Commentary

Bruins make first impression

Scrimmage gives fans taste of action, Claude Julien idea of what needs work

Updated: January 16, 2013, 2:47 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- Tuesday night's game between the Boston Bruins and their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins, meant more than the typical Black and Gold scrimmage.

This was the only game action the Bruins will have before the lockout-shortened, 48-game NHL season begins on Saturday, and even though Providence defeated Boston 7-5 at TD Garden, it was an important learning tool for Bruins coach Claude Julien and his players.

It was a near sellout, and once the Bruins hit the ice, the fans gave them a standing ovation. Chants of "Let's go, Bruins" were plentiful throughout the night.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaTuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara and the rest of the Bruins got a warm welcome as they hit the ice.

What the fans -- and more importantly, Julien -- witnessed was a team that understandably showed a bit of rust. The pace and tempo of the game wasn't bad, it was the execution that the Bruins need to work on in the coming days.

Julien said earlier in the day that he did not expect it to be a "cakewalk" for the parent club, and it wasn't.

"They probably did us a favor by beating us, giving us that jolt that is going to help us moving forward," Julien said.

The goal for the night, at least from Julien's point of view, was to get a better understanding of how ready the players were and what needs to be worked on before the season begins when the Bruins host the New York Rangers.

"You can take a lot out of this and work with it," Julien said. "Certainly, there are some areas tonight that weren't very good and we'll certainly work on. Our puck movement, sometimes you try to be too cute, and we have to be more effective than cute. Those are things we have to get out of our game early because we're going to be playing a team on Saturday that comes at you hard and has a lot of jam and grit. We have to be ready for that."

Both of Boston's goaltenders, Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, were in action, with the latter playing net for the P-Bruins. Fortunately, this wasn't their first game action, as both played overseas during the lockout. Still, both were a bit off their games.

"A little weird, different," Rask said when asked how he felt back on the ice. "It was good to get a 60-minute game under our belts before we start the real games, but I'm not happy with the result, obviously."

Rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton saw plenty of ice time with partner Dennis Seidenberg. Julien thought Hamilton looked a bit nervous.

"He's more poised with the puck than he was tonight," the coach said. "We kind of expected that in his first game. Guys put a lot of pressure on themselves, and the biggest thing for us will be to calm him down.

"What I saw tonight is not what I saw in practices this week, it's not what I have seen in his game at the junior level. If anything, he's poised and he sees the passing lanes, and you saw some of that tonight, but there were times when he really fought the puck a little bit and he realized the play probably closes a little quicker here than it does at the level he came from."

There were some positives that came from the scrimmage. It was good to see Nathan Horton back on the ice in a game situation for the first time in almost a full calendar year after he suffered his second concussion in a seven-month span on Jan. 22, 2012.

"For a guy who hasn't played in a year, he had good speed," Julien said.

It would seem as though the Bruins' roster would be set for the start of the season, but there were plenty of players on the Providence side who wanted to prove their worth. Realistically, there are only two roster spots available -- one forward and one defenseman.

The early favorite for the third-line winger position is Chris Bourque. Julien has been impressed with Bourque's ability, including what he's seen in Providence.

"Chris Bourque, I thought, had a pretty good game," Julien said.

On the defensive end, Aaron Johnson, Matt Bartkowski and David Warsofsky are battling for a spot on the Bruins' roster.

Prior to the game, Julien addressed the P-Bruins team and explained he wanted to see their game. He wanted them to play physical and treat it as a real game and not just an exhibition. Well, the P-Bruins did just that with an intense forecheck and relentless style of play.

"That was my point to them before the game, that this is a good opportunity for you guys to play against an NHL team, and if you think you deserve a chance at the NHL level, you've got to show that you can play against NHL players," Julien said. "For them, it was a great opportunity to leave us with an impression."

In fact, the P-Bruins' Bobby Robbins made his presence felt during a second-period scrum with Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and tough guy Shawn Thornton. Later in the game, Robins dropped the gloves with Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid.

"I wanted to go in and play it like a normal hockey game and do what I do," Robbins said. "It's no secret I like to keep the game simple, try to make good plays and agitate when I can and just play hard-nosed hockey. I wasn't going to change that for today. That's what was expected for today's game and I wanted to do that.

"At the end of the day, this game was for the Boston Bruins to prepare for the weekend. But for guys like me and guys on Providence, it's like one last little push to make an impression. They've been watching us for three months now and impressions have been made, but I think this was a way to solidify that for all of us. I think a lot of guys stepped up tonight and did that."

Unlike a regular-season loss, Julien was jovial after the scrimmage. He was impressed with Providence's game, and he learned what he needs to do as the coach of the Bruins in the next few days to prepare his team for the season opener.

"Certainly for me it was good," Julien said. "I saw a lot of things that I needed to see, and we'll move forward from that."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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