Editor’s note: This guest post is by Phil Stacey, lifelong Bruins fan and sports editor of a daily newspaper north of Boston who has been covering this great sport for more years than he cares to admit. He’ll be contributing his insights to Cold As Ice throughout the season. Here, he takes a look at Boston’s rough start to the new season, as well as provides some other observations about the first week of NHL action.
So I guess the sky isn’t falling.
It took them four tries, but the Boston Bruins finally won their first game of the 2015-16 season Wednesday night in Denver, 6-2 over the Avalanche. They did it by jumping out to a two-goal lead after one period that stretched to five before the second stanza was over, forcing Avs bench boss Patrick Roy to reach for the Tums after pulling befuddled goaltender Semyon Varlamov.
Many of the things missing during the team’s first three games—all home losses—suddenly sprung to life in the mountain air of Colorado: spry legs jumping up into the play offensively, battles won in the neutral zone, attacking the net with zeal for follow-up attempts and, perhaps most importantly, dropping the proverbial hammer when the opportunity arose.
The third line of Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes and Chris Kelly—the first two of whom were dressing like Halloween ghosts in season opening defeats to Winnipeg and Montreal, respectively—played like a traditional Black-and-Gold, Claude Julien-coached team normally does. Every member of the trio had a goal while finishing with a combined eight points (Hayes’ 1-3-4 line was a career high) to guide a team desperate to taste a victory.
It was also the first start for backup netminder Jonas Gustavsson, who turned aside 20 shots. It was a much needed break for the team’s bell cow, Tuukka Rask, who had surrendered 14 goals on 91 shots over the first three games. Yikes.
I predicted in the days leading up to last week’s start to the season that the Bruins would indeed qualify for the playoffs in the spring, and while eight days into the campaign I’m already questioning that thinking, there is, after all, a l-o-n-g way to go. They can’t be as bad as they were in that trio of stinkers to begin the year (can they?), nor will the Bruins be as in sync as they were against Colorado. There’s bound to be some sort of middle ground.
There’s talent on the roster [David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand (currently out with a concussion), Rask, an aging but still effective Zdeno Chara]. There’s also a lot of either unproven or middling guys who will be asked to develop at a rate more rapidly than they might have figured; how those skaters progress in the weeks and months ahead will ultimately determine Boston’s fate.
Five other observations after one week of play:
* Who saw Arizona—which hosts the Bruins Saturday night—flying off to the start it has? Mike Smith looks rejuvenated in goal for the 3-0 ‘Yotes, Anthony Duclair looks like a star in the making and Max Domi may have more career goals than his tough-guy father by New Year’s.
* Must be some hair falling out in the management bathroom sinks of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Los Angeles Kings, three squads with big dreams for 2015-16 that have come out of the gates a combined 0-10.
* So far, Eichel > McDavid. This could change over time, but he already seems better adjusted for the pro game and has no fear.
* The fan in me hates to admit this, but Montreal is already playing like they’re hell-bent on ending the organization’s 23-year Stanley Cup drought. The (even slightly) expected drop off hasn’t happened early on for goaltender Carey Price; Max Pacioretty & co. are back to scoring timely goals; and P.K. Subban seems intent on ending his antics and focusing on becoming what he could be: the league’s top defenseman.
* Just so I can be held accountable at season’s end, my predictions for the season were as follows:
Atlantic champs: Lightning
Metropolitan champs: Capitals
Other Eastern Conference playoff teams: Blue Jackets, Islanders, Rangers, Canadiens, Bruins, Penguins
Central champs: Predators
Pacific champs: Ducks
Other Western Conference playoff teams: Kings, Blackhawks, Wild, Blues, Flames, Stars
Eastern Conference final: Capitals over Lightning in 7
Western Conference final: Kings over Blackhawks in 6
Stanley Cup champion: Kings in 5
Hart Trophy winner: Steven Stamkos, Lightning
Vezina Trophy winner: Pekka Rinne, Predators
Conn Smythe Trophy winner: Anze Kopitar, Kings