Things to Watch For As the Bruins Look to Build on Game 1
Over three months after the Bruins were eliminated by the Lightning in the second round of the 2020 NHL playoffs, they finally returned to the ice yesterday and began their season against the New Jersey Devils. Overall, I really liked what I saw from the Bruins. Even though they barely squeaked out the 3-2 win in the shootout against a far lesser Devils team, their struggles were largely due to Devils’ goaltender MacKenzie Blackwood playing incredibly well. These two teams see each other again tomorrow (January 16th) at 1 pm to finish out their first two-game series. Here are some things to keep an eye on tomorrow and going forward.
Can Miller and Zboril Continue Their Strong Play?
I don’t know what game some of you were watching last night, but I thought the Bruins defense as a whole was excellent. They limited the Devils to just 22 shots on goal. Even though New Jersey isn’t a good team, that’s impressive. I was particularly impressed with Miller and Zboril last night, and not because they wee the Bruins’ best defenders. Miller hadn’t played in 650 days, while Zboril only had two NHL games to his name when the puck dropped. Yet, both of them played very well in my opinion, and certainly better than I was expecting.
Miller looked better than he did back when he last played, and if he can keep doing that, he’s going to be a huge part of the team this season. He’s a heavy-hitting workhorse who’s willing to do whatever it takes to win, including sacrificing his body, That’s something the Bruins don’t have a ton of. So, he needs to stay healthy, because if he does, I have faith that he’ll keep playing this way.
As for Zboril, he frankly looked like a fish out of water in his first two NHL games back in 2018-19. But, he looked very comfortable last night up until OT, where he again looked out of place. But, that is to be expected. He needs to settle into a normal role before he’s ready for OT. The fact that he looked so comfortable during regular time was very promising to me though. Obviously, it’s only been one game, but it’s clear how much he’s grown as a player over the past year and a half. He will only continue to get more comfortable and confident at the NHL level too. So, he is definitely one to keep an eye on tomorrow and beyond.
Will the Bruins Find Their Finish?
The Bruins’ biggest problem last night was a lack of finish. Granted, as I said earlier, Blackwood played exceptionally well. The game should’ve been over in the first period, but he stood tall and kept the Devils in it. However, with the sheer volume of shots the Bruins took (16 in the first period alone, 37 overall), they should’ve been able to bury a few more, especially early on. It was clear that Blackwood was frustrating them though, which translated into a lack of finish for the Bruins. That’s something they need to work on.
As I have said numerous times now, the Devils are a bad team. In fact, they’re either the worst or second-worst in the division. Games will only get tougher from here. So, the Bruins have to find a way to finish more plays even if the opposing goalie is playing well. I have faith they will as they keep shaking the rust off, and especially once Pastrnak returns (which should be soon, he is expected to full integrate into practice at the conclusion of this road trip, and then it won’t be too long after that). Hopefully I’m correct in being that and it is just a question of how long it’ll take.
What Will Happen When Smith Is Healthy?
Another thing that will be interesting to keep an eye on is what happens once Craig Smith is ready to go. He didn’t play yesterday and is a game-time decision for tomorrow after tweaking something in his lower-body during a practice. My best guess is he’ll be out tomorrow as well, because there’s no sense rushing him back if he’s not 100%, especially since the team played pretty well without him. But, I expect we’ll see him back on Monday when the Bruins play the Islanders.
Trent Frederic was the next man up last night, slotting in on the third line with Bjork moving up to Smith’s third-line spot. Normally, it would seem like a very easy decision. Just take Frederic out since he was the one who didn’t initially have a roster spot. However, the Frederic-Kuraly-Wagner line was perhaps the Bruins best last night. The Bruins outchanced the Devils 9-1 with that line on the ice, which is absurd, especially for a fourth line.
So, Who Will Come Out?
Obviously, Smith will go into the lineup whenever he’s ready. The Bruins signed him for a reason, and then he looked great during training camp. He will provide the Bruins with a decent amount of much-needed secondary scoring. However, the difficult part is who comes out since, as I said above, Frederic played so well. He deserves to keep playing until that changes. So, who comes out? Could it be Nick Ritchie (wishful thinking, I know, but let me have this)? He scored on the power play off a sweet feed from Marchand last night, but other than that he had very limit impact on the game. But, since he scored, I don’t see the Bruins being quick to bench him, meaning he’ll stay in.
Aside from Ritchie, I can’t think of anyone the Bruins would possible take out. Studnicka looked overwhelmed last night, but that’s honestly to be expected since he was on the first line. It has to be intimidating for anyone to play on the top line with Marchand and Bergeron, but especially when you just have two games of prior NHL experience. Luckily for him, the Bruins seem to want to give him a chance lower in the lineup. He deserves it too, so, I don’t see him going out. Anders Bjork is rumored to be replacing Studnicka on the top line, so he certainly isn’t coming out.
So, unfortunately, it will likely be Frederic coming out of the lineup even though he doesn’t deserve it and it’s probably not the best idea. But, it’s hard to say for sure, so it’ll be very interesting to see what Cassidy decides to do.
Overall, as I said above, the Bruins played a solid game last night. This is especially true given the circumstances. I saw some fans complaining about sloppiness, but that is to be expected right now. Every team is sloppy. Most of them only had a 10 day training camp, which featured no exhibition games. So, you can’t really fault them for not being overly sharp. The defense was great, Rask was outstanding despite not being busy, and the forwards had great pressure, just little finish. You can’t really ask for much more out of a first game.
There are obviously a lot more things to watch than I mentioned above. But, those are the things I’ll be paying attention to the most, as they’re the most important things in my opinion (particularly the first two). What will you be watching for as the Bruins keep building up their game? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter!
-Lydia Murray (@lydia_murray12)
Featured image courtesy of Bill Kostroun/Associated Press