Final buzzer: B’s are on a Mile High with first win, 6-2 over Avs

Tyler Randell netted his first NHL goal in his first NHL game in Boston's first win of 2015-16 (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Tyler Randell netted his first NHL goal in his first NHL game in Boston’s first win of 2015-16 (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins posted their first win of the season in Denver by a 6-2 score by jumping on the Colorado Avalanche and racing to a 5-0 lead. They chased starter Semyon Varlamov from the net and by dominating the puck possession game by limiting the Avs to just 12 shots in the first 40 minutes.

The 3rd line made the biggest difference keyed by Jimmy Hayes (1g, 4 points) and Ryan Spooner (1g, 2 points), forechecking effectively, forcing turnovers and then capitalizing on said turnovers with goals by Chris Kelly and Spooner in the second frame.

The game marked a couple of first career appearances for defenseman Tommy Cross and winger Tyler Randell. Cross became the second player from Boston’s 2007 draft class (Zach Hamill) and Randell the third from 2009 (Jordan Caron, Lane McDermid) to skate in the big show.

Jonas Gustavsson got his first NHL start for the Bruins, and wasn’t tested all that much. He held Colorado off the scoreboard until late in the second frame when David Pastrnak took a double-minor for high sticking former teammate Carl Soderbergh. Fellow Swede Gabriel Landeskog spun around with the puck just outside the crease, and Zdeno Chara (2 assists) tried to poke it off his stick, but inadvertently pushed it past Gustavsson to make it 5-1 after two periods.

Fourth-line center John Mitchell made it 5-2 on a lazy outside shot that caught Gustavsson cheating. This is a shame because the Monster made some excellent stops while his team was on the power play earlier in the period, so to give up such a soft goal with a little under 9 minutes left took some of the shine off of an otherwise solid performance in net (he made a terrific breakaway stop on Avs top draft pick Mikko Rantanen in the first period to keep Colorado off the board).

Boston’s top two lines had a quiet night with no goals scored (save for David Krejci’s empty net tally at the end), but that’s how its supposed to work- the big horses had generated much of the team’s offense in the three losses- so to have the bottom two lines, plus Kevan Miller grab hold of the scoring load is a good sign. The team’s strength is up front, so for one night at least, things are back on track.

Up 

Jimmy Hayes- He was in the “down” section for the Tampa Bay game, but he bounced back with a career-best 4-point night in this one, tallying the second goal of the contest by batting a Chara rebound out of the air and into the net. You could tell by his celly that a huge weight was taken off his shoulders with that one. The added pressure that local boys feel when they put on that spoked B is real, but Hayes wasn’t done. He forced a neutral zone turnover i the second period, getting the puck to Spooner, who fed Kelly with a backhand sauce pass. The veteran then skated in, made a quick deke in traffic and put the puck past Varlamov to make it 4-0. Hayes then forced another turnover deep in the Colorado zone and got it to Spooner on a backhander, who roofed a shot for his first goal of the season to finish Varlamov’s night. Hayes added an assist on Krejci’s empty-netter to seal the win. He skated a more uptempo game, and just maybe- getting away from Boston and the TD Garden was good for him. On this night, Hayes looked like he was having a lot of fun out there, and let’s face it- even though these guys are professionals, that’s how it should be for the most part.

Ryan Spooner- Along with Pastrnak, Spooner is Boston’s most dynamic forward, so if he isn’t scoring, he’s probably not helping a whole lot. Having said that- tonight he was skating hard on the forecheck, creating problems for Colorado as they tried to gain possession in their own end and break the puck out. He’s never going to be a stalwart two-way center, but the Bruins don’t need him to be that. He has to give a good effort away from the puck, but as long as he’s making things happen on offense, the team can live with the occasional lapses that will happen. His assist on the Kelly goal looked effortless- it wasn’t- and his first goal of the season was a pure snipe to the top shelf that was off his stick in a blur.

Tyler Randell- He became the first Bruin to score in his debut since Blake Wheeler back in October, 2008- which was interestingly enough- some eight months before Boston drafted Randell in Montreal. That’s how long it has been, and if you had said smart money would be on Randell finding the back of the net in his NHL debut, you should go out and get your lottery ticket. The rugged, physical forward didn’t have to do much in that regard, but his goal was vintage Randell: he tipped Adam McQuaid’s point blast home, demonstrating his slick hands. The skating is what has kept him from the NHL prior to now, but you can see that he has value on the bottom line, especially when things get tough. He won’t thrive in an uptempo game, but he’s proving that in the right role, there’s a place for him on this club.

Chris Kelly- The veteran looks pretty good on the third line left wing with Spooner and Hayes. He’s not the fastest guy out there, but he’s smart, industrious and in scoring his first of the season, showed off the slick hands that he previously parlayed into 20+ goals. Anytime you can get offense out of Kelly it’s a bonus, because he’s such a key leader and sterling example for the younger players. He may not be the most skilled LW to put on that line, but he’s getting the job done.

