If you tuned in to see all the new Bruins at the Garden Tuesday night, hoping the place would pop like cannon fire during the “1812 Overture” on the Esplanade, then it was not music to your ears.
The new guys, Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar, and Mike Reilly, were OK in their debuts, but nothing spectacular. For a first night on Causeway Street, they graded a collective gentleman’s C, maybe a C-plus.
And, oh yeah, the Bruins won, rubbing out the motley Sabres, 3-2, in a shootout, and that after all is the object of the lesson. The revised sons of Bruce Cassidy pinned up another 2 points in the win column, mitigating the rumble from behind in the standings that the advancing Rangers kept up with their own win, 3-0, over the Devils.
A quick recap, keeping in mind each of these guys drove about 450 miles to Boston on Monday, then grabbed their new Spoked-B sweaters in morning, shook hands with their new Black and Gold brethren, then went about the business of chasing pucks.
▪ Hall, considered the crown jewel of the three new gems, logged 16:43 on a line with David Krejci and Craig Smith. The big left winger fired seven times, landed three on net, and really deserved an assist on the club’s second goal, Smith’s go-ahead (2-1 strike) in the second period that was logged on the scoresheet as “unassisted.”
Hall also tossed a couple of blind passes that the coaching staff, ahem, likely will discuss with him at his first full practice Wednesday. Better puck management needed.
▪ Lazar centered a new energy line, flanked by Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, and posted 12:58. He had some moxie in his game, something the fourth line has desperately needed all season. Good for that. He also deflected a long-range blast by Rasmus Dahlin with 8:07 to go in regulation that ultimately forced the shootout.
Cassidy, though, put the onus for that goal on Kuraly, who has shifted from center to left wing to accommodate the new Lazar show.
“Unfortunate … our fourth line again gets victimized,” noted Cassidy. “I thought [Lazar] did his job, got into the shooting lane, but there was some poor wall work by his left winger — a breakdown that he tried to cover up for.”
▪ Reilly, acquired to shore up a tattered backline, showed no timidity in the shooting department. Also good. He fired six times, and five landed on net (tied with fellow defenseman Jarred Tinordi for the game high), and logged a robust 22:17. One bugaboo all season: failure of the defensemen to get shots through and on net. Reilly hit 5 for 6 in that department. If Cassidy had a cowbell mounted behind the bench, he would have been ringing it with each strike.
What we didn’t see — and again, we’re talking only 65 minutes as a sample size — was a substantial tidal change triggered by the newbies. That’s the hope, eventually, that they become key support players. No one should be thinking of three deadline guys to arrive and steal the show as individuals.
First, that’s not their profile. If it were, the price would have been been far more than what general manager Don Sweeney paid: Anders Bjork and a couple of draft picks. Case in point: the ransom the Capitals paid to acquire Anthony Mantha from the Red Wings. The bulky Mantha, by the way, went 1-1—2 in his debut Tuesday night, a 6-1 smackdown of the crumbling Flyers.
Ultimately, the most valuable thing the three bring is roster competition. In part because of an array of injuries, it was a Bruins roster that needed a wake-up call, a bit of a prodding. As more of the injured are proclaimed ready for action, they now have three new guys in town who’ll be competing for the same jobs, ice time, standing.
From that competition, maybe the Bruins finally recapture some traction, all but missing now for two-plus months. The Bruins came into the season hoping that some of their kids could fill more important roles this season, but the results were mixed, and then injuries began to mount. Trouble.
“It went a little bit sideways,” noted Cassidy. “Yes, we brought in three guys that are NHL players … and now you’ve got three guys [here from the start] as a coach you’ve got to talk to them and say, ‘OK, here’s a little bit of adversity for you … and now you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to stay in the lineup.’ And that is welcome in pro hockey to a certain extent, right? Every guy has to go through that until they’ve truly established themselves.”
The likes of Trent Frederic, Karson Kuhlman, and Anton Blidh will want lineup spots. A veteran such as Kuraly, guilty of the boo-boo on the second goal, will feel the heat. Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle both showed more pop on Tuesday, and they’ve needed to show more pop.
“Because of injuries,” added Cassidy, “we weren’t able to sort of instill that [competition] mentality. Guys were going back in, no matter what. You’re working with them and trying to get the best out of them every day. Now there’s some options.”
Options named Hall, Lazar, and Reilly, all of whom likely will show more as they unpack their bags, get to know teammates, understand team nuances, and find their niche in the lineup.
They will need to be quick learners. Tuesday was game No. 40 on the 56-game schedule. Thursday and Friday, with the Islanders in town, will cut the runway to 14 games. Enough time to take flight, and they’ll need the new guys to get up to speed quickly.