BOSTON – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is fond of saying that internal competition brings out the best in everybody on a hockey club, and he’s lived that credo with the way he’s handled the goaltending situation this season.
Cassidy is also seeing that competition paying dividends with the defensemen group now that Matt Grzelcyk is hitting his stride at the NHL level, giving Torey Krug a push as a similarly skilled, left shot, puck-moving defenseman. Krug finished with a couple of assists and a plus-1 rating in 17:55 of ice time in a strong game in the 3-1 win over the Islanders on Saturday night, and Grzelcyk was solid in his 16:47 of ice time as well with an active five shot attempts.
The 23-year-old Grzelcyk is building his comfort level at the NHL level, and has been pretty good with three points and a plus-5 rating in nine games while avoiding any major mistakes with puck management or D-zone play.
There may be some adjustments for Krug based on Grzelcyk being eligible to play in most of the same situations that No. 47 would regularly hop over the boards for in the past, but Cassidy sees that as something that could ultimately benefit the Bruins.
“I think it will in the long run [it will be a benefit]. [Krug] may lose a shift or two, which will annoy him. Any player with pride will [be annoyed],” said Cassidy. “But once that part is [done] – you digest that and say, well, I don’t want to lose any more shifts, [you say] ‘What do I have to do to earn the coaches trust or get those shifts back.’ Because he has our trust, but earn [the right to] be the first guy over the boards every time in situations. He’s going to push himself, and he should. That’s what we want. And then hopefully we get to a nice balance where we don’t have to overuse one guy in every situation.
“We want Torey to be our 1A in those situations. Charlie [McAvoy] is pushing him too, and now you have Griz [Matt Grzelcyk], so we have three different [offensive] guys. It’s only going to make us better, and I’ll tell you why. Because those guys – we have guys that aren’t pouting there because of that either. There’s a difference between being annoyed and having pride, or having a guy that pouts and shuts it down. We don’t have that. I’m fortunate as a coach that they can wrap their heads around it eventually and just want to outplay the next guy, yet still be happy for his success. It’s a nice problem and you are seeing some of it now bubble up.”
There have been long stretches with the Bruins over the last couple of seasons where Krug was the lone offensive defenseman choice when they needed plays to be made, and it factored into the 5-foot-9 D-man topping 21 minutes of ice time in each of the last two seasons. Krug is down a little averaging 20:33 of ice time per game this season, but he’s under 20 minutes (19:33, to be exact) per game during the month of December coinciding with the arrival of Grzelcyk.
It makes for challenges on the penalty kill when the Bruins have only one real left shot D-man in Chara that’s a defensive stalwart, and it’s too small of a sample size to say that Grzelcyk will keep playing this consistently over the long haul. There’s also the fact that Adam McQuaid will be returning to the mix sooner rather than later, and that will force the Bruins into different configurations at some point down the road.
But for now they’ve got a pretty good thing going with their mix of young and old, puck movers and stay-at-home shutdown guys, and that’s reflected in the healthy, friendly competition going on between Krug and Grzelcyk right now.