Bruins

Charlie McAvoy 'building (his) game' after slow start to Bruins season

Charlie McAvoy 'building (his) game' after slow start to Bruins season

The good news is that a physical challenge against a big, strong and offensively explosive Washington Capitals team brought out the best in Charlie McAvoy on Saturday night.

The bad news is that hasn’t been the norm this season for the 21-year-old McAvoy more than a month into the new NHL season. McAvoy picked up a couple assists in 23:23 of ice time in the shootout loss to the Caps, and even better, along with defense partner Zdeno Chara he was able to keep Alex Ovechkin under wraps throughout the game.

The two points would have been better, of course, and McAvoy quickly confirmed that after the game while also acknowledging that he played well.

“I tried to play hard on those guys and a big part of that is physicality,” said McAvoy. “[Ovechkin] ending up with zero is pretty nice. I can be happy with that, but I’m pretty pissed off that we pissed away two points.”

That was something to build on for a player in McAvoy who has just six assists in 20 games, and equaled half his offensive output from the first 19 games with the two helpers against Washington.

“He was terrific tonight. [The] level of competition tends to bring out the best in Charlie, and we certainly saw that [against the Capitals]. We needed it against a heavier group. I think he took the challenge head on. It’s a tougher game for the [Connor] Cliftons and the [Matt] Grzelcyks of the world,” said Bruce Cassidy of McAvoy, who one evening prior had been part of a defensive breakdown that led to a Maple Leafs goal when he wandered away from the front of the net. “[McAvoy] played a lot of minutes, and Charlie was really good in that way at both ends of the ice.

“I thought he was excellent. With Charlie, it’s just, he’s got to stay in the moment, that’s when he plays his best hockey. We’re not in there feeding him. It’s not information overload for that particular type of player. It’s protect the middle of the ice, be assertive with the puck when you see ice and make good decisions when to go. I thought [against the Capitals] a lot of it fell into place. He was up the ice at the right time, defending at the right time and not being vulnerable to a serious counterattack from a team that can finish. He wasn’t putting himself in bad spots. I thought that was the best part. As much as he was involved in the game, there wasn’t much risk. That’s a sign of a guy that’s growing.”

Now McAvoy faces the challenge of maintaining that high level of play and continuing to eliminate the tentativeness to his game. It certainly hasn’t been all bad as McAvoy is leading the Bruins with 22:21 of ice time per game and is a plus-8 for the season while routinely lining up against the other team’s best offensive players.

But he’s also on pace for just 25 points this season and is still looking for his first goal of the year, and hasn’t really managed to find the balance between offense and defense that makes for a true No. 1 defenseman at the NHL level.

Some of it has been a few unlucky bounces along the way for McAvoy and those he’s set up for scoring chances, but some of it is also about the paltry 20 shots he’s put on net in his 20 games played this season. Even in the Washington game, McAvoy missed high and wide with a golden scoring chance from the slot on a setup by David Krejci that eventually turned into a goal for David Pastrnak from a bad angle at the side of the net.

McAvoy talked about his game a couple of days ago ahead of the semi-breakthrough performance against Washington, and it was pretty clear the 21-year-old knew there was more for him to give out on the ice.

“For me, it’s just playing hockey. Every night I’m lucky and I’m happy I get to take a lot of pride in the defensive side of the game lining up against guys who are world class players. I really take pride in just shutting them down. [Chara] takes a lot of pride in that and he sets the precedent in how we approach those things,” said McAvoy. “Then it’s easy for me to follow his lead. Whatever the game presents is what I try and get [offensively]. I feel like I’m building my game right now. I’m trying to build it from the defensive zone out.

“Things just happen and you’ve just got to play and have fun. At times if I’m going through streaks where I’m not having much opportunity or chances, that’s when I look at it and say where I can start joining in more. But I feel like I’m getting these chances. Some of it is just shooting more, and some of it maybe is just bounces. It’s been kind of new to me where it’s a streak like this, but I think there’s a lot of guys on this team like me that are looking to break through and get on a roll. I know that if I build my game from the defense out and that I’m a defenseman first and foremost. If I can do the best I can every night to keep the puck out of our net, hopefully when we get to the other side of the net I can start helping put it in theirs.”

To put it in perspective, some hockey prognosticators — this humble hockey writer included — pegged McAvoy as a possible Norris Trophy candidate for this season, and he’s got a long way to go to achieve that level. There are encouraging signs he’s starting to make the climb there after a very slow start out of the gate, but McAvoy won’t be there until he becomes the Bruins' best D-man pretty much every night for long stretches of time.

McAvoy was exactly that against the Capitals, and now he needs to begin doing it again and again with Torey Krug out of the lineup due to injury, and Zdeno Chara unable to shoulder that kind of burden anymore nightly at 42 years old. The game Tuesday night in New Jersey won’t be as stimulating as a Saturday night game against a Capitals team that won the Cup a couple of seasons ago, so it might be a good test for McAvoy as he keeps building his game to a higher level.

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Bruins mired in losing streak: 'I don't think we've sucked'

Bruins mired in losing streak: 'I don't think we've sucked'

TAMPA BAY – The Bruins have dropped five games in a row for the first time this season, including four straight regulation losses, as their lead in the Atlantic Division has shrunk to single digits for the first time in weeks.

