McAvoy not thinking about hitting ‘rookie wall’


McAvoy not thinking about hitting ‘rookie wall’

BOSTON - Words like “brilliant” and “phenom” have been tossed around with great regularity through the first half-season of 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy’s NHL career and with good reason, given a consistent performance that belies his rookie status.

McAvoy leads all NHL rookies by a wide margin with 22:54 of ice time per game and has been strong at both ends of the ice with five goals and 21 points along with a plus-14 rating in 40 games. He’s had moments of brilliance for the Black and Gold with a couple of game-winning shootout tries and he’s consistently lined up against the other team’s best offensive players while in a top D-man pairing with Zdeno Chara.


“He just loves being out there. He’s not shy in the big moments and he doesn’t get nervous,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “It’s just a lot of things in his makeup and in his personality that allows him to [play big minutes]. That’s what I see. He’s a special talent in that way.”

Rookies McAvoy, Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk have been a big part of Boston’s first-half success story, and they’ll need to continue that level of contribution if Boston is going to finish strong in a grueling second half of the season. There is one unfortunate difference between McAvoy, compared to Heinen and DeBrusk, that might come into play over the next few months, however.

Both DeBrusk and Heinen rounded out their pro game with a full AHL season in Providence last year, and it’s clearly shown in their mature, developed games this season. They also played a ton of hockey last year with the P-Bruins.

McAvoy made the jump pretty much straight from college hockey to the NHL with just four games of AHL in between last season.

He played 48 games between Boston University, the AHL and the playoff series with the Bruins last spring, and that’s the most he’s ever played in his hockey career.

McAvoy just hit the 40 games played mark prior to the B’s bye week and he's already played more games than he did with the Terriers last season. It’s common for NCAA players to hit a bit of a “rookie wall” in their first pro season given the jump in games played and schedule density and McAvoy knows that might be waiting for him in the second half.

“Right around now is as many college games as I’ve ever played in a college season. I think it was around 38 [games] or 39 maybe? My season would be pretty much all done right now,” admitted McAvoy, which is kind of daunting when one thinks about it. “The good thing is that I feel good right now. The good thing is that we’re playing good hockey and it’s exciting to come to the rink every day. We have a good energy.

“This bye week is going to be nice to recharge, take some time away and then come back and be excited for the second half. But as far as learning stuff, there are still plenty of things I’m trying to learn about how to be a good pro. How do I take care of my body as we reach the halfway mark here? How am I going to be capable of playing another 40 games? It’s a good thing I’m able to lean on, and piggyback off, so many good veteran players in the room. They’ve been very supportive.”

Still, one of McAvoy’s best attributes is his swaggering confidence and that’s how he’ll approach a challenging second-half schedule after showing moments of domination in his first 40 games. The mere fact that at 6 feet, 208 pounds, he’s a big, strong workhorse defenseman capable of playing massive NHL minute totals with zero drop-off in his game might just make him an exception to the “rookie wall” rule.

“I don’t like to go there. I want to stay in the present,” said McAvoy. “We’ll get to that point in March [where the B’s play a whopping 16 games], and hopefully we’ll be in a good position when we do. It won’t be easy to win all those games late in the year when guys are a little tired, but at this point, we’re worried about the right now.”

With a veteran player where fatigue might be a concern, limiting practice time and managing workloads might be the best course of action in a particularly heavy stretch of games. But that runs counter to what a young player such as McAvoy might need with repetition and practice still an important part of their continued NHL development.  

The only way the Bruins and McAvoy will find out is by simply going through it and adjusting to whatever lies in store for the 20-year-old the next four months. But McAvoy’s virtuoso play from the back end was a big part of Boston’s first-half success and it will need to continue if the Bruins are going to finish strong. 


Brad Marchand scores in overtime, Bruins beat Flames 2-1

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Brad Marchand scores in overtime, Bruins beat Flames 2-1

After a blip in Vancouver, the Boston Bruins got right back to business.

Brad Marchand scored his 22nd goal 3:36 into overtime to give Boston a 2-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Monday, less than 48 hours after the Bruins lost 6-1 to the Canucks.

"We ran into a hot goalie in Vancouver. Their goalie played great tonight, but we were resilient," Marchand said. "We were much better in the defensive zone and had a better game overall."

David Pastrnak also scored for Boston (36-13-8), which moved within one point of Tampa Bay for first place in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference. The Bruins, who are 12-1-2 in their last 15 road games, have two games in hand on the Lightning.

Boston has lost only three times in regulation in the last 28 games (21-3-4).

"It starts at the top with leadership, and just having that constant belief we can do it, we can get the job done regardless of who we're playing against," Riley Nash said.

After TJ Brodie's turnover deep in the Flames end, Nash's pass sprung Marchand on a breakaway and he made no mistake, slipping the puck through the pads of rookie goaltender David Rittich for the ninth overtime goal of his career.

"(Nash) made a phenomenal defensive play," Marchand said. "I knew that they had three guys low and I just tried to get out of the zone. He made a great play to get it up."

Brodie accepted the blame.

"Tonight was on me," the Calgary defenseman said. "I tried to pass to Johnny (Gaudreau). I could have passed it to (Sean Monahan), I could have shot it. It's one of those things that looking back now, I definitely could have done something different."

