By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — For the first time in a few years, the Bruins kicked off the season with a fresh and exciting feel to them. Several new faces took the ice and showed why the Bruins stayed patient as they developed into NHL-ready players.
Fortunately, their key young talents proved for the most part that they are indeed ready for the big stage.
There’s certainly a long way to go for this Bruins team, but to control the game like they did for about 58 minutes against the defending Western Conference champion Predators (4-3 final notwithstanding) was no doubt impressive. Bruce Cassidy’s up-tempo style jumped off the screen for viewers who were used to a less frenetic, more methodical Bruins system in the Claude Julien years, and it looks like their best young players have a good chance to excel in it.
The game unfortunately got away from the Bruins a bit at the end, making the final score look closer than the game actually was. They’re not without things they need to clean up. But overall, it was a very positive opening night for the B’s after entering the season with some uncertainty surrounding all their new players. Here are the top takeaways from the season-opening win:
Charlie McAvoy looked as poised as he did in the playoffs. The rookie defenseman can control the pace of the game with the puck on his stick, which he especially showed on the power play. The 2016 first-round pick certainly has all-around hockey smarts and offensive creativity, but the most impressive thing about the 19-year-old is that he rarely appears to lose control of what he’s doing. He encapsulated that poise when he corralled his own whiffed pass to make a crisp feed to David Pastrnak for a power play goal, the Bruins’ first of the season.
McAvoy also showed good instincts and composure on his first NHL goal. It appeared that David Krejci’s pass to him was intended for Anders Bjork, but McAvoy got himself into a perfect position for it and finished the play.
It wasn’t a perfect night for McAvoy, though. The defenseman committed three penalties, none of which resulted in goals for the Preds. Two of them were avoidable, both holding calls in the second period. He reached out and grabbed Preds center Nick Bonino with a free hand while defending a rush and reached again on Colton Sissons later in the frame. He had a good game overall, he just needs to weed those needless holds out of his game. He’s young and mistakes are to be expected; the hope is that the good outweighs the bad, which it did on Thursday.
His third penalty was incredibly weak, however, as the NHL’s crackdown on slashing reared its ugly head. It’s understandable that they want to prevent slashes on the hands and wrists, but they sent McAvoy to the box over a harmless tap on the pants. Did Kevin Fiala even feel it?
Speaking of penalties …
Loooooots of slashes and faceoff violations. There were a total of 14 penalties called in the game, five of which were for slashing. So it appears that the league’s crackdown on whacking opposing players with your stick is spilling into the regular season. Guys are going to have to adjust if they don’t want to spend a sizable chunk of the game on the penalty kill. Then again, if the league’s true underlying goal is to improve scoring through increased power plays, then they’re just going about it all wrong.
Thankfully, only one faceoff violation ended up with a delay of game penalty, but guys were getting kicked out of the faceoff dot a lot – and sometimes, it was nearly impossible to even spot the violation. Michael Hurley was particularly miffed (and understandably so) about this one against David Krejci with just 12 seconds left in regulation:
Think David Krejci likes his linemates? The center looked as comfortable and dangerous with the puck as he has in a long time playing with Pastrnak and rookie Jake DeBrusk. No. 88 is a known commodity by now, but it was DeBrusk that should really excite fans with how he performed in his NHL debut. He showed his hands and finishing ability on his first career NHL goal off a nifty (perhaps inadvertent?) tip-pass from Krejci on a rush.
Krejci is at his best when he plays with linemates who are not afraid to fly through high-traffic areas and can bury their chances when No. 46 presents them. DeBrusk looks like a great fit after Thursday’s opening act.
The Bruins’ special teams is a work in progress. Pastrnak continued to show what we already know about him, that he has high-end finishing ability and can do it on the power play. But the new-look man advantage might need a little time to get going as a unit, as they weren’t consistent in those situations on Thursday. They struggled just to break into the zone at times, particularly on one sequence late in the second period when the B’s registered one low-quality shot by Ryan Spooner and gave the puck away three times. They did, however, show good puck movement when they were able to get settled.
The Bruins’ penalty kill wasn’t particularly consistent, either, but was able to hold the Preds off until late in the third. McAvoy drifted a little too far away from Filip Forsberg on the latter’s power-play goal with just 34.9 seconds left in the game, but the B’s were able to box them out more consistently earlier in the game. Both special teams units will likely look a lot better once Patrice Bergeron gets back into the lineup, so this isn’t really a big concern. Just something to watch with all the new, young pieces.
Matt Grzelcyk made a case to stick around. He may just be a temporary fill-in for Torey Krug, but Grzelcyk looked like a player who can thrive in Cassidy’s system. He especially looked good pushing the puck up the ice, which he did to spark the rush that led to DeBrusk’s goal. It will be hard for him to keep his spot once Krug is back, but Grzelcyk at least showed that he could be a solid depth offensive defenseman when called upon.
Matt Dolloff is a writer/producer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, CBS, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.