The Bruins were faced with three separate 5-on-3 penalty kills during their Prospects Challenge opener against the New Jersey Devils at HarborCenter.
For a team that has been together for just three days, it seems like an extremely tall task. But the Black & Gold youngsters performed admirably, allowing just one goal across the three kills.
The most vital of the 5-on-3 kills came in the waning seconds of the third period after Brandon Carlo (trip) and Rob O’Gara (hook) – two of the Bruins most important blue liners – were relegated to the box.
The Bruins were down two men for 1:13, but with help from goalie Zane McIntyre – who made a point-blank stop in the final seconds – Boston held on for a 4-3 victory.
“What impressed me tonight was the kill, obviously,” said coach Kevin Dean, whose squad killed off five of six penalties. “I’ve never seen a game where a team’s had three 5-on-3’s for more than a minute in a half…amazing really.
“We were pretty good for the most part. They scored that one goal. Zane gets a lot of the credit, but Colby Cave does a nice job, O’Gara, all the defensemen did a nice job.”
The Bruins also collected a shorthanded tally when Anton Blidh fired a snipe under the crossbar, off a feed from Jakub Zboril, at 9:55 of the second to put Boston ahead, 2-1.
But it wasn’t just the penalty killing that impressed. The Bruins also notched two power-play goals on six opportunities: Peter Cehlarik in the first and Jake DeBrusk in the third.
“We put some pucks in some areas where we could get them, went low to high and seemed to relieve some pressure,” said Dean. “Definitely happy with special teams. It won us the game for sure.”
Here are some other observations from Sunday’s win over the Devils:
DeBrusk-Heinen-Cave Line Starts Fast
The Bruins top line of DeBrusk, Cave, and Danton Heinen had a strong rapport in their first game together. The line was on the ice for Josh Atkinson’s eventual winning tally midway through the third period, with Cave grabbing the primary assist.
DeBrusk scored the Bruins third goal, on the power play, at 15:19 of the second after collecting a cross-crease pass from Heinen.
“It’s hard to develop chemistry,” said DeBrusk. “Caver’s a great two-way player, Danny’s a really skilled playmaker and I’m more of a finisher…I used to play with Colby Cave in Swift Current.
“They’re both awesome. We were just trying to communicate as much as possible and just get a feel.”
Heinen Shows Off His Skill
Like DeBrusk, Dean pointed out the playmaking ability and high hockey I.Q. of Heinen, the 21-year-old who is fresh off a 48-point campaign at the University of Denver.
That skill was on display again Sunday night, particularly on DeBrusk’s goal in the second. Heinen battled behind the New Jersey net to scoop up a loose puck, before taking one step above the goal line and firing a pass across the ice to a wide open DeBrusk at the far post. The goal gave the Bruins a 3-1 lead.
“If you win battles you’re going to make the plays,” said Dean. “That was a terrific play by Danton because he knew when he got that puck what he needed to do – boom across and it was in the net.
“He’s pass first, but he can really rip it too when he wants too. I thought his game was good. I thought he was strong on the wall where he should be. He’s a young kid, there’s going to be bumps in the road, ups and downs, but I thought he was mostly up tonight.”
Hickman Impresses with Toughness, Grit
One name flying under the radar a bit this weekend has been Providence forward Justin Hickman. The British Columbia native signed with the Bruins as a free agent in March 2015, before tallying five goals and three assists, while racking up 65 penalty minutes, in 66 games for the P-Bruins last season.
Hickman was heavily involved on Sunday night – yes, he picked up a penalty – firing four shots on net and also contributing valuable minutes on the penalty kill.
“He’s a big, tough kid, can really shoot the puck,” said Dean. “We had a little discussion yesterday, he asked me what he could do to get more ice. We talked about his wall work, and he was terrific tonight on the walls. I thought he played a strong game.
“He was up and down his wing, did a nice job. A couple big hits, really blew a kid up down in the corner. His line was very good.
“He killed a couple penalties, had a really good stick. He was good. He came in to camp in terrific shape, too.”
The Bruins close out the Prospects Challenge with a game against the Buffalo Sabres Monday night at 7p.m.
2:31: Peter Cehlarik (PP) (Domenic Commisso, Colton Hargrove), 1-0 Boston
16:37: Blake Speers (PP) (Michael McLeod, John Quenneville), 1-1
9:55: Anton Blidh (SH) (Jakub Zboril), 2-1 Boston
15:19: Jake DeBrusk (PP) (Danton Heinen, Jeremy Lauzon), 3-1 Boston
7:24: Brandon Gignac, 3-2 Boston
7:45: Josh Atkinson (Colby Cave), 4-2 Boston
10:43 Blake Speers (Brandon Gignac, Blake Coleman), 4-3 Boston