Two reasons why Bruins’ OT win vs. Canadiens was very encouraging

Two reasons why Bruins’ OT win vs. Canadiens was very encouraging originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Thursday night’s road win over the Montreal Canadiens was pretty encouraging for the Boston Bruins on a few fronts.

For starters, they won an overtime game, which has been difficult for this team in 2023-24. The Bruins have an NHL-leading 15 losses after regulation. Jake DeBrusk scored just 25 seconds into the 3-on-3 overtime, making it the sixth-fastest regular season overtime goal in team history.

But the real reason why this game was so encouraging for the B’s was the performances of defenseman Andrew Peeke and center John Beecher.

Peeke was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets a few hours before last Friday’s trade deadline. He played alongside Parker Wotherspoon on the right side of the third defense pairing Thursday and performed pretty well. He played 17:01 overall, including 0:45 for the penalty kill, a unit that went a perfect 3-of-3 in the game.

The Bruins had an 18-8 edge in shot attempts, a 6-2 edge in shots on net and an 11-1 scoring chance advantage during the Wotherspoon-Peeke pairing’s 14:24 of 5-on-5 ice time, which is a really strong advantage. Peeke also blocked two shots and played with the physicality that made him an intriguing player for Columbus.

The fine folks at Hockey Stat Cards actually rated Peeke as the best player on the ice for the Bruins in their victory over the Canadiens, with the bulk of his high score coming from on-ice defense.

“I thought his gaps were good,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery told reporters postgame, per the team. “I thought he was aggressive. I thought he was physical, separating people. I thought he did a good job on the 4-on-4 when we put him out there. Played aggressive, which is what we’re looking for, using his feet.”

The Peeke trade was a bit of a controversial one because both his regular and advanced stats this season aren’t very good. He was a healthy scratch several times this year, too. His contract, which carries a $2.75 million salary cap hit through the 2025-26 campaign, has the potential to be a bad one for the B’s if Peeke doesn’t improve.

But it’s quite possible that a change of scenery will help Peeke quite a bit. And the Bruins are one of the league’s best teams when it comes to developing defensemen and coaching them up. You can tell that he has the physicality and defensive instincts to be a reliable player. His ability to kill penalties is valuable as well.

It’s important that the Bruins get Peeke as many reps as possible before the playoffs start in April.

Beecher’s performance was quite encouraging, too. He was making his first appearance for the Bruins since Jan. 13.

Beecher played 11:39, including 1:18 of positive work on the penalty kill. He tallied two shot blocks, two hits and, most importantly, won eight of his 11 faceoffs (72.7 percent). Beecher won three of five defensive-zone draws, including a 2-of-3 showing on defensive-zone faceoffs during the penalty kill.

The Bruins had one faceoff in overtime, and Montgomery put Beecher on the ice to take it. That’s how much the B’s coach trusts the rookie center to do his job in important moments.

“It’s huge,” Beecher told reporters postgame. “It’s one of those things where it gives me a ton of confidence, seeing that they have that trust in me going forward is massive. Faceoffs are a huge part of my game and how I’m going to be able to help the team win down the stretch. I felt that I was able to do a pretty good job inside the dot today. Just gotta build on it and keep going.”

🎥 Johnny Beecher on his strong faceoff night in Montreal: “It’s huge…faceoffs are a huge part of my game and how I’m going to be able to help the team win down the stretch. I felt that I was able to do a pretty good job inside the dot today. Just gotta build on it.”

— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 15, 2024

Beecher hasn’t provided a ton of offense this season — just seven points in 40 games — but his ability to play physical, fight, kill penalties and win faceoffs at a high level make him worth having on the NHL roster. The Bruins have dropped to 20th in faceoff win percentage this season after ranking No. 2 last year, No. 3 in 2021-22 and No. 1 in 2020-21. This is an area where the retirements of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have had a really negative impact on Boston.

Beecher is one of just three centers on the Bruins roster, along with Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha, who has won more than 46.6 percent of his faceoffs this season. He’s currently at 54.4 percent, which leads the team. His 53.6 win percentage on d-zone draws ranks second on the team.

The Bruins didn’t add a veteran center at the trade deadline who could help on faceoffs. So unless we see dramatic improvement from players like Trent Frederic, Morgan Geekie and Jesper Boqvist, it makes a lot of sense to keep Beecher on the NHL roster through the end of the regular season and playoffs.