When the Bruins earned their first victory of the season in their opening game against the Nashville Predators, many had high expectations moving forward. Justifiably so as the team looked quick, skilled and exciting. That emotional high didn’t last long though as the Bruins laid a goose-egg against the lowly Colorado Avalanche in their home opener at the TD Garden despite having three days off in between games. It was an abysmal effort by the Bruins who lost the game 4-0 due to a lack of flow and finish, much to the chagrin of the Bruins’-faithful.
Fortunately for the Bruins, they would get a chance at revenge against the Avalanche just two nights later in Colorado. Unfortunately, however, the Bruins lost that game by a score of 6-3 (despite a strong surge late in the game to bring the score within one goal prior to allowing two empty net goals). It was the same story as their last game – poor effort and a seeming lack of passion that dominated the narrative. In the team’s next game, a road tilt against the Arizona Coyotes, things needed to improve.
While the score may not indicate as much, the Bruins actually got off to a very slow start in the desert against the Coyotes. It wasn’t until about halfway through the opening frame that the team managed to consistently generate some energy and scoring chances. Still, the Coyotes struck first, leaving the Bruins trailing by a goal just over 15:30 into the contest. What happened next was the turning point that Bruins were looking for, however, as David Pastrnak parked in front of the Coyotes’ net and deflected a shot past goaltender Louis Domingue, courtesy of captain Zdeno Chara. That goal also happened to come just 36 seconds after Arizona opened the scoring.
Bruins’ Effort Level Standing Out
Having a net-front presence is important in hockey and the Bruins capitalized on that twice in as many goals when David Krejci launched a puck on net that got tipped by Jake DeBrusk on the power play to give the team the lead. It was a great effort from the left winger DeBrusk to find his way to the front of the net and deflect the goal out of the air. It shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise though as DeBrusk has already made a name for himself due to his nose for the net. Tim Schaller further proved that net-front presence is so important by burying a goal in the blue paint just 23 seconds after the Coyotes scored their second goal of the game.
Eventually winning the game by a score of 6-2 with the Bruins’ other goals coming from Chara, Anders Bjork’s first career NHL goal and a beautiful breakaway goal by Marchand, the team made an important statement Saturday night. It wasn’t because the Bruins won the game. No, instead, it was due to the way the team won the game. A lack of passion and effort cost the Bruins four valuable points against the Avalanche, but a renewed effort is what earned them two points against the Coyotes. Continuing that strong effort moving forward will be imperative to the team’s success. That goes for everyone in the lineup as well; whether they’re a rookie or a veteran player, everybody needs to give every shift a full-100 percent effort from here on out.
Khudobin Standing Tall in Net
Another bright spot for the Bruins on Saturday was goaltender Anton Khudobin who started in place of Tuukka Rask. Allowing only two goals on 31 shots, Khudobin earned his first victory of the season in his first start of the year. He didn’t earn his first victory last season until Dec. 1 of 2016 when he stopped 29 of 30 shots against the Carolina Hurricanes in a shootout victory. Khudobin also made nine saves on nine shots in relief of Rask on Wednesday against the Avalanche and has shown that he can be relied upon in the early goings of the season thus far.
Backup goaltending has been an issue for the Bruins in recent years, but with Khudobin playing so well to close out last season and at the start of this league-year, the team looks to be in much better shape as it stands. When Rask finally gets everything figured out and starts stealing games for his team, the Bruins’ will be a much more ferocious threat for opposing teams as the season progresses.
Oh Captain My Captain
Is it 2017 or 2007? Easily the best player of the game for either team was the 40-year-old Chara. The same Chara that looked considerably slower than he has in the past in the Bruins’ last two games against the Avalanche. With a goal and three points in the game and solid defensive play throughout, the Bruins’ captain made his mark in a variety of ways and helped propel his team to a victory.
While it’s going to be important for Chara to play well throughout the entire season as the team’s number one blueliner on their top pairing, his success means much more to the team than just solid defensive play or offensive production. As a 40-year-old veteran, Chara’s ability to lead by example for his fellow blueliners and all of the young players in the lineup cannot be overstated. Playing with a few teammates who are half his age, Chara is setting the tone; if he can give it his all and produce, there’s no reason his 19-year-old, 20-year-old and 21-year-old teammates shouldn’t be able to either.
Power Play and Penalty Kill Coming to Life
The Bruins killed off two of three penalties with the Coyotes’ only goal with the extra-man coming courtesy of an Oliver Ekman-Larsson bomb with under four minutes to go in the game. The penalty kill should continue to settle down as the season continues and the Bruins get healthier. With so much young talent on the Bruins’ second power-play unit, though, the team also managed to find their stride with the man advantage of their own.
Following DeBrusk’s goal in the second period on the power play from David Krejci and Charlie McAvoy, it was Bjork who scored the Bruins sixth goal of the game from Danton Heinen and DeBrusk to all but seal the deal for Boston on the night. Special teams can make or break a team down the stretch. With the personnel on the Bruins, they should do just fine with the extra man or down a man over the course of the season.
Bergeron and Backes Will Only Help the Cause
While the Bruins looked like a legitimate force Saturday night against the Coyotes, they still have a lot of work to do to make the playoffs this season. Making a deep-run isn’t out of the question, but there are still a lot of details that need to be worked out. Some of those kinks, however, will be inherently fixed with the return of centers Patrice Bergeron and David Backes.
Bergeron, arguably the team’s best player, has missed the team’s first four games of the season and has been sorely missed on the top-line and the Bruins’ top power-play unit. While he may take some time to get back into game shape, his return will definitely help the team from the get-go as his presence alone commands respect. While Riley Nash has done admirably in the relief of the four-time Selke-winning center, there’s no denying that Bergeron’s two-way ability will only help the team once he’s finally able to return to the lineup.
Backes is likely going to be out of the lineup for a much longer period of time than Bergeron, but when he returns, the Bruins’ versatility will increase tenfold as he can slot into the team’s top-nine in a number of ways – be it on the wing or at center, while also instilling another veteran voice into the lineup. The Bruins are going to be better as the season rolls along thanks to players coming back from injury, rookies getting more comfortable and Rask undoubtedly returning to form. Strap in, there’s a lot of hockey left to be played.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for seven years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.