The Bruins are trying to develop Trent Frederic’s offensive game. They want to convince him he can impact the game by throwing shots at the net, rather than fists at someone else’s mug.
Is the 23-year-old a future top-line forward? That seems unlikely. But with Brad Marchand remaining on the COVID list on Sunday, along with fellow left-shot forwards Jake DeBrusk and Sean Kuraly, someone had to take the plum assignment of riding with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Enter Frederic, for the second game in a row.
Frederic (three hits, one missed shot in 14:59) didn’t last. He was replaced by Anders Bjork after the first period, and had a hard-luck moment in the second. During a board battle, his elbow caught Bergeron in the face, sending the Boston captain to the dressing room for repairs.
Bergeron’s nose, cut and swelled to the size of a small tomato, “took a beating,” he said, “but I’m good.”
Absent an X-ray, he believed it might be broken again. It was busted before on a devastating 2007 hit by Philadelphia’s Randy Jones, and again in the 2012 playoffs.
Meanwhile, Bjork provided a spark. In 3:55 on the top line, the unit outshot the Devils, 6-2, according to Natural Stat Trick.
Frederic (4-1—5 in 11:32 per night) would come off the top line if Marchand is ready to go in Tuesday’s rematch with Boston.
He has nearly as many fights (three) as points, but he wasn’t dead weight up there in the eyes of Bruce Cassidy. After all, teams don’t usually spend first-round picks (29th overall in 2016) on players lacking offensive upside.
“Get the puck to those two guys when that play is there,” Cassidy said before puck drop. “When it’s not, make sure you’re getting to the net. When it’s your turn to shoot, shoot. Be a net presence for them. That’s it.
“Freddy’s a smart player. He’s played with good players before. He was with [Charlie] Coyle and Smitty [Craig Smith] and did some real good work with them. We went away from that for different reasons. He’s been around good NHL players and he can complement them. That’s the message. Do what you do best. Learn from them. If they talk to you and ask you to do something, pay attention.”
He was coming off a decent outing against the Sabres. Frederic played with the Bergeron-Pastrnak duo for 10:52 at 5 on 5 on Saturday, the group carrying an 8-5 shots advantage over the moribund Sabres. Some of the pressure was off the youngster, since the second line of Nick Ritchie, David Krejci, and Smith was buzzing — two goals, a 13-1 shots advantage.
They couldn’t bring that into the back-to-back.
Giving it the ‘ol college try
His Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs had to push through an NCAA Tournament-record five overtimes Saturday night to advance to the Frozen Four. A little hand soreness wasn’t going to stop Karson Kuhlman.
The ex-UMD captain, who sat out Saturday after taking a slapper off the top of his left hand Thursday against the Islanders, was in the lineup Sunday against the Devils.
He slotted on a fourth line with fellow Providence call-ups Anton Blidh and Jack Studnicka, landing four shots. The hand seemed fine.
Blidh was playing his first game here since Feb. 5, when he appeared twice on the road against the Flyers. Cassidy tried him as a left-stick penalty killer, with the aforementioned three (Marchand, Kuraly, and to a lesser extent DeBrusk) out, and Greg McKegg submitting a no-show on Saturday in 4:04 on ice.
Kuhlman, playing in place of Chris Wagner (7:04 on Saturday) was likely hoping to kick-start the fourth line. Studnicka, like his mates, couldn’t get off the bench (7:08) on Saturday. Wagner, who was scratched for the fifth time in his last eight games on Sunday, seems to have a short leash.
Fortunately for Boston in that win over the Sabres, the top three lines were going. And, well, Buffalo didn’t play the kind of game where a No. 4 unit was needed.
Training wheels are off
Cassidy doesn’t want to limit Jakub Zboril, the young defenseman being trained as a left-side play-driver. He has made his share of gaffes in the last few games, but entered Sunday with a vote of confidence from his coach.
“Just be assertive with puck play. I find there’s more offense there. He sees the ice well. He’s got a good shot, but he’s not getting it through to the net at all,” Cassidy said. “Probably has some opportunities to get up the ice.”
Defensively, Zboril should know he won’t be stapled to the bench if he coughs up the puck, or gets lost. Keeping his shifts short, on a back-to-back, was a teaching point coming into Sunday. He was paired with Steve Kampfer rather than Connor Clifton, Cassidy trying a veteran with Zboril instead of someone else from the kiddie corps.
“As long as he’s showing second effort on plays, and to kill plays, we’re going to allow him to play through mistakes just like every other player would here. I think he’s done that for the most part.”
The Bruins need minutes, to say nothing of production, from the second and third pairs. Charlie McAvoy, who worked 26:32 against the Sabres, was up to 18th in the league (and fourth in the East Division) in average time on ice (24:04).
Asked how he keeps McAvoy’s ice time in check, Cassidy said, “we don’t.” It depends on the game.
“It’s it a physical game, or is there a little more room out there? I think with Buffalo, not as physical a team so it’s not as taxing, the minutes on him,” Cassidy said. “How much is PK? That’s always hard ... Pittsburgh when we were up there (March 15 and 16, when McAvoy played 25 and 30 minutes), it was a back-to-back, that was just a game we felt we needed to push. Let’s stop the bleeding. We had lost a couple. Those situations will develop. Hopefully not a lot.
“That’s how we look at it. How’s he feeling? Some days players just have it. They have great energy. He’s young, so why not use it — depending on the schedule, of course.”
The NHL announced 19 reschedulings to its remaining regular season schedule, four of which involve the Bruins. The two games Boston lost earlier this month, at Buffalo and hosting the Islanders, will be played on April 20 and May 10, respectively. That will require moves of two of their remaining four games with Washington.
Instead of Washington visiting Boston for the second time in three days on April 20, they’ll come on April 11, the day after the Bruins play in Philadelphia. Boston was to play in Washington that day, but will instead finish the regular season in the nation’s capital on May 11.
All four games are 7 p.m. faceoffs. The NHL regular season was scheduled to conclude on May 9, but now has five games scheduled on the 10th and two more on the 11th.