BOSTON – Just about every game in his first NHL season is going to be a lesson of some kind for 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy and he got a healthy teachable moment in his first meeting with the big, strong and skilled Washington Capitals.
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A game after throwing seven hits against the Vegas Golden Knights, it was McAvoy who was on the receiving end of some physicality from hard-edged guys Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin in the Bruins' 3-2 loss Saturday night at TD Garden.
The low point was probably when McAvoy was on the ice with the rest of his teammates while allowing a giant seam in the middle of the defense where Evgeny Kuznetsov was able to slide a cross-ice dish to Ovechkin for a one-timer from his spot at the left face-off dot for his 11th goal of the season.
That goal put the Bruins down by a couple of goals and forced them into the uphill climb that they couldn’t overcome. It was one of two goals that the rookie was on the ice for against the Capitals and it provided a lesson learned.
“Getting the opportunity playing with Zee [Zdeno Chara] to play against top lines, top players in the league every night, I’m thankful for it. I think it raises my level; I think my compete level has to go up and it does,” said McAvoy, who leads all NHL rookies with 22:47 of ice time but is also a minus-3. “You know, kind of trying to use your body position for a guy like [Ovechkin] – there were a couple times where he used his, and you know, it’s tough to adjust to that. But it’s a learning curve and he’s a phenomenal player and you try to contain a guy like that. You just do the best you can.”
But in another sign of just good an NHL defenseman that McAvoy is going to become, he did something about it after figuratively getting punched in the mouth by the bullying Capitals early in the game. McAvoy dropped Liam O’Brien with a big hit in the neutral zone in the second period and he went on to play 24:03 pretty solid minutes of aggravated, motivated hockey.
“He gets tough matchups every night and Brandon Carlo went through it last year, playing against [Evgeny] Kuznetsov, [Alex] Ovechkin, [Tom] Wilson, [T.J.] Oshie – like, they’ve got some big bodies,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “So, I thought he got better. He got upset, pissed off, after the first period. He got bumped off the puck and you see he came with a little more aggression all over the ice in one-on-one battles.
“Now, he had a shot block that came back at us, so it got compounded a little bit there, but I don’t have a lot of issues with Charlie. He figures it out in a hurry and he’s a good player for, and this is just another one of those little ones he’ll put in his compartment and learn from, and be better.”
There will be nights like Saturday when the lessons can get a little rough for McAvoy, but the good news is that he shows pretty quickly what he’s learned and is able to put it right back into his game as he did vs. the Caps.