By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Context is probably necessary when discussing Tuesday’s game between the Bruins and Sharks.
Yes, the Bruins were wrapping up a taxing three games in four nights stretch, and they are still coming off what was a ridiculously long postseason run. (How long before we stop bringing that up, by the way? A November 15th cutoff?) But San Jose was in town for the final game of what was a five games in eight nights road trip on the other side of the country. It’s sorta like having to choose between stepping on a Lego or walking around with wet-sock all day, but you get the picture I’m painting here. If we’re picking would-you-rather, you’ll take the B’s situation over the Sharks’, unless you’re a masochist.
But the greater point remains: these Bruins, who are off to their best start since Dit Clapper played the role of David Pastrnak for the 1929-30 Bruins, are an absolute buzzsaw right now, and are capable of making any opponent look downright silly.
Going against the league’s top penalty-killing unit (the Sharks entered Tuesday killing penalties at over 93 percent on the year), the Bruins torched the Sharks for two first-period power-play strikes (both from the same spot on the ice and the spot they’ve scored the majority of their power-play goals in 2019-20), and scored their third goal just 12 seconds after Tomas Hertl exited the box. That third goal was off sustained pressure carrying over after the penalty expired, and with the second unit on the ice.
It was death by a thousand clean zone-entries for the Sharks, too, as Boston’s vaunted power play punished Sharks goaltender Martin Jones for 19 shots on goal in over 16 minutes of power-play time, while San Jose finished with 17 total shots on goal by the night’s end. You could just sense the physical and mental toll Boston’s repeated trips to the power play took on the Sharks, and it by all means beat them into submission long before Brandon Carlo’s splitter beat Jones for the fifth goal of the night.
“It builds momentum,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of the impact of his team’s lethal power play. “Skill guys feel good about themselves when they score, I don’t think they care if it’s five-on-five or power play. They want to touch the puck, they want to finish. How it effects the other team, typically they’re going to have to be a little more disciplined, a little more careful about what penalties they take, there’s that effect. I think at home when it’s on, it looks good so you get the fans into the game.
“So there’s a lot of positives, our guys feed off of that. They like watching good plays too, so they get excited for them. It’s typically the first group but tonight I thought the second unit did their part too, throwing it around.”
The Black and Gold’s dominance went beyond the special teams game, though, as the team played yet another clean game in front of goaltender Tuukka Rask, as proven by that aforementioned 17-shot night in the Boston crease. This continued a trend set in the win over St. Louis last Saturday, which saw the Bruins deny the Blues absolutely anything from in tight or below the circles. I mean, the B’s lone tangible blemish on this front came with a seeing-eye Brent Burns shot that got through the shot-blocking lanes and by Rask. That’s not exactly the worst guy to have score on you, especially when you’re down a man.
“We’re getting there,” Cassidy offered. “I think these past four, five, six games, we’ve progressively tightened up, played more our style where teams have got to earn their way out there. I thought at the start of the year we were a little bit too loose, even though our goals against was down. I thought that was a product of probably our goaltenders and then playing the right way once we got the lead. But, I see us more start to finish now, playing that way. Listen, nobody’s going to be at 60 minutes every night at this time of the year. You’re still figuring out your team, guys are still getting going, but we’re getting closer.”
Just imagine what it’ll look like when they get there.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 5-1 win at TD Garden…
Chris Wagner’s got moves
I live for bottom-six forwards with all-world hands. I blame (read as: thank) Shawn Thornton for this. I mean, there’s just nothing that quite compares to a grinder-by-nature deke a goaltender out of their pants for a goal.
Walpole, Mass. native Chris Wagner, who hit the 12-goal mark last year and has some real skill hidden in his bag of tricks, certainly fits the bill and did exactly that with his second-period breakaway strike against Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.
I mean, this was just plain filthy.
It led to a simple question for Cassidy after the win: would Wagner be a candidate for shootout looks?
“I talked to goalie Bob [Essensa] about that — he seems to have that forehand, backhand hesitation move five-hole,” Cassidy remarked. “Bob does all the pre scouts of the goaltenders, so if there’s a goalie that tends to open up a little bit or over-commit, he’d be a good candidate. Now, the minute I throw him out there ahead of Pastrnak, everyone’s going to think I’m crazy.
