staal’s injury, and the resultant chatter about eye protection, did not prompt Chiarelli to ask his few visorless employees to adopt the protective wear. “I haven’t asked them, nor will I,’’ said the GM. “I wish they would all wear visors, but I respect it as a decision for each individual to make.’’ Chiarelli for the first time this season has requested that all Bruins wear helmets during pregame warmups.
Rumors persist that the Bruins are in the hunt to add aged Flames warrior Jarome Iginla at the deadline. The bet here is that senior Senator Daniel Alfredsson would be higher on Boston’s wish list. But neither may be available . . . The short season may not make it practical, but Chiarelli said he’d like to find an opportunity for Providence goalie Niklas Svedberg to get in a game with Boston. “He’s had a hell of a year, leads the [AHL] in wins , and he’s just a constant battler,’’ said Chiarelli. “But we have to be fair to [Anton] Khudobin, too, because he’s given us very good service this season. In a perfect world, sure, I’d like Niklas to get the chance. I just don’t know if there’s going to be time.’’ . . . Thursday’s signing of Anthony Camara to a three-year entry deal with Boston is pegged to begin next year, which means the gritty winger isn’t being slotted as potential depth for a Cup run. The Bruins picked him 81st in the 2011 draft, and his game has really come around in his last season-plus with Barrie (OHL). “An energy guy,’’ said Chiarelli, drawing parallels to Cal Clutterbuck and Steve Ott. “He likes to make open-ice hits and he’s a bit of an agitator, too. He’s shown the speed in junior to create a lot of offensive chances.’’ . . . Some ugly numbers, going into Saturday’s play: elite Rangers forward Marian Gaborik with but one goal since Feb. 14; Detroit wizard Pavel Datsyuk one goal in his last 12 games; Winged Wheel teammate Henrik Zetterberg with one goal in 21 games.