What we learned: Top line sparks Bruins in home opener
The last two games have looked a lot better than the first.
Though they’re still a work in progress, the Bruins looked good in their home opener for a full-60 minute effort for the 6-3 win against the Ottawa Senators. While the Senators may not have been the toughest of tests, it was a good boost for a team that’s building momentum after they started their season with a 7-0 loss against the Washington Capitals. It’s an especially nice boost for a Bruins team that was 28-8-5 last season at TD Garden.
“It’s nice to get back in the win column here, back in front of our fans,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said to start his postgame press conference. “We need to play well here. Tried to establish that identity, and I thought we did for the most part.”
Here’s what we learned in the Bruins first meaningful hockey game in Boston in almost five months.
The Bruins still have the best line in hockey
And, it’s not even close.
In Monday’s win, Patrice Bergeron recorded a hat trick and one assist, David Pastrnak scored two and assisted on two others, and Brad Marchand had three helpers. Of Boston’s 10 goals this season, at least one member of this line has played a role in all but one.
They’re not just showing up on the score sheet, either. In the first period, Bergeron back-checked the length of the ice to disrupt an odd-man rush for the Senators—an especially impressive feat considering he missed the entire preseason as he recovered from groin surgery.
“You know, it’s crazy,” said Pastrnak, marveling at his linemate’s tenacity. “He can take time off and always show up and be one of the best players on the ice. Even though he says he feels off, he’s always really good.”
Though three regular season games is a small sample size, the line is continuing to perform at the elite levels that made them so formidable last season. That should silence any talks about breaking up the line to provide more depth further down on offense, right?
Not so fast, says Cassidy.
“On both sides you argue, hey they’re too good to break up, yet we relied on them too much maybe tonight,” Cassidy responded when asked about the top line. “We need more balanced scoring from lines two and three, so right now we’re going to leave it as is and see how it plays out.”
Backes should continue as a center
David Backes shifted back to his original position at center and provided some stability for a Bruins bottom-six that has been constantly changing. Because of the move, Cassidy was able to ice an effective fourth line, and begin taking steps to put together a more consistent third.
Backes wasn’t too concerned about moving from right wing to center and said the shift back to the middle “felt good.” Instead, the 13-year veteran was focused on establishing a semblance of chemistry with his linemates.
“To at least have an inclination as to where the guy’s going to be on certain plays certainly helps you play the game faster and be more predictable to each other,” said Backes. “That doesn’t help having new linemates every game, but it’s a situation we’re in.”
Last season, Backes was a part of an incredibly effective third line with Riley Nash and Danton Heinen that proved to be an asset in all three zones. But so far this season, Backes has played on the right side of Heinen and Sean Kuraly before getting moved to the fourth line right wing with Joakim Nordstrom on the left and Noel Acciari centering.
“There’s going to injuries,” Backes continued. “There’s going to be guys that are playing well, moved up, there’s going to be guys playing poorly, moved down. The three guys that are on the ice need to outwork their opponent, communicate as much as possible to expedite that learning curve, and go out there and be a productive group together.”
Backes won exactly half of his faceoff draws, but went winless in the dot from the defensive zone. Call it a work in progress—an experiment that might stick around.
“It’s one game,” Cassidy said, “but certainly that’ll be the plan going forward unless something changes in the next few days.”
Four New England-born players in the lineup for the home opener
The first game on home ice always feels special. But for New Englanders Acciari, Ryan Donato, Matt Grzelcyk, and Chris Wagner, it’s even more memorable playing in the arena closest to their hometowns.
It’s the first time the Bruins have had four New England born players in the lineup for their home opener since the 2005-06 season.
“[It’s] kind of surreal,” said Wagner, a Walpole native. “I don’t think it’s really set in yet.”
Wagner scored his first goal in a Bruins uniform, one game after being a healthy scratch. The new-look fourth line was impressive, registering a total of seven hits along with Wagner’s tally. It was a step in the right direction for a fourth line that was serviceable last season.
Along with Kuraly, Wagner was paired with Johnston, Rhode Island native Acciari on the right wing.
“Me and Noel [Acciari] have [chemistry] from our younger days, but I was looking forward to playing with Sean [Kuraly],” said Wagner. “I saw their success last year and was happy to fit in with them. I thought we had a pretty solid game together.”