A few bleary-eyed thoughts and shots after nine days on the road to start this hockey season . . .
■ The Bruins (3-1-0) opened this new season by taking 6 of 8 points from a tough Western swing. Not bad, not bad at all, considering the degree of difficulty. October hockey is so typically uneven that most results are not surprising; most everyone’s in wait-and-see mode. Overreactions are not advised.
The 10,000-foot view of the Bruins is positive: good team, good road trip. Boston’s top two centers didn’t play much in the preseason. Everyone’s finding their timing. They beat two opponents considered to be Stanley Cup contenders (Dallas, Vegas) and lost under unfortunate circumstances at another (Colorado). They have allowed four goals at 5-on-5, second-fewest to any team with four or more games under its belt. The goaltending was sharp.
■ Plenty of room to improve, especially with the bottom three lines. Let’s start in tight: The Bruins are shooting 7.7 percent on scoring chances at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick. That’s third-lowest, behind Minnesota and Columbus. Their shooting percentage on high-danger chances (read: in the slot) is 5.6 percent, which is second-lowest. Both stats suggest the Bruins have started a tad snakebit . . . or could be a bit sharper in the scoring area.
■ At the end of a tough Thursday for Jake DeBrusk — his assist to Karson Kuhlman and his first goal of the season were wiped away on successful coach challenges — he stopped skating and tried to use his stick to rip the puck from Andre Burakovsky in the defensive zone. The Bruins failed to stop the Avalanche winger on the rush, and he sniped the third-period winner.
“You’ve got to play through stuff,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “The last goal, to me, is where these young guys have got to value what effort’s been put in for 50 minutes. You’ve just got to be better in those situations.”
Cassidy praised DeBrusk’s game overall, but he wants to see more. DeBrusk scored 27 goals in his second season. The expectation is that, at least, plus the kind of well-rounded game that will make him a longtime top-six option.
“That’s where you grow in this league is recognizing that you still push through, you know, you give it what you’ve got,” Cassidy said. “No one said it was a lack of effort. That guy won a puck battle. We won some to score goals. It’s bearing down on those situations, are kind of learning curves for young guys.
■ The Bruins, as you’d expect, didn’t think much of the Kuhlman strike overturned for goaltender interference.
“I’ve seen it a bunch of times last year on me and it was a goal,” Jaroslav Halak said. “There is no consistency with these goals. I know, I get it, it’s a different referee and video judge in Toronto. But it should be consistent. We saw it so many times last year.”
As for the offside challenge — Pastrnak entered the zone a hair offside well ahead of the play that ended with DeBrusk roofing a power play shot — Cassidy said it was “too tight” for him to see. Regardless of Thursday’s result: “I’ve already stated my opinion on that: They should take the whole thing out. But they put it in years ago for a reason, and it worked against us tonight. That’s the way it goes. Hopefully we get the opportunity to make that call, our video guys catch it and it works for us. That’s hockey some nights.”
■ In Colorado, the buzz among hockey people in the press box — scouts, broadcasters, writers — was that the matchup that night would be a killer Cup Final. Track-meet speed. Star power. It would be a battle of two of the best lines in hockey: Gabriel Landeskog-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen vs. Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Pastrnak. Cassidy felt his top trio pulled its weight. Marchand and Pastrnak combined for a goal against Colorado’s Nazem Kadri-led second line, and before Zdeno Chara’s first-period goal, Boston’s top unit hemmed in the MacKinnon line.
“I thought ours was excellent, start to finish,” Cassidy said. “I thought we defended — [Sean] Kuraly had a lot of shifts, their line against MacKinnon, and they did a good job. Frustrated them for the most part. They got their looks, don’t get me wrong, got a power play goal. But 5-on-5, Bergy and Kuraly, when they were matched up with them, we could be proud of the work they did against them.”
■ Colorado wasn’t the only Cup contender on the trip. Vegas is loaded, with two No. 1-caliber scoring lines, big, heavy forwards, aggressive D, and good goaltending. The Bruins have proven themselves one of the East’s best in recent seasons. A potential Final between them would be compelling.
“It’d be fun,” said Torey Krug, who had an ice wrap on his right forearm after a night spent trying to dodge Vegas’s forecheck. “It’d be tough. I’d be wearing a few more ice bags.”
Count Tuukka Rask in, too. He observed how T-Mobile Arena, in the heart of the action on The Strip, is never dull.
“I think here it doesn’t matter if it’s Monday or Saturday, it’s always a great atmosphere,” he said. “It’s great for the game. It’s great for the fans. You try to enjoy it.”
Dallas opened 0-3-0, but the Stars are loaded enough to draw their share of preseason Central Division nods (hand up here). Built similarly to the Avalanche, with perhaps better goaltending and a bit more veteran presence up front, albeit a bit less shine on their first-line stars. The Bruins, should they be both lucky and good enough to repeat as Eastern Conference champs, would have their mitts full.
All involved are a long way from earning it. But at this point, it’s all possible, and no one named here looks unworthy.