On the opposing end, the Wings’ lineup boasted the likes of their captain Henrik Zetterberg, Justin Abdelkader, Gustav Nyqvist, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson, with their top two lines that would likely start the regular season.
It could have been a lop-sided game, if not for the Bruins’ leaders paving the way for a young, hard-working team that wasn’t outbattled.
Led by David Krejci’s two goals, Torey Krug’s overtime-winner and a fiery Chris Kelly, Boston pulled out a 4-3 win to keep them unbeaten in the preseason at 4-0.
It was the Bruins’ third straight game featuring 3-on-3 overtime.
“Overall, I really liked our effort as a group,” Head Coach Claude Julien said postgame from Joe Louis Arena. “We had a young team tonight and they had quite a few of their vets — I wanted to see our guys compete and they did that.”
Boston’s roster featured young players like Linus Arnesson, Anton Blidh, Brian Ferlin, Anthony Camara, Noel Acciari (making his NHL preseason debut), Alex Khokhlachev, Tommy Cross, Brandon Carlo and Jake DeBrusk, along with NHLers Krejci, Krug, Kelly, Matt Beleskey, Brett Connolly and Kevan Miller.
Even from up top in the press box, Kelly was visibly communicating, playing traffic cop with his inexperienced linemates, DeBrusk and Justin Hickman.
“Everyone’s pretty ready to go,” said Ferlin, who gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead after Krejci’s pair. “You can see Krech had a couple [goals], Kells had a fight, so I mean — they’re being great leaders and we’re feeding off of them and obviously the younger guys are trying to make an impression, make this team, so I think we’re all in the same boat, all working hard.”
Krejci put the Bruins up 1-0 at 8:20 into the first period with his first tally of the preseason. The Joe Louis Arena boards provided a fortuitous bounce and the puck ended up between the hashmarks, where Krejci put it into the empty net. Cross and Carlo were credited with the assists.
The centerman then ripped a power-play goal from the high slot past Wings netminder Petr Mrazek for his second of the game to make it 2-0 midway through the first. Krejci was manning the point along with Krug, who provided the helper. Beleskey provided the screen in front.
“You know, I always say that our team often goes as David goes,” said Julien. “And when he’s into it— you look at tonight, faceoffs he was strong and shots on net he had quite a few and he was skating and he was a real good player for us tonight, so it was nice to see that after what he’s been through last year.”
Krejci led the Bruins with five shots on goal and nine shot attempts, and took a bulk of the draws — going 67 percent on the dot, winning 16 of 24 faceoffs. He was dogged on the backcheck and moving well.
“I felt pretty decent,” he said. “Obviously, when you score two goals in the first period, you kind of play with a little bit more confidence, so I felt pretty good overall.”
The game marked the second time Krejci was skating on a line with Beleskey and David Pastrnak. The trio looked more in sync. They created chances, especially off tips and from crashing the net. They had a combined 20 shot attempts with 10 of them hitting the mark and six of them blocked.
In addition to 5-on-5 time, they all had 7-8 minutes of ice time together on the man advantage, thanks to seven power play opportunities.
One of their best 5-on-5 shifts came towards the end of the first period, with Boston leading 2-1. Thanks to their movement off the cycle, it looked like the Bruins were on the power play. The sequence ended with a bullet from Beleskey being gloved by Mrazek.
“You know, even though we scored the first two goals in the first period, I thought we had more and more chances to score even more goals,” said Krejci. “I think we just have to take it game by game and just keep getting better and I thought it was another solid game for our line and for our team.”
Krejci is hoping the chemistry can keep building.
“We always have success when we’ve kind of stuck with the lines,” he said. “Last year it was injuries, lost Iggy, you know, and start losing and then we kind of — it’s tough, you know. It’s always nice to play with the same guys the whole season.”
While Krejci led the charge up front, Krug served as a leader on a young back end. Paired with Zach Trotman, he saw significant time against the Wings’ top forwards. He led all skaters with 24:45 in ice time, though 8:39 of it came on the power play.
“Their top six forwards were probably their top six going into the regular season, so to be able to play a lot of minutes against those guys was a true test and I thought we handled it well,” said Krug. “Not only myself, but the other five guys really clamped down and played solid defense, and I think coming into the game, one of the things we talked about was paying attention to detail, and we’ve got to give our defense a lot of credit for that.”
Krug scored his overtime winner during a 4-on-3 man advantage, when Pastrnak fed him the puck and he walked in from the left circle with plenty of open space before firing in a laser.
“He was good — I think he took it upon himself to be a leader,” Julien said of Krug, who has been wearing the “A” in preseason action along with Krejci and Kelly. “And at one point, I think they were trying to get him off his game and he kept pushing back but he stayed in the battle there and stayed focused, so that’s what you want from him.”
“He’s really developing into a good leader and a smart leader, too.”
Between the pipes, Malcolm Subban battled as well. Getting into his first full game of the preseason, the goaltender showed his athleticism.
With the Bruins leading 3-2 at the end of the second period (thanks to a Ferlin turnaround backhander from the slot after a strong forecheck caused a Wings’ turnover), the netminder put up a sequence of saves on the penalty kill. On one save, he had to slide left to right across the crease to stop a Jakub Kindl rebound attempt. He lost his stick at one point in the shuffle and stayed calm.
“After that, I was like OK, I’m going here, I’ve got to keep that up for the whole game,” said Subban, who faced mostly shots from the point with a lot of traffic in front from big bodies like Abdelkader and Franzen.
Defensively, the Bruins helped out Subban, not giving up much and not letting him get peppered with shots. He made 18 saves on 21 shots. Zetterberg got a power-play goal past him with Abdelkader screening, then a Tomas Tatar deflection off a point shot found a way past Subban to tie the game at 2-2. The Wings’ tying goal that made it 3-3 again came from the point and through traffic.
“He was good, he was good,” said Julien. “You know, there’s some goals - I’m going to have to talk to [Goaltending Coach] Bob [Essensa] about the goals and maybe look at replays and stuff like that, to see if he could have been in better position, but overall he made some big saves and there was a lot of traffic in front of him and that was one thing he had to do, he had to battle through traffic.”
“They always have a guy in front and it makes it hard for goaltenders to see those pucks, so I’m glad he did a good job of battling through that.”
At the end of the second period, Kelly didn’t look too pleased with Abdelkader, the pair dropped the gloves and the alternate captain earned a quick takedown. At one point during the game, Camara took offense to a hit on lineman Acciari. Cross tangled with Franzen when the came was tied in third period, and wrestled the vet to the ice.
“I think everyone’s just trying to get prepared for the season and for whatever reason, as hockey players, we’re just naturally competitive and Kells is one of the most competitive guys I’ve ever seen,” said Krug. “So I think sometimes when you’re out there competing, you want to make sure nobody gets the best of you, and I think that’s what happened there.”
“But I think everybody brought it tonight and at the end of the night, we wanted to make sure we weren’t the team that got outworked, and I thought it went well like that.”