Haggerty: Youthful, fast-moving Bruins draw rave reviews on opening night

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BOSTON – There were two major takeaways from the Bruins opening night win over the Nashville Predators. One is that the B’s are very young in many key spots around the lineup and that they played very fast hockey in an energetically good way.

Three of Boston’s four goals in the 4-3 win over the Western Conference-champion Predators were from players 21 or under and the Bruins played fast, aggressive hockey while consistently pushing the pace and moving Nashville backward for long stretches of play.

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Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork both passed their top-six forward tests with flying colors as DeBrusk potted his first career goal on a nice drive to the net. Both of the rookie wingers ended up on the same line with a rejuvenated David Krejci by the end of the night. Charlie McAvoy showed his skill dishing slick PP passes to David Pastrnak for one-time opportunities and soaked up 22 plus minutes of ice time while also showing his rookie side by taking on three minor penalties.

The healthy doses of confidence that the rookies will take from opening night certainly can beneficial to a strong start and undoubtedly will also help guide them through the inevitable challenging periods they’ll face this season.

“It’s awesome. It’s awesome for the three of us to kind of get that out of the way and now you can roll, kind of,” said McAvoy. “Points aren’t everything that’s for sure, but for offensive guys like Jake [DeBrusk] and Anders [Bjork] and myself – I try and contribute – sometimes the hardest thing to do is to get that zero out of there in the point column. We came out of the gate pretty hot there and I’m very happy. I’m very happy for Jake, very happy for Anders to get their first points and I’m just thrilled that we walk out of there with two points.”

For a team that’s going to rely heavily on youthful contributions after no major signings or trades this summer, the Bruins had to love the early returns with all their kids stepping up in their first night under the big lights. There is still more of that to come, but the draft-and-development plan has begun to produce in a major, tangible way at the big-boy level.

“We’re pleased. They all had good moments. They all had learning moments throughout the course of the game, as we expected, but they stayed with it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “They’re good players and obviously helped us win a hockey game. But that’s what they’re here for. They were put in good positions to do that, and I thought our veteran guys pulled them along well. They’re good players and they did their part, so we’re very pleased with them.”

The youthful additions to the lineup certainly paid off on the scoreboard with DeBrusk and McAvoy scoring their first NHL goals, and Bjork also getting involved with his speed and tenacity on the fore-check. 

It was clear that a couple of young, fast-moving players along with an adept puck-mover in McAvoy also did a great deal to augment Boston’s team speed and allow them to embrace an aggressive, up-tempo style Cassidy has been working to instill. Even a bigger, slower-moving object like 40-year-old Zdeno Chara has altered his style and embraced the relentless, quick-acting approach that seemed to overwhelm the Predators for long stretches.

Combine all of the high-speed and precision skill with Adam McQuaid’s old-school, titanic heavyweight bout in the first period, and you have the Black and Gold version of the Extremely Fast and the Traditionally Furious coming to a hockey rink near you this winter.

“I thought it was good. It was a high-paced game and both teams played with a lot of energy. You can tell it’s early in the season, but that pace was pretty quick and fast with the puck moving up and down,” said Chara. “Obviously there were some opportunities on both sides and some power plays, but that’s what we’re going to see. It’s pretty obvious that’s what the new ‘modern hockey’ is all about. It’s a lot of skating and a lot of moving, and whoever makes those plays quicker and better is probably going to win those games.”

Clearly, there were mistakes and things to work on borne of both youth and the fast, aggressive style. McAvoy was whistled for three minor penalties while getting caught leaning offensively a couple of times and the Bruins allowed goals in the waning minutes of periods in a pattern that’s been very problematic for them in the recent past.

Still, if the suddenly Fast and Furious Bruins can play with that same speed, skill and relentlessness for most nights this season, they’re going to be pretty good. If they can get consistent contributions from the rookie players that stepped up on opening night, then the Bruins will be even better. 

That’s the test now. The Bruins set the bar up fairly high with a strong effort right out of the starting gate and the challenge now will be to match that and build on for 81 more games this season. 

The fact they were able to do that on opening night without Patrice Bergeron, David Backes and Torey Krug gives everyone belief that we may see plenty from this entertaining, high-tempo Bruins team in what could be a surprisingly good season for the Black and Gold.  

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