By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Loui Eriksson was a very valuable player, a very good player, and a tougher player than he ever got credit for. That being said, he’s very unlikely to be missed by the crowds at the TD Garden this winter.
That much was clear on Saturday afternoon, in the Bruins’ preseason finale, when David Backes sent Jakub Voracek head over heels with a crunching hit along the half wall and then immediately answered the bell when Sean Couturier challenged him to drop the gloves. The Garden faithful simply loved it.
It’s a style of play that resonates well with fans in Boston, and it was on display again in the opening minutes of the season Thursday night in Columbus. Just minutes into the game, Backes and Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson were right in the middle of a scrum in front of the Columbus net. The duo took matching roughing minors, but right off the bat, Backes was setting a tone for what he won’t let stand on the ice.
His physicality was easy to spot later on in the first, when he got aggressive on the end boards with the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Seth Jones and separated the young D-man from the puck. It’s a little thing, sure, but it was the personification of the “heavy game” that you hear Cam Neely talk about so often.
Of course, scoring helps too, and Backes’ two goals, one assist and plus-5 rating made for one of the better all-around Bruins debuts in recent memory.
It may not be the fairest of all measures to automatically compare Backes to Eriksson, considering it wasn’t a one-for-one deal on the veteran forwards. But considering the Bruins let Eriksson walk away to sign a six-year, $36 million deal with Vancouver while receiving nothing in return, and considering the Bruins then went out and signed Backes to a five-year, $30 million deal, the comparisons are going to be inevitable.
And though Backes may be a year older than Eriksson and may be lagging slightly in the point production department, the Bruins acquired him for more than just his contributions on the stat sheet. It’s early, but he seems intent on living up to his end of the bargain. It may not be the most even trade-off from a pure hockey standpoint, but in Backes the Bruins appear to have acquired something they were desperately lacking in recent years.
And now, in celebration of the return of hockey season, let’s peruse some leftover thoughts from the Bruins’ 6-3 season-opening win in Columbus.
–Have you gotten all of your “David Pastrnak is on pace for 164 goals” and “Brad Marchand is on pace for 410 points” comments out of your system yet? If you haven’t, go ahead and do it now. I’ll wait.
Better now? All right, let’s proceed.
–Like a lot of people, I didn’t love the World Cup of Hockey nearly as much as I love Olympic hockey, but I loved it for one distinct reason: The world was forced to see that Brad Marchand is a world-class hockey player. Obviously, Marchand is a player whose reputation often precedes him, and it’s a burden that he’s mostly brought on himself by getting under the skin of every opponent he’s ever faced while occasionally crossing the line and earning himself a suspension or two along the way.
Yet even despite scoring four goals in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and despite his 37-goal output last season, Marchand’s always kept the reputation of being a pest and an agitator more than he’s been known as being a premium scorer. Then he went out and led the whole World Cup in goals scored, and now he’s doing things like this in his season debut:
He also showed some veteran craftiness in getting 19-year-old Zach Werenski to turn the puck over behind the net, leading to Boston’s first goal. By skating right at the 6-foot-2 defenseman, Marchand faked like he was going for body contact before peeling off, stealing the puck and quickly putting the puck on Pastrnak’s tape.
In a related story, Zach Werenski was born in 1997. Great googily moogily, folks. We are all getting so, so old.
But, in any event, you got the distinct feeling that just about everything good that happens for the Bruins this year will happen when Brad Marchand is on the ice.
–I wanted to spotlight a nifty little carry into the zone and nice shot on net by Colin Miller, but NHL.com has changed its entire video setup and it’s just not an option anymore. I imagine this is quite distressing to you. Please write to your local senator. Speaking of which, after seeing all of this Bruins talk, you’re probably feeling overdue for an attack ad on Maggie Hassan or Kelly Ayotte to run any second now like it did during every commercial break. I assure you, though, that this is a safe space.
–There’s been lots of talk this offseason about how Tuukka Rask needs to up his game, earn his $7 million salary, and be a part of the solution and not the problem for a team that’s allowed far too many goals in the past two seasons. And then, minutes into the 2016-17 campaign, he looked like a cat trying to paw a butterfly out of the sky as a soft wrister wobbled right on past his glove side.
You almost had to laugh.
He ended up being just fine, stopping 28 of 31 shots. But it was a humorous start to the season after all of that chatter.
