Frank Vatrano showing signs of finding game in new role


Frank Vatrano showing signs of finding game in new role

After spending most of the month of October looking very much unlike the confident, itchy trigger finger winger that scored on pretty much a nightly basis during his brief AHL career, Frank Vatrano appears to finally be adjusting to a bit of a different role in Boston. Vatrano has been penciled in as a bottom-6 forward this season with first year wingers Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk earning the splashier top-6 roles that include PP time and a higher rate of offensive chances coming their way.

It’s certainly been a departure for Vatrano, and the adjustment period has been pretty clear with a very inauspicious first few weeks to the season.

In his first six games this season after a very average training camp, the 23-year-old didn’t have a single point with just six shots on net and a minus-2 rating while playing on lines that weren’t factoring much in the games. Vatrano still doesn’t have a point with the first month of the season in the books after Monday night’s game in Columbus, but he does have five shots on net in his last two games with his best game of the season in last week’s 2-1 win over the San Jose Sharks.

Vatrano has only had two games this month where he’s even topped 10 minutes of ice time, so the East Longmeadow native has been tasked with figuring out how to do more with less for the first time in his hockey career.

“For me I’m just trying to recreate my role a little bit. Since I’m not scoring I’ve been kind of focusing on more of a fourth line energy role. That’s when the goals will come. I obviously want to throw up goals and points, but for me defensively I have to be a little bit better,” said Vatrano, who now has 18 goals and 29 points in 91 career NHL games. “When I’m moving my feet I’m creating chances for me and my teammates, and when I’m in the D-zone you have that confidence that you can make that extra play rather than just throwing it off the glass.

“I just need to keep shooting the puck and eventually it’s going to go in. I’m trying to create turnovers on the fore-check and make plays that way, but this is the NHL where you also need guys out there to help you make plays. I can do as much as possible to get pucks to the net, but it makes it a lot easier when you’ve got other guys playing with energy, going to the net and helping you get to those open areas.” 

The Bruins coaching staff has taken note of Vatrano slowly incorporating the things they’d like him to add to his arsenal. The shot and the release are still there even without the point production, but it doesn’t matter how well somebody shoots if the opportunities aren’t there to shoot the puck. The Bruins want to see Vatrano venture closer to the net and create offense by disrupting opponents with his forecheck rather than just standing in the slot waiting for set-up passes.

The thinking is that offense based on turnovers and taking pucks to the net doesn’t go into a slump like the traditional “shooter” can when the chances aren’t coming, and doing all of those other things can make Vatrano more of a factor on a consistent basis. Vatrano did both of those things to noticeable effect against the Sharks, but wasn’t quite as visible with it on Saturday night’s OT loss to LA in the perfect show of the consistency challenge he’s facing on a nightly basis.

“It’s trending toward [an A-game],” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “[Against San Jose] he affected the play with his foot speed on the forecheck, he got to some loose pucks, he had some chances on net. All positives, things we look for every night.

“He’s a guy that’s still learning, growing his game in that regard so we have patience with him there, but we’d like him to bring the other stuff on a consistent basis…he’s a guy that’s used to being a sniper for lack of a better term and he does have a great release. But let’s get to the top of the crease when it’s warranted. Those are the things we’re trying to build in and he’s buying in, and as a result we’re all noticing him a little more.”

It’s a positive that Vatrano has shown some willingness and ability to grow into a more complete role as a bottom-6 winger, but the points need to also beginning coming for the local kid. Vatrano is at a point with the Bruins where he really needs to start showing the uppermost reaches of what he can be at the NHL level, or some of the next few waves of Bruins prospects might end up displacing him as they rise up through the organization.

Jarome Iginla practices with P-Bruins

Mark Divver

Jarome Iginla practices with P-Bruins

Jarome Iginla skated with the Providence Bruins in the AHL team's practice on Tuesday, according to the Providence Journal.

Iginla doesn't want to retire yet. But he's not necessarily going to get a shot in Boston. The Bruins aren't interested in signing the 40-year-old winger, but instead wanted to do him a favor, a source told the Providence Journal.

"I'd love to still play," Iginla told the Providence Journal. "This is kind of the first step, getting out here and seeing how it is. … I wanted to see if I can still go. I don't have any deals at this point."

Iginla has had a prolific career with 525 goals and 570 assists (1,095 points). During his 2016-17 season, he spent time with the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings. He played in 80 games, and finished with 14 goals, 13 assists and a minus-30 rating.

Bruins' defense, goaltending enjoys mini-breakthrough against Flames

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Bruins' defense, goaltending enjoys mini-breakthrough against Flames

Here’s what we learned in the Bruins 2-1 overtime win over the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday afternoon.

