Kalman: Playing simple hockey helping Bruins take advantage of soft early schedule

Matt Kalman
October 08, 2018 - 6:16 pm

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

With 12:01 remaining in the second period of the Bruins’ home opener against Ottawa on Monday, the Bruins were protecting a 3-1 lead and Patrice Bergeron, as he usually does, lined up against Matt Duchene for an important defensive-zone faceoff.

Bergeron lost the faceoff, but that was the least of the Bruins’ problems. Although there were no Bruins in the penalty box, there were only four Boston skaters on the ice. Fourteen seconds later the missing Bruin David Pastrnak had just jumped on the ice when Ryan Dzingel fired a shot from the left wall past a Zdeno Chara screen and past goaltender Tuukka Rask. The Senators were back within one goal.

“I don’t know, I heard Kuraly line, definitely my bad,” Pastrnak said after the Bruins hung on for a 6-3 win. “I misheard, and to be honest, I had no idea. All of a sudden I jumped on the ice and we got scored against. But maybe I lost a little focus and didn’t hear our line so it was my bad.”

It was that kind of afternoon at TD Garden, where the matinee start time was probably more conducive to a late-season baseball or early-season football game. Pastrnak’s gaffe was one of many Boston miscues that could’ve spelled the Bruins’ doom. However, they were able to overcome their problems because they turned just enough hard work into crucial plays, and they weren’t exactly facing the mettle of the NHL.

The awkward start time and the usual pregame pomp and circumstance of the home opener – not to mention the first game against a Canadian-based team without Rene Rancourt singing the anthems – could’ve cause the Bruins to get off to a slow start. (By the way, Todd Angilly’s pipes proved a glorious replacement for Rancourt’s theatrics).

But Bergeron scored the first of his three goals just 30 seconds into the game, making sure the Bruins were stimulated but could at the same time relax because they wouldn’t have to chase the game.

From there, it was a struggle. Pastrnak had his brain fart. Matt Grzelcyk was charged with three giveaways and had a hard time keeping the Bruins’ first power-play unit on track. The second line of Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Ryan Donato couldn’t manage the puck and saw its ice time trimmed. Even Bergeron, riding high after scoring his third goal minutes earlier, took a delay-of-game minor penalty that made the Bruins kill an Ottawa 5-on-3 for 1:16 without their best penalty-killing forward.

Even the ice seemed like it wasn’t ready for a matinee, with soft conditions making for subpar puck handling and skating. The Bruins, though, didn’t let their focus divert from the two points on the line.

“I thought also we stuck with it. It wasn’t necessarily pretty at all times,” Bergeron said. “We had some sloppy plays, the ice conditions ... sometimes the puck was bouncing left and right. We talked about keeping things simple and kind of going back to playing the right way. And we got rewarded, I thought, in the third, we played a lot better and got some really good chances.”

The Bruins can thank the NHL schedule makers for giving them some leeway early in the season to work out the kinks, get their line combinations straight and establish their identity. They were able to take advantage of a rebuilding Buffalo squad to earn their first win on Thursday. The Senators, meanwhile, are a skeleton of what they were just two seasons ago after the trades of Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman and Kyle Turris in the past 12 months. Though the Bruins found out how pesky and hard-working the Senators can be, a little bit of hard work on the opponents’ side should allow a talent advantage to lead to victory most nights against Ottawa.

And that’s just what the Bruins did, eschewing the type of showy play a team might want to use to wow their crowd in a home opener for old-fashioned, straight-ahead hockey. Four of the Bruins’ five goals scored with a goalie in the Senators’ crease were scored around the net.

Coming up on this homestand the Bruins have two more games against teams that didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season – Edmonton and Detroit. The Bruins will have to keep working hard and playing their simple game in order to not squander points while they continue to work out their chemistry, iron out their special teams and, of course, work on counting how many skaters they have on the ice.

Related: Bergeron's hat trick leads Bruins past Senators