Nick Ritchie scored a power play goal in the second period of Sunday’s game against the Flyers, his fifth of the year. Entering Tuesday’s games, only three players — Joe Pavelski (Stars), Auston Matthews (Maple Leafs) and James van Riemsdyk (Flyers) — had scored more.
Ritchie’s latest was more in the Pavelski-JVR mold, rather than Matthews: he scored on a high tip from a John Moore point shot. He also chipped in an even-strength assist, pulling up off the rush and finding David Pastrnak.
Ritchie, who sits fourth on the Bruins in scoring (6-7—13), could blow away his previous career high (31 points). He is on pace for 46 points in 56 games, which equates to 66 in 82 games. The Bruins are plenty happy with what he brings to the No. 1 PP unit.
He is not on Brad Marchand’s level when it comes to puck retrieval. He doesn’t have the mobility of Jake DeBrusk. But Ritchie has worked as a net-front player on the man-up because he has hands, vision, and size.
“I think Ritch is doing a good job of getting open and also having his head up and trying to make those plays,” said Patrice Bergeron, typically stationed in the middle of the 1-3-1 formation.
Ritchie is getting more touches because teams are taking away the Bruins’ primary options.
One of the most common plays is a low-to-middle one-timer for Bergeron. Ritchie has made a few of those plays, including on a Feb. 3 goal against Philadelphia on which Bergeron one-touched Ritchie’s pass to an open Pastrnak at the back door.
On a first-period power play on Sunday, before the wheels fell off for the Flyers, they tightly marked Bergeron in the slot following a Bruins faceoff win. They had another key option, Pastrnak’s one-timer from the left circle, mostly closed off; it helped them that right-shooting Charlie McAvoy was running the point, making that a cross-body play for the defenseman.
McAvoy found Pastrnak anyway. Ritchie was open at the far-side post, and nearly had a tap-in when Pastrnak slipped a pass through the defender in front of him. Marchand, when he was playing net-front (with David Krejci on the right wall, and left-shooting Matt Grzelcyk up front), was particularly effective at finishing that timing play. With more reps, Ritchie could get that down and pot a few.
“We’re trying to create some new ones that are open,” Bergeron said. “I guess it’s a game of 2-on-1s on the power play, right? So it’s about trying to find where it is, and we’re trying to use Ritch a little bit more. He’s been very good at getting open, also for screening, and high tips and whatnot. So it’s been a great addition.”
Ritchie, the heaviest player on the Bruins roster (6 feet 2 inches, 230 pounds), is moving better than last year, when he put up two goals and one assist in 15 games (including one goal in eight playoff games) following the February 2020 trade from Anaheim. Part of that is a better understanding of the Bruins’ structure, and his responsibilities as a left wing here. He is averaging 15:53 per game, some three minutes more than last season.
Asked if Ritchie was in better shape, coach Bruce Cassidy deferred to the player.
“What I see this time around is a guy that’s more invested in the Bruins and in himself, to be honest with you,” Cassidy said. “He’s putting in the extra time to try to close that gap of increasing his foot speed, making plays in tight spaces at a higher pace.
“It’s tougher to get faster in terms of foot speed over your career. You can certainly improve a little bit. Some guys just seem to have fast-twitch muscles. Other guys have to work harder at it. Your recovery, your ability to stay stronger in battles, those little things, I think he’s worked really hard at. He’s trying to get his feet going quicker so he can make plays while he’s moving as opposed to standing still. All those things are good.
“I just see a mental side of things for Ritch this time around. He’s much more comfortable and invested in wanting to be a better player and help the team win.”
Zboril, Miller could return
Defensemen Jakub Zboril and Kevan Miller, both of whom attended an optional practice on Tuesday, were possibilities to play Thursday against the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum. Zboril (out since Feb. 13 with an upper-body injury) was wearing a non-contact jersey, and could practice Wednesday. Miller (knee) was left off the Lake Tahoe travel roster for “load management” reasons … Matt Grzelcyk (lower body) skated on his own before practice, while David Krejci (lower body) did not skate. Jeremy Lauzon, who left Sunday’s game with an upper body injury, was also absent … Brandon Carlo, who wore Krejci’s ‘A’ in Lake Tahoe, called it “probably the biggest honor of my life. It means so much to me that this group and the management and everybody can trust me to take on that responsibility. It definitely warmed my heart, gave me an extra boost of confidence” … The Bruins have been on the penalty kill for 20:27 more than they’ve been on the power play. That ranks as the third-worst differential in the league, behind Washington and Montreal. Having a differential tilted the other way — toward the power play — is not necessarily indicative of overall success. Powerhouse Colorado ranks third (plus-19:02), but lottery-bound Detroit, Buffalo and Ottawa round out the top four.