The Bruins struggled with execution in their first moments of Saturday’s matinee against the New Jersey Devils. But they eventually cured their hiccups behind one of their more well-rounded efforts away from TD Garden.
Some of the hard habits came early. Another Brandon Carlo turnover at the defensive end and Jeremy Swayman’s mental laps of playing the puck outside the trapeze form almost put the Bruins in yet another hole.
Eventually, Brad Marchand and the company settled down.
Boston’s left wing on the top line extended his scoring streak to six games with his pair of second period. Captain Patrice Bergeron provided separation with his third period marker, triggered by a brilliant rush by David Pastrnak. The Bruins also received some necessary secondary scores from Erik Haula and Jake DeBrusk’s to end their 5-2 victory.
Here’s what we learned after the Bruins won their second road triumph this season.
Marchand makes an early season case for the Hart Trophy.
Connor McDavid’s fantastic start makes him an early runaway favorite to win his third career Hart Trophy. Several elite strikers, including McDavid’s teammate Leon Draisaitl and future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin, will certainly be taking part in the Hart discussion as well.
They all want that some good company as Marchand makes his early season MVP case.
Marchand’s figures speak for themselves. His 18 points (eight goals, 10 assists) and 1.50 points per game are not the only arguments that stand out. The veteran and the second-longest solid Bruin provided a season-long worth of game-changing moments early in this 2021-22 campaign.
The Bruins eventually found their tracks in the opening frame and took a 1-0 lead into the locker room. Marchand kept his team in the driver’s seat with his pair of second-period numbers via a power-play marker with Charlie Coyle screening and on a rebound from Pastrnak’s initial shot.
With the assistance of his other elite linebackers in Bergeron and Pastrnak, Marchand finished in the top five of the Hart Trophy poll in two of the last three seasons. He may very well finish higher in the MVP race, provided he builds his fantastic offensive production at the start of the season.
“The great thing is that we push each other consistently,” Marchand said of his chemistry with Bergeron and Pastrnak after his 50th career with multiple goals. “There were times when we were heading towards each other to need to be better in situations, but we also have a lot of fun out there.”
While Marchand fine-tunes his star skill set, the Bruins hope they have finally found some relief from their secondary options.
Secondary scoring provided a necessary result.
The potent Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line and Charlie McAvoy’s trio of aides put the Bruins forward for victory. But Bruce Cassidy received some much-needed production from his bottom six.
Even with Oskar Steen called up from Providence after his fierce run in the early season, Boston’s 6-year-old bench boss Karson Kuhlman put in the bottom six for a sick Craig Smith. Kuhlman’s problems with consistency prevented him from becoming an NHL regular. Still, the Bruins came in handy at times when they have reinstated Kuhlman in their lineup after sitting out a couple of games.
Haula experienced the Kuhlman effect first-hand on Saturday. The bottom six veteran drove to the net when Kuhlman gained access with an assertive play that protected the puck from New Jersey defender Damon Severson. The snake-bitten Haula went hard to the net and knocked a rebound home from Anton Blidh’s initial shot to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
“It definitely felt good,” Haula said as he scored his first goal of the season. “I certainly could have had a few [more]. I’ve had the chances, so it’s a good feeling when the first one goes in. And now you can forget all about [the first goal] and look forward to the other. “
Don Sweeney had not imagined a repeat of Haula from his career-high 55-point campaign with Vegas in 2017-18. But the seventh-year GM knew he would provide the necessary bottom-six depth after watching the Islanders unveil Boston’s third and fourth line last season, thus signing Haula, Tomas Nosek and Nick Foligno in free agency.
With the free-agent trio still adapting to a new system, the Bruins may have to lean a little more up against their top people when it comes to entering the tail half of the season’s eloquent quarter-pole. Still, they will happily take a secondary point increase wherever they can get it, be it through a new addition in Haula or a familiar face in DeBrusk.
That The Bruins remained calm, while a worrying trend continued.
The Bruins did not release all of their bad habits on Saturday. At times, they fell victim to defensive zone turnover and overtaking, but more than offset that with their efforts in all three zones.
One of the worrying trends caught up with them (again) almost in Newark.
Marchand and company fell victim to a collapse in the third period against the Oilers two nights ago. They saw two leads slip away from them shortly after turning on the light, giving up goals at 44- and 24-second intervals after Pastrnak’s first period inventory and Marchand’s second period marker.
The Bruins extended Haula’s inventory and took a 2-0 lead on Marchand’s first of two markers in the second period. Still, they quickly found themselves with a one-goal cushion after Dawson Mercer scored his fifth of the season just 28 seconds behind Marchand’s power-play lamp.
The Devils remained aggressive in their pressure on the equalizer. A lucky break from Coyle’s turnover from a referee gave the Devils life again after Jesper Bratt’s third goal for the season 19:24 in the second. But Boston’s defensive structure and Swayman’s calm presence in the net prevented New Jersey’s attacks in the third period, paving the way for Bergeron’s sixth goal of the season and DeBrusk’s empty net.
“There have been a couple of games this year where we had the lead or we were a draw and we let it slip away from us,” Marchand said. “It was great tonight that we were able to stay calm and put a good third period together and separate that lead a little bit. There were some matches where we might have panicked a bit and let it get away from us, but we did a great job of responding and taking care of the business. “
Another round of business awaits Sunday with the first Bruins-Canadiens matchup in nearly two years.
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