One month into the 2017-18 season, the Bruins have remained faithful to their intentions, force feeding rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy and forwards Anders Bjork and Jake DeBrusk into the lineup with substantial ice time and meaningful roles.
Not surprisingly, the results thus far have been uneven, in lockstep with a club that is 5-4-3 and yet to cobble together two wins a row. None of the three newbies factored on the scoresheet in Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Capitals at TD Garden, and all three have struggled of late to add to the offense.
■ McAvoy — Held without a point the last three games, his longest drought over the month, the 19-year-old former BU standout has been the most impressive of the three kids, averaging a hefty 22 minutes 47 seconds of ice time and playing in all manpower situations over his first 11 regular-season games.
He had a couple of defensive hiccups against the Caps, including being outpositioned and outhustled along the wall in the third period, allowing a Tom Wilson breakaway that nearly proved to be the 4-1 jawbreaker.
True to his billing, McAvoy has shown the confidence to shake off boo boos quickly and come back bigger on his next shift. His greatest asset: aggressive and accurate passing in the offensive end, the likes of which the Bruins haven’t seen since the Ray Bourque era.
“I don’t have a lot of issues with Charlie,” coach Bruce Cassidy said after the loss to Washington. “He figures it out in a hurry. He’s been a good player for us.”
■ DeBrusk — Figured to be a net presence with scoring touch at close range, the 21-year-old left winger has picked up but a lone assist in his last eight games, after logging a promising 2-2—4 in his first four starts.
When plans were drawn up on the eve of the season, he was on the left side of a line with David Krejci in the middle and David Pastrnak on the right side. Elite company. But a continuing string injuries changed things.
Pastrnak recently was reunited with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, the trio best equipped to score. With Krejci parked on the sideline again Saturday for a sixth straight game, DeBrusk rode with fellow straight-liners Sean Kuraly and Tim Schaller, much lower on the scoring depth chart. The combination makes sense, but it doesn’t make much offense.
It will be hard to judge DeBrusk’s true potential and NHL fitness until he rides again with Krejci, who likes to attack with speed and creativity, ideally playing into DeBrusk’s legs and sense for the net, which brought him 49 points in 74 games with AHL Providence last year.
■ Bjork — Speedy and smart with the puck, he forfeited his final year at Notre Dame to turn pro, in part because he felt he could make an immediate impact on a varsity roster. Cassidy planned to open the season with him at right wing with Marchand and Bergeron, but that was derailed when the injured Bergeron missed the first five games of the season.
Bjork, 21, now has a lone assist in the last five games. He spent Saturday night on a trio with Danton Heinen and Jordan Szwarz, both of whom began the season at AHL Providence, and logged a season-low 9:44 in ice time, about a 37 percent discount from the 15:28 he averaged over his first five games.
Because of the key losses of Krejci and David Backes, Cassidy has had to streamline the offensive attack, which does not play to Bjork’s creative strengths. DeBrusk is an easier fit in the new approach because he is essentially a straight-line player, while Bjork’s key assets are his speed and shiftiness.
Both young forwards have a ways to go in terms of net presence, both in getting there and then working the area for first and second chances. Overall, it’s a lineup right now that is predominantly one and done around the net, unable to sustain pressure on goalies with chances off of rebounds or use pressure to create the delicious mayhem that can lead to goals that can hardly be explained.
Washington’s first goal was a perfect example. Wilson finished a scramble with a quick snap to the short side from an all-but-impossible angle on Tuukka Rask. The initial shot from the left wing circle came off Lars Eller’s stick, ping-ponged around off Bergeron and Paul Postma, then squibbed out to Wilson.
Coaches don’t draw those on a whiteboard, for either the defensive or offensive units. They are the product of positioning, battling, awareness, and urgency.
Entering this grand kiddie experiment, GM Don Sweeney emphasized that, while eager to give his prospects a chance, it is and always will be a results business. That applies, of course, to both individual and team performance.
Twelve games into their new careers, McAvoy, DeBrusk, and Bjork all have exhibited the basics, and despite assorted gaffes here and there, they have asserted themselves well.
Yet only McAvoy thus far looks like a keeper. For DeBrusk and Bjork to stick, no matter what the relative health of the rest of the lineup, they’ll have to start increasing their net presence, adding to their chances, and ultimately put up points.
They’ve all had a month’s opportunity, but it remains, and forever will be, a results business.
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