Tommy Cross- It was a solid, unspectacular night. He played sheltered minutes and wasn’t asked to do a whole lot, but for a guy who was drafted nearly nine years ago, he deserves ups for getting here. Cross is an NHL player- no one can take that from him. What happens from here partly up to him and partly not, but for one night- he looked like he belonged, and there are a lot more folks out there than this columnist who are genuinely happy for a genuinely good guy.

Kevan Miller- He opened the scoring on an absolute bomb from the point that rang off the far post and clanked in. For a guy who missed the second half of last season to have shoulder surgery, he looked like a winner on that play.

Adam McQuaid- Forget about the assist on Randell’s goal- did you see that nifty little spin move he put on along the half-wall to shake the defender and maintain possession, then fed it out in front to Loui Eriksson, who was stoned on what would have been a highlight goal? Wow- where did that come from?! He then put the puck to the net on the ensuing play and Randell tipped it in…great shift for No. 54.

Down-

Brett Connolly- He’ll show it in flashes, but the consistent shifts where Connolly is working, creating and making an impact on the game are still lacking. The B’s need a lot more from him. If you didn’t see it at all, it would make for an easy call for the coaches, but the talent is there for the former sixth overall pick. He’s still looking for his first goal as a Bruin and he had a great chance in the first period (right before Miller scored) when sent in alone on Varlamov but couldn’t even hit the net.

Joonas Kemppainen- Another soft performance from the Finnish newcomer. He’s not strong enough on pucks to these eyes and seems to be around the play a lot, which is a sign of his good hockey IQ, but he has left me wanting more. Kemppainen looks like a player, but he’s got to get more engaged to make a difference.

The good news- B’s fans won’t have to wonder about any more losses to increase the winless streak, and you have to hand it to the team for cooling off a hot offense at home. However, there is still plenty of work ahead for this group- improvements are showing through in their play, especially in puck support along the walls, so there isn’t a whole lot to take issue with on this one.

Providence captain Cross brought up, Koko still in the mix

There is some good stuff posted yesterday in the Providence Journal by friend and colleague Mark Divver on Tommy Cross and Alex Khokhlachev. The piece has analysis and quotes from Cross on his playing style and development since turning pro so I won’t go into that.

Cross, 26, was recalled by the Boston Bruins yesterday after Joe Morrow went on the IR in the wake of Matt Irwin’s demotion to the AHL. Irwin was not claimed on waivers by any of the other 29 teams (And why would they? His two-game stint in Boston was one of the more distressing performances in recent history), but he’ll be a valuable contributor in Providence, as his NHL experience and skill set will serve him well at the lower level.

On the other hand, Cross to Boston is a positive story for the team. He’s the last remnant of one of the worst draft classes in Bruins history- 2007- when the B’s held the eighth and 38th overall selections after Peter Chiarelli’s first full season as GM. The B’s drafted WHL leading scorer Zach Hamill with their top pick, then traded their 38th and third-round picks to move up three spots to 35 to grab Cross, the Westminster prep captain who brought good size, skating ability and a cannon shot to the mix.

It’s easy to look back at those decisions and shake the head in 2015, as the B’s would almost certainly have drafted Logan Couture at 8 and P.K. Subban at 35 (heck- they could have had him at 38 if they had stood pat), but that’s life and the NHL draft, where projected 17-18-year-old kids is more art than science. The hardcore fans who follow the draft still dredge up the memories of the failures of Boston’s ’07 class (which included such luminaries as Dennis Reul, Alain Goulet, Radim Ostrcil and Jordan Knackstedt) and that’s fair. The team not only missed on its early picks, but it absolutely swung and whiffed everywhere else that year. Blowing an entire draft class has a delayed penalty that the B’s are feeling now, especially when you take into account that they had two picks in the top-35 that year. Poor showings at the draft table in 2008 and 2009 have added to the issues the team faces, but in getting back to 2007 and what the Cross callup means for a second…

First of all, Cross is a solid minor league defenseman who just might play his way into a supporting role at the NHL level if not with Boston then another club, perhaps. His development was stalled at the beginning because he suffered a knee injury playing baseball right before the draft. The B’s took him anyway, which shows how much they liked him, but he continued to have issues with it, having several more surgeries before seemingly putting it all behind him in his last two full seasons at Boston College. By then, it had become apparent that the player Boston projected at 17 in his draft year to be a potential top-3, big minutes, two-way defender with character, was more of a solid stay-at-home bottom pairing journeyman.

A coach’s son, Cross has always demonstrated a level of leadership and a top attitude that makes him easy to root for. He probably has a future in politics when his playing career is done, and you don’t ever want to take away from who Cross is as a person and valuable presence in the room as a guy who sets the right example and is a total pro. At the same time, because of the expectations that went with his draft standing and what the Bruins gave up to draft him, Cross has always been more of a symbol of that failed Bruins draft year than even Hamill was. The B’s moved on from Hamill relatively quickly, dealing him in 2012 to Washington for Chris Bourque, who at least played some games in Boston during the lockout-shortened season, but Hamill never got another sniff of the NHL after that.

