Six combined points. Ten shots on goal. A cumulative plus/minus of plus-eight. Five of the Boston Bruins’ heralded and celebrated rookies forged the path to victory versus the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday night and not one of them was named “Charlie.”
With their presumptive Calder candidate still finding his legs after missing four games and 12 days of action due to an abnormal heart rhythm, it was McAvoy’s fellow first-year professionals Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly, Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Austin Czarnik taking turns quieting the surprisingly-sparse crowd at Little Caesar’s Arena, en route to a 3-2 triumph.
On a night in which the impossibly-hot Patrice Bergeron (12 goals, 20 points over his previous 14 games) was held scoreless and his partner-in-crime Brad Marchand was serving the final game of his suspension, it was several unlikely faces ensuring that Boston’s winning ways continued.
Scoring Slump Busters
With a goal and an assist each on the evening, both Kuraly and Heinen made their presence felt shift-by-shift.
For Kuraly, the proverbial monkey was not only removed from his back, but was also escorted out of the building, down the street and put in a cab somewhere near Comerica Park.
Prior to the two-point effort Kuraly hadn’t scored a goal since the day after Thanksgiving, a span of 29 games. Moreover, he had registered just two assists during that goalless stretch — a point-pace of roughly five points per 82 contests.
Bountiful offense, even in the best of times, is never going to be Sean Kuraly’s bread and butter. He’s a meat-and-potatoes, work-pail and hardhat kind of guy, with the size (six-foot-two, 213 pounds) and motor to wear-down opponents, earning offensive zone face-offs for his teammates to capitalize upon.
In short, he’s the consummate fourth-liner.
Even so, 29 games is quite a drought. And in less than ten minutes of ice time Kuraly broke his slump in stellar fashion, finally getting to once again unleash one of his increasingly-popular celebrations.
He may be largely unheralded. He may appear on the scoresheet and highlight reel less than most of his teammates. But Sean Kuraly is an integral part of this team, and hopefully increased production doesn’t mean decreased enthusiasm on the “celly’s” moving forward.
Here Comes Heinen
In the 15 games leading up to Boston’s bye week, Danton Heinen registered 17 points. As a key cog to the middle of the team’s lineup and its suddenly lethal third line, the Langley, British Columbia native had started to generate some legitimate Calder buzz despite not even beginning the season on Boston’s roster.
Once the bye came to an end, however, the offense dried up somewhat for Heinen. He wasn’t completely snakebitten (three points in nine games after the bye) and was still playing responsible two-way hockey, but the fortuitous bounces and breaks that had once been so plentiful had begun to elude him.
In a span of two games it appears that all of that has changed once more.
Tuesday’s contest was the second straight in which the 22-year-old rookie picked up two points. His backhand feed to David Pastrnak off a broken play once more displayed Heinen’s elite hand-eye coordination, while his third-period snipe was a true goalscorer’s goal; more importantly, it proved to be the game winner.
His 19:51 of ice time led all Bruins forwards on the night. All Bruins forwards. Yes, including Patrice Bergeron.
Filling-in on the top line once more for the suspended Marchand, the 2014 4th Round pick has the look of a bona fide steal and legitimate top-six forward.
It was less than three weeks ago that I wrote about the uncertainty regarding Austin Czarnik’s future in Boston. A few untimely injuries of his, coupled with Boston’s surprisingly prodigious young depth at forward, had made Czarnik the odd man out for the second season in a row.
Already 25 years old following a four-year career at Miami University (Ohio) and a pending restricted free agent, it appeared Czarnik’s next NHL bid would come outside of the “617.”
But then Brad Marchand went….Brad Marchand. Anders Bjork, just days after recall, was once again headed for injured reserve. Peter Cehlarik’s one-game cameo yielded zero mistakes, but was nonetheless fruitless.
The diminutive AHL All-Star has seized upon this opportunity, doing as much as could be expected in his two games-and-counting call-up. He has registered an assist in each contest despite playing less than 10 minutes in both. Tuesday’s assist came off a tenacious forecheck wherein Czarnik forced Nick Jensen into a turnover which makeshift linemates (and fellow rookies) Sean Kuraly and Danton Heinen turned into a bang-bang goal — the game winner, no less.
Czarnik’s quickness and creativity have long been the pillars of his game. Utilizing both while also wreaking havoc on the forecheck in a fourth-line role will only enhance his stock.
Whether that means earning regular minutes, supplanting Frank Vatrano as the club’s spare forward, earning the right to be the first player called up from Providence down the line or catching the eye of a rival GM as the trade deadline approaches, one thing is for certain: Austin Czarnik’s stock is significantly higher today than it was three weeks ago.
Play of the Game
Halfway through the contest and trailing 1-0 despite outshooting the Red Wings by a two-to-one margin, rookie defenseman Matt Grzelcyk found himself in a de facto one-on-one with the electric Dylan Larkin.
It was just two years ago that Larkin broke Mike Gartner’s then-20-year-old speed skating record at the All-Star Skills Competition (a mark since eclipsed by Connor McDavid).
Given Larkin’s notorious speed, it wasn’t terribly surprising to see Grzelcyk get tangled-up in his own skates as he backpedaled to account for being so quickly put on his heels.
As Grzelcyk tumbled backwards to the ice, it appeared as though Detroit’s young star would walk in all alone on Rask. But in a moment that was equal parts awareness and luck, Grzelcyk (in one motion) hit the ice, swung his stick over his head while prone and somehow swiped the puck off the unsuspecting Larkin’s stick, breaking up the Grade-A scoring chance.
One minute and nine seconds later Sean Kuraly scored, tying the game. Three minutes after that David Krejci scored, giving Boston a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
If Matt Grzelcyk doesn’t make that play, there’s probably a 50/50 chance Dylan Larkin scores on the breakway, giving Detroit a two-goal lead. But the rookie rearguard did make the play, and once again the Bruins stormed from behind shortly thereafter to grab two points.
Grzelcyk finished with zero points for the ninth-straight game and has just one tally (assist) in his last 16 contests. However, the stability he has displayed as a first-year defender has been remarkable. Moreover, the Charlestown native’s ability to break pucks cleanly and regularly out of the defensive zone has been a key component to Boston’s newfound uptempo attack.
What a play. What a rookie. What a pleasant surprise.
Jake “Ruckus” DeBrusk
As an honorable mention of sorts, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention that for the second time in three games David Krejci got to shoot and score on an unguarded-cage thanks to the chaos created in the net mouth by Jake DeBrusk.
DeBrusk was awarded an assist for his efforts and no doubt got some fist bumps and head rubs from his teammates for once again putting in the kind of hard work that is absolutely contagious.
It was his third point in his last five games, a rate DeBrusk has upheld nearly the entire season; a testament to his consistency.
With rookies like these, who needs Brad Marchand???
But with rookie performances like these enabling Boston to win four of five with their leading scoring sidelined, his return Wednesday will be merely icing on the cake, as opposed to a life preserver to a weary team.
The Bruins are still rolling, thanks in no small part to their rookies not named “Charlie.”