The Bruins play their third of six preseason games Friday night at TD Garden against the Philadelphia Flyers, and fans should get a pretty good show as Boston’s biggest guns will all be seeing their first preseason action.
How Bruins' roster battles look after second preseason game
The Bruins’ lineup will include David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, Pavel Zacha, Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm and Linus Ullmark, none of whom played in either of the first two preseason games. Veteran free-agent signing Kevin Shattenkirk will also make his Bruins preseason debut.
Marchand said this week that he wanted to jump right in and play the first preseason game, but understands the Bruins’ staff having a different schedule in mind for a lot of the veterans.
“I tried to get the first one. They said no,” Marchand said. “But I think in years past, we typically all play three games. And then with the break between games [before opening night], I'm sure a lot of guys will play that last one [on Thursday]. So, I expect to play the two home games here [Friday and Tuesday] that we have remaining, but it's up to them and we just go with it.”
Options for Poitras
Another player fans will surely be excited to see Friday night is Matt Poitras. After starring in Sunday’s preseason opener, the 19-year-old center will get another chance to impress Friday.
By now, you may be aware that it’s NHL or OHL for Poitras, meaning he either makes the Bruins’ roster and sticks in the NHL, or they release him back to his junior team, the Guelph Storm of the Ontario Hockey League. Poitras is not eligible to play for Providence in the American Hockey League this season.
That decision, however, does not necessarily need to be finalized by opening night. Per the NHL’s agreement with the Canadian Hockey League (which includes the OHL), the Bruins could keep Poitras for up to nine regular-season games without burning a year off his entry-level contract. After nine games, they would need to decide to either return Poitras to Guelph or keep him in Boston and begin his three-year ELC now.
Basically, those nine games could be an extended tryout for Poitras. Keeping him around for them might seem like an easy decision for the Bruins, especially if you’re all-in on the Poitras hype train, but there are other factors to take into account.
Chief among them is that it would mean one less roster spot for someone else. Poitras still has to fit under the 23-man max, so that means someone else is getting waived or sent to Providence. If it’s a player who doesn’t have to go through waivers, that’s not as big of a hurdle. But if that 13th or 14th forward is waivers-eligible, then the Bruins would risk losing a potentially valuable depth player, all to keep Poitras in Boston for possibly just nine games.
That said, the Bruins have been consistent in saying that if Poitras shows he’s ready and earns a roster spot, he’ll have it. We’ll see if he can keep building positive momentum Friday night.
Montgomery to miss game
Bruins coach Jim Montgomery was not at practice Thursday and will not be at Friday’s game. His mother, Dorothy, recently passed away, so Montgomery is home in Montreal for funeral services. He is expected to return to the team on Sunday.
In his absence, assistant coach Joe Sacco took up press conference duties on Thursday and is expected to be the de facto head coach Friday. Sacco, who has shifted to coaching the defense more this season, previously filled in for Bruce Cassidy when he had to miss a few games due to COVID.
Richard worth watching
Last summer, the Bruins signed a 25-year-old AHLer who had bounced around multiple organizations, but who had just had a breakthrough with a point-per-game season with the Utica Comets. That player was A.J. Greer, who wound up sticking on the NHL roster and playing 61 of 82 regular-season games last year.
This summer, the Bruins signed a 26-year-old AHLer who had bounced around multiple organizations, but who just had a breakthrough that saw him average over a point per game and finish top 10 in the AHL in scoring with the Laval Rocket. That player is Anthony Richard.
Now, we’re not predicting a repeat of Greer here. For starters, they’re very different players. Greer is a 6-foot-3 power forward-type player who’s willing to drop the gloves with anyone. Richard is a 5-foot-10 speedster who’s at his best with the puck on his stick.
But Richard is worth watching – not just in terms of pushing for a roster spot, but also because he’s simply a fun player to watch. His speed stood out in Sunday’s preseason opener, helping him to create two high-danger chances. He wasn’t able to finish either of them, but did hit the post on one.
