Matt Grzelcyk

Matt Grzelcyk (lower body) knocked out of Bruins' OT win over Islanders

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Matt Grzelcyk (lower body) knocked out of Bruins' OT win over Islanders

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — The Bruins welcomed back Zdeno Chara to the lineup this weekend. But they lost another key member of their defensemen corps on that very same night.

Matt Grzelcyk exited the Bruins' 3-2 overtime win over the New York Islanders early in the first period with a lower body injury Saturday night, after getting slashed in the back of the knee by Derick Brassard. There was no penalty called on the play. 

Grzelcyk finished with just 1:27 of ice time on two shifts before leaving the ice. Head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that Grzelcyk had X-rays taken.

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“He got slashed somewhere in the back of the leg or knee,” said Cassidy. “He went for X-rays and I don’t have any update beyond that, except hoping that they were negative and it’s just one of those ones that really stung. We’ll probably give [more information] tomorrow.”

If Grzelcyk isn't a go for Monday night in Philadelphia, Steve Kampfer is ready to jump into the lineup. The veteran played in Thursday's win over Winnipeg.

The B’s also managed to get through Saturday’s win with Charlie McAvoy (28:43), Torey Krug (26:22) and Brandon Carlo (26:03) all doing Yeoman’s work of ice time in Grzelcyk's absence.

Matt Grzelcyk's peformance in Torey Krug's absence gives Bruins something to think about

Matt Grzelcyk's peformance in Torey Krug's absence gives Bruins something to think about

All it took was one breathtaking rush up the ice in overtime last weekend for Torey Krug to show exactly what he means to the Boston Bruins.

Clearly it was more than that with Krug posting three points, six shots on net and a plus-2 in 20:26 of ice time in the 5-4 overtime win, his first game in nearly two weeks due to an upper body injury, but the 28-year-old defenseman showed exactly what kind of impact he’s capable of with the end-to-end rush and big offensive night while balancing that with his usual top-4 defenseman duties.

“Torey was good. He had to kill a lot of penalties, which coming off a five-game layoff isn’t ideal. Zee (Chara) got whistled a few times tonight so, we’re a little bit shorthanded in that regard in terms of how they try to generate on the power play. [The Wild have] got bigger bodies up front so, Griz (Grzelyck) and Kampfer and Krug had their hands full,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think it was seven by the end of the night. I can’t remember the last time we had to kill seven [penalties], so that’s a lot or work for them.

“It’s good that he had a little left in the tank offensively at the end of the night and he played to his strength at the end and finished well. Had a nice spurt through the middle, obviously that took a little bit of conditioning to be able to do that at the end of the game. Clearly he looked after himself while he was out.”

But a funny thing happened for the five-game stretch when Krug was out with an upper body injury. Matt Grzelcyk stepped up in the absence of Krug, played in his spot as Brandon Carlo’s defensive partner and upped his offensive game in the void left by Krug. Grzelcyk posted two goals, four points and a plus-3 rating in the five games along with eight shots on net, and averaged well over 20 minutes of ice time during that stretch.

The 25-year-old Grzelcyk might not have been everything that Krug is for the Bruins, particularly on the power play, but his performance gives the Bruins something to think about with Krug in the last year of his contract with the B’s. Krug will easily be able to demand $7 million-plus per season based on the contracts handed out to Thomas Chabot (eight years, $64 million), Roman Josi (eight years, $72.4 million) and Jared Spurgeon (seven years, $53 million) over the last couple of months, and it remains to be seen if the Bruins will be able to afford that kind of contract.

But it was noticeable that Grzelcyk shot the puck with greater frequency in Krug’s stead and stepped up his offense to the point where he’s on a pace to post career highs on offense with seven goals and 25 points.

“I think he’s a little more comfortable where he knows the plays that are there that we’re trying to run. He hasn’t had a ton of practice time [on the top PP] either, so I just think from being here, just doing it in the game, he’ll watch [Torey] Krug. He’s been on that unit a little bit before. [Against Buffalo] he was able to get in all alone, make a few, didn’t hesitate to shoot, one of them led to a goal and on one he scored himself,” said Cassidy. “He kept the puck alive, so yeah, he’s taken on a little bit more [responsibility]. As long as he doesn’t overdo it — I think that’s a group that functions as a group of five for the most part.”

