Jim Montgomery had plenty to be pleased with following the Bruins’ 3-0 win over the Sharks on Thursday night.
Granted, two points secured in any fashion was welcomed after a miserable three-game losing skid for Boston.
But a professional win for Montgomery’s squad against a cellar-dwelling Sharks roster stood as a step in the right direction in several areas for the Bruins.
After getting a quick hook on Monday against the Blue Jackets, Jeremy Swayman responded on Thursday with a 26-save shutout — the 11th of his career.
Montgomery’s latest lineup reshuffle yielded 5v5 goals from Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk on a revamped top-six unit.
And after relinquishing 17 goals in their previous three regulation defeats, Boston’s checking game and defensive structure regained its form — even though it was against a rather toothless San Jose offense.
But in a much-needed “get right” game for a sliding Bruins roster, Trent Frederic’s second-period scrap against Sharks forward Givani Smith might have been the most reassuring sight for a team marred by a lack of push-back over this extended lull.
“You love it,” Montgomery said of Frederic’s fisticuffs. “Freddy’s a well-respected teammate, because he does everything he can to defend his teammates and also to play the game the right way. His physicality is much needed on our group.”
Boston’s porous defensive structure has drawn plenty of concern over the last few weeks, especially as both Swayman and Linus Ullmark’s video-game stat lines in net have hit some expected regression.
But the absence of Boston’s trademark sandpaper style of play further befuddled a Bruins team looking to regain its identity as a stingy opponent, night in and night out.
“A lot of it gets back to checking. I think we’ve just been an easy team to play against,” Montgomery lamented on Wednesday at Warrior Ice Arena. “Not just the last three games, but probably the last six, seven.”
But on Thursday, Frederic corrected said sentiment by way of a few heavy hooks.
During the second period, Smith sparked a fracas along the boards at TD Garden after hitting Marchand from behind.
Heinen and Derek Forbort quickly became tussled up with Smith in the ensuing chaos, but the Sharks skater was ultimately just assessed a minor penalty despite delivering his hit directly to the numbers on Marchand’s back.
Smith did not escape unscathed, however. Before both teams skated off the frozen sheet for the second intermission, Frederic and Smith dropped the gloves after some extended jawing during a faceoff.
“Lot of respect for Freddy,” Marchand said of Frederic’s response following Smith’s hit. “He did a great job stepping in there and it’s one of the things that he’s really good at is answering the bell and did a great job there. Had a great fight and we really fed off that.”
Even though Smith nearly delivered the early knockout blow against the Bruins’ winger off of a swift right jab — Frederic recovered and landed a few hits of his own before both players made their way down their team’s respective tunnels.
“Yeah, I mean that’s kind of something that I think maybe the last couple of games, we’ve been flat,” Frederic said. Obviously, no one liked the hit. … You don’t want people hitting Marchy. He’s our captain. Everyone loves him in here and he’s obviously a great player. You don’t want him getting hit like that.”
Boston’s play between the pipes and the D zone will be the prime determinant over whether or not this team orchestrates a deeper playoff run than last year’s shocking first-round exit.
But in the grueling gauntlet that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs, even the most talented rosters tend to splinter in short order if it’s unable to provide the necessary pushback against opponents.
Frederic can’t be the only one to answer the call when needed. But on Thursday, the Bruins looked like themselves for the first time in a while.
“We’ve always had that,” Marchand said of teammates standing up for one another. “We’ve always taken a lot of pride in that and that comes from having really good chemistry in the room and really caring about each other off the ice. That always translates to the way we play for each other. So you see that a lot with our group. That’s a good example of that.”
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