WASHINGTON — Bruce Cassidy’s advice to Brett Ritchie: get your motor runnin’.
Ritchie, who signed with the Black and Gold in July as an unrestricted free agent, suited up Wednesday night for his 18th game as a Bruin. Nagging injuries have kept him sidelined for nearly half of the club’s games (32) to date, and his ice time diminished in part by Cassidy still tinkering with the forward mix.
“We just need to see him more,” Cassidy said prior to the Bruins facing the Capitals, a game in which Ritchie’s size (6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds) was an asset against a Capitals’ lineup that includes some thickness and muscle (No. 1, Tom Wilson). “Part of that is on me to stay patient with him. Part of it’s on him.”
For example: Monday night in Ottawa. Ritchie logged a meager 8:06, including just a five-second twirl on the power play, and finished minus-2 in the 5-2 loss. Power plays and penalty kills (which he does not play) limited his looks. When he did get his No. 18 called to action, he often had been sitting in cold storage.
“He’s got to get his motor running coming out of it,” said Cassidy. “That’s part of the job for a guy who’s not always playing high minutes — to get going after long stretches. I don’t know if that’s going to be an issue for us or not in the long term with him. Because that’s his role right now. Maybe he earns more minutes, plays a regular role — gets more time on the power play. But time will tell that.”
Ritchie, 26, signed a one-year deal for $1 million with Boston after departing the Stars as a free agent, cut free when Dallas did not make him an offer.
He opted to take the Boston offer because of the team’s success — including last June’s trip to the Cup Final — and how Cassidy utilizes the entire roster. Some coaches have a way of severely dialing back the minutes of fourth line forwards.
“When I was healthy at the start of the year, the first 14-15 games, it felt like it was pretty smooth sailing,” said Ritchie, who potted the club’s first goal of the season in his Boston debut, opening night in Dallas. “I was in and out there with the [elbow] injury and it’s almost like a restart. You kind of have to find your game. But like I’ve said before, wherever you are in the lineup, it’s a pretty deep team, so like any good team, I don’t think you’re going to be put in a bad position.”
The NHL’s two hottest sticks, David Pastrnak and Alex Ovechkin, trade shots here and will do it again Dec. 23 at the Garden, just before the brief Christmas break.
Pastrnak, in a four-game goal-scoring dip, opened the night leading the NHL with 25 goals. The great Ovechkin, the greatest scorer of his era (eight time with 50 goals or more), stood second with 21 for a career total of 679. The 34-year-old flamethrower is closing in on Teemu Selanne (684) for the No. 11 spot on the league’s all-time scoring list.
North Chelmsford’s Jack Eichel (20) moved to No. 3 on the list when he picked up two more Tuesday night in the Sabres’ impressive win over the defending Cup champion St. Louis Blues.
Cassidy, when asked to compare Pastrnak (career total: 157) and Ovechkin, noted Ovechkin is more of a tried-and-true shooter while Pastrnak, at this stage of his career, is still building more playmaking into his game.
“Pasta’s developed his shot now to the point where he will use it more often,” noted Cassidy, his 20-5-6 Bruins second only to the Caps in the league’s overall standings when the night began. “I think Pasta still will use more one-on-one moves than maybe Ovie — that could have been Ovie 10 years ago, as well, and now he’s kind of settled in on what works for him. But Pasta still has a lot of that creative juice in him, still wants to try those and sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
The NHL’s goal-scoring list on Wednesday morning counted three Americans, including Eichel, in the Top 10. The others: T4: Auston Matthews (19, Toronto) and 10. Jake Guentzel (17, Pittsburgh).
Last season, three Yanks finished among the top-10 goal scorers: Patrick Kane, 44 (Chicago), Cam Atkinson, 41 (Columbus) and Alex DeBrincat, 41 (Chicago). As of Wednesday morning, that trio had a total of 29 goals, a collective drop of roughly one-third vs. the rate that brought them a total 126 in 2018-19.
Slip and slide
After winning a season-high eight in a row, the Bruins had hiccupped over the last three (0-2-1) prior to Wednesday night, a dip only slightly worse than their 1-2-3 slide prior to that eight-game run. They also scored a total of three goals in their losses to the Avalanche (5-1) and Senators (5-2), their lowest back-to-back production since their two season-opening wins (Dallas, 2-1; Arizona, 1-0) . . . Boston’s once-dominating power play has powered down over seven games prior to the stop here, going 2 for 20. Duly noted: No. 1 bumper Patrice Bergeron was absent for the first six of those games. “I thought we had enough good looks [in Ottawa] to score at least a couple of goals — we got one,” noted Cassidy. Two points to sharpen, according to Cassidy: quicker puck movement and finish around the net. “When I hear good things about our power play from other people,” mused Cassidy, “it’s typically about how quick the puck moves.” . . . The Bruins’ PP stood No. 3 in the league at 28 percent efficiency (behind Edmonton and Tampa), and the Caps were T5 (23.7) . . . Over the same stretch of seven games, the Bruins’ penalty killing was nearly flawless, snuffing out 17 of 18 advantages. Through 31 games, their PK ranked 12th in the league with a 81.8 percent kill rate . . . Tuukka Rask (13-3-3), backup here to Jaroslav Halak, will be in net Thursday night when the Bruins face the Bolts in Tampa.