Bruins’ Anders Bjork works to get his shot squared away
Anders Bjork could feel the awkward hitch in his mechanics. Sometimes his skate placement would be slightly off or he’d open his hips too wide, but the result was often the same. The puck sailed wide of the net.
Kim Brandvold, the Bruins’ skills and skating coach, brought it to Bjork’s attention, and the game film confirmed the 22-year-old’s suspicions.
That set the agenda for Bjork’s summer workouts, in which he focused on fine-tuning the mechanics of his shot and recovering from the shoulder injury that derailed his rookie season.
“I guess it’s a weird thing in hockey because you’re so often shooting [on the move], you’re not setting up like a golf swing,” Bjork said Friday. “Especially on one-timers, it’s important on where your elbow is, where your feet are placed.
“Every pass you get is different, so part of the mechanics is adjusting and getting square. A big part of what I worked on was getting my hips square to the net, especially for improving my accuracy.”
In his rookie season, Bjork scored 12 points in 30 games and had the first crack at riding shotgun on the Bruins’ top line. Skating with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, Bjork got a taste of what it was like to play at the highest level, and his best outing came against the Canucks Oct. 19 when he had two goals and an assist.
This year, there is a clear opening for Bjork to work his way back into the top-six rotation. Whether or not the Bruins opt to break up their top triumvirate of Marchand, Bergeron, and David Pastrnak and move Pastrnak to the second line, there will be a right-wing vacancy for the taking.
For Bjork to seize that opportunity from the other contenders — Danton Heinen the most obvious among them — he knows he needs to expand his offensive ability.
“Worked a good amount on my shot this summer, a little more confident with it, and hopefully I can use that,” Bjork said. “Shoot more when I’m in the slot and in the good areas. That’s important for me to get to the next level.”
After getting scratched from the prospects challenge in Buffalo, Bjork is still working toward his first game action since the shoulder injury. He expects to play in exhibition games, though an appearance against the Capitals Sunday is not certain. Bjork added that each periodic check-in on his shoulder, which he had surgery on last season, has gone well.
“He seemed like he worked hard in the offseason, seems like he’s more fit,” said assistant coach Joe Sacco, who is leading training camp while Bruce Cassidy and the other half of the team is in China. “He’s in a position where he’s competing for ice time and he makes plays. He’s going to have to do that.”
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Lee Stempniak had enough veteran experience to see the warning signs that his time was up with the Bruins. Acquired at the trade deadline in 2016 from the Devils, the right winger had 10 points in 19 games with Boston after he had led New Jersey with 41 points through 63 games.
But the Bruins missed the playoffs that year, the second time in as many seasons, and Stempniak figured his expiring contract made him an easy castoff.
He signed a two-year deal with the Hurricanes, the 10th franchise he had played for in his 13-year career. The latest step in his winding road is back with the Bruins on a tryout basis.
“It was a good situation for me to go to Carolina, and I think I’ve been around long enough where anything can happen,” Stempniak said. “Just the way the year ended that year [with the Bruins] you could sense there’d be changes. Wouldn’t say I was surprised. But I’m glad to be back. I love playing here.”
At 35, Stempniak will be fighting for a roster spot and an opportunity to prove he can keep pace in a league that favors younger, slick-skating players.
His last season with the Hurricanes was a tumultuous one. A back injury in training camp kept him off the ice, then he broke his collarbone five seconds into his first shift of a rehab game with the Charlotte Checkers. Stempniak didn’t play for the Hurricanes last season until Jan. 12.
The hope is that he can recapture the form that helped him to one of his best seasons when he was with the Devils and Bruins. His first season with the Hurricanes was also a success, as he had 40 points and played all 82 games.
“I feel really good right now,” Stempniak said. “Last year was difficult. Felt like I was behind. It’s an opportunity here to prove I can still play and be healthy. I feel like I can contribute and play a meaningful role.”
When the Bruins got off the ice Friday, many of them were surprised by the news they saw on the NHL Network ticker that Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg was retiring because of a back injury.
Zetterberg, 37, played in all 82 games for the Red Wings last season — the third consecutive year in which he’s done so. In 15 seasons, Zetterberg posted 337 goals and 623 assists in 1,082 games.
“Well it’s pretty unique, he’s been and he is such an elite player and it’s very unfortunate he can’t continue,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s remarkable, what he did for the team. That’s always tough news to find out.”
Chara, who’s 41 and has played 1,423 games, is familiar with the challenge of staying healthy on the ice this late in one’s career.
“You take it for granted until something happens and you appreciate it more,” Chara said. “I’m grateful I’ve been for the most part healthy and will do my best to stay that way.”