The latest setback was a 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Thursday night that gives them losses in three of the first four games on a road trip ending this weekend against the Florida Panthers. The Lightning scored a pair of power play goals and once again, it looked like the B’s just didn’t have enough to get over the hump in the third period after they’d come up just a little short against Washington the previous night.

The offense has slowed with just 20 goals over the last nine games since blowing up for eight scores at the Bell Centre, and the power play has been a shadow of its former self while injuries forced the Bruins to tinker with the personnel. The penalty kill was the problem against the Lightning with Tampa Bay scoring on two of their three power play opportunities. Meanwhile, the B’s are getting very little offense from anybody aside from their top line once again.

The Bruins have enough veterans that they aren’t going to hit the panic button particularly given where they are in the standings, but some results are becoming necessary soon before it spirals out of control.

“It sucks to lose. We hate to lose here. But we’ve played decent. You’re not going to win them all. Obviously, you’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that [Brett] Ritchie said,” said Tuukka Rask, who allowed three goals on 31 shots in defeat. “You don’t want to lose too many games in a row and you’ve got to put a stop to it. It’s been a tough road trip, but we’ve got one more game left and hopefully we can finish it off on a high note.

“We have experience and we’ve been through a lot. We recognize when we suck and when we don’t. I don’t think we’ve sucked. It’s just a matter of getting a couple of bounces, getting a lead and then playing with it. For the most part it’s just playing the right way and then you lose some of these tight games.”

The good news is that the Bruins have played much better against better opponents in Washington and Tampa Bay over the last couple of games after playing down to competition like Ottawa and Chicago in the games prior to that. But the losses aren’t going to turn into wins until they execute with a little more precision in certain instances where penalties, special teams play and a lack of secondary offense hurt them in a big way.

“We gave up two goals tonight where we’d won neutral zone face-offs. Harmless kind of plays where the puck doesn’t get in, we turn it over and then we take penalties against a potent power play,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We didn’t help ourselves in those situations. These are instances where guys need to be better, make the right play and execute.

“Even late in the game we have a chance to tie it up on a backdoor pass and we don’t execute. The power play was disappointing. We don’t execute. Some of it is that we’re playing to what we’re capable of, or what we think we’re capable of.”

Given that Florida is one of the teams most closely chasing them in the division and their Atlantic lead has almost been halved over the course of this current road trip, one would expect the Bruins are going to dig deep for a winning effort against the Panthers on Saturday. If not, then this continues to become the worst losing streak the B’s have experienced in a couple of seasons where they’ve previously managed to steer clear of the extended losing stretches.

Tim Thomas tears up while discussing hockey related brain injuries >>>

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Penalty kill kills Bruins against the Lightning as B's drop fifth straight game

Penalty kill kills Bruins against the Lightning as B's drop fifth straight game

GOLD STAR: Steve Stamkos has really powered the Lightning this season and he was the No. 1 factor for them in their win over the Bruins. It was Stamkos who evened things up in the second period when he was left wide open in the slot area on the PP and wristed one under Tuukka Rask’s glove to get the Bolts on the board. Then he scored the game-winner in the third period after turnovers from John Moore and Patrice Bergeron in the defensive zone as he fired one from the high slot that Tuukka Rask managed to get a glancing piece of before it passed him.

Stamkos finished with two goals and a plus-1 rating in 17:07 of ice time to go along with six shot attempts and three hits for the Tampa captain.

BLACK EYE: The Bruins penalty kill was atrocious allowing Tampa two power play goals in three chances, and really not even being that competitive about it in the special teams battle. Stamkos got a wide open look all alone in the slot with time and space to snap a wrist shot past Tuukka Rask for the first power play goal and the Bruins PK was running around on the second Tampa power play possession before Nikita Kucherov fed Brayden Point in front for the goal through traffic.

Meanwhile, the Bruins went 0-for-3 on their own power play and once again lost the special teams battle after dominating that battleground earlier in the season.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were in good shape for most of the game until more than midway through the third period when breakdowns in their own end doomed them. It was John Moore and Patrice Bergeron that lost battles and didn’t clear pucks before Steve Stamkos gathered it in and rifled home the game-winner from the high slot on a blast that Tuukka Rask couldn’t quite get a clean glove save on in the moment.

The Stamkos goal gave Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead in the third period that was cut into when Moore picked up a goal later on, but for the second night in a row, the B’s didn’t have quite enough to get over the hump against a quality opponent.

HONORABLE MENTION: Maybe he could have squeezed off a shot in the third period when he had a clear look at the net, but Charlie McAvoy was one of the few Bruins players generating offense with the game on the line in the final 20 minutes. He was taking pucks hard to the net, drawing penalties and making things happen when it appeared the legs were tiring for other members of the Black and Gold.

McAvoy finished with three shots on net, five hits while soaking up a team-high 27:41 of ice time for the Bruins. He picked up an assist on the Patrice Bergeron goal in the first period as well and had one of his better games for the B’s as of late. That’s a good sign that things are turning around for him after a slow start and a recent inconsistent stretch.

BY THE NUMBERS: 8 – the number of points lead in the Atlantic Division for the Bruins, the first time since Nov. 26 that it was in single digits after a Bruins loss and Sabres win on Thursday night.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “We hate to lose, but we’re not going to go 80-3 or whatever it was that (Brett) Ritchie said.” –Tuukka Rask, talking about five losses in a row and poking fun at a Ritchie quote from Washington a few days ago where he killed some basic math. 

Tim Thomas tears up while discussing hockey related brain injuries >>>

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