Two days after beginning the 2020-21 NHL season with their first shootout victory since Feb. 20, 2019, the Boston Bruins were not able to build off of it against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday afternoon.
Yegor Sharangovich scored his first-career NHL goal on a breakaway with 1.7 seconds left in overtime to help the Devils earn a split of the season-opening, two-game series with a 2-1 win. Boston was hoping to leave Newark, NJ with four points, but instead had to settle for three. With that said, here are five Boston takeaways from the first two games.
1. Even Strength Struggles
Coming into the season, the Bruins knew that they were not going to have their leading scorer from last season, David Pastrnak, as he is still recovering from hip surgery in September. Scoring was going to be tough to come by early in the season with no preseason games to work out the kinks, but through the first six periods of regulation, the Bruins have yet to find the back of the net 5-on-5.
In Thursday’s win, both Bruins’ goals were scored on the power play by Brad Marchand and Nick Ritchie. Saturday, Patrice Bergeron scored the only Boston goal shorthanded in the second period.
You can tell that head coach Bruce Cassidy was trying to push all the buttons to find some 5-on-5 offense Saturday. In the second period, it was a revolving door on right wing on the first line with Bergeron and Marchand. Anders Bjork, who started the game there, was replaced by Ondrej Kase, who got hurt with an upper-body injury on his first shift on the top line.
Craig Smith, Charlie Coyle, and even David Krejci got some shifts on the right side, while Cassidy also mixed and matched with the middle-six without any luck.
2. Rask and Halak Were Strong in Net
It would be an understatement to say that Tuukka Rask stole the first game for the Bruins. In the final year of his contract, the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy last season stopped 20 of the 22 shots he faced, many at point-blank range.
In overtime, he stopped two breakaways before denying all three Devils’ attempts in the shootout. He looked like the Rask from last season, which is a good sign.
Jaroslav Halak played in Saturday’s game and made 29 saves, including 13 combined in the third period and overtime. Re-signed as a backup for one more year to Rask, Halak deserved a better fate than surrendering the game-winning goal on a breakaway in the final seconds left in overtime.
3. Miller Made His Presence Felt
When Bruins general manager Don Sweeney re-signed Kevan Miller to a one-year contract in October, there were a lot of people wondering what the 33-year-old had left in the tank. He injured his kneecap in April of 2019 in the playoffs and that required multiple surgeries and a lengthy rehabilitation process.
After an impressive training camp, Miller found himself paired with rookie Jakub Zboril on the third pairing for the first game against the Devils. On Thursday, Miller played just under 17 minutes and was credited with two hits, but that number should have been a little higher.
Devils forward Miles Wood twice was called for goaltender interference in the first game for making contact with Rask without the Bruins responding. Miller sent a message to Wood and the Devils by dropping the gloves 19 seconds into the game with him Saturday. Miller increased his time-on-ice to 17:04 as well. The one thing that stood out was he brought the physicality he played with before the injury, which is a good sign.
4. Zboril Impressed on Defense
Speaking of Zboril, the 23-year-old won a battle over Urho Vaakanainen in camp for the final left-handed defensive spot and he proved that he was NHL ready. In the opening game, he logged 19:14 of ice-time and found himself with some key power play and penalty killing minutes.
Saturday, Zboril’s time increased to 19:35 and he was third on the team with 31 shifts, three behind Matt Grzelcyk and two behind Charlie McAvoy. He made good decisions, joined the offensive rush, and moved the puck with confidence in both games.
5. Frederic Fits in on the Fourth Line
Trent Frederic is another prospect who had an impressive training camp to earn a spot on the roster. The 23-year-old, who was picked 29th overall in the first round of the 2016 Entry Draft, has settled in on the fourth line with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner.
Cassidy turned to the fourth line more than he would have liked in the two games, mostly to provide a spark for the team. Frederic played just over 14 minutes Saturday after playing 11 minutes Thursday. He got under the skin of Devils veteran defensemen P.K. Subban and even drew a third-period penalty on Subban. At 6-foot-2 and 203 pounds, Frederic won’t back down from anyone, no matter how much more experience they have.
3 Points to Each Team
Splitting the two games with each team getting three points is something that the Devils will take, but for the Bruins, it easily could have been four. Every point is valuable in the loaded East Division this season and the Bruins could look back on Saturday’s game later in the season as a missed opportunity to secure an extra point.
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.