By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Just a week away from their Opening Night faceoff in New Jersey, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy clearly got what he wanted out of Thursday's scrimmage at Warrior Ice Arena.
"Pace was excellent, I thought, start to finish," Cassidy said. "We didn’t know how it’d play out or if we’d have to shorten it, but our intention was to do two, thirty-minute halves or two periods. Sort of the equivalent of a 20-minute stop time. With three lines, we were hoping the forwards could keep the pace up, they did a great job."
That tone seemed to be set by the start from the Bergeron Line, which featured Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka on the wings, and was sparked by some noticeable jump from Bjork.
Skating in Brad Marchand's spot, the 24-year-old Bjork was hounding pucks, supporting his linemates, and generating looks from the danger areas of the ice. His first look came from right between the circles, while his second was generated from just ahead of the faceoff dot to Jaroslav Halak's left. It appeared that his efforts were outright annoying, too, as Bjork was met with post-whistle shoves from both Connor Clifton and John Moore during the scrimmage. And Bjork looked like somebody who realizes he's competing for minutes with both Studnicka (the B's likely first-line right wing to begin the year) and Trent Frederic.
Bjork played a first-line game with four-line energy and style, which may be his role with this team, as his non-Marchand fill-in skates in camp have come to the left of Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner on Boston's fourth line.
Bjork was hardly the only one throwing his weight around, which is, again, what Cassidy wanted to see.
"It was good energy, good compete, we didn’t expect guys to be running each other, but puck battles were good," said Cassidy. "I liked it. I thought there was some good saves, good plays, wasn’t sloppy, didn’t break down, not a lot of unforced errors."
Offensively, goals of note came with a breakaway tally from Lynnfield, Mass. native Matt Filipe on Tuukka Rask, a Jake DeBrusk partial breakaway five-hole finish on a beautiful feed from the half-wall, and then Nick Ritchie's backhand snipe after some fantastic board work from Craig Smith opened the highway up entirely.
Boston's second line, with DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase on either side of David Krejci, also generated some high-quality looks throughout the scrimmage. If you gave this line any sort of space from in-tight, they'll get you spinning. And that certainly happened Thursday, and it was Kase who came oh-so-close to a goal on two separate occasions, the first on a far-post putaway where he was just a step out of reach and the second on a one-time look from the faceoff and with two defenders closing in on him.
"I think guys are trying to do what they’re supposed to do out there," said Cassidy. "For the first scrimmage after a long time off, it was real good intensity and pace.
"And that’s the first thing we’re looking for."
An update on the Bruins' defenders, both young and old
Between Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara, the Bruins are looking to replace... a lot... on defense.
The truth is that it won't come from one person. That's just impossible when you look at the talent and the minute being replaced. The Bruins seem to realize that, too.
So perhaps it's a philosophical change in how the Bruins approach offense from the backend. And it looked that way Thursday. You had countless sequences where a Boston defender — Matt Grzelcyk, John Moore, Steven Kampfer, and Jeremy Lauzon all had strong looks on their own — activated and looked to make a difference.
"I liked the activation of our D, I thought they were up the ice a lot, trying to be part of the offense," Cassidy remarked. "I thought our O-zone play with the D, the O-zone blue line, was good, crisp.
"We finished some plays around the net, slot coverage we will look at ‘cause we video this and I thought there was a few breakdowns there, so we’ll address that."
As for the names, an almost-forgotten name in B's camp was at the top of Cassidy's list.
“I thought Vaakanainen was excellent," said Cassidy. "Probably the better of the younger defensemen today."
Vaakanainen, for what it's worth, has spent almost all of camp with Nick Wolff on Boston's fifth pairing. Whether or not Thursday's showing leads to a promotion on Friday remains to be seen, especially with the Bruins having two full pairings ahead of Vaakanainen-Wolff on the depth chart, but this is high praise considering the way he's been utilized this camp.
The Jakub Zboril and Kevan Miller pairing also got a shoutout from the B's boss.
"Zboril was clean," said Cassidy. "Kevan Miller hadn’t played in a long time, looked good, was around the puck, skating."
Moore was lauded for the legs he brought to the session and his willingness to jump into the play. (Moore's best would-have-been chance came with a great deke at his own blue line and a carry into the offensive zone that had some serious potential to turn into something had he not collided with his teammate at the attacking blue.)
The Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo was also considered "clean," and played a big part in the team offense.
Cassidy even had gave some love to the B's NCAA-to-NHL defensemen.
"[Jack] Ahcan, I thought was competitive for a smaller guy," Cassidy said of the 5-foot-8 defender before acknowledging Wolff's play as well. "Wolff handled the puck well. Better than in practice. He was much cleaner."
First crack at figuring out Boston's Game 1 lineup
This is all speculative at this point in time, but based on usage and pairing-line combos through the first four (invaluable) days of camp, I think we're getting a good look at what the B's will roll out next week. And if I were a betting man, this is who I think will make up the B's Opening Night 18 on forward and defense.
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jack Studnicka
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Ondrej Kase
Nick Ritchie - Charlie Coyle - Craig Smith
Anders Bjork - Sean Kuraly - Chris Wagner
Jeremy Lauzon - Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk - Brandon Carlo
Jakub Zboril - Kevan Miller
Extras: Par Lindholm, Connor Clifton, and John Moore.
Other tidbits and happenings
- As mentioned, this scrimmage did not feature Brad Marchand. Marchand ditched the red jersey and was a full participant on both Tuesday and Wednesday, so his absence may have caught some off guard. (I admittedly had him penned into my lineup and then had to make an adjustment.) Fortunately for the Bruins, this wasn't because of a setback, but rather Marchand, who underwent a sports hernia repair procedure back in September, simply deciding that he doesn't want to do too much too soon. Marchand hasn't looked limited in any of his sessions this camp, so the expectation remains that he'll be good to go when things get real next week.
- An addition to the on-ice festivities Thursday? An actual NHL referee (Boston native Chris Rooney) and an unidentified linesman. The Bruins really did try everything they could to make this feel like a real game. I'm just surprised Rooney didn't call about 10 penalties against the Bruins to prove that he is not biased. Only half-kidding, Rooney, we all know how you roll by now.
- The Devils signed Sami Vatanen today, so you can cross him off your wish list if you were still hoping for the Bruins to add another vet defenseman ahead of the 2021 season. The oft-injured Vatanen, a right-shot who can play both the left and right side, put up five goals and 23 points in 47 games for the Devils last year before adding three assists in seven playoff games with the Hurricanes. Ben Hutton, who has drawn interest from the Bruins, is still on the market and was linked to N.J. before they signed Vatanen.