In Cross’ case, he stayed in the organization, going to five development camps and getting quickly relegated to the minors each autumn he was vying for a spot in Boston. In his first pro season, he was optioned to the ECHL after not making enough of an impression at Providence’s camp. Although Cross played very well for the South Carolina Stingrays and was soon brought back up to the AHL where he’s stayed since then, it was one more reminder that the Connecticut kid who had looked so promising coming out of prep hockey (before the knee injuries) was not on track to have any impact in Boston let alone what the team had expected him to make.

That’s why the B’s bringing Cross up is a good news story. In the grand scheme of things, he’s not likely to have an inspirational awakening and significant effect on the team’s fortunes like Johnny Boychuk did during the 2009-10 season, but you never know. Like Cross, Boychuk was a second-round pick who took a long time to reach the NHL after showing such promising tools as a teenager, but he never gave up and when his chance came, he seized it.

This is not to say that we’re looking at the dawn of another age of JB55 in Boston, but the team could do worse than at least try Cross and see how he does. He stuck with the organization (and they him) when most other players would have looked at the B’s defense depth chart and wanted out. That gets to the heart of who Tommy Cross is and what he’s about. I don’t know if this move is anything more than bringing him up to be a seventh D to sit in the press box until Morrow is ready to return, or the team finally wants to give Cross a chance to taste the NHL and see what he is made of.

One thing is certain: he’s earned it.

***

Providence coach Bruce Cassidy’s cup was overflowing with praise for Koko in the same Divver piece. Check it out:

“He’s going to be one of our assistant captains for a reason. He plays hard. He produces. He’s well-liked by his teammates. He works hard. Koko’s a little frustrated that he hasn’t gotten a better look in Boston and hopefully he takes care of that here. You can only control your own environment so he needs to be our best forward here every night so that when there is a callup situation at his position, he’s the first guy,’’ he said.

“I love the guy. I love his compete. Every year in the playoffs he’s arguably been our best player. That says a lot about a person. He’s going to have to lead for us. A lot of these guys, we don’t know what we’re going to get out of them. He’s a guy that we expect will lead us offensively and hopefully it translates to an (NHL) opportunity. He’s worked hard down here and as a coach of these young guys, you hope they get their chance. Especially for him, the way he’s played for us.’’

Translation: He’s off to a fine start in the AHL with 4 assists in two games. Keep grinding and making a difference and that next shot in Boston will come a lot sooner rather than later. With the big club off to its worst start in 50 years, the coaches are going to be far more willing to try new things and no one can argue with Koko’s talent.  When it comes, he’s got to find a way to get some points on the board, however. All the hustle and energy is great, but when you have a skill player like that, it’s not good enough to just try hard.

Watch for the next appearance of Khokhlachev in Boston soon.

Final buzzer: B’s moribund at even strength in Columbus Day matinee- drop third straight

The good news in Boston on Columbus Day 2015: the Bruins scored 3 power play goals.

The bad news: The Tampa Bay Lightning scored 6 goals (2 with the man advantage) and dominated the B’s at even strength to drop the home team to 0-3 for the 2015-16 season, with all three losses coming at the TD Garden.

The B’s squandered a 2-0 lead in the first period in a 1:09 span late in the opening frame when the fourth line collapsed too deep in their own end and got caught puck watching (Torey Krug was also guilty of this) while former St. Sebastian’s and Boston College star Brian Boyle drifted to the front of the net, took a pass from the left boards and buried a high shot for his first ever goal against the Bruins. Boston then saw Patrice Bergeron take a goaltender interference penalty (the B’s would get whistled for three such infractions on Ben Bishop today and what do you know? The 6-5 goalie went down like he’d been shot with a machine-gun every time a guy in a black sweater made contact with him.) and Tampa evened up the game when Ondrej Palat  heeled a pass that deflected through Tuukka Rask’s five-hole. Just like that, all of the hard work and two goals worth of offense compliments of David Krejci and Loui Eriksson evaporated.

Boyle took full advantage of a David Pastrnak miscue while Boston was on the power play in the second frame, intercepting an ill-advised (this is the second time in as many games I have used those words to describe a Pastrnak decision) pass to the middle of the ice out by the Tampa blue line. Boyle took off then gave Pastrnak a stiff-arm to knock him back, going in alone on Rask, sliding the puck again through the five-hole to make it 3-2.

Eriksson and the Bruins battled back to tie it at 3-3 with his second power play goal of the game, redirecting a Krejci shot (he finished with a goal and two assists, Krug had three points- all assists- as well) into the net and giving the building life.

It was short-lived, however- as Bergeron took another penalty (hooking) and then while Boston was on the PK, the Bolts’ Tyler Johnson got away with an interference play of his own to prevent Chris Kelly from clearing the puck. As a result Tampa held the zone, allowing Steven Stamkos to get open and bury a shot for the 4-3 lead and his 500th career NHL point (500s are wild in Boston- Tomas Plekanec reached the same milestone on Saturday).

