The games about to turn real for the Bruins, Matt Grzelcyk made Chicago’s United Center into his personal pitch portfolio Saturday night, playing with a touch of boldness and overall command that likely will mean he begins the 2017-18 season in NHL Boston and not back in AHL Providence.
“Again, a good game by Gryz,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, following the 1-0 loss that ended the Bruins’ preseason schedule. “Little-area plays, neutral zone — stepping up, starting the transition, activating on the rush, a good power-play entry with a heck of a play into the slot. I thought he was very good.
“I really noticed Gryz tonight.”
All exceptional timing on Grzelcyk’s part.
Cassidy, who gave his troops the day off Sunday, will make Boston’s final roster trims in the hours leading up to Tuesday’s 5 p.m. deadline. Grzelcyk entered Saturday night still in a three-man grapple for the last two openings on defense, one of them a reserve role. The BU grad again showed the offensive flourishes and puck smarts that he brought to the Terriers’ back line for four seasons.
The job opportunity on the blue line, specifically on the left side, opened near the start of camp when Torey Krug cracked his jaw only a few shifts into his first exhibition game. Grzelcyk, along with rookie Rob O’Gara and veteran Paul Postma, spent the better part of the last two weeks hoping to clinch a spot on the 23-man roster, essentially as a spaceholder until Krug, the club’s top scorer on the back end, is back to full health.
Both Postma and O’Gara also played well against the Hawks, and assuming Cassidy keeps Grzelcyk aboard, only one of the two will stick with the varsity. Ultimately, Cassidy is expected to enter the season, which begins Thursday with the Predators in town, with 14 forwards, seven defensemen, and two goalies.
“I think it went well,” said Grzelcyk, a favorite son of Charlestown whose dad, John, has spent four decades on the Garden bull gang. “I was just trying to feed off the energy.”
A gifted skater, the downsized (5 feet 10 inches, 175 pounds) Grzelcyk has tried to be more assertive on defense in camp, following his full 2016-17 season in Providence. He has tried, and for the most part succeeded, in closing off opposition rushes as they are about to crack Boston’s defensive zone. Cassidy wants all of his skaters hunting for turnovers, disrupting plays, and triggering transition, no matter what area of the ice.
“Learning to close off plays, using my feet to my advantage,” said Grzelcyk, reflecting on how his game matured in Providence. “Having trust in my feet more than anything. I think it allows me to close off plays easier, and obviously the less time we have to play defensively, that kind of works in my favor.”
In the hours of final cuts, here is how the roster could stack up:
GOAL (2) — Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin.
DEFENSE (7) — Brandon Carlo, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Grzelcyk, and Postma.
FORWARDS (14) — Noel Acciari, David Backes, Matt Beleskey, Patrice Berg e ron , Anders Bjork , Jake DeBrusk , Danton Heinen , David Krejci , Sean Kuraly , Brad Marchand, Riley Nash, David Pastrnak, Tim Schaller, and Ryan Spooner.
If in the lineup Thursday, Grzelcyk likely would be paired with McQuaid, who would provide the steady stay-at-home presence that would allow Grzelcyk some room to show his offensive chops.
“I think it’s been building with each game, a little more confidence,” said Grzelcyk, following his strong showing against the Hawks, in which he played 20:44 and fired off two shots on goal. “We were able to shut them down a little bit, coming out of their end. I thought we did a good job with getting pucks down low, and once it got up top, we tried to make some plays.”
Time for more power
Back on the ice Monday morning in Brighton, the Bruins no doubt will spend a good amount of their workout practicing the power play. They scored only 15 goals in seven preseason games (vs. 18 allowed), and only three came on the power play. They finished an anemic 3 for 29 on the advantage
“Our power play did not look good,” said Cassidy, noting the overall offensive performance of the two weeks. “We didn’t practice it a lot in training camp. We tend to practice it in season. Some of that is that units changed every game and [Krug] is a big part of that. Spooner, I’m not sure played a game the same night as Bergeron and Marchand and they are on the No. 1 unit.
“Some of it is chemistry, and we are still building a second unit — so I think that affected what we did. I am sure we are capable of more.”
Cassidy also noted that some of the players they expected to score were not to be found on the scoresheet. Case in point: Frank Vatrano, 0-0—0 in four games; Spooner also went without a goal, though did chip in with two assists; DeBrusk, though often a presence, also went the Full Thornton (0-0—0).
“We are expecting to be a better scoring team when the regular season starts,” added Cassidy. “Whether that happens or not, we’ll see.”
Good time in Chicago
Khudobin’s strong showing in Chicago (1 goal, 36 shots) locked down his spot as Rask’s backup. He had a big game at the United Center on April 2, securing a postseason berth for the Bruins. He’s made himself right at home in the House that Jordan built.
“It’s a nice building to play in, to be honest,” he said. “It’s a huge building. It’s a loud building. It is a really good team playing against you, which is awesome. Maybe it’s because my first, first ever trip to United States was Chicago — back in 2000, maybe that was it, I don’t know.”
Khudobin recalled the trip was to play in the Tretiak Cup and he was 14 years old.
With a very relaxed October schedule, the Bruins might not call on Khudobin to make more than one or two starts for the month, perhaps his first action either Oct. 14 in vs. the Coyotes, or the next afternoon in Vegas.
No room for Purcell
Teddy Purcell played in three games, scored a goal, likely not enough to earn him a contract. The 32-year-old vet came to camp on a tryout offer and might be faced with retiring or possibly getting an offer to play for short money in Providence.
“He was a bit of a buffer in case our young guys didn’t come through,” said Cassidy. “I think we are happy with the young guys for the most part. If we include Heinen in that mix, and I thought [vs. Chicago] he was on pucks, had some chances, made some plays . . . he did well for himself. I like what Teddy brings, but we’ve put an emphasis on trying to get some youth and speed in the lineup, and if that’s what we decide, then those guys will be ahead of him.”
The Bruins are hopeful that Krug, 8-43—51 as their top back-end force last season, will miss only the first 3-5 games of the regular season. He has resumed skating. Cassidy noted that Krug likely will need to wear a protective mask.