There are certain things that take place ensuring the world is still properly spinning on its axis. In Boston, once hockey has begun—and yes, the preseason counts as hockey—the dislike and angst displayed by fans when the Boston Bruins stand across the ice from the Montreal Canadiens is one of those things. The disappointing finish to the Bruins postseason, losing game seven of the second round to the Canadiens, despite having taken place some nineteen weeks ago, continues to burn within the Bruins faithful as though they had been stabbed in the heart with a red hot poker just yesterday.
The players must put such things behind them. While they cannot forget what they did wrong as they must address and fix their mistakes, they cannot dwell on, nor wallow in, the defeat. If they did, they would likely never step on the ice again.
After practice on Tuesday, before he headed north, forward David Krejci was asked about how that defeat affects his focus and resolve, and that of his teammates, going into the first preseason game for the team.
“It is what it is—a tough ending, but we’ve been there before,” he responded. “We have lost before to those guys [in] the playoffs since I’ve been here. We’ve won a couple of times. So just kind of forget about it.”
He did not mean that the team simply ignores the games. On the contrary it is important that they understand, as a team and as individuals, what went wrong and look for ways to correct those issues. As Head Coach Claude Julien pointed out when responding to a pained fan at the annual State of the Bruins, that took place on September 18, it did seem, to a degree, that the hockey gods were just not on the side of the Bruins, as the sound of puck on iron rang and rang and rang again. That sound to a Bruins’ fan is probably now worse than the sound of a dentist’s drill or fingers on a chalk board—having happened at least thirteen times in the seven games against the Canadiens.
“Obviously learn from the mistakes, but you gotta move on,” Krejci continued. “It’s a new season, so start fresh.”
Tuesday night, half the current Bruins training camp roster traveled to Montreal to experience playing hockey in the Bell Centre. For the rookies, there really is nothing to prepare them for the noise and energy of playing against the Habs in their home arena. It isn’t referred to as a storied rivalry for nothing.
“It doesn’t get any better than that. It’s a tough building to play at but it’s real fun to play at,” Krejci told reporters. “It’s gonna be a little bit different for those guys, but a great experience for a first preseason game.”
It is important to note that Krejci’s idea of fun flows from his vantage point as a player on the ice who is in control—albeit in a chaotic sense—of what is transpiring in the game. For fans on either side of this rivalry, the fun of the hockey is often overshadowed by the increase in blood pressure, the wringing of hands and the do-or-die mentality that just seems to overtake them as soon as that first puck drops. It doesn’t matter to them that it is a preseason game. Bragging rights begin immediately.
“It’s gonna be a great atmosphere, great tempo,” Krejci expounded. “So [the rookies] should be looking forward to it just like I am.”
And with the first goal coming just 1:17 into the first, scored unassisted by Ryan Spooner, for the Bruins it was immediately a great game. Unfortunately the fans do not take to heart the mantra of the players: Never too high or too low.
Matt Fraser’s power play goal made the Bruins hopes soar all the higher. And then one of those all too familiar events took place—the Bruins allowing a goal with less than a minute to go in the period. From the heights of euphoria to the depths of despair (despite being up one goal), such was the experience of the fans. And every armchair coach and general manager began pontificating on Twitter during intermission. Those not already deciding who to trade or cut were simply crying in their drink of choice.
To those who have been watching the players since camp began though, this looked very much like a first preseason game. Spooner had flashes of good plays and smart choices followed by a give away that shows he’s still learning. However, after his time up with the Bruins last season, management told him to work on getting to the net and making those plays. He clearly was listening because that’s what he did tonight. The other area that he needed to improve was in the faceoff dot, and tonight he was nine for thirteen for an impressive 69 percent.
The preseason is not about points and standings for the coaches and other management staff. The preseason is about evaluation. Who really listened at the end of last season in regard to what should be worked on over the summer? Of those players who were injured, who has come back and who is still showing signs of rust? In the rust department the Bruins have a few players, but perhaps the most notable during the game was Chris Kelly, whose faceoffs were an unfortunate four of twelve for an unacceptable 33 percent. And though he would like to have it back, his fan of a shot on an open net that, had he connected with the puck, would have put the Bruins up and at the very least have left them tied at the end of regulation instead was simply nothing.
The preseason is for juggling of line mates to see who has chemistry and who doesn’t. Hockey is a fast paced game and players need to almost have a telepathic connection to their line mates, as they often must pass the puck without truly seeing the player on the opposite side of the rink or behind them.
Of course most of this gets lost on the Bruins fan who wants two things: goals and a win over Montreal.
The Bruins return to Boston where they will take on the Washington Capitals at TD Garden on Wednesday evening. It is unlikely to be the same players, as there is still an entire other squad full of veterans, invitees and rookies looking to earn their roster spot. But for the student of hockey it will be another chance to concentrate on the completed passes, the successful plays and to identify the breakdowns and miscommunications. For the player who hopes to represent the Black and Gold, it is the time to show that they not only understand but also embody the Bruins’ style of play. And for those who bleed black and gold, it may be another night of stress, happiness and potential anguish.
It’s good to have hockey back.