Vatrano looking to bounce back from a subpar training camp


Vatrano looking to bounce back from a subpar training camp

BOSTON, Mass – Frank Vatrano might have been the 14th and final forward to crack the NHL roster for the Bruins coming out of training camp after a so-so performance during the preseason. The 23-year-old is coming off a season where he posted 10 goals and 18 points in 44 games after coming back from a foot injury suffered right before training camp, and the hope was that Vatrano would be ready to make a giant leap this season. 

Instead Vatrano watched his game stall during training camp while getting reps on the third line, and virtually no power play time with the Bruins killing off a slew of the new enforcement penalties during the preseason games. The former UMass standout never got his offensive game going during the preseason, and quite honestly there isn’t much that stands out as an honest-to-goodness NHL tool if Vatrano isn’t working the lightning quick shot and release.

So the reports on Vatrano were mixed at the end of the preseason, and he likely would have been a healthy scratch if the Bruins were healthy up front. 

“We continue to look for it, so it’s certainly not where we want it to be,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if Vatrano has improved his ability to bring his all-around ‘B’ game when the shots aren’t falling. “Frank is really good in a straight line and his stick is getting better on the fore-check. He’s getting to some loose pucks and he’s reloading better. What we need to build off that is when you’re getting to those loose pucks and turning them over, stay on the battle and let’s make something happen from them. 

“That’s an area where [Anders] Bjork has been good as a young kid, and Jake [DeBrusk] has been able to turn over some pucks. We want to build that into his game more where he values that part of the game where he can really make a difference because he can skate, and he’s a big enough guy that he can bump people around. That’s where we want to see improvement.”

Instead both Patrice Bergeron and David Backes are question marks for Thursday night’s opener against the Nashville Predators, and Vatrano might find himself in the opening night lineup on the third line with Sean Kuraly and Matt Beleskey. Either way Vatrano is just happy to still be up in Boston after a tough competition for a roster spot, and hopes to be able to show his offensive skills before it’s all said and done. 

“I’m happy to do whatever the team needs me to do and give it my best every time I’m out there,” said Vatrano. “I know during training camp a lot of players are getting looks in a lot of different spots, and that can be tough. Maybe that means you don’t always get put in the positions where you can show everything you can do. 

“You just need to be patient until you do get in those spots where you can succeed, and then make the most of it when you’re in there. I know I can finish plays with my shot on the power play when I get those chances, so it’s just a matter of just keep working hard and waiting for your time.”

The 18 goals and 29 points in 83 career NHL games speak to a player in Vatrano that’s shown some flashes at the NHL level, but one that’s also at a bit of a crossroads after parts of two seasons with the Black and Gold. This needs to be the season where Vatrano learns to lean in a bit more with assertive, aggressive play all over the ice, but does that while also putting together the kind of season that realizes his high-end offensive potential. 

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

TAMPA BAY – It certainly might not be the shape they envisioned themselves being in when these late season games arrived against the President’s Trophy favorites in Tampa Bay, but the Bruins are bracing for a showdown with the high-powered Lightning either way. 

The Bruins stand just four points behind the Bolts with one game in hand, and mathematically they absolutely have a shot of catching and surpassing the Lightning for the NHL’s top spot with three games remaining against them in the season’s final month. But realistically it’s got to be considered a long shot at this point with Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk all out for Saturday night’s meeting with Tampa, and Bergeron and McAvoy expected to potentially miss all three of their divisional scraps. 

Coming off a 3-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers and at the end of a week-long, four-game road trip, the Bruins know they’re going to need to tighten things up against a Lightning team they can’t match firepower with in their weakened state. 

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of just playing the game in front of us, and not getting too far ahead, too high or too low. We’ve got the best team in the National Hockey League, arguably, at home and rested [in front of us],” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We look forward to the challenge. They’re a high-scoring team, so we talked about that with our goaltenders and our ‘D’ today. We better be ‘on’ because they’ll be coming. Our forwards are going to have to help out in that area and make sure we’re reloading well, and keep getting pucks at the net. 

“We didn’t finish [against Florida] but it wasn’t because of lack of effort or lack of pucks at the net. That part of our game is trending pretty well offensively. I think you’re going to have score to a certain extent against this team because you’re not going to shut them down completely. That’s our game plan for whoever is going to be in the lineup. They’ve got to be ready for it because that’s how it works, and that’s how it’s worked all year long for us. We need the guys in there to do their part and do it well.”

Certainly the Bruins could still do some offensive damage with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak still intact on their top line, and David Krejci and Rick Nash also still developing their chemistry on the second line. Torey Krug also came through feeling healthy at practice on Friday after soaking up 26 plus minutes of ice time in the loss to Florida, so they’ll also have some puck-moving and offensive pop on the back end as well.

But it may come down to the Chara-less defense and Tuukka Rask to step up and go into shutdown mode against the Lightning if they’re looking to really push up on the Lightning, and make this a horse race for the Atlantic Division down the stretch. Not to mention, it would be a psychological swing for both teams if the Bruins could take down a rested, relatively healthy Tampa Bay hockey club with their undermanned, injury-ravaged bunch. 

That in and of itself should be plenty of motivation for a Bruins team that’s got their sights and set on bigger and better things this spring with the Lightning expected to be one of the big obstacles standing in their way.


Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

NBC Sports Boston Photo

Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while jacked and pumped about that Infinity War trailer. Wow. 


*Credit here for something outside the box and clear hockey satire while looking far into the NHL’s crystal ball where the new expansion team is called the Seattle Slippery Seals, and Brad Marchand is the head of the NHLPA. That is quite a twist at the end of the movie right there. 


*The Hockey Central crew debates whether they would want John Tavares or Tyler Seguin as a player to build their team around. Seguin is having a solid year (with the end of his contract coming into view), but I’m going with Tavares all day long. I think he’s more of a competitor and a reliable player along with an equitable level of talent, and that counts for quite a bit in team-building. 


*It’s good to see the PHWA decide to make public the ballots of all NHL Awards starting at the end of this season. It’s something I voted in favor of and already did annually as I think transparency is something we always ask for from those we cover, so it should never be something we shy away from. 


*The Flyers have hit the skids again after pushing themselves into playoff view. This has been such a streak team over the last couple of years. 


*Pro Hockey Talk says that the Montreal Canadiens need to take a long look into the mirror before they move on from this season. I couldn’t agree more. 


*For something completely different: I feel badly for my kids that Toys R us is liquidating as a company, and the stores will be closing. It’s getting to the point where there will be no more brick and mortar toy stores for kids to visit, and that’s something from my youth experience that they’re going to miss out on. Frankly, it’s kind of sad.