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  • Geekie and Swayman shine, but Bruins’ offense flattens in OT loss

    Tim Rosenthal December 14, 2023

    The Boston Bruins entered Wednesday’s tilt in New Jersey without their top-line centerman and most well-rounded defensemen.

    At times, the Bruins appeared out of sorts without Pavel Zacha and Charlie McAvoy. Yet, against the up-tempo Devils, Jim Mongtomery’s club managed to leave Newark’s Prudential Center with a point.

    A hard-nosed effort from Morgan Geekie in his promotion to the top line and another round of multiple timely saves from Jeremy Swayman kept the Bruins afloat. The former gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead after capping off a stellar shift with a tremendous net-front effort to bury a rebound past Vitek Vanecek late in the first. Meanwhile, the latter faced multiple high-danger chances following New Jersey’s slow start.

    Eventually, the Devils’ quickness and skillset overwhelmed a shorthanded Boston bunch.

    Dawson Mercer notched the equalizer just 2:34 into the third to cap off a pinball sequence sprung by Erik Haula’s tip attempt and subsequent shot hitting the post.

    The Bruins earned their chances in the third, with Danton Heinen, James van Riemsdyk and Matt Poitras earning second-effort bids during a shift late in regulation. Come overtime, however, the Bruins couldn’t find any rhythm at all.

    The Devils fired all seven shots on net during the 3-on-3 extra session. New Jersey’s perseverance eventually paid off as Jack Hughes, who earlier in the night encountered a ‘friendly-fire’ collision with his brother, Luke, notched the walk-off tally at 2:47 of overtime to cap off its ninth comeback victory of the season.


    Here’s what we learned from Boston’s 2-1 setback.

    Geekie adjusts to his increased role in Zacha’s absence.

    The Bruins hit the one-third mark of their centennial season Wednesday night. But as areas of their game continue to evolve, Montgomery continues to make multiple in-game tweaks to his lineup.

    Geekie found himself front and center of another round of Montgomery’s changes. On this night, however, Zacha’s injury forced Montgomery’s hand.

    No matter his assignment, the former Seattle Kraken center shined against the Devils.

    Geekie began his night in a top-six role with David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk. As the first period progressed, the Bruins transitioned Geekie into a makeshift line with Heinen and van Riemsdyk shortly after their first attempt on the penalty kill.

    The van Riemsdyk-Geekie-Heinen trio produced Boston’s lone tally on a lengthy attacking-zone shift. After winning a puck battle along the corner, Geekie parked right in front of Vanecek, burying van Riemsdyk’s initial shot attempt to complete the sequence.

    “We won a few battles down low and won a few pucks,” Geekie told reporters of his third goal of the season. “We won a few big bodies on that line, so it was nice to stir around right little underneath the [goal] line and I got up top right in front of the net at the right spot.”

    Geekie eventually returned to his original spot between Pastrnak and DeBrusk. The trio had an active night, holding an 8-6 edge in shots on net in their 11:33 time on ice during 5v5 play.

    In particular, Geekie’s connection with Pastrnak shined. Between Geekie’s puck possession and Pastrnak’s creativity, the two developed solid chemistry with one another in their first full game together.

    “When you get to the NHL you don’t really think about that, but it’s lots of fun,” Geekie said regarding his time with Pastrnak. “I’m not taking it for granted, so it’s super special for sure.”

    Geekie’s time with Pastrnak will likely end when Zacha returns. The former Devil remains day-to-day after sustaining an upper-body injury during Boston’s 5-3 win over the Coyotes on Saturday.

    The offensive shortage put more pressure on Swayman.

    The Bruins have enough high-end talent up front to remain in the top half of the league in average goals per game. But, as expected, they’ve encountered the growing pains without Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

    As a result, they relied heavily on Linus Ullmark and Swayman to steady the ship. That trend continued Wednesday as Swayman faced 13 high-danger scoring bids against the likes of Hughes, Mercer, Nico Hischier, Timo Meier and the rest of a skilled core of Devils’ forwards.

    Swayman kept his team afloat as the Devils found their skating legs following the opening 20 minutes. The Bruins didn’t lack in generating quality looks either, but they couldn’t get that pivotal second marker to help alleviate Swayman.

    “He’s been terrific all year long. Him and Linus, both of them have been terrific,” Montgomery said to repoters about Boston’s dynamic goaltending tandem. “That’s why we have the record we have.”

    Montgomery knew an uphill battle awaited without Zacha and McAvoy. Yet, as Swayman backstopped his team to another point, the second-year Boston bench boss praised his team’s competitive spirit without a pair of pivotal cogs.

    Boston’s effort was good enough for one point, but it labored through a stingy Devils counterattacking setup over the last 40-plus minutes.

    “You feel it in crucial moments, like special teams, matchups and faceoffs a little bit,” Montgomery said. “Listen, you lose two guys in the lineup who play 20 minutes a night, you’re going to feel it. But I loved the way we competed. I loved the guys who got the extra minutes competed. I liked the way the guys who were inserted into the lineup competed. So there were a lot of good things that we liked about the game.”

    Do the Bruins have the personnel to play to their identity?

    It took a little time for the Bruins to apply an identity for their centennial season.

    They had an idea that they’d need Swayman and Ullmark to pick up where they left off early in the season. They also knew they’d lean on Brad Marchand’s leadership, Pastrnak’s offensive skillset and a structured defensive setup while a handful of arrivals adjusted to Boston’s tight-knit locker room culture.

    Over time, Montgomery found what he wanted out of his group.

    “Forechecking,” Montgomery said of Boston’s identity, “and five guys working together at both goal lines.”

    With that philosophy in place, the Bruins now have to ask themselves whether they have the personnel to perform the blue-collar tasks.

    They’ve witnessed some newcomers adjust accordingly, like van Riemsdyk, Geekie, and Heinen, a trio of bargain bin signings who’ve provided the Bruins with secondary scoring. They’ve watched bottom-six centers like Matthew Poitras and Johnny Beecher navigate the prototypical ups and downs of an NHL rookie season. Along the way, Brandon Carlo is turning in one of the finest stretches of his career, providing a steady shot-blocking and physical presence as Boston’s back end encountered injuries and a McAvoy suspension.

    The Bruins could use more scoring depth and an added physical presence on the bottom six between now and the March 8 trade deadline. For now, with an identity established, Montgomery continues to sense some growth from within.

    “I think we know what the identity is in how we need to play,” Montgomery said. “But [in terms of] people flourishing in their roles, we still have a lot of room for growth, which is what I think is the exciting part of our team.”

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    Tim Rosenthal

    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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