BOSTON - It took 54 minutes for the first goal horn of 2014-15 to go off at TD Garden, but the Bruins put up a 2-0 win over the Washington Capitals in preseason action on Wednesday night.
Zdeno Chara did what he does best, jamming home a loose puck from the blue paint on the power play 14:17 into the third period. Dougie Hamilton created the rebound with a shot from the right point.
While preseason lineups are a mix of veterans and young players, Chara was still placed in his position down low where he earned a team-high 10 power-play goals last season.
"Well you look at tonight, he scores the winning goal…To be honest with you, it would be tough to take him out of there," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said postgame, of the Captain's ability to be a net-front nuisance.
"Why make a strength a weakness? So right now, I think our plan is hopefully to leave him where he was."
Hamilton and Simon Gagne formed the points, with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand rounding out the unit. While timing is usually off in the preseason, both power-play units Wednesday night retrieved pucks well and got shots through.
Marchand, happy to be seeing power-play time albeit in preseason, earned an assist on Chara's game-winner.
Camp tryout Gagne potted an empty-netter to seal the 2-0 win with 3.3 left in the third.
Tuukka Rask and newcomer Jeremy Smith split time between the pipes, with Smith slotting in for the third period.
Rask stopped all 14 shots he faced through 40 minutes, while the crowd shouted its first "Tuuuuuuuk" of the preseason. Smith added 12 for the combined shutout.
But no save was more significant - and drew more praise from the fans - than Smith moving right to left and flashing the glove on Washington's Andre Burakovsky.
The robbery came with 12:45 left in the third period of a scoreless game. The Bruins had been hemmed in their zone for well over a minute.
"If Smitty didn’t make that big save, we wouldn’t be probably sitting here talking about that," said Chara. " That was a game-changer; he was obviously in the right place at the right time and made a huge save and that decided the game."
"I heard the 'Ooh' but I wasn’t sure if it was in either - so I had to open my glove just to make sure it was in there," Smith recounted.
"We were under fire there for a little bit. So, I saw the pass come across and I just sealed the ice and tried to force them to go up top and luckily I got the save."
Signed to a one-year deal this summer and entering his fifth season pro, Smith will push Malcolm Subban in Providence and add a seasoned netminder to the Bruins' already strong depth in goal.
"First impressions are always pretty important, so for me it was a big game," said Smith. "But it’s still preseason, guys are still trying to find their ‘A-game’ and we still didn’t have our lineup, they didn’t have their full lineup but it’s a good step forward."
While the rustiness of preseason play has been on display in the Bruins' first two games, as mistake are a plenty and players are finding their timing, the goaltending has been fairly sharp.
Rask and Smith, along with Subban and Niklas Svedberg have all been sound, though the level of play isn't high.
"All those goaltenders so far, I think have played really well," Julien evaluated. "So it’s encouraging for us as an organization to know that you have some depth at that position."
The game got off to a slow start as teams continue to shake off the rust.
The most action in the first period came from Adam McQuaid throwing four hits that excited the crowd, and blocking two shots. It marked the defenseman's first game since his injury troubles sidelined him in January, aside from Sunday's Black & Gold Scrimmage.
"I think he came out and tried to make a statement there that he’s ready to play, and he wants to be here," said Julien. "I thought he played a real strong game. I gave him high marks for his first game back, and how well he played for his first game back."
One of those hits came on a penalty kill, of which Boston went 2-for-2 on the night.
The Bruins ended up with four power-play opportunities. Aside from scoring the game-winner with the extra man, their first man-advantage in the second period helped provide a spark after a lack of offensive pressure.
Zach Trotman fired two shots, with Marchand adding two and Gagne getting a look.
The veteran invite to camp had his legs under him more than the previous night in Montreal. He played most of the game putting in work on the left wing with Alexander Khokhlachev at center and invite Ville Leino on the right.
Gagne finished with a goal, three shots and 18:54 in ice-time, including 4:11 on the power play.
"I felt a huge difference from last night. Legs were a little bit more stiff maybe from playing back-to-back games, but I think it’s normal from not playing a game in almost a year and a half. A little rusty yesterday," said Gagne, who hadn't played since the 2012-13 season.
Physically healthy after neck and concussion injury troubles, and mentally refreshed after the frustration of not being given a contract by the Flyers before the 2013-14 season, Gagne's slowly getting back up to speed.
"I saw a little bit of improvement today from last game. It’s not quite where I want, but at least it’s getting a little better every game and that’s my goal," said Gagne.
"I think people that have watched him closely, he seems to be finding his game more and more," said Julien. "We talked about that, being out for that long, and to me it was his best game so far. It was nice to see."
Gagne doesn't have the luxury of time, and knowing that he has a potential future in Black & Gold. He needs to show he's quickly progressing.
The established Bruins' vets, like Chara, can fine-tune until the start of the regular season.
"These games are meant to be for getting ready for the season. As you go on, you’re probably going to see guys feeling more comfortable and better and better," said Chara. "Right now, everybody’s kind of looking for that ‘A-game.'"
But for Gagne, and the other competing players, it's imperative to bring their A-game right now.
Lineup vs. Capitals 9/23
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Seth Griffith
Simon Gagne - Alexander Khokhlachev - Ville Leino
Justin Florek - Bracken Kearns - Jared Knight
Matt Lindblad - Ryan Spooner - Alex Fallstrom
Zdneo Chara - Dougie Hamilton
Matt Bartkowski - Adam McQuaid
Chris Breen - Zach Trotman
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jeremy Smith