LAS VEGAS — Tossing gasoline on an instant rivalry sparked by last spring’s spicy first-round series, the NHL had Vegas and San Jose play four times in two weeks: a home and away series in the preseason, and a back-to-back to open the year.
The Golden Knights won all four, outscoring the Sharks, 17-4. Over the two regular-season wins (by 4-1 and 5-1 scores), was a line brawl between the teams, multiple ejections, and comments by players and coaches were saltier than a casino margarita glass.
Though they are more than capable of beating the formidable Knights on Tuesday, the Bruins have not yet reached that intensity level.
“It would be like if we played Toronto in an exhibition, then played them again,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I imagine it would get your attention early on in the year, right away.
“Sometimes, it’s not always there. I know that sounds odd, you’re like, ‘The year’s starting, why wouldn’t it be?’ You play late into the year before, guys that have been in the league a long time, they know what’s in front of them, they’re pacing themselves a little bit.”
This will be heavy lifting for the Bruins. T-Mobile Arena is one of the most raucous barns in the league. Their opponent is cooking, having yet to allow more than one goal in a game. Meanwhile, the Bruins, who have yet to score more than two in one of theirs, haven’t had their top players together because of injuries and preseason rest.
One area of pressing concern stretches back to last year.
Though the Bruins’ power play was excellent, ranked third in the regular season (25.9 percent) and tops in the playoffs (32.4), it allowed 14 shorthanded goals. Only the Penguins (15) surrendered more. The Knights, this season, are putting on a show in that department.
Friday night in San Jose, Vegas scored two shorties (Brayden McNabb from William Karlsson; Thomas Nosek from Mark Stone), and another Knight (Brandon Pirri) raced out of the box for a goal. Reilly Smith got a shorty on opening night. Vegas had 10 as a team last year, tied for fourth-most in the league. No team has more this year.
It is incumbent on Torey Krug and David Pastrnak, who often handle the puck up high on Boston’s No. 1 PP unit, to make good decisions: “Not get cute up there in terms of trying to beat people,” Cassidy said. “But we talked about [Arizona burner Michael] Grabner the other night, and he got behind [for a breakaway], so sometimes you’ve got to live it and be ready to go and get it right.
“When they’re on, when teams pressure us, we’re good. We’ll turn those into chances, we’ll turn those into 3-on-2s down low, stretch their forwards out. That’s what we want.”
Krug is one of the league’s top quarterbacks, and he isn’t pleased with the unit’s performance (1-for-6, six shots). In 4:53 of power play time, the first group of Krug, Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Jake DeBrusk has been outshot, 3-1, and had just three scoring chances. They know they have to be mindful of Vegas jumping them at the point, but “we haven’t even been able to set up in the zone, so I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself,” Krug said. “We’re not even close to anything right now. I don’t even know if we’ve connected on more than two consecutive passes.”
In his view, the unit is rushing its work, “trying to hit seams for no good reason, just because we think that’s the way we scored last year,” he said. “But if we really kind of analyze how we scored last year, we weren’t just hitting seams in our normal setups. We were hitting seams when there was a breakdown. We weren’t forcing it through three or four guys at a time. Right now that’s what we’re trying to do.”
That’s a symptom Cassidy notices at even strength. He sees a bunch of players who are trying to shake the way they played in August, while tuning up for the year. He wants more of what he saw in Arizona, where Bergeron shot, he and Pastrnak recovered a puck in the corner, and Marchand swept home Bergeron’s feed.
Simple. Effective. Something to silence the road crowd.
“Those are the type of goals that right now our whole group needs to think about scoring,” Cassidy said. “We talked about it today. Whether it kicks in tomorrow or the next day, I don’t know. But I hope it’s against Vegas. We are capable of more.”
Joakim Nordstrom (undisclosed lower body injury) was cleared for game action, though he won’t debut until Thursday at the earliest. Nordstrom, who did not play in an exhibition game, will not be rushed back. He practiced with the team as an extra . . . Tuukka Rask (28 saves against Dallas, including 16 in the third period) will take the net Tuesday . . . Cassidy was leaning toward David Backes returning to the lineup, after sitting out Saturday. Backes, ever a good soldier, was engaged at practice. The former Blues captain yelled at a teammate to “[expletive] wake up” after fumbling a puck in a drill.