Boston needed a strong final 20 minutes to come back, especially improving their 5-on-5 play, but didn’t get it. Rask gave up a soft goal to Jonathan Drouin on an off-speed shot that a sliding Boston D got a piece of, and then Valtteri Filppula closed out the scoring with a shot he directed in off his skate. After review, the goal was upheld and the Lighting left town with 6 goals, the second club in three tries this season to do it.

We knew that this Bruins team wasn’t going to be all that good, but they’ve not gotten much puck luck thus far, and more calls have gone against them than in favor. You don’t want to make excuses, though- the defense, which did benefit from having captain Zdeno Chara back, is too young and unproven at this stage, and the Boston offense does not have the horses to provide consistent scoring. In net, Rask has been mediocre thus far, which, in a nutshell, accounts for 16 goals allowed and the 0-3 start, the equaling the 1999-00 Boston Bruins, a non-playoff club.

Instead of doing 3 up/3 down, I’m just going to switch to up/down, because I don’t want to force things that are not there. More guys probably deserved down grades than up today, but to be quite honest- Tampa Bay is one of the top teams in the league and the Bruins did some good things today, especially in the first 40 minutes. I particularly liked some of the pressure they put on Tampa in their own end, disrupting their breakouts and not letting the Lightning generate much speed in the neutral zone. Unfortunately, the wheels came off in the final period and Boston couldn’t sustain that.

Torey Krug has been consistent in the early going on a defensive unit that has had some tough nights. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Torey Krug has been consistent in the early going on a defensive unit that has had some tough nights. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Up

Loui Eriksson- He pounced on a Krug pass just outside the right post for his 1st goal of the season (he had one wiped out against Saturday night, I would add), then got his stick on a Krejci shot in the second period to tie the game at three goals apiece. He’s a smart player who works hard around the net and deserves more credit than he gets from rank and file Boston fans. Unfortunately, as a 30-year-old impending free agent, he’s far more likely to be traded at some point this season where he can help a playoff-bound club than to finish out his time as a Bruin.

David Krejci- He started the scoring with his second goal in three games, then assisted on both of Ericsson’s tallies. He won face-offs and provided an offensive spark. His day was not without mistakes- he coughed the puck up a few times, got hit with one of the Bishop interference calls (Bishop sold it pretty well) and overskated the play that resulted in Tampa’s final goal. On another tough day for a loss, it’s hard to find positives.

Torey Krug- With three assists and nearly 24 minutes, Krug has been Boston’s most consistent defenseman in the first trio of contests. Like Krejci, however, Krug’s day was not without its warts. He was out of position and did not pick up Boyle on his first goal to cut Boston’s lead to 2-1, focusing on the puck instead of his surroundings. But, when it comes to handling the puck and starting the breakouts from his own end, nobody is doing it better than the third-year player.

Down

Tuukka Rask- Yes, his team isn’t very good. Yes, some of the goals today were not his fault. But, there are times when a team simply needs their goaltender to make the basic stops to keep them on top or get them back in it, Rask was AWOL today. With the money he’s making, the Bruins deserved a much better performance than they got from the moody and often times mercurial personality. It will be interesting to see if Rask digs in and dedicates himself to being better or his attitude worsens. The Bruins cannot afford any petulance from the one guy they’ll depend on the most to steal them some games this season.

I’ll be honest- I am not a fan of the people out there who never seem to think the goaltender should be accountable for anything. It’s always a defensive breakdown or a forward who didn’t get back or some other excuse. I think after a day like today- if that’s what you’re bringing to the table in a debate about Rask’s performance, then you probably need to take a step back and reevaluate your knowledge of the game of hockey. At some point- there’s a certain level of performance from the guy between the pipes that everyone should expect and demand, regardless of agendas. Rask fell short today. But, he’ll get plenty of other opportunities to shine this season, and when he does- I’ll be the first in line to give him credit, because that’s how this should work. Today, however, he let his team down when they needed him to be just above average.

Joonas Kemppainen- You can tell the guy is mature and a smart hockey player, but he seems to be gripping the stick pretty tight and playing not to lose. Like everyone on that bottom unit and defense that got burned on Boyle’s first goal, he was nowhere near in position to defend, and as the center, Boyle was his man. He’s new to North America and still getting acclimated, but the B’s need him to play better going forward after a shaky first game against Winnipeg.

David Pastrnak- His play in the second period was a costly one and he did not have a great game overall. He is easily one of the most talented players on the ice on either team in the three losses, but the B’s are going to have to live with the mistakes he will make out of a desire to try and make too much happen. Claude Julien’s challenge will be to take the good with the bad and protect the kid’s confidence by not crushing him when the mistakes occur. The Bruins are better off with Pastrnak trying too hard to make something happen than doing too little for fear of getting stapled to the bench.

Patrice Bergeron- He had an assist and was strong in the face-off dot as he normally is, but with the Bruins up 2-1 after Boyle’s strike he went into the crease and made contact with Bishop, opening the door for Tampa to tie it. He was far from the only culprit today, but a second penalty he took proved to be the winning goal against.

