Matthew j. lee/globe staff
Charlie McAvoy remains a bit of a reluctant shooter, but he’s starting to get the hang of it , all of two months into his NHL rookie season. He landed only one shot in Wednesday night’s 3-2 win over Tampa, but it brought him his third career goal, and Friday morning he sounded more encouraged to think shoot first, ask questions later.
“Obviously, it’s the NHL, it’s harder to contribute,” said the Bruins newbie blue liner, who would be a junior at BU these days had he not chosen to turn pro last spring. “You may not have as many opportunities because of the ways guys can defend. It’s another thing I am trying to get accustomed to, but when I get those chances, I am really trying to capitalize on them.”
While his offensive engagement may have been slow to percolate thus far, McAvoy’s ice time has been running at full boil. Through Thursday’s NHL games, he led all rookies with an average 23:42 TOI – well ahead of Sam Girard’s 19:53 (second best) on the Colorado back line.
The Bruins will be in Philly Saturday for a 1 p.m. matinee against the Flyers, whose prized rookie defenseman, Robert Hagg, has been logging 19:33 TOI per game (ranked No. 3 in ice time for rookie defensemen)
McAvoy, who won’t turn 20 until later this month, provided the 1-0 lead against the Bolts on Thursday, stationed above the right wing circle and quick to fire home a diagonal cross-slot feed from David Pastrnak.
“It was a pretty quick catch-and-release,” explained McAvoy. “Right as soon as he gave it to me, I picked my head up and I saw some traffic at the net, saw a wide-open lane and I just wanted to shoot it. Just get it on net was my first option. That is something that I am trying to do more — just catch and shoot, get pucks on net, because good things happen. Like the other night. Not necessarily was I shooting to score. I was just shooting to get it on net.
“Kind of a confidence booster, you know, ‘Just shoot it, good things can happen.’ ”
The Bruins figure McAvoy will experience the near-obligatory dip in his game in the next few weeks, expecting him to realize the toll exacted by the 82-game NHL schedule. Virtually every player to make the jump from NCAA hockey experiences it, and McAvoy on Friday acknowledged that he’s felt the change in pace.
“Certainly there are times I feel, ‘Wow, hey, it would be nice to have that Sunday through Thursday just to practice, have days off,’ ” he said, musing over what would be a typical college schedule. “Lots of rest and recovery. Almost a full week to get ready — that’s the college schedule.”
By comparison, the Bruins played Wednesday at home, and will battle the Predators in Nashville Monday after a quick stop in Philly. Three games in six nights is the NHL norm, and it sometimes can be loaded with four games in seven.
“In college, you have a schedule you can anticipate,” he said. “Now it’s you’ll have a back-to-back, three games in four days, or every other day for a full week. So it’s different. There’s a learning process or struggles that come with it. Obviously, I try to go out every night and play the best that I can. I have a bar I set for myself as far as team play and how I sense my game is . . . and there are times when I don’t hit it. But I try to take positives from every game and I acknowledge that it’s not easy.”
McAvoy, said coach Bruce Cassidy, plays an intelligent, efficient game that allows him to handle the heavy minutes, perhaps better than some other rookies.
“Not a lot of wasted energy,” noted Cassidy. “He doesn’t come to the bench exhausted because he is chasing guys all over the place. That’s hockey sense. And he seems to recover quickly — that’s in his DNA. And he has the puck a lot and makes good plays with it. So again, you’re not forced to defend. You spend a lot more energy defending than you do attacking — those are the biggest reasons.
“And he loves being out there. He is not shy in moments, doesn’t get nervous. Just a lot in the makeup of his personality that allows him to handle the minutes.”
Tuukka Rask, fresh off his 19-stop effort vs. the Bolts, will get the call in Philly for his third straight start. Anton Khudobin will be back on the job in Nashville.
The Flyers, a dismal 1-5-4 in their last 10 games, have slid to the Eastern Conference basement in the last three weeks. As of Friday morning, they ranked 13th in the 16-team conference, with a record of 8-10-7. There may be no easy games in the NHL, but with the Flyers easy pickins of late, it favored awarding the start to Rask as a means of further boosting his confidence.
Khudobin, yet to lose this season (7-0-2), will start in Nashville no matter how Rask performs on Saturday.
“We don’t want Doby to sit too long,” said Cassidy. “We’ll see how it works out this weekend — one start each and reassess next week.”
David Krejci, held out of Thursday’s game after aggravating an injury, participated in the late-morning workout but wore a red (non-contact) sweater.
“He felt better today, so that is encouraging,” said Cassidy. “He could potentially get in [vs. Philly].”
Jake DeBrusk, also unable to play vs. the Bolts (after getting his head slammed into the glass Sunday vs. the Oilers), was part of the workout and did not have any restrictions in terms of contact. He will not play in Philly, said Cassidy, lending credence to speculation that DeBrusk suffered a concussion in Sunday’s game vs. Edmonton..
Anders Bjork, sidelined since getting leveled by a Matt Martin check on Nov. 11, could be back in the lineup vs. the Flyers.
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