What we learned: Hall scores first with B’s as Rask notches 300th win
In their second post-trade deadline contest, a rejuvenated Boston Bruins squad found their mojo Thursday night against a heavy New York Islanders squad.
Bruce Cassidy’s bunch cohesively clicked from the get-go. In search of their first win of the season against Barry Trotz’s club, the Bruins fired a whopping 23 shots on net in the opening 20 minutes. Brad Marchand scored his first of two on the night and Craig Smith continued his hot streak with his 16th point in the last 14 games following his power-play marker, giving the Bruins a 2-0 cushion at the first intermission.
The Bruins encountered a little slip up in the middle stanza after former Devil Travis Zajac lit the lamp to cut the deficit in half. But they made their well-rounded effort and Tuukka Rask’s return worthwhile, completing the 4-1 victory in the final stanza on Taylor Hall’s breakaway tally and Marchand’s empty netter.
“We had no passengers tonight,” Cassidy said afterward. “That’s what you’re looking for.”
Boston’s four lines and three defensive pairs clicked cohesively in their first win of the season over the Islanders. Here’s what we learned after the Bruins earned their second win of the Hall era.
Hall got the monkey off his back
With a mere two goals during his time in Buffalo, the 2010 first overall pick knew he needed to contribute rather quickly.
Hall didn’t find his way on the scoresheet against one of his former squads on Tuesday. But his quickness and offensive assertiveness caught Cassidy’s eye in his first game as a member of the Bruins.
Hall carried those traits over to Thursday’s tilt with the Islanders in his second game, skating on the second line with a red-hot Smith at the opposite wing and David Krejci in the middle. He put his skillset to good use with the Bruins clinging to a 2-1 lead early in the third period.
With a breakaway attempt following a lengthy tape-to-tape feed from David Pastrnak, Hall finally lifted the proverbial monkey off his back with his third goal of the season and first tally since March 4.
“You always want to contribute as an offensive guy,” Hall said. “You come into every game hoping to score a goal. But you want to make plays and you want to create chances. And tonight, I thought our line did that. It was nice to see one go in…”
In this small sample, Hall has acquainted himself nicely with the Bruins’ culture. Any previous reports of his on and off-ice reputation didn’t matter to Boston’s tight-knit roster; They’ve welcomed the talented Hall with open arms.
Hall’s instant chemistry with Smith and Krejci eased his transition period. With a crafty playmaker and a steady shoot-first presence alongside him, the vets helped ease Hall’s transition into another new home during a unique 2021 campaign.
“Krejci sees the ice so well. He’s a facilitator,” Hall said of his new line. “Us, as wingers, we need to get open and play with speed. Like I said before, we’re only two games in, and hopefully, we can continue to improve. Smitty is a fast player and strong on pucks, and has some really good finish to his ability. I think it’s a line where we can complement each other really well.”
A returning Rask looked sharp en route to milestone win
As he nursed an ailing upper-body injury, Rask sat and watched rookies Dan Vladar and Jeremy Swayman backstop a shorthanded Bruins squad to impressive victories. Rask’s absence only delayed an inevitable milestone.
A composed Rask only saw 23 shots in his first game since exiting the first period in Boston’s 4-3 loss to the Islanders on March 24. Before that, Rask missed six games after a 1-0 setback to the Devils on March 7.
Aside from the hiccup on Zajac’s tally, the Islanders rarely found a dent against a defensively structured Bruins bunch without Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk. In the instances where the Isles found themselves behind Boston’s D, Rask established himself in a prime position to make the timely stop.
“It takes a lot of patience, I guess,” Rask said of his return to the net Thursday night. “You want to get out there as quick as possible, and then nothing is getting better, so you just have to stay patient and wait it out. Luckily it helped, and I was back out there today.”
Rask returned to a transitioning Bruins’ D in front of him fresh of Mike Reilly’s second appearance following his trade deadline arrival from Ottawa. The Bruins still have a little ways to go until the back-end finally receives a clean bill of health.
Through all the injuries and rotation in defensive personnel following Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara’s departures, Rask remained steady during a time of transition. The Bruins know they’ll need their 300-game winner sharp come playoff time, but Rask held his end of the bargain during this roller-coaster season.
Amid a certain section of the Bruins fanbase wishing for his departure, Rask’s route to his 300th career win remains a testament to his worth within the Bruins’ organization.
“I think I’ve been really fortunate to be playing on a really good team throughout my career. So that helps a lot. We’ve had some great defenses throughout the years, and I’m just happy to be a part of that. I’ve been grateful that I’ve been able to play so many years, but it’s a great milestone,” Rask said after becoming the 37th NHL goalie to join the 300-win club. “It’s one of those, where once you’re done playing hockey and years after that when you think about your career and what you accomplished is going to be a nice memory.”
Is David Pastrnak on a cusp of a breakthrough?
Like Rask, Pastrnak remains on track to reach certain milestones before he calls it a career. Lately, however, the 2014 first-round selection struggled to find his groove.
Pastrnak entered the week carrying a three-game point drought. He extended that rut to four straight following Boston’s 3-2 shootout win over Buffalo on Tuesday night. Yet, as he whiffed on some of his scoring chances, Pastrnak’ss work ethic during a tight contest against the NHL’s worst team caught Cassidy’s eye.
“I thought he played harder…he was around the puck more and made some plays in front of the net,” Cassidy said regarding Pastrnak’s performance from Tuesday. “He’s misfired on a few [chances]…From my perspective perhaps he’s rushing it. Sometimes it’s a bit of puck luck and it doesn’t stay flat for you and other times you’re just off. As long as he keeps going to the net shooting — that line generates offense — I think he’ll come out of it.”
Pastrnak set himself up for quality scoring chances against an Islanders. Whether he setup on the doorstep and for his patented one-timer, however, Pastrnak still couldn’t find the back of the net. Even Marchand tried to setup Pastrnak for the empty-netter but missed a tape to tape pass by a mere few inches.
But Pastrnak carried over that work ethic from Tuesday. It didn’t go to waste, either. In the third, he set up Hall on a tape-to-tape pass to extend the lead to 3-1 and helped put the game out of reach with a hard-earned assist on Marchand’s empty-net tally.
Pastrnak tends to score in bunches. With a more balanced lineup, the Bruins’ outlook will only improve if Pastrnak finds his scoring touch again.