Bruins

Charlie McAvoy: Healthy return to Bruins 'a win in and of itself'

Charlie McAvoy: Healthy return to Bruins 'a win in and of itself'

TAMPA, FL – The Bruins lost their third regulation game in a row with Thursday night’s 3-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but they did get a win in the healthy return of second-year D-man Charlie McAvoy to the lineup.

After missing the last 20 games with concussion symptoms, McAvoy determined that now was the time to jump back in while feeling healthy and getting through a long off-day practice in Tampa on Wednesday afternoon. There was clearly a little rust early on the 20-year-old defenseman stepped on a puck in the D-zone and hit in the ice in a first-period sequence that eventually led to a goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and he had a few turnovers that probably won’t happen once he fully has his legs under him.

“I thought Charlie was good. I thought he was rusty handling the puck at times, but I fully expected that,” said Bruce Cassidy. “It’s perfectly normal. I was just happy that he had conviction in his game and that he wanted to be a difference-maker. That’s all I was concerned about. I just wondered how his assertiveness was going to be, and I thought it was very good.”

But when it was all said and done, McAvoy played a whopping 21:02 of ice time after not playing a game since Oct. 18 and looked better, stronger and more confidence as the game rolled on. More importantly, the puck-moving defenseman also felt good physically and mentally and was able to banish any doubts or feelings of hesitation from his game.

It would have been better for McAvoy to return in a win, but his level of play against a top quality opponent like Tampa Bay gives plenty of reason for optimism.

"What a win in and of itself to be back out there. We're a family and I missed these guys a heck of a lot while I was out,” said McAvoy. “It was an unfortunate loss, but an encouraging effort at the end. Nobody ever said die and nobody quit, so there’s something we can take from that.

“To get back to playing I had to be a in a clear state of mind and confident in where I am health-wise, and I was. When I’m playing my best I’m trying to make offense out of defense and at the same time playing responsible. The first period was tough trying to shake some rust off, but the second and third I thought I came together and started playing my brand of hockey.”

The positive is that McAvoy will just keep getting better and more effective for the Bruins provided he can stay healthy and that in turn will make the undermanned B’s a better group offensively, defensively and on special teams. 

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Defensive breakdowns catching up with B's in last few games

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Defensive breakdowns catching up with B's in last few games

BOSTON – With the news that a return for injured Patrice Bergeron might be coming over the next week or so, it really can’t come fast enough at this point for the Bruins.

The Bruins lost their second game in a row when they dropped a 4-2 decision to the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden on Sunday night that featured a few too many defensive miscues at key times, average goaltending and nothing more than decent offense. The most noticeable pattern over the last two losses, Buffalo and Pittsburgh, is that the once-stingy Bruins are hurting themselves a little more often with mistakes in the D-zone. In both games the game-winners happened against the Black and Gold because D-men left their defensive posts in front of the net to chase a puck-carrier behind the net.

Against Pittsburgh it was John Moore getting too aggressive in the D-zone, and against Buffalo it was Charlie McAvoy chasing after Jack Eichel behind the net to leave Sabres sniper Jeff Skinner wide open in front for the game-winning goal. They are simple, costly mistakes in the defensive zone, and not something the Bruins had been doing too much while making due without injured players over the last six weeks.  

“In the last one, Charlie ran behind the net. It was unnecessary. Obviously, you’d like to have that decision over. We did that the other night in Pittsburgh, same type of thing, we ran below the goal line with Johnny Moore,” said Bruce Cassidy. “So we’re going to have to crack that in a hurry because we’ve been pretty solid at that all year so got a little impatient there. Still, it’s a puck that found its way in. It looked like kind of a harmless play we’d hope we’d be able to keep out of our net.”

SABRES 4, BRUINS 2

It probably deserves to be mentioned that McAvoy was the other defensemen stuck below the goal line in that game against Pittsburgh as well. So perhaps the 20-year-old D-men is still sharpening his instincts in the defensive zone a bit.

But what’s the other big defensive takeaway from the Buffalo loss?

They could really use No. 37 and the big 6-foot-9 shutdown guy back in the Black and Gold lineup now that they’ve been out about a month. If those two elite shutdown defenders were healthy and playing on Sunday night, perhaps Jack Eichel wouldn’t have completely dominated the Bruins when it came to winning and losing time in the third period.

Instead it was Eichel roaming free for a sniper shot over Tuukka Rask’s glove hand on one rush, and then Eichel again driving the net and dishing to Jeff Skinner for the game-winner before clinching the empty net goal late in the third period. Perhaps Bergeron could have slowed down his momentum in the attack zone just a little bit, and Chara could have fended him off with his giant wingspan and active stick around the net.

