DALLAS — The last time two rookie defensemen debuted for the Bruins in the same game, they could wade in carefully.
That night, Oct. 13, 2016, at Columbus, Zdeno Chara helped Brandon Carlo keep his head above water. Rob O’Gara could swim an easier lane because he was paired with Torey Krug, by then a fully established NHLer.
On Friday, Jakub Zboril and Connor Clifton were in deep.
With John Moore beached by a lower-body injury — and no word on when Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Kevan Miller, or Urho Vaakanainen would dive in again — those two Providence call-ups made their first NHL splashes against the Stars in a 1-0 overtime loss.
In the team’s 19th game of the season, Boston’s defense had lost 41 man-games to injury. It was at the point the three most-experienced of the group were Krug (406 games), Steven Kampfer (178) and Matt Grzelcyk (80).
The other graybeard: Jeremy Lauzon, who made his debut three weeks ago.
“A seven-game veteran,” Lauzon said.
All careers, however long they last, begin somewhere. Zboril, the 13th overall pick in 2015, is “clearly a first-round talent,” coach Bruce Cassidy said.
“Skating, puck-moving, got a good shot. Hasn’t translated offensively down there [in Providence] as much as we’d like, perhaps . . . That’s not to say it won’t happen here.”
He noted that Grzelcyk, who has become a good secondary offensive blue liner for Boston, didn’t always show that potential in the minors.
Zboril, the first of three first-rounders the Bruins chose sequentially in 2015 (Jake DeBrusk 14th and Zach Senyshyn 15th), radiated energy before puck drop.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment all my life,” said Zboril, 21. “My feelings are just, I can’t even describe it.”
He also had the right attitude. “I don’t want to be the guy who other guys have to support on the ice,” he said. “I want to be the guy who helps my partner.”
Seeing Clifton, with whom he spent the last season-plus in Providence, helped calm his nerves.
“He said he was a little nervous, and then I guess he saw me the first time this morning and he said, ‘Let’s go Cliffy, let’s go,’ ” Clifton said. “Nice to share it with someone.”
Clifton, 23, a fifth-rounder picked by Phoenix in 2013 (133rd overall), spent four years at Quinnipiac. His AHL stint has help curb some of his wild-horse tendencies.
“They try to tame me a little bit,” said Clifton, a defenseman who has at times led the forecheck. “They say I go rogue a little bit, act like a cowboy.”
But that part of his game intrigued Cassidy.
“I’m interested to see him play,” he said, “because sometimes those are the guys that get to this level, that have the willingness, that want to get engaged in the game, that do well.”
Clifton got in his first NHL fight, tangling with Jason Spezza with 8:05 to go in regulation.
Cassidy, who made his NHL debut in 1984 with Chicago and has coached the last 22 years, had never seen a back end this beat up.
“Not this many at the same time,” he said. “It’ll be a challenge, no doubt, all at once.
“It’s the National Hockey League. You can either play in it, or you can’t. We’ll find out with some of these guys. Sometimes, this is the best way to find out.
“If they want to play here, this is a great opportunity to show what they can do. That’s the way I look at it. This is their dream to get here. Here you are. Have at it.”
Waiting for the word
After the morning skate, for which Moore was not present, Cassidy said Moore, who struggled with a lower-body injury Wednesday at Colorado, was questionable for Saturday at Arizona.
He hoped to have word on Chara by then — “I’m as anxious as everybody, trust me, to see what’s going on there,” he said — and believed Miller (hand) and could play Wednesday at Detroit, although that was not certain.
Carlo (upper body), ruled out this week, had a chance to resurface in Detroit. McAvoy and Vaakanainen, both recovering from concussion-related issues, have been skating in Brighton and could progress to the point of return by then.
Short work on blue line
From a height standpoint, the Bruins’ defense looked like a throwback to the days of the Original Six, before brutish blue liners became the norm.
Lauzon (6 feet 1 inch) was the tallest, followed by Zboril (6-0), Kampfer (5-11), Clifton (5-11), Krug (5-9), and Grzelcyk (5-9).
It was partly a result of Chara (6-9), Carlo (6-5), Moore (6-2), and Miller (6-2) sitting out, as well as Vaakanainen (6-1), and McAvoy (6-0).
The average NHL player was sub-6-feet until 1976, and size began to skyrocket in the 1990s. But today’s defensemen are trending smaller, with the league rules favoring speed over size, and stick skills over hard hits.
Even though he was lacking a true physical presence Friday, Cassidy didn’t expect Krug and Grzelcyk to turn from Mighty Mouses to Incredible Hulks while defending heavier forwards.
“They’re going to have to be able to be quick,” Cassidy said. “Create loose puck situations, win it, and move it.”
Nothing to show
Fourth-liner Chris Wagner was scratched for Noel Acciari, who entered and exited Friday as the only active Bruin besides Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson without a point (0-0—0 in 15 games). “His stat line doesn’t look great,” Cassidy said, “but he’s been a good, hard player for us. He wasn’t going to sit forever.” . . . Rob Simpson, NESN’s rinkside reporter for the Bruins from 2005-08, was in Dallas starting a quest to hit 31 NHL rinks in 31 days. The end of the journey: Dec. 16 Sabres-Bruins game in Boston . . . Free agent Ian Kinsler, recently of the world champion Red Sox, dropped the ceremonial first puck. Kinsler played his first eight seasons with the Texas Rangers.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.