Matthew Tkachuk scored for the Flames (30-21-9), who fell to 1-3-4 in their last eight home games. They began the day one point out of third place in the Pacific Division.

"It's like any slump - the harder you try, the more you grip the stick, the worse it is," Brodie said. "It's not like we've been playing bad at home. We've gotten chances. It's just one of those things where a bounce here and there, we could be talking about the same record as the road."

With the teams meeting for the second time in six days, Calgary was territorially outplayed by a wide margin in the first period but Rittich kept the Flames in it.

Calgary tied it 1-all at 5:28 of the second, scoring on the power play. Monahan's shot was stopped by Tuukka Rask, but as the puck lied at the feet of Zdeno Chara in the crease, Tkachuk knocked in his 22nd goal.

Rittich was starting his fourth game in a row, with veteran Mike Smith (lower body) still sidelined. Rittich was pulled Saturday night after giving up four goals on 15 shots.

"Huge bounce-back for Rittich," Flames coach Glen Gulutzan said. "That team is a hard team to beat. You look across the league, not many teams are beating them. You can't really beat them without goaltending and we got it tonight and it gave us a chance."

The 25-year-old Czech goalie was especially sharp in keeping the score even at 1.

A minute after Calgary tied it, Rittich slid across the crease to get a glove on Marchand's backhand out of midair after he was set up by Patrice Bergeron.

Late in the second, Rittich stabbed out his glove to rob Ryan Spooner on a breakaway. In the third, the goalie stared down Pastrnak on a breakaway and acrobatically got the toe of his left pad on a dangerous chance.

Rittich finished with 30 stops but fell to 6-3-3.

"It's frustrating," said Tkachuk, who has 14 goals in his last 22 games. "They're a really good team. Didn't give us many chances at all. The ones that we did get, we've got to capitalize."

Rask also was coming off a shortened outing in his previous start, pulled after giving up four goals on eight shots in the first period against Vancouver.

This time, he made 28 saves to improve to 24-10-4.

Boston struck first at 5:59 when Michael Frolik coughed up the puck along the sideboards in his own end and Pastrnak pounced on it, quickly firing a shot past Rittich on his blocker side.

NOTES: Flames D Travis Hamonic played in his 500th career game. ... Calgary LW Morgan Klimchuk, drafted in 2013, made his NHL debut on a line with C Matt Stajanand RW Curtis Lazar. Every player selected in the first round of that draft has now played an NHL game. ... The Bruins improved to 9-1-3 in their last 13 games against Calgary. ... Boston is 23-1-5 when scoring first.


Bruins: Tuesday night at Edmonton.

Flames: Wednesday night at Vegas

Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

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Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak busted out of a mini-slump with a nice performance as he scored the B’s first goal of the game, and made a nice play picking up a loose puck off the side boards before curling to the net and beating David Rittich down low. Pastrnak finished with a team-high four shots on net, blocked a whopping three shots and generally played a committed, intense 18:38 of ice time after showing some quirks in his game over the last three or four weeks. Pastrnak still has just two goals in his last 12 games after Monday afternoon’s lamp-lighter, so the Bruins could use their 21-year-old right winger going on a scoring binge now that he’s broken through.

BLACK EYE: It was a pretty well-played game on both sides, so there aren’t a lot of easy, ready-made candidates, so Michael Frolik gets it by process of elimination. Frolik was stripped of the puck along the side boards by Patrice Bergeron, and that kicked a loose puck out to David Pastrnak for his successful scoring curl to the net. Frolik finished with a couple of shots on net, had a couple of giveaways in his 17:19 of ice time and wasn’t much of a factor for the Flames in a game where one mistake turned out to make a huge difference. All that being said, it was mostly a well-played game for both sides with Frolik’s early miscue playing a major role. 

TURNING POINT: Clearly it was about Tuukka Rask holding strong in the third period and overtime after he’d been just okay over the last week, and he did that with a good effort in the third period (12 saves) and a superhuman effort in overtime (five saves) when he stoned Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk prior to Brad Marchand’s game-winner. The overtime session was extremely impressive for Rask as he stood tall with a very important result on the line in terms of the defense/goaltending earning a good result after some subpar performances lately. Without Rask standing on his head, the Bruins don’t get the two points at the other end near the end of the overtime session. 

HONORABLE MENTION: With Pastrnak nailing down top honors after breaking his slump, Brad Marchand gets the honorable mention by “just” ripping home the game-winner in overtime on a breakaway. Marchand made his typical forehand-to-backhand maneuver and picked a spot on the five-hole through the leg pads of David Rittich, who was otherwise outstanding for the Flames in a tight game for Calgary. Marchand finished with the goal and a plus-2 rating, and finished with seven shot attempts in a whopping 21:38 of ice time. Both Marchand and Pastrnak had been pretty quiet as of late as the physical intensity has ramped up on them lately, but they responded well by powering the offense against Calgary.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 – With Monday afternoon’s OT game-winner, left winger Brad Marchand now stands second all-time behind Dit Clapper and Glen Murray for the most overtime winners in Bruins franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You just stay patient and hope that the puck hits you, and it did.” –a matter-of-fact Tuukka Rask to reporters in Calgary on the overtime session where Rask did more than that in stopping five shots prior to Brad Marchand’s overtime game-winner.