BOSTON -- It's going to take a few weeks, maybe a month, until these 2013-2014 Boston Bruins showcase their full potential.
But the first real assessment of the new-look Bruins was a good one as Boston defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 in the season opener Thursday night at TD Garden.
When Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli reconstructed the team's roster during the summer, adding the likes of free agent Jarome Iginla and trading for veteran two-way forward Loui Eriksson, the reigning Eastern Conference champions appeared stronger on paper.
Even though the rust was evident in the team's first win of the season, many aspects of the game were positives.
"It's the first game [of the season] and the first game for a lot of those guys -- first real game -- and overall we're happy with the win," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "We know we still have some work to do."
Let's start with the newcomers. Iginla, the future Hall of Famer who snubbed the Bruins at the trade deadline last season and accepted a trade to the Pittsburgh Penguins instead of Boston, quickly won over the fans here Thursday night. He played physical and created quality scoring chances. He stood up for his teammates and stood up for himself when he initiated a fight and drew the fans to their feet.
At 9:06 of the second period, Iginla was on the receiving end of a clean hit by Tampa's Radko Gudas and fell to the ice. When Iginla got to his feet he shook his gloves, signaling he was ready to drop them. The two went toe-to-toe in a spirited bout.
After the game, Iginla admitted it wasn't a dirty hit, but he thought it was a good time to prove that he's willing to play the Bruins' style of hockey.
"I felt it was a good time to respond," he said. "It's been Bruins hockey for a long time; guys stick up for each other. But you also have to stick up for yourself because you don't want anyone else rushing in on a good clean hit. It's just part of the intensity, part of the emotion, just part of the battle."
Linemate and Bruins veteran Milan Lucic knew the team didn't play as well as it could have, but he said it was good to see the intensity, especially from Iginla.
"It was a bit of a suicide pass on my part," Lucic said. "I apologized to him after that pass, but one of the reasons I always looked up to him is he's willing to stick up for himself in the right situations and you saw it there."
The same fans who booed Iginla last spring when he wore a Penguins jersey gave him a standing ovation to and from the penalty box for serving his five minutes for fighting.
"I appreciated it and I was thankful for it," he said. "You never know how it's going to be. If you're in a different building and other fans boo, you never care. But you don't really want the home fans doing it because it doesn't feel good if you're getting booed. I definitely appreciated that and they've been great. It's good to be part of the team and part of a win."
Iginla has never been shy to drop the gloves during his career. Now that he's in Boston, he also understands that physical style is how the game is played here.
"Here it's pretty physical hockey and I've seen it on the other side. You want to pull your weight and contribute to that," Iginla said. "As far as fights, do I expect to fight more? I don't ever plan that.
"It's about playing hard, try to compete, and battle and [fights] happen. I've never looked at it as I'm trying to avoid or get into them."
More important than the fight, Iginla had a hand in producing the game-winning goal, along with linemates David Krejci and Lucic. At the 19-minute mark of the second period, Lucic finished off a nifty give-and-go with Krejci.
Even though Eriksson's name did not show up on the final score sheet, there was plenty to like about his game. The anticipation has been looming ever since he arrived in Boston as part of the trade with the Dallas Stars in exchange for Tyler Seguin.
Eriksson's presence on the Bruins' second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand should make a difference this season. It was evident on Thursday he's an all-around player that is capable of producing in every facet of the game. Like the rest of the lineup, it will take some time to develop that chemistry.
Bruins forward Jordan Caron is far from being a newcomer in Boston, and prior to this season he hadn't developed the way the organization had hoped he would. He arrived at camp in good shape and it was evident he wanted to make an impression early.
It seemed, however, he would be the odd man out again with Julien moving Carl Soderberg onto the third line with Chris Kelly and rookie Reilly Smith. When Soderberg suffered an ankle injury in the final preseason game, Caron was given an opportunity and he played one of his better games in the NHL on Thursday.
"Well I've seen him play well [in the past]," Julien said. "There's been ... spurts where he's even produced a lot, but I think right now he's grasping the opportunity here. And I thought he had a good game; that line was pretty good for us tonight. Kelly arguably was our best player tonight. And Jordan and Smith, they really worked hard in the forecheck and made things happen, so they were a good line for us tonight. Jordan, I was extremely happy with his game."
It wasn't the best game for the Bruins, but they showed why this team has become a perennial winner. They produced a pair of short-handed goals (one by way of Kelly's penalty shot) and played with the physical style they're known for.
It was a good start to the 2013-2014 season.