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A feeling of helplessness

Options are limited for struggling Bruins

As hosings go, the humiliating 10-2 loss to Toronto the Bruins endured at home Thursday night was the kind of power-wash knockdown delivered by tactical police units when quelling college riots. Take one angry mob of students, aim the hose iPod-high, open the hydrants full force, and wash the kids down the storm drain.

The Bruins are looking for help, and not solely because of the greatest embarrassment they've ever suffered inside the four walls and alongside the 1 billion concession stands of the Vault. In fact, they were looking even before the puck dropped Thursday night, because the old year ended on a bad note (a 5-0 loss in Nashville) and the new year started just as flat (a 5-1 loss at Toronto).

"I'd like to add a defenseman," said general manager Peter Chiarelli, who now is in the thick of the first, and likely not the last, of his Causeway Street crises. "Now, at what spot we add a guy, I'm not sure. It might be in that No. 3, 4, 5 spot, which means maybe someone moves up, and a guy or two move down. But that's one place we're looking to improve."

Then the discussion moved to the forwards.

"I'd like to add some jam up there," said the former Senators assistant GM, who could sorely use a Chris Neil kind of nastiness, and effectiveness, mixed into his Charmin-soft shooters.

Question of the day: Can anyone up front play with chin tucked and at least a tiny flicker of fire in the eye? Harvard guys show more spunk and pluck at a Radcliffe mixer.

For the record, Chiarelli offered the above "needs" list following the first period Thursday night, at which time his Bruins held a 2-1 lead over a struggling Maple Leaf roster that had broad strains of AHL mixed in its DNA. Shortly before 10 p.m., a dazed-looking Chiarelli, fresh from watching the Leafs rattle off nine unanswered goals, stepped into Dave Lewis's office, and the coach later reported the pair had no plans to call up anyone from Providence.

Well, to summon no one now from the Wanna-B's means only one thing: Chiarelli and Lewis feel there is no one down there who can help (Matt Lashoff came up yesterday, but only to spell the injured Zdeno Chara). For help from "within," the best hope right now would be for a speedy recovery for Phil Kessel, the 19-year-old rookie who had surgery for testicular cancer Dec. 11. In fairness to both sides, it would be asking too much of a raw rookie, even with Evgeni Malkin's skills, to pass a healing wand over this bunch right now.

As for who gets traded, provided Chiarelli can engage a partner, there is a very limited "hold" list now in the Hub of Hockey. Other than the two high-end free agents signed last summer, Chara and Marc Savard, along with Patrice Bergeron, the rest of the roster is in play. If they knew for sure that Brad Stuart wants to stay (they don't), and they knew what the cost would be (they don't), then he would be a "hold," too. As of now, he's a free agent-to-be, likely to be somewhere else on or before the Feb. 27 deadline.

To make the picture all the more complicated, the goaltending issue, which became a nonfactor during Tim Thomas's very successful December, again must be questioned. Thomas, beaten on 8 of 31 shots Thursday night, looked bad on a couple of fat rebounds. He looked all the worse, of course, with 18 skaters (for lack of a better term) displaying all the grace and skill and tenacity of hogtied penguins skittering across the ice.

If there is a quick fix here -- and the November 2005 trade of Joe Thornton to San Jose tells us about quick fixes -- then it is not making itself apparent. Trades in the NHL this season have been few, in large part because of CBA constraints related to salary cap issues. Deals now are as much, if not more, about swapping dollars as they are about trading talents. First things first, the math must work, and then you hope the new blood works, too.

Truth is, the dealing, the true impact dealing, gets done in the first 2-3 weeks of July. Once the season begins, GMs find out whether they got it right the first time, or the only time, and then can think only in terms of sprucing up or tweaking a roster on the fly, October through February.

Now, with slightly more than seven weeks to go before the deadline, Chiarelli and crew are down to finding big answers among the meager scraps available around the league. It's not going to happen. Either Lewis finds a new scheme, or discovers trigger points he didn't know existed within himself, or within his players, or the new-look Bruins are going to end up with the same old (read: non-playoff) results.

