Despite falling in a shootout to the Blues on Thursday, the past two games in particular have featured the strong style of play much more akin to what the Bruins’ players and coaching staff have been looking for much of the season.
“I think it’s been good. You look at the last game we played – St. Louis – tonight, and again, I thought we played a pretty good game tonight,” said Head Coach Claude Julien after the victory.
“The way we’re executing right now is what you want from your hockey club.”
The execution Julien is talking about has been coming from every angle of the Bruins team on any given night, and the past few games have showcased an impressive all-around effort that is the very definition of Bruins hockey.
It all starts with Julien’s ability to consistently and confidently roll out four lines of wingers each game and not have to worry about any significant drop in offensive production or dedication to the defensive system.
“I think those are the encouraging signs for me to see, are four lines performing almost at the same level,” Julien said after practice on Friday. He was referring in particular to the fourth line being able to step up and provide an offensive spark, or at the least provide energy when no other line has it.
However, as was the case against Carolina on Saturday, the fourth line isn’t the only line stepping up when needed. One of the most pleasant developments of this season has been the emergence of the newly pieced together third line, centered by Chris Kelly.
Newcomers Reilly Smith and Carl Söderberg have quickly jelled with one another and are now consistently generating quality scoring chances throughout games. Smith scored the Bruins’ second goal against Carolina with Söderberg assisting.
“They’re just reading off each other, they’re anticipating, so they’re always on top of the puck,” said Julien of the two wingers. “They know exactly where they want to go and where they’re going to put the puck so they’re on top of it all the time and the last few games they’ve had a lot of chances and a lot of offensive zone time.”
“Every day gets a little bit easier,” said Reilly Smith. “When you stay with the same linemates for a few weeks or a month, every day gets easier, chemistry builds every day; so just take it day by day. But I think everything is going pretty well right now, just try to keep the ball rolling.”
“We’re three good players and good skaters too. So, we try to get the puck deep,” added Söderberg.
On the theme of stepping up for the good of the team, backup goaltender Chad Johnson got the call for his fourth start and earned his third win of the season.
Despite facing only 24 total shots, including a stretch of over 22 game minutes where Carolina failed to register a shot on net, Johnson played a solid enough game to allow the Bruins more opportunities to finish one of their many chances.
Facing an inconsistent number of chances is something that no goaltender enjoys, and it may have played into the first shorthanded goal that the Bruins allowed this season. So how does Chad Johnson stay focused during such a game?
“I don't really think about it,” he said. “I really just try to follow the play and I pretend I had a shot two minutes ago. Really that's all you can do is sort of fake it as if you've been in the game and you're doing all of these little things and that's sort of what my mindset is.”
“So it's unfortunate they tied it up there but at the end of the day we got the two points right? So it worked out.”
While Johnson may not have had to play a superhero type of game to earn his third win, it’s still an important factor that the Bruins can consistently play two goaltenders and be confident in their ability to make stops and keep the team alive.
“He’s a great goalie. If it’s him or Tuuks [Tuukka Rask], we aren’t worried at all, he’ll make the big saves when he needs to,” said Reilly Smith.
“At the end of the day you look and I think he’s 3-1 now and that’s what you want from your second goaltender; is that he can go in there and allow you to win some games,” said Julien.
“So far he’s done a pretty good job despite the fact that he’s had some long breaks in between those games.”
The last major factor in the Bruins recent success has come in an area where teams normally see a significant drop in play; reserve players stepping in for injured blue line veterans.
Adam McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg have now both missed multiple games due to lower body ailments. Instead of these injuries causing serious trouble for Julien on the back end, instead it has showcased how deep the Bruins’ organization runs with defensive talent.
The young trio of Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, and Matt Bartkowski has been well documented as being extremely poised and effective for players of their age and experience level, and they haven’t skipped a beat this season.
Rookie defenseman Kevan Miller stepped into his first NHL game on Thursday against the elite St. Louis Blues, and played about as solid of a game as any defenseman – rookie or veteran – could play. He earned plenty of positive remarks from his teammates and his coach after the debut performance.
Julien said that if Miller showed he could play that well consistently, he’d find himself playing in the NHL for good in no time. Miller responded by playing an equally solid game against Carolina.
“I’ve been impressed with him since he got here,” said Zdeno Chara of Miller. “And that’s not just right now when he got called up, but even in training camp, playing really solid and strong on both ends of the ice; offensively and defensively.”
“I think that they [the young defensemen] really are playing well. They know what they system is and how we expect them to play and it’s nice to see that. You have mutual action of players coming and filling the roles.”
“When you really look at our back end, you’ve got two veterans in [Johnny] Boychuk and [Zdeno] Chara and the other guys are all young players,” said Julien.
“But they’ve stepped up and they’ve filled in those gaps of missing players and it’s so important to find those things out early in the season and during the regular season than have to worry about it when playoff time comes around.”
---Written by Ethan Hartley for BostonBruins.com