WASHINGTON — What looked like an early emphatic statement for the 2022-23 Boston Bruins turned into survival mode against the Capitals.
Captain Patrice Bergeron scored Boston’s first goal of the season at 7:58 in. David Pastrnak and David Krejci dazzled with their cohesive chemistry, producing multi-point outings, including Pastrnak’s late first-period marker. Taylor Hall extended the lead to 3-0 after burying a brilliant feed from Pastrnak just 6:14 into the second frame.
But the Bruins encountered a few defensive breakdowns in their first regular season game with Jim Montgomery’s up-tempo defensive system. A pair of odd-man rushes following a shot attempt in the Boston attacking end led to Anthony Mantha and Conor Sheary cutting the Bruins’ lead to 3-2 a little over six minutes apart.
The frantic pace continued into the third, with Linus Ullmark providing clutch saves and Boston’s D sacrificing their bodies for timely blocked shots amid heavy Washington traffic. Eventually, the Bruins provided support for Ullmark as David Krejci tallied a needed goal with 3:43 remaining in regulation.
Hampus Lindholm capped off Boston’s 5-2 triumph with the empty-netter.
“At the beginning of the year, nothing is pretty,” Montgomery said. “What I really liked is how we stuck together. Guys sacrificing their bodies, there’s blocked shots — [Derek] Forbort with a couple, [Brandon] Carlo with a couple and a couple of forwards that did it as well — besides our goaltending battling as hard as he did. There are parts of our game that we really liked. But overall, the way we stuck together I really liked.”
Here’s what we learned as the Bruins persevered to their first win of the Montgomery era.
The Czech line may stick around in the long-term
Montgomery wasn’t going to deviate from pairing Krejci and Pastrnak. Originally, the Boston bench boss envisioned Taylor Hall skating with a pair of elite Czech playmakers for a formidable second line.
Hall’s injury toward the end of the preseason altered Montgomery’s plans. With that development, Pavel Zacha moved from the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk (who exited with an upper-body injury on Wednesday) to the second line with Krejci and Pastrnak, thus forming an all-Czech trio.
The trio formed chemistry from their first shift together in Boston’s second-to-last preseason tilt against the Rangers. Amid the ups and downs of Wednesday’s regular-season opener, the Czech line picked up where they left off, combining for eight points against Alex Ovechkin and company.
“It’s great that we got a win. And as a line, we chipped in,” Krejci said following his first NHL tilt since Game 6 of the Bruins-Islanders second-round matchup in June 2021. “At the same time, our second period wasn’t the strongest for our line . We talked about it, and we came out strong in the third.
“You’re going to make mistakes. In this league, you make a mistake, and you’re going to pay for it, and we did in the second. In this league, it’s how you respond [to the mistakes] and us as a line and us as a team we did that in the third, and we finished the game.”
This isn’t anything new to Krejci. The only difference this time around is reacclimating himself to the NHL brand.
Krejci made whatever transition he encountered between a year in his native Czechia, and the North American game look seamless. The Bruins have their second-line center back and perhaps have a long-term outlook with Zacha, Krejci, and Pastrnak together.
“It’s always going to be different going from the big ice to the small one. He already looked pretty good out there to me,” Pastrnak said of Krejci’s re-acclimation. “There are things we can clean up as a team and as a line. Obviously, it’s a good start, but there are many games ahead of us and some tough ones. So hopefully, we can build off of this game today.”
Bruins D adjusts to the ebbs and flows of Montgomery’s system.
The six-man Bruins blue-line knew they’d encounter some growing pains transitioning to Montgomery’s aggressive defensive philosophy. An emphasis on puck possession and pinching in the attacking end at times will lead to odd-man rushes down the other end of the ice.
In a matter of give-and-take, Boston’s back end found itself in a giving mood in the second period. Sheary’s goal, in particular, highlighted the risk-reward pendulum after Mike Reilly’s pinch in the attacking end led to a Pastrnak chance from the slot. But Pastrnak’s shot attempt turned into a 3-on-1 down the other end as the Bruins were a tad late supporting Reilly and found themselves in a one-goal game.
“The one goal that we gave up was an odd-man rush. I know both were…but the [Sheary goal] Pasta has the puck in the slot because since the defenseman goes backdoor, he’s wide open. And we’re going to take that every time,” Montgomery said. “It’s a blocked shot that goes the other way — that’s hockey.”
The Bruins settled down eventually, regaining momentum late in the third to pull away. A handful of players made a good impression in Montgomery’s first game, including a debuting performer.
Jakub Lauko showed poise in his first NHL tilt.
The 2018 third-round selection endured a handful of obstacles, from injuries to offensive struggles upon arriving in the organization. At one point, Jakub Lauko admitted to hitting “hockey rock bottom” during his time in Providence.
Lauko slowly gained confidence with each shift once he entered a regular role with the Baby B’s. He followed up a solid end to last year with a productive training camp, edging out the likes of Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, and Marc McLaughlin for an opening night roster spot.
Lauko made the most of his NHL debut from the moment he took the ice for his rookie lap at warmups. His parents didn’t make it in time for that moment but settled into the stands in time for Lauko’s first shift on the opening faceoff following their long trek from Prague.
“I was actually happy because I didn’t have any time to be nervous,” Lauko said of the first moment of his NHL debut.
Lauko hardly looked nervous, showcasing speed and poise in his fourth-line role with Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek. He didn’t appear on the scoresheet, yet he made a significant impact in the third period after drawing a pair of minor penalties within a 2:49 time span early in the third.
The Bruins couldn’t convert on those pair of power play attempts. But Lauko kept the Capitals in check during their comeback bid, and the Bruins eventually finished the job.
“He created big momentum for us,” Pastrnak said of Lauko’s debut. “Even though we didn’t get a goal on those PPs — I think on the first PP we had a bunch of good looks, but they didn’t go in obviously — it created momentum and pulled our group together.”
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