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This Russian was in a rush

Zinovjev couldn't wait for skills to develop

And amid the meltdown, top prospect Sergei Zinovjev packed up and returned to Russia.


Boy, quite a stretch for the local NHL franchise, wouldn't you say?

From the limited exposure he got here, it sure didn't look as though Zinovjev -- a.k.a. the Siberian Secret -- was ready for more than a slow immersion into the NHL's frozen waters. Was he petulant? Was he a slacker? Was he arrogant? There were rumblings of all that and more, but given his dysfunctional English, it's impossible, and frankly unfair, to make a bonafide assessment of his character.

We can say with absolute certainty, though, that his Russian-trained game wasn't a fit. He could skate. He could maneuver in tight places. But it remained to be seen if he could handle: 1. the heavy checking and day-to-day, game-to-game grunt work that come with the job, and 2. the defensive accountability that only the game's most gifted can shirk (and even then only until their hands begins to fade).

The 23-year-old Zinovjev simply didn't look ready, and that's no sin, and let's all hold off on character assessment until we see what he does in the months and years ahead to get his game NHL-ready. Whether or not he wants to do the work will tell us who he is. From this side of the Charles, however, it's hard to believe he'll learn NHL skills any faster on that side of the Volga.

Let's not be quick to dismiss the money factor here. According to the Bruins, he can make roughly four times with Ak Bars Kazan what he could have if he remained all season with Providence. If jumping for the money is to be taken as arrogance or petulance, then that would only place him shoulder to shoulder with most, if not all, of the card-carrying NHL Players Association members. He ran to the dough. Gee, be still my wallet.

Of much greater concern here in the Hub of Hockey is the abysmal, passionless product we've seen out of the Bruins over the last three weeks. Is it beginning to feel like 2002-03 all over again? You bet it is. Ask yourself this: Where would they be this morning if the goaltending were still in the hands of Messrs. John Grahame and Steve Shields? It has turned into pretty much the same ol', same ol' for the Black & Gol', with the bold-faced asterisk that is Andrew Raycroft. The rookie right now is keeping this group from sinking like a townhouse in the Back Bay.

Question: How many more ties and OT losses before they qualify for the playoffs? As of yesterday morning, they were on pace for 35 wins this season -- one fewer than last season.

We keep hearing that no one at ice level is panicking. We also keep hearing, tie after tie after mind-numbing tie, that these guys feel pretty good about going home with, well, half a loaf (euphemism intended). By extension, you have to wonder if they really care, which was general manager Mike O'Connell's message when he finally popped off Thursday night, as documented by the Globe's Nancy Marrapese-Burrell.

By now, if you're truly attached to this team, you've already fired at least one snow-covered boot at the TV set and burned through three sets of AA batteries on the remote clicker. It's only mid-December and the story line reads too much like 2002-03 repeats. NESN Classic? Was it just me or for a second there did a clip of Channel 38's mini one-on-one and a "Three Stooges" teaser flash across the screen the other night? All games have been scheduled for Feb. 2 for the remainder of the season . . . the remainder of the season . . . the remainder of the season . . .

OK, the good news: It's Dec. 14, four months minus a week of what should be the start of the playoffs for Mike Sullivan's Bruins. That's ample time to get done whatever must be done -- be it simply a recommitment to fundamental, hard-hitting hockey, be it more Baby B's call-ups, be it a trade or two, be it a wholesale turnover of the team's core talent. From here, anything looks possible, and status quo looks like a death sentence.

Firing the coach, at this stage, would be total nonsense, although it is the decades-tested championship formula on Causeway Street. If that ends up being the answer management trots to corporate headquarters in Buffalo, the bet here is that club owner Jeremy Jacobs finally reaches his saturation point and tosses the management team out with the answer.

If the players don't feel a sense of panic right now, then Harry Sinden, O'Connell, et al, obviously do. We've seen it before. They have, too. Unlike the players, they don't kid themselves, because the last 12 years here have taken the humor out of everyone.

This is precisely where an organization's player-personnel depth has to be expected to come to the rescue. This is where Andy Hilbert, Ivan Huml, Martin Samuelsson, Milan Jurcina, Shaone Morrisonn -- the collective get-your-game-ready lifeline in the AHL -- should be bailing out the (pick your adjective: tired, listless, underperforming, understimulated, overestimated) band of struggling brothers in Boston. Thus far we've seen Ted Donato, Patrick Leahy, a smidgen of Zdenek Kutlak, and a fly-by from Doug "Diesel" Doull.

The good start is gone. This is the sweet part of the season. Could it all be going sour again?

