Bruins’ Charlie McAvoy relishes matchups with the game’s stars

John Tlumacki/globe staff

Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy, here colliding with the Canucks’ Markus Granlund, is not shy about making contact.

By Globe Staff 

Charlie McAvoy was a rookie rock star Thursday night, not for his offense, but for the career-high seven hits he delivered in the Bruins’ 2-1 win over Vegas.

Known more for his bold offense with the puck, the ex-BU Terrier has not been shy about making contact. Prior to Saturday night’s matchup with the Capitals at the Garden, the 19-year-old McAvoy had a total 27 hits, ranking him sixth overall among NHL freshmen in 2017-18. The seven-hit total in one game ranked third for the Bruins this year, behind one nine-hit and another eight-hit effort by fellow blue liner Kevan Miller, whose game is weighted toward pounding bodies and not puc.


“I don’t go out there thinking, ‘Hey, if I go out this shift and rock someone, maybe I’ll get the bench fired up,’ ’’ said McAvoy, who had one hit in the Bruins’ 3-2 loss to Washington. “But when it presents itself, I definitely use my body when I can. I think it’s part of my game that’s effective. I don’t necessarily go out there and look for it.”

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The Bruins have Miller (37 hits) and team captain Zdeno Chara (33) as their leading rock ’em sock ’em stakeholders behind the blue line.

But in a town that still savors the lingering image of the Big Bad Bruins, all body-slam contributors are welcome.

Coach Bruce Cassidy felt that McAvoy was more active Thursday, in part, because his prized rookie was not as engaged as usual in the offense. For his 23:12 in ice time, McAvoy only attempted one shot and saw it blocked. Boston’s other blue liners fired 15 times and landed seven shots on rookie goalie Maxime Lagace.

“Every once in a while, he blows somebody up, because he takes good angles and he’s strong on his feet,” said Cassidy. “He could have a few more [hits against Vegas], because I think there was a level of frustration for him offensively, too. And there’s a guy who thinks, ‘Well, I’m going to bring something.’ For whatever reason, the puck wasn’t cooperating as much as other nights.”


With the Capitals in town, led by the 6-foot-3-inch, 235-pound Alexander Ovechkin, McAvoy got his first look at one of the game’s premier shooters. It’s a season of first looks for McAvoy, who thus far hasn’t been out of place against some of the game’s most talented forwards, including the likes of LA’s Anze Kopitar and the Sharks’ Pair o’ Joes — Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton.

McAvoy is using the matchups against the game’s greats as a measuring stick for his game.

“Your compete level . . . you try to set a bar for yourself,” he explained. “Then you play against those guys, and the way they bring it, you have to raise it. It’s almost like an inner competition, like, “ ‘Hey, I’ve got to rise tonight . . . I am playing against All-Stars, I am playing against legends.’ It’s kind of a testament to myself, ‘OK, let’s see how I can do against these guys.’ When I play the game I want to play, and we’re able to limit those guys to little if not nothing, that’s satisfying. For me, I feel like I can take that experience, and I can think, ‘Hey, I played against this guy and he had these tendencies, and a lot of special players do this’ . . . that’s satisfying.”

Leaning on Rask

Tuukka Rask (2-4-2 after his start against the Capitals) picked up the win in Thursday’s 2-1 edging of the Golden Knights and will be leaned on heavily with the Bruins entering their busiest stretch of the new season, playing five games over the next eight days, including back-to-back matchups with the Maple Leafs on Friday (in Toronto) and Saturday (at the Garden).

Rask will not make both starts vs. the Leafs, but is expected to go here Monday vs. the Wild and then again Wednesday in New York against the Rangers.

Meanwhile, Rask’s backup remains an open question, with Anton Khudobin yet to heal fully from a lower-body injury he sustained in Sunday’s off-day workout. Zane McIntyre took over the reserve role recently against both Columbus and Vegas, and he did the same against the Capitals.


“We had the plan earlier this year that went right out the window,” said Cassidy, his planned Rask-Khudobin rotation tossed in the trash can when Rask sustained a concussion in practice last month. “Zane’s here as a capable backup, and obviously Dobie was playing very well.”Zane hasn’t had the opportunity this year, so I can’t say we know what we are going to get out of him, but obviously he had a great year last y

Khudobin, his injury taking longer to heal than expected filled in admirably for Rask and improved his record to 3-0-1 with a .926 save percentage.

McIntyre, in his brief visits with the varsity last season, played well for the most part, but was snakebitten by some key, untimely goals and never registered a win (0-4-1 in eight appearances). However, he was a reliable workhorse at AHL Providence in 2016-17, where he finished 26-6-1 with a .930 save percentage.

“Because he missed some games, we can play a little catchup,” said Cassidy, referring to Rask, whom the Bruins would prefer to limit to approximately 60 starts this season. “He won’t play the back-to-backs [against Toronto], that we know. Before then, it’s kind of game-by-game.”

The game against the Capitals was Boston’s 12th game of the season and Rask’s eighth start, comfortably behind the pace in which he averaged 66 appearances over the last three seasons.

Entering the weekend, Khudobin had yet to practice.

“Not being on the ice . . . tough to play, right?” said Cassidy. “Hopefully he’s back soon. If he’s expected to play this week, he’s going to have to be on the ice here and quickly.”

Hitting his target

David Pastrnak knocked home two goals and took 10 shots on the night, a half-dozen of which made it to the net. One was blocked and three were off net . . . Torey Krug, who had two assists, also assisted on both Boston goals in Thursday’s 2-1 win over the Golden Knights. He is now 1-4—5 in his last three games . . . Brad Marchand assisted on Pastrnak’s second goal and boosted his points lead to 8-6—14. Pastrnak is right on his heels with 8-5—13. They own 16 of the club’s 34 goals . . . Ryan Spooner skated for the first time since suffering a groin injury Oct. 15 in Vegas. He is expected to remain out for at least another 10 days and possibly through the month of November . . . The top rookie hitter entering Saturday’s action: Philadelphia blue liner Robert Hagg, with 42 smacks . . . Ovechkin entered the night with 63 shots on net, second only to Buffalo’s Evander Kane (66), and just ahead of Phil Kessel (62) . . . Still no definitive word when David Krejci (back injury) will return to the lineup. He has now missed six straight games, and with Sunday a scheduled day off for everyone, he is not expected to face the Wild at the Garden Monday night. “Not well enough to skate,” said Cassidy . . . Frank Vatrano was scratched for a second straight game, which meant newcomer Jordan Szwarz saw action for his second game in Black and Gold.