In his 150th NHL game, and now in his third season as a regular contributor on the Bruins’ blue line, Matt Grzelcyk on Tuesday night dropped a little bit of Ray Bourque into his game. Grzelcyk scored twice, career goals 7 and 8, and each time finished with accurate, short-range wrist shots in a 5-1 win at New Jersey.
Bourque, who connected 410 times in his Hall of Fame career, often scored from long range with one of the game’s most powerful slap shots. No one’s going to mistake the 5-foot-9-inch flyweight “Grizz” for the 6-foot block of granite in that No. 77 sweater, but a pair of goals is notable any time in today’s game, especially on a Boston defense corps that had scored only 10 goals in the first 20 games this season.
“Geez, score a couple of goals and everybody wants to talk to you,’’ kidded fellow defenseman Torey Krug, a small gaggle of media surrounding Grzelcyk Wednesday morning at the club’s Brighton practice facility. “Hey, he deserves it.”
The injured Krug, due back in the lineup Saturday after a five-game hiatus, remains the Black and Gold’s most offensive-minded defenseman. He quarterbacks the power play and carries a laminated hall pass from coach Bruce Cassidy, permitting him to roam in areas in the offensive zone not always open to his backline brethren.
Grzelcyk, used for minimal power-play time, sees most of his work at five on five, true of both of his goals in New Jersey. As such, he typically sees little open ice. But he twice played his way into open acreage in Jersey and cashed in both times, connecting with pinpoint wristers on MacKenzie Blackwood with shots squeezed off around the left faceoff dot.
“We call that Grizz’s office,” said fellow blue liner Brandon Carlo, delighting in both strikes. “He put in that first one, and that was the talk on the bench . . . yeah, that’s Grizz’s office. And great to see him bury two. The second one was awesome, just beautiful goals.”
The second strike had particular style. Tossed a pass in the neutral zone from fellow Boston University alum Charlie McAvoy, Grzelcyk collected the puck off the left wall and then made a sleight-of-hand pull around Devils defenseman P.K. Subban as the two met at the blue line. With Subban left flailing in his wake, Grzelcyk opted not to pass right to winger Danton Heinen and then unloaded a snipe to the top right corner, his shot eluding sliding blue liner Will Butcher.
“I think maybe he learned that move outdoors in Charlestown,” said Carlo, agreeing the second goal had shades of street hockey in it.
Cassidy, the bench boss for all of Grzelcyk’s time in Boston, doesn’t envision the 25-year-old developing into an offensive force. He thinks he has a skill set, though, that can produce upward of 10 goals a season, equal to the career high he set in both his junior and senior seasons at BU.
The more likely offensive powerhouse back there remains McAvoy, though he has yet to pot a goal this season.
“I think Grizz understands that he has to be closer [to the net],” said Cassidy, identifying Grzelcyk’s ideal shooting range. “He’s not that guy who’ll beat you with the one-timer from way out, like when Krug gets it the odd time, and [Zdeno Chara], for sure. Grizz probably knows he has to be in a little bit. So he’s found his spot there — a good spot for him.”
What Cassidy liked in particular from Grzelcyk on Tuesday was that both goals came off the rush. Movement is key. He has stressed that with his backliners since the start of camp: Join the rush when appropriate. McAvoy, too, has been more inclined to activate of late. Sure signs that Cassidy’s message is getting through as intended.
“I don’t go into the game thinking about scoring, really,” said Grzelcyk, who’ll carry a career line of 8-31—39 into Thursday night’s matchup with the Sabres at the Garden. “I just think about moving my feet and trying to make a play, and if an opportunity presents itself, you try to finish the best you can.”
On his first goal, recalled Grzelcyk, the relay came from Brad Marchand, who looked like he might shoot from his spot above the right circle.
“He did a good job of kind of selling the shot,” noted Grzelcyk, “and then he left me with a wide-open lane. When you have that much ice, you just try to take as much as you can.”
No. 2, Subban’s folly, had the ex-Canadiens defenseman making a blatant misread at the blue line.
“I just kind of saw the way he was turning,” said Grzelcyk. “I think he assumed I was just going to dump it in . . . it’s something I work on, especially pulling pucks off the wall. Rather than rimming it and making the forwards work, you sometimes can catch a forward by surprise by pulling it closer to your feet. I just happened to be at the blue line this time, saw the D-man slide, and tried to shoot again.”
Patrice Bergeron, a late scratch in New Jersey, most likely will suit up against the Sabres and resume his center role on the No. 1 line with Marchand and David Pastrnak (the other two-goal scorer in New Jersey). If Bergeron can’t go, David Krejci again will move to the middle of the No. 1 line . . . Tuukka Rask, who picked up an easy win in New Jersey, will be back in net vs. the Sabres, likely setting up Jaroslav Halak to face the Wild at the Garden on Saturday. Rask improved to 9-2-2 . . . Cassidy on McAvoy, who remains with a goose egg in the goal column: “He’s going to score. He’s just been in too tight, too often now.” McAvoy finished with seven goals in each of his first two seasons . . . The Sabres, who started strong again this season, have been a tepid 2-6-2 over their last 10 games, the worst current 10-game stretch in the league as of Wednesday morning. Next: Vancouver (2-5-3) . . . The Bruins remain the only NHL team yet to suffer a regulation loss on home ice (7-0-4) . . . Ex-Bruin Marcus Johansson, key to Boston’s drive to the Cup Final last spring, has been out of the Sabres’ lineup of late because of an upper-body injury. He cobbled together a 4-6—10 line in 17 games before exiting.