Report Card for the Boston Bruins' 1st Game After the Olympic Break
Wednesday night was kind of like that. Conducting their first contest in 18 nights after an Olympic break (or non-break for some), the Bruins visited a Sabres team that had resumed its schedule the evening prior.
The notion that one team was back in rhythm a little more than the other was visible. Buffalo defied a 40-point differential and opportunistically snagged a 5-4 overtime victory from the Atlantic Division aristocrats. (Official NHL.com play-by-play transcript here.)
As is often the case, the resultant single-point gain is symbolic of a mixed report card for Boston coming out of the first night of the rest of their 2013-14 season. Some plus-points jutted out, but there is also no shortage of aspects worth grooming over the next two practice days before Saturday’s matinee tilt with Washington.
Here is a quick assessment of the Bruins’ offense, defense and goaltending as they each looked coming out of the cooler.
If the top troika of Jarome Iginla, David Krejci and Milan Lucic had done more early and often, this game and this report might have turned out a little different.
Unlike the other two-thirds of the strike force’s top nine, the Iginla-Krejci-Lucic unit had a largely uneventful night. Their only contributions came with the man-advantage and Lucic’s offensive-zone boarding penalty at 6:58 of the second period, 33 seconds after his team brooked a 3-1 deficit, feeding free momentum to the Sabres.
They exacerbated their ineffectiveness by being in action for each of Buffalo’s even-strength regulation goals, thus drawing minus-three ratings apiece.
The exception was when Lucic slugged home a power-play conversion to grant Boston its only lead of the night. However, one could say the line benefited from Chris Kelly, who drew that particular five-on-four chance to begin with.
Kelly effectively drew three of his team’s four power plays, including a double-minor on Matt Moulson. In between, he inserted a 1-1 equalizer and generated a few stimulating shorthanded rushes.
Linemate Loui Eriksson, who was in on one of those shorthanded threats in the second, led all Boston forwards with five shots on goal. He along with Kelly and Carl Soderberg combined to account for one-third of Jhonas Enroth’s 33 total tests.
Patrice Bergeron’s wingers rewarded their efforts by collaborating on a 3-3 equalizer at 17:46 of the middle frame. Within three seconds of tallying a takeaway for himself, Reilly Smith fed Brad Marchand for a homeward-bound, 25-foot wrister.
Defensively, the Bruins sandwiched a meaty middle portion of Wednesday’s action with two slices of musty white bread. Their failure to put the Sabres away let earlier specimens of frostbite come back to haunt them.
Penalty killing and post-penalty killing constituted the mold of the matter in the first half of regulation. Buffalo’s 1-0 icebreaker came 16 seconds after its first power play expired at the 3:32 mark of the opening frame.
The Sabres renewed their lead to 2-1 with a power-play conversion and later augmented it to 3-1 at 9:10 of the second. That was a mere 12 ticks after Lucic’s two-minute sentence ended.
The end piece of the sandwich packed a more pungent flavor. Boston was only 53 seconds away from polishing off a subsequent rally when Moulson smuggled home a 4-4 equalizer.
That development alone was enough to bump the team defense out of the “B” range for this night. The Bruins squandered another point, both on this first impressions report card and in the standings, by letting Matt D’Agostini swoop in for the walk-off tally with 22 seconds gone in sudden death.
Chad Johnson’s first two blinks of the night came on shots from within 15 feet or less. He then let the 4-3 lead devolve into a regulation tie and then an overtime falter on two stabs from within less than 10 feet.
It is hard to fault Johnson too much, though. He withstood a hectic, four-shot barrage when Lucic was serving his penalty in the eighth minute of the second period. Furthermore, he was a cold last layer of defense against an entire group that had just thawed itself out on Tuesday.
One point was less than ideal, but still more than zero, which meant giving No. 1 netminder and Finnish bronze medalist Tuukka Rask a genuine breather was a fairly harmless move in the end.