Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
Bruins notebook

Ramsay zoned in on defense

Assistant eager to upgrade corps

CRAIG RAMSAY Hands-on approach CRAIG RAMSAY Hands-on approach

By acquiring Manny Fernandez, the Bruins' assumption was that an upgrade in the goaltending tandem would be the first step in turning last season's 3.48 goals allowed per game into a more respectable number.

But the defensemen in front of Fernandez and Tim Thomas will be just as responsible.

"I think everybody realizes that last year, the D zone was certainly one of the weaknesses, and we need to improve that," said coach Claude Julien. "If we do, we'll get better without the puck. If we get better without the puck and do the job properly, we'll get the puck quicker and be able to go on offense a lot more."

Fixing the defense was on Julien's mind when he tabbed former Tampa Bay associate coach Craig Ramsay to be one of his assistants. This season, Ramsay will work primarily with the defensemen to ensure they learn Julien's system and be a stingier unit than last year's leaky corps.

"His experience is invaluable," said Julien. "His approach with players and the way he handles them is something that's impressive, too. You have to be able to make the corrections, but you also have to be able to do it in the right way - in a way that players are positive about it and want to do it. He has that ability to do that."

Ramsay's task is as tall as any. The Bruins gave up 285 goals last season, just 12 fewer than league-worst Philadelphia. The Boston defensemen acknowledge there was defensive-zone confusion at times, compounded by weakness in communication with forwards who arrived for support.

During camp, one of the coaching staff's pledges has been to give players simple assignments that fit their styles. They've been telling Zdeno Chara to play his rough, shutdown game and not worry as much about contributing on offense. They've instructed impressive rookie Matt Hunwick to take advantage of his skating and puck-moving skills to transition from defense to offense as quickly as possible.

"You want to strengthen things that may be a weakness," Ramsay said. "But the key is to put them in situations where they can do their best and where they feel comfortable. We all have to be on the same page as a coaching staff to pass on that information."

In practice yesterday, Ramsay pulled aside his defensemen regularly, ushering them to the greaseboard to diagram plays and show them what they should and shouldn't be doing. The Bruins are still adjusting to Julien's box-plus-one system, and mastering it will be a critical chore for the remaining days of camp.

That's where Ramsay, who will also work on the penalty kill, should be an important presence for the defensemen, although he's trusting that instinct will kick in once the regular season kicks off.

"The difference between hockey and other sports is that you have less control once the puck is in motion in setting up plays and setting up situations," Ramsay said. "Players have to learn the game. They have to learn their system so they can react quickly without doing too much thinking. If they stop to think about the situation or the play, it becomes much more difficult. What we want to do is teach them to understand what it is they have to do. Then they can just react."

Lashoff sent down
Second-year pro Matt Lashoff was assigned to Providence yesterday, trimming the camp ranks to 27 players. Lashoff, who will turn 21 Saturday, was injured in last Saturday's 4-3 shootout loss to Toronto, but it appeared his chances of making the team were dim even before then.

"I think a lot of it is experience," Julien said of Lashoff's assignment. "He's a guy that can move the puck and get up the ice well. I think defensively he still has to work a bit on his game. Little things that, I'm sure, with the ice time he'll get in Providence and with the coaches there, he'll be able to get better in those areas. He's got a lot of upside, and it's just a matter of giving him some time to develop. We don't want to push him into a situation where he's going to regress instead of progress."

In camp, Lashoff was outplayed by Hunwick, the 22-year-old University of Michigan alumnus who's making a strong push to make the big club. Hunwick, who was paired with Aaron Ward yesterday, has played in even-strength and special-teams situations, making smart decisions and moving the puck crisply.

"His skating is extremely good and his mobility is good," said Julien of Hunwick. "He moves the puck well. But that doesn't necessarily mean that he's ready. We've got to find out whether he's ready for this level or whether he needs a little bit of seasoning. That's the way these next two games will decide those kinds of things."

Sticking around
Thomas, once a devotee of TPS sticks, will start the season with a Bauer model, citing his preference for its curve and handle. However, Thomas currently has only three Bauers remaining, so he's been practicing with a Reebok stick. "Practically unbreakable," Thomas said of the Reebok . . . Shawn Thornton (hip flexor) missed practice again . . . According to the Ottawa Citizen, the Bruins signed goalie Adam Courchaine to a three-year, entry-level contract. Courchaine was undrafted but invited to Boston's development camp and appeared at training camp. The 18-year-old is in his rookie season with Ottawa of the Ontario Hockey League.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at

More from