So much for that opening night blemish against the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.
Yes, it’s early, but the Boston Bruins already look like a different team than what they showed — or rather didn’t show — in their 7-0 loss on opening night. The Black and Gold are clicking on all cylinders since, having outscored their opponents 22-6 during the last week and a half.
Saturday’s 8-2 triumph over the lowly Red Wings marked the Bruins’ fourth straight win. Here is what we learned as they’ll carry that four-game win streak into their upcoming trip to Western Canada.
Hats off to David Pastrnak
Pastrnak’s offensive skillset is always something to marvel at. His play without the puck, however, is making him into a complete player.
Whether it’s saving a goal in Buffalo that led to Zdeno Chara’s first of the year or his more frequent back checks, Pastrnak is closely following into the footsteps of his fellow elite two-way linemates in Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
As for Pastrnak’s offense, well, that hasn’t missed a beat.
The 22-year-old began his afternoon with a brilliant end-to-end goal that helped the Bruins find their footing late in the first period. He ended his performance with career goals No. 100 and 101, marking the third hat trick of his five-year tenure in Boston.
“It’s been quick, and I’m glad that I get to be a part of this and enjoying every moment of playing here,” Pastrnak said about becoming the third-fastest Bruin and third-fastest Czech-born player to reach the 100-goal milestone.
Twenty-four other teams missed out on Pastrnak during the 2014 NHL Draft. The Bruins are fortunate enough that he fell at pick No. 25. By far, he is the best player of that talented class that also includes Red Wings speedster Dylan Larkin, Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad and Oilers center Leon Draisaitl.
“Well, listen he’s growing up. He’s trying to get everyone involved and that’s part of being a good teammate,” head coach Bruce Cassidy said about Pastrnak. “I just like the fact that he’s trying to keep everyone involved in those plays and trying to be a good team player and good 200-foot player. Again, shows that he’s trying to grow his game and that’s what all the good players do.”
Bjork’s first since December highlights the youth movement’s performance
The Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak trio carried the Bruins’ offense during this four-game run. Boston’s top line is still figuring into the bulk of its scoring output. The supporting cast came around nicely during the last two games, however.
Pastrnak’s three goals were the top story no doubt. He had some company on Saturday thanks to some of his fellow young teammates.
Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk (twice), Anders Bjork and Sean Kuraly also lit the lamp in the eight-goal effort. All of Boston’s goal scorers came from players aged 25 and under.
McAvoy’s goal following a Patrice Bergeron faceoff win gave the Bruins distance. DeBrusk’s strong forecheck and hard skating led to his first two goals of the year. Kuraly’s tally with 1.3 seconds left in the third capped off a solid night for the bottom-six forwards.
Bjork’s goal, however, was quite the feel-good moment. A year removed from an injury-plagued rookie season, the former Notre Dame standout is back in the Bruins lineup following a strong preseason.
“It feels good, yeah,” Bjork said about his first goal since Dec. 7, 2017. “It’s been a while, so I think it’s always nice to produce offensively and I think it was good for our line. Even though it was the sixth goal of the game, I think it was nice. It felt good.”
His uphill climb back to the Bruins roster is paying early dividends. Bjork still has some kinks to work out for sure, especially with his decision making. He passed on a golden opportunity for a breakaway against the Oilers two nights ago but found himself back in a prime spot on Saturday.
This time Bjork capitalized with a quick snapshot past Bernier for Boston’s sixth goal and got the proverbial monkey off his back.
“Well, it’s good for him because it’s been a long time coming. He’s worked to be in the lineup,” Cassidy said about Bjork. “We didn’t talk a lot about him in August. We weren’t sure when he’d get in and he’s kind of pushed himself in the lineup, it’s that simple. That’s why you don’t pick your team in necessarily in July sometimes. You let it develop, and I think he’s done a good job of being heavier on pucks. His goals started with a puck battle on the wall that he hung in on, him and [David] Backes, and they got it out and off they go. So, good for him.”
The Bruins are taking early advantage of a favorable October slate
Cassidy’s club had the ideal four-game slate to bounce back from their no-show at the nation’s capital. All four teams they encountered over the past 10 days finished near the bottom of the league with three of those games coming against Atlantic Division foes.
Only one of Boston’s next seven opponents made the playoffs a year ago — the Philadelphia Flyers. The early Metropolitan Division-leading Carolina Hurricanes (as of Saturday) close out Boston’s opening-month calendar. Their next six games — four on the road — are all against teams that project to be in the bottom of the standings.
Games in March and April leading up to the playoffs are more important, sure. But a favorable opening month slate should come in handy. The Bruins will need that early cushion when the Lightning, Maple Leafs, Penguins and other top-tier teams appear on their 82-game schedule.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated David Pastrnak recorded his second hat trick with the Bruins. He has three.