By: Patrick Donnelly
Opening night was forgettable, to say the least. 7-0 loss to Washington. Rask gave up five. Everyone, and I mean everyone, was nonexistent and shoulders partial blame. At the end of the day, it’s game one of 82 against a team and goaltender who have owned the Bruins.
The Bruins bounced back with a 4-0 victory against Buffalo in Jaroslav Halak’s first start for Boston. After just the first few shifts of the game, the team already looked better than it did all of Wednesday night in Washington. Halak looked sharp, the new third line looked better, and the offense looked dynamic. Who would have thought Zdeno Chara would score the first goal of the season?
Ryan Donato potted his first of the year off of a slick tic-tac-toe passing play, David Pastrnak put away David Krejci’s cross-ice feed, and Patrice Bergeron closed things out with an empty-netter to go with Brad Marchand’s four-assist night.
On Monday afternoon, the Bruins opened their home game slate in a 6-3 win over the Senators. Rask looked engaged in between the pipes, making a few highlight reel saves and stopping 28 shots. Patrice Bergeron tallied his third(!) hat trick of 2018, accounting for three of the Bruins’ last six hat tricks and becoming the first Bruin since Cam Neely to record a hat trick at the home opener. Charlie McAvoy had a three-assist afternoon and David Pastrnak had two goals and an assist. The latest version of the third line, again, looked much better than Wednesday night’s. We’re only three games into a long season, but here are some the impressions left after this opening week.
The third line is going to go through a lot of trial and error:
The original iteration of the third forward unit of Donato-Kuraly-Backes, was nothing short of a disappointment on opening night. As a trio, things just seemed dysfunctional and Sean Kuraly did not take advantage of the opportunity he had.
However, the team bounced back with a strong showing in a 4-0 win against Buffalo on Thursday night. Bruce Cassidy rolled with Heinen-Kuraly-Bjork as his third line, with Anders Bjrok drawing into the lineup, Ryan Donato moving up to the second line, and David Backes dropping to the fourth unit. Overall, things looked better for the entire team, including the third line in the win against the Sabres; however, Sean Kuraly once again didn’t do much of anything to stand out and show why he earned his role. Also, Anders Bjork picked up where he left off from his one preseason game. Bjork looked good again, using his speed and skill to set up plays and get chances for himself.
So, that brings us to Monday’s home opener against the Senators. Bruce Cassidy put David Backes back at center between Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork. This latest version looked the best out of the previous two. Anders Bjork was involved again and Backes looks much more comfortable at center than wing. Having Heinen and Bjork on both sides will help account for Backes’ overall lack of speed and will allow him to conserve a bit of energy in transition and in the attacking zone. The third line was involved in the forecheck and sound defensively, but the offense is yet to come. Hopefully, the amount of skill between Heinen and Bjork will shine once these three build more on-ice chemistry.
The first line is carrying the offense again:
The best line in all of professional hockey is proving its worth once again. Though three games, Brad Marchand has seven assists, Patrice Bergeron has six points (4G, 2A), and David Pastrnak has five points (3G, 2A). This line absolutely dominated the Sabres and put a on clinic versus the Senators on Monday. I know, not exactly stuff competition, but when the second line is on the ice for two goals against on Monday and the third line is without a point in three games, there seems to be a trend similar to that of last season.
Aside from Chris Wagner’s goal, the first line has had a hand on 9/10 goals the Bruins have scored this year. So far, like last season, the top line is accounting for nearly all of the Bruins’ offense. This is a good thing, don’t get me wrong, as it should be for any functioning team, but going forward, the other three lines cannot be nonexistent on the offensive side of the puck like they have been. Surely, this can be chalked up to the the bottom-nine forwards just needing to find chemistry with their new combinations and line-mates early on in this season.
Matt Grzlecyk needs to be better:
If it weren’t for Rask making some great saves on Monday, the game could have been much closer than it actually was. Rask covered for the former Boston University captain after some turnovers that definitely could have been costly. In transition, Grzlecyk seemed to be forcing some passes and looking for plays that just weren’t there, not to mention his absolute whiff looking to feed David Pastrnak across the ice on the power play.
Now, Grzlecyk is still a young player and this is just his second full season, but those types of plays can’t happen on a regular basis, especially where he no longer has the title of “rookie” to shoulder some blame. However, the learning curve is a long one for most NHL defensemen; we saw Brandon Carlo go through a sophomore slump last year, but this team, nor Grzlecyk, can afford to face what Carlo did this season, not with the amount of talent in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins are back in action Thursday night as the Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers march into town. Boston is coming off of two wins in a row while Edmonton while the Oilers have played just once this season, getting trounced by the Devils at home, and have sat for four days. The Bruins will face a stiff test defensively as the best player on the planet, Connor McDavid, is looking to have a Hart Trophy-winning campaign for a third straight season.