By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins didn't have it on Thursday night.
Not from the jump, at least.
Squaring off with a desperate and free-falling Sabres team, the Bruins found themselves in an 0-1 hole and outshot 14-0 through the first 12:10 of action. Brandon Carlo got the Bruins on the board with their first shot of the night a second later, and Brad Marchand tipped home the Black and Gold's second shot of the game to bring things to a 1-1 draw through 20 minutes.
It was a bad period bailout if there ever was one.
But there's also something to be said for good teams still finding ways to win when even they themselves know that they're not operating with their ideal level of play, which is exactly what the Bruins did in a win earned by Tuukka Rask's 36 saves and a power-play that cashed in when the Bruins needed it most, once from Brad Marchand and then again from David Pastrnak.
"We won with our B game," Bruce Cassidy admitted after the 3-2 victory. "We won with goaltending, timely scoring on special teams and power plays. There’s a lot of areas of our game that were not good enough tonight, and we got away with it."
And at times that B bordered on a C.
It was that power play that really made the difference on their chances, too, as the Bruins took care of risky and failed clearing attempts on the part of the Sabres (Marco Scandella was a straight-up nightmare on the Pastrnak goal that made it 3-1). The Bruins pounced on those mistakes by the Blades, too, as Matt Grzelcyk came through with a stellar Torey Krug impression on both strikes, while Rask dazzled with highlight reel stops that went beyond his hot corner palm-stop on Evan Rodrigues.
But the Bruins know that they're not going to be able to afford these steps backwards from where their game was in New Jersey on Tuesday night, as not every week will be gift-wrapped to the tune of Jersey-Buffalo-Minnesota.
"Tuesday I thought pretty much all facets of our game were strong, so sometimes it’s just, hey what’s the opposition bringing, sometimes – but I always look at ourselves first. I just thought for us, no urgency early on where you need to have that every night in this league," Cassidy said. "So, no I don’t think we're where we want to be. I don’t think any team is; maybe the Islanders with their streak, but we’re not. We’re still building our game and able to win in the process is a good thing.
"It’s a sign of a good team, but we’ve got a ways to go."
Here's some other thoughts and notes from a 3-2 win over the Sabres...
David Pastrnak joins elite company
It's not even Thanksgiving, and David Pastrnak is already at 20 goals for the year. If that feels rare, let me assure you that it absolutely is, as No. 88 is the first NHLer to hit the 20-goal mark this season, and is just the fourth different Boston skater to score at least 20 goals before the 22 game mark of the season. That list includes Herb Cain, Phil Esposito (twice), and Cam Neely. Not the worst company for Pastrnak, even if he refuses to give himself credit as one of the premier talents in hockey.
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) November 22, 2019
Anders Bjork is coming along just fine
If you can, go back and watch Anders Bjork's final shift of the night from this one. It probably went a little long for Cassidy's liking (it finished at 1:25, Bjork's longest shift of the evening), but it also featured an assortment of strong plays both with and without the puck. Collecting a loose puck in his own zone, Bjork used the boards to his advantage, bouncing a self-pass to get out of danger before funneling it on over to a defenseman. At the other end, he made some key possession plays to wear the Sabres out, and then capped his shift with a big block on a shot from Buffalo defender Rasmus Dahlin.
Now, this feels like just a regular shift for most, but Bjork was on the ice for Buffalo's second goal on the shift before this one, and it was an opportunity that No. 10 couldn't dare dream of getting as recently as four weeks ago.
The Bruins are finally seeing what Bjork can do, and it's been a perfect boost to the third line.
Urho Vaakanainen struggles
Thursday felt like a step backwards for 20-year-old defenseman Urho Vaakanainen.
Suiting up for his fifth game of the season (and just the seventh of his career), Vaakanainen once again struggled to have the proper pace from puck-drop, and finished with two hits and a blocked shot in a season-low 13:44 of action.
"First of all, he wasn’t ready to play," Cassidy said of the 2017 first-round pick. "He didn’t execute with the puck early on. You’re not going to make every play, but there were a few of them. On time starts, we talked to Vaak about that, being ready. Don’t get comfortable in this league. It’s a good league, so be ready to go every night."
Five-on-five play was a disaster with Vaakanainen on the ice, too, as the Bruins were outshot 11-0 during Vaak's 11:33 of five-on-five action, and were almost always stuck in their own end throughout that stretch, at times appearing as if they were down a man. The wiry defender also struggled to win his one-on-one battles, as noted by Cassidy.
"And secondly is his net-front battle tonight. Like I said, he’s going to have to be harder in there if he’s going to get matchup situations," Cassidy said. "He’s not Zee [Zdeno Chara]; he’s not 6’9, he’s not going to be able to push guys out of there; he’s got to neutralize guys. Especially this year, the Olofsson’s of the world, [Jeff] Skinners – I know Skinner is an accomplished guy in this league, but he’s not a big man, per se. So, those are the matchups he’s going to have to be able to handle, so tonight I thought was a little bit of a learning curve for him, and hopefully he’s better off for it in the next game."
These are hard lessons, as Cassidy acknowledged, but the true test is how Vaakanainen responds to it in his next outing.