Derek Forbort, one of the Bruins’ top penalty killers, returned to the lineup for Tuesday night’s 3-1 win over Tampa Bay, nearly a month after fracturing a finger while blocking a shot.
In anticipation of the defenseman’s return, the Bruins on Monday waived veteran pickup Anton Stralman, who made the club on a tryout ticket in September. Stralman cleared waivers Tuesday afternoon and was assigned to Providence, though it remains to be seen if the 16-year vet reports to the AHL.
Forbort returned to action with extra padding in his glove to protect the surgically-repaired finger. The original prognosis, post-surgery, was that he would need 4-6 weeks to heal and build back strength and range of motion. Like Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy, he was able to cheat time a little bit.
“It went by pretty quick — the training staff did a good job getting [the finger] back to normal” said Forbort. “It was weird. I’ve blocked a lot of shots, and for some reason a low wrister from the point broke it.”
Forbort returned amid what has been a particularly hard time for the Bruins on the penalty kill, especially over the last two-plus weeks.
The Bruins, 9-2-0 over the 11 games Forbort was sidelined, were 16 for 17 on kills for the first five games of his absence. They then went a moribund 19 for 29 over the next six games, a risible kill rate of 65.5 percent.
Tampa Bay scored its lone goal on one of its two power-play chances.
Prior to exiting the lineup, Forbort typically rolled out with Brandon Carlo on the No. 1 PK unit, giving the Bruins two very long sticks back there to close off plays or block shots inside their own blue line. Coach Jim Montgomery, his club still ranked second in penalty-killing (84.3 percent) as of Tuesday morning, kept the Forbort-Carlo tandem intact.
“Kinda my fault, I didn’t get the clear-out off that faceoff, so I kinda had to block it,” said Forbort, recalling the playing sequence that led to the Nov. 1 injury in Pittsburgh. “But that’s the way it goes.”
Forbort has been a solid, steady addition since his arrival, playing his first season after signing a free-agent deal under then-coach Bruce Cassidy and now a second for Montgomery.
“I think it’s been a pretty similar role to what I had earlier on in my career,” said Forbort, who played for Los Angeles, Calgary, and Winnipeg prior to signing with the Bruins for three years. “To get in the league, you have to have an identity, and every night I try to play to my strengths — be good defensively, be good on the PK, be hard to play against.”
Montgomery’s system allows everyone on the ice a little more offensive freedom, which Forbort (career line of 13-69–82) enjoys.
“Monty really wants the D involved, especially the weakside D on the breakouts,” he said. “And in the offensive zone, slide into the 1-3-1. It’s fun. You get a little more chance playing in that system and it’s been good for us.”
Forbort and Connor Clifton were reunited as an even-strength pairing.
Frederic’s back in, too
Trent Frederic also made it back to the lineup after getting banged up eight nights earlier in Tampa. He lined up at right wing on Charlie Coyle’s No. 3 line, with Taylor Hall on the left side.
The trio connected right away. Hall scored the first of his two goals at 1:07 of the first period, and Frederic earned the secondary assist.
Frederic, who logged 12:12 of ice time but did not land a shot on net, is still trying to secure an everyday spot on the roster. Montgomery has used the 24-year-old at both wings in a bottom-six role.
When asked about Frederic’s potential upside, possibly if he one day could become a top-six forward, Montgomery said he was unable yet to make that call after seeing Frederic perform over only a quarter of a season.
“He’s been a steady climb from camp to where he is now,” noted Montgomery. “To be able to think of him as a top-six, he has to continue to climb quite significantly. But he does possess a lot of those skills. But he may be best suited as a third-line player.”
The ability to make that leap into the top six can be a matter of sheer talent, or as in most cases, the payoff for hard work.
“Well, that’s the two ways to get there,” said Montgomery. “You either have [David] Pastrnak ability, or you start like [Brad] Marchand and believe you have it inside you and you just keep working with dogged determination until the coach gives you the opportunity and you show everyone.”
Saying he didn’t want to “dodge” the question, the affable Frederic opted not to focus on what role he might secure long term.
“I honestly just take it day by day,” he said. “If I am in the lineup, play hard, work hard, and let it figure itself out … I’ve been having fun. Team’s been winning. Those two things, it’s a good time to be a Bruin.”
Stralman’s decision to make
Stralman, who suited up for only eight games with the varsity, would provide valuable playoff insurance if the 36-year-old decides to report to Providence.
Another option for Stralman would be to request a trade to another NHL team, though takers seem few in light of his clearing waivers. The final option would be to retire. He said recently that his only offer over the summer was to take the tryout deal Bruins general manager Don Sweeney sent his way.
Bergeron under .500
A rare off night at the faceoff dot for Patrice Bergeron, who won only 8 of his 20 drops … A.J. Greer, working the right wing on the No. 4 line, delivered a game-high five hits in his modest 8:51 TOI … The Bruins outhit the Lightning, 26-15 … Jeremy Swayman turned back each of Nikita Kucherov’s game-high four shots on net … Steven Stamkos, who had the Tampa Bay tally, won 10 of 16 faceoffs.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.