Charlie McAvoy was in a tough spot on the play that concussed Tuukka Rask.
McAvoy, playing the pass on a quick-developing 2-on-1, made contact with Rangers winger Filip Chytil, who was on his way toward Rask at a high speed. While apparently trying to jump around the netminder, Chytil went off-kilter and bowled into Rask. The Bruins’ No. 1 goalie will now need to spend some, or all, of the nine-day break recovering from a concussion, much to McAvoy’s chagrin.
“I had two hands on my stick. I didn’t feel like I shoved him at all,” the second-year defenseman said. “You hate to see it. Tuukka’s a huge part of our team and he’s been playing great for us . . . We’re praying for him.”
McAvoy didn’t say anything to Rask afterward on the ice. He was silent like most of his concerned teammates.
“It was scary,” McAvoy said. “He seemed down and out. I saw firsthand, the force — the guy went right into him. It didn’t look good.”
Teammate Brad Marchand didn’t fault McAvoy.
“He’s coming back hard to try to kill a play. When things are going at that speed, you can’t anticipate what’s going to happen,” Marchand said. “By no means is it Chuck’s fault.”
Likewise, coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t blame Chytil, the 19-year-old Rangers rookie.
“I don’t think there’s intent to hit the goalie,” Cassidy said. “I think that’s rare. There’s probably a player or two that tries not to get out of the way, for sure. I don’t think this kid tried to hit him. I think he did hit him.”
McAvoy, who missed 20 games with a concussion earlier this season, had a pick-me-up after the game: he chatted in a hallway with Rangers coach David Quinn, who tutored him at Boston University. Their smiles conveyed a lighthearted conversation, much more so than the topic in the dressing room.
“You don’t wish that on their goalie,” McAvoy said. “You don’t wish that on anyone. That guy goes in a million miles an hour and he hits him, it looked like unavoidable contact.”
Strength is Donato’s weakness
Right up until players and coaches scattered for the January bye-week-turned-All-Star break, the Bruins continued juggling forwards.
The latest to sit: Ryan Donato, who took a healthy scratch Saturday against the Rangers, tagged with a “DNP, coach’s decision” for the first time since Jan. 1.
The hard-shooting Donato had one goal in his previous 10 games, but offensive play was not the issue that landed him in the press box (though a left hand bruised Wednesday in Philadelphia was not helping matters). It was his strength on the puck.
Donato is willing to battle, Cassidy said, but isn’t always leaning on the proper edge, inside or outside, or on his toes, or on his heels — whatever the situation may dictate. How to get the upper hand on larger, stronger defensemen is one of the hardest aspects for a young forward to learn.
“He initiates contact. He’s in there,” Cassidy said. “You’re up against big D, you’re going to lose some. He just has to find a way to get in and out of there, stay on his skates a little longer, a little stronger on it. He can make plays when he gets out of there, and he’s willing to go there. I think that’ll be a big improvement in his game over time. But I don’t think it happens overnight. We don’t expect it to. We just want to see growth.”
Donato, 22, is in his first full season as a pro. He is the same age as David Pastrnak, but Pastrnak has had five years with the Bruins to blossom into an elite winger who can cycle and grind rather than create off the rush. Impressive call-up Peter Cehlarik has played in less than half the games (20, including Saturday) than has Donato (46), but the 23-year-old is a six-year pro (three years in Sweden, three in North America). On-puck strength and battle acumen is an issue common with the Bruins’ least-experienced forwards, including Donato, second-year pro Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, and third-year pros Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen.
“It’s not like a flat tire you put air in and it gets fixed,” Cassidy said. “It takes a while. Some guys have it naturally.”
It was a topic of conversation this past week between the coaching staff and Heinen, whose defensively responsible play has kept him in the lineup despite his lack of production (one goal in his previous 17 before getting one Saturday). Cassidy said Heinen has a tendency to rely on his stick and intelligence. He has said similar about Forsbacka Karlsson.
“As long as he helps us win, he’ll stay in and be allowed to play through it,” Cassidy said of Heinen. “Unless we find a player that’s better, more suited, we’ll always look at that. That could be from within, a young player grows his game and passes him. But right now he’s still a positive for us.”
The Bruins are expected to be buyers at the Feb. 25 trade deadline, just about six weeks away. As the roster stands now, spots are scarce.
When the Bruins return from break on Jan. 28, they are likely to have Joakim Nordstrom (fibula fracture) among their forwards. The club was already carrying one extra attacker, having scratched David Backes and Noel Acciari once each in the previous two games. Both were in the lineup against the Rangers.
Though none are as offensively gifted as the young players named above, Nordstrom, Backes, and Acciari do not struggle to win pucks from opponents. Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner have solidified spots lower in the lineup. Pastrnak, who will head to his first All-Star Game this coming week, is the future of Boston’s forward group.
Those forwards whose job prospects appear more shaky — Donato, Heinen, and Forsbacka Karlsson — must battle for spots.
Donato, for his part, feels ready.
“I’ve never had that issue my entire career,” he said Saturday. “It’s just the way things happen sometimes. Some nights, I might feel nobody can knock me off my skates. Others, I get in an awkward spot where I get knocked over easily. I’m winning a lot of my battles. Almost all of them.”
With 9:39 left in the first period, the Garden video board played a tribute for Rangers defenseman Adam McQuaid, playing his first game in Boston since the September trade that brought Steven Kampfer to Boston. McQuaid, who recorded 66 points and 55 fighting majors in 462 games with the Bruins, was given a standing ovation, which was loudest at the point the video showed him raising the 2011 Stanley Cup. He acknowledged the crowd with a wave.
“I was getting ready for a faceoff,” McQuaid said, “but I appreciate that . . . I felt their passion for many years, and it kind of drove us to a lot of success here, so it didn’t surprise me. It’s a classy organization, and the people of Boston are my kind of people, so it’s nice.”
McQuaid, true to form, earned a double-minor for roughing when he pounded Wagner, following the winger’s hit on Ranger Jesper Fast.
Ready and willing
Wagner, always active, had four shots, six attempts and a game-high six hits before the throwdown with McQuaid . . . Backes replaced Donato on Boston’s formerly All-Scholastic line, with Heinen (LW) and Forsbacka Karlsson (C). Those two should call the 34-year-old Backes “Professor” . . . With Backes up a line, Cassidy reunited his successful trio of grinders, Kuraly-Acciari-Wagner . . . Matt Grzelyck was back in the lineup after a one-game absence, skating with Kevan Miller. John Moore sat for the fourth time in five games.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports.