On Tuesday, it was announced that Patrice Bergeron was day-to-day with a lower body injury. And then on Wednesday, David Backes wasn’t on the ice because he was “under the weather,” as the Boston Bruins tweeted that morning. Torey Krug continues his recovery from a puck to the face in the preseason and Austin Czarnik was also injured during the preseason. Both of them were placed on injured reserve as the Bruins were finalizing their roster by Wednesday’s deadline. And Thursday it was announced that Backes was out with diverticulitis—which meant at least a couple of weeks out of the lineup at the minimum.
That was certainly not how Boston’s head coach Bruce Cassidy wanted to begin the season, and yet that was exactly what he had to do as the Bruins played host to the Nashville Predators in the first game of the season and the first home game at TD Garden. It was anticipated that the rookies who had survived the last roster cuts would be playing, but the lines were certainly supposed to be a bit different than how they ended up. And as the game went on even more changes took place for some of the lines.
“The game dictates it. We lost a player early, a forward, so right away you know you’re going to be juggling,” Cassidy said after the game. “I mean, I tend to tinker anyway. We’ve put some guys in the lineup with players they haven’t played with a lot in preseason. We had them together in camp, but still there’s no regular season chemistry.”
Perhaps it was that lack of chemistry that ultimately made the change ups easier. At the beginning of the game, Anders Bjork was still on a line with Brad Marchand, while David Krejci had David Pastrnak and rookie Jake DeBrusk, who was making his NHL debut, along with Bjork. As things went on, after an upper body injury to Noel Acciari prevented him from returning to the game, additional changes were made and soon Krejci was working with both Bjork and DeBrusk.
As the puck dropped on the game, it was clear that the pace of the game was going to be high tempo—something that Cassidy had implemented in practice when he replaced Claude Julien in February of the 2016-17 season. The players came into this season with the understanding that speed was necessary and worked to make themselves lighter so they could push that pace.
“We know there will be challenges along the way, but it’s the culture we’re trying to create,” Cassidy explained. “If we continue to work on our fitness and practice habits and get it in our heads that’s the way we want to play—we want to be relentless, not reckless, for 60 minutes.”
All of the players were bustling on the ice and doing a good job of outworking the Predators, who did not even get a shot on net until 12:25 into the first period. By that point Boston had already been down a man, Pastrnak had put the Bruins on the board with a power play goal, and Adam McQuaid had dropped the gloves with Cody McLeod.
“[The Bruins] worked really hard. I think that was the key tonight for the first two periods. During that time, they outworked us and they put us behind a little bit. It was a 3-1 game and they generated a lot in a short period of time,” Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne shared after the game.
The rookies were part of that production. They were often on the rush and doing whatever they could to keep the play alive. Despite it being a debut for DeBrusk and Bjork, they slotted in, got down to business and did what needed to be done.
“They all had good moments. They all had learning moments throughout the course of the game, as we expected, but they stayed with it,” Cassidy stated at the end of the 4-3 game. “They’re good players and obviously helped us win a hockey game.”
Indeed the rookies did have good moments. With Krejci continuing to feed great passes—he had assists in the first three goals—DeBrusk and Boston University alum Charlie McAvoy were each able to notch their first NHL career goal—and both in front of their families. They would also get assists on the night giving them their first multi-point NHL career games. Bjork earned his first NHL career point with the second assist on McAvoy’s goal.
There were some growing pains to be sure, but in the end the Bruins showed they can play this faster game that has been trending in the NHL. Their rookies showed that they can step up and that management didn’t make any mistakes in keeping them on the roster.
The team is off on Friday, but they will be back at practice on Saturday, as they will be playing host to the Colorado Avalanche in a Monday matinee, due to it being Columbus Day. After reviewing the video from Thursday’s game, and perhaps working some of the lines that were more the result of missing players, it will be interesting to see what the black and gold bring to their first matinee game of the 2017-18 season.