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Flyers 2, Bruins 1

Bruins’ Jakub Zboril returns to action in fine form in preseason opener

Bruin defenseman Jakub Zboril skates away from Flyer Morgan Frost as he gets in some time on the top-line power play and penalty-kill units in a preseason game in Philadelphia.Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — More than nine months after tearing his right ACL, Jakub Zboril returned to game action, and was arguably the best player on the ice.

Zboril, felled last Dec. 2 in Nashville on an awkward hit by Predators rookie Tanner Jeannot, skated on a top pair with Connor Carrick in the Bruins’ preseason opener Saturday, a 2-1 loss to the Flyers.

The 25-year-old defenseman played a heady, physical 24:39, the most on either team. That included top-line power play and penalty-kill duties. He was a factor the whole night, jumping into the slot to set up Jack Studnicka for a near-goal (Studnicka shot wide of the net) and springing Fabian Lysell for a near-breakaway (Lysell lost the handle).

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He rushed the puck out of the zone several times and was always in position defensively. In the third, he dished to Nick Foligno on a quick-developing 2 on 1 down low, but the pass was a bit behind. He also drew a hooking call.

Getting a first live look at some of his new players, coach Jim Montgomery wanted to see which of them could “make plays.” Put Zboril on that list.

“He just continues to impress. He’s a dominant player out there right now,” Montgomery said. “That’s the word, assertive. It’s very impressive.”

The only time Zboril wasn’t able to sort out the chaos is when he unsuccessfully tried to sidestep a green-light hit from Artem Anisimov, and when he took an interference penalty late in the third period.

“I haven’t played hockey in a long time,” Zboril, who skated his natural left side, said before the game. “For me, I don’t really care on which side I play right now. I’m just going to go out there and have some fun and enjoy the game, finally.”

Zboril said he had a full offseason of training after the injury. He was able to skate in May, before returning to his hometown of Brno, Czechia, “almost at 100 percent.”

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With Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk injured to start the year, Zboril has a chance to start – and stay – in Montgomery’s lineup. If he plays well, his relatively modest contract (two years, $1.14 million) could make fellow left-sider Mike Reilly (expiring $3 million deal) expendable.

“For me, it’s a really good opportunity because we have a couple guys hurt,” Zboril said. “Basically I’m really stoked and glad to be back. I’m going to do my best and try to crack the roster.”

The Bruins were ultimately done in by the brothers Cates, Jackson and Noah, who scored a goal each for the Flyers in a game featuring unevenness typical of a preseason opener.

The visitors, who outshot the Flyers, 16-7, in the first period, allowed the game’s first goal 1:42 into the second. Noah Cates cashed a blind backhand pass from Morgan Frost on a 5-on-3.

The goal came after netminder Keith Kinkaid was forced to switch masks. A shot dented his Happy Gilmore-themed mask and the cage was touching his cheek. He had to use a blank, white demo model. “I think that’s why they scored,” Kinkaid said, grinning.

The Bruins were down two men after penalties by Josiah Didier (interference) and Jakub Lauko (hooking), after a first period where Philly racked up 23 minutes in penalties to Boston’s seven.

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In addition to the penalty, Lauko was feeling snakebit after missing a few golden chances in front of Flyers netminder Felix Sandström (17 saves). Same with Tomas Nosek, who didn’t score at all in the second half last season. He fumbled an excellent bid in the high slot.

But Lauko tied the game at 1 with 7:10 left, whipping a turnaround from the high slot past ex-Bruin Troy Grosenick.

“[Sandström] made a really good save, lifted his leg and kicked it out. Then I had a couple rebounds in front. I was trying to get one in the third period, after the penalty I made and they scored,” Lauko said. “I was like, I gotta get one.”

The winner came from Jackson Cates, aged 24 and 16 months older than his brother, who tipped a point shot past Kyle Keyser with 4:40 remaining.

Kinkaid, likely to work as the Bruins’ third option this season, stopped 14 of 15 shots in a period and a half of work before giving way to Keyser (13 saves). The latter’s best stop was a blocker save on a Tyson Foerster break-in.

The Bruins pulled Keyser in the final 90 seconds, but Nosek tipped a Jake DeBrusk centering feed into Grosenick’s chest. Montgomery, the former Flyer, called timeout with a minute left, but the Bruins weren’t able to break through.

Carrick, on the day the Bruins bought in fellow right-shot defender Anton Strålman on a tryout, made an impression by flattening veteran Antoine Roussel (also on a PTO) with an open-ice hit. Wade Allison stepped up and wrestled with him, earning an instigator.

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Boston University product A.J. Greer, trying to make a case to stick as a fourth-liner, stepped in to fight Hayden Hodgson after the Flyer boarded Josiah Didier. He traded shots but lost the battle. In the third, the forward had a breakaway chance on Grosenick, but his backhand try rolled off his stick.

“I liked our push in the third period,” Montgomery said. “Being from behind, we got on top of them and started to generate some O-zone time.”

“In general I liked how our D corps played,” Montgomery said. “Up front it was sloppy. I thought it was sloppy for both ends. Nothing was real clean. That’s what you expect three days into camp.”




Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.