The Boston Bruins came into the 2016-17 season with many uncertainties, the lack of defensive improvement in the offseason, the integration of younger players and injuries keeping key players off the ice such as Patrice Bergeron and Frank Vatrano. It seemed as though the start of the season was going to shape up to be similar to last year’s 0-3 start. There’s wasn’t too much optimism given the teams performance late in the season the last two years, but the B’s have banded together and manage to be 2-1 and in a pretty good spot going into their home opener tomorrow night against the New Jersey Devils. Below, I will detail 5 things that have stood out to me through 3 games.
Brandon Carlo looks more NHL ready than anyone thought: Perhaps the prized prospect in the Bruins organization, Carlo has built on his strong preseason with solid play early on. He struggled a bit in the B’s season opener last Thursday in Columbus, but held his own with the team under heavy pressure in the first period. Playing alongside Zdeno Chara, Carlo has brought solid skating ability and looks to be very comfortable playing with the 39 year old. Carlo turned in perhaps his best game on Monday night in Winnipeg, scoring his first career goal and playing a very solid game. His emergence has taken pressure off of Chara and has resulted in him looking fresh out on the ice and playing better than really anyone expected. Carlo has given the team a boost and hopes to continue that as the season progresses.
David Backes’ leadership: This was on full display in Number 42’s first game with the black and gold. His two goals in the second period spearheaded the Boston turnaround, leading to a 6-3 season opening victory. Early on it was apart Backes was ready to go, mixing it up in front of Columbus net after the whistle and setting up a David Pastrnak goal early in the second period, keeping the puck in the zone that allowed Brad Marchand to find Pasta in front of the net. The Bruins always talk about finding that will to win and Backes seemed to understand that right from the get-go and was involved in many of the B’s goals in the game. Even though his two goals weren’t spectacular by any means, he just kept on playing and went hard to the net and gave the Bruins a much-needed boost. Backes had 3 points in the game and filled in admirably for Patrice Bergeron on the first line with Marchand and Pastrnak. The trio finished with 12 points in Columbus.
Fourth Line finding its groove: While not the flashiest signings, the B’s signing of Dominic Moore may have been their best move of the offseason. The Bruins fourth line had long been a staple of the successful Stanley Cup teams in 2011 and 2013. Recently, however the team has struggled to find an effective group with solid chemistry. That may have changed Monday night as the group of Moore, Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari turned in a solid game. Moore scored his first goal as a Bruin in the first period and line was very effective all night as the Bruins went on to beat the Jets 4-1. While the team may not have necessarily found a group nailed down, they certainly found 3 players that will work grind hard all game and keep the team in the game. The effectiveness of the fourth line is very important to a young team that doesn’t need to rely on their top line to pick up all the slack from the other lines.
Second Line is nowhere to be found: One of the problems with the B’s integrating so many young players is the experienced players have more responsibility to in a way pick up their slack. David Krejci unfortunately has bared the brunt of that responsibility in playing with line mates that are not up to the task. Krejci has played with Ryan Spooner and Danton Heinen in all three games and the trio has just 2 points to show for it. For the Bruins to be an effective team, they need to try to get equal effectiveness from all four lines. The first line has really been the only line that has truly clicked while the other lines are still worked out the kinks. For the early part of the season, the B’s need to surround guys like Krejci with similarly talented players to get the most out of them. No disrespect to Spooner and Heinen but it’s imperative for them to step up so the B’s aren’t relying on one line. Heinen at times has looked overmatched on the second line and looks like he really doesn’t belong on that line. Spooner doesn’t look comfortable at all and it might be a product of him having to play the wing because of the amount of centers on the roster and it’s not his natural position. If he doesn’t start playing more consistently 5 on 5, he may be traded or sent down to Providence. The Bruins are really handcuffed by Frank Vatrano’s injury as they have to put guys in unfamiliar positions.
Tuukka Time: After allowing a very soft goal to open the season, Rask has been on fire, allowing just 3 goals on his last 61 shots. He has made key stops in big moments and he appears to be on his game early on. Rask took a lot of blame for sitting out the regular season finale last year which the Bruins lost 6-1 to the Ottawa Senators. He has been pumped to prove to the Boston faithful that he will be able to get past that tough moment and give the B’s his very best effort. Especially last game, the Bruins played well in front of him and didn’t put too much pressure on him. With Zdeno Chara and Co. looking fresh, Rask has looked more like Vezina Trophy-winning goalie of 3 seasons ago then the tired goalie the last two seasons. Anton Khudobin took a tough loss on Saturday in Toronto, but the B’s need him to be effective to give Rask enough rest so he stays this fresh.
Home Opener Thursday 10/20 vs. New Jersey at TD Garden, 7 P.M.
Saturday 10/22 vs. Montreal at TD Garden, 7 P.M.
Tuesday 10/25 vs. Minnesota at TD Garden, 7 P.M.
Wednesday 10/26 at New York Rangers, Madison Square Garden, 8 P.M.