Richard spent the early part of camp on a line with Trent Frederic and Morgan Geekie, both of whom are likely to be on the Bruins’ third line come opening night. On Thursday, Richard moved up even higher than that and got a chance to skate with David Pastrnak and Pavel Zacha.
Sacco took the same approach as Montgomery and stressed after practice that we shouldn’t read into lineup changes and combinations too much at this point in camp. Fine. But we can’t help but think it’s notable that Richard got elevated and has now appeared on two real NHL lines. That probably wouldn’t be happening if the Bruins were already 100% sure that Richard isn’t making the team.
Richard did get called up to Montreal for 13 games last season, and he had three goals and two assists. A deeper dive into his five-on-five numbers show some encouraging signs in a small sample size that may have caught the Bruins’ attention. Among Canadiens who played at least 10 games last season, Richard ranked second in goals per 60 minutes (1.44), points per 60 (2.41) and high-danger chances per 60 (4.33). All of those numbers would have ranked top five on the Bruins, too, and would compare most closely to Jake DeBrusk (1.51 goals per 60, 2.38 points per 60).
Richard thinks he would have played more NHL games if not for the Habs being worried about losing him on waivers if they moved him up and down too often.
“It was tough last year because I could’ve played way more games if it was not for the waiver thing,” Richard said Thursday. “Montreal was scared to lose me in the waiver. Had a good year in Laval, so they didn't want to lose me for a playoff push down there. So, I kind of got screwed a little bit with the business side of hockey, but I knew if I had a real chance somewhere else I could make an impact on the roster, either on the fourth, third line, or sometimes on the second line.”
Richard believes he is playing the best hockey of his life and is confident that he’s doing what he needs to do to make a real push to make the team.
“I know my game, as I speak right now, I've never played better since the probably last 12 months,” he said. “So, coming to camp I was really confident I could make a push and show the coaching staff and the management that they made the right decision to sign me.”
Don’t forget about Brown
A lot of fans and media seem ready to hand the fourth-line center job to Johnny Beecher. To an extent, that’s understandable. The 2019 first-round pick was one of the stars of the preseason opener on Sunday, and he followed that up on Tuesday with a solid but not quite as impressive game Tuesday. He’s young, big, fast and smart, and fans want to see more of him.
Ignoring Patrick Brown and what he can bring to that spot would be a mistake, though. Let’s not forget that the Bruins signed the Boston College alum to a two-year deal on the first day of free agency, likely with this exact role in mind. Tomas Nosek, last year’s fourth-line center, was still available at the time.
Brown was a late bloomer in NHL terms, never playing more than 14 NHL games in a season until he was 29 years old. The now-31-year-old Brown played a career-high 61 games last season – 43 with the Philadelphia Flyers, 18 with the Ottawa Senators after a midseason trade. He also played for Team USA at the IIHF World Championship in the spring.
Analytically, Brown looks pretty similar to Nosek, and actually grades out slightly better by some metrics (see below). Like Nosek, he’s used to starting way more shifts in the defensive zone than offensive zone (under 30% offensive-zone start percentage each of the last two seasons). Like Nosek, he’s very good on faceoffs (56.1% for his career). One notable difference is he throws his body around more (167 hits for Brown last season compared to 69 for Nosek).
Brown actually started Sunday’s game on a line with Beecher, with Brown shifting over to right wing, a position he says he’s equally comfortable playing. He finished the game getting treatment on his leg after blocking a slap shot, one of those things you just have to be willing to do in this kind of role.
Asked about his leg on Thursday, Brown had a perfect response.
“It’s fine. The ones you miss hurt more than the ones you block,” he said.
Brown knows exactly what the Bruins expect of him, because general manager Don Sweeney laid it out clearly when he signed.
“Winning faceoffs, killing penalties, blocking shots, trying to play the hard minutes,” he said. “Big draws at the end of the game, penalty kill draws, playing in the O-zone, wearing the other team down so that the big guys can get out there and score some goals.”
