Eric Bolte/USA Today Sports

Bruins 3, Canadiens 2: Competition for NHL jobs is officially real

Ty Anderson
September 18, 2017 - 11:15 pm

A competitive training camp has turned into a competitive preseason, as Monday’s 3-2 win over the Canadiens proved Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney’s message of an NHL opportunity has been heard loud and clear.

With a lineup featuring just seven NHL regulars from a season ago, the B’s preseason opener clearly came with an emphasis on giving prospects valuable minutes and seeing on-job improvements from players like Ryan Spooner and starter Malcolm Subban. That showed, too, despite a lack of a tangible result in the first period, as the Bruins and Habs skated to a scoreless draw through the opening 20 minutes of action.

But slammed into an 0-2 deficit early in the second period with goals from Brendan Gallagher and Jeremy Grégoire scored just 1:28 apart, the veteran-heavy Canadiens lineup simply looked to like a group content with simply waiting out the mistakes that the aspiring Bruins were surely going to make. But with the break of a defensive-zone turnover from Bruin-turned-Canadien Joe Morrow, the Bruins began their comeback.

It started with first-year pro Jesse Gabrielle, who scored on a one-time blast from right in front of the net off a great behind-the-net pass from Riley Nash after he picked off Morrow.

It was an opportunistic strike for Gabrielle, a confident winger that’s come into camp with the idea that he could make the NHL roster, and part of solid night spent on a legitimate NHL line with Nash at center and fellow banger Noel Acciari as his opposite winger.

“For me, I just like to skate,” said the 20-year-old Gabrielle, who recorded 35 goals and 64 points in 61 games for the Prince George Cougars (WHL) a year ago. “When I start thinking too much, it makes the game harder on me, so I just like to skate and shoot pucks. And Bruce puts a good system out there, and it’s good for me.”

Not to be outdone, 2017 Hobey Baker finalist Anders Bjork scored on a five-on-three power play, and then the third and final goal came courtesy of a shorthanded two-on-one opportunity finished by 2016 camp success story Tim Schaller.

With the lead, 2016-17 AHL standout Zane McIntyre came on in relief of Subban, and held the fort despite a late-game power-play opportunity from Montreal, and then a 6-on-5 pressure from some of Montreal’s legitimate NHLers in the final minute of play.

It’s just one of seven seemingly open tryouts the next two weeks, of course, but it was clear that the B’s prospects delivered, and have turned the pressure up on some of those players fighting for the same spots they called their own a year ago.

And that's especially true for Schaller's role on the Boston left side after Gabrielle's strong debut (with Schaller's common linemates last season, mind you) and Bjork's expected addition to the opening night roster.

“They work hard, and I think that’s the least thing they can do is work hard,” Schaller said of the club’s youthful pieces added to the mix. “Some of their skill showed out there, too, so I think everybody’s moving in the right direction.”

The Bruins continue their preseason Tuesday at TD Garden against the Red Wings.

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