Posted: Friday November 3, 2006 12:18PM; Updated: Friday November 3, 2006 8:31PM
As Dave Lewis puzzles over his baffling Bruins, Boston fans are puzzled by his moves.
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Submit a comment or question for Allan.
Since signing on in Boston, Dave Lewis hasn't forgotten everything he's learned in two decades of coaching, It only seems that way.
Despite a major injection of character and talent over the summer, Lewis' Bruins are struggling in the early going. Lately, it's like they've taken a page from the Red Sox handbook. It's not just that they lose, it's that they trick the fans into thinking all is well right before they slip spectacularly on the banana peel.
Coming on the heels of last-minute losses to St. Louis and Montreal, Thursday night's 5-4 shootout loss to the relentless Sabres was the third soul-crusher the team has suffered in as many weeks. These early debacles have some fans questioning whether the even-tempered Lewis is the right man for this job. There may come a time when that's worth considering, but at this point they need to tap on the brakes.
That's not to suggest Lewis hasn't made mistakes. His refusal to reunite last season's most effective forward unit -- Patrice Bergeron, Brad Boyes and Marco Sturm -- in the early weeks of the season was puzzling given the team's offensive bumbling. When he finally relented last night after Sturm returned from a brief injury layoff, the entire offensive corps showed the kind of spark that was expected from the onset.
Although that error was corrected, Lewis' game management in the Buffalo loss may have cost the team a point it needed more mentally than it did in the standings. A team that has seen a late 4-1 lead whittled down to 4-3 in the dying moments is begging for a timeout. None was called, and less than a minute later, Ales Kotalik tied the game for the Sabres.
As bad as that was, Lewis' decision to go with garbage collector Glen Murray and defensive winger PJ Axelsson in the shootout over hot hand Marc Savard and flashy rookie Phil Kessel was indefensible.
But take away the final result and it appears that the Bruins are at least taking positive steps. They dominated the league's best team for 50-plus minutes last night. Saturday, they held the surging Senators to a single goal in their biggest win of the season. Three points out of four against those two looks pretty good.
The difference? Better goaltending and better special teams play. Lewis gets lucky with the former, but deserves some of the credit for the latter. Just as important, the 11 new players on the roster are starting to develop some chemistry with the holdovers. That's not an overnight process, but Lewis has the experience to guide them through it.
Bottom line: Lewis earns his share of the blame for the early stumbles, but he's still a smart coach. He deserves more time.
Jamming The Crease
The NHL this week sent out warning letters to seven players, giving them their first strike in the league's anti-diving campaign. Under this nearly toothless policy, the names of the offenders weren't released. If penalties alone won't curb pratfalls, the league needs to recognize that shaming the divers might. It's likely that Sean Avery of the Kings and Dan Hinote of the Blues were two of the recipients. Each has been whistled twice this season for the infraction. Other probable letter-openers: Patrick Marleau, Tomas Vokoun, Curtis Joseph, Derek Roy and Darcy Tucker. Alexander Ovechkin was whistled last week for grandly embellishing a foul, but the speculation is that he escaped with a written slap on the wrist this time around.
Patrick O'Sullivan's first taste of the NHL was hardly the boffo opening that Hollywood predicted. The gifted forward, pegged in the preseason by many to be a Calder contender, was sent to the AHL by the Kings on Thursday after posting just two points in his first 12 games. Sullivan has the physical tools, but he seemed to lack to mental toughness to compete on a nightly basis. Chalk that up to maturity. A spell in Manchester is probably the best thing for his game right now .
The Alexei Kaigorodov experiment is over in Ottawa, at least for the time being. The young Russian, who was penciled in to start the season pivoting the Sens' second line, wilted under the physical pressure he faced in the early going. He was assigned to Binghamton of the AHL on Thursday. Although there's a chance he could ask to return to Russia, he's likely to accept the demotion .
It was a night of streaks beginning and ending in Chicago. Detroit's 2-1 win over the Blackhawks on Thursday was their fifth one-goal victory in a row. Early in the final stanza, struggling forward Henrik Zetterberg snapped a nine-game goalless drought with his third tally of the season. The result was less pleasant for the bumbling Hawks, who've now lost seven straight.
Believe it or not, 38-year-old blueliner Brian Leetch hasn't yet filed his retirement papers, and that's keeping the rumors of his return to the NHL at a slow boil. Philadelphia and Columbus are the destinations being whispered about, but it's hard to imagine Leetch signing up for an imminent track wreck. Expect him to resurface closer to Christmas, with a team that has a real chance to make some noise in the playoffs.