Charlie McAvoy was still looking for his first goal Saturday night when the Bruins faced the Wild at the Garden. His next goal, No. 1 of 2019-20, will be the 15th of his career, and the 21-year-old knows the only way to get it is to keep on shooting — something he’s been more conscious of in recent games.
“Yeah, I’m trying,” McAvoy said prior to puck drop on Causeway Street. “It’s funny, because there are games when it doesn’t happen. Like last game [against Buffalo], I think I might have touched the puck one time — or maybe a couple of times — in the offensive zone. But at the point, like one time, and I was trying to keep a play alive — so I went around with it. Third period, [Jack] Eichel was coming so I just ripped it.”
Entering the night against the Wild, the Bruins’ 23rd game this season, McAvoy’s line read 0-7—7. He is more conscious of shooting these days, in part because coach Bruce Cassidy is calling for all his defensemen to be more active in the offensive zone, but he had landed only 4 shots on net over the five games prior to the Wild’s visit.
Soon after arriving with the Bruins, it was obvious that McAvoy was a reluctant shooter, despite owning a robust shot. His reasoning: Often on the ice as support to the club’s No. 1 line, he felt obligated to find an open forward, a sensible approach when feeding the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.
“I think I trust myself more now,” he said before Saturday night’s 5-4 overtime win over the Wild. “I know I can score, though I haven’t been able to do it for whatever reason. But it’s not for lack of opportunity. I think it’s just a matter of time before it goes in . . . this is the stuff that happens and I’m not really worried about it. I feel like lately I’ve really found my game and I’m happy with where I am, as far as defending, and playing. I feel like I’ve got my legs. I’m feeling it. It’s going to come.”
McAvoy again did not factor in the scoresheet, but attempted four shots and landed two. He came close to scoring when he came out of the penalty box late in the first and joined in what beame a 2-on-0 rush vs. Alex Stalock.
Marchand, eagerly trying to help McAvoy record his first goal, probably overapassed in his feed in front of the net. And Stalock made the doorstep chance one of his 34 saves on the night.
Some of McAvoy’s overall approach to offense began to get wired in as a kid growing up in Long Beach, N.Y., playing from age 6-12.
“I played for the Long Island Gulls,” he recalled, “and we had this coach who taught us all really how to play. If you watch kids when they start, they all chase the puck and they want to shoot and score. But his thing, what he stressed over and over, was always to look for the extra pass. Always look for that extra pass to the guy free at the back door. So that’s what we’d do . . . back door to back to back door . . . overpass.
“So I grew up on that, making the extra play and setting people up — and I got to the point, I was more excited by making a sick backdoor pass than I was about scoring. Not that I didn’t care about it. Everyone loves scoring. But from then, it was like there’s nothing better than finding your teammate for that backdoor goal.”
Entering Saturday, Boston defensemen scored 12 of the club’s 78 goals, a fraction better than 15 percent of the haul. As of Saturday morning, only two NHL clubs had more goals, including Washington (90) and Florida (84). Combined, their defenseman scored 24 of those 174 goals, or 13.8 percent.
By Cassidy’s eye, McAvoy has been more inclined to shoot of late.
“Some of it has evolved from 5-on-5 play,” noted Cassidy. “He’s a little more active. I think with that second [power-play] group that he’s predominantly on, [the offense] runs through [David Krejci] a lot, so we’re trying to get Charlie to, ‘Listen, get him the puck in certain spots, but once we’ve moved it around, it doesn’t matter who shoots.’ Maybe he’s the guy it runs through initially, but once he draws some people to him, finds a seam . . . then it’s whoever has it in the best spot. A little bit of that is him being deferential, but some of it now is probably recognizing that the right thing is to shoot a little more often. Not all the time, but a little more.”
It was three weeks ago Saturday (Nov. 2) that veteran winger David Backes exited the Boston lineup, following a big collision with the Senators’ Scott Sabourin. The collision brought the sellout crowd to pindrop silence because Sabourin, knocked cold on his feet, crashed face-first to the ice.
Backes, with a substantial record of concussions, promptly made his way to the dressing room when Sabourin was stretchered off the ice. He only made it back to practice Saturday morning, though he was decked out in a red sweater, exempting him from any body contact.
According to Cassidy, a date for Backes’s return to the lineup remains unknown.
“A scary situation there for both players, obviously,” said Cassidy. “He’s taken some time away from the rink and he’s checking the boxes to get back in the lineup — one of them is to get back on the ice, so it’s Step 1.”
Cassidy noted that players who’ve incurred “a few head injuries” must be careful and that the Bruins, sitting atop of the Atlantic Division, don’t need to rush anyone, “no matter who it is,” back into the lineup.
The next step for Backes will be to take some knocks during practices, but Cassidy said he is not certain when the date will arrive.
Twice as nice
Marchand, 1-1—2 for the night, now has recorded 2 points or more in 12 of his 23 games. He now has 39 points, 3 more than Pastrnak, for the team lead. Pasta was kept off the scoresheet for a second time in the last six games. He has been blanked only six times all season . . . Bergeron (four assists) had not picked up more than one assist in all his games this season . . . The 3 points for Torey Krug also established a personal best this season . . . Jaroslav Halak was the expected starter, but he was ill upon arriving at the rink late in the afternoon, necessating the move to start Tuukka Rask for a third straight game — the most he has strung together this season. Provided Halak recovers in full, he and Rask will split the next two games, though Cassidy left the building uncertain which of his tenders will get the start Tuesday night in Montreal . . . Cassidy also moved Steven Kampfer back into the lineup, the first game since Nov. 2 for the club’s reserve blue liner. He swapped in for Connor Clifton. It was only the third game this season for Kampfer.