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Injuries force Bruins to lean on rookie defensemen

Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman took the loss against the Flyers after opening his NHL career with two straight wins.
Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman took the loss against the Flyers after opening his NHL career with two straight wins.Derik Hamilton/Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — The Bruins opened the new season in January with two rookies, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril, mixed into their blueline corps, hoping they’d assimilate quickly into life in the NHL.

Sunday night at the Garden, faced with the Washington Capitals (7:08 faceoff), the four other backline starters on opening night likely all will be on the sidelines due to the mounting injury bug.

Matt Grzelcyk played only 10 shifts here on Saturday, exiting for the day after the first period due to what the club identified only as an upper-body injury (believed to be from a Sean Couturier elbow to his head along the sidewall).


Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy both were in Boston, recovering from their injuries, when the puck dropped here shortly after 2 p.m. And Kevan Miller, who logged 25 shifts and 20:32 here, is not expected to play Sunday because of workload management. The training staff believes it is best for Miller right now not to play in back-to-back dates after undergoing surgery to repair his fractured kneecap.

Jarred Tinordi, a waiver wire pickup earlier this season, should draw back into the lineup vs. the Capitals with Connor Clifton, Steve Kampfer, and the two aforementioned rookies.

Coach Bruce Cassidy was unsure who might fill the other vacant spot, but did bring up Jack Ahcan’s name. The 23-year-old Ahcan made his NHL debut last month, spotting in for a game in Buffalo, but hasn’t been used since.

“If Gryz is out, and Carlo’s out, and McAvoy’s out, and Miller needs maintenance,” mused Cassidy, " we are leaning on [Lauzon and Zboril] for a little bit more, within reason.”

Goalies have to help out in such challenged manpower situations, said Cassidy, and the forwards have to be extra attentive to helping out on the back end.


Swayman suffers the loss

Jeremy Swayman, now 2-1-0 in less than a week’s work in net, was given his choice to start or take the day off, following the death of his UMaine coach, Red Gendron, 63, on Friday.

“To be honest, we talked with Jeremy about it yesterday,” Cassidy said before the game. “But he is ready to go, ready to play. Again, the hockey world is a little less fortunate today with the passing of Red.

“We gave Jeremy the option …. saying, ‘Mentally, if you need a day ... that’s more important than a start, we can put [Dan Vladar] in and sort out [who starts] Sunday.’ But he’s ready to go. I’m sure he had a close relationship— only he can say how close. Him and Alfie Michaud, their goalie coach, obviously they spent three years together.”

Vladar expected to start Sunday

Vladar, Swayman’s backup the last three games, is expected to get net duties Sunday night with the Capitals on Causeway Street.

Cassidy said Friday that Vladar would get the start, provided Tuukka Rask, injured over a month ago, was unable to resume duties. Cassidy said prior to puck drop here that Rask, though progressing, is targeted for a start later in the week.

Vladar, who made his NHL debut with a win in Pittsburgh on March 16, has a 2-1-0 record and .922 save percentage.

“Healthy competition … both guys have played well,” said Cassidy, reflecting on the art of balancing the expectations of two rookie goaltenders. “One of them had to get two out of three [starts] and we went with Sway.”


Competition among goalies, noted Cassidy, is part of the job description. Only one guy plays at a time, and waiting for work often is a job unto itself.

“Pro hockey, as a goaltender, you’re always competing against someone,” he added. “They’re both competing against Jaro [Halak] and Tuukka to a certain extent while they’re down in Providence, while they’re competing against each other with [Callum] Booth and Kyle Keyser. I think they just get used to it as a pro. That’s part of the deal until they become an established No. 1 up here.

Miller looking for balance

Miller logged 45:50 in ice time over the last two games … He is still trying to balance the rest/workload equation, following surgeries to repair a fractured kneecap, and said on Thursday that he expects he won’t be playing on back-to back dates …. McAvoy remained in Boston Saturday, after getting dinged up Monday night at the Garden vs. the Flyers, and is expected to miss his fourth straight game on Sunday … For a team desperate to stay in the playoff discussion, the Flyers landed only 23 shots on net, hardly a ferocious attack …David Pastrnak went 0-0—0 for a second straight game and landed only six shots over the last two outings. “That line will have to get going,” said Cassidy, referring to the Nick Ritchie-David Krejci-Pastrnak trio. “They had a nice game against Pittsburgh, but we’re going to need them to score, or create offense at minimum to give us momentum if we’re going to win games.” ... The Flyers scored a fourth goal in the third period, but it was washed over the board when review showed Jakub Voracek clearly interfered with Swayman in the crease. The frosh tender immediately and assertively objected on the play and Cassidy was quick to call for the review.


Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.