Tommy Wingels has been wearing the Spoked-B for only a couple of weeks, and in four games he has moved around the lineup with the versatility and agility of a one-man Vegas act.
“I’ve played all over,” Wingels said after Friday morning’s workout at TD Garden. “Third-line left wing, right wing, center, fourth line, four positions in four games . . . whatever the coach needs from me.”
Obtained as a depth forward by the Bruins just prior to the trade deadline, Wingels has seen ample duty in the early going, in large part because of an injury to Patrice Bergeron (cracked bone, right foot) and a three-game suspension to David Backes. Wingels will be back in the lineup Saturday afternoon when the Bruins face the Blackhawks — the club that dealt Wingels less than a year after he signed with his hometown team last summer.
“It’ll be fun, a lot of fun,” said Wingels. “A great group of guys there. I enjoyed my time there very, very much. It was a huge honor being from Chicago and playing for the Blackhawks. It meant so much to be able to play in front of friends and family on a nightly basis.
“That being said, it’s in the past. All my focus is here in Boston now. It will be fun to see them, but hopefully on Sunday we can talk about the Bruins getting 4 points.”
The Bruins will carry a five-game winning streak into the matinee and have virtually secured a first-round playoff matchup with the Maples Leafs.
Meanwhile, the tattered Blackhawks (29-31-8) have split their last 10 games (5-5-0) and essentially have had their DNQ papers signed and certified for the postseason.
Wingels, who spent his first 5½ NHL seasons with San Jose, grew up in Evanston, Ill., and was eager to join his hometown heroes last summer, signing a one-year deal paying $750,000. As the Blackhawks’ season turned into a cake left out in the rain, general manager Stan Bowman began to tailor his roster — with an eye on offseason asset management — and moved Wingels to the Bruins for a fifth-round pick in 2019.
The fit, thus far, has been seamless and effective.
“I’d say it’s still a small sample size, to see all of his strengths,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, who saw Wingels debut with a 2-point night (1-1—2) vs. Carolina Feb. 27. “First game, he showed his offensive side. Not as much recently [0-1—1 over three games]. We’ve put him [at center] now, taking draws. That can be a challenge, getting reacclimated with that.”
Above all, noted Cassidy, Wingels has been physical, consistently around the puck, and hard to play against – standard ingredients for this season’s Causeway cocktail of success.
Without a deal beyond this year, Wingels might do well to consider his time here as an audition for a potential return in 2018-19.
“I think in this league you’re in trouble if you don’t think every night is an audition,” he said. “Someone is always watching in this league, whether it’s video or people in the building. That being said, you have to bring your best every night. If you are able to compete on a nightly basis, success usually follows from there.”
The red-hot Brad Marchand, already suspended five games this season for a hit to Marcus Johansson’s head, was tagged with a $2,000 fine by the league Friday for his embellishment (i.e. diving) when tripped March 1 by Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta.
Marchand referred to the league’s ruling as a “joke” after initially noting, “It’s pretty easy to dictate how things happen from a video hundreds of miles away, so . . . it’s up to them.”
The fine was step No. 2 in the league’s protocol that governs such incidents. Marchand was issued a warning for a similar incident Nov. 29 vs. Tampa, and the second offense triggered the fine.
Three additional incidents this season would lead to Cassidy, as coach, also being fined.
“The coach does get it,” acknowledged a smiling Cassidy. “And the kids need to go to college, so I will have a chat with him.”
Marchand initially dismissed the $2,000 as a trivial sum, though softened his view when considering what that amount would have looked like to a 12-year-old, an age at which he was being ordered around construction jobs by his father in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Long before he became a prolific $6.125 million-a-year rabble rouser, he was a low-paid “hay shaker.”
“I don’t know the correct term,” he said. “But basically they were building a new subdivision. Those big bales of hay, I had to lay the hay along a couple of miles of ditches around the subdivision so the grass would grow.
“It wasn’t fun. It was long hours doing that all summer long at 12 years old. Not fun.”
His wage as a hay shaker?
“I don’t know, but it wasn’t much,” said Marchand. “Food? He made me lunch.”
With the winning goal in three straight games, Marchand now has a club-high line of 29-38—67, an average of 1.29 points per game. As of Friday morning, only three of the NHL’s top scorers could boast a better average:
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado, 1.34
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa, 1.32
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh, 1.31.
No telling what top Bruins prospect Ryan Donato will do once his junior season with the Crimson wraps up, possibly this weekend.
If Harvard loses to Dartmouth in the ECAC first-round series, the 21-year-old forward conceivably could turn pro next week.
Asked if he felt Donato could plug into the Boston lineup with the same success that Charlie McAvoy enjoyed last spring, Cassidy said he wasn’t sure. He noted that McAvoy first played four games in the AHL, a bigger test sample to make a judgment.
Nonetheless, Donato clearly has impressed Cassidy.
“He was a hungry guy around the net,” said Cassidy, recalling what he has seen of Donato in Bruins development camps.
“He reminded me of the [Marchand] types and the [John Tavares] types — players that want to get to the net to score, and will fight their way through, that dog-on-the-bone mentality to score goals.”
“Now he’s shooting the puck past the goalie,” said Cassidy. “What I mean by that is that he has a legitimate NHL release and shot. So now he scores around the net and he can score from a bit of a distance.
“He sure looks like he has the compete to a be a goal scorer in professional hockey. How that plays out, time will tell.”
One for each
Tuukka Rask, fresh off his win Thursday vs. the Flyers, will be back in net Saturday vs. the Blackhawks. Backup Anton Khudobin will handle the rematch Sunday in Chicago.