BOSTON - It all got a bit more real on Monday morning at Warrior Ice Arena, as the Bruins took their first steps toward preparing for Thursday's season opener against the Dallas Stars. Boston's practice focused on game-planning and building chemistry as Bruce Cassidy began formulating his lines and defense pairs for Opening Night.
"I think the group has shrunk a bit, so it's kind of nice to be with just the guys that are going to start the year with us," said Patrice Bergeron, who skated in his familiar top-line center spot alongside Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
"Kind of concentrate on what's in front of us and really keep working on that system and making sure everyone is on the same page. We have something to look forward to on Thursday."
Here are some other notes from Monday's practice at Warrior Ice Arena:
David Krejci (lower body) and Joakim Nordstrom (foot) both missed practice on Monday, but it appears that Krejci is improving enough that he could be ready to go on Opening Night in Dallas. The pivot skated on his own before practice and is "progressing well," according to Cassidy.
"I would like to obviously see him get back into the live action with us," said Cassidy. "He didn't play a lot in preseason, so these battle drills are important now. But it is what it is. We don't want to risk further injury. That's where he's at. Would be good if he got in [Tuesday] or at the latest Wednesday."
Should Krejci not be able to go against the Stars, Cassidy will likely choose between Charlie Coyle or Par Lindholm to fill the gap as Boston's No. 2 center.
"We've considered moving Charlie up there. Lindholm practiced there today, wanted to see how that looked," said Cassidy. "Par's got more skill than what his resume dictates in the National Hockey League. He had good numbers in Sweden. We see a little bit of that. We'd go probably either way. Make that decision on Thursday."
Video: Cassidy addresses media after practice Monday
The Bruins continued to narrow their lineup on Monday, as seven more players were trimmed from the roster. Forwards Anders Bjork, Trent Frederic, Cameron Hughes, and Jack Studnicka were assigned to Providence, as was goalie Maxime Lagace, who cleared waivers.
Forward Peter Cehlarik was also placed on waivers for the purpose of being assigned to Providence.
"I talked to the players a little bit. The feedback was mostly positive," said Cassidy, while noting that general manager Don Sweeney, Director of Player Development Jamie Langenbrunner, and Player Development Coordinator Chris Kelly were the ones that sat down with the players that were cut.
"There's a few guys that are always disappointed, but I thought some of them had good answers and self-analyzed themselves well and thought they didn't have good enough camps to stick around. If we feel that and the player feels that, I think that's always easier to move forward."
For those players that just missed the cut, it can surely be a disappointing feeling. Fortunately, the Bruins' veteran core is always willing to offer some advice to their younger teammates as they work to make it back to the big club.
"That's always something I try to do for them and be there," said Bergeron. "I've always said that. They have my cellphone. They can reach me at any time if they have questions. It's not always easy, especially at a young age to come in this league and having to go through the process of being up and down and having to develop as a player, but also as a person."
Per Cassidy, defenseman Jakub Zboril is also likely to be assigned to Providence ahead of the season opener but remained with the team for practice on Monday. The former first-round pick has been rewarded after a strong camp to kick off his third professional season.
"Thought he had a good training camp," said Cassidy. "We wanted to make sure we got through the weekend and everyone's healthy. Looks like our D is good. Jakub's here to practice, hopefully learn some good habits, play against high end players. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but I don't think he's going on the road if we're healthy."
Video: Bergeron addresses media after Practice Monday
On Solid Ground
To this point in the preseason, David Backes appears to have solidified a spot on the Bruins' Opening Night roster. After sitting out the last three games of the Stanley Cup Final as a healthy scratch, that was no guarantee. But a new approach to the offseason has positioned the winger - who had three points (goal, two assists) in three games during the exhibition slate - well ahead of his 14th NHL campaign.
"I put the work in and you're seeing some of the results," said Backes. "This is early, it's a couple steps, but steps in the right direction. I like where we're at at the moment…not playing the last three games of the Final certainly doesn't make you feel real secure that you've got a job.
"That being said, I think it provided me with some initiative and extra fuel of being in the league for 13 years and saying it's time to adapt further and try to change my game to acclimate to the new NHL."
With that, however, Backes is not yet ready to get overly comfortable with his roster spot.
"I haven't been told I'm in the lineup yet, so every moment I'm still trying to earn and prove that I deserve that spot," said Backes, who skated with Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle on Monday. "I guess when I'm in the game, God willing, on Thursday night, they'll be a little bit of I've earned this so far…those healthy scratches kind of kick you where it hurts. It was a moment to say that I've got to keep earning my spot every day."
Video: Backes addresses media after practice Monday morning
Monday's Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - Par Lindholm - Karson Kuhlman
Danton Heinen - Charlie Coyle - David Backes
Chris Wagner - Sean Kuraly - Brett Ritchie
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Connor Clifton
Jakub Zboril - Steven Kampfer