Brett Ritchie

Kuhlman jumps back in and helps Bruins while 'keeping it simple'

Kuhlman jumps back in and helps Bruins while 'keeping it simple'

The Bruins immediately went the speed and skill route after removing Brett Ritchie from the roster with Karson Kuhlman notching a pair of assists in a big win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Kuhlman finished with the two helpers and a plus-2 rating in just 9:56 of ice time in his first NHL appearance since he broke a bone in his leg back in mid-October. 

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It was obviously a promising start for Kuhlman in his second go-around with the Bruins this season and he immediately showed some chemistry with the second- and third-line forwards he was paired with throughout the 4-1 win on Thursday night. It’s now up to Kuhlman to keep it up after showing in the past that his game fades a bit once he plays a few games in a row and enters back into the grind of the NHL.

His speed and tenacity could help the Bruins in the short term, but only if he’s got the ability to play that way just about every night.

“What I like about [Karson] Kuhlman is what I’ve always said, is that he can sit for stretches. You know, you get into those power plays and he doesn’t get that many minutes, and his motor gets zero to sixty in a hurry,” said Bruce Cassidy. “The bigger-body guys, they just naturally have a tougher time with that when they sit, it just tends to be the way it is. So, that’s one thing we’ve always liked about Kuhly — he can get up, get motor, get on pucks, get on defense, win some races.

“I mean, tonight [Thursday] he obviously chipped in a little bit of offense, good for him. We expect some level of offense and to get it right away is a nice win, it’s nice to have that production. Drives the net on the [Sean] Kuraly goal — something else we’ve talked about, getting inside a little more. Big or small, we need that. Against good teams, you have to be able to do that. All in all, Kuhly, nice night for what he brings and we’re happy to have him back. He’s a nice player for us.”

The Bruins went into this season with Kuhlman earmarked as a top-six winger for David Krejci after he put together three goals and five points in 11 games last season and had a few moments in the playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final as well. It was as much a statement about the Bruins being short on top-six wingers as much as it was about their excitement in Kuhlman’s game. That remains the case with the trade deadline looming next month.  

“It was great to be back, to be honest with you. A lot of adrenaline and my legs were there and my conditioning was there. So, I was happy to be where we were at. I was happy to be back,” said Kuhlman. “It was just getting to the bench and re-focusing on what I can do to help the team win. My game is getting up and down the ice, winning puck battles and getting pucks to the net. Keeping it simple is one of the best things I can do to help this team.”

Some have deduced that Kuhlman (5-11, 185) replacing Ritchie (6-4, 220) means the Bruins have consciously chosen speed and skill over size and strength for the long haul and it remains to be seen if that’s the case. What Kuhlman, 24, did do is again show he's capable of helping the Bruins in short bursts and against smaller, speedier opponents. That in itself is no small feat for a team in search of energy and wins right now.

Bruins place Brett Ritchie on waivers following loss to Blue Jackets

Bruins place Brett Ritchie on waivers following loss to Blue Jackets

Bruins management has responded to last night’s complete lack of response to their All-Star goaltender getting taken out with a punch to the head, and it has resulted in Bruins winger Brett Ritchie getting placed on waivers on Wednesday afternoon.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Ritchie was in the lineup for Wednesday night’s 3-0 shutout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, and finished with a couple of shots on net and five registered hits.

What Ritchie didn’t do was anything resembling a physical response to Emil Bemstrom clocking Rask in the side of the head in the first couple of minutes in the game, whether it was challenging Bemstrom or going hard at the Columbus net in the aftermath.

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Ritchie similarly didn’t do much in a Dec. 23 loss to the Washington Capitals where Caps skaters took runs at Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy and knocked both of them out of the game with injuries.

The big 26-year-old Ritchie was brought in as a free agent to bring some toughness, size and grit to the Bruins forward group that was clearly lacking it at times last season, most notably during the Stanley Cup Final loss to the St. Louis Blues.

He’s shown a couple of flashes of that in his stint with the Bruins this season, but not nearly enough to be the player that Boston clearly needs up front to protect teammates and instill a little fear into opponents.

Ritchie has two goals and six points along with a minus-3 rating in 27 games thus far and has failed to lock down a permanent niche in the lineup due to injuries and his own inconsistent, sometimes invisible level of play.

With an opening on the roster, the Bruins will most likely dip into Providence and could be about to recall 2016 first round pick Trent Frederic, who is leading the AHL with 102 penalty minutes this season to go along with five goals and 20 points.

Not only would the 22-year-old Frederic provide some of the physicality and attitude that the Bruins are lacking right now, but he’s also coming into his own as a potential bottom-6 center or wing possibility who could really help the Bruins.

Certainly the Bruins could go in a different direction and bring up Karson Kuhlman now playing in Providence after coming from his leg injury, but the waiving of Ritchie sure feels like a reaction to what played out on the ice in Columbus on Tuesday night.

Ritchie returns to Bruins lineup after encouraging signs vs. Nashville

Ritchie returns to Bruins lineup after encouraging signs vs. Nashville

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – With the moms' visit is over for the Bruins, they'll look to continue to win with a lineup at the Barclays Center on Saturday night against the New York Islanders that will be exactly the same as the one that played so well in Nashville on Tuesday. 

That means Zdeno Chara (jaw infection) will return after a one-game absence against the Winnipeg Jets and Brett Ritchie will replace David Backes. Backes was slotted back in against Winnipeg ostensibly to get some ice time while the entire roster’s moms were with the team the past few days, but his most recent games against the Devils and Jets (zero points, two shots on net and about eight minutes of ice time in each game) have not screamed out for more opportunities.

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“The mothers were here and our plan was to use everybody for obvious reasons. I think it’s a good team-building exercise and we try to use everybody on our roster anyway, so it was as good a time as any,” said Bruce Cassidy. “[Brett Ritchie] just happened to come after one of his better games [against Nashville]. He’s fighting for consistency, but that’s the way it worked out. I told him he would go back in and that’s what he’s doing [against Brooklyn].”

For Ritchie, in particular, it’s a key period of time in his stint with the Black and Gold as he showed something in a physical, engaged effort against Nashville while other forwards are on the mend that might challenge him for a roster spot such as Karson Kuhlman.

It’s important for Ritchie to show more after a quiet, lack-of-impact first half that included two goals, six points and a minus-3 in 24 games to this point in the year.

“I think he was good at creating separation. It’s not just going in and banging the glass and getting your hit and then they break out. It’s getting in there at the right time and separating the man from the puck. He was good at that,” said Cassidy. “I thought he held onto some pucks better.

“He’s a big man and he needs to learn how to separate without exposing the puck and move it when he does get flooded [with defenders]. I don’t think he’s done a good enough job of that on some nights, and that’s just part of the job description no matter what size you are. He got there [to the net] to create some anxiety for the goalie and forced the D to occupy him. It’s very simple. Create some looks pucks on the fore-check, go to the net or [be] the shooter or [be] the playmaker. Whatever your part is play it on your line and he did a good job of it.”

The third line of Danton Heinen, Charlie Coyle and Ritchie definitely has a different look with the size and strength of two out of the three players. They focused on that and helped turn it into offense against the Predators. Now, they will look to build on that against the Isles and continue to create secondary scoring that’s finally reappeared in the past couple of wins for the Black and Gold.

In addition to the changes up front, Tuukka Rask will be back between the pipes at the most lacking current arena among the NHL's 31:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Bjork

Heinen-Coyle-Ritchie

Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner

 
Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Clifton

 
Rask