Some thoughts on the Bruins after a two-game roller-coaster ride
Maybe a homecoming will help the Bruins settle into the rhythm of the new NHL season. Sleeping in their own beds, at their preferred times, hitting up their favorite spots for chow — the comforts of home might serve to smooth out their game.
Because there’s no way they’ll go on like this. The first two outings produced a 7-0 smacking followed by a 4-0 turnaround. Roller-coaster rides only last so long.
A few stray observations after the second of 82 games:
■ The NHL’s class of elite rookies, mostly those on teams expected to be subpar, didn’t disappoint on their teams’ opening nights.
Vancouver forward Elias Pettersson, hoping to pull the Canucks out of the doldrums, sniped a nice goal. Montreal’s Jesperi Kotkaniemi didn’t look out of place against the heralded centers of Toronto. Dallas blue liner Miro Heiskanen was wheeling all over the place. And Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin threw a couple of solid hits and ate minutes against the Bruins.
Adjustments will come as the league figures them out. But in a tiny sample size, all offered glimpses of why their teams drafted them so high.
Don’t forget Boston’s Ryan Donato (56th overall in 2014), who took a promotion to the second line Thursday against Buffalo and scored a power-play goal off a Brad Marchand feed. After posting 9 points in 12 regular-season games last season, Donato went scoreless in three playoff matches. His best attributes: He can score from the circles and sniff out pucks around the cage.
“We like him on the power play, that’s why he’s on that first group,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He earned that last year. He finds the net, finds plays. Got a nice goal.
“Obviously Marshy made a hell of a play, but he’s got to get there and finish it. Five-on-five, he did a pretty good [job] — our whole group did.
“The guys we count on led, and the followers followed.”
No reason Donato shouldn’t remain on David Krejci’s right wing, continuing to build chemistry with second-year left wing Jake DeBrusk. In a preseason interview, Krejci made it clear his preference was to keep a line together as much as possible, whether his right wing be Donato, David Pastrnak, Danton Heinen, or Anders Bjork.
■ The opening goal is always critical, but maybe even a little more for both teams Thursday. Boston was coming off a rout, hoping to avoid further spiraling. Buffalo was trying to maintain its newly acquired feel-good vibe.
The 1-0 marker could have been there for the Sabres, if not for Pastrnak’s backcheck. Jack Eichel had a shooting lane on Jaroslav Halak, but tried to set up new pal Jeff Skinner back-door. Pastrnak dove and knocked the puck off-track.
Charlie McAvoy activated and found Marchand, who saw Zdeno Chara in an easy chair, ready to walk in on goal. The supremely agile Marchand pulled up and zipped a pass cross-ice. With the Sabres scrambling, Chara had time to leaf through a brochure of potential deke ideas before going simple. He snapped it past Carter Hutton.
Pastrnak, who landed a game-high six shots, was named third star. He might have been No. 1 if not for Marchand’s four-pack of assists (tying his career high) and Halak’s clean sheet.
■ Poor numbers didn’t seem to affect the final result, but Boston’s centers were subpar in the faceoff circle (43 percent as a team). Patrice Bergeron (12 for 27, 44 percent), Krejci (4 for 13, 36 percent), and Noel Acciari (5 of 11, 45 percent) lost their share. Sean Kuraly (7 of 13, 54 percent) was above .500.
Eichel, Vladimir Sobotka, Evan Rodrigues, and Casey Mittelstadt may have won the draws for Buffalo, but the Bruins suffocated the play after building the lead.
■ According to the Buffalo News, Sabres coach Phil Housley’s list of gripes included a lack of shoot-first mentality by his charges. That showed up early, when the Bruins held an 11-6 shot advantage after one period (and led, 2-0), and there was no buzz in the building. The diehards in the high seats yelling “Shoot!” had a point.
Wanting to is one thing. But the Bruins defenders were swift to kill chances for most of the night. And they had their best forwards backchecking hard.
In the third period, Buffalo attempted 22 shots to Boston’s eight, and had seven scoring chances to Boston’s three. Halak held the fort. The final possession numbers were tilted in the Sabres’ favor, but that’s because they were trying to climb out of a hole.
“We gave up some outside stuff and [Halak] was able to track those and get them out of harm’s way,” Cassidy said. “With the help of the D, obviously.”
■ Rather than keep him in a suit, the Bruins want Urho Vaakanainen in a uniform.
After two games as a healthy scratch, the rookie defenseman was assigned to Providence to start his North American career in the AHL.
The injury to Torey Krug (out at least three weeks with a left ankle issue) helped extend the 19-year-old Finn’s time with the big club, and he likely benefited from a few extra practices. But games are important at this stage of his career.
Vaakanainen, who played in four preseason contests, including one in China, is in his first season stateside after competing against men in Finland’s Liiga the last three seasons. He produced 4-7—11 in 43 games and was plus-8 last year, one of his team’s most-used defensemen at age 18.
The 18th overall pick in the 2017 draft, Vaakanainen will likely play in all situations for the P-Bruins, joining a group of young blue line prospects that includes Jakub Zboril (13th overall, 2015) and Jeremy Lauzon (52nd overall, 2015).
Providence opens its season Friday night at Hartford; the home opener is Saturday against Laval.
■ Few expect the Bruins’ next opponent to have an easy time manufacturing offense this year. The post-Erik Karlsson Senators, in town Monday, managed just 25 shots in a 4-3 overtime loss at home to Chicago Thursday. Goalie Craig Anderson started poorly, giving up a 40-foot snapshot to Alex DeBrincat, and ended his night beaten by a Patrick Kane backhand breakaway winner in OT.
The Bruins play the Senators again in Kanata, Ontario, Oct. 23, following a swing to Western Canada (Calgary-Edmonton-Vancouver) Oct. 17-20.
■ Washington’s two-game scoring total: 13 goals, after a 1980s-like 7-6 overtime loss to Pittsburgh. Alex Ovechkin (two in two games) will pass Wayne Gretzky at this rate (OK, that’s not happening). Cassidy did mention that he has a few things to clean up the next time the Bruins play the Capitals (Jan. 10 in Boston).
■ Those coming to TD Garden for Monday’s matinee are advised to be patient. “Under Construction” signs are still out on Causeway Street, and not likely to be taken down before games against Edmonton (Thursday) and Detroit (Saturday). If possible, take the T.
■ Recalling the last Red Sox-Yankees playoff series brings flashbacks to all the memorable hockey of that time. Ah, yes, that magical October of 2004, when hockey fans were . . . seething. I was playing a lot of NHL 2K5, and trying to follow which players had found lockout work in Switzerland and who landed in Sweden and Finland.
To the NHL and NHLPA, in danger of a fourth lockout on Gary Bettman’s watch come 2020: Fix it.