BOSTON – Some of the young B’s upstarts who had played so well earlier in training camp absolutely earned a chance with more of the NHL regulars on Monday night.
For most of them, though, it looked like they’re not quite ready for prime time as the Bruins dropped a 3-1 decision to the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden.
Austin Czarnik, Frank Vatrano and Linus Arnesson were all dropped into positions to succeed skating with established NHL talent in a game where the intensity was quickly ramping toward regular season levels. They were either invisible or -- even worse -- still making mistakes that hurt the club in a fairly lifeless defeat.
It’s a time-honored rite of passage in training camp where young players are given a good, long look should they excel early and can pretty clearly show whether they’re ready, or not, for the big hockey show.
“You see every game that level of play gets picked up, and that’s just the way it goes,” said Chris Kelly. “You kind of get the cream of the crop toward the end of camp. The better, younger guys are sticking around, and the veteran guys are playing more games and starting to find their legs more.
“The play just picks up that much more, and so does the intensity. It’s good. I’m starting to figure out preseason. There’s a reason games are so scrambly early on because you want to get your legs under you, so you’re skating up and down the ice. When the preseason gets going, you’ve got to find that groove to get into the regular season.”
That “groove” was an NHL gear that some of the talented youngsters will still need to work on in Providence.
Both Czarnik and Vatrano were propped up into top-9 roles with the former centering Matt Beleskey and David Pastrnak and the latter riding the left wing with Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes. They combined for zero shots on net and obviously didn’t create any scoring plays when they were on ice. Vatrano was guilty of running around a bit in the D-zone with Spooner that led to Drew Miller’s first goal for Detroit.
They weren’t bad by any means and even young players are entitled to “off” nights.
But it was noticeable that they were essentially non-factors with the game lineups again close to full of NHL players and the free ice getting more difficult to come by after hopping over the boards. That’s a natural process in the preseason and that’s why Claude Julien said this is the time during the exhibition schedule that’s most valuable to him for evaluating younger players.
“It’s like that every year. I agree with that. I think as you get closer to the end, whether it’s the guys that are still around -- which are obviously the guys that should be around -- but then at the same time you see certain guys separate themselves from others,” said Julien. “We all know that the beginning of training camp you’ve probably got half American league/junior players, and you only have to dress eight veterans.
“So it’s a different lineup as you get closer to the end. There’s no doubt that it give us a better opportunity to evaluate certain guys that are still in the running here.”
Colin Miller once again impressed as the only Bruins D-man who didn’t finish with a negative rating and the 22-year-old created six shot attempts in 21:32 of ice time while setting up Boston’s only goal with his booming shot from the point. But Arnesson stumbled in a chance to show he belonged with the usual seven or eight D-men names associated with the NHL roster and looked like the only ‘D’ out of place in the game. The Swedish defenseman was on ice for both of Detroit’s first two goals, and messed up the D-zone coverage that allowed speedy Tomas Jurco to blow past him for the Wings’ second goal of the second period.
Instinctively, Arnesson started moving to the left side of the defense after hopping over the boards for a change and Joe Morrow was already covering that side of the ice. So that left a wide open lane for Jurco, and Arnesson took a delayed slashing call while trying to stop the Wings sniper from scoring the eventual goal past a scrambling Tuukka Rask. Arnesson was on ice for the first goal allowed as well and might have set a partial screen on Rask prior to Miller’s wrong-foot shot from the slot, but there were many mistakes in the D-zone by just about all involved that led up to the first shot getting past the B’s goalie.
Arnesson finished with a minus-2 rating and had the lowest ice time (14:10) of any B’s defensemen in the game while appearing destined for more development time at the AHL level. All of the young players know there are jobs on the line headed into this week, so their ability to perform under pressure is most definitely being measured with just two preseason games left until the Bruins roster is finalized.
That pressure has elevated since both Dennis Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara went down with injuries, and the young D-men know another spot or two might have just opened up for them.
“There will always be some sort of sense of urgency to be able to prove yourself night in and night out, regardless of how many people are here. Or if somebody gets hurt or not,” said Morrow. “So it’s definitely a good opportunity for me, [and] it’s a good opportunity for everybody else as well when somebody gets hurt. You never want to see someone go down like that, but it definitely does open up different opportunities for different people.”
It’s the normal pattern of the preseason that’s not so unique to the Bruins. Some young players will step up and show they belong toward the end of preseason, and other talented youngsters will need more AHL seasoning. Players like Czarnik, Vatrano and Arnesson got their good, long look on Monday, and the verdict is in: they might have to wait a few weeks, or months, for their next shot at the real thing.