The Boston Bruins cruised into the Consol Energy Arena in Pittsburgh after winning the first of the home-and-home twofer against the Penguins on Wednesday and hung six goals on beleaguered goalie Jeff Zatkoff and company in a 6-2 victory.
It was a memorable night for a pair of former UMass Minutemen, however, as Bruin Frank Vatrano (first NHL hat trick) and Penguins forward Conor Sheary (first NHL goal plus an assist) shined for the Amherst faithful.
Patrice Bergeron also tallied a pair of goals including one shorthanded marker early in the second frame. Loui Eriksson’s power play goal (12th goal of the season) to make it 3-2 after Pittsburgh tied it on Trevor Daley’s first goal with his new team after the Pens’ power play expired stood up as the game-winner. Vatrano, who scored the first goal of the game for Boston on a nice pass from Ryan Spooner (four assists- a career best for him), scored Boston’s last two markers. Landon Ferraro continues to play well for the B’s and had a third period goal erased on a questionable goalie interference on Max Talbot.
Once again, Tuukka Rask was very good in net for Boston. He was beaten on two excellent shots, but settled in and denied Pittsburgh in the last 38 minutes or so. In his last 10 appearances, he’s posted a .959 save percentage (8-0-2)- (h/t DJ Bean), so it’s pretty safe to say that the B’s are getting their money’s worth from him after a brutal start. I broke it down on Wednesday night’s post, so I won’t give Rask too much more attention in this one other than to say that on his talent alone, he gives his team a chance to win each and every game. When he’s on top of his game, they’ll win more than they lose, and since mid-November, Rask has righted the ship and is playing some of the most consistently good hockey of his career.
What more can you say about Vatrano, who now has five goals in his young career since the Bruins brought him up to Boston after a scintillating start in Providence? His potent shot is well documented, but it’s the aggressiveness and his willing to shoot from anywhere that is so impressive.
The first goal he tallied tonight happened when he quickly wired Spooner’s pass over Zatkoff’s glove hand. It was a laser, and it hit a very small space in the net while using a defender as a screen that caused the goaltender to be a little late in picking it up. His second goal was pure hustle and refusal to quit- Zatkoff made an initial save, but flopped down on his back and was hoping the puck was underneath him. It somehow squirted out and Vatrano was able to locate it down around his feet, with a defender also battling for it, and then fire it into the net before either Pittsburgh player could locate it. The one-time Minuteman was able to complete the trick when he broke in on an odd-man rush with Spooner (who earned his fourth helper on the night), showed no shyness in shooting on Zatkoff on the break, then gathered his own rebound and put it in.
In so doing, Vatrano became the first Boston rookie since Blake Wheeler in 2008-09 to post a three-goal game. He’s feeling it, and even though there will be ups and downs, I’m revising my earlier statement that said we might see him returned to Providence when David Pastrnak returns to the lineup. Now, it looks like Vatrano may be here to stay. A lot can still happen over the course of the season, but with the speed, energy, and…oh yeah…the natural scoring abilities he brings, the Bruins should keep him in the NHL until further notice.
Dennis Seidenberg played a pretty good defensive game in shutting down Evgeni Malkin tonight. The Pittsburgh star didn’t have much room to operate, and Seidenberg gave him little time and space to create. He’s not been the defenseman he was before the grotesque knee injury in early 2014, but Seidenberg is playing some capable hockey right now. It’s probably not up to snuff with what a contending team would need from a guy with his minutes, but you never have to worry about the effort with him. He’s helping to stabilize the blue line group, which was the team’s Achilles heel in the first month and into mid-November.
The Boston defense on the whole has been better in the two wins against Pittsburgh and last weekend’s matinee over Florida. Torey Krug isn’t getting the goals but its not for a lack of trying and he’s using his mobility to good effect. We’re still seeing turnovers from Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller, but they haven’t been killing the team of late with those. Colin Miller has a wealth of talent and promise, so long as you resign yourself to being okay with some bad reads, pinches and risky plays that will culminate with the puck in his own net or at the very least- a quality scoring chance against. He more than makes up for it with his skating and pure ability to generate something at the other end. Adam McQuaid is what he is. Trying to justify his cap hit won’t get much traction with those who are opposed to the contract extension he got in June, but I’m more than happy with him in the lineup because of the sheer effort and toughness he brings. McQuaid is one of those guys where, if you lose him and you start to see things going south here and there, you might not realize it at first, but eventually it hits you that he means more to the team than most want to give him credit for. Super guy and tough as nails- let’s hope he can stay healthy.
Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand continue to make magic together. They’ve tallied 26 goals between the two of them, which is pretty darn impressive in a 31-game stretch. Both plays started with Marchand, using his quickness and evolving high-end hockey sense to beat Pittsburgh defenders individually to open up space for his linemate. The second goal was especially a thing of beauty, as Marchand beat his man off the wall to find Chara in the high slot. Chara’s shot went high and wide, but it bounced back down in front of the net, and Bergeron was able to bunt it back into the open net before Zatkoff could locate it.
And speaking of magic, it is all coming together for Spooner who had his first career four-point night and has seen his hard work pay dividends of late. There will be peaks and valleys with him because of the style of hockey he plays, but Claude Julien’s postgame remarks on Spooner were telling. Four helpers aside, Spooner went after Patric Hornqvist when he decked Seidenberg with a hard (but clean) hit and Spooner got the lone two minute foul, but Julien said that he didn’t mind seeing his young forward take that kind of penalty because it showed his mates he’s there for them. Claude translation: We’ve been trying to instill character, grit and all-for-one/one-for-all in Spooner’s play and tonight he showed it, even if his timing might have been a little off. Spooner gets an ‘A’ for effort- guys like McQuaid saw that and will have his back the next time he finds himself in a situation he’s not ideally suited for.
For the Penguins, it was more frustration, as not one of Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Chris Kunitz or Malkin was able to get much of anything going. With all the money the team has invested in those guys alone, this is a complete disaster for the fans in the Steel City, and Mike Sullivan has the same look he wore behind the Boston bench in 2005-06 when he had a pretty talented group of players on paper, but didn’t seem to get much in the way of consistent and even passionate performances from them aside from a couple of guys. It’s an easy joke to make right now, but this team is the total pits.
And that’s all for this recap. The Bruins are back in action at home this Sunday agains the New Jersey Devils.
The Bruins had a wild night of scoring outside of the NHL team.
Vatrano’s linemate and AHL roommate, Austin Czarnik, tallied a hat trick tonight, as did Soo Greyhounds right wing Zach Senyshyn, his third hat trick over a two-week period (one of those was a four-goal game).
To have three players in the same organization tally three-goal games on the same night is pretty rare and gave Boston fans something to get excited about.
Czarnik is like Vatrano- an undrafted free agent who came into Boston during the rookie camp and opened a lot of eyes, making an extended run at making the team during training camp. Watch for the former Miami University standout and former Hobey Baker finalist to get his turn in Boston soon…it’s coming earlier than a lot of people think. With his speed, craftiness and energy/pace- I’m betting he’ll get a reward recall at some point this season.