KEVIN PAUL DUPONT
Some thoughts, reflections, recollections, and a few shots high off the glass following the Bruins’ 2-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Thursday night.
■ Until further notice, Sean Kuraly is David Backes. With Backes undergoing surgery Thursday to remove a portion of his colon, the Bruins need a big body up front to help add some structure to a hybrid NHL/AHL forward lineup.
Kuraly, using his 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound frame to box out at the right post, knocked home the winning goal midway through the third period. His career résumé is far leaner than that of the 33-year-old Backes, but Kuraly plays center, is a similarly big body, and plays with a rookie’s energy and enthusiasm that coach Bruce Cassidy is hoping to harness.
“We’re allowing some young players to grow on the job here,” said Cassidy.
Kuraly, previously with 16 shots on net in 10 games, was among the club’s most active shooters vs. the Knights, unloading a half-dozen times and landing four (game high) on goalie Max Lagace. The most effective was when he staked his claim at the right post and nudged the puck over the line at 9:53 of the third period for the winner, a split-second before he was belted to the ice by Brayden McNabb.
It was the first regular-season goal of Kuraly’s career, his first since connecting in double OT of Game 5 of last year’s playoffs vs. the Senators.
“He’ll have to work on his shot every day,” said Cassidy, asked what the 24-year-old Kuraly will need to build into his game to help fill the Backes role. “David can really bring the puck and knows when to get it on net.”
Cassidy knows Kuraly will always be a straight-line (“north-south”) player, not expected to make fancy plays, and believes he’ll have to learn how to take better angles on the puck.
“He wants to get on people so quick, and sometimes there’s a better route than a straight line,” said the coach. “But the good thing about Sean is, and why he keeps playing, he can recapture that ice because he’s got such good foot speed.
Cassidy also would like Kuraly to improve at the faceoff dot. With Dominic Moore now in Toronto and Backes on the shelf for at least a couple of months, the Bruins can use help from a lefthanded stick at the dot. Kuraly won four of his 10 drops Thursday.
“He’s a player that I watch closely,” said Kuraly, the former Miami (Ohio) standout, asked about filling the Backes void. “He does a lot of things that have been really successful over the years.
“Obviously, it’s a role that he’s carved out for himself that’s been very successful. I’ve tried to watch him closely during practice and emulate some of the things he does.”
■ Jordan Szwarz, playing in first game as a Bruin, didn’t get on the scoresheet, but he chipped in with three shots on net, spending much of the night between Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork (three shots between them). He also had a brief twirl with those two on the No. 2 power-play unit and added 22 seconds of penalty-kill duty.
“I felt good out there, pretty comfortable,” said the 26-year-old center/wing. “Some nerves going into the game, but after a couple of shifts I got settled in and felt pretty good overall.”
The nerves, explained Szwarz, were due in part to being out of the NHL for more than two years, toiling exclusively in the AHL for the Coyotes and then the Bruins.
“I’ve been there before, so I know what it takes,” he said. “But obviously the nerves are going to be there. Just get a couple of shifts under your belt, and then fine after that.”
■ Following the game, Cassidy said Backes underwent successful surgery at Mass. General and was feeling OK.
“I heard it went well, but I don’t know what that means, to be honest with you,” Cassidy said. “I have no timeline on it.”
Backes is not expected to return until sometime around the new year. He needed the surgery to clear up an infection related to his recent acute case of diverticulitis, a painful inflammation of the digestive tract.
Backes tweeted a post-op picture of himself in his MGH hospital bed, his young daughter at his side.
■ Rookie standout Charlie McAvoy had a relatively quiet night for his 23:12 of ice time. He didn’t factor in the scoring and attempted but one shot (blocked). However he did land a game-high seven hits, after averaging only two a night in his previous 10 games.
When he saw the total on the postgame stat sheet, the 19-year-old McAvoy was surprised.
“I didn’t have much recollection of that,” he said Friday. “It didn’t seem right at first. I guess it happens. I do try to use my body . . . but I was trying to remember seven hits and I couldn’t. It felt like I got hit seven times.”
■ Painful lesson for rookie Jake DeBrusk, who was one stride from leading a two-on-one breakout from his defensive zone until Nate Schmidt clipped the puck off his stick. Some three seconds after the steal, Cody Eakin cashed in the 1-1 equalizer.
“I had no idea he was there,” said DeBrusk. “I was just looking to make a play. If I had it to do over again, obviously I would say be harder on the puck, move it quicker. But it happened so fast.
“There are good players in this league and he burned me on it. I felt it more than anyone in the rink, obviously, because it was my mistake.”
Cassidy didn’t pull back the ice time on his promising rookie. He knows there are growing pains with his freshmen.
“That play’s going to happen,” said Cassidy. “It happened to Kuraly the last time against Vegas. That’s the exact definition of being hard on the puck. Don’t ever assume someone’s not coming to get it.”
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