Following their final preseason game against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 6, the Boston Bruins had a 10-day break before they were scheduled to open the season against the Dallas Stars at the TD Garden. It was a long 10 days for coach Bruce Cassidy and his players, but it was worth the wait.
The Bruins opened the season with a 3-1 win over the Stars, who were playing their second game of the young season after beating the New York Rangers in overtime Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. Here are three takeaways from Boston’s fourth win in their last five season openers.
Swayman Strong in Net
Going into training camp, the goaltending battle was down to youngster Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, who signed as a free agent this offseason after beginning his career with the Buffalo Sabres. It was clear to everyone that Swayman played better in the preseason and on Friday, Cassidy announced that the 22-year-old would start against the Stars.
After an impressive 10-game run in the 2020-21 season, Swayman picked up where he left off last season. He did not face his first shot on net until there was under four minutes remaining in the first period. After allowing a second-period goal by Luke Glendening, the former University of Maine standout came up with some big saves and stopped every shot he faced the rest of the game.
Swayman, who made 27 saves, played the same way he played in his first 10 games last season. He was square to the shooters, aggressively challenging shots, controlling his rebounds, and looked confident. So far, the stage does not seem too big for Swayman.
Third-Line Strong in First Game Together
This offseason, general manager Don Sweeney made remaking his third-line in priority when he signed veterans Nick Foligno and Erik Haula to join Jake DeBrusk. After the trio had a good preseason together, they continued their strong play in the opener.
More importantly, DeBrusk started the season the way his teammates hoped he would. He broke a 1-1 tie in the third period and scored what turned out to be the game-winner when he scored his first goal of the season when he knocked home a puck from the slot. He played with energy and was aggressive taking the puck to the net all night. It’s only one game, but there was a lot to like about the way the 2015 first-round draft pick played.
“They’ll be hard to play against if they’re attacking like that,” Cassidy said of Boston’s new-look third line. “I think it’s good for the group. When Jake’s in a good place, he’s got personality, he’s a good kid, and he’s good for our locker room.”
Not only was the third-line good 5-on-5, but they also contributed to both the power play and penalty kill. Haula had the biggest contribution in the second period when the Bruins were on the man advantage. Dallas had an odd-man rush shorthanded and had a shot from the top of the slot, but Haula sacrificed the body to block the shot and allow his teammates to break back the other way. This line has a chance to be the difference in a lot of games this season and that was the case against the Stars.
Defense Was Good in Front of Swayman
Not only was money spent on the third-line this summer by Sweeney, but also on defense. Mike Reilly was brought back on a three-year contract for $9 million after being acquired in a trade at the deadline in April and Derek Forbort was signed as a free agent on a three-year deal, also for $9 million. Brandon Carlo was signed to a six-year, $24.6 million deal and Charlie McAvoy agreed to an eight-year contract extension Friday for $76 million. In their first game as a unit together, they played well against a talented Dallas team.
Carlo (5:41) and Forbort (5:35) led the Black and Gold in time-on-ice shorthanded as Boston was called for six penalties, while McAvoy once again led everyone on the Bruins in time-on-ice at just over 24 minutes. Defensively, they frustrated the Stars, allowed Swayman good lanes to see the puck, but offensively, even though they failed to record a point as a unit, they did something that they failed to do a lot of last season. They got shots on the net. A lot of them.
For the game, Boston finished with 39 shots on Dallas goalie Braden Holtby, but 19 of those shots came from the six defensemen combined. Last season in the 56-game shortened season, the Bruins did not get as many shots on net from their defense as they would have liked. Against the Stars, the defense got shots from the point on the net, which if that continues this season, that is going to give the forwards more opportunities to score on rebounds and make the Bruins a more dangerous team offensively.
There was a lot to like in the first game as the Bruins got the win to open the season against a team that will be in the thick of the Western Conference playoff race. Swayman looked like the 2020-21 Swayman, the third-line, more importantly, DeBrusk, looked as good as Boston could have hoped and the defense played well in all situations. The Bruins get another break as they are off until Wednesday night when they play the Philadelphia Flyers on the road.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.