Jimmy Hayes- Three games and not a whole heck of a lot to talk about from the Dorchester native. You can see that he wants to be engaged out there, but his lack of speed hurts him on a line with someone as fast as Ryan Spooner is. The coaches perhaps need to look a little closer at what Hayes does well and figure out how to get him more involved. Without a strong puck possession game, he’s going to have his hands full in terms of keeping up with the play.

Next game- the Colorado Avalanche. Not exactly world-beaters, but with the B’s reeling and on the road in Denver, it’s going to be a tough matchup for them. The Bruins are dead last at 0-3 and have given up the most goals in the process.

It’s probably going to get a good deal worse before it gets better, folks. There are some things to be positive about, but the Bruins on the whole simply do not have the talent to stay with the big dogs in this league, and we’ve seen it with them going 0-3 agains three playoff teams from last spring. It’s a tough pill to swallow given where the B’s were just back in 2013, but they are where they are right now, and it looks like the team will need to sell off more veteran parts in order to commit to a true rebuild.

Trying not to be overly pessimistic here, but this club just does not seem to have it, and it’s hard to envision them suddenly turning things around based on what we’ve seen in the early going. Growing pains time, as the kids like Pastrnak and Colin Miller are going to have their ups and downs but ultimately will be some of the faces this team looks to in the future. That’s of little comfort in early October, but just calling it as I see it.

Final buzzer: Habs down the Bruins, 4-2…Marchand leaves game late

The Boston Bruins knew they would have their hands full against their hated rival from the North- the Montreal Canadiens- winners of 10 of the previous 12 contests between the clubs. Make it 11 of 13. The B’s gave up an early power play goal, had a man advantage marker of their own wiped off the board in the second period and had some more costly mistakes from a young (and pretty mediocre) defense to drop to 0-2 on the season.

Matt Beleskey found himself in the sin bin for a questionable high hit in the first period and David Desharnais knocked in a rebound to make it 1-0 on a play that was pretty much of a tone-setter, as Joe Morrow turned the wrong way on the shot and Kevan Miller was late getting to Desharnais.

The B’s dug in and finished the period with effective play to keep it a one-score game.

But, things came unraveled a bit in the second period when a bad neutral zone pass by David Pastrnak and bad decision to go for a line change allowed Alexander Semin and Lars Eller to break in on Tuukka Rask. When Matt Irwin and K. Miller converged on Semin, he hit Eller with a pass and he buried it to give the Habs a 2-0 lead. Ellen would strike again with his second goal on a feed from Alexander Galchenyuk (three assists) to make it 3-0.

A turning point in the game happened when the B’s and Loui Eriksson thought he scored his first goal of the season while on the power play on a nice play to redirect a shot past Price. Unfortunately, the referee closest to the play immediately signaled to waive off the goal, citing contact by Patrice Bergeron to goaltender Carey Price. Claude Julien issued a coach’s challenge- the first in Bruins history since the NHL instituted the rule change this season, but the NHL, citing incidental contact by Bergeron, upheld the original decision.

Beleskey later broke through against Price, when his attempted shot hit sliding Montreal defender Jeff Petry and deflected into the net. It was Beleskey’s first marker as a member of the B’s, giving him points in each of his first two games with his new team.

Alas, the B’s had a parade to the penalty box in the third period, including a match penalty and five-minute major assessed to Ryan Spooner on a hit from behind to Massachusetts native Brian Flynn. Boston killed the penalties, but could never really mount much offensive pressure and Tomas Plekanec scored an empty net goal to make it 4-1, his 500th career point. Some late silliness and a Torrey Mitchell slew foot gave the B’s a major power play of their own with less than a minute left and Bergeron tallied for his first goal of the season making it a 4-2 game for the books.

Of greater concern was a head hit that Brad Marchand took late in the third period from Boston nemesis Dale Weise. It did not look like an intentional hit, but Weise caught the shorter Marchand up high and he was down on his knees for a good 5-10 seconds before getting to his feet and struggling to the Boston bench. He did not return. If the B’s lose their top goal scorer and arguably most consistent forward at least in terms of finding the back of the net in the last four seasons, then this group is going to go deeper in the hole. We’ll hope for the best.

At least the B’s didn’t roll over and die as other Boston teams have done in the past, but they did not play well enough against a team that is clearly better than they are. Fans had best be prepared for more games like this as the season goes on.

And now here are our 3 ups and downs:

New arrival Colin Miller has skill to burn and looks like a keeper in Boston (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

New arrival Colin Miller has skill to burn and looks like a keeper in Boston (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

UP

Matt Beleskey- He scored his first goal in the black and gold and has played hard in his first two games. The guy is not a high-end talent, but despite having pretty average size, he plays bigger, hurling his body into opponents and going directly into traffic to make things happen. He chose Boston when in fact he could have stayed in Anaheim, a much better club on paper than the Bruins are at present. He wants to be here. Unfortunately, in a league where fans get far more up in arms over cap hits and economics, honest, gritty guys like Beleskey often bear the brunt of fan ire if they don’t come in and start scoring right away, so it’s nice to see that he’s been a consistent producer for a team that has scored just four goals in two games.

