BRIGHTON, Mass – Here’s a few thoughts and observations from the Friday afternoon Bruins scrimmage at Warrior Ice Arena that marks the second-to-last practice for the two-week Return to Play camp at the B’s practice facility.
The Bruins will skate tomorrow morning in a final warm-up and then head to Toronto on Sunday to get ready for Phase 4 and actual games at the Hub City in the following week.
*The best news? The Bruins are 100 percent healthy after two weeks of ramping things up after the players hadn’t skated for four months. Both David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase missed the bulk of camp because they were “unfit to participate” but are expected to travel with the rest of the team when they leave for Toronto on Sunday. Nick Ritchie missed the final two days of practice as the team was finishing up camp as well, but that was once again under the headline of “unfit to participate.”
*Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka got alternating right wing looks on the top two lines throughout the Friday afternoon scrimmage. At times, it looked very good like when Bjork knifed through traffic utilizing his speed, dangled to the net and squeezed off a good scoring chance while skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Other times, it was a little more of a learning curve as Studnicka iced a puck as the Bruins top line was winding up out of the offensive zone with some speed through the neutral zone.
It sure feels like they wanted to give both players a long look in top-6 roles, however, and there’s a reason behind that. Methinks Ondrej Kase is going to have a battle on his hand for the second line right wing spot when he finally starts practicing with the Bruins after missing this entire first two weeks.
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*The Bruins players looked sluggish and not completely in-sync offensively when they scrimmaged last weekend in the afternoon, but it was a different story this time around. Zdeno Chara scored on a nice play to open things up when he jumped on a loose puck at the offensive blue line and flicked a wrist shot past Jaroslav Halak. Then Brad Marchand followed that up with another goal when he carried the puck in the offensive zone, dangled through Bruins defenders and then flipped a backhander to the short side for a highlight-reel goal.
John Moore might be looking for the scorch marks after that one. Chris Wagner scored on a shorthanded goal once they got going with the special teams practice and Matt Grzelcyk hammered one from the high point that went top corner through traffic in front. In other words, they looked like the Bruins with the speed, playmaking, hands and overall skill level all back toward where they need them to be in order to play competitive playoff hockey.
*The Bruins continue to put Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly together as third-line components and it makes for a big, mobile and physical style of play. Most days it’s been Nick Ritchie skating with them as well and that has given the Bruins a big, strong puck possession line that could be capable of leaning on opposing defenseman and playing that heavy brand of hockey. It could be a really effective look come playoff time, so it will be interesting to see if Bruce Cassidy sticks with that once Ondrej Kase is back in the mix creating competition between Ritchie, Kase, Bjork, Karson Kuhlman and perhaps even Jack Studnicka for playing time at the second and third-line wing spots.
*Clearly the Bruins group is missing some of their game-breaking ability with David Pastrnak missing from the fold, but both power plays looked very good during the Friday practice. Charlie McAvoy, in particular, looked aggressive and assertive with his offense and could really be a difference-making force if he pushes the issue a little bit more in terms of his offense. In one shift he was robbed by Tuukka Rask after crashing in backdoor, and then had another Grade-A scoring chance where he just missed wide of the net from the slot area.
After missing a couple of days of practice about a week ago, McAvoy looks completely up to speed and ready to go. Matt Grzelcyk is another player that steadily and efficiently has looked extremely good for the Bruins utilizing his elite skating ability and his growing experience to become a D-man that just seems to do everything right out on the ice. If Torey Krug does indeed leave in free agency, Grzelcyk is a guy that’s really improved in a lot of ways to help mitigate that loss even if he’s a little less explosive and creative offensively.