Bruins

Haggerty: Youthful, fast-moving Bruins draw rave reviews on opening night

Haggerty: Youthful, fast-moving Bruins draw rave reviews on opening night

BOSTON – There were two major takeaways from the Bruins opening night win over the Nashville Predators. One is that the B’s are very young in many key spots around the lineup and that they played very fast hockey in an energetically good way.

Three of Boston’s four goals in the 4-3 win over the Western Conference-champion Predators were from players 21 or under and the Bruins played fast, aggressive hockey while consistently pushing the pace and moving Nashville backward for long stretches of play.

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Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork both passed their top-six forward tests with flying colors as DeBrusk potted his first career goal on a nice drive to the net. Both of the rookie wingers ended up on the same line with a rejuvenated David Krejci by the end of the night. Charlie McAvoy showed his skill dishing slick PP passes to David Pastrnak for one-time opportunities and soaked up 22 plus minutes of ice time while also showing his rookie side by taking on three minor penalties.

The healthy doses of confidence that the rookies will take from opening night certainly can beneficial to a strong start and undoubtedly will also help guide them through the inevitable challenging periods they’ll face this season.

“It’s awesome. It’s awesome for the three of us to kind of get that out of the way and now you can roll, kind of,” said McAvoy. “Points aren’t everything that’s for sure, but for offensive guys like Jake [DeBrusk] and Anders [Bjork] and myself – I try and contribute – sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get that zero out of there in the point column. We came out of the gate pretty hot there and I’m very happy. I’m very happy for Jake, very happy for Anders to get their first points and I’m just thrilled that we walk out of there with two points.”

For a team that’s going to rely heavily on youthful contributions after no major signings or trades this summer, the Bruins had to love the early returns with all their kids stepping up in their first night under the big lights. There is still more of that to come, but the draft-and-development plan has begun to produce in a major, tangible way at the big-boy level.

“We’re pleased. They all had good moments. They all had learning moments throughout the course of the game, as we expected, but they stayed with it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “They’re good players and obviously helped us win a hockey game. But that’s what they’re here for. They were put in good positions to do that, and I thought our veteran guys pulled them along well. They’re good players and they did their part, so we’re very pleased with them.”

The youthful additions to the lineup certainly paid off on the scoreboard with DeBrusk and McAvoy scoring their first NHL goals, and Bjork also getting involved with his speed and tenacity on the fore-check. 

It was clear that a couple of young, fast-moving players along with an adept puck-mover in McAvoy also did a great deal to augment Boston’s team speed and allow them to embrace an aggressive, up-tempo style Cassidy has been working to instill. Even a bigger, slower-moving object like 40-year-old Zdeno Chara has altered his style and embraced the relentless, quick-acting approach that seemed to overwhelm the Predators for long stretches.

Combine all of the high-speed and precision skill with Adam McQuaid’s old-school, titanic heavyweight bout in the first period, and you have the Black and Gold version of the Extremely Fast and the Traditionally Furious coming to a hockey rink near you this winter.

“I thought it was good. It was a high-paced game and both teams played with a lot of energy. You can tell it’s early in the season, but that pace was pretty quick and fast with the puck moving up and down,” said Chara. “Obviously there were some opportunities on both sides and some power plays, but that’s what we’re going to see. It’s pretty obvious that’s what the new ‘modern hockey’ is all about. It’s a lot of skating and a lot of moving, and whoever makes those plays quicker and better is probably going to win those games.”

Clearly, there were mistakes and things to work on borne of both youth and the fast, aggressive style. McAvoy was whistled for three minor penalties while getting caught leaning offensively a couple of times and the Bruins allowed goals in the waning minutes of periods in a pattern that’s been very problematic for them in the recent past.

Still, if the suddenly Fast and Furious Bruins can play with that same speed, skill and relentlessness for most nights this season, they’re going to be pretty good. If they can get consistent contributions from the rookie players that stepped up on opening night, then the Bruins will be even better. 

That’s the test now. The Bruins set the bar up fairly high with a strong effort right out of the starting gate and the challenge now will be to match that and build on for 81 more games this season. 

The fact they were able to do that on opening night without Patrice Bergeron, David Backes and Torey Krug gives everyone belief that we may see plenty from this entertaining, high-tempo Bruins team in what could be a surprisingly good season for the Black and Gold.  

Improving Grzelcyk setting up a healthy competition with Krug

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Improving Grzelcyk setting up a healthy competition with Krug

BOSTON – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is fond of saying that internal competition brings out the best in everybody on a hockey club, and he’s lived that credo with the way he’s handled the goaltending situation this season.