Eichel is obviously an elite talent that’s enjoying a great season with greater talent all around him in Buffalo, but those are the exact kind of players that Chara and Bergeron are paid to stop.

“Turns out none of our match-ups were [good against Eichel]. His line clearly had their way, no matter who we put out there and it ended up being the difference in the game,” said Cassidy. “That was the gist behind it. At the end of the day their best players out played ours, from the goalies to the top line. Another tough one that we probably deserved points in, but we’re not getting them.”

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But it’s a would have, could have and should have situation until Bergeron perhaps returns next week, and then maybe Chara comes back a little while after. Until the Bruins have to keep scrapping, tighten up their defense and do whatever they can to learn how to win some of these games where everything isn’t exactly going their way.

“I think to be honest maybe we’re giving up a little bit more [defensively]. But it’s just big momentum shifts in the game where we need a big play and all of the sudden it’s a big play for the other team,” said Torey Krug. “Maybe that’s just where experience kicks in and we’re a team that needs to continue to learn how to win, and come up in those big moments. We’ve done a great job up until this point, so we got to get back to it.”

What the Bruins really need to get back to is their regular style of play with their full lineup. It may happen in the next couple of weeks with healthy players beginning to file back into the Boston lineup, but that wasn’t the case where simple defensive mistakes sunk the B’s against both Pittsburgh and Buffalo in the last few days. 

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Talking Points: Bruins don't have any answers for Eichel

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Talking Points: Bruins don't have any answers for Eichel

The pride of Chelmsford, Mass., made his presence known from all angles Sunday evening on a sheet of ice he's all too familiar with. Here are my biggest talking points from another Bruins loss . . . 

GOLD STAR: It was Jack Eichel all the way as he created, distributed and ultimately scored all over the Bruins. Eichel finished with a pair of goals and four points along with a plus-3 rating in 19 minutes of ice time, and pushed up six shots on net and nine shot attempts overall He scored on a nasty wrist shot that beat Tuukka Rask high to the glove side and he set up the game-winner when he dished a puck through the legs of Colby Cave with his back to the net that ultimately found Jeff Skinner to finish off the play. For good measure it was Eichel with the empty netter in the third period that ultimately decided a pretty important Atlantic Division game in favor of the Sabres.

BLACK EYE: It wasn’t a very good night for the Matt Grzelcyk/Charlie McAvoy pairing as McAvoy chased a play behind the Boston net that ultimately led to the game-winner for the Sabres. Meanwhile Grzelcyk was on the ice for two goals against vs. the Sabres, and was the defenseman that was beaten wide by Eichel before he fired the laser beam past Tuukka Rask for a third period goal. They certainly have good offensive instincts and have the experience of playing with each other at Boston University, but it might be that they’re better off being paired with different players for the time being. The B’s have been poked a little bit defensively in the last few games and part of that has been this particular pairing.

TURNING POINT: The turning point was ultimately the third period where the Bruins didn’t have any answers for Jack Eichel and the Sabres. Eichel scored a pair of goals in the final 20 minutes including a laser shot over Tuukka Rask’s glove hand that gave them a lead to start the final period, and also set up the game-winner when he drove the net and dished to Jeff Skinner for his second goal of the game as well. Eichel wasn’t finished yet, however, as he also scored the empty netter in the final minutes that clinched the victory for the Sabres, and showed that the B’s had absolutely no answer for stopping the Chelmsford native throughout the game.

HONORABLE MENTION: Torey Krug is beginning to turn things on with his offense and goal-scoring and scored again for the Bruins in the loss. It could have been a big goal as it tied things up in the third period and might have at least earned the Bruins a point. But instead it was a lost moment in the third period due to Jack Eichel’s heroics. But Krug still had an excellent game with the goal, the even plus/minus rating and nine shot attempts and the blocked shot. Krug also took a puck off the face in the third period that appeared to hit him in the nose, but he quickly returned to the game where he was rewarded with the third period score.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the number of penalty shots for Ryan Donato, who had a chance to score on a breakaway when he was tripped up from behind. He wasn’t able to score on it despite throwing a couple of moves at Linus Ullmark.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “[Jack Eichel’s] line clearly had their way, no matter who we put out there and it ended up being the difference in the game. That was the gist behind it. At the end of the day their best players out played ours, from the goalies to the top line.” –Bruce Cassidy, telling it like it was after the B’s lost the game to Buffalo in the third period. 

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