BOSTON (CBS) — Tuesday night was a wonderful night for hockey fans in Boston. Seeing the black and gold jerseys under the bright lights of the TD Garden in front of a loud and crazy crowd was a more than-welcome sight for a city that’s gone far too long without professional hockey.
As I watched the players hit the ice, all I kept thinking was how incredibly stupid it was that this hasn’t been going on since October. Alas, what’s done is done, and while the lockout may keep casual fans away in non-hockey-loving cities, Boston fans made it clear with their attendance and excitement on Tuesday that the Bruins will be playing in front of packed houses all season long.
Boston ended up losing the scrimmage 7-5 against the AHL Providence Bruins, but the final score was less important than the process of the players getting some real-time game experience (remember, the P-Bruins are 35 games into their season right now). Still, there were plenty of takeaways, so let’s dig through some leftover thoughts.
–Tyler Seguin was the one player who stood out as the best player on the ice. The kid seemed to be skating on his tippy toes, flashing from one blue line to the next and showing off an improved burst. It’s scary to think how much better he’s already gotten and, still at just 20 years old, how much better he’s going to get.
–It was good to see Nathan Horton back on the ice. Hopefully he’s able to stay there.
–It was just one game so I don’t think it’s time to end the kid’s career, but Dougie Hamilton looked a little overwhelmed in this game. He fell over a couple of times and made a few mistakes with the puck, and it looks like the adjustment to the pro level might take a bit.
Claude Julien admitted as much after the game.
“I thought Dougie was OK,” Julien said. “He might have looked a little bit nervous. He’s a much better — he’s more poised with the puck than he was tonight. And again, we kind of expected that it’s his first game and guys put a lot of pressure on themselves, and I think the biggest thing for us will be to calm him down. What I saw tonight was not what I saw in practices this week and it’s not what I’ve seen in his games at the junior level. If anything he really is poised and he sees the passing lanes, and you saw some of that tonight. But there was times when he really fought the puck a little bit and realized that the play probably closes a little bit quicker here than at the level he came from.”
–The AHL Bruins have a player named Bobby Robbins, and he fights. A lot. Aside from having a name that sounds like he grew up fighting kids on the streets of Southie, Robbins backs it up, already having logged 21 bouts in the AHL this season. Sharing a similar jersey to the opposition didn’t make him shy on Tuesday, either. He got in a little pushing match with Shawn Thorton behind the net before Big Z came over and told him to head back to the bench, and he also delivered a heavy hit on a Bruins player by the P-Bruins’ bench late in the first period (Dennis Seidenberg might have been the recipient, though I couldn’t see for sure).
Later, Robbins gave an extra shove to Adam McQuaid after the whistle and ended up dropping McQuaid, winning that bout by unanimous decision.
All in all, it was quite a night for Bobby Robbins. I will now imagine him to be a carbon copy of Will Hunting.
–When you look at the final score, knowing that Tuukka Rask was opposed by Anton Khudobin, you might feel worried about goaltending. But don’t be. It’s not that the goalies weren’t trying to make saves, it’s just that the goalies were playing as though it was a scrimmage. Because it was. Most of the goals are goals you just don’t see find their way into the net in NHL games, but you see them squeak in often in practice. The seventh goal was an empty-netter, too.
There’s no need to go searching for Tim Thomas just yet.
–That being said, it’s going to be ugly when every NHL team uses its backup goalie for the first time of the season. Those goalies won’t have seen live NHL action in so long, to be thrown into the fire will be a shock. Take Khudobin for example. He saw shots from NHL players last night and he might not again until maybe Jan. 29, a full two-week break.
Julien and all the rest of the NHL’s coaches should find ways to get their backups into games that are decided one way or the other, just to avoid a potential disastrous evening.
–There’s been a lot of talk about Milan Lucic’s game shape, to the point that it’s become comical. He’s not in game shape because he hasn’t been playing in games. That’s what game shape is. So no, Lucic didn’t appear to be in game shape on Tuesday, but how could he have?
–Chris Bourque has a really nice shot. I see him fitting in well on the third line with Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. He may not make a highlight reel as often as Benoit Pouliot did, but I think Bourque fits in better with what the Bruins try to do with that line, maybe as a Michael Ryder Lite. He had a goal and two assists on Tuesday.
–Julien liked what he saw out of Bourque, too. When the coach was asked who stood out, Bourque was his first answer, which has to be a good sign for his status with the big club.
–We were expecting to see 17,565 but the actual attendance appeared a good bit short of that. It was still a great showing with pretty much the entire lower bowl filled and the balcony about half-filled. Or half-empty if you’re one of those fans who boos the team to the locker room after bad periods.
–I went to Halftime Pizza before the game, obviously, because it’s the best. The place was packed and I just was happy to see all the local establishments full of customers hours before the puck dropped. It’s been a tough run for them. Tip your waitresses and bartenders, people.
–The Bruins picked some fans to sit in the penalty box and operate the door to let players in and out and whatnot, which was a nice gesture. But it also created some hilariously awkward looking situations.
It seems like a fun idea until you have to sit next to Rich Peverley after his second penalty of the first period.
“Hey, Rich, are you thirsty? I have this Gatorade bottle. No? Cool. So … do you like … stuff?”
–Jay Pandolfo sent a message loud and clear to Julien that should the coach need a call-up, the veteran forward is ready. Same goes for Max Sauve, who had two goals and an assist.
–All told, it was a fun night of hockey, and while I don’t think the Bruins will lose to any AHL clubs for the rest of the year, I do think the first few games of the season could be a bit sloppy around the league. There’s just no replicating the speed of NHL games, and while the guys who played in Europe will be ready to some extent, their linemates might not be.
I’m as excited as anyone to see hockey return this weekend, but I’m not expecting it to look like the Stanley Cup playoffs just yet. But considering we haven’t seen any NHL action at all in far too long, that’s just fine with me.