An 0-3 start at home has been offset with five consecutive road victories by the Boston Bruins, the latest a 3-1 contest against the Tampa Bay Lightning to push the team’s overall record to 6-3-1 in the 2015-16 season’s first 10 games.
The B’s got goals from Matt Beleskey, Brett Connolly and Brad Marchand (an empty-netter) to earn two more points and move into second place in the Atlantic Division behind the Montreal Canadiens.
They fell behind to the home team when Nikita Kucherov took a nifty cross-ice pass from Vladislav Namestnikov and buried a high twine tickler to make it 1-0 on a power play tally after Ryan Spooner was sent off for hooking.
Beleskey got it back later in the period when he converted a rebound of a Colin Miller shot that squirted out to him in the slot. While on one knee, Beleskey fought off a Tampa defender to spin and put the puck past Tampa goaltender Ben Bishop low to the blocker side after it appeared that the shot changed direction. Jimmy Hayes started the play when he won a footrace to the puck behind the net and threw it out to the point where Miller was able to gather it in and put it back on net.
The teams battled to a second 20 minutes of scoreless hockey before the B’s took the lead in the third period with another power play goal to extend the league’s best unit with the man advantage. Connolly was positioned out to the left of the net and took a hot Marchand pass, then took an extra second to locate Bishop and fire a high shot over the sprawling goalie for his fourth tally of the season (in his last five games to boot). It was another goal scorer’s strike from Connolly, who appeared extra motivated to score what stood up as the winning goal against his former club.
Bruins backup Jonas Gustavsson played well, giving up the lone goal in the first period. Although he doesn’t always appear to be in control or in position, he’s a perfect 3-0 in his starts this season and is giving Claude Julien and the Bruins coaches the kind of confidence they need to balance out Tuukka Rask’s workload.
David Krejci’s 9-game point streak ended tonight, but you won’t hear any complaints from him, as his team continues to roll with a 6-0-1 record in its last seven games. If not for the third period meltdown against Philly at home, they’d have a seven-game string of perfection.
Brad Marchand- He was not suspended for his hit from behind on Florida’s Dmitri Kulikov, and it was a good thing, as he was Boston’s top forward, playing with his trademark energy and pace. In addition to his quality assist and ENG, Marchand drew a penalty when he exploded on a breakaway, which probably should have been a penalty shot. This is the best stretch of hockey Marchand has probably played since the final two series of the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Brett Connolly- Another game, another snipe. Bruins fans are starting to see why the Lightning drafted him so early in 2010, and why it took a pair of second rounders to pry him away from Steve Yzerman last February. At this rate, that price is starting to look like a bargain, and Connolly’s one-year, $1 million “prove it” deal with the B’s might result in a nice payday for him next summer if he keeps it up. Ever since moving onto a line with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson, the former WHL scoring star has been money.
Jonas Gustavsson- For people who like technically sound goalies, the Monster is going to fire up the nerves, but the veteran Swede is a perfect 3-0 and somehow makes the big saves when he needs to. Right now, he’s healthy and playing well- doing exactly what a top backup does, and his team has played well in front of him in his three starts. With all due respect to Jeremy Smith, the Bruins made the right call in signing ‘Gus’ and going with him.
Loui Eriksson- Another game, another superb three-zone effort from Eriksson. At this point, he’s Boston’s unsung hero as a winger who is bringing a lot more to the table than his scoring totals reflect. He’s forcing turnovers, creating scoring chances and making good defensive plays. His production won’t even begin to touch the player the B’s traded for him, but having him, Joe Morrow and Jimmy Hayes (acquired for Reilly Smith) takes a little of the sting out, as the trio is contributing a lot to Boston’s fortunes right now.
Adam McQuaid- This was a gritty, vintage McQuaid night, as he was blocking shots and making Tampa forwards pay for every inch of real estate in the Boston zone. Some won’t ever get past his cap hit, but when it comes to a shutdown defender who just goes out and does his job effectively, he’s getting it done.
Torey Krug- In retrospect he’s making anyone who doubted that he could play top minutes and a key role on defense foolish. Night in and night out, he’s one of Boston’s most valuable players, making plays at both ends of the ice and doing his part to get the puck out of his zone and up the ice. Tonight, he made a memorable defensive play while the Bruins were on the PP and allowed an odd-man rush the other way. He burned back on the rush, made a textbook defensive play to deny the pass and shot, then got off the ice because he expended every bit of energy to ensure the Lightning did not capitalize. Krug is here to stay and he’ll be worth every penny of that extension he’ll sign sometime after January.
Matt Beleskey- He scored a huge goal by doing the grunt work and that’s how most of his offense will come this year. He plays hard and is an opportunistic forward- he’s got to be feeling good about his decision to sign with Boston given the way the team has turned things around. Anaheim will get better too, but for now, he’s certainly not sitting around questioning why he made the decision not to accept the team’s offer to keep him in Southern California.
Nikita Kucherov- His goal was pretty much a layup, but man- this guy has a world of skill. The ‘Bolts are struggling with the offense right now, but you can bet that they’ll break out at some point and when they do, Steven Stamkos and Kucherov will likely be leading the charge. With his speed and hands, the best years are yet to come for this diamond-in-the-rough find by the Tampa scouts.
David Pastrnak- He’s 19- there will be bumps in the road and tonight was one of them. He might be suffering the effects of a lower body injury suffered last night in Sunrise, but he was not effective tonight and only saw some three shifts in the final two periods. On the one hand- you don’t want to make too much of the struggles he’s bound to have as he continues to grow and develop at the very highest level, but at the same time- it’s a good message to by Julien to the youngster that when he’s not effective, he’s going to take a seat on the bench.
Tyler Johnson- Did not see a great deal from one of Tampa’s breakout players from a year ago. Yes, he’s banged up right now, but he did not display that dangerous element that he’s so capable of much at all. He’s the straw that stirs the drink on that “Triplets” line of Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, and he’s mired in a tough slump.
Kudos to the Bruins for giving their season a good, honest effort. Their fans are pretty consistent- they can handle losing, especially when they know their team lacks the pure talent to hang with the NHL’s powers, but the losing has to be accompanied with an effort. This B’s club played hard even with the tough three losses to open the year but they’ve been a gritty, opportunistic bunch since.
It’s still going to be a dogfight to get into the playoffs come April, but like the 2007-08 Bruins demonstrated- the effort can compensate for quite a bit. And credit Julien and his staff for getting the players to compete. He’s not just coaching like a guy on the hot seat- he’s trying different things and has these guys believing in themselves with a power play that encourages a lot of puck movement and a willingness to take chances. So far, the pucks are ending up in the net and the wins are coming with regularity.
There are 72 games left on the schedule, but if you had told us in August that this club would begin the year with a 6-3-1 record, most would take that and smile.