The Boston Bruins struggled with execution in their initial moments of Saturday’s matinee against the New Jersey Devils. But they eventually cured their hiccups behind one of their more well-rounded efforts away from TD Garden.
Some of the rough habits arrived early. Another Brandon Carlo turnover in the defensive end and Jeremy Swayman’s brain fart playing the puck outside the trapezoid nearly put the Bruins in another hole.
Eventually, Brad Marchand and company settled down.
Boston’s top-line left winger extended his point streak to six games with his pair of second-period tallies. Captain Patrice Bergeron provided separation with his third-period marker, sparked by a brilliant rush by David Pastrnak. The Bruins also received some needed secondary scoring from Erik Haula and Jake DeBrusk’s to cap off their 5-2 win.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins earned their second road triumph this season.
Marchand making an early-season case for Hart Trophy
Connor McDavid’s stellar start makes him an early runaway favorite to capture his third career Hart Trophy. Several elite forwards, including McDavid’s teammate Leon Draisaitl and future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin, will certainly enter the Hart discussion.
Marchand’s numbers speak for itself. His 18 points (8 goals, 10 assists) and 1.50 points per game aren’t the only arguments that stick out. The veteran and second-longest tenured Bruin provided a season’s worth of game-changing moments early in this 2021-22 campaign.
The Bruins eventually found their groove in the opening frame, taking a 1-0 lead into the locker room. Marchand kept his team in the driver’s seat with his pair of second-period tallies via a power-play marker with Charlie Coyle screening and on a rebound from Pastrnak’s initial shot.
With assistance from his fellow elite linemates in Bergeron and Pastrnak, Marchand finished in the top five of the Hart Trophy ballot in two of the last three seasons. He may very well finish higher in the MVP race assuming he builds off his stellar early-season offensive production.
“The big thing is we push each other consistently,” Marchand said of his chemistry with Bergeron and Pastrnak following his 50th career multi-goal outing. “There are times where we were getting on each other for needing to be better in situations, but also we have a lot of fun out there.”
As Marchand fine-tunes his stellar skillset, the Bruins hope they finally found some scoring relief from their secondary options.
Secondary scoring delivers a needed result
The potent Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line and Charlie McAvoy’s trio of helpers paced the Bruins to victory. But Bruce Cassidy received some needed production from his bottom-six.
Even with Oskar Steen called up from Providence following his torrid early-season run, Boston’s sixth-year bench boss inserted Karson Kuhlman into the bottom-six for an ailing Craig Smith. Kuhlman’s issues with consistency prevented him from becoming an NHL regular. Yet, the Bruins benefitted at times when they’ve re-inserted Kuhlman into their lineup after he sat for a few games.
Haula witnessed the Kuhlman effect firsthand on Saturday. The bottom-six veteran drove to the net, as Kuhlman gained entry with an assertive play shielding the puck from New Jersey defenseman Damon Severson. The snakebitten Haula went hard to the net and banked home a rebound from Anton Blidh’s initial shot to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
“It felt good for sure,” Haula said on notching his first goal of the season. “Definitely, I could’ve had a few [more]. I’ve had the chances, so it’s a good feeling when the first one goes in. And now you can forget about [the first goal] and look forward to the second one.”
Don Sweeney didn’t envision a repeat performance by Haula from his career-high 55-point campaign with Vegas in 2017-18. But the seventh-year GM knew he’d provide some needed bottom-six depth after watching the Islanders expose Boston’s third and fourth lines last postseason, thus signing Haula, Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno in free agency.
With the free-agent trio still adjusting to a new system, the Bruins may need to lean on their top guys a little more entering the tail half of the season’s proverbial quarter-pole. Yet, they’ll gladly take a secondary scoring uptick wherever they can get it, be it through a new addition in Haula or a familiar face in DeBrusk.
Bruins remained calm as a troubling trend continued
The Bruins didn’t relieve all of their bad habits on Saturday. At times they fell victim to defensive zone turnovers and overpassing, but more than made up for it with their effort in all three zones.
One of the troubling trends nearly caught up to them (again) in Newark.
Marchand and company fell victim to a third-period collapse against the Oilers two nights ago. They witnessed two leads slip away from them shortly after lighting the lamp, relinquishing goals 44 and 24 seconds apart after Pastrnak’s first-period tally and Marchand’s second-period marker.
The Bruins built off Haula’s tally and earned a 2-0 lead on Marchand’s first of two second-period markers. Yet, they quickly found themselves with a one-goal cushion after Dawson Mercer netted his fifth of the season a mere 28 seconds after Marchand’s power-play lamplighter.
The Devils remained aggressive in their push for the equalizer. A lucky break off Coyle’s turnover off a ref gave the Devils life again following Jesper Bratt’s third goal of the season at 19:24 of the second. But Boston’s defensive structure and Swayman’s calm presence in net stymied New Jersey’s third-period attack, paving way for Bergeron’s sixth goal of the season and DeBrusk’s empty-netter.
“There have been a few games this year where we had the lead or we were tied and we kind of let it slip away from us,” Marchand said. “It was great tonight that we were able to keep our composure and put a good third period together and separate that lead a little bit. There were some games where we might have panicked a little bit and let it get away from us, but we did a great job responding and taking care of business.”
Another round of business awaits Sunday with the first Bruins-Canadiens matchup in nearly two years.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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