Matt Grzelcyk

Improving Grzelcyk setting up a healthy competition with Krug

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Improving Grzelcyk setting up a healthy competition with Krug

BOSTON – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is fond of saying that internal competition brings out the best in everybody on a hockey club, and he’s lived that credo with the way he’s handled the goaltending situation this season.

Cassidy is also seeing that competition paying dividends with the defensemen group now that Matt Grzelcyk is hitting his stride at the NHL level, giving Torey Krug a push as a similarly skilled, left shot, puck-moving defenseman. Krug finished with a couple of assists and a plus-1 rating in 17:55 of ice time in a strong game in the 3-1 win over the Islanders on Saturday night, and Grzelcyk was solid in his 16:47 of ice time as well with an active five shot attempts.

The 23-year-old Grzelcyk is building his comfort level at the NHL level, and has been pretty good with three points and a plus-5 rating in nine games while avoiding any major mistakes with puck management or D-zone play.

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There may be some adjustments for Krug based on Grzelcyk being eligible to play in most of the same situations that No. 47 would regularly hop over the boards for in the past, but Cassidy sees that as something that could ultimately benefit the Bruins.

“I think it will in the long run [it will be a benefit]. [Krug] may lose a shift or two, which will annoy him. Any player with pride will [be annoyed],” said Cassidy. “But once that part is [done] – you digest that and say, well, I don’t want to lose any more shifts, [you say] ‘What do I have to do to earn the coaches trust or get those shifts back.’ Because he has our trust, but earn [the right to] be the first guy over the boards every time in situations. He’s going to push himself, and he should. That’s what we want. And then hopefully we get to a nice balance where we don’t have to overuse one guy in every situation.

“We want Torey to be our 1A in those situations. Charlie [McAvoy] is pushing him too, and now you have Griz [Matt Grzelcyk], so we have three different [offensive] guys. It’s only going to make us better, and I’ll tell you why. Because those guys – we have guys that aren’t pouting there because of that either. There’s a difference between being annoyed and having pride, or having a guy that pouts and shuts it down. We don’t have that. I’m fortunate as a coach that they can wrap their heads around it eventually and just want to outplay the next guy, yet still be happy for his success. It’s a nice problem and you are seeing some of it now bubble up.”

There have been long stretches with the Bruins over the last couple of seasons where Krug was the lone offensive defenseman choice when they needed plays to be made, and it factored into the 5-foot-9 D-man topping 21 minutes of ice time in each of the last two seasons. Krug is down a little averaging 20:33 of ice time per game this season, but he’s under 20 minutes (19:33, to be exact) per game during the month of December coinciding with the arrival of Grzelcyk.

It makes for challenges on the penalty kill when the Bruins have only one real left shot D-man in Chara that’s a defensive stalwart, and it’s too small of a sample size to say that Grzelcyk will keep playing this consistently over the long haul. There’s also the fact that Adam McQuaid will be returning to the mix sooner rather than later, and that will force the Bruins into different configurations at some point down the road.

But for now they’ve got a pretty good thing going with their mix of young and old, puck movers and stay-at-home shutdown guys, and that’s reflected in the healthy, friendly competition going on between Krug and Grzelcyk right now.   

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Grzelcyk's first goal for hometown Bruins 'a jolt through the system'

Grzelcyk's first goal for hometown Bruins 'a jolt through the system'

BOSTON – Bobby Orr’s iconic, leaping goal that clinched a Stanley Cup for the Bruins was memorable enough to earn its own statue outside the TD Garden, and will always be No. 1 in the hearts and minds of hockey fans around New England.  

But it’s been bumped down to No. 3 for longtime TD Garden Bull Gang member John Grzelcyk for understandable reasons, and both of those preferred favorite moments involve his hockey-playing son, Matt. One was a game-winning goal vs. Northeastern to secure a Beanpot when he played for Boston University, but the newest one was all about his burgeoning career with the Black and Gold. The Bruins rookie defenseman did his Zamboni-driving papa proud on Friday afternoon when he snapped home his first career NHL goal in a 4-3 B’s win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden in their annual Black Friday matinee.

“I feel bad for Bobby Orr, but he’s my son,” said the elder Grzelcyk, beaming with pride. “Sorry.”

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The 5-foot-9, 174-pound Grzelcyk’s goal ended up being a pivotal one in Boston’s fourth win in a row as it arrived in the second period amid a flurry of three goals from the Penguins, and allowed the game to still be tied entering the third period. Jake DeBrusk had slipped a centering pass to David Krejci in the slot for a one-time opportunity, and the playmaking center fanned on the shot attempt with the puck drifting over to Grzelcyk crashing toward the net.