A spin down memory lane on winged wheels

Tim Thomas grew up in Michigan, and when it came to playing street hockey, the aspiring NHL goalie often played the shooter and left the netminding work to his brother, Jake.

"I was like most kids in Michigan, I guess," said the 32-year-old Thomas, thinking back a couple of decades to his boyhood days in Flint. "I was always Steve Yzerman, going down on a breakaway."

Yzerman, a sure-shot Hall of Famer, saw his No. 19 lifted to the rafters of Joe Louis Arena last Tuesday. He called it a career last summer, after amassing 692 goals, 1,755 points, and three Stanley Cups (1997, '98, and 2002) with the Winged Wheels.

To grow up in Michigan in the '80s and '90s, as Thomas made clear, was to grow up a fan of the Wings and Yzerman, although Bruins coach Dave Lewis said it took that first Cup in '97 -- Stevie Y's 14th season -- for the Red Wing fandom truly to appreciate the baby-faced pivot.

"Until winning that first Cup," noted Lewis, who was in the Joe for the Yzerman fete, "people were criticizing Steve for not being a good leader. That was the only way to prove that they were incorrect."

Thomas had just finished up as a senior at Vermont when the Wings won that first Cup. He fondly recalled wearing a Red Wings T-shirt, with the names of Yzerman and teammates silk-screened all over it.

"That was my NHL team growing up," he said. "Although, I was probably a bigger fan of the IHL, and we went all over for those games -- Flint, Toledo back in the day, Saginaw, Muskegon, and even Kalamazoo, about 3 1/2 hours from where we lived. I was a huge Stevie Y fan, and before the Cups came, too. I loved guys like [Bob ] Probert and [Joey ] Kocur -- the Bruise Brothers, they called 'em."

As for Jake, he is now a youth minister in Howell, Mich.

"I was Yzerman and Jake was the goalie . . . let's see, he was probably one of the Flint Generals," mused Thomas. "Oh, wait a minute, that probably would have been Steve Penney, and he later went to Montreal. Uh . . ."

Sauve says Girard's new spa business is a feel-good story

Philippe Sauve, keeping the backup goalie spot warm in the Hub of Hockey while Hannu Toivonen shapes up his game in Providence, grew up outside of Montreal and became close pals with Jonathan Girard, the former Bruins defenseman forced to retire early last season following a severe auto accident in the summer of 2003.

"We're the same age [26], and over the years we played against each other, and on some of the same teams, too, especially over the summer," said Sauve, whose father, Bob, the former NHL goalie, is a longtime agent who also represented Girard.

"A really great guy, Jon, and he's doing really well now -- happy, healthy -- and that's what's important."

Girard suffered a broken neck and a crushed pelvis in the accident near his home in Joliette, Quebec.

By the spring of 2005, Girard was back in Boston, working out, and participated in the first Boston training camp after the lockout. After one game with Providence last season, he called it quits, his play limited by lingering physical issues related to the accident.

"From what I understand, he's opening a spa -- with massages, European baths, that sort of stuff -- back in Joliette," said Sauve. "There are a few in the area now, and they're doing very well, from what I understand, so that should be good for him.

"Most of all, he feels good, and he's OK."


Endangered Sharks
In the midst of a 3-5-0 soft spot, the Sharks surprisingly ditched young guns Matt Carle (D), last season's Hobey Baker winner, and Steve Bernier (RW) to Worcester (AHL) at the start of the week -- a move no doubt aimed at waking up some of the squad's bigger underperforming names (virtually everyone in teal the last 3-4 weeks), perhaps as a prelude to a deal. Jonathan Cheechoo, who topped the league last season with 56 goals (most with Joe Thornton's gloveprints attached), has been particularly disappointing, 13-13--26 through his first 35 games, and a team-worst minus- 10. Thornton, meanwhile, is on pace for 100 points, a 20 percent reduction from his league-high 125 of last season. Jumbo amassed four helpers against the Wings Thursday night.

