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Almost six months since their horrific on-ice collapse out of postseason contention, the Boston Bruins finally returned to TD Garden on Monday night for their first preseason tilt of the year, a 3-2 shootout loss to netminder Curtis McElhinney
and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
It was not the end result that the Bruins wanted, but this is not a preseason about wins and losses for the Black and Gold, but rather one centered around the new ideas and systems being taught to a Bruins organization that, after two consecutive playoff misses, must adapt or die.
“Some of the things we were trying to implement, playing the game at a faster pace, trying to close defensively to get pucks back. I thought through the neutral zone we did a good job of that as the game wore on, especially in the second period,” B’s assistant coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I think it allowed us to take control of the game and play behind their D. A lot of young players in the lineup, I won’t go through all of them, but I thought quite a few of them acquitted themselves well. They were given opportunities to do that. I think some of them certainly took advantage of it, and did a nice job.”
The Blue Jackets opened the game’s scoring 2:34 into the second period behind a Sonny Milano
power-play goal that beat B’s netminder Anton Khudobin
. It was a goal that appeared to befuddle Khudobin, who couldn’t track the pad around his pads, and one that came with assists for Columbus mainstays Alexander Wennberg and defenseman Seth Jones.
But the Bruins countered just 1:22 later on a great two-on-one sequence that saw Jake DeBrusk
show some brilliant patience with the puck before he dished the puck by a sprawled defender and onto Jimmy Hayes
’ stick and into the Columbus cage for a goal.
“I think that’s how the NHL game is played now. You’ve got to catch teams off-guard,” DeBrusk said of the bad Columbus change that led to the goal. “There was a change and me and Jimmy [Hayes] both came out. Next thing you know, we’re on a two-on-one and you’ve got to make them pay for that.”
The Jackets responded as Sam Gagner capitalized on some spacing issues within the Boston end and Daniel Zaar ripped a shot through Khudobin to re-establish a one-goal edge for the visitors.
“We didn’t do a lot well on that goal, starting in the offensive zone. Ill-advised play came back down our throat,” Cassidy noted. “We confronted [Brandon] Saad, [but] Saad won the puck battle and got it across ice, but he did a nice job and then it broke down from there. I think between [Riley] Nash, Griff [Seth Griffith], and [Jakub] Zboril, we were slow identifying who’s going to attack the puck in the corner, who’s going to protect the front of the net. By the time we sorted it out, it was too late.”
Columbus carried that one-goal edge into the third period, but the Bruins answered with a Danton Heinen
deflection off a Brandon Carlo
point shot 1:08 into the third period.
“He looks to make plays every time he’s on the ice. Like a young player, he’s going to have to learn to manage it, when the play’s there and when he’s going to have to put the puck in a place where we can get it back, safe play,” Cassidy said of Heinen, who might have an inside track to make the team, at least given his usage in this game, after the loss. “You want players that want to make plays and have the ability to do that, so I think that’s a good problem to have. He’ll just have to learn to manage it.”
The 2-2 score held through the rest of the third and through a frantic-yet-exhausted overtime frame, and onto a shootout at the Garden, where the Jackets ultimately pulled ahead of the Bruins.
The Bruins went 0-for-3 in the shootout -- both Riley Nash and DeBrusk rang iron -- and it would be the Jackets that took home the win behind Gagner’s beautiful dagger in the bottom of the third.
Khudobin, the presumed backup to Tuukka Rask this upcoming season, finished the night with 11 saves on 13 shots against in 40 minutes of action, while McIntyre stopped all eight shots against.
John-Michael Liles, who wore an ‘A’ for the team, led all Bruins with 23:53 of time-on-ice in 27 shifts.
Random thoughts and notes
- It’s no secret that there’s a competition brewing for minutes and roles with the big club. That was established long before word of Boston forward Frank Vatrano
’s three-month long recovery from foot surgery broke, too. And second-year B’s general manager Don Sweeney
wants that ‘healthy competition’ to play out throughout training camp. He’s dying for it, actually. Sweeney opened camp up by saying that the best players are going to play regardless of age or experience. That means a whole hell of a lot to several of the names you saw in tonight’s lineup.
Among the names believed to be in the running for NHL jobs this fall, DeBrusk, Heinen, and Seth Griffith
came through with points, while camp invitee Peter Mueller
finished the game with three shot attempts blocked and one missed shot and a penalty against in 13:49 of time on ice.
- If you include Khudobin, the Bruins dressed about seven of their expected NHL regulars in tonight’s game. Among that group, defenseman John-Michael Liles
stood out as the back-end’s de facto No. 1 defenseman. What the Bruins will benefit from a full year of Liles are his smarts, especially in the attacking zone, where he makes great decisions with the puck and often commits to shots that will produce second and third chance opportunities versus simply hammering it at the net.
- On the backend, there wasn't a defenseman that popped out more than the 6-foot-5 Brandon Carlo. There's a lot of hype around Carlo (perhaps too
much given his rawness as a professional), but the Colorado native was every bit the player that the Bruins had a difficult time sending back to juniors last season, if not vastly improved.
"Arguably our best D, if not our best D. Real good decision making, gaps are good," Cassidy, who will focus on coaching the B's defenders this season, said of Carlo's first game of 2016. "I can really only think of one time in the third period he kind of threw a puck away in the middle of a change and ended up on his wrong side. So it wasn’t a bad turnover, it was just one that he could have made a little bit of a better decision. He didn’t handle the puck much in the game, that’s pretty good. He jumped up the ice, got his shot through when it was there, matched up well with whoever was put out there, pushed back in front of our net. A lot of good things."
On the club's top-pairing to Liles' right, Carlo finished the night with one assist and three shots on goal in 20:16, and stepped up with massive defensive efforts in the third period and overtime.
"I thought it went pretty well," Carlo said of his first preseason game. "I felt like I was moving the puck really well and that was something that I wanted to definitely show that I could do a little better. Defensively I felt pretty good; obviously I took a penalty and they scored on that but overall I felt pretty good."
- It may have been a preseason game, but B’s forward and Dorchester, Mass., native Jimmy Hayes is ready to answer his critics after a disappointing 13-goal, 29-point campaign a year ago.
“There were a lot of comments about myself [this summer],” the 26-year-old, who sat out parts of last year as a scratch, said after the game. “I know I’m a good player. I got to this level for a reason.”
With a slew of openings on the wings, No. 11 should have a ample shots at finding redemption.
The Bruins return to Garden ice for a Wednesday night preseason tilt with the Detroit Red Wings.
Ty Anderson has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, has been a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter since 2013, and can also be read in the New England Hockey Journal magazine. Contact him on Twitter or send him an email at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com.