NEW YORK – The Bruins still have roughly 10 roster cuts to make before opening the season next week. Jobs remain open, line combinations are still being tested.
But one line looks like a surefire starter. The all-Czech trio of Pavel Zacha, David Krejci, and David Pastrnak, playing together here Wednesday night for the first time in the preseason, combined for eight points in a 5-4 win over the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
“Fun, you know,” Pastrnak said. “A little rusty first period for me, first game, trying to get the legs and brain going at the same time. It is sometimes hard after a couple of months off. But we got going pretty good, you know. We obviously haven’t had much practice time together with [Zacha], so it was fun.
“We are obviously a small country, so it’s fun to have a lot of Czechs on the team. Amazing to have this many on one team. Especially Pav is big, I was really surprised with his … we all know he has a big shot and he’s smart. But he moves fast and that was a surprise for me today.”
The three Czech forwards scored one goal each and combined for five assists, including Pastrnak’s helper on Mike Reilly’s winner with 7:50 to go.
“Yeah, they were making some plays, weren’t they?” pondered coach Jim Montgomery. “Pretty impressive. Just the chemistry they seemed to have right away was good. They made a lot of plays in all three zones that led to goals, whether it was breakouts, finding the middle of the ice, or in the neutral zone on some of the plays where they came back for the puck and found the weak side.”
Jeremy Swayman went the full 60:00 in the Boston net and turned back 28 shots for the win.
The Bruins, now 3-2-0 in exhibition play, close out the preseason Saturday night at TD Garden against the Devils.
The Rangers raced out to a 3-1 lead in the first, connecting in the first minute for the night’s opening goal through Mika Zibanejad, and then popping in a pair in the final two minutes, including a power-play strike by Zibanejad at 18:08 and Kaapo Kakko’s first of the pre-season at 19:15.
Kakko’s goal, assisted by former Bruins backliner Matt Bartkowski, came on a breakdown at Boston’s defensive blue line that allowed Kakko to race in all alone — with Jakub Zboril chasing — for a backhand doorstep finish on Swayman.
Bartkowski, originally a Panthers draft pick, spent five seasons in the Bruins’ organization, most of that time spent playing for Bruce Cassidy’s Providence Bruins. Like Anton Stralman with the Bruins, Bartkowski is in the Ranger camp on a PTO.
Ex-Bruins backstop Jaroslav Halak turned back 13 of 14 Bruins shot in the first, yielding only a Jake DeBrusk goal that temporarily pulled the Bruins even, 1-1, at the 2:27 mark.
Zibanejad’s second goal, on the man-up, came only 55 seconds after Dan Renouf was whistled for a holding penalty. Montgomery, still tinkering with penalty-killing units, first used a Chris Wagner-Joona Koppanen combo up front, quickly followed by Jack Studnicka and DeBrusk. Derek Forbort and Brandon Carlo patrolled the back.
“I think we are sorting out who gives us the best opportunity to win games, especially on the fourth line,” Montgomery said. “And then also which D pairings are going to work best next Wednesday when things matter for real.”
The Bruins did all the scoring in the second period to gain their first lead, 4-3, of the evening.
Zacha scored off the hop, only 36 seconds into the period, filching a puck at his offensive blue and streaking in on the left wing to finish with a short-range snipe on Halak.
The three Czech mates then combined to tie it, 3-3, with 8:09 gone, Pastrnak finishing off with one of his patented one-time slappers at the bottom edge of the left wing circle. Krejci provided the pinpoint dish on a diagonal from the slot.
“The communication was good,” Zacha said. “Before the game, I knew exactly what to do. You know, we all play a little bit different. Krech is an unbelievable playmaker, and Pasta is a goal scorer — I was there, trying to get the pucks, create some plays and it worked out.”
Finally, with 4:14 to go in the second, the same three guys combined again, this time with Krejci knocking home a pass from Pastrnak.
Kakko scored again in the third to tie it temporarily, 4-4, before Reilly potted the winner.
More observations from the penultimate preseason contest:
▪ Vinni Lettieri led the way in the hits department for the Bruins, landing seven of the club total 27 slam.
▪ Montgomery, when asked the likely candidates to play with Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk if the three Czechs remain a unit, named Craig Smith and Nick Foligno as the two prime candidates.
▪ The 18 skaters and two goalies who dress Saturday night vs. New Jersey, said Montgomery, likely will the same 20 players who’ll be in the lineup four nights later for the season opener.
▪ Mike Reilly looked confident and energized all night, totaling 16:47 in ice time and tying Zacha with a team-high plus-4 for the night.
▪ The Bruins were slightly upside down at the faceoff dot, winning only 45 percent of the drops (one way of knowing Patrice Bergeron had the night off).
▪ Joona Koppanen won only two of his nine faceoffs.
▪ Defensive hopeful Dan Renouf didn’t help his cause for a roster spot, picking up a pair of minor penalties. Reilly had the only other individual penalty, and the Bruins also got grabbed once for too many men on the ice.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.