The Bruins played their first game in 142 days on Thursday, some four months and 20 days after their 2-0 win over the Flyers on March 10. The Presidents’ Trophy winners looked every bit hampered by the early-summer layoff and their training-camp absences. They lost, 4-1, to the Blue Jackets in their exhibition tune-up.
Takeaways from the bubble in Toronto:
▪ David Pastrnak is back. His second-period goal won’t count in the stats, but Pastrnak was not far from his 48-goal form.
After nearly scoring on a rocket in the slot, and executing several high-skill plays with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak put the Bruins on the board at 12:16 of the second.
After Columbus defenseman Seth Jones knocked down a long Sean Kuraly shot in front, Pastrnak corralled a bouncing puck, pump-faked to open Elvis Merzlikins’ pads, and slid it five-hole. It was the only highlight you needed to see.
“It wasn’t that bad,” Pastrnak said of his night, which included four shots and 17:10 of ice time, second-highest among forwards behind David Krejci (17:49).
Pastrnak also revealed this: his puzzling Tuesday tweet calling Washington winger Tom Wilson “the best goal scorer in the league” was the result of “a little side bet with Tom back in the day.”
▪ Marchand (zero shots, one penalty in 13:55) left the game midway through the third period, grimacing and seemingly favoring his lower body. “Don’t think it’s anything serious,” coach Bruce Cassidy said, “but we’ll have a better idea in the morning.”
▪ Tuukka Rask has work to do. It is too early to worry about the Vezina Trophy finalist, who has three round-robin games to sharpen his edges. But the Bruins will not win a Stanley Cup with September-quality netminding from their ace.
While the team in front of him was shaking off its rust, Rask didn’t control his rebounds well — typically a major strength — and allowed a leaky five-hole goal by Gustav Nyquist to put the Bruins down, 3-0, near the end of the first period. That was the Jackets’ second goal in 18 seconds, the other a Zach Werenski one-timer from the point.
Rask said he struggled a bit to track the puck, after four-plus months off. “It was weird,” he said. “Haven’t played a real hockey game in July since who knows when.”
Rask, who will start Sunday in the round-robin opener against Philadelphia, saved 17 of 20 shots (.850 save percentage) in 29 minutes and 54 seconds of work. Jaroslav Halak relieved him midway through the second, stopping all 10 pucks that reached him.
The Bruins need to defend better through the neutral zone and in front of the net. Columbus found its way into the offensive zone easily in the first period, slightly less so in the second and third.
▪ Jack Studnicka might be a fit. OK, it’s too early to make the call on that. But there’s a reason Bruce Cassidy is giving him a long look on David Krejci’s right wing.
Still in his first pro season, the 21-year-old was one of the most noticeable Bruins in their bubble debut. He was confident, around the puck constantly and read the play well. He made several skilled passes, including two setups of Jake DeBrusk on the same shift late in the second period. He landed three shots in 13:40, and is still figuring out minor details: When to pass vs. shoot, when not to make a soft play on the backhand.
“For the most part, did his job,” Cassidy said. “Certainly the effort was there.”
Cassidy planned to shift around his bottom-nine wingers, and Studnicka kept his spot. Sean Kuraly went from third to fourth line after the early backchecking mistake. Karson Kuhlman played on each of the bottom three lines. He and Anders Bjork (who stayed on the third line) gave Cassidy reason to play them against Philadelphia on Sunday.
▪ The Blue Jackets will be playing for keeps on Sunday, opening their best-of-five series against the Maple Leafs. The Bruins have three round-robin games, beginning Sunday against the Flyers. The intensity disparity showed early.
The first period was sloppy, but only one team looked like it hadn’t played since March 10. The Bruins had eight giveaways in the first period, allowed three goals on 13 shots, and couldn’t take advantage of a 78 percent edge in the faceoff circle.
Players on both sides were off their games. During some 4-on-4 play in the second, Torey Krug fumbled the puck at the blue line, and Dubois beat him on a breakaway. The puck bounced on Dubois, who shot wide of Rask.
▪ The Bruins allowed the first goal 4:27 in on a gorgeous pass by Blue Jackets winger Liam Foudy. Rushing the right half-wall against Krug, Foudy threw a phenomenal backhand feed some 30 feet across the ice. Krug was exhibition-hockey loose in coverage, Brandon Carlo couldn’t knock it down, and Boone Jenner beat a backchecking Kuraly to the doorstep and tapped in a gift. There was no cannon.
The Bruins took five minor penalties, killing four. The power play landed two shots in two opportunities and had little zone pressure. The No. 1 unit had DeBrusk (and not Charlie Coyle) in the net-front spot. Studnicka was in the bumper position for the second unit.
▪ The Bruins and Blue Jackets stood together and linked arms for the American and Canadian national anthems. A bit jarring to see Zdeno Chara (6 feet, 9 inches) standing between Nathan Gerbe (5-5) and Cam Atkinson (5-8).