Joe Haggerty hands out his superlatives following the Boston Bruins' 6-2 victory over the Arizona Coyotes
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.
BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s not your imagination if you feel like you haven’t seen 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara much this preseason.
After all, it’s awfully difficult to miss the massive D-man out on the ice, and some of the Bruins' sloppy D-zone mistakes in Detroit and Philly probably wouldn’t have happened if Ol' No. 33 was out there.
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Chara, 40, has played just a single preseason game - a home victory over the Flyers last week - and the Bruins captain isn’t expected to be making the trip to Chicago for the preseason finale on Saturday night. Instead, the Bruins will save their bullets for the regular season with Chara, who looked in midseason form while clocking 23 minutes of ice time in his only appearance against Philadelphia. It sounds like Bruins are playing it safe after already losing their only other natural left-shot defenseman when Torey Krug went down more than a week ago with a fractured jaw.
All the Bruins have behind Chara and Krug are relatively inexperienced left-side D’s Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril, so having both players down at once would be something approaching disastrous.
“I don’t think Zee needs it to be honest with you. He’s been around a long time and he’ll get his work in at practice,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “It might be a little more measurable down the road, so there’s always an advantage with a little less wear and tear. You never know where could be an injury. Right now with our left shot ‘D’ that would be a big concern [playing Chara in Chicago].
“What if some freak thing happened and we basically lose our only left-shot ‘D’ with Torey already out of the lineup? It’s a blessing in that sense [that Chara can be rested].”
Chara also missed some time in the middle of the preseason schedule with an illness, but in a roundabout way, it could benefit the oldest player in the league to save his legs for the regular season. There’s no way of knowing how much it will benefit Chara, but it certainly won’t be as much of a challenge as last season when he played deep into the World Cup of Hockey tournament with Team Europe.
Instead, Chara appears destined for another season paired with Brandon Carlo in a shutdown role and the Bruins would gladly take a repeat of the 10 goals, 29 points, plus-18 rating and 75 games played from last season.
“Everybody is looking forward to the season beginning,” said Chara, who is making final preparations for his 19th full season in the NHL. “It’s up to the coaching staff. Obviously, I’m feeling much better. If they feel I need to play then I’ll be ready to play, and if they feel like they need to look at other options, combinations or pairings then it’s up to them to decide.
“These preseason games are good preparation, but at the same time I think everybody is anxious for the real games and to get going with the season.”
Given how much care and precaution that the Bruins are handling Chara with given their delicate situation on the back end, management and the coaching staff seem just as anxious as the players to get things going with the real games. Perhaps it will pay dividends when the Bruins need the best out of their 40-year-old in big moments such as when he averaged an astounding 28:46 of ice time in the playoff series vs. Ottawa last spring.