By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
Things just got real for the Bruins, especially their rookies.
Not only did the Bruins win with playoff-caliber emotion Thursday in their season-opening win against Nashville on Thursday, they had three days until their next game to bask in the glory of that triumph.
That might’ve been the worst thing for a Bruins team featuring four rookies and a second-year player in their regular lineup.
The Bruins didn’t muster the same type of devotion in their Columbus Day matinee against the Colorado Avalanche at TD Garden on Monday, and the result was a 4-0 loss to a team many expect to win the lottery in the spring.
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t like our two practices this weekend. I thought our execution was off and we were a little … but it’s early and you kind of give them the benefit of the doubt,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “That goes to preparation, we weren’t as crisp as we needed to be and then it showed tonight in the start and they were just better than us. We didn’t play the game we needed to play. We looked like we were going to get it and then we mismanaged pucks.”
Cassidy lamented his team’s inability to get in on the forecheck against the Avalanche’s defense, the Bruins’ inability to cash in on their power play (0-for-4) and the defensive breakdowns that occurred on Colorado’s two first-period goals.
But he didn’t offer a reason for the shaky practices or the slow start, except to blame himself for not having the team ready from the drop of the puck Monday. But you have to wonder if after all the fanfare of their victory against the defending Western Conference champions, with two rookies each scoring his first NHL goal, and everyone chipping in up and down the lineup, if the Bruins got a little fat and happy thinking this NHL thing was going to be easy.
Well, they got their wakeup call against the Avalanche.
“I think we just kind of got off to a slow start,” said forward Anders Bjork, who was 0-for-3 and missed an assignment on Colorado’s first goal that Sven Andrighetto scored on a wide-open shot from the slot.
“We kind of made some costly mistakes there in the first that put us down and then I think we couldn’t really battle back. We weren’t playing simple enough and getting pucks to the net but I think it was a tough game but I think we have the opportunity now to bounce back.”
Bouncing back is a skill most hockey players develop as they work their ways up through the ranks. Within a game, it can be tough depending on the players’ experience level and the type of coach behind the bench. Cassidy showed his patience, not benching anyone even while he was juggling the lines like a mad scientist.
His confidence in his younger players’ ability to bounce back showed in how he kept rolling them over the boards and he expressed his faith in them after the game.
“I think it’s natural for it to linger a little bit at this level,” Cassidy said. “It’s not going their way, they’re used to playing big minutes, being able to play through mistakes, which we’ll allow them to do.”
If the Bruins’ younger players know how to bounce back the right away during the game, now they’ll have to show they can do it from game to game. The NHL is a little different animal than college or junior hockey (or even the AHL), where you may get a game against a cupcake the next time out and have your confidence restored with little effort. There are no pushovers at the sport’s highest level, especially at this early stage of the season. The Bruins go on a road trip where they’ll have a rematch with the Avs, then face Arizona and Vegas, two organizations desperate to prove themselves (and an early-season slaying of an Original Six franchise would go a long way toward that end).
“It’s a long season. You know, you can’t win every game,” said defenseman Charlie McAvoy, who despite just two regular season games of NHL experience sounded like he’d been in the NHL 20 years. “You want to go in wanting to win every game obviously, but it’s not realistic to think you’re going to go 82-0. So, get that first loss early and now we just totally change our mindset and get ready for a good practice tomorrow and then get out west and get some points.”
Like Cassidy said, the Bruins are willing to live with mistakes as long as the players learn from them. If the mistakes keep up, the younger players will first pay with ice time and then possibly a trip down to Providence.
Somewhere between the fantasy world of opening night and the doldrums of Saturday is the solid, all-around game the Bruins will need to play to win (or at least pick up points) consistently. They’ll look for that happy medium out on the road.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.