By Kirk Luedeke
CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. — After taking an impressive 4-0 lead in the first period of their game against the Florida Panthers, the Boston Bruins rookies gave up five unanswered goals to drop their second contest of the rookie tournament here Sat.
Four different players tallied for Boston, but the Panthers got a hat trick from 2010 first-rounder Nick Bjugstad, plus the game-winning tally from fellow opening round pick Quinton Howden to steal a victory in a game that appeared well in hand early on.
“I think right now we’re still trying to find some chemistry,” said right wing Jared Knight, who tallied one of Boston’s goals in the contest. “There were some pucks here and there that we should have (bore) down on, especially for me- there were a couple of chances I should have put in- but that’s the way this game goes sometimes. We have to move on, and we have an early (game)tomorrow so we have to be ready for that one.”
The Bruins got off to a quick start, with Zach Trotman scoring his second goal of the tournament in the game’s opening minutes. The former Lake Superior State standout’s slap shot from the point eluded Florida netminder Michael Houser with good traffic set up in front. His defensive partner, Steve Spinell, assisted on the play to put Boston up 1-0.
Alexander Khokhlachev struck next for the Bruins taking a quick breakout pass from Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.) in his own end and skating it up the ice, cutting right over the Florida blue line and then letting go with a backhander that found its way past Houser to extend the lead to 2-0.
Trotman again found a way to contribute offensively, as he got the puck at the blue line again, moved laterally to his left to open up the shooting lane and then drove the puck on net. Anthony Camara was positioned perfectly out front to get the shaft of his stick on Trotman’s shot, deflecting it into the net for a 3-0 lead.
Right after the ensuing faceoff, Camara then engaged Florida defenseman Jonathan Racine in a fight, showing his willingness to battle, although Racine ultimately took the decision.
Knight and Ryan Spooner combined for the prettiest goal of the day for the Bruins when Spooner outraced a defender for the puck with Florida on the power play. Taking it around the back of the net, Knight positioned himself alone to Houser’s left and when Spooner threaded a nifty pass out of the goaltender’s reach, Knight lifted a backhand shot into the twine to make it 4-0, Boston.
The goal scored by Knight while a man down was a bonus made better by the fact that he did it against his friend and former London Knights teammate.
“(Houser) came up to me after the game and said ‘Nice goal,’” Knight said. “It was a good pass from Spoons. It’s not often that I get shorthanded goals, so it was nice.”
It was also the last of the tallies for the B’s as they would watch their commanding four-goal lead evaporate in the second and third periods.
Bjugstad started the scoring, putting a shot on net that somehow got past Adam Morrison and was ruled a goal only after a delay and review, making it 4-1 midway through the second period.
Racine then cut the lead to 4-2 when he fired a blistering shot after walking to the top of the left faceoff circle from the point.
Bjugstad made it 4-3 when he collected the puck near center ice on the right side, picked up a full head of steam and cut to the net right-to-left, tucking the puck into the cage behind Morrison.
Although both teams had some scoring chances early in the third period, it was Florida who struck, getting the hat trick goal from Nick Bjugstad once again when he walked the puck out in front after beating one defender and slipped it past Morrison on the short side to tie the contest.
Howden then picked up a fat rebound from a Mackenzie Weegar point shot that Morrison kicked into the slot and fired it into the open cage to complete the comeback, making it 5-4 late in the third.
Although the Bruins had some quality scoring chances in the final minute to even the score, they couldn’t get the puck to bounce their way.
“I thought as a whole we played better today,” said Providence head coach Bruce Cassidy. “You know, the second period we got on the power play we got up 4-0 and we took a couple of penalties, kind of bad penalties and we gave them life. They got back in the game and we paid the price ultimately.”
Panthers goalie Rob Madore, who came into the game for Florida at the halfway point, was perfect stopping all shots he faced, helping secure the victory.
Rookie tourney quick hits
The Bruins scratches were Jayden Hart up front and Mickael Beauregard on the back end. Campbell Elynuik and Jesse Lees played, with Elynuik suffering a tough break when he fought Alex Gudbranson in the first, losing his balance and suffering an upper body injury in the fall.
The duo of Jared Knight and Ryan Spooner had an excellent game together, flashing chemistry and opportunistic offense. The two were victimized by posts and bad puck luck, but they controlled the flow of the game well when on the ice together and made a strong impression going forward. Knight is at his best when playing an aggressive, attacking game.
Spooner played as well in this game as any he has in some time, establishing himself inside the offensive zone with his slick puck skills and creativity, finishing his checks and putting effort into the backcheck. He also scored during the post-game five-player exhibition shootout, putting on a display of quick stickhandling in close before beating Madore with a bullet shot.
Coach Cassidy on the team’s effort: “The third period, I thought we played really well. Their goalie made some terrific saves and we missed some point blank chances, so when you’re creating stuff, giving yourself a chance to win, I think those are positives. Obviously, you don’t like to let a 4-0 lead slip away but the one kid (Bjugstad) who got three goals- he’s a good hockey player. You gotta give them credit- they came back hard, but all in all I thought we played better today than yesterday.”
Coach Cassidy on the point of emphasis for Sunday’s game vs. Nashville: “We focus on the same thing this time of the year, especially in this situation when you’re evaluating players. Be hard on the puck and try to play with a lot of pace to your game, because these kids have been to a couple of practices, so to sit back and evaluate their system play is just not fair. That’s going to take some time. You’re now playing against men going forward, so you have to be hard on the puck and you have to make hard plays and you have to play with pace because everyone skates a little better. Those are the things that are going to get you in the lineup wherever you end up in pro hockey.”
B’s three stars
1. Jared Knight (1g - SHG)
2. Zach Trotman (1g, 1a)
3. Ryan Spooner (1a)
Bruins player spotlight: Anthony Camara, LW
Scouting report: Hard-nosed winger plays a Boston Bruins-style game. Good skater who makes a beeline for the net. Soft hands; able to get his stick on shots for deflections and has a quick release. A big hitter who likes to make contact in the open ice and punishes opponents along the boards. Not a naturally instinctive player, but competes hard. Always willing to drop the gloves; a middleweight who can’t go toe-to-toe against the top heavyweights, but won’t back down, either.
On the loss to Florida: “It was a tough game. We had our chances, they had theirs, but that’s how games go and we just have to bury ours, too.”
Outlook: Coming off a career-best 36-goal season in the OHL, Camara will play in Providence this year and has an opportunity to continue his development.
Bruins player spotlight: Jared Knight, RW
Scouting report: High energy winger has the ability to impact the game both offensively and defensively. With a lighter frame, Knighter is quicker and more agile, but still drives to the net hard. Scores goals with a blurry fast release and a natural nose for the net. Competitive, gritty player who brings the kind of heart and character that NHL teams look for. Has improved his defensive game significantly from when Boston drafted him three years ago. As one of the few natural right-handed shots on the team, is primed for a strong main camp and will make for a difficult roster decision.
On what the team wants to do better in the next game: “We need to shoot the puck more, I think. There was a time in the second period where we went…I don’t know how long, but we weren’t shooting the puck at all. When you’re not shooting the puck, you’re not scoring.”
Outlook: Even if he returns to Providence at the conclusion of training camp and the exhibition season, Knight is in position to earn a big league call up at some point during the season. He sent a strong message this off-season about his personal discipline and commitment to being a better pro and being available to his team by shedding about 20 pounds. The net effect is a leaner, hungrier player as evidenced in the rookie contests, and he could be closer to a job in Boston than some think.