Power outage

There were eight games in the NHL Wednesday night, a little more than half of the Original 30 in action. Half of those games went to overtime, and I'll resist the temptation here to launch yet another diatribe about score jockeying by the coaches. However, the urge to scratch another pet peeve is irresistible. Those 16 teams in those eight games, half of which went to sudden death, combined for 53 power plays. Total power-play goals scored: 2. That's right, the man-advantage in the NHL Wednesday night hummed along at 3.8 percent. Can we please put to rest the outdated argument that the NHL must return to the old days and leave penalties posted for their duration? Wednesday night, 96.2 percent of the penalites did remain posted for the duration, and NO ONE SCORED. It's not about the clock. The great flaw of the power play is the decades-long institutional dumbing down that allows the shorthanded team -- the team that committed the foul! -- to wing the puck 200 feet down ice without being charged with icing, allowing a perpetual flow of fresh legs onto the ice to all but nullify the impact/advantage of the penalty. The suggestion here isn't to make scoring on a power play as easy as shooting a free throw. But how about, at the very least, keeping the icing rule intact for the duration of the game? Once that's remedied, perhaps the Board of Governors will get around to realizing that icing during a power play is, simply, delay of the game. Maybe someone in an NHL leadership position one day can take a leadership position . . . Oh, by the way, Donato's goal in Florida was shorthanded, which means power plays outscored penalty kills, 2-1, Wednesday night . . . Washington stood a woeful 8-18-1-1 when coach Bruce Cassidy got the gate last week. The record alone was enough to turf him, but just days before Cassidy unloaded on his club in practice, berating players for reporting to work with personal/family issues on their minds. Later, with a clearer head, he apologized -- shortly before he was handed his own head by GM George McPhee . . . If there's another skate to fall in the management-coaching ranks, hints are it could be a Mike Milbury-Steve Stirling twinbill this week on Long Island. The Islanders are 4 points out of a playoff spot. That's not Pittsburgh-Washington-Columbus kind of bad, but bad enough, especially the NHL's crowded metro New York market . . . If the season ended today, Los Angeles's Andy Murray would have to be coach of the year. His Kings lineup devastated by injury, Murray nonetheless had them leading the Pacific Division with 34 points -- good for the No. 3 seed out West. Newcomer Martin Straka, blanked in his first game after moving from Pittsburgh Nov. 30, went 3-4--7 over the next five . . . All NHL rosters will be frozen Saturday, player transactions not allowed again until Dec. 27, in keeping with the collective bargaining agreement's holiday provision. The embargo alone won't be a catalyst for the Bruins to make a trade, but it does add some urgency and interest to this week . . . The shock isn't that Alexandre Daigle is back in the league. The shock is that, at least for now, it looks as if he's bought into Jacques Lemaire's all-defensive scheme in Minnesota. Can't beat that, another wondrous talent working like all the other widgets . . . The revivin' Flames, an impressive 8-1-1-2 in their last dozen games headed into weekend play, will be on Causeway Street Thursday night. Key to the growth spurt: Netminder Miikka Kiprusoff, acquired a month ago from San Jose, was an impressive 7-2-0 in his first nine starts with a 1.55 goals-against mark and a .933 save percentage . . . Ak Bars, by the way, is Tatar for Snow Leopard, something your faithful puck chronicler didn't know until a valuable helper was provided by a poster at Check out if you're interested in an Ak Bars sweater. Sergei the Snow Leopard. Guess it works. Zinovjev's Toronto-based agent, Don Meehan, had little to say last week when asked about his client's decision to up and leave. For the ever-gracious Meehan to be so tightlipped is rare. Asked about the terms of Zinovjev's contract with Ak Bars, Meehan offered, "I can't speak to that, because it's not something I negotiated. He had someone else handling that."

Show them the money

Oilers holdout Mike Comrie was headed to Anaheim last week, until the recalcitrant center was asked to pony up $2.5 million before he left town. Now there's a new twist, asking the player instead of the acquiring team to even off the deal. If we're going to be treated to more of this kind of "forward thinking" as the current CBA dies its painful death, we could have players driving the Zamboni and manning concessions by Valentine's Day. The Ducks, until the Oilers hit Comrie with the financial haymaker, agreed to give up Corey Perry, a first-round pick (No. 28 overall) last June, as well as a first-rounder next June . . . Bryan Berard -- out of the Chicago lineup with a pulled groin -- alone wouldn't have prevented Boston's tough ride of late, but he would have helped. Jonathan Girard, too. Don Sweeney, three. Overall, the defense is hurting two ways in the back end: its failure to play basic defense, as well as its inability to trigger a strong breakout. At the far end of the ice, they rarely jump into the play and help create scoring chances. A case of it is broke, and someone better fix it . . . Felix Potvin long gone from LA, the Kings called Cristobal Huet between the pipes Thursday when Roman Cechmanek got dinged up against the Predators. The 214th pick in the 2001 draft, Monsieur Huet was born in St. Martin D'Heres, France, and also played on the French Olympic team in '02 before splitting time between LA and Manchester (AHL) last season . . . Less than a month to go before Cam Neely's big night at the Vault, his No. 8 set to go to the rafters Jan. 12. Wonder if Claude Lemieux has booked a room yet . . . Former Merrimack netminder Joe Exter, his skull fractured last March while playing at Boston College, continues to work out most every day with the Merrimack squad. According to his agent, Bryant McBride, one NHL club in the last two weeks has asked Exter to be ready for an ECHL assignment, provided an anticipated personnel shift takes place in the organization's depth chart. "There have been a couple of other feelers, too," said McBride. "Joe's taking this as a job, and he's fully committed to making it a profession. He'll get there." . . . Former BC Eagle Marty McInnis still hasn't been picked up after being bought out over the summer by the Bruins. According to agent Bob Murray, McInnis and family are living in Florida, and the veteran winger is keeping in shape, hoping that someone will make him an NHL offer . . . Times like these are when Bruins Country looks for the slightest sign of optimism. Friday morning, Channel 5 reported that Cambridge police were searching for a woman suspected of a series of home break-ins in the area. Lo and behold, next we see a Channel 5 reporter knocking on the front door of the alleged perpetrator, who is wearing a shoulder-to-knee Boston Red Sox nightshirt. No doubt her Bruins sweater was at the dry cleaners, because the spoked-B for years has been the featured apparel of an endless parade of criminals small, big, and Triple-XL at our local courthouses. If the style is changing, maybe the Bruins' luck is, too?

Kevin Paul Dupont's e-mail address is; material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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