Both the Bruins and Torey Krug’s camp have engaged in discussions on a contract extension since prior to the season once things got done with McAvoy and Carlo on contracts, but there’s been no indication they are anywhere close on a new deal. Part of that is about the Bruins evaluating what else they hold organizationally on the back end, and forecasting how readily they can replace everything that Krug gives them at both ends of the ice. 

Is it conceivable that Grzelcyk can really take a leap forward and do everything that Krug is able to do in quarterbacking a power play, absorbing top-4 minutes and doing it with consistency year-in and year-out? 

That’s not going to be easy given that Krug has been one of the most productive NHL defensemen over the last three seasons, right up there with other elite D-men like Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and John Klingberg. It's also in question whether Grzelcyk has the same kind of dangerous shot from the point that Krug has featured since coming into the league. 

What it does do is give the Bruins a backup plan should they decide they are unable to afford Krug, or even allow Bruins management at some point this season to explore dealing the offensive defenseman for whatever serious value he could yield in return. The calculus for keeping Krug comes down to whether the Bruins believe they can replace his offense with the continued development of Grzelcyk, Charlie McAvoy and Urho Vaakanainen, or whether the 10 goals and 50 points per season and explosive playmaking is something that only Krug can provide.

So far McAvoy and Vaakanainen haven’t really lived up to their end of the bargain this season when it comes to giving the Bruins confidence they can thrive in a post-Krug world, but the recent performance of Grzelcyk at least gives them something to think about.

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Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Devils

Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Devils

GOLD STAR: Matt Grzelcyk kicked off the scoring for the Bruins and finished with the first two-goal game of his NHL career in the win over the Devils. Grzelcyk had the two goals along with a plus-2 rating in 19:16 of ice time while showing exactly what he can do offensively with Torey Krug out of the lineup. The second score in the third period was a highlight-reel goal as he faked out PK Subban at the offensive blue line and then rocketed a shot under the crossbar past Mackenzie Blackwood to ice things for the Black and Gold. Grzelcyk finished with three shots on net, a hit and a blocked shot in the biggest offensive game of his career.

BLACK EYE: PK Subban looked bad against the B's. Subban finished with a minus-2, took a lazy tripping penalty in the third period that led to David Pastrnak’s insurance power-play goal and then got completely posterized by Grzelcyk on a third-period goal where he dangled right around the New Jersey D-man. Subban didn’t do much of anything at the offensive end either aside from one shot in the slot area that Tuukka Rask made a pretty routine save on. It all underscores just how much Subban’s skills have apparently eroded due to either age or injuries because he sure isn’t the same guy that he was in his younger years in Montreal.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins had a solid 2-1 lead after the first 40 minutes, but they had given up a goal late in the second period that ate away at their momentum a little bit. So, it was important for them to come out guns blazing in the third and that is exactly what they did while blowing the Devils out of the water. The Bruins scored three goals and took advantage of some sloppy mistakes from the Devils to pull away in a game that felt a lot closer than it ultimately ended up being on the scoreboard. Certainly, seeing the B’s pull away from teams in the third is a much more welcome sight than the third-period implosion we saw against Florida a week ago.  

HONORABLE MENTION: David Krejci was excellent sliding in as the top center between Brad Marchand and Pastrnak, just as he was last season when Patrice Bergeron also missed time with an injury. Krejci got the secondary assist with a great backhanded pass on Grzelcyk’s first-period goal and then he set up Pastrnak for his first-period score as well. Krejci finished with a couple of assists, a plus-3 rating and 7-for-14 on face-offs in 15:49 of ice time. Krejci is again showing exactly what he could do if he was ever centered between a pair of elite offensive wingers instead of the carousel of right wings the Bruins have provided him the past couple seasons.

BY THE NUMBERS: 19 – the number of goals for Pastrnak this season after another two-goal outburst. That leads the NHL. There have only been seven games this season for the Bruins where he hasn’t scored a goal.  

QUOTE TO NOTE:  “I don’t think we made one mistake in the third [period]. We just played winning hockey in the third.” –David Pastrnak, to NESN on the B’s pulling away from the Devils in the final 20 minutes.

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