–The hooking calls in the NHL are just off the rails. Off the dang rails. I proposed during the game that it’s time to change the name of the penalty, because it’s no longer an accurate representation of the infraction. It’s more like a “Bothering” penalty. “Number 43 Boston, two minutes for being sort of annoying to the puck carrier.”
Whatever it ends up being, it’s time for a change, because a parallel stick check of the puck carrier’s knees now gets you sent to the box for “hooking.”
–We don’t need to sound the full Matt Irwin Siren on Brandon Carlo. But the way the defenseman drifted … and drifted … and drifted away from his position in front of the net on the second Blue Jackets goal was the definition of a rookie mistake.
(Great googily: Brandon Carlo was born in November 1996.)
He ended up having a solid game, but just like with Tuukka and the early goal, and also with the Austin Czarnik penalty late in the period that led to this power play opportunity, the ghosts of last year were very much present in the first period for the Bruins. The first intermission probably wasn’t the happiest 20-minute session in living rooms around New England.
–That being said, midway through the third, something happened that was sorely lacking in last year’s team. A defenseman actually played a 2-on-1 properly and prevented a scoring chance. It was a novel concept.
Granted, the 2-on-1 involved Scott Hartnell and Oliver Bjorkstrand, but still, John-Michael Liles deserves credit for his positioning in breaking up the pass that seemed to get through all too often last year. That’s why the Bruins have a guy like Liles. He’s small, and he’s maybe not exceptional, but he’s got 800 games of NHL experience and he knows what to do. It sounds simple, but it’s been needed.
–As far as members of the “Keeping Up With Kardashians” reality show crew goes, Boone Jenner is by far the least fancy. Definitely the most Canadian of the bunch.
–Jack Edwards informed us that David Pastrnak put on some “good weight” this offseason. I suppose now is as good a time as any to come clean and let you know that I, too, put on some weight this offseason. It was not the good kind.
–Did you notice that Austin Czarnik logged 2:39 of power play time? Only Backes, David Krejci and Ryan Spooner had more. Machand and Pastrnak only got 60 seconds each.
Equally telling about Claude Julien’s apparent affection for the 23-year-old forward was Czarnik’s 1:09 of short-handed time, too. It was a lot to ask of a kid making his NHL debut, but Claude wouldn’t do it if he didn’t trust him.
–The Bruins’ goal celebration ability was still in preseason form, as evidenced by Pastrnak getting stuck in Zdeno Chara’s armpit.
Need to work on that. Bad form. Demerit.
They got some more opportunities though and worked out the kinks, so that seems to be just a case of opening-night jitters.
–I can only imagine what it’s like to be defenseman Ryan Murray when it comes time to watch some film with John Tortorella on the goal that proved to be the game-winner.
–After Tuukka Rask looked like he might have been a little bit hurt, Andy Brickley was subtly dropping some shade on the World Cup of Hockey. He mentioned how Jonathan Quick suffered an early-season injury, how Patrice Bergeron suffered an early-season injury, and how Matt Murray suffered an injury during the World Cup. I liked it — not because I disliked the World Cup, but because I know the NHL owners are gearing up for battle against the players regarding the 2018 Olympics in South Korea.
Especially in this league, I just like to watch the fight. Owners definitely hated seeing their players demolish each other this summer, but they figured it’s better in the long run than sending them off to bang bodies in PyeongChang two years from now. But the players are going to definitely want to play in those Games. It’s happening. And I will watch in delight.
What can I say? I like when those two sides fight.
–It was a good win, and the comeback aspect was a major positive. Still, I can’t help but feel like I’ve been taking crazy pills when I tune in to the radio and hear everyone making predictions for the postseason. Look, does the team have enough talent to make the playoffs? Yes. Of course. But they had the talent the past two years as well. How’d that work out for them?
Now, we’re looking at a lot of fresh faces, young players that we don’t know much about. We’re looking at young players that we do know, only we don’t know how large a stride forward they’re going to make in their progress as NHLers this season. We’re looking at a goalie who seemed to get so frustrated with an unsteady defense in front of him in recent years that he’s let it affect his own game. And we’re looking at a team that folded in crunch time of the season in each of the past two Aprils.
Could the Bruins make the playoffs this year? Absolutely. But to talk about it like it’s a fait accompli here in mid-October is lunacy. We’ve got a lot to learn about this team before we can have any real idea.
The next lesson commences Saturday night in Toronto.