By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
If Thursday was any indication, the Bruins might have something cooking with Jack Studnicka on their second line.
Given a chance to roll with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk because of trade deadline pickup Ondrej Kase's bummer summer, the 21-year-old Studnicka, widely regarded as the organization's top prospect, looked as ready as he claimed he would be for an opportunity to make an impact on this Presidents' Trophy-winning team.
On his first shift of the night, Studnicka forced a turnover that nearly led to a Boston scoring chance. He continued to use his speed to create some chances with and for DeBrusk, and nearly capitalized on a terrific first-period feed from Krejci. And by the third period, Studnicka had generated the team's best scoring chance by somebody not named David Pastrnak.
Studnicka's fit with DeBrusk and Krejci appeared to be there, too, as the line was on the ice for a Boston-best four high-danger scoring chances in just under nine minutes of five-on-five time together. And going back to that aforementioned near-goal on a third-period drive to the net, Studnicka himself generated two high-danger scoring chances.
It all added up to an undeniably impressive showing from Studnicka, with three shots on goal in 13:40 of action.
"He was good," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Studnicka's showing. "Got a couple of looks. He was on pucks, tried to make plays, tried to recover pucks.. I liked his initiative. Certainly had some of our better chances."
"Definitely felt stronger on the puck, more comfortable, it felt like just another hockey game to me out there," Studnicka said. "In the past, my nerves might have kicked in. I definitely felt good [tonight]."
And exhibition be damned, this is a line that absolutely needs to get a look when things get real beginning this Sunday.
With Kase out of the picture for the time being, and with Anders Bjork looking like a fit for Charlie Coyle's line, Studnicka is without a doubt the Black and Gold's best option at RW-2. Right now, the other option includes Karson Kuhlman. Or the Bruins could flip DeBrusk back to off-wing and give Nick Ritchie, who participated in Thursday's optional morning skate after missing almost a full week of practice, another chance with Krejci. After what we saw Thursday, neither is as enticing as Studnicka.
That said, this isn't a perfect fit just yet. Studnicka, who appeared in two NHL games during the regular season, still needs to be a more determined shooter when playing wing versus center (his first look of the night was an example of that), and there's still some growing pains that any kid developing in the NHL will have to go through. One that Cassidy brought up after Thursday's game was Studnicka going with some soft backhand plays that simply won't beat NHL-quality sticks.
But when it comes to generating high-quality, high-speed looks, this may be as good a solution as the B's have on line two.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-1 loss to the Blue Jackets...
Perfection Line bottled up in loss
It turns out that the only thing that could stop the B's superhuman first line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak in 2019-20 is four and a half months away from game action.
Together for the first time since a Mar. 10 win over the Flyers, the trio noticeably struggled to do much of anything at five-on-five, finishing with just two shots on goal (and on the ice for just one high-danger chance) in over eight minutes of five-on-five action on Thursday night.
"They didn't manage the puck like they typically do," Cassidy said.
And to make matters worse, Marchand was unable to finish this game after appearing to injure himself on a third-period penalty kill.
Brad Marchand looks to be hurt at the end of this penalty kill pic.twitter.com/2Q29NRj4tF
The good news: Cassidy doesn't believe that Marchand's injury is anything serious (you have to wonder if he would've gutted it out had this game meant anything), but Cassidy did note that the team will have to wait until tomorrow for more information.
A positive? The Bruins got better as game went along
If you're looking for a positive in this one, you should absolutely be happy with the fact that the Bruins got noticeably better at this game went along. This is exactly what you should've expected, too.
While this was the lone 'warmup' game for both the Bruins and the Blue Jackets, the second game in action will mean a lot more for the Blue Jackets than the Bruins. Once the final horn sounded on Thursday's exhibition, the Blue Jackets were shifting their energy to a playoff qualifier best-of-five against the Maple Leafs. The Bruins, meanwhile, were focused on trying some new things out and staying healthy for their round-robin for postseason seeding. Just two drastically different situations, really.
That was noticeable, too. The Jackets hopped on every Boston turnover (there was a whole lot of them in the opening 20), often forced them to low-percentage looks, and simply imposed their will for loose pucks.
"We weren’t on time, [Columbus] had more urgency," Cassidy said of Boston's sluggish start. "They’re getting right into their elimination games, their mindset was clearly different than ours early on. I think we were, to a certain extent, trying to get back into live hockey whereas they were playing for keeps."
But, again, that got better when Boston found their legs and responded in the second period.
The third period probably featured some of Boston's best work, too, as the Bruins played a much tighter defensive game and generated some quality looks in the Blue Jacket end. You shouldn't have gone into this game worried about the end result, but rather the process and the structure. The opening 20 was a nightmare in that regard, yeah, but by the night's end, you should've felt pretty comfortable with that the Bruins were morphing towards in all three zones.
In a world on fire, NHL 'secure zone' is visually pleasing
Just about everything is terrible. Actually, lemme try that one again: Everything is terrible. You're effectively losing a year of your life because of a virus, we look like Mortal Kombat characters when we go to the grocery store, and it's been about a billion degrees for six days in a row now. I still haven't seen Tenet. Everything. Is. Terrible.
But the NHL's 'secure zone' set up feels like everything we need.
As we navigate through this crowd-less sports world, I'm noticing that I'm more hooked and invested in these leagues that have morphed empty arenas/facilities into sets opposed to a sea of empty seats. And the NHL has done this successfully in both Toronto and Edmonton. By tarping off these seats, I honestly feel we're watching these games played being played at a league-built set, not an empty arena. For reasons my idiot brain will never fully understand, that actually provides a relieving effect. I also think these additional jumbotrons and light stanchions have helped. With the way they've designed these arenas, you just don't even really feel the need for crowd noise because you don't feel like you're watching teams play at an empty arena. It's a TV set.
(The NBA has nailed this with their Orlando bubble, too.)
This was something that I thought was going to be seriously bizarre, too. I was terrified that the NHL was going to try to pump all this artificial noise into the broadcast, which is just about impossible for hockey. Everything about professional hockey is chaotic, and really can't be predicted; the oohs and ahhs of a pipe blast will always be delayed, and same for a big hit. Not even the fastest fingers in the galaxy would be able generate those canned reactions in a way that'd feel anything even close to authentic. And I'm pretty happy that the NHL doesn't appear all that interested in trying to fake it.
Sports Hub Sidelines Podcast
Matt Dolloff and I talked at length about the Bruins and the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the newest episode of the Sports Hub Sidelines podcast. Have a listen below.