This was Ray Bourque week around the NHL. Ray was named player
of the week for the period ending 12/20/98, and the reason was a
mixture of past and present, looking toward the future.
Ray had five assists in three games that week, showing that he
still brings a strong game to the rink after 20 years in a Bruins
uniform. Ray has 20 points in 30 games, and is always among
the league leaders in minutes logged per game. He looks likely
to be voted in as a starting defenseman for North America in the
NHL All-Star game.
But most of all, this week he moved into third place on the list
of all-time assist leaders, with 1,049. And in doing so, he
bypasses one of the game's immortals, Gordie Howe, as if Ray
needed further credentials to ensure his entry into the Hockey
Hall of Fame. Even having a friend like Linda Tripp probably
wouldn't stop him, because Ray has been as scandal-free as a
public person can be. Ray is also well within range of second
place because Paul Coffey has been laid up with a cranky back,
and Bourque has been sneaking up on him.
Ray accomplished this feat by tallying three assists in a Bruin
comeback victory over the Detroit Red Wings, where both Howe and
Coffey logged some years and points.
No one in the game represents what is best in hockey more than
Ray Bourque. Unfortunately, Ray is so humble and quiet and clean
that he doesn't garner the attention that Coffey and Brian Leech
and Eric Lindros and others get. That is just fine with Ray, who
always lets his hockey playing speak for itself. When Ray does
signal his retirement, you can bet that there will be some very
serious final tour events around the league, and fans of all NHL
teams will have a chance to give Ray the recognition he deserves.
Think of it this way: what NHL fan would not wish that the next
defenseman his team drafts is the next Ray Bourque, or something
What could be more entertaining for a hardcore Bruins fan than
watching Hab-agony, as the Montreal Canadiens have gone 0-for
December - the entire month of December without a win. Their
stretch of five losses and five ties didn't include a loss to the
Bruins (that loss was their Thanksgiving turkey - the Bruins
scored five third-period goals on 11/27 to humiliate the Habs).
One has to grant that the Montreal December schedule has been
horrendous, with games against all the league's achievers (New
Jersey twice, Toronto, Phoenix twice, Dallas twice, Buffalo) and
over-achievers (Carolina and Nashville, both doing better on the
ice than expected).
The problems have been many: injuries, a defense dismembered by
boneheaded trades, and sub-Roy goaltending. Well, that and the
sorriest overall collection of losers to drop the torch since the
Original Seven non-playoff 1938-39 through 41-42 seasons
(everyone conveniently overlooks the New York Americans of those
years, who shared the league cellar with the Habs).
The Habs have four games remaining in December (Ottawa, Toronto,
Edmonton, and Calgary) to redeem their month, but all four games
are away and Montreal is 1-9-4 on the road. So coach Alain
Vigneault could be getting coal for Christmas, and a case of
skunky Molson for New Year's.
By contrast, the Bruins' December record has been most
encouraging. Granted, the Bruins lost back-to-back games against
Detroit and Buffalo, but they came back to beat the Red Wings in
Boston 4-1 a few days later.
The Bruins have been 5-2-1 in December, with five games packed
into the upcoming holidays. Granted, all the games have not been
against the elite teams, but the Bruins have done the job: split
with the winners and ace the losers. The Bs finish the year with
four games in six days, all on the road. If they decide to take
a holiday, Boston still could end up a loser for December. That
is pretty unlikely with Pat Burns at the helm, because he won't
let a bad period go by without speaking his mind, let alone a few
Overall, the Bruins are healthy except for Peter Ferraro and Tim
Taylor. Tim's ankle is still hurtin' and though he has managed
to play in several games, every time he does, the ankle gets
tweaked again. At this point, the Bruins are saying Tim will be
home for Christmas. Meanwhile, his brother Chris is filling in
and doing pretty well, but he hasn't found his brother's
offensive touch, chiseling out only two goals and five assists in
Peter Ferraro has managed to play in 20 out of the first 22
games, but he has been out since the Montreal game, wherein he
took a thumpin' along the boards and ended up with a deep chest
bruise that has kept him out of the last eight games.
