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.  

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Noel Acciari

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Noel Acciari

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Noel Acciari.

Noel Acciari has always been known for throwing around his 5-foot-10, 208-pound body with reckless abandon and never backing down from a hit no matter how big the guy he’s tracking down. Those are great traits for a fourth-line center/winger that managed to get a full NHL season under his belt as part of a young B’s fourth line that had some great moments this past year. Acciari certainly has a lot going for him: Physicality, a local boy done good story as a Rhode Island kid and even a little offensive fire that adds to his value as an energy line forward.  

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What Happened Last Year: The 26-year-old Acciari made a nice step forward in his first full season with the Bruins as he suited up for 60 games, cracked double-digits with 10 goals scored and continued to play a heavy, punishing game when he was in the lineup. Acciari plays hard all the time and plays with a fearless tenacity, and those kinds of qualities rub off on the rest of the fourth line when he’s out there running around and making hits. Unfortunately, playing that way also leads to injuries and last season was no different as Acciari missed time after blocking a shot, absorbed a concussion and played through a sports hernia injury that required surgery following the season. It’s probably unfair to say that Acciari is injury prone, but injuries are just the cost of doing business with the way the former Providence College standout plays.  

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest question with Acciari is if he can stay healthy enough to remain effective in his role with the Bruins. By all accounts Acciari had a very good season providing energy, physical oomph and even kicking in 10 goals while scrapping for offense around the front of the net. He’s dogged, fearless and the kind of player that will help a team win hockey games. But that style of play leads to injuries and time missed, and Acciari needs to find a way to stick in the lineup and finish up strong if he wants to remain an integral part of what the B’s are doing. Given that he’s shown some offensive spark and plays with true fire in his belly, the Bruins will certainly be patient with the aches and pains that go along with Acciari doing his job. But if Acciari truly wants to be a part of the core Bruins group, he’s also going to need to be a reliable, constant presence in the everyday lineup.   

In Their Words: “We’ve got a lot of confidence from this past season, and like I said, that can build up until next year, and get better from there, and make a deeper run next year. We want to continue what we did this past year and get even better, so it’s going to be a good hard summer, and work hard, and kind of have that bad taste in our mouth where we got knocked out this year. Let’s not have that again next year.” – Noel Acciari, on the mentality that he and his B’s teammates are looking for headed into next season. 

Overall Outlook: Acciari has earned his reputation as a tough competitor and a punishingly physical player, and he continues to hone the offensive production as a fourth-line player. It’s to his credit that he even got a bit of a look as the third -line center when Riley Nash went down with injury, and speaks to how the Rhode Island kid continues to up his game. That being said, it feels like Acciari is really in his sweet spot as a hard-hitting fourth-line winger that plays with energy and physicality. It all comes down to remaining as healthy as he can within his reckless playing style, and showing that he can stay in one piece at the NHL level while playing the way he does. Other than the occasional run-in with injuries, Acciari brings everybody anybody could want in a fourth-line energy winger.

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Sean Kuraly.

Kuraly represents a Bruins prospect turned legit player after the fourth line center graduated from the P-Bruins and turned into a solid, strong two-way pivot on a B’s energy line that was actually pretty good for most of the season. There may be a limit to the offensive upside for a rugged, penalty-killing player like Kuraly, but there was more than enough good there for him to earn  new three-year contact with the Black and Gold that will begin this upcoming season.

What Happened Last Year: The 25-year-old Kuraly was the B’s fourth line center from beginning to end last season after really popping in the previous season’s playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, and he performed up to hopes and expectations. Kuraly finished with six goals and 14 points in 78 games for the Bruins, and was a big-bodied center willing to throw his body around on occasion and kill penalties pretty much all the time. Kuraly also had his moments during the playoffs with a couple of goals and four points in 12 games, but the entire B’s fourth line was pretty badly outplayed by Tampa Bay in the second round of the postseason. So there are definitely a few things for Kuraly to build/improve on from last season, and now he’ll have the time to do it with the B’s.

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Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest Q for Kuraly is just how high the upside is for the 25-year-old former Miami University standout. Kuraly showed last season that he could be a pretty solid fourth line center that could bang bodies a bit, provide occasional offense, kill penalties and win a few big face-offs while bringing size and strength down the middle. Now Kuraly will be in the mix for the vacant third line center position, and he could win it outright if he can show a little bit more offense and physical aggression as he matures into an NHL career. Is last season the ceiling for Kuraly, or can he harness the impact game we’ve seen out of him in the playoffs to make him an even more impact NHL center. The good thing about Kuraly is that he’s smart, he’s a good teammate and he plays hard all of the time, so the Bruins aren’t going to have worry about any of those things as anything but automatic with the young center.

In Their Words: “I don’t think you could tell me about it and try to tell me what it’s going to be like or how to prepare for it. It’s something you really have to go through, and it’s long, and it’s a marathon, and it’s nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, and maybe you have to do a little bit more that night. So, there are nights that it’s tough, and I think that’s something that I, hopefully, can get better at next season is dealing with some of the adversity and realizing that this is a long season, and there’s going to be some ups and downs and just try to stay levelheaded.” –Sean Kuraly, on what he learned from his rookie season and how he can apply it to this upcoming season and beyond.

Overall Outlook: The Bruins certainly liked what they saw out of Kuraly last season as a rookie, or they wouldn’t have signed him to a three-year contract. It’s reasonable to expect that the big-bodied pivot is going to improve from the six goals and 14 points posted in his rookie NHL season, and it’s now up to Kuraly to see how good he can be. Could he be a steady third line center at the NHL level where he teams with David Backes to form a physical, grinding third line that can pound other teams? Can he supply enough offense to be a legit third line center, or is the offense the kind of thing that’s going to likely relegate him to fourth line duty. As mentioned above, the intangibles are never going to be in question with Kuraly and that’s a very good place to start. Now it’s just a matter of letting Kuraly develop at the NHL level, and see what he ultimately turns into after showing he’s got the right stuff for the B’s energy line at the very least.

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