Colin Miller- The first player acquired in the trade for Milan Lucic to suit up for the Bruins is a keeper. He skates so well and has the vision and poise with the puck to make breakouts look easy. He’s a better defensive player than given credit for, and at least for one night, he looks like a real coup/get for Don Sweeney and Co. Julien would be foolish not to stick with C. Miller going forward and figure out ways to get him the puck. Yes, there will be some growing pains, but Miller does the things this Bruins defense as a whole is so lacking in- you can see it in the way he sees the ice and distributes the puck effortlessly. His first NHL goal/points are not long in coming.

Torey Krug- For the second straight night, Krug played 23+ minutes and played a solid all-around game. Krug is justifying the faith the Bruins have in him and they’ll need him. He posted his first point of the year- assisting on Bergeron’s meaningless late goal, but Krug has not made too many visible mistakes with the increased playing time. In other words, on a defensive unit that has struggled in going 0-2, Krug has been the least of Boston’s worries.

Honorable mention- Max Talbot- In the lineup because Zdeno Chara missed his second game with an upper body injury, Talbot played hard and with the energy of a veteran and a guy who knows he needs to demonstrate value added to this club. His play gave Julien food for thought. Yes, Talbot’s best years are clearly behind him, but he played with some intestinal fortitude tonight, going after Mitchell earlier in the game when he engaged in some shenanigans. The linesmen jumped in, but Talbot showed a willingness to stick up for his mates and this, given Mitchell was running around all night like a jackass.

DOWN-

Matt Irwin- For the second consecutive game, the off-season free agent acquisition played poorly on defense. He was on the ice for two goals against, but Eller’s first of the night was particularly bad, as both Irwin and Kevan Miller miscommunicated and converged on the puck carrier Semin, leaving Eller open for the one-timer into the open side. He was also too slow in getting to the puck when Rask was off for an extra skater, and when the initial Montreal shooter missed the net, it rimmed around to Plekanec who put the game out of reach. You can’t exactly blame Irwin on that one, but his lack of foot speed really showed on that play. You hate to say it, but the guy has been a total train wreck in two games- it’s time for him to take a seat. It might help him to watch a game from press level 9 and see if he can get his head right. Realistically, though, he’s a fringe NHL defenseman who does not look at all capable of an expanded role at this level.

David Pastrnak- His lazy, ill-advised neutral zone pass in a 1-0 game ended up in the back of his own net. Later on, he was guilty of another careless turnover, coughing up the puck to Galchenyuk behind his own net and forcing Rask to make a save in close. That kind of stuff is what Julien will point to when fans clamor for more ice time in Pastrnak’s case, but these are the things you have to live with when you roll with younger players. He’ll learn. On the plus side, when they put him on the power play at the end of the game, he assisted on the Bergeron goal.

Dan O’Rourke and Mark Lemelin- The referees were far too visible in this one for all the wrong reasons and were inconsistent in their calls. They wiped out a goal that probably should have counted, unless the NHL wants to go on record as saying that the defenseman shoving a forward into the goalie is now okay and constitutes valid goaltendender interference. No, we didn’t think so either. And, they blew it in the third period when they ejected Spooner for his hit from behind citing “intent to injure” but then curiously had no issue with Alexei Emelin’s earlier low-bridge (one could certainly call it dirty) hit on Bergeron, that could have been devastating if he connected with the B’s center’s knees. Fans just want consistency and these two didn’t really provide it tonight. Here’s hoping for better luck with the zebras on Monday when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town.

Final buzzer: Jets strafe B’s, 6-2

A night that began with promise for the Boston Bruins in their home opener in the 2015-16 season turned into a nightmare after the young, but talented Winnipeg Jets erased a 0-1 deficit with a three-goal second period.

The B’s defense, sans captain Zdeno Chara, struggled for much of the game, with the pairing of Matt Irwin and Zach Trotman standing out in particular (and not in a good way- more on them later).

Tuukka Rask gave up five (Alexander Burmistrov tallied an empty-netter with about 3:30 left after Claude Julien tried to get some offense going), but he was hung out to dry for much of the night.

The Czech Mates/Davids- Krejci and Pastrnak- provided the Boston goals, with Krejci’s coming compliments of a nice Pastrnak play behind the net, even though the second-year winger did not get an assist because Winnipeg’s Ben Chiarot had possession and lost the puck to Krejci for the score.

Overall, however- after a strong first period played with good pace and urgency, the Bruins’ inexperience cost them on multiple occasions as defenders got burned after bad turnovers, forwards were guilty of making poor decisions and despite some nice rushes, the home team couldn’t finish off the chances that the Jets cashed in on when the B’s opened the door for them.

Things will probably get worse before they get better, but this one served as a stark reminder of the challenges this Boston club will face this year. The Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning are next on the docket…oy.

