Bruins put it all together to beat Connor McDavid and the Oilers
Stopping Connor McDavid was the primary objective for the Bruins. They mostly did so.
More importantly, Thursday’s 4-1 win over the Oilers was their most complete effort of the young season.
Goals by David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Joakim Nordstrom put Boston ahead early in a chippy, entertaining game between one team with a superstar and not a lot else, and another with legitimate playoff hopes.
“Discipline was good,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Team defense was good. We used our whole bench, our backup goalie, so everyone was contributing.”
The Bruins held the lion’s share of possession, constantly won puck battles, and mostly held McDavid in check by shutting down the players around him.
Only three teams had held Edmonton’s captain without a goal in his three-plus-year career. That became two 3:43 into the action. Ty Rattie backhanded a pass to McDavid at the neutral zone, in a soft area between Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara. Most players carrying the puck would not have advanced far, with those two elite defenders closing in.
McDavid is not most players.
He blew past a flat-footed Chara before he could turn. Charlie McAvoy had an angle, but McDavid outraced him to the faceoff circle. Alone on Jaroslav Halak, McDavid went backhand to forehand and scored short side.
But those moments were few. McDavid skated a game-high 23:55 and created a few harrowing moments for Chara-McAvoy and the Brandon Carlo-John Moore pairs.
“In general, I thought his wingers were quiet,” Cassidy said, speaking of Rattie and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. “That’s the next part: When he gets into his space, let’s not get mesmerized and chase him.”
Midway through the first, with Oilers defenseman Adam Larsson off for interference, Pastrnak gloved a Matt Grzelcyk chip along the boards, tossed it as his feet, and reached into his bag of tricks.
A toe drag between his legs freed him from defenseman Matt Benning. Goalie Cam Talbot was frozen as Pastrnak touched the puck five times in front of him, finishing on the backhand for the tying goal. Pastrnak has four goals and two assists in his last three games.
Of his and McDavid’s goals, which was more spectacular? That’s up for debate.
We know this: Pastrnak’s began a run of three Boston markers in 5:53, leaving the Bruins up, 3-1, at the end of the first.
The first came after Edmonton fourth-line center Jujhar Khaira — who earlier in the period was clocked by Bruins masher Chris Wagner — took a foolish penalty by boarding Moore in the offensive zone. Moore’s face appeared to hit off the dasher. On a night that wound up being more physical than was expected of two cross-conference opponents, the Bruins took Khaira’s number (16).
On the power play, Marchand’s centering feed clanked off Drake Caggiula in the slot and into the top corner at 14:37. It was his first goal of the season, to go with seven assists in his last three games.
The Bruins, 2 for 4 on the man-advantage, are now humming at 44.4 percent (4 for 9). Their penalty kill, which allowed four goals in their season-opening drubbing at Washington, improved to 69.2 percent (9 for 13) after snuffing out both Edmonton tries.
One of the PKers, Nordstrom, was promoted from the fourth to the second line as Cassidy tries to find his non-Bergeron-line forward mix. He proved his coach prescient by depositing a two-on-one David Krejci give-and-go, a play that began with linemate Jake DeBrusk outmuscling ex-Bruin Milan Lucic for a puck in the neutral zone.
A Bergeron empty-netter with 19 seconds left sealed the scoring. He has eight points (5-3—8) in his last three games.
Early in the second, Kevan Miller stood up for Moore. He tagged Khaira on the nose during a lengthy — by 2018 standards, anyway — scrap.
“A dangerous hit,” Miller said, confirming he was trying to even the score.
Then there was the Backes-Caggiula situation. Both were tagged with roughing minors after a shift-long beef that appeared to begin with both players taking runs at each other, Backes slashing Caggiula’s leg, Ryan Strome defending his teammate by crosschecking Backes to the ice, and Caggiula swinging at Backes after he got up, before wrestling him down.
“If you can’t take a big hit, you know that’s not my fault,” said Caggiula, who also drew the ire of McAvoy when he finished a hit high along the boards. “[Backes] gave me a pretty good run. I didn’t fall over so I think he had to slash me . . . I answered the bell, I was ready to fight, and you know, he didn’t.”
Sean Kuraly, who displaced a pane of glass on the end boards when he hit Benning in the third period, wrestled with Strome as the final buzzer sounded, the sellout crowd of 17,565 getting their money’s worth.
Cassidy expected “a spirited game” next Thursday in Edmonton.
“I’m sure there will be guys that will want to be physical and settle whatever scores they left out there today,” he said. “I don’t think it’s anything old school or anything, but when you play a team twice in a week, you have a memory of certain things.”