All it took was 9:46 for the Bruins to take a 3-0 lead over the Chicago Blackhawks Monday night at the Garden. Utilizing a more veteran-heavy lineup than the Blackhawks, the Bruins held on for a 4-2 victory, backstopped by a 24-save performance by Malcolm Subban.
In the opening minute of the game, David Pastrnak began what would be a dominant night for him by roofing a short-side shot over the shoulder of Corey Crawford.
This play was all made possible by Ryan Spooner’s physicality. No, that was not a typo. Spooner, who bulked up this summer after criticizing his game last season, threw an effective hit on Hawks center Tanner Kero to force a turnover at the defensive blue line, leading to transition up ice. Following the body contact, Spooner jumped into the rush and made a pass to Matt Beleskey, who found Pastrnak coming down the right side. Great signs all around, but especially impressive play by Spooner.
Just 36 seconds later, defenseman Jeremy Lauzon made an excellent pinch down the boards to keep the play alive in Chicago’s end before firing a shot from the point that beat Crawford. The 2015 second-round pick has opened eyes this preseason and could easily see NHL action this year.
The 20-year-old is getting his first taste of professional hockey after a productive four years in the QMJHL that saw him total 130 points in 200 games.
The Bruins’ next goal showed an exciting preview of what is to come on the top line this season. We all know what Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are capable of, but they appear to have found the perfect right wing to complement them. That right wing is, of course, Anders Bjork. Playing in only its second game together, this line already showed that it is ready to terrorize opposing defenses and goalies.
Get used to seeing plays just like this all season long. Marchand and Bergeron combined to force a turnover before feeding Bjork for the one timer. We’ve been seeing this for years out of the two veterans, but developing another young goal scorer in Bjork allows the team to spread its talent and pair Pastrnak with fellow Czech David Krejci.
Bjork has been billed as a legit offensive talent, and he has done nothing to disprove that claim, but I want to focus on another aspect of his game: forechecking. Keeping up with Bergeron and Marchand is not an easy task for anyone, especially a 21-year-old rookie, but Bjork has seamlessly done so early on. He is relentless on the forecheck, using furious stick work and intelligent body positioning to pressure opponents into turning the puck over, much like 37 and 63. He displayed this talent on several occasions Monday, including late in the first period when he stole the puck from a Chicago defender before walking in all alone on a breakaway.
A Bergeron power-play goal capped off the Bruins’ night offensively, but Subban deserves a lot of credit on the other end of the ice. The 2012 first-round pick has been the recipient of plenty of criticism over the past few years, but he has shown significant improvement this preseason. After Zane McIntyre was sent back down to Providence, the backup race is now between Subban and Anton Khudobin (It will likely be Khudobin, but this still speaks to Subban’s development).
The Blackhawks’ first goal came on a goal-line deflection by Brandon Saad that caught Subban by surprise. He was leaning off the post and allowed the sneaky redirect to slip by him. That is the type of goal that can warrant some criticism but will allow Subban to critique his positioning.
In the third period of a then tight 4-2 game, the 23-year-old goalie stepped up and displayed his athleticism and reflexes with a brilliant sequence of stops on point-blank opportunities.
A left-to-right push robbed a one timer on the doorstep before a series of rebounds were stymied by his leg pads, resulting in a roaring ovation from the TD Garden crowd. One thing is for sure: He is a competitor.
- The Bruins used a third line of Schaller-Kuraly-Backes that looked great. They were a tough line to play against all night. Hard-nosed, physical hockey that did not give the opposition any room to breathe. The bottom two lines are still far from being set in stone, but keep an eye out for Kuraly to be in the lineup at some point this season. He is rock solid on his feet, as displayed in the above Subban video. Instead of getting run over, he braces for a big hit and sends a Blackhawk flying through the air.
- Go back and watch the forecheck on the Bjork goal, as well. The NHL is going to be stricter on slashing penalties this season, but Marchand’s work on that play was a perfect example of a legal slash. The contact is purely stick on stick, leading to a clean turnover without anyone getting their fingers/wrist hacked. Avoiding the hands is crucial this season.
- Beleskey revealed on NESN that he suffered a complete MCL tear last season. He missed extended time, scoring just eight points in 49 games, and it was obvious he was not at 100% out there. The hard-hitting winger proved his value in his first season in Boston and will look to get back to his game this season. Keep an eye on him to have a bounce-back year.
- With Torey Krug expected to miss the early days of the regular season, 6’4″ defenseman Rob O’Gara has made a strong case to be his replacement. He appeared in three games to begin the 2016-2017 season before finishing the year in Providence, but he looks ready to play in the NHL. He will be a reliable option in the wake of injuries moving forward.
[Header image via The Boston Globe]