Coming into his third full season (fourth overall) in the National Hockey League, big things were expected from Boston Bruins’ defenseman Charlie McAvoy. He had already played in 41 playoff games over three seasons and last season, his season extended until mid-June with a Game 7 loss in the Stanley Cup Final to the St. Louis Blues.
Expected to take on a big role on the Boston blue line this season, McAvoy failed to meet expectations in the first half of the season. There were even rumblings in January that the Bruins were kicking the tires on possibly trading him. Since the All-Star break, the 22-year-old has picked up his play more to what the Black and Gold were expecting before the NHL paused the season March 12 amid the Coronavirus pandemic.
Early Season Woes
It was no secret that McAvoy was struggling in the first three months of the season. What could go wrong, did go wrong for the former Boston University standout. Turning pucks over in the defensive end led to opponents’ goals. Missing assignments and being pushed off the puck was beginning to be a common occurrence.
It got to the point that even coach Bruce Cassidy was calling out the lack of execution on the blue line from not only McAvoy but the other defensemen. It was one thing to be playing sloppy, but McAvoy, who averaged seven goals a season in his first two seasons in the NHL, had failed to light the lamp through 50 games. With a team that has a top-scoring line in the league with Patrice Bergeron centering David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, not getting production from one of their young stars was not something brought up much. That was until the Bruins hit a tough stretch in December and January where it became evident that they needed to find scoring from other people than their No. 1 line.
Post All-Star Break Success
The Bruins entered their 10-day All-Star break with a 3-2 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights at the TD Garden on Jan. 21. McAvoy finished the game with a minus-1 on 27 shifts and 20:49 of ice time. Ten days away from hockey seemed to do the Long Island, New York native some good.
When the Bruins returned to the ice on Jan. 31 in Winnipeg against the Jets, McAvoy wasted little time in asserting himself in the game. He provided an open-ice hit on Jets forward Mark Scheifele that seemed to spark the Bruins on their way to 2-1 win in an extremely physical game.
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Since that night a month and a half ago, McAvoy had taken his game to another level prior to the stoppage. Six nights later on Feb. 5, he finally scored his first goal of the season in a 2-1 overtime win over Chicago Blackhawks on the road. He finished February with three more goals, before scoring his fifth in a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on March 7 in a fight-filled game at the TD Garden.
Since the break, he played in 18 games and in 17 of those, he played over 20 minutes a night. He also seems to have earned the trust and confidence of Cassidy again. Paired with Zdeno Chara on the Bruins top pairing, as well as killing penalties, McAvoy has also brought a physical style of play.
Carryover to Playoffs
For the last month and a half, McAvoy has been the player that the Bruins thought they were getting at the beginning of the season. If he can continue his recent play should the league resume at some point on the top defensive pairing with Chara, that would be beneficial to the success Boston can have in the postseason. With three trips to the playoffs under his belt already and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, as a young player, he knows what to expect when the pressure of the playoffs mounts.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.