Bruce Cassidy is still getting used to missing so many tiny details that stitched a typical game day together. But the commute to TD Garden isn’t one of them. His drive to North Station Wednesday was abnormally smooth thanks to the abnormal circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Very little traffic; I could get used to that, to be honest with you,” the Bruins coach said. “I enjoyed that part of it.”
A day ahead of their home opener Thursday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins stepped on the ice at the Garden for the first time since last March.
“Just kind of the aura of playing in the Boston Garden, it feels special every time coming back here,” said defenseman Matt Grzelcyk.
The last time the Bruins played at the Garden was March 7, 2020, when they lost, 5-3, to the Tampa Bay Lightning. After the NHL went on hiatus because of the pandemic, the Bruins returned for a playoff run in the Toronto bubble.
Center Charlie Coyle soaked in the familiar environment and got reacquainted with the boards and the ice.
“It feels good,” Coyle said. “It’s nice to be back in this building. We love playing here and we missed it. So that was nice.
“If there’s things on the boards or the ice or just to feel it out, I think it’s good to get accustomed to that. So I think it was good to get out there today. Feel around and just be back in this building and feel comfortable playing here again.”
Cassidy noticed the team moving with an extra bounce being home after starting the season 1-1-1 with three straight road games.
“I think the guys had lots of energy,” Cassidy said. “It was good to see. Sometimes that happens simply because you’ve had a day off and you’re back home in every regard — your own bed and house, etc.
“I think a little bit is we haven’t skated in the Garden in a long time. We’ve played well here over the years, so we’re just kind of excited to be back and skate with the big logo, the ‘B,’ at center ice and we’ll see tomorrow how that plays out for us.”
The most noticeable difference will be the empty seats. With no fans in attendance, the atmosphere will be unlike any home opener the Bruins have experienced. Cassidy said he talked to Celtics coach Brad Stevens about what to expect.
“He said it was different for him at first,” Cassidy said. “It just took a little while to get used to. I think it’s probably going to be like the first time we were in Toronto in the bubble when you’re looking around.
“It’ll be unfortunate because we’re used to coming out, you know, the songs that are playing or the crowd’s behind you. I think it’s really helped us in the past. But obviously, we won’t have that.”
The intensity at the Garden has made it one of the toughest trips in the NHL in recent years. Since 2016, only the Penguins (.714), Capitals (.713), and Lightning (.694) have a higher home winning percentage than the Bruins.
“I think it’s certainly an advantage to play in front of our home fans here,” Grzelcyk said. “Talking to other players around the league, it’s a pretty intimidating place to play and we usually feed off their energy. But we’ve had a little bit of experience with it in the past, so hopefully, we can come out guns blazing right away and get to our game.”
Coyle echoed the sentiment.
“We want that support in the building,” Coyle said. “It’s the best place to play when you have your fans there and the building gets loud, but it’s just not the case. So we’ve got to move on. We know we have that support sitting at home on the couch and watching us, which is great to know.
“And we know what our fans bring from not just in the arena but elsewhere. But we’ve got to move on and create our own energy and make sure we do what we can do to stay focused throughout the game, no matter what ups and downs are coming our way.”
Cassidy said that while the Bruins lose a major part of their home-ice edge, there are still some advantages.
“I don’t know how much you can call it home-ice advantage with no crowd, but I think there is,” he said. “There’s a certain amount of familiarity with your dressing room, the building, the rink, the lighting. All those things can still give you somewhat of an advantage.
“Maybe not like with a full crowd, but hopefully it does for us because it’s been a long time since we’ve played here and we’ve been a really good team at TD Garden over the last few years.”
Grzelcyk a game-day decision
Grzelcyk’s availability will be a game-day decision. The defenseman had to leave Monday’s loss to the Islanders in the third period after getting tangled with Jordan Eberle, then falling and injuring his left shoulder. Grzelcyk had surgery on the same shoulder in 2014.
“I think it could have been a lot worse,” he said. “Just kind of a little nick from something I’ve had in the past. But feeling good right now and wanted to test it before practice. But feeling pretty close to 100 percent.”
Grzelcyk practiced Wednesday without any issues. Cassidy said he “seemed fine.”
“I haven’t really talked to the trainers or anything, but I feel really good and practice went really well,” Grzelcyk said. “No hiccups today, so do everything I can to make sure that I’m in the best position tomorrow to be in the lineup.”
The NHL’s experiment with pucks embedded with tracking technology didn’t make it through the first week of the season. After players and coaches complained about the puck’s performance, the league pulled the plug, temporarily shelving the smart pucks until the issues can be resolved.
The Bruins have scored a league-low three goals through three games, but the pucks had nothing to do with the offense’s struggles.
“I think maybe we can use that as an excuse,” Grzelcyk said with a smile. “But I didn’t really notice it, to be honest. I think somebody mentioned it. I happened to get a penalty in New Jersey, and one of the refs was talking about it. That was the first time I’d heard about it.
“But nothing really stood out too much. I think you try not to worry about that during the game. But hopefully, we can just get back to normal.”
The league will use game pucks from the 2019-20 season as it troubleshoots the tracking pucks.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.