On hockey

Kaberle’s futility sums up opener

By Kevin Paul Dupont
May 15, 2011

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Tomas Kaberle is now officially a misfit toy, a borrowed piece from Toronto brought to the Hub to help the power play, only to end up looking like the plastic ear stuck in the middle of Mr. Potato Head’s face. Tough on the eyes. Very tough. Embarrassing.

Wasn’t Kaberle supposed to make the power play look better? Instead, with the aging Czech defenseman brought in to man the point, steady the show, help produce goals with his velvet-handed dishes, the Boston man-advantage has turned into the laughingstock of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.

The Bruins went their standard 0 for 4 on the advantage last night, dropping to a feckless 2 for 41 in 12 games, and the one time Kaberle was isolated for a shot in the right wing circle he missed the right post by about six inches. Nothing but net. The outside, useless portion, how-the-heck-did-that-happen side of the net.

“My stick bent on it,’’ said Kaberle, asked if perhaps he is squeezing his stick too hard, hockey code for being tense. “It happens. It’s not about squeezing the stick. It’s about hitting the net.’’

That’s the 24-square-foot net as framed by those three red pipes. In his 17:29 of ice time last night, Kaberle landed two of his four attempts on net, so he knows where it is, although he is far too reluctant to shoot. That alone is part of his problem. He doesn’t have a great shot, so he prefers not to use it, which leaves the opposition with an advantage right off the hop. If he’s not going to shoot, and he’s working the point on the power play, then the advantage is essentially working with one hand (Kaberle’s) tied behind its back.

The worst of the Kaberle worst last night, though, came at even strength, only moments after the Bruins slipped into a mental fugue after surrendering two first-period goals in a span of 19 seconds. There was Kaberle, behind his own net, holding a puck shoveled his way by defensive partner Dennis Seidenberg (a game-worst minus-3). Under no particular pressure, and obviously absent a clue, Kaberle all but gifted the puck to an advancing Teddy Purcell at the right post, and Purcell promptly cashed in the gift certificate for a 3-0 Tampa lead.

That’s a new low for the misfit toy from Toronto. It’s one thing not to help where he is supposed to help, but it’s something different to be coughing up the puck under no pressure, right there at his own net, and looking on while Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals goes right down the drain. The only boo-boo that could have been more blatant would have been for Kaberle to have shot the puck off the back of goalie Tim Thomas’s left leg for a bank-shot own goal.

“He didn’t take it from me, the puck slid on my blade and I tried to make a move,’’ said Kaberle. “Those things you have to put behind you, the past behind you . . . When you make a mistake, you have to put it behind you.’’

The Bruins were uncharacteristically foggy in the first period, especially in that stretch when they yielded the three goals in a span of 1:25 and completely deflated a sellout crowd that was crackling with excitement in the minutes leading up to the opening faceoff. It was the first Eastern Conference final played in the new Garden.

Sean Bergenheim struck first at 11:15, followed by Brett Clark with the 2-0 lead only 19 seconds later, with Thomas either fooled or unprepared for the shot after Clark carried nearly two-thirds the length of the ice. Clark first slipped by Michael Ryder in the neutral zone, then deked around Andrew Ference as he gained entry over the blue line, and launched his softy from the right wing circle. Lots of blame to share there.

“We made mistakes on all three goals, that’s pretty obvious,’’ noted coach Claude Julien, who finally called a mercy timeout after the Thomas cough-up. “But they are mistakes we can correct easily.’’

All the juice went out of the crowd with the Clark goal. Could this be the same Boston team that swept the Flyers out of Round 2? Sure didn’t look it. But neither did the Bolts look like the Broad Streeters. Each goal gave the Tampa team that extra penny’s worth of confidence. The Kaberle gimme took those two pennies and turned them into a dollar.

Stunned, Julien called a timeout and summoned his dead-on-double-runners charges to the bench. What a revolting development.

“We lost the puck on the side of the net,’’ lamented Julien, later adding, “we need to be a little better with puck management.’’

To say nothing of puckhandling, especially on the 0-for-4 power play. On Boston’s first advantage, the puck left the attack zone on six occasions. The second time it left the zone four times. Four more times on the third PP. Four more on the fourth. Do we see a pattern here? It’s very hard to score goals when the puck is only in there for the blink of an eye. But that’s not on Kaberle. That’s an overall breakdown of the entry, and the inability to hold the zone.

It’s time to try something new on the PP and a place to start could be pulling Kaberle off the point. OK, he cost general manager Peter Chiarelli a former No. 1 pick, Joe Colborne, and a first-round pick in this year’s draft. But those are assets, and costly ones. To leave Kaberle out there is adding to the cost, in terms of goals not scored and now goals gifted.

Yes, sometimes you make a mistake and you have to put it behind you. When the toy doesn’t fit, find something better.

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