Road trips out to the West Coast are nerve-wracking for most NHL teams. The California teams are known for being big, aggressive goal-scorers. For the Boston Bruins who are already being torn apart by injuries, the prospect of facing hard-hitting, big teams had everyone praying that they’d come out with some points and without losing more players. First up on the list in the North-to-South California road trip was the Anaheim Ducks.
The Ducks have had a decent season so far going 8-7-3, and they are getting great goaltending from John Gibson which is always a plus in hockey. Goalies can make or break a game and that was evident as the Bruins fell 4-2 to the Ducks with Tuukka Rask in net. Despite having 42 shots on goal and offense from rookie Danton Heinen and forward Noel Acciari, weak rebound control from Rask along with a sub-par at best defense continued the Bruins’ struggles and losing streak. The loss added an extra aspect of ouch when Torey Krug went down with an injury and was determined to be day-to-day.
Things were not looking good as the Bruins moved to their next opponent: The LA Kings. The Kings (narrowly) stand atop the Pacific Division and had already beat the Bruins 2-1 in overtime on October 28. Additionally, the Bruins were handling being without Brad Marchand and Ander Bjork as both were put on injured reserve and Krug was out for the night. To be blunt, everyone was expecting disaster against the best of the West. But, for those fans who managed to stay awake through the game which began at 10:30 in Boston, it was the best loss of sleep as the Bruins saw the return of center David Krejci and rode the hot glove of backup goalie Anton Khudobin to a 2-1 win.
The defense was the offensive key against the Kings as rookie Charlie McAvoy scored a highlight-reel goal. After a Kings’ ill-timed icing, center Patrice Bergeron won a faceoff in the Kings’ zone and passed it back to McAvoy who skated to the front of the net and roofed it over Jonathan Quick’s shoulder. It was a beauty and gave the Bruins a much-needed boost.
The second goal came from captain Zdeno Chara who had a horrendous showing against the Ducks. His slapshot is known for being lethal, and this time it turned out to be the game-winner. Along with the two goals from their defensemen, the game saw Bergeron, Heinen, and Paul Postma each getting an assist along with 27 saves from Khudobin.
Following the game, head coach Bruce Cassidy said everyone “took it to heart to get their job done and do their part” and that there was no “fancy” stuff required to get the job done. As for the feelings on the bench, Chara told reporters that the Bruins “didn’t want to let it go, that feel on the bench, the mentality of whatever it takes to get the win was pretty evident.”
The Bruins were flying high as they headed for their West Coast finale against the San Jose Sharks and it was quite a game indeed. It seemed the Bruins were going back to their old habit of sloppy defense when San Jose scored just a minute and a half in, but it was determined there was goaltender interference against Khudobin and the goal was called off. Unfortunately, the Sharks got one back about five minutes after and didn’t have it taken away. But, have no fear, Jake DeBrusk came to the rescue of the Bruins not once, but twice and did it while beating Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns twice. DeBrusk flew towards the net and tried to get one past Sharks’ goalie Aaron Dell, but ended up getting an assist as Peter Cehlarik poked in the rebound for his first of the season.
Later in the period, DeBrusk got his own goal and the Bruins never looked back. Heinen stayed on his hot streak and nabbed a goal off of a beautiful 200-foot drive and cross-ice pass from defenseman Kevan Miller for his tenth point of the season and extended his point streak to three games. The game also saw McAvoy and fellow rookie Sean Kuraly each getting an assist and the Bruins blocking 30 shots. It was an effort from the whole lineup and was capped off by 36 saves on 37 shots from Khudobin.
During a time when injuries are hitting the Bruins faster than they’re skating, the young guys and Khudobin are the ones stepping up and making a difference for the club as they have improved to 8-7-4 on the season. The rookies combined for a lot of Boston’s points during the West Coast road trip and don’t seem to be slowing down. Khudobin has improved to 5-0-2 on the season with a league-leading .935 save percentage and the Bruins come home with four out of a possible six points.
It may be too early to start hoping the Bruins may finally be getting it together and ride this streak through the holidays, but things are looking up all-around as the offense is showing up, the defense is getting sorted out, and the goaltending is red-hot from their backup.
On a smaller scale, here’s hoping the Bruins can keep up the winning through their game against the New Jersey Devils on Wednesday night so everyone can be thankful for some success on Thanksgiving Day.