CHICAGO — Some will point to Wednesday’s first goal of the season as a breakthrough moment this year for 22-year-old defenseman Charlie McAvoy after up and down play in the first half of the regular season.
There’s no doubt it was “a relief” as McAvoy called it after going through 51 games and four full months of hockey this season before the offensive D-man finally notched a goal on the ledger for the 2019-20 season.
“It’s nice. It was tough. It weighs [on you]. As much as you don’t want to say, you think about it and your confidence and everything. You feel like you can contribute a set amount and sometimes when it’s not there you take a bit of a hit. But I said to these guys ‘thanks for keeping my confidence high’ and they all do,” said McAvoy, looking around the Bruins dressing room. “Everybody was saying it was coming, it was coming. The response was pretty neat. They were all busting my chops. Hopefully from there my confidence [comes back] and maybe I see more things go in for me.
They wouldn’t let me up [after the goal]. I was down there [under the pile] for about 30 seconds and then I was like ‘I guess we’re just staying in Chicago tonight.’ It was awesome. We are such a close group and I could feel everybody’s genuine happiness for me. We all share that with each other when everybody does good things.
But the truth is that the game-winning overtime goal in Wednesday night’s 2-1 OT win over the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center had been in the works for a couple games as McAvoy has clearly elevated his play coming out of the extended 10-day break for All-Star Weekend and Boston’s bye week.
It was most readily apparent as McAvoy tapped in a Jake DeBrusk feed in transition to catapult the B’s to their fifth straight win after 22 minutes of strong performance against Chicago, but the simple fact is he’s been a dominant No. 1 defenseman for a couple of weeks.
It was McAvoy who drilled Mark Schiefele at the defensive blue in Winnipeg with a punishing hit that embroiled the Bruins into their combative win over the Jets, who set up each of Boston’s first two goals in Tuesday night’s shutout win over Vancouver and then it was McAvoy again last night stepping up and providing the heroics in overtime against the Blackhawks.
“He was still playing very well for us. He’s had a little tough luck and at times he’s over-passed a little bit as well. But [in overtime] he had no choice and had to shoot it. I’m happy for him,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s just playing lots of minutes, playing to his strength and getting up the ice when he can. I liked his first assist [against Vancouver] with a shot through traffic. He’s a good match-up player for us every night and the offense will come. Maybe [the last two games] is a sign of things to come.”
There’s no coincidence to the fact that McAvoy has been playing his best hockey of the season while the Bruins have won five games in a row to fortify their position at the top of the Atlantic Division standings. It was a challenge at times for McAvoy to keep confidence up when the young D-man hadn’t scored in the first 51 games of the season, but that’s where his experienced teammates came into play.
Certainly, he’s feeling refreshed after the midseason break across the NHL and he’s playing his best, most instinctual hockey of the season right now.
“The break was very helpful physically for a little bit of rest and recovery for the body,” said McAvoy. “Coming back I feel energized and I feel good. I feel like I can move around skate a little more, and that I have a little more energy. It really goes a long way. I’m going to go for as long as that lasts, and then I’ll be looking for new routines and new recoveries to find ways to stay fresh.”
It’s a tall order for McAvoy to fill his job description every night as a No. 1 defenseman who needs to play in every situation and needs to make an impact offensively, defensively and physically, but the saying goes that much is expected to whom much is given.
McAvoy was given quite a bit in the hockey talent department — and he’s playing like the dominant force he can be over the last handful of games.