1)      Once again the Bruins were challenged and provided the perfect response. After giving up 15 goals in their previous four games and getting blown out by Vancouver last weekend, the Bruins recognized their defensive game had slipped in all zones. Their defensive layers had disappeared up and down the ice, the fore-check had gone missing and the D-zone coverage was leaving big holes in the slot and in front of the net. The Bruins weren’t working particularly hard, they were making some pretty elementary mistakes and they were allowing opponents to gain way too much speed and momentum entering their zone. All of that changed against Calgary after a spirited practice on Sunday, and the Bruins allowed just four shots on net in the first period against the Flames. They went on to allow just a single goal in the game, and kept grinding until they took a 2-1 win in OT. Hand-in-hand with the B’s defense responding was the Bruins goaltending situation responding to the challenge as well. Tuukka Rask hadn’t been particularly good in recent losses to the Buffalo Sabres and Canucks over the last week, and he wasn’t getting the support in front of him either. That added up to a lot of goals allowed and getting yanked in the Canucks loss amid some poor rebound control. Rask was locked in from beginning to end on Monday afternoon, and made five show-stopping saves in OT prior to Brad Marchand’s breakaway game-winner. What’s impressive is that it took just one bad loss for the B’s to totally snap back into place. There are times when it can take three, four or even five games for a hockey club to shed their bad defensive habits, but the Bruins did it immediately and haven’t lost back-to-back games since November. That is simply amazing at this point, and a testament to the coaching staff and the players. 

2)      In addition to the Bruins defense and goaltending responding, it was impressive to see Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak respond with big goals as well. Neither player was very good in the blowout loss to Vancouver, and Pastrnak had been mired in a bit of a slump with just one goal in his last 11 games headed into Monday afternoon. Both players have been targeted and thumped pretty solidly by opponents just as they were down the stretch last season as well, and they hadn’t really responded in an effective way until Monday. Even into the playoffs last season, Pastrnak really struggled to respond to some of the elevated intensity and physicality that he saw. Pastrnak scored in the first period on a nifty play aided by a Patrice Bergeron active stick against the side boards, and he enjoyed a number of scoring chances against the Flames. Marchand had seven shot attempts that culminated with his breakaway in overtime for the game-winner, and he was also engaged and physical throughout while both he and Matthew Tkachuk tried to “out-punk” each other on the ice. With a Bruins team that’s going to need their top line to produce regularly for them as the games get tighter, Monday’s mini-breakthrough was an important sign that Marchand and Pastrnak are ready to fight through some of the resistance thrown their way.

3)       Monday’s win also saw the Bruins once again drop the gloves to defend one of their teammates. On Saturday night it was Brandon Carlo sticking up for David Pastrnak, and on Monday afternoon it was Adam McQuaid dropping Garnet Hathaway after he took a shot at Charlie McAvoy right in front of the Bruins bench while practically inviting No. 54 to get involved. The Bruins will need to continue to bring their immediate reaction to borderline hits and opponents taking runs at their players, and that starts with McQuaid and trickles down through the rest of the lineup. Team toughness, they call it.


*Brad Marchand finished up with the sweet, little backhanded five-hole goal on the breakaway in overtime, and played an excellent overall game with seven shot attempts and plenty of active, engaged play all over the ice in 20 plus minutes of action. 

*Tuukka Rask stopped 28-of-29 shots against Calgary and was solid throughout the game. But he was amazing in the overtime session when he was turning away Grade-A chances from Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett at one end while making five stops overall in the extra session. That little stand-on-his-head routine bought the B’s enough time for Marchand’s game-winner at the other end, and he certainly carried the Bruins to the extra OT point this time around. 

*Four shots on net and an eye-catching three blocked shots for David Pastrnak in 18:38 of ice time, including the game’s first goal in the first period when he curled to the net and beat Dave Rittich low with a shot. 


*Michael Frolik finished as a minus player for the Flames, and had the turnover to Patrice Bergeron in the first period that led directly to David Pastrnak’s goal. It was a pretty well-played game, so those little mistakes really stood out for either side. 

*Two giveaways and a minus-1 in 22:49 of ice time for Dougie Hamilton, who pretty much had a nothing game in a reminder to Bruins fans that they upgraded when they made Charlie McAvoy their No. 1 defenseman of the future. 

*No shots on net in 12:54 of ice time for Jake DeBrusk, who didn’t seem to have the same jump to his game on Monday that he did last weekend in Vancouver. He may have been saving it for Edmonton, where he grew up and certainly wants to put on a show on Tuesday night.