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  • Bruins play to their forechecking identity against Devils

    Tim Rosenthal December 31, 2023

    Maybe the Boston Bruins needed a mental reset after all.

    Despite facing a 2-0 deficit against the New Jersey Devils on Saturday, Boston’s blue-collar work ethic eventually paid off. The Bruins exposed the middle of the ice in their attacking zone, capitalizing on high-danger looks, beginning with Jake DeBrusk’s fifth of the season following a Brad Marchand attacking zone takeaway.

    David Pastrnak put the Bruins ahead for good behind a tip on the doorstep and a razzle-dazzle, forehand-backhand breakaway marker within a 2:48 timespan.

    The Bruins received some insurance after Charlie Coyle and Danton Heinen combined to win a puck battle down low to set up Shattenkirk. The battle-tested veteran promptly snapped a shot past Vitek Vanecek for the 100th goal of his career.

    The Bruins didn’t exit Saturday’s performance totally unscathed after Charlie McAvoy collided with Linus Ullmark to prevent an odd-man shorthanded rush.

    Apparently, McAvoy’s latest exit became another scare. Jim Montgomery said that McAvoy felt “fine” after checking in with his top blue-liner following Boston’s 5-2 win.

    McAvoy’s exit didn’t prevent the Bruins from adding more insurance. They netted their second power play tally off a brilliant sequence from Pastrnak and Marchand to set Shattenkirk up for a one-timer during the final minutes.

    Here’s what we learned as the Bruins close out their 2023 TD Garden slate on a high note.

    The Bruins played to their forechecking identity.

    With a forward core that’s not as deep from previous seasons, the Bruins needed to manifest their offensive production through blue-collar habits.

    For all the eye-opening moments from Pastrnak, Marchand and other skilled forwards, Boston’s path to victory resembled around an aggressive forechecking system in an attempt to create primary and secondary looks around the net. Through their four-game skid, they had gotten away from their formula for success, settling for more one-and-dones in the attacking end. 

    The Bruins developed better checking habits against the Sabres, leading to multiple quality chances in their bounce-back outing. A few days later, they put forth one of their better offensive outings of the season against a Devils bunch coming off a 6-2 win in Ottawa just 24 hours prior.

    “We felt we were playing a good game; we felt we were playing to our identity; and we felt we were playing Bruins hockey. And that played itself out,” Montgomery said. “I thought we were really physical tonight, and because we were physical, there were loose pucks and our puck support was getting to it, which led… I thought the second period was the best period we had here all season.”

    The Bruins kept New Jersey’s defense on its heels. But it took time for the results to come around.

    Eventually, the Bruins found ample space around the net to quickly erase their 2-0 deficit. They never deviated from their identity from the get-go, driving hard to the net to create turnovers and cash in on mini-breakaways, odd-man rushes and secondary scoring bids against the up-tempo Devils.

    “We wanted to make them play in their zone and make them defend,” Pastrnak said. “Our focus was to build our game to the third period and kind of wear them down and make them tired, and for the most part, I think we did a pretty good job.”

    Pastrnak put the Bruins ahead for good after the trio of Marchand, Charlie Coyle and DeBrusk provided a second-period tone-setter.

    DeBrusk is heating up following holiday layoff.

    The Bruins took advantage of a three-day layoff to spend time with family and friends. DeBrusk, in particular, used his time to watch some of his favorite Christmas movies, like the Will Ferrell hit “Elf.”

    While his 200-foot efforts were never questioned, the results evaded DeBrusk as he rotated around Boston’s. Amid the critiques from the passionate Boston fanbase, a focused DeBrusk broke his six-game point skid after notching primary helpers on Coyle’s two-goal outing during the B’s 4-1 win in Buffalo.

    DeBrusk followed up with another multi-point performance against the Devils.

    “Obviously, we didn’t like how we came into the break, but yeah, personally I got away from it to be honest with you,” DeBrusk said of his few days away from the rink. “I was watching Christmas movies, and I was enjoying myself, so it’s nice to do that for a little bit. It’s just three days, but that can make a world of difference.”

    With a unique skillset meshing his speed and hard-nosed scoring touch, DeBrusk’s efforts are finally turning into results.

    The Edmonton native displayed those traits en route to his first goal since Nov. 30. Marchand created the sequence after stealing the puck from Vanecek from the goaltender trapezoid behind the net, and DeBrusk put the finishing touches on his fifth of the season.

    “You can tell he’s very, very noticeable with his speed. When his speed is noticeable, you can tell he’s on top of his game,” Montgomery said of DeBrusk. “He’s doing a lot of really good things. That goal he scored is a goal scorer’s goal. Not a lot of people take that puck to the far post. You have to have courage to do that, and that’s a brave play by him.”

    Georgii Merkulov had a productive NHL debut.

    Boston’s prospect rankings may sit near the bottom of the league according to numerous outlets. And while its pipeline may not possess a high-end talent akin to a top-round selection, it may have found a few gems.

    Merkulov, in particular, may stand out above some of the names on the list. The Bruins witnessed his offensive skillset and his improved play away from the puck during the first few months of his second season in Providence, especially during a recent torrid 10-game stretch where he produced 16 points on eight goals and eight assists.

    With their recent offensive rut, the Bruins promoted Merkulov to the big club ahead of Saturday’s tilt. Aside from a tough night at the faceoff dot, the former Ohio State Buckeye provided a solid showing in third-line duty with James van Riemsdyk and Trent Frederic.

    In their 9:28 of 5v5 time on ice, the van Riemsdyk-Merkulov-Frederic trio held a 12-7 edge in shot attempts and a 5-2 advantage in shots on goal.

    Montgomery hardly used Merkulov in the third as the Bruins worked to secure the victory. After Shattenkirk’s second marker, Montgomery rewarded Merkulov with more shifts in the final minutes.

    “A lot of good things,” Montgomery said of Merkulov. “I didn’t play him down the stretch because you’re closing out the game. But as soon as we closed it out, I put him back out there. He played a really good game.”

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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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