With a flurry of goals, Jeff Jillson gives the Bruins' blue line punch
It's been awhile since a Bruins defenseman has made opposing goaltenders shake in their crease. In fact, no Boston blue-liner has cracked the 40-point barrier since Raymond Bourque had 57 in 1998-99. With last year's top-scoring defender Bryan Berard (38 points) lost to free agency and Jonathan Girard (22, third best) sidelined for the season with a broken pelvis and two neck fractures, Boston figured to get little offense from its defense.
Enter 23-year-old Jeff Jillson, whose size (6'3", 220 pounds) and booming shot have added punch to the Boston blue line. A Rhode Island native who grew up idolizing Bourque, Jillson was tied for the NHL lead in goals by a defensemen (three) through Sunday and was a mainstay on the power play. "He sees the ice very well and makes the first pass as good as most defensemen in the league," says rookie coach Mike Sullivan, whose team was off to a 5-2-2-0 start. "The question was, What was the right time for him to make the jump [to the NHL]?"
After a stutter start to his pro career, Jillson appears to be in the league to stay. A first-round draft pick by the Sharks in 1999, he played a total of 74 NHL games in two seasons, bouncing between San Jose and its minor league affiliate in Cleveland. Jillson began last season with the Sharks, but he was demoted for failing to score a goal in his first 26 games and making costly errors. The Bruins acquired him last January for defenseman Kyle McLaren.
Following the trade, Jillson spent the balance of last season with Boston's AHL affiliate in Providence, learning the organization's defensive system and rebuilding his confidence. "He was fragile," says Sullivan, who coached Jillson in Providence. "Playing in the NHL, then getting sent down for a length of time has an effect on players."
Jillson reported to training camp in better shape than last season and won a roster spot. On opening night he scored twice in a 3-3 tie against Martin Brodeur and the Devils. His third goal was the game-winner in a 4-1 victory over the Avalanche last week. "We think he can develop into one of the [league's] top defensemen" says G.M. Mike O'Connell. "It's a matter of time, and we're giving him that time."
Defense Reigns Supreme
Scoring Down, Shutouts Up
This season the NHL began citing a Defensive Player of the Week, and the competition for the honor must be fierce. Through Sunday there had been an average of 4.9 goals per game, a huge drop from 5-7 at the same point last year.
Even more dramatic has been the jump in the number of shutouts. In this season's first 101 games there were 24, including a pair of scoreless ties on Oct. 16, the first time since 1934 that there were two such games on the same day. At the same point in 2002-03 there were six shutouts; the 24th didn't occur until Nov. 19.