MONTREAL – In another sign that things are definitely going the Bruins way this season, they exited Montreal with two points and good vibes after defeating their arch-rival Canadiens. Both the B’s and the Habs were a little sloppy coming off the five day byes and made their share of mistakes in Boston’s 4-3 shootout win over the Canadiens at the Bell Centre on Saturday night.
One thing the Bruins did well, however, was put their rookies and young players in positions to succeed in their first rivalry games against the Habs. Many of them played vital roles in getting the two points in a hostile environment against the Habs, and once again came through when given the opportunity. The win against the Canadiens exemplified exactly why Brace Cassidy is now coaching the Bruins, and it just so happened to be in his first game against former boss Claude Julien. The method and results truly illustrated how differently B’s players are being handled these days.
Young players are consistently placed into very big positions to succeed with the Black and Gold, and many of those youngsters came through in big spots in their first go-around against Montreal.
Jake DeBrusk scored a second period goal and then also rewarded Cassidy’s confidence in him by lighting the lamp as the first man in the shootout. Think about that: When would Claude have ever pointed to a fresh-faced rookie as the tone-setter in a shootout against Boston’s hated rival from Montreal? Cassidy has done it early and often with his talented rookie crop this season, and some of it is certainly due to guys like DeBrusk seemingly elevating their games in the big spots like a Bruins/Habs showdown.
“It was pretty crazy. It wasn’t what I expected, but it was pretty hostile…especially after they got that first goal,” said DeBrusk. “It was interesting and it got loud, but I like that. It brings the emotion and the energy into the game. The fans obviously don’t like us, but that makes it a fun atmosphere to play in. It was obviously nice that we got the win."
“It was kind of a choppy game on both sides and it certainly wasn’t the prettiest game we’ve ever played. But I thought we responded well when we needed to and it was really fun to play in.”
Charlie McAvoy wasn’t perfect on the night while taking a couple of penalties, including a third period tripping call where he got sucked into the kind of retaliation that always get noticed by the refs. But he also finished with a couple of assists in 21:18 of ice time, had four hits and was a plus-1 in looking completely comfortable during his first experience within the heated rivalry.
Cassidy tapped McAvoy third in the shootout after DeBrusk led the B’s off, but this time McAvoy couldn’t play the hero role as Carey Price turned away his bid. Even though he didn’t come through with some kind of dazzling move in this shootout, one can see where the new Bruins head coach helps breed confidence in his young guys.
Cassidy drops those rookies into big positions at important moments, and does so even after they’ve made a mistake or two in the game. In the past an ill-advised penalty or a bad play or two in a Bruins/Habs game could have easily turned into a seat on the pine at crunch time. It helps to have rookies that will come through in those big spots, but it also takes a head coach willing to take the heat if the faith isn’t rewarded by the kids.
“[The kids did] very well. I thought Jake gave us some good juice, Heinen made some plays and Charlie was frustrated at times and called for it, but then he bounced right back. That’s just Charlie,” said Cassidy. “We expect that every night out of these guys, and they’ve been doing it for three months. We’ve also got other guys that can pick them up, so it’s like they have to carry the team. But they are making their contributions.”
Want a little more stark evidence of the difference between benches?
Take a look at the David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner and Matt Grzelcyk trio utilized together during the 3-on-3 overtime session. That is speed and skill to the max in all three young players, who want to play fast and make things happen in the offensive zone while pushing the gas pedal. But there are also some serious defensive zone concerns that go along with playing those three offensive players together, and it played out that way at points during the extra session where the Bruins were outshot by a 5-3 count.
It’s doubtful one would have ever seen that, even in the fast-paced 3-on-3 OT, with a coach in Julien that always requires one of his safety blanket two-way players on ice at all times. If one didn’t know any better they’d almost say that Cassidy was focused on getting good performances out of his young guys in Montreal perhaps to prove a point.
The truth is, however, that those players are now part of this Bruins team’s DNA, and they are a big part of the rolling Black and Gold success story.
The traits Cassidy showed in his first taste of the rivalry at the Bell Centre are exactly why he’s running the Bruins these days, and why they are the hottest team in the NHL with an 18-3-3 record over their last 24 games. Julien, on the other hand, has a Habs team that’s now lost six of their last eight games and continues to sink deeper in the Atlantic Division standings with a mostly stagnant offense, jittery rookie players and a group of veterans that aren’t living up to their press clipping.
Boy, that sure feels like the bad dream the Bruins finally snapped out of midway through last season and haven’t looked back since, doesn’t it?