(Photo: Alan Sullivan)
Tonight the Boston Bruins take on the Columbus Blue Jackets in a pre-season match to give players on both teams an opportunity to show their skills. Pre-season games are sometimes difficult for the fans, because management needs to evaluate the players under game conditions to see if they can make that pass or block that player under the intensity of a game as good as they do during practice.
“These games don’t count in the standings, but they’re important to us,” Kevan Miller told media Monday morning after practice. “A win’s a win. We’re definitely going to come out and try and get a win tonight.”
Miller is one of the few veterans who will be in the lineup tonight. His line mate will be Jakub Zboril as of the defense pairings that were announced by assistant coach Joe Sacco. Joining Miller in the veteran category tonight will be Jimmy Hayes, John-Michael Liles, Joe Morrow, and Tyler Randell, while Seth Griffith has had some NHL experience, but not that much. Two of the older players who are new to the Bruins team that will be showcased in the matchup with Columbus are Riley Nash and Peter Mueller.
While most of the younger players have already exhibited their skills in Buffalo where the Bruins rookies took on those of the Buffalo Sabres and the New Jersey Devils, in the Prospects Challenge last weekend, it will be the first time that some of them have put on the Spoked-B and gone out to play in front of the Boston Bruins fans on home ice.
“Absolutely, that will be really cool,” said forward Sean Kuraly. “I’m sure when I step out there, I’ll get some shivers.”
These players have been striving for this moment their entire young lives. They have slapped at countless pucks and skated miles of ice to become the players they are at this moment. And now they get to go out and see what it is like at the NHL level. While many of them will end up maturing in the AHL or going back to their junior teams for the season, this is a big experience for them.
Of course while the players are trying to show their skills under the duress of a game, the coaches are looking for some things as well. It is no secret that the Boston Bruins play a “defense first” game. They elevated Bruce Cassidy this summer from head coach of their AHL affiliated Providence Bruins to that of assistant coach of the defensemen with the Boston club. And he knows what he would like to see from the defensemen Monday night.
“To break it right down and be as simple as possible, [they] have to be able to play one-on-one and defend. [They’ve] gotta be able to make a good first pass,” Cassidy explained. “And with that first pass we’d like it to be one that initiates a good attack most of the time. We’re trying build in going more north-south than east-west. So we’ll see how that plays out.”
While Joe Sacco and others will be watching the forwards, Cassidy will be seeing how his crew of defensemen is looking in the style that he expects them to play this season. Win or lose, this is an important game for those on the ice, even if there aren’t any points at stake.