By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bruins center Charlie Coyle was a menace in all three zones, goaltender Tuukka Rask surrendered just one goal, and the Bruins survived without contributions from their star-studded first line as the Black and Gold successfully squeezed a 2-1 victory out of their Thursday night head-to-head with the Stars.
And they said the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs were over.
Start with the positive: Coyle.
I’m pretty sure my initial “Donato Worth’s More Than Coyle” take is going to be my Mona Lisa of Bad Takes. I just can’t see anything beating it. I really can’t. The 6-foot-3 Coyle has been downright monstrous since coming to Boston. This is not the player I watched in Minnesota and repeatedly went, “This guy?” when people would link him to the B’s. Something’s clicked for Coyle in Boston, and he’s often been the best player on the ice. The puck tends to find (and stick to) him while on the ice, too. Thursday night was another example of that. With David Krejci out, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy repeatedly rolled Coyle after Bergeron, and Coyle made it work on a de facto second line with Jake DeBrusk and Brett Ritchie.
Coyle was especially powerful on Boston’s power play, with the kind of decisions that left Dallas spinning and unable to pressure Boston’s second power-play unit the way they did the top unit (more on that in a second).
Now, the Bergeron Line.
I like to adhere to a simple rule: You don’t freak out after one game. Especially not the first game of the season. But Boston’s first line looked a bit like they did for the majority of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs in their first game of the new year. The line consistently appeared to generate what looked like a promising opportunity, but flubbed something along the way, made one extra pass, or opted to look for an even better opportunity (that wasn’t there) instead of simply firing a puck on net. Now, this could be a simple rhythm issue for the Bruins. The line played just one preseason game together, as the Bruins hyper-managed Bergeron (groin) in the preseason, and Bergeron didn’t even hit the 13-minute mark in that game, but I must admit that I did think this line was going to come out guns blazing after the heat they took for their shortcomings last spring.
But again, it’s just one game. And the potentially good news for The Trying-To-Return-To-Perfection Line? Their next game is against Arizona, and the Bruins have outscored the Coyotes 6-0 in 35 minutes of five-on-five play with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on the ice together since the start of the 2017-18 season.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 2-1 win in Dallas…
B’s top power-play unit couldn’t get anything going
Boston’s top power-play unit couldn’t get a single thing done on Thursday.
This is a unit that’s straight-up loaded with otherworldly skill — Bergeron’s quick release from the bumper, Marchand’s creativity to the left of a goaltender, Pastrnak’s bombs from their right, DeBrusk’s net-front work, and Krug’s dishing skills have been lethal at times — but felt bottled up throughout their time together in their first 2019-20 night. I had this group down for a single shot on goal over their four power-play opportunities, and the Stars straight-up attacked them from the moment the B’s thought they had a handle on the puck in the attacking zone. It felt like a bull-rush approach, really.
No, not that bull rush.
It’s still entirely too early to pick up on definitive trends, but a couple of things worth mentioning: Despite allowing the 10th-most shots per 60 while on the kill, the Stars did have one of the league’s best penalty-killing groups a year ago (their 82.8 percent success rate was the fifth-best in hockey). But that Tusken Raiders approach didn’t really come at Boston’s second power-play unit (the Bruins got what would hold as game-winning goal from this group), as the Stars seemed more than happy to give the No. 2 unit both time and space. Perhaps there’s something the Stars noticed in some film review of Boston’s first unit from a year ago, or maybe they just understood the stupidity of letting Krug run the point without a hint of pressure.
Tuukka Rask was money in the third period
Outside of a breakaway (and goal scored by) Roope Hintz, Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask had a relatively easy opening 40 minutes to his season. With just 13 shots thrown his way, and almost zero pressure from the Stars on their lone power-play opportunity to that point, Rask seemed poised for a relaxing night in his crease. That certainly changed in the third period, and the 32-year-old Boston netminder was more than ready, as he turned away all 16 shots thrown his way in the final 20.
Rask’s best stretch undoubtedly came on an early third-period power play for the Stars, which saw Dallas land five shots on goal, including a pair of chances on Rask’s doorstep from Radek Faksa, and a blue line bomb from Miro Heiskanen.
The American Airlines Center has always been kind to Rask in his career, for whatever reason, as Rask is now a ridiculous 5-0-1 with a . save percentage in six career games in Dallas. I’d say it’s all the hometown Pantera they play, but Rask’s not letting up enough goals to hear “Puck Off” as much as he’d like (outside the arena, of course).
Karson Kuhlman had himself a 2019-20 debut
Low-risk, high-reward signing Brett Ritchie turned the heat up on Karson Kuhlman just 69 (nice) seconds into the new year, scoring his first goal on his first shot of the season. And with David Krejci (lower-body) out of the lineup, it wasn’t hard to imagine Kuhlman potentially falling out of the rotation as the Bruins shifted into lead-protecting mode. Just the opposite happened, in fact, as Kuhlman finished with a forward-high (forward-high!) 14:18 of five-on-five time on ice in the win.
It really wasn’t hard to see why Cassidy kept going to Kuhlman in this one, too. The 5-foot-11 forward’s dogged determination nearly led to a breakaway strike on Ben Bishop in the first period, and his wheels put the Stars on edge every time he was out there. (Anything to limit an extremely active Dallas defense corps was the least Kuhlman and Co. could do on their shifts.)
One play I really liked that won’t make any highlight reels: With eight minutes left in the third period, and with the Bruins downright clinging to their one-goal edge, Kuhlman was able to corral a loose puck in the defensive zone to flip a puck up and out of the zone with just enough power to both get out of the zone but also avoid resulting in an icing against the B’s.
It seems simple, I know, but those are the little details that could help No. 83 stick in this lineup if the scoring doesn’t come.
Bruins (probably) won’t have to worry about their fourth line this season
The Bruins were in some serious trouble in the middle period when the Chris Wagner-Sean Kuraly-David Backes line came through with a shift that may have very well saved their one-goal lead through 40 minutes of play.
Hemming the Stars in their own end, the trio kept plays and pucks alive with countless board battle victories, and wore the Stars down for nearly a full minute of battering-ram hockey in the Dallas end. The Stars finally got the puck out of their end, but failed to get it beyond the red line, and Charlie McAvoy drew a penalty just seconds later.
This was something that last year’s fourth line, with Noel Acciari playing the role Backes played on Thursday night, excelled at a year ago. And while tonight was No. 42’s turn to roll with the Kuraly-Wagner pairing, the Bruins will have no shortage of options on the fourth line this year, with Backes, Ritchie, Par Lindholm, and Joakim Nordstrom (currently on injured reserve with a foot injury that kept him out of preseason action) all viable candidates for those minutes.
The Bruins visit Glendale for a head-to-head with the Coyotes on Saturday night.