Jackman gets a Duck tour
Little more than a spare part on the Florida blue line, onetime Bruins backliner Ric Jackman drew the "Advance to Boardwalk" card last week when the Ducks picked him up as a patch to fill the Chris Pronger (broken foot) blowout. The No. 5 pick in the '96 draft (Dallas), the well-traveled Jackman has now worn sweaters for the Stars, Bruins, Leafs, Penguins, Panthers, and Ducks. Cost to the Ducks: a conditional draft pick in June. Pronger is expected to miss at least a month after breaking the foot on a blocked shot against the Wild last Sunday. "We get a little of a break there, with the All-Star break this month," noted GM Brian Burke. "It's not displaced. No screws. No plates. Strictly a healing/pain-tolerance issue."

Penguins about to migrate?
Mario Lemieux and fellow Penguin dignitaries were in Kansas City Thursday, kicking the tires on the new $276 million Sprint Center that stands to be Igloo West if the team can't cut a juicy new arena deal in Pittsburgh. Based on the sweetheart scheme the Anschutz Entertainment Group is offering, including a long-term rent-free existence in Missouri, it's hard to imagine Steel City fathers cobbling together a better deal by the end of the month -- at which time the NHL must know of the Penguins' landing spot for the 2007-08 season. The Anschutz Group is the entertainment arm of Philip F. Anschutz, owner of the Los Angeles Kings. Among those who welcomed Mario Magnifique to K.C.: ex-Penguin Luc Robitaille, who called it quits in LA after last season. It's all so, you know, cozy. "We are not trying to steal the Penguins," assured AEG president Tim Leiweke.

Better in a New York minute
After losing seven straight, the Rangers have won four straight, including a 3-2 victory over the Devils Tuesday that went to the eighth round of the shootout. The Blueshirts had been let down by the mediocre sophomore netminding of Henrik Lundqvist and some failings of their special-team units. During the 0-7-0 run, the Blueshirts were an anemic 4 for 37 (10.8 percent) on the man-advantage, while their PK unit killed only 24 of 35 penalties (68.6 percent). The winning streak may have pulled Tom Renney from the top of the "Coach Most Likely To Be Fired" list. Another sign of optimism: the return last week of energy forward Jed Ortmeyer, back on duty after being sidelined with a pulmonary embolism.

Canucks getting it done
Elite winger Markus Naslund ( 17 games without a goal) still hasn't found his B game, never mind his A game, but the Canucks are on their best roll of the season, a 6-0-0 run that began soon after their visit to Causeway Street. Naslund is only 0-4--4 during the streak, but the Canucks supported goalie Roberto Luongo (in net for every minute, including two OT wins) with near-perfect penalty killing (35 for 37). Other than the Sedin twins, Daniel and Henrik, virtually no one up front scores for the Canucks in the post-Todd Bertuzzi era. But the backline has carried some of the scoring load. Blue liners Mattias Ohlund, Kevin Bieksa, and Sami Salo have a combined 22 goals.

Fashionable footwear
Count yourself among those who haven't lived if you've never seen the faux leopard-skin skate guards that cover Milan Jurcina's elongated blades. "What's wrong with them?" said Jurcina when a dressing room visitor questioned his skate couture. "They keep them warm." The hulking Jurcina (6 feet 4 inches, 235 pounds), by the way, wears only a size 11 1/2 skate, which means he must fold his toes under, at least twice.

A helping of Pie
John "Pie" McKenzie, among the most endearing cast members of the Big Bad Bruins, read here last week that the Berklee College of Music had a club hockey team, and now he's offered to coach the lyrical little troupe. "I guess they've got about 20 kids on the team, and they've all got different ideas," said the ever-smiling 69-year-old. "What the heck, I'll try to find 'em some ice, and maybe I can teach 'em a few things." McKenzie, who lives just north of the city, was in Franklin yesterday, conducting a clinic for Bay State Hockey.

Cleary is clearly better
Headed into weekend play, renaissance man Dan Cleary still led the Red Wings in goals (17). A top prospect in the '97 draft, the skilled but soft Cleary didn't have an offer out of the 2004-05 lockout, and he showed up in Detroit on a tryout basis. He landed a spot, despite the fact that Mike Babcock, the new coach, was the guy who cut Cleary from Team Canada's world junior squad in '97. "I had to prove to him that I was a different player, and a different person," said Cleary.

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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