The quick change of puck direction opened up a shooting seam for the 23-year-old Grzelcyk, and he snapped the puck past Matt Murray for his first goal of the season at either the NHL or AHL level this season. The first NHL career goal would have been welcomed no matter when it happened for Grzelcyk, of course, but to have it go down on national TV in an NBC game had to make it extra special.

You couldn’t tell any of that, of course, because the younger Grzelcyk was trying to act like he’d been there before after the score. But it was clear how excited his teammates were for him as Kevan Miller quickly retrieved the puck for his D-partner, and they gathered around him for the time-honored hockey hug celebration.

“It was pretty special, obviously. It brings back memories of skating [on the Garden ice] as a kid and stuff like that. It hasn’t really set in yet, it was pretty cool to get that out of the way,” said Grzelcyk, who has a goal and two points along with a plus-4 rating in three games with Boston this season. “It was kind of a jolt through my system. I didn’t really know what was going on. I was trying to hide it the best I could. I think the rest of the guys were trying to make me smile. I was really happy.”

Part of the reason Grzelcyk got to remain in the lineup was Bruce Cassidy’s choice to go with seven defensemen against the Penguins, a game lineup look the Bruins haven’t used in an awfully long time. It allowed the Bruins to ease Torey Krug back into the lineup after missing the last couple of games with an upper-body injury, keep Robbie O’Gara active in case they needed more of a big-bodied presence in the D-zone and let Grzelcyk keep playing given how good he’s looked in his NHL appearances this season.

Cassidy indicated that plugging both Grzelcyk and Krug in among a 7 D-men formation, for a greater puck-moving dimension to the team, is something they may tinker with more moving forward.  

“We don’t mind that 11 forwards, seven D. It may be something we look at more often if you have Krug and Griz [Matt Grzelcyk] in there. But they both played well, well enough Robby [Rob O’Gara] didn’t see a lot of ice. I thought he was fine when he was in there, to be honest with you. It’s not easy to sit there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “But adding Griz into the mix does give you another puck mover with Charlie [McAvoy] and Krug if all three are in there. I think that’s important.

“That’s not being disrespectful to the other – when we have more heavy guys. It really helps our penalty kill. When you have four guys– makes it tough to get inside. We are finding that balance. And I think it’s something that we’ll tinker with for a while, and the more Griz plays consistent hockey, the easier the decision it makes.”

Either way, it will take quite a bit for Grzelcyk’s next big hockey accomplishment to live up to a pretty cool setting for his first NHL goal, or be enough to finally edge Bobby Orr out of the old man’s top-3 favorite hockey moments of all time.  

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Grzelcyk happy to be back w/ B's and confident in his game

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Grzelcyk happy to be back w/ B's and confident in his game

BRIGHTON, Mass – It had to be a bitter pill for Matt Grzelcyk to be sent back down to the AHL after playing solidly for the Bruins earlier this season. 

The 23-year-old Charlestown native was excellent playing in place of Torey Krug in Boston’s opening night win over the Nashville Predators, but his stay didn’t last very long. The former Boston University standout was back in the minor leagues shortly afterward once Krug returned from his fractured jaw a little earlier than expected. Now Krug is again banged up again with an upper body injury, and Grzelcyk has been called up to fill in for Krug during Wednesday night’s pre-Thanksgiving road game in New Jersey against the Devils.

Once again it will be about a focus on puck-moving and power play for Grzelcyk, who is the closest thing that the Bruins have to the smaller, skilled Krug in their minor-league system. 

“I was happy with how things went before I got sent to Providence, so I’m just going to try to do the things that I was doing well before I got sent down. Mentally knowing that I can play at the NHL level [is huge], and just going through the experience was positive,” said Grzelcyk. “Mentally my first year I think I was a little too nervous and tentatively with my play, and that’s not me at all when I’m at my best. I’m confident with the puck, and confident with my speed and ability. It was just about going out and doing it on the ice.”

Grzelcyk was okay down in Providence with four assists and a plus-4 rating in 14 games, but he’s been patiently waiting for another NHL call since logging 12:11 of solid puck-moving ice time in his lone appearance for Boston this season. Now he’ll get it in a likely pairing with Kevan Miller against the New Jersey Devils

“He’s a puck-mover. He’s quick. He can get up the ice and support the rush, and he’s a good distributor,” said Cassidy of Grzelcyk. “There are a lot of natural similarities to Torey [Krug] because of their physical makeup, but they are similar [players] with Torey at this level being a bit more significant offensive player. Whether it’s in [Grzelcyk] or not time will tell, but we believe it is and we just need to get it out of him.”

Grzelcyk will get a chance to show that offensive wrinkle and more when he suits up against the New Jersey Devils for his second game of the season after paying his dues with the P-Bruins overt the last month. 

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