The Boston Bruins went into their fifth game of the young 2022-23 season last night with a record of 3-1-0, facing off against the Anaheim Ducks (1-3-0). They suffered their first loss of the season on Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators, but still currently sit first in the Atlantic Division due to a tiebreaker they have with the Florida Panthers. Last night’s game also marked the return of Matt Grzelcyk, who had offseason shoulder surgery.
Related: Bruins Rookie Spotlight: Jakub Lauko
The Bruins had a hard-fought battle against an Anaheim team that has a number of young and exciting players on its roster. Yet, it was not the most exciting of games as neither team was really able to get going offensively and both struggled to get shots off on the powerplay. Both teams had excellent goaltending on display throughout all three periods, sending Boston into their first overtime and first shootout game of the season.
Luckily for the Bruins, they emerged victorious off of a terrific shootout performance by Linus Ullmark and a goal from Taylor Hall. It was a hard-fought, but necessary victory after their loss earlier this week. Here are three takeaways from a win during a game where the team was not at their best offensively.
Early Season Bugs Still Need to Be Worked Out
It was clear in last night’s game that there is still some chemistry that needs to be worked on with the lines and some early-season rust that still needs to be cleared off. Head coach Jim Montgomery split up the Czech line that was so dominant in the first few games and placed Hall on a line with David Pastrnak and David Krejci while moving up Pavel Zacha to play with Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk. In the bottom six, changes were also made as Jack Studnicka made his season debut on the third line with Trent Frederic and Charlie Coyle, moving AJ Greer down to the fourth line with Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno.
Particularly in the first period, the offensive lines struggled to connect. There were a number of missed passes, with guys sending the puck either too far ahead or too far behind. Hall struggled to duplicate the incredible chemistry he had shown with Pastrnak and Krejci in previous seasons, though he made up for his struggles with his second-period goal and shootout score. The third line also did not have the same impact last night as it did against the Senators with the move of Greer down to the fourth line.
In addition to chemistry still being worked out amongst the lines, there is clearly some rust on the players as the 2022-23 season gets underway. The Bruins led the Ducks in shots on goal but struggled to find the back of the net. The one-timers in particular seemed to be an area of struggle for the team as there were a number of misses. In addition, there were struggles at times to maintain control of the puck and the Bruins in general struggled with clean entries on the powerplay, creating more missed opportunities on offense.
Luckily, there is still plenty of time for the lines to work themselves out, passes to start connecting, transitions to be cleaner, and for guys to be more responsible with the puck. The biggest concern of these early season “bugs” are the issues on the powerplay. The Bruins struggled against Anaheim and are currently ranked 12th in the NHL. Hopefully, as they get their legs under them and become more accustomed to Montgomery’s coaching, the power play will improve.
Connor Clifton Continues to Impress
Connor Clifton has been one of the most impressive and noticeable defensemen so far this season for the Bruins. After an up-and-down training camp and preseason, he’s stepped up through the first five games of the early season and has been a major physical presence on the ice. One of his most impressive plays from this past game came in the first period when he laid a hit that generated a turnover by the Ducks which turned into the DeBrusk goal that was unfortunately called offside. That play wouldn’t have been possible without the hit by Clifton.
It isn’t just the physical game that’s been impressive for Clifton so far. The Quinnipiac University product has four assists in five games and is a plus-3 to start the season. For perspective, he had a career-high 10 points in 60 games last season. At this rate, he should surpass his previous career high by December. Going into this season, he had 20 career points and if he continues to play as well as he has so far, he should surpass that total in one season alone.
Clifton’s excellent play is not going unnoticed, and he’s being rewarded with more playing time. He’s only averaged 16:42 of ice time per game throughout his career. So far in 2022-23, he’s averaging a little over 22 minutes a night. Going into this season, it was clear someone was going to need to step up in Charlie McAvoy’s absence. With Brandon Carlo now out with injury as well, it became even more pressing. Through the first five games of the season, Clifton has answered the call.
Penalty Kill Remains Strong
The Bruins are currently ranked sixth overall in the NHL on the penalty kill, even with Marchand, a top penalty killer, absent. They were perfect again last night when a man down. The Bruins were shorthanded four times against Anaheim, and fended off all four, even with Derek Forbort, one of their best penalty killers so far this season sitting in the box for one of them.
As mentioned, Forbort has been excellent on the penalty kill. In addition, Clifton is getting more time on the ice short handed and has been excellent, and as always, Bergeron has proven why he is one of the best two-way forwards of all time. Last night also saw excellent play in net by Ullmark, who was by far the star of the game. The power play continues to be a sore spot for this team (they failed to score on any of their five power play opportunities during regulation last night), but luckily, the penalty kill has held up well through the first five games of the season.
Bruins Holding Their Own
There was obviously plenty of concern when the news came out early in the offseason that McAvoy and Marchand were going to miss the start of the season after undergoing surgeries over the summer. Given how essential both of them are to this roster, naturally, fans were worried about how the team would perform without them. So far, the Bruins have shown to be tough competitors even without two of their best players.
They’ve proven to be able to hold their own against a range of opponents, from the lower-in-the-standings Arizona Coyotes to the top-tier Florida Panthers. Luckily, both players are on track to return in November/December, and this team may just be a dark horse threat this season.
The Bruins’ season continues this Saturday, Oct. 22 against the Minnesota Wild in their first matinee game of the season. Stay up to date throughout the season with The Hockey Writers.