(Photo: Alan Sullivan)
The hardest part about preseason games is that the fans want a win. While the players on the ice also want that win, for the coaching staff and management it is about watching the individual players and who brings what to the game. What are the strengths and weaknesses of each player chosen for that particular game? Will a player’s lack of finish result in his being released from training camp?
Such are the things that are examined during these preseason games. Add in the lack of chemistry and perhaps problems with on-ice communication between line members and it can be a frustrating event for the fans, but an education for the players as well as the coaching staff and management.
“I think it was just kind of getting your legs under you. And for a lot of guys in the room it’s their first preseason game, NHL experience, game,” said forward Chris Kelly after the Bruins beat the Washington Capitals in overtime on Tuesday. “And for a lot of us; I think everyone, it’s their first game in four or five months. So there is a bit of an adjustment. It doesn’t matter how often you skate in the summer, it’s nothing like being part of the physical contact in play for something.”
Watching the Boston Bruins play in their first two preseason games was in some ways like watching a bit of chaos. Missed communications, a few more blown edges than one sees during the regular season and a lot of turnovers are all part of getting back into the competitive side of hockey. And, as Kelly said, game situations cannot truly be simulated in practice or during summer skates.
“[Preseason games are] huge. You don’t want to practice every day. You want to get in those games and that’s where it really counts,” defenseman Matt Irwin shared. “So we had two days of practice, we got our first game. You know pretty much everyone’s been in a game, so far. So you’ve got that first one under your belt and you just hope to get better and better as it goes on.”
For the injured Kevan Miller, who missed the last 26 games of the 2014-15 season as a result of a shoulder injury that required surgery, getting that first game in was all the more important.
“Definitely, just to get my game back. You know, it’s been like over seven months since I’ve had a game and it was really exciting to get back into it [Tuesday night],” Miller responded. “I’m definitely using this preseason to get my legs underneath me, make sure everything is up to par or better and I wanted to come in and have a good camp and get ready for the season.”
“I think as a first game it was a little bit sloppy but I think everybody noticed that,” he said. “But I mean, first game in however … four months, or whatever it is, a pretty good effort I thought.”
Lines are still being decided upon by the coaching staff and management is still making decisions on who to keep and who to release. Chemistry for newer lines is still progressing. And for the Bruins this season, changes have been made to their system.
“Um, I think when you change anything it’s gonna affect everybody,” Miller explained. “But that’s part of the game. You’re gonna evolve from year to year based on what the coaches deem is necessary to change. So I think with everybody it’s gonna affect a little bit, but we’re all ready and able.”
Preseason games are also a time for the players themselves to evaluate where they are in their game and what they feel still needs improvement.
“There’s still some stuff I don’t want to do, some mistakes I’m going to lose the puck,” David Pastrnak said after Tuesday’s game in which he scored both goals. “I want to be stronger on the puck and that’s probably the biggest thing. You know, have a good [decision] about if I am going to chip it or hold it, and that kind of details. And I’m going to try to improve that every game.”
“I’m not sure I can say anything besides make the team, you know?” Casto said. “There’s no concrete numbers that I want to hit or anything like that. Just continue my development as a player and fit into this team.”
The Bruins will continue their preseason games with a tilt against the New York Rangers Thursday night. And like earlier games, there are players in the chosen lineup who are there for evaluation. Everyone of those players wants to get the win for the team, but right now the focus is on evaluation of strengths, chemistry, flexibility and more.