BUFFALO — The Bruins took on the Sabres Tuesday night to kick off a three-game set here aside Lake Erie, but league-imposed COVID-19 restrictions continued to prevent much in the way of off-ice bonding or camaraderie.
“Unfortunately, no … it doesn’t even matter where you are,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, asked if the protracted stay here could serve as a bonding agent for his club. “What the ask has been from the National Hockey League in terms of getting together.”
Given that it’s now late April, and the season began Jan. 13, noted Cassidy, expectations were that the protocols might be relaxed by now for the players, coaches, and staff.
“But it hasn’t,” he said. “I know the vaccinations now are opened up, so that may determine going forward a little bit more freedom for the guys. But I’m just speculating that could happen. Right now, no, there’s not much you can do — go to the rink, get your work done, and on off-days kind of sit around your room.”
In some cases, hotels offer large rooms that allow players, if they observe social distancing, to gather in limited numbers for, say, a game of ping-pong.
“But as for really getting together,” said Cassidy, “it’s pretty limited.”
Cassidy said he believes some of the Bruins players have been vaccinated.
“I know the coaching staff’s all been through, medical … and I think some of the players have gone,” he said. “Now I don’t know exactly which ones. I think they’ve been on their own to do it. We had been trying to get organized where they could get it together, but that hasn’t taken place yet. Doesn’t mean it won’t. But that’s kind of where we’re at.”
Grzelcyk is back
Defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who exited the lineup following the first period vs. the Flyers April 10, returned to work after a five-game layoff. The pride of Charlestown opened the night paired again with fellow Boston University alum Charlie McAvoy on the No. 1 defense unit.
Grzelcyk, 3-10—13 in his first 25 games, also returned as the lone point man on the No. 1 power-play unit, backing Nick Ritchie, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand.
McAvoy and newcomer Mike Reilly were in traditional point roles on PP2, working David Krejci’s line with newcomer Taylor Hall and Craig Smith.
Ever since the April 12 deadline acquisitions of Curtis Lazar, Reilly, and Hall, the Bruins have been less power-play reliant in pursuit of victory (0 for 4 against the Sabres). In turn, they’ve been sizzling hot at five-on-five, a department where they were stone-cold for the first three months of the season.
In the five games (all wins), the Bruins have scored a total of 17 goals and all but two came at five-on-five. They entered Tuesday tied with Nashville at No. 20 with 121 five-on-five tallies. Earlier this month, they ranked a lowly 28th among the 31 NHL teams.
Tuukka Rask, after back-to-back wins over the Islanders and Capitals, drew the start Tuesday and will be back in net Friday vs. the Sabres. Per Cassidy, the Thursday assignment will go to either Jeremy Swayman or senior backup Jaroslav Halak, working his way back from the COVID “unavailable” list ... In the five games following the trade deadline, Boston’s top line of Bergeron between Marchand and Pastrnak has clicked for 8-11—19, while the No. 2 line, with Krejci centering Smith and Hall, has delivered a robust 7-6—13 … The three newcomers — Hall, Reilly, and Lazar — have clocked in with a collective 3-5—8 … Brandon Carlo, who was concussed March 7 and then logged a total of 30 minutes in games March 30 and April 1, remains off skates and limited to off-ice training, per Cassidy. The club said following Carlo’s latest setback April 1 that his most recent injury is not related to the Tom Wilson-induced concussion. “Until he starts skating with the group,” said Cassidy “he’ll be classified week-to-week.”
Bjork on the board
In his four games with Buffalo prior to Tuesday night, ex-Bruin Anders Bjork factored in three goals (1-2—3). He was swapped here in the deal that brought Hall and Reilly to the Bruins … Jakub Zboril joined Grzelcyk as a backline returnee, which left Jarred Tinordi and Steven Kampfer on the sidelines. Tinordi, bloodied in a face-first crash into the wall Sunday vs Washington, compliments of a reckless Garnet Hathaway boarding infraction, wore a full face shield in the morning workout. Kampfer, noted Cassidy, needed the day off with a nagging injury … Anton Blidh skated as the extra forward in the morning workout … Goalie Dan Vladar, back with Providence, suffered a 4-1 loss Tuesday afternoon to Bridgeport … Jake DeBrusk did not factor in the scoring, but the Bruins right winger landed all of his seven shot attempts on net, tying him with Buffalo’s Dylan Cozens for the game high … It was the eighth time this season the Sabres have been shut out … Old friend Colin Miller landed six shots on net for the Sabres, the same as Hall for the Bruins … The Bruins won 61 percent of the faceoffs, with Bergeron again leading the way with 12-for-19 night.