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.

Pastrnak's third-period goal gives Bruins their fourth straight victory, 4-3 over Pens


Pastrnak's third-period goal gives Bruins their fourth straight victory, 4-3 over Pens

BOSTON – The Bruins always hope to give their fans something good in their annual matinee on the day after Thanksgiving, and that was the case Friday.

They got off on the right foot with a great first period, then finished with an electric breakaway from David Pastrnak in the third period, and posted an entertaining, solid 4-3 win over the back-to-back Stanley Cup champ Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden.

Pastrnak’s 11th goal of the season was the game-winner. The Penguins had battled back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits and tied the score, then Pastrnak was freed up by a brilliant neutral-zone pass from Riley Nash. He sped in all alone and flipped the puck over Matt Murray’s glove hand at 5:06 of the third.

David Krejci and Sean Kuraly had opened things up with goals in the first period, as the B's outshot the Penguins by a 14-4 margin. But Sidney Crosby and the Pens answered back in the second with three goals of their own, including a controversial game-tying score from Sid the Kid after Boston had moved ahead 3-1 on a goal from Charlestown native Matt Grzelcyk.

The Crosby goal came after it appeared the refs had called play dead with a whistle as the puck sat on Anton Khudobin’s waist in the crease. It also appeared to have been goalie interference, as Crosby’s stick had made contact with Khudobin while the puck was in mid-air. But on replay the officials overturned the call of no-goal on the ice, and the score was tied 3-3 after two.

That set things up for Pastrnak, who snapped a five-game goal-scoring stretch, and handed the red-hot Bruins their season-high fourth win in a row.

Morning Skate: Predators kicking it into gear


Morning Skate: Predators kicking it into gear

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while anticpating the turkey leftovers, ready for the taking.
-- NHL referee Wes McCauley is at it again, this time going with a fun no-goal call after having some trouble with his microphone.
-- After getting humbled on Opening Night by the Bruins, the Nashville Predators are starting to get on a roll.

-- NBC Pro Hockey Talk has Kyle Turris excelling for the Predators, and Matt Duchene very much still stuck in neutral for the Ottawa Senators.

-- NHL stars go through their favorite traditions, and what they enjoy is a game that’s full of routine, superstition and tradition.
-- FOH (Friend of Haggs) Ray Ferraro says “it looks rotten” with the Edmonton Oilers as they continue to struggle out of the starting gate.
-- Larry Brooks goes through an all-time ranking of the general managers for the New York Rangers, and it’s an illustrious list.

-- The Vegas Golden Knights could make the playoffs in their very first season, and are absolutely far ahead of expectations for a new expansion team.
-- For something completely different: Wild turkeys are making a major comeback in Massachusetts after being all but extinct here.