The home opener is in the bag, and, as I expected, it was a barn burner. It had all the makings of a great game, just missing the win. Matt Porter from the Boston Globe did a fantastic job covering the game, so if you are looking for a blow-by-blow recap, check it out. I am going to give you a rundown of The Jumbotron’s night at the Garden, and Gabe may give you completely different coverage, so watch for that, and a Buffalo Sabres game preview. You think for two people who run a website and just watched a full game live together, we could figure out how to write a recap together. Yeah, not so much. (I’m territorial! – G)
We got down to Causeway Street around 4:15 PM and stood in a fairly short line for the home opener festivities and free t-shirts. The short wait was worth it, but only for the t-shirt. The Bruins slogans get better each year, and by better, I mean further away from the awful tag line of “..it’s called Bruins”. This year, the Bruins are proud to bring you the “I Want It” campaign, which sadly applied to none of the Ice Girls handing out said t-shirts. Once inside the parking lot, things were pretty lack luster. Some nets with the goalie deal set up, a funky ice sculpture of Patrice Bergeron, some really bad green tea according to Gabe, and 3 Doors Down was playing. Or was it Semisonic? It may have been Bush. Regardless, someone was doing horrible renditions of songs that were never good in the first place. The amount of time it took you to read this paragraph was longer than we stayed there. We moved to Sullivan’s Tap for some drinks and “Buck Hunter Safari” (which I must say, is better than Big Buck Hunter), and then some more drinks and food at The Harp.
Warm-ups were about halfway done as we sat down in the Garden. We sat in Loge 20, fairly high up, with a pretty good view of the Penguins shooting twice. Matt Hunwick was dressed for warm-ups and was introduced as part of the team, but was a healthy scratch. Mark Stuart had a great game; sadly, according to the introductions, Stuart isn’t on the team, someone should really let him know.
I didn’t see all of the Senators game the other night, but I’d have to believe tonight’s game was the best effort put forth by the Bruins so far this season. If the Bruins play like they did tonight, for the majority of this season, they will be a force to be reckoned with. They played a high-energy, complete hockey game in all three zones, and the team had an aura of confidence that I hadn’t really seen before. I think after mounting a comeback against Montreal and outplaying Ottawa, the Bruins finally feel like they are the team to beat when they step on the ice. That’s something that’s been missing since the Year of No Hockey.
To start, I think the defense had an outstanding game. Aaron Ward was fucking pissed off tonight. I do not want to know what made him so angry, but he wasn’t taking shit from anyone. He made this known early by just absolutely dumping Maxime Talbot in the opening minutes, and then trying to hip check everything. Ward wasn’t the only one playing with fire, as Mark Stuart had a solid game and was throwing the body all night. Sidney Crosby seemed to have Dennis Wideman’s number, and stickhandled past Wideman with surprising ease a few times. Wideman seemed to adjust well, but appeared to be frustrated throughout the game. The defense has settled into the system at this point and was doing a great job of stopping shots from getting through to Tim Thomas, and knocking any rebounds away from danger. Andrew Ference turned in a good defensive night and was ripping off huge shots left and right, but just couldn’t get the puck to the back of the net. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are a handful, but the Bruins defense was not intimidated by them, and for the most part the defense was able to prevent them from having any major impact. But with all the good in the game, of course the Bruins had to give up a late period goal. This is the most frustrating thing ever to me, and hopefully later this week I’ll have more on the devastating habit of giving up a late period goal.
The Bruins offense finally looks like it may live up to its potential. For the past two years, the offense, on paper, looked like it should produce, but never quite got there. This may be the year the pieces all come together. With a couple better bounces-and a little more net crashing-and the Bruins win this one in regulation. The offense was actually able to set up and operate in the zone for extended periods of time, and it felt like everyone on the top two lines were heavily involved (that’s the point right?). As expected, Patrice Bergeron played well in all three zones, and had a great scoring chance on his own rebound, but caught post. He may need a few more games to get his scoring / passing touch back, but I am willing to wait. The lone goal came from Phil Kessel on the power play. With a good screen on Dany Sabourin, Kessel let go a nasty high wrister short side. Five goals in five games for Kessel; I’m getting close to saying he will score 30 goals this year. I don’t expect Kessel to ever be a big physical presence, but I think he looked sharp and confident in his play away from the puck tonight and is moving in the right direction. A face-off win in their zone on the power play led to the Kessel goal and it seemed to me that the Bruins were winning crucial face-offs. I thought they won more than they did at 35-30, but hey, I’lll take it. Michael Ryder and Marco Sturm played well, but I still don’t feel like they are making their presence known enough in the offensive zone. Milan Lucic did his duty by dishing out five hits on the night, but I want to see him camp out in front of the net and wreak some havoc. The third and fourth lines played more like third and fourth lines than they normally do. David Krejci, Petteri Nokelainen, and Vladimir Sobotka are solid players, but they need to make sure they bring a high level of intensity to every shift, and I think Nokelainen and Sobotka didn’t quite get to that level tonight. Again, not bad play, just I wanted a little more because I’m greedy, and we’ve seen them play that well before. Blake Wheeler had his moments, but overall seemed to be a non-factor. He had some good stick work and jamming shots in around the net, but with his size I want to see the body being thrown around more.
The ability of the Bruins to draw penalties was in question prior to the game and tonight they were able to go on the man-advantage five times. They only converted once, but against a team with weapons like Crosby and Malkin, even if you aren’t scoring you still get to limit some of the offensive chances for the Penguins. The Bruins did get some help drawing penalties with Crosby basically launching himself onto Marco Sturm and Jordan Staal stupidly slamming his stick into Dennis Wideman in the overtime. The penalty kill improved its success ratio by allowing zero goals on the night.
Tim Thomas proved why he should be the number one goalie in Boston. He’s far from perfect, but really gave the team a chance to win the game on Monday night. He made an unbelievable kick save in the third period and turned away more than a few strong Penguins rushes. Thomas can not only make the big save, but he’ll make you believe he will make the big save. I know he came up short in the shootout, but he turned in a hell of a game to get to that point. A few better bounces for the Bruins, and Tim Thomas has an easier night, but since that wasn’t the case, Thomas was up to the challenge of taking over the game.
I’m still torn on the shootout. I don’t like the idea that teams may lay off the gas in the last minutes of the third period to pick up a point, but live, it’s so tense and exciting. For the life of us, Gabe and I can not figure out why Kessel is shooting first. As Gabe said before the first Bruins shot, “They must know something I don’t.” Kessel scores, but why not save the big guns for the end? My only guess is that the hope is Kessel scores first and puts all the pressure on the opposing team, while the remaining Boston shooters have a little breathing room with a lead (you are all welcome for my statement of the obvious). Patrice Bergeron and Michael Ryder both came close, but couldn’t finish. After the Montreal game, Four Habs Fans imparted a bit of wisdom to us here at The Jumbotron, that Michael Ryder blows ass in the shoot out. And you know what? They might have been onto something. David Krejci and Marc Savard both seemed like quality choices, but it just didn’t work out. I was surprised that the Penguins saved Malkin for so late in the shootout, but it seemed to work out well for them, and that just shows what I know about coaching professional hockey.
Overall it was a solid, momentum building game for the Bruins. They outplayed and outworked the Penguins virtually all night, but just couldn’t catch a bounce. Hopefully, they can carry the quality play to Buffalo tomorrow night and get a win over their division rival.