The Boston Bruins crossed to a 5-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabers on Thanksgiving Eve. More importantly, they potentially avoided a significant scare.
Charlie McAvoy led a comfortable 4-1 lead into the third period and found himself receiving a late shot from behind via Saber striker Zemgus Girgensons. Boston coaches took care of McAvoy as he lay on the ice for a few minutes before the five-year-old defender skated to the locker room to repair his face.
The Girgensons were given a five-minute major and an abuse of the game for boarding McAvoy on the boards. The Bruins, who built their cushion in the heels of four first-period figures, added another insurance marker on the ensuing powerplay at Taylor Hall’s fifth of the season.
Bruce Cassidy gave an encouraging update on McAvoy after Boston’s 10th win of the season. Here’s what we learned as a crucial matchup in the early season with the New York Rangers awaits.
The potential short- or long-term consequences without McAvoy are great
“He got some stitches, but he was moving around, so that’s good,” Cassidy said of McAvoy’s health. “I do not expect much to happen. He will get a slap in the face. Hopefully there is no one else. [issues]. That’s what you’ve hoping for when your head goes into the boards that way. Hopefully he feels healthy, knocks on the tree, has some turkey and is ready to go on Friday. “
Cassidy’s positive report on McAvoy provided a collective exhalation from the passionate Bruins fan base ahead of their Turkey Day festivities. Now they are awaiting news of McAvoy’s status for Friday’s matinee.
To put it bluntly, the Bruins can not afford to lose McAvoy. He is without a doubt one of the best two-way blue-liners in the league. The Bruins do not have the defensive depth to compensate for McAvoy’s potential short- or long-term absence.
Brandon Carlo would likely rise to a top-pair role in McAvoy’s absence. Still, the right shooting opportunities under him are nothing to write home about.
Cassidy scratched Connor Clifton after a handful of inconsistent excursions. Jakub Zboril slipped from his strong side D over to the right side of the third defensive pair with Mike Reilly. In their three matches together, the up-tempo duo gave a steady hand in Boston’s transition play and hardly looked out of place defensively.
But McAvoy’s potential absence goes beyond the defensive structure. That would probably leave questions about how Carlo and Derek Forbort adapt to a top-notch role. It would also leave Matt Grzelcyk, who skated with McAvoy on Wednesday, in a rather uncertain spot with Clifton or a potential Providence call like Urho Vaakanainen.
The defensive core has not performed so poorly in the first 16 games. Zboril’s consistency and Forbort’s unlikely offensive contribution provided encouraging signs. But they would all have to perform well above expectations if the Bruins lose McAvoy in the short or long term.
The Bruins react quickly to Okposo’s first period of style
The odd schedule for the early season hardly allowed the Bruins to find their rhythm consistently. At times, they have established a stable flow in all three zones with fast transitions and high-quality secondary scoring chances. In other cases, they have missed shots in favor of the perfect game, which has often resulted in quality shots down the other end of the ice.
As the first period progressed, the Bruins slowly found their groove in front of a sparse KeyBank Center audience. A hard break resulted in a 1-0 deficit as Kyle Okposo hit the short side of birthday boy Jeremy Swayman in the heels of Aaron Dell’s stop at David Pastrnak during a 2-on-1 opportunity.
It did not take long before the Bruins responded. Captain Patrice Bergeron struck just 2:33 after Okposo’s fifth goal of the year, firing a backhander past Dell for his seventh of the month.
A smart wrist from Charlie Coyle matched his overall goal from a year ago, bringing the Bruins ahead forever with his sixth of the season just 51 seconds after Bergeron’s equalizer.
Another 2:39 elapsed before Pastrnak scored his sixth goal of the year at home – and the second power-play figure – increased the lead to 3-1.
Mike Reilly ended Dell’s night with a rebound marker – his second of the year – 2:01 after Pastrnak’s one-timer.
In a 5:31 span, the opportunistic Bruins turned a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead.
“We really pushed through after that [Okposo goal], Cassidy said of the four-goal first. “We checked the game a bit and got some breaks in front of the net.”
The Bruins played on their identity against the oppressed Sabers. Somehow they have to establish similar outreach against teams in front of them in the position. They get another chance for it on Friday against a Rangers group that is two points from the Hurricanes and Capitals to the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
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