The biggest surprise through the first eight games of the 2022-23 NHL regular season is the Boston Bruins. Missing several key players who were beginning the season recovering from off-season surgeries, first-year coach Jim Montgomery was handed the keys from the Bruins’ front office and had to figure out a way to keep the Black and Gold’s head above water until they were fully healthy.
Related: Bruins’ Four-Game Road Trip Provides Early Season Challenge
After winning seven of their first eight games, six at home, Boston began a four-game road trip Friday night at Nationwide Arena in Columbus against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Despite playing the night before in a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings, the Bruins continued their hot start to the season with an impressive and dominating 4-0 win. Here are three Bruins takeaways from their eighth win in the month of October.
Charlie Coyle Continues His Strong Start
When David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron signed one-year contracts in August, that meant Charlie Coyle could play his better-suited position as the third-line center. Against the Red Wings, he scored the first goal of the game when he came off the bench and buried a shot under the crossbar. Friday night against the Blue Jackets with Krejci out of the lineup with an upper-body injury, Coyle once again played a big part in the win.
With the Bruins holding a 1-0 second-period lead, the Boston native collected a loose puck in the defensive end and broke in 2-on-1 with Pavel Zacha. As Zacha drove to the net, Coyle held the puck, cutting across the front of the net and beating Columbus goalie Elvis Merzlikins with a backhander for a 2-0 lead. Not only did the former Boston University center provide offense, but he also continued his strong season at the faceoff dot, winning eight of his nine faceoffs while logging heavy minutes in all situations.
Jake DeBrusk Stays Hot
One of the more consistent players this season has been Jake DeBrusk, who looks like a different player under a new coach. After rescinding his trade request in July, the 14th overall pick of the 2015 Entry Draft is picking up where he left off last season, playing a strong 200-foot game (from ‘Jake DeBrusk explained why he rescinded his trade request,’ Boston Globe, Sept. 22, 2022).
DeBrusk finished with six shots on the net in the game and scored what turned out to be the key goal in the second period. After having numerous chances early in the game, including two breakaways in the middle period, he made sure his third golden opportunity would not be denied. With Boston clinging to a 2-0 lead, he blocked a shot at the defensive blueline, he broke in alone on Merzlikins and scored on a wrist shot on his blocker side for a three-goal advantage.
DeBrusk has been strong in just about every situation for Montgomery this season. He is relentless on the forecheck, using his speed on zone entries, getting to the front of the net, and sacrificing his body to block shots. It’s been said before and it will be said again, sometimes the best moves are the ones not made after DeBrusk requested a trade last season. The Bruins are seeing the benefits of holding onto the young forward.
Linus Ullmark Continues to Play Like a Number One Goalie
There are plenty of options up and down the Bruins’ roster for players who have had a surprisingly strong start to begin the season. It would be hard, however, to find a player that has made more of an impact than Linus Ullmark in the net. In what was expected to be an early-season battle with Jeremy Swayman, the former Buffalo Sabres netminder has taken a stranglehold of the goaltending duties.
Ullmark won his sixth straight game to begin the season with a 30-save shutout of the Blue Jackets and he saved his best for the third period. The Blue Jackets were on their third power play of the night when Ullmark made back-to-back glove saves on Patrik Laine. He moved side-to-side to make the first save as Laine tried to catch him sliding across, then seconds later, Laine made a nice toe-drag move around DeBrusk and fired a shot destined for the top corner from the circle, only to have Ullmark make another impressive glove save for his first shutout of the season and fifth of his career.
Ullmark’s numbers to begin the season after Friday’s wins are eye-popping. He’s 6-0-0 with a 1.70 goals-against average (GAA) and a .945 save percentage (SV%). He is a big reason for the impressive Boston start to 2022-23.
Of the eight wins this season for the Bruins, Friday night’s victory over the Blue Jackets might be the most impressive one. Columbus entered the game rested having not played since Tuesday night and the Black and Gold were on a back-to-back. Brad Marchand made his season debut against Detroit, but did not travel for the game and Krejci also remained in Boston with his injury. Despite all of that, the Bruins went out and put together a strong 60 minutes to remain the biggest early-season surprise in the NHL.