Speaking of missing eight games, goalie Rob Tallas has keeping
the coaches company on the bench during a nine-game stretch of
great goaltending by Byron Dafoe. Tallas returned to the ice
Monday night against the lowly Lightning and earned his first win
since November 24, when he beat, you guessed it, the Lightning.
Now, in baseball there are relief pitchers who specialize in
pitching that final inning, and hitters who bat against only
certain pitchers. In football, there are third down specialists.
But in hockey, does anybody need a goalie who specializes in
beating the Lightning? Then again, that makes for a better
career record than being held in reserve to always play against
the Sabres and be on the wrong end of every Dominik Hasek
whitewash, doesn't it.
Pat Burns should give Rob Tallas a start against a decent team or
two in this holiday blitz, just for insurance. We won't breathe
the "I" word, but even healthy, Dafoe needs more than one game in
Sergei Samsonov continues to amaze. When he gets the puck in the
opponent's zone during an away game, you can hear the murmur in
the crowd as he stickhandles, ducks, circles and weaves past the
hometown heroes. Sergei has 11 goals, and five of them are game-
winners. With one game-tying goal, that means that more than
half of his goals mean points in the standings.
It is no wonder opposing players are starting to back off a step,
even on the power play, lest he leave them bodychecking thin air.
It is also no surprise that he is in the running for a spot on
the NHL All-Star Game World team roster. Samsonov is currently
sixth in the voting for wingers. Now, surely the fact that Pavel
Bure, Mikael Renberg, Ziggy Palffy, and Alex Mogilny have been
conspicuously absent from the ice this season has helped Sergei.
Still, he is at worst likely to be a coach's selection.
Unfortunately, the guy who should be getting more credit, Dimitri
Khristich, isn't getting the votes. Dimitri has had a phenomenal
season thus far, leading the Bruins with 14 goals and 21 assists
in 29 games. Khristich currently ranks sixth overall in NHL
scoring, only three points behind leading vote-getter Jaromir
Jagr, but he ranks 16th in the All-Star voting for wingers,
behind a pack of no-show overpaid Euro-whiners, never mind in
overall votes. What a travesty.
The Bruins are currently ranked third in the NHL in power-play
efficiency, and fourth in penalty killing. Both of those stats
are a reflection of the hard work of Dimitri Khristich, who
spends a chunk of ice time on both these special teams.
Dimitri came to the Bruins with a little bit of a rap against his
attitude and work ethic from certain detractors. Under Pat
Burns, that certainly hasn't been the case this season. If
anyone ever tries to tell you that coaching doesn't matter, pull
out that snapshot of Pat Burns. No coach can take an on-ice
traveling disaster area to the Stanley Cup, but it sure is
rewarding to watch Burns teach/inspire/berate a team until it is
his team, heart and soul. None of the public humiliation and
sniping you see with some coaches, just straight talk and
consistent expectations. If Ray Bourque has any hope of lifting
the Stanley Cup before he retires, that hope is in the hands of
Speaking of Pat Burns, his number one project, Joe Thornton, has
been playing well lately, though he is still about an inch or two
away on every puck from making great plays. He will make a great
steal, but not get a clear shot, or he'll receive a tough pass
and be just this much short of a good wood one-timer. It is
fascinating to watch Jason Allison one shift, followed by a Joe
Thornton shift, because the similarities, a few years removed,
are easy to see. Both are strong on their skates, have a great
stride and lateral mobility. Both will never be considered
speedsters, yet they are hard to catch and harder to contain.
Both have a very long reach, and both can dish a hit and take a
Thornton might grow up just a tad meaner, to be honest. Both
were great in junior, and it looks like Thornton could follow
Allison as a "late" bloomer, as opposed to an instant All-Star
like Samsonov. The elements are there, but the polish that
Allison has developed hasn't yet come to Joe. Meanwhile, Burns
is showing new confidence in Joe, inserting him more in the power
play, and leaving him on the ice late into games. It is
just a matter of time.