What we learned: Bruins ground Jets
You well know about that Thanksgiving fact and playoff teams: Those not in the top-8 into Thanksgiving are not playing after the 82nd regular-season game some 70 percent of the time. Into Saturday night’s contest with the Winnipeg Jets, the Boston Bruins were tied for that final wild card spot with Columbus.
Of more important fact into this year’s Thanksgiving week, however, is that nagging home record that sat at 3-3-0 so far in the 2016-17 season. Last year, the 17-18-6 final tally on TD Garden ice is THE reason why the Black and Gold sat on the postseason sidelines.
Last year in Thanksgiving week, Boston went on a three-game winning streak at home, longest of the season. Nothing to brag about there.
So, here we are at Turkey Day 2016 with the last two games at home over the Sabres and Blue Jackets in the “W” column. After a successful three-game road trip that ended with four points and only two total goals allowed by Tuukka Rask, the NHL’s No. 1 Star of the Week, the Jets came to town with St. Louis on the radar screen for Tuesday night.
Boston at 10-7-0 overall and minus leading goal scorer David Pastrnak; Winnipeg at 9-8-2 with Patrik Laine. The 18-year-old, 6-foot-4 and 206-pound Finnish phenom leads their offense with 12 goals after being taken second overall in June’s Entry Draft. Add Winnipeg’s depth on D and overall talent, led by captain and former Bruin Blake Wheeler, and it all added up to no skate-in-the-park for the Bruins.
At 10-2-0 and a sparkling GAA of 1.49, the Rask task was once again front and center for the second and final meeting of the season between the Bruins and Jets. The B’s previously defeated the Jets, 4-1, in Winnipeg on October 17.
Here’s what we learned in the Bruins’ convincing 4-1 win on Saturday night.
First period all Bruins, but 0-0
First six shots on Michael Hutchinson by Boston. Hutchinson got the start over Conner Hellebuyck (7-5-0). Hellebuyck led the UMass-Lowell River Hawks to the NCAA tournament in 2014 while copping the first-ever Mike Richter Award that goes annually to the NCAA’s best goaltender. The Bruins’ Zane McInytre won the award in 2015.
When Wheeler went off at 11:30, Boston had a 5-on-3 – for naught. After 20 minutes, the B’s outshot the Jets, 14-4.
“I think right from the get-go we played well in the first period,” Claude Julien assessed postgame. “You know I thought we could of just been a little bit better again with those loose pucks around the net, and getting our noses dirty a little bit more, which we did in the second and third, so we responded well.”
Indeed, best second period of the year; Beleskey gets B’s going
After pinning the Jets in their own end, Joe Morrow picked up his first point of the season with a feed from behind Hutchinson to Matt Beleskey who took a nanosecond to put Boston up, 1-0, at 2:01; Dominic Moore also assisting.
“You want to see some progress,” Julien said about Morrow, playing in only his fifth game, “and right now so far he is showing us that he’s learning that.”
Brad Marchand followed at 11:37, when he streaked down the left wing off a Zdeno Chara pass, walking in alone on Hutchinson with a backhand for his sixth of the season – and first since November 8.
“There was a bit of a two-on-one,” Marchand said about his goal. “But he just seemed to be overplaying the pass a bit, and I had a lot of speed. I kind of felt that I could take it to the net, and he almost got me, but luckily he didn’t.”
Matching penalties at 15:42 and then another Jets’ infraction gave Boston a second 5-on-3. At 17:00, Patrice Bergeron launched a 15-foot laser past Hutchinson with David Krejci and Chara assisting. It was Bergeron’s third of the season and first since November 5.
“He’s a little snakebitten,” Julien said about Bergeron, “but he stuck with it and he finally got that goal. Marshy [Marchand] scored, so a lot of good things happened tonight.”
After holding the Jets to four shots on Rask in the first 20 minutes, the Bruins did that one better with only three for the visitors in the second frame.
“I think we are taking a lot of pride in defending well,” Julien said. “I think it’s been somehow it seems to be a pretty good buy-in right now, and that’s allowing us to win hockey games.”
In the last 124 games in which the Bruins held a lead by three goals or more, they lost but once.
Over .500 at home
Tim Schaller took a 120-foot pass from Torey Krug and went in alone on Hutchinson to up the lead by four just 1:41 into the final period.
The win pushed Boston to 4-3-0 on home ice and three consecutive victories. Boston held Winnipeg to 12 total shots, a season-best for the home team.
“I think we’re starting tonight we had five out of next seven are at home, and that’s important that we build at home what we’ve started to build on the road where we are a pretty good road team in my estimation,” Julien stressed. “We need to understand that our home has to be our home. You know we don’t want to live in the past, we don’t want to keep you know going back to what happened last year and all of that stuff. That’s… we moved on from that but we also recognize that we have to be better.”
Rask task back on track
Rask lost his shutout with just under three minutes left – one loss so far in November in nine starts. 11-2-0 overall with nine goals allowed in the eight wins. Whatever ailed Rask last year when he posted the highest GAA in home games in the league is solved.
“A very, very good effort,” Rask said about the team effort. “What can I say – only 12 shots, I think that’s probably the least I’ve ever faced.”
Why the improvement from last year?
“I think today is a great example – when our forecheck is going, we’re closing plays quickly in their end and don’t give them time and space, and then that eliminates a lot of space in the neutral zone for the team. But defensive zone all year has been very solid. We’re playing our positions and fronting pucks, which is great.”
Fact of the week
The Bruins are one goal shy of scoring the 20,000th team goal in franchise history (includes shootout deciding goals), which will make them just the second team in NHL history to reach that milestone (Montreal Canadiens).
That should come Tuesday against St. Louis.
“It’s not easy to just come in and click right away,” Marchand said about where the team is. “So we needed a bit of time and now it just seems like everyone who’s come in this year has something to prove.”
Like keeping on a roll at Thanksgiving to beat that 70-percent factor, eh?