3 Up:

  1. David Pastrnak- Boston’s future All-Star made the play behind the net in the first period that resulted in Boston’s opening goal of the season when he separated Chiarot from the puck and threw it out front. Chiarot grabbed it but didn’t sense Krejci’s backside pressure and the savvy veteran stole it and flipped a backhander into the net before Ondrej Pavelec could get to the far post. Early in the third frame, Pastrnak made it a one-goal game when he patiently held the puck as he improved the shooting angle before rifling it past Pavelec on the short side. It was a stoppable shot, but that’s what a goal scorer does- he beats goaltenders on shots that they should make the save on. This kid is really good already…and he’s only 19.
  2. Kevan Miller- He was engaged and active all night, playing his patented physical style and even getting involved in the offense, picking up a secondary assist on the Pastrnak tally. It probably isn’t saying a heck of a lot, but Miller was arguably the best Boston defenseman on the ice tonight.
  3. Tuukka Rask- When is a goalie with an 800-something save percentage an “up” player? When you look at how well Rask did in moments when he had no help from his teammates. Rask wasn’t perfect tonight, but he gave his team a chance to win, making several memorable stops including a brain cramp meltdown by Krejci when the B’s were on the power play to start the second period and a poor pass resulted in an Andrew Ladd breakaway. Some are going to disagree with my assessment, but I’d submit those are the folks who think that the guys between the pipes aren’t allowed to give up bad goals. Ever. Tonight, Rask could have been about perfect and the Jets still would have scored their goals.

3 Down:

  1. Matt Irwin-Zach Trotman- Yikes. Where to begin? The decisions weren’t good, the turnovers worse and the outcomes on those mistakes pushed the team over the edge. The trouble started with the game 1-1 and Irwin allowing Ladd to get in on him on the forecheck behind the Boston net. Irwin did not protect the puck, and Trotman moved away from the front of his net perhaps to create an outlet for Irwin when he was in trouble, but the resulting play left Blake Wheeler alone in the slot when Ladd separated Irwin from the puck and had an easy play out front. That score broke the tie and you could see the B’s visibly sag. When Drew Stafford put a rebound up and over a sprawling Rask to make it 3-1 late in the second period, Trotman and Irwin were running around again. The horror show continued into the third period when Irwin got caught too deep up the ice on a Chris Thorburn break the other way that Krejci finished off, making it 4-2 moments after Pastrnak had given his team and the TD Garden crowd  life. Trotman seemed to play more and more tentatively as the night went on, struggling with his gaps and letting Jets get around him and straight to the net. All in all- it was a night to forget for the duo and probably opened the door for Colin Miller, who was the odd man out tonight. I suspect we’ll see one of Irwin or Trotman sit out the next one when the coaches break down the film.
  2. David Krejci- David giveth and he taketh away. He started out great with the goal and was effective on the draws in the first 20 minutes, but he forced some plays in the final 40 that he’ll have to tighten up going forward. He tried hard to back check on Thorburn but ended up chipping the puck past Rask to make it 4-2 and effectively put the game out of reach even before Nic Petan– the little Portland Rainmaker- got a puck off the skate that hit Torey Krug before going in to make it 5-2, Jets and send the fans to the exits.
  3. Adam McQuaid- He’s a great dressing room guy and character leader, but the Bruins must get better play from him. He was another player guilty of some glaring mistakes and turnovers tonight and in fairness- he wasn’t alone. More than a few Boston forwards moved pucks carelessly and ultimately handed Winnipeg prime scoring chances- the hallmark of a young, inexperienced club. But- the B’s must have leaders by example and McQuaid’s turnovers hurt the collective effort.

Notes:

Matt Beleskey registered his first point as a Bruin, making the pass that sprang Pastrnak into the offensive zone for his goal. Beleskey was finishing his checks and playing with energy…but not sure how productive he’s going to be this season.

Villain of the night award goes to Alexander Burmistrov who took a first-period run at Patrice Bergeron that he finished off with a high elbow to Mr. Everything’s noggin. You may recall that he missed most of the 2007-08 season and parts of 2008-09 due to post-concussion syndrome that nearly cost the three-time Selke Trophy winner his career. He didn’t take kindly to Burmistrov’s dirty play and to his discredit, Burmistrov was penalized on the play, but just turned away when Bergeron went after him. It was gutless and cowardly for him to take the shot in the first place and then refuse to be accountable for it, but Burmistrov did not learn his lesson, later going back at another Bruin (Connolly?) later in the game but failing to make contact with his high elbow again. Burmistrov got the last laugh not only with the win but by putting the puck into the empty net to close out the scoring. I’m betting the B’s took his No. 6 down for future reference, but the bottom line is this: the NHL will continue to lose players to head injuries if the Burmistrovs of the world are allowed to operate like that. Here’s hoping the Jets will do some self-policing, but I doubt it.

Brad Marchand looks like he’ll lead the team in goals again this year. He was all over the place and created several memorable scoring chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net. Sometimes, less is more and you wonder if he just kept it simple he might have more luck, but Marchand won’t be held off the scoring ledger for long.