“But he’s proven that he should be at some point, whether it goes a few shooters in or not. I think against the right goaltender that has a tendency to over-commit on a deke, then that would be a guy to use for sure.”
It’s a sentiment that Wagner didn’t seem to agree with (he said “we have guys for that” when discussing that possibility), but that’ll make all the better when Wagner scores the shootout goal that eliminates someone from playoff contention this year. (Please let it be Toronto, please let it be Toronto, please let it be Toronto.)
Evander Kane truly does not want the Zdeno Chara smoke
The good thing about The Internet is that it’s forever. But what’s good for us in this case is not so good for Sharks forward Evander Kane, who did his best to instigate but also avoid any sort of real trouble with Zdeno Chara on Tuesday night.
After cross-checking Charlie McAvoy in the face, Kane had no problem jawing with Chara. But when it came time to drop the gloves, Kane tried to let Brendan Dillon fight his battles for him. And when Kane delivered a high finish on McAvoy just moments later, Chara once again came calling, but Kane stared at the ice and let the referees prevent No. 33 from ripping his head off. Kane made sure his night ended without a third run-in with Chara, opting to wrestle with David Backes instead.
Pretty big moves for a guy who tweeted this about Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller not even three years ago.
(Worth noting that Kane sent this tweet out at the conclusion of his team’s season series with the Bruins, ’cause that’s brave.)
It’s one thing to be an agitator but avoid fights. Brad Marchand has made a life out of that. But it’s another thing to act that way and avoid fights when you’ve in the past (as linked above) called out others for being fake tough guys and pretenders.
Daydreaming about Joe Thornton and the Bruins
I’ll never quite the understand the hate Joe Thornton gets around these parts, even almost 15 years later. Sure, Jumbo wasn’t the answer to the B’s Cup hopes back then, but he also wasn’t the only thing that held the Bruins back from being champions. (And not for nothing, having one of the game’s top talents in Boston — especially at that point in time when the Bruins used to play a game before the Dropkick Murphy’s just to get people in the building — was a delight for a teenage idiot like myself.)
And Tuesday, for what it’s worth, could have very well been Thornton’s last game on TD Garden ice.
OR COULD IT HAVE BEEN? (A billion thinking face emojis bombard your screen.)
Let’s assume the Bruins do not find an in-house solution to their top-six right wing issue. And let’s assume the trade deadline is a barren wasteland featuring more Drew Staffords and Lee Stempniaks than Marcus Johanssons and Charlie Coyles. And let us, just for the sake of this argument, say that the Sharks (six points out of a playoff spot right now) never find their footing and are a non-playoff team entering deadline season. Would that make the 40-year-old Thornton a viable trade option for the Bruins?
I know, I know. But just follow me here.
If you can’t find an in-house fix to the right of David Krejci, and you don’t want to move David Pastrnak away from the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand connection, moving Coyle to the second line right wing probably becomes your best option. But as we all know, doing that creates a hole (a massive one) in the middle of your third line, which was the reason you acquired Coyle in the first place. Thornton, a 6-foot-4 puck-possession center whose role has changed in recent years, isn’t a bad replacement.
And before you scream at me about Thornton being a Playoff Zero, consider this: Thornton has totaled 11 goals and 46 points in 65 games over his last five playoff runs, including 21 points in 24 games during San Jose’s 2016 run to the Stanley Cup Final. That breaks down to .71 points per game, which ranks 21st among the 63 forwards who have played at 60 playoff games since 2013. Barring another pair of cracked ribs and early-2000s-level yips, you’d be getting an absolute gamer desperate for a sip out of the Stanley Cup, and one who makes you even deeper down the middle (and with another left-handed faceoff option).
He would also be relatively cost-effective if the Sharks decided to truly make him available, as he’s only signed for this season, and at just $2 million. (The Sharks could also use a boost on defense, and do the B’s have the bodies to make that work.)
But Thornton, of course, would not only want to leave San Jose (he loves it out there), but leave San Jose to come back to Boston. He’s always recalled his Boston days fondly, but fondly enough to say goodbye for a three-month stay in the Hub?
We are legitimately months away from seriously discussing something like this — and even then, it’s all incredibly, incredibly unlikely, I know — but it would make one hell of a story.