BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s been a long wait for Frank Vatrano to get back into the Bruins lineup, and Claude Julien wasn’t making any guarantees that the 22-year-old would be back in for the B’s against the New York Islanders on Tuesday at TD Garden.
It would be surprising if Vatrano, along with his lethal shot and release, wasn’t back in for the Bruins after getting a couple of conditioning games out of the way with Providence last weekend. But either way the winger knows his time is coming soon after getting cleared to play last week following September foot surgery, and scoring a couple of goals in two games with the P-Bruins had his confidence back where it needs to be.
Vatrano knows he still might not be perfect in the timing department after a three-month layoff, but he also has the offensive goods to help a hockey club currently ranked 26th in the NHL in offense.
“Sunday I felt like I had my pace up and my battle level was good,” said Vatrano of a P-Bruins game where he finished with six shots on net and an empty net goal in the third period. “I think I’m ready to play. Whether I’m in tomorrow or not, I think I’m ready.
“The biggest [adjustment] is all of the stuff that you can’t work on in practice, taking contact and all that kind of stuff. It was obviously eye-opening a bit, and that first shift I got hit pretty hard. That allowed me to get my legs underneath me, and get my timing down. Going into battles when you shouldn’t and picking up pucks when you should, those are the things that don’t come to you naturally when you take a little time off.”
Does Vatrano think he can help a team that he’s watched struggle offensively this season while playing 17 one-goal games within their current 33 games played?
“I want to help the team any way whether it’s scoring goals or doing anything else,” said Vatrano, who scored eight goals in 39 games with the Bruins last season. “[Scoring] is obviously something I do pretty well, so hopefully I can bring that to the team if I get back into the lineup.”
Claude Julien had Vatrano on the fourth line with Dominic Moore and Jimmy Hayes, along with Anton Blidh as a potential healthy scratch if Vatrano is in, and didn’t have No. 72 taking part in any of the power play practice on Monday morning. So he wasn’t tipping his hand during the off-day practice, and wouldn’t say whether Vatrano is back in after getting called to Boston ahead of Monday night’s midnight deadline for the NHL holiday roster freeze.
“There are two games he’s played: the first game there was a lot of rust in his game, but he managed to score in the third period. The [second] game there was an empty netter and his game is coming along,” said Julien. “Today he had the day off, so we brought him up to practice to keep him going here. We’ll see from there.”
Julien’s words certainly didn’t sound like an ironclad guarantee Vatrano will be back in Black and Gold on Tuesday night against the Isles. But the simple truth is that an offensively inept B’s group can’t afford to watch one of their skill players light it up anymore in Providence rather than Boston.