Around the NHL:

Jack Eichel scored his 1st NHL goal against Craig Anderson and the Ottawa Senators. It was a short side snipe on the power play and an absolute beauty. Once upon a time in October, 1987 I saw a Buffalo Sabre named Pierre Turgeon score in his first NHL game as well. Here’s to Eichel-mania in Buffalo- and the pride of North Chelmsford, Mass. justifying that second overall pick the Sabres made on him. Bruins fans had better prepare for him lighting the lamp against the home team for years (but for the record- he grew up rooting for the Montreal Canadiens).

Notes from around the NHL on opening night

The NHL’s 2015-16 campaign officially opened on Wednesday night with the 2015 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks hosting the New York Rangers and raising their third big banner since 2010 after going 49 years between their previous title in 1961. The Chicago Cubs are hoping to capture some of that magic, and in case you forgot- the last time they won a World Series was 1908.

The Rangers-Hawks game was what hockey is about- it was a fast-paced game that saw the visitors take a 3-2 victory after a late Patrick Kane goal was waved off (due to the referee losing sight of the puck while behind net and blowing the whistle before Kane could poke it through Henrik Lundqvist’s pads). Hank was very good- surrendering a pair of goals to Chicago Euro young guns Artem Panarin and Teuvo Teravainen after his defense broke down on both occasions. Beyond that, he was his usual stellar self and at age 33, shows no signs of slowing.

Jonathan Toews is such a fine player. Granted- I finally landed him in an ESPN fantasy hockey league I participate in after that league did away with keepers for the first time in 4 years, but Toews is such a cerebral guy out there- less is more with him. On one play, he was hooked by Mats Zuccarello, but calmly pivoted and threaded a pass over to Teravainen, who got a good shot off and forced Lundqvist to make a key save. That play won’t show up in Toews’ stats, nor will it make the highlight reel, but stack enough of those up together over the course of the season and you’re going to win a lot more games than you lose.

I really like Kevin Hayes as an NHL player. His raw potential was so evident way back in 2009-10 when he was a star at Nobles prep, but we knew back then that he was going to require a lot of patience and seasoning. The B’s reportedly came close to getting him in the summer of 2014, but he opted for Broadway instead and watch for him to emerge as one of that team’s more consistent forwards in the next season or two. He and older brother Jimmy are different- Kevin is more of a finesse, skilled scorer who can beat you in a variety of ways, whereas Jimmy is more of a straight-ahead, north-south winger who generates his offense through hard work and parking his gigantic frame in front of the net where very few in the NHL have the size/strength to move him.

Hayes, who was drafted by the Blackhawks, used the system to his advantage to choose his destination and as mentioned last night, we could see a similar scenario play out with Harvard’s own Jimmy Vesey, who was snubbed in the 2011 draft, but picked up by Nashville in the third round a year later and will have the same option for free agency available to him after his senior season in Cambridge if he does not sign with the Predators. Just a guess, but I bet the folks in Smashville will work very hard to get the lethal scorer into the fold…I’ve spoken to Nashville scouting director Jeff Kealty (a Massachusetts guy  and former 1st round pick in 1994 out of CM back in the day) and it’s no secret that the team loves him (as did the Bruins except for the fact that they didn’t have a second-rounder in 2012 to use on Vesey).

Out West, the Kings took an early lead at home, jumping on the San Jose Sharks and former L.A. (and Boston for a few days) goalie Martin Jones when Nick Shore deflected a shot just 1:42 into the game. However, San Jose stormed back, including a wicked shot from Joe Thornton on a 2-on-1 when the entire building including Jonathan Quick figured he would pass it. That shot reminded me a lot of the 38-goal Jumbo Joe we saw in Boston during Mike Keenan’s one and only season behind the Bruins bench in 2000-01.

After that the rout was on and the Sharks closed out the Kings by a 4-1 score. Milan Lucic went after Logan Couture in the final frame after he took exception to a hit. This is the Lucic on-the-edge guy whose emotions don’t always work for the team…I didn’t have a problem with Lucic going after Couture as I do with the fact that in the grand scheme it was not that big of a deal and was just as easily something he could have taken a number on and then crushed Couture with a big but legal hit the next time they went into a corner together. All Couture did was turtle (and that’s not an insult to him- he’d be foolish to try and fight in that situation) Lucic once again looked like a bully and a bad guy, which many believe he is.

In any case- for those thinking that the Sharks are going to tank this season, this one game is reason for pause. They played well on the road against a fired-up Kings team that along with the Bruins and Blackhawks, has won every Stanley Cup for the last six years.

The Calgary Flames dropped their season opener to Vancouver. I didn’t watch the game live but will catch the replay today and see how Mr. Dougie Hamilton looked. I am intrigued to see if Sean Monahan can make that next big step in his development after a fine season a year ago.

All in all- it’s been a long offseason and it’s great to have games that count once again.

The Bruins open up their season tonight at home against the game and dangerous Winnipeg Jets, who are my pick to reach a Stanley Cup final series here in the not-too-distant future with the pieces they continue to stockpile. The Jets are a young team, but they’ve got a nice balance of skill, grit and character. These are not your daddy’s Atlanta Thrashers, that’s for sure!

The wait is over, Bruins fans- the 92nd season  begins tonight.