Like a member of the Gallery Gods returning to his familiar upper-deck seat, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was eager to have his first meaningful look at this year’s squad. Cassidy went into the season opener, Saturday’s 3-1 win over Dallas, with several lineup-specific unknowns to assess.
He wanted to see how the new third line (Jake DeBrusk, Erik Haula, and Nick Foligno) would mesh. The nascent fourth line (Trent Frederic, Tomas Nosek, and Karson Kuhlman) needed to raise its game after a so-so preseason. Newcomer Derek Forbort was on the No. 1 defense pair.
Cassidy was encouraged by the third line’s early chemistry. The group scored the winning goal by driving from the perimeter to the front of the net.
“That line will be hard to play against if they’re attacking like that,” he said.
“I think Nick has enough skill as a net-front guy, a net-driver, a center-lane driver, to make plays for those guys,” Cassidy said. “We know Jake has high-end talent, can score. Haula’s the one we weren’t sure about in the middle, how he’d complement them.”
Jack Studnicka, starting the year on a Providence line with Jakub Lauko and Chris Wagner, could be an option at center or right wing. But it’ll be hard to knock either Haula or Foligno, who play both special teams, finish checks, and are proven NHL commodities, out of the lineup if both are healthy.
Other observations from opening night:
▪ With Nosek (3:49 on the penalty kill, highest among forwards) tapped for heavy use on the PK, the fourth line had precious few opportunities to mesh. Neither Frederic (7:23 TOI) nor Kuhlman (6:34) saw action on special teams. However, Cassidy praised them for their puck possession in the offensive zone, a quality lacking in the fourth lines of the last two years.
“I thought in the third period when we got back to a normal rotation, they did a good job, too, down low,” Cassidy said. [Nosek] had a little stuff play that’s available sometimes in man-to-man [coverage]. They rotated a puck into Kuhly in the slot, he was off-net, but it was a really good look. Freddy had a second chance in front of the net.
“Small sample size, but passing grade, for sure.”
▪ Not the cleanest night for the Bruins, who negated two power plays by taking penalties of their own. It meant a yeoman’s night of work on the penalty kill for the long sticks of Brandon Carlo (5:41) and new PK partner Forbort (5:35). They helped the Bruins go 6 for 6.
In all, not a lot stood out about Forbort’s game.
“He’s a guy if you don’t notice — and I’m not saying this to be disrespectful — probably means he’s played well,” Cassidy said. “He’s kept it clean. He’s a simple player that likes to defend, [make a] good first pass.”
He won’t have to handle the puck much as an even-strength partner to Charlie McAvoy. The No. 1 blue liner was firing, landing five of nine attempts on goal. The Bruins had 11 scoring chances (five against) when McAvoy was on the ice.
One of those: a McAvoy shot from center ice after Braden Holtby came out to the circles to play the puck. From between the hashes, the Dallas netminder stopped it with his paddle down.
▪ Composure remains Jeremy Swayman’s leading quality. One of his dicier moments came early in the third, when Stars sniper Alex Radulov nearly put Dallas ahead on a rebound after Jacob Peterson chipped a loose puck off the netminder’s blocker. Swayman froze as the puck floated over his back and to an open side, where he covered Radulov’s bid.
Cassidy’s view of his night: “Rock solid.”
Linus Ullmark is likely to get the start Wednesday in Philadelphia, unless the Bruins want to save him to face his ex-Buffalo mates Friday.
▪ The power play was 0 for 3. Both Cassidy and Brad Marchand pointed to choppy ice as the culprit. Yes, it’s been warm here lately — the outdoor temperature was 71 degrees at puck drop — but the spongy sheet at TD Garden remains a constant sticking point.
That said, we didn’t see McAvoy and Co. snapping it around.
▪ On a third-period PK, Marchand and Patrice Bergeron tried the same play off the rush that victimized Pavel Buchnevich a couple years ago, switching to attack the vulnerable forward (Dallas’ Roope Hintz in this case). Marchand went between his legs with the puck as he used deceptive footwork to go around Hintz. Rather than delay and hit a trailing Bergeron, Marchand fired on Holtby, but missed his target.
▪ Marchand scored his fifth career penalty-shot goal. According to the NHL stats department, only two players have more: Pavel Bure (7) and Mario Lemieux (6). The penalty shot was introduced in 1934-35.
▪ Some players don’t celebrate a goal much at all, regardless of the game situation. It was rare to see more than a fist pump out of David Krejci. Others, like Marchand, show their excitement in the playoffs. Marchand marked his penalty shot goal, the first at TD Garden since June 7, with a simple stick twirl.
Now that Sean Kuraly is in Columbus, no one (with returns yet to show on Foligno, Haula, Nosek and the still-goalless Mike Reilly) celebrates a goal harder than DeBrusk. The emphatic “celly” — knee down, half-windmill, pounding the glass — is a staple of his game. Nice for player and team to see it again Saturday.
▪ Quote of the night came from DeBrusk, who turned 25 on Sunday. He noticed the fan support at the opener, including fans pressing a “Chef JD Comeback Tour” sign against the glass during warm-ups. The affable winger, who has previously stated his love of Oreo cookies, caught a box of those treats from a fan.
DeBrusk: “Those were good luck Oreos.”