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Even without Big Z, Bruins’ PK is A-OK

Charlie McAvoy, Jeremy Lauzon, and Tuukka Rask defend the Bruins net during the early going of their game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Monday.
Charlie McAvoy, Jeremy Lauzon, and Tuukka Rask defend the Bruins net during the early going of their game against the New York Islanders at Nassau Coliseum on Monday.Bruce Bennett/Getty

UNIONDALE, N.Y. — While the Bruins are finding their way offensively, the defense and penalty kill looks strong without former captain Zdeno Chara.

Chara has fit in fine on the Washington back line, averaging 19:55 of ice time with a team-best plus-4 rating. He is the Capitals’ shorthanded ice time leader (3:42 per game).

But his former team, boosted by the solid work of Brandon Carlo, the return of Kevan Miller, and the rise of Jeremy Lauzon and other youngsters, has not missed a beat without Chara’s gigantic presence.

Boston has allowed five goals in three games, and its penalty kill is 12 for 12 to start the year, with a plus-1 goal differential (Patrice Bergeron on Saturday).


The Bruins snuffed out all five Islander power plays in a 1-0 loss Monday. Part of it was effective work by the forwards, including newcomer Jack Studnicka, but this Carlo-led defensive unit does everything coach Bruce Cassidy asks: sticks in lanes, boxes out, closes quickly, goes hard on the forecheck.

“I’m pleased with the PK,” Cassidy said, after his group allowed six shots on goal while shorthanded. “Those young D are battling hard. They’re settling in nicely. It’s only been three games, but they seem comfortable.”

Youngster Jeremy Lauzon has had a strong start to the season.
Youngster Jeremy Lauzon has had a strong start to the season.Bill Kostroun/Associated Press

Lauzon, age 23 and 38 games into his NHL tenure, logged 6:04 on the penalty kill and 22:58 in total. He finished with seven hits. The veteran Miller (five hits in 17:28) has not shown evidence of his 19-month layoff with knee trouble. His partner, 23-year-old Jakub Zboril (two blocks in 18:14) has made strong first passes and looks confident.

He spent 1:47 on the second-unit power play, and could be in line for more if Matt Grzlecyk, who left the game Monday with an apparent upper-body injury, misses extended time.

“I’ve played two games. I don’t think we’ve given up too many scoring chances,” goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “The new young D who have stepped up have done a tremendous job. We’re so mobile back there.”


Get in line

Over the next few weeks, the Bruins hope to get an idea of where Studnicka, 21, is in his development. David Pastrnak’s injury (expected return date: early February) should allow the natural center plenty of reps as a top-six right wing.

“We haven’t had to say a lot to Jack,” Cassidy said. “He’s young. It’s about pace of the game, play in straight lines. Some of the stuff you can get away with, the fancy moves, in junior and the American league — guys are stronger here. They have better sticks. So pick your spots.”

Studnicka kept it simple but effective Monday, making several smart plays that led to chances in his 13:52 of work. He submitted a strong 2:36 on the penalty kill, partnering with Sean Kuraly for a couple shorthanded opportunities.

In practices, Cassidy noted, Studnicka will make “no-look passes, behind-the-back” and other creative plays. The Bruins want to see that, but not at the expense of an odd-man rush the other way.

“Some of those things that make him a good player, creative,” Cassidy said, “you have to be mindful of what you can get away with, what you can’t.”

Kase on the mend

The Bruins are off Tuesday, which will give Ondrej Kase (upper body) more time to heal. The winger was unavailable Monday. Craig Smith (lower body), who missed Saturday’s game, was all systems go. He took a goaltender interference penalty when he clipped Semyon Varlamov on the forecheck, but had three good scoring chances in 12:46 of work . . . If Grzlecyk’s injury forces him to miss time, the Bruins would look at Charlie McAvoy (25:18 on Monday) as the No. 1 power-play quarterback. Grzelcyk, who entered Monday with a team-high 10 shots on goal, landed one more . . . Nick Ritchie continues to play well. He had six shots on goal — one more than Brad Marchand — and two hits in 15:02. Those two aside, no Bruin landed more than two shots . . . This was one of the final Bruins visits to Nassau Coliseum, which is nearing the end of the line. Next season the Islanders will move from the oldest rink in the league (opened 1972) to UBS Arena, under construction about 9 miles east in Elmont . . . The Islanders, who had been splitting time at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, are playing all home games here. They host the Bruins three more times: Feb. 13, Feb. 25, and March 9. The Islanders come to Boston four times in a 21-day span (March 25-April 16) . . . It was the first Islanders game at Nassau since March 7, 2020.


Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.