Entering their final preseason game against the New Jersey Devils Saturday night at the TD Garden, there were still questions facing the Boston Bruins ahead of Wednesday night’s season-opener against the Washington Capitals on the road. Both teams had nearly their opening lineups intact and it was not a performance that first-year coach Jim Montgomery was hoping for where not a lot of questions were answered.
As the Bruins close out training camp and the preseason with the focus now shifting to the season opener Wednesday night, here are three takeaways from a Bruins 5-3 loss to New Jersey.
Pastrnak, Krejci & Zacha Continue to Shine Together
When Taylor Hall went down with an injury in the second period of the Bruins’ 4-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers on Oct. 1, it created another hole in the top six with Brad Marchand already missing up to the first two months as he recovers from offseason hip surgery. Hall is listed as week-to-week and Montgomery got creative with his lines in Wednesday’s win over the New York Rangers.
Montgomery put Pavel Zacha, David Krejci, and David Pastrnak together in New York and the results were better than anyone expected. In just under 15 minutes of time on ice 5-on-5, they held a 10-3 edge on shots on the net and held a 4-0 edge in goals. They each tallied a goal in the second period, with Pastrnak and Zacha each finishing with two assists and Krejci one. Their chemistry got stronger Saturday night.
Against New Jersey, they found the back of the net in the second period on a Pastrnak goal, but once again, they created scoring chances when they were on the ice at even strength. They were on the ice for Patrice Bergeron’s late third-period goal with the Bruins having a 6-on-5 advantage and the trio finished the game with four shots on the net, but more importantly, it’s the chemistry they are forming that’s going to pay off in the bigger picture.
DeBrusk Continues to Impress
All the attention in training camp and the preseason was focused on how the bottom six would shake out, mainly the fourth line, but Jake DeBrusk quietly had one of his best preseasons during his time with the Bruins. The 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft is ready for the regular season start.
Against the Devils, he once again showed his speed in all situations, was a force in the offensive zone, and was solid at the back check. In the first period, he used his speed to create a 2-on-1 shorthanded with Tomas Nosek and then played a big part in the Bruins’ second-period goal. With Boston on the power play, DeBrusk pressured New Jersey defenseman Ryan Graves behind the net, and did not allow him to have a clean clear with a check, with the puck going to Krejci in the corner, whose cross-ice pass to Pastrnak ended up in the back of the net.
Last November word leaked out about DeBrusk’s trade request, but general manager (GM) Don Sweeney kept him, signed him to a two-year contract extension for $8 million, and now Montgomery appears to get the benefit from him remaining a Bruin and rescinding his trade request in July. Without Marchand and most likely Hall to begin the season, DeBursk will be a big piece of the top six, no matter what side he’s on.
Bruins Defensive Zone Breakdowns Concerning
For the second time this preseason, Linus Ullmark got the start in goal, but he could not be at fault for the goals that were scored. After posting a shutout against Philadelphia on Oct. 1, Ullmark got what could be a preview of what might happen once the regular season starts with Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk out of the lineup.
Ullmark was peppered in the first period, stopping 14 of the 15 shots he faced, but the Devils beat him when the Bruins’ defense was out of position and allowed Alexander Holtz to collect a loose puck in the slot and score. In the second period, once again, a problem that haunted the Black and Gold last season haunted them against the Devils when they failed to clear the puck out of the zone and Dawson Mercer redirected a Dougie Hamilton shot past Ullmark. In the third period, they were sloppy again in their defensive end, not picking up players, which allowed Holtz to collect a loose puck and feed Jack Hughes in front of the net for a goal. Mike Reilly then had his stick snap on a clearing attempt, which set up Yegor Sharangovich for the fourth goal. Reilly finished with a plus/minus of minus-4 and Jakub Zboril was a minus-3.
There is no doubt that Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman will be seeing a lot of rubber early in the season with two of their top-four defensemen missing and the freedom that Montgomery is giving the defensemen to jump into the rush. How well the Bruins fare until their healthy will have a lot to do with how well the goaltending plays.
Overall, there was not a lot to like from the Bruins in their final game before the season starts for real. The first couple of months are going to be tough sledding as they are going to be shorthanded, but they have a lot of areas to clean up before taking the ice against the Capitals Wednesday night.