OTTAWA — Frank Vatrano has never experienced the punishment of an NHL season before.
Last year, Vatrano played in 36 games for UMass Amherst. He dressed for five more with Providence after turning pro.
So the Bruins were not surprised that by Game No. 24 of his first NHL season, Vatrano's legs looked heavy. The shoot-first wing wasn't finding the openings to fire pucks like he was during the first days of his promotion. It is not uncommon for first-year pros to hit a dip at such a threshold.
Game No. 25, however, may have been a reset for Vatrano. Just 2:02 into Friday's 4-1 win over New Jersey, Vatrano scored the opening goal. Cory Schneider had kicked out a pair of Colin Miller's point shots. But after the second save, Vatrano swooped into the net-front real estate and punched home the rebound.
It was Vatrano's first goal in eight games.
"I felt good," Vatrano said. "Getting that goal pretty early got my legs underneath me. That's how it goes sometimes. I think that goal was about momentum for me and the team. We didn't look back after that first goal. Overall, we had a really good game."
Vatrano's moneymaker is his shot. His snapper is one of the best on the team.
But for the latter part of his seven-game slump, Vatrano's legs weren't putting him in position to lock and load his shot. After a six-shot performance against Buffalo on Dec. 26, Vatrano landed only one puck on Craig Anderson the following night.
In the rematch two nights later against Ottawa, Vatrano didn't have any shots. He also failed to put a puck on Mike Condon during the Winter Classic. The left wing had one shot against Washington in Tuesday's 3-2 loss.
Friday's win over the Devils may have been a turnaround for Vatrano's game. Vatrano and linemates Joonas Kemppainen and Jimmy Hayes skated with energy and purpose. They forechecked well. They used the neutral zone to slingshot over the offensive blue line. The increase in Vatrano's pace showed up on the scoresheet: one goal, three shots on net, and one hit in 13:40 of ice time.
"Just learning how to be consistent every night, night in and night out," Vatrano said. "Not just offensively but defensively too. You've got to have a well-rounded game to stay in the lineup and contribute to the team."
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Zach Trotman is in an unusual position. The right-shot defenseman has either been Zdeno Chara's partner on the No. 1 pairing or a healthy scratch.
On Friday, he made the most out of being the former. After being a healthy scratch for 10 of the 12 previous games, Trotman played in place of Adam McQuaid (upper body). Trotman delivered with a dependable 20:43 of ice time as Chara's right-hand man.
"I've watched a decent amount of hockey this year," Trotman said of being scratched. "Mentally, that kind of helps. I just do my part physically in practices and conditioning skates to stay in shape. It's nice that it's translated for the most part."
He recorded a game-high five shots and was credited with three hits. One of his best plays didn't even show up on the scoresheet.
In the second period, Dennis Seidenberg rimmed the puck around the boards in the defensive zone. The Bruins had been forechecking well. Trotman wanted that to continue. He went down the wall and sealed off Stefan Matteau, who had tried to pick the rim off the boards. Trotman's thump allowed Ryan Spooner to pick up the puck and snap a long-range shot through Schneider to make it a 2-0 game.
"We were just trying to get the D up and make sure our forecheck wasn't getting too tentative and too laid-back," Trotman said of his decision to pinch. "We were trying to read ahead, use our feet to get up in the play when we can, and try to keep pucks like that alive to contribute to our O-zone time."
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Brad Marchand returned to the lineup against Ottawa. He finished serving his three-game suspension for clipping Mark Borowiecki on Friday. The Bruins went 1-2-0 without the left wing . . . Tuukka Rask was back in net after backing up Jonas Gustavsson on Friday. Rask entered the night with a .934 save percentage and a 1.97 goals-against average in his last 15 games . . . Saturday marked Claude Julien's 900th game as an NHL coach. "It's nice to be able to feel like you've lasted this long," Julien said. "In this league, it's not easy. I'm proud of still being here at that number. At the same time, it's just another game. You're always hoping for better things."