Cassidy is also seeing that competition paying dividends with the defensemen group now that Matt Grzelcyk is hitting his stride at the NHL level, giving Torey Krug a push as a similarly skilled, left shot, puck-moving defenseman. Krug finished with a couple of assists and a plus-1 rating in 17:55 of ice time in a strong game in the 3-1 win over the Islanders on Saturday night, and Grzelcyk was solid in his 16:47 of ice time as well with an active five shot attempts.

The 23-year-old Grzelcyk is building his comfort level at the NHL level, and has been pretty good with three points and a plus-5 rating in nine games while avoiding any major mistakes with puck management or D-zone play.

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There may be some adjustments for Krug based on Grzelcyk being eligible to play in most of the same situations that No. 47 would regularly hop over the boards for in the past, but Cassidy sees that as something that could ultimately benefit the Bruins.

“I think it will in the long run [it will be a benefit]. [Krug] may lose a shift or two, which will annoy him. Any player with pride will [be annoyed],” said Cassidy. “But once that part is [done] – you digest that and say, well, I don’t want to lose any more shifts, [you say] ‘What do I have to do to earn the coaches trust or get those shifts back.’ Because he has our trust, but earn [the right to] be the first guy over the boards every time in situations. He’s going to push himself, and he should. That’s what we want. And then hopefully we get to a nice balance where we don’t have to overuse one guy in every situation.

“We want Torey to be our 1A in those situations. Charlie [McAvoy] is pushing him too, and now you have Griz [Matt Grzelcyk], so we have three different [offensive] guys. It’s only going to make us better, and I’ll tell you why. Because those guys – we have guys that aren’t pouting there because of that either. There’s a difference between being annoyed and having pride, or having a guy that pouts and shuts it down. We don’t have that. I’m fortunate as a coach that they can wrap their heads around it eventually and just want to outplay the next guy, yet still be happy for his success. It’s a nice problem and you are seeing some of it now bubble up.”

There have been long stretches with the Bruins over the last couple of seasons where Krug was the lone offensive defenseman choice when they needed plays to be made, and it factored into the 5-foot-9 D-man topping 21 minutes of ice time in each of the last two seasons. Krug is down a little averaging 20:33 of ice time per game this season, but he’s under 20 minutes (19:33, to be exact) per game during the month of December coinciding with the arrival of Grzelcyk.

It makes for challenges on the penalty kill when the Bruins have only one real left shot D-man in Chara that’s a defensive stalwart, and it’s too small of a sample size to say that Grzelcyk will keep playing this consistently over the long haul. There’s also the fact that Adam McQuaid will be returning to the mix sooner rather than later, and that will force the Bruins into different configurations at some point down the road.

But for now they’ve got a pretty good thing going with their mix of young and old, puck movers and stay-at-home shutdown guys, and that’s reflected in the healthy, friendly competition going on between Krug and Grzelcyk right now.   

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Morning Skate: Hey ref, let the boys play

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Morning Skate: Hey ref, let the boys play

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while getting in the holiday spirit listening to “Merry Christmas, Baby” from Bruce Springsteen, my favorite holiday song even though I’m not really a Springsteen guy.

To tell you the truth, I didn’t give this Brad Marchand play a second thought as far as supplementary discipline goes. He was whacked with a five minute interference major, which I thought was excessive in the first place, there were no injuries and it ended a contentious shift between Marchand and John Tavares. Let’s not go crazy with the suspensions and hearings, shall we? Let’s keep a little bit of the fun, violence and mayhem in the game, and leave it with what the officials called on the ice at the time. Good call by the Department of Player Safety to leave this one alone despite Marchand’s longtime customer status, and to leave alone the weird head-butting call on David Backes as well.  

David Pastrnak has officially made it in Boston with a profile in the Improper Bostonian. I never knew that Pasta was an amateur artist, or that he now has a Porsche after the new contract. Not too shabby.

The Florida Panthers need a goaltender with Roberto Luongo down and out, and former Bruins goalie farmhand Mike Hutchinson is one of the lead possibilities to help the Panthers out according to recent speculation from many, including Pro Hockey Talk.

The Golden Knights are in the weeds again with another tweet attempting to be funny that angered the Nashville Predators media corps. Was it ill-advised and poorly executed? Certainly if it was taken seriously as something that was meant to be funny, and that is always a potential pitfall when trying to be funny and edgy on twitter. But it’s a little much to think this was going to be damaging to anybody in particular. At least the Golden Knights were adult enough to apologize that they were in the wrong, as opposed to milquetoast Montreal radio personality Connor McKenna, who tried to pull a similar lame stunt with the Bruins media a few years ago.

More thoughts on the body of work that Matthew Tkachuk is putting together this season along with other assorted hockey things in The Athletic notebook.

For something completely different: You’ve got to love the response by some athletes down in Tennessee to a video posted on social media of a sweet little kid getting bullied. This is the way to take a negative and turn it into a positive.

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