Those are all things Brown has already done at the NHL level. They’re all things the Bruins think Beecher can and will do, too, but it’s worth noting that there are areas they still want to see more from Beecher. In particular, Montgomery pinpointed his “pace of intensity,” “battle tools” and “will” before Tuesday’s game.
There may very well be room for both Brown and Beecher. As mentioned, Brown can also play the wing, and Beecher has played a little bit of wing too. But if there’s only room for one, the guess here is that Brown is still ahead at the moment and Beecher would still have more work to do.
First look at the power play
The Bruins practiced their top power-play units in front of the media for the first time on Wednesday. The top unit featured Charlie McAvoy at the point, David Pastrnak in his usual spot on the left elbow, Brad Marchand on the right, Pavel Zacha in the bumper, and James van Riemsdyk at the net-front. The second unit was Hampus Lindholm at the point, Kevin Shattenkirk and Jake DeBrusk on the elbows (with some flipping sides between them), Morgan Geekie in the bumper, and Charlie Coyle net-front. Don't be surprised if these are the units come regular season.
Vasilevskiy to miss time
The Tampa Bay Lightning announced Thursday that star goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy underwent back surgery and is expected to miss the first two months of the season. Talk about a late-breaking curveball. If the Lightning don’t go out and make a trade, their next men up are Jonas Johansson (a career journeyman backup) and Matt Tomkins (a 29-year-old who has never played in the NHL and who spent the last two years in Sweden).
Obviously, this is a significant blow to one of the Bruins’ division rivals – one that already looked poised to take a step back after losing a bunch of depth due to their own salary cap crunch. The flat cap really dragged a lot of teams towards the middle this summer, and now the Lightning look even more vulnerable. This is just another reminder of why the Bruins should remain very much in the mix despite losing so much offense this summer. Nearly every playoff team lost something, and the Bruins had a lot more wiggle room points-wise than anyone else. They could lose 17 more games than they did last year and still be a 100-point team, safely in the playoffs.
There’s an arms race on Comm Ave
If you like college hockey, boy are Boston University and Boston College going to be fun to watch the next couple years. BU, ranked No. 1 in the USCHO preseason poll, has Macklin Celebrini (the projected No. 1 overall pick in 2024) and Tom Willander (11th overall pick in 2023) coming in and Lane Hutson (a Montreal second-round pick and arguably the best defenseman in NCAA) coming back. BC, ranked sixth, brings in three first-round picks this year (Will Smith, Ryan Leonard and Gabe Perreault) and returns Cutter Gauthier (the fifth overall pick in 2022).
Last week, BC secured a commitment from James Hagens, the potential No. 1 overall pick in 2025. Not to be outdone, BU secured a high-profile commitment of its own this week, landing Cole Eiserman, the projected No. 2 overall pick in 2024 behind Celebrini, after the Newburyport native decommitted from the University of Minnesota.
We've learned over many years that the most talented teams don't always win in college hockey. There's no guarantee there are going to be national titles in BU and BC's futures (and by the way, it's been over a decade since either has won one). But watching these young stars and seeing what kind of impact it has on Hockey East and college hockey in general will be fascinating.
Love to the Snow family
Kelsie Snow shared the heartbreaking news Thursday that her husband, Chris Snow, would not wake up after going into cardiac arrest on Wednesday. Snow, a former Boston Globe Red Sox reporter who shifted to a career in hockey operations and ultimately rose to assistant general manager of the Calgary Flames, had been battling ALS since 2019.
I did not know Chris personally. I did, however, know his dad Bob, who covered the Bruins and the local college hockey scene. He was one of the veterans who was most welcoming to young reporters and someone I always enjoyed talking to at the rink. ALS also took Bob, in 2018. It took both of Bob’s brothers and one of Chris’ cousins, too. Sadly, the disease is genetic for the Snows.
I cannot imagine what the Snow family has gone through and is going through now. For anyone who wants to help Kelsie and her two children, a family friend has set up a GoFundMe that you can donate to here.