Charlie McAvoy is still thinking about the hit to the head he threw on Florida’s Oliver Ekman-Larsson three weeks ago that got him suspended for four games. The Bruins defenseman and alternate captain doesn’t want to be thought of as that kind of player, and he especially doesn’t want to put his team in a tough situation again.
Bruins beat Habs and fallout from Lucic arrest
He admits to playing more cautiously in the three games he’s played since returning to the lineup.
“I’m very, very controlled,” McAvoy said Sunday. “I don’t want to hit anybody. I didn’t hit anybody the first two games. And then I’m sort of like, I’m gonna try to be as under control as possible. I’m thinking about it. I’m absolutely thinking about it. I don’t want to get in trouble again. I can’t do that to myself or the team.”
That is certainly understandable, but the reality is that McAvoy can’t just stop hitting. It’s an important part of his game, and it’s important for the Bruins. McAvoy often sets the tone physically, and he’s as good as anyone at ramping up the physicality if Boston’s opponent starts to do so.
His form and decision-making is almost always a lot better than it was on that regrettable play on Oct. 30. McAvoy has officially thrown 879 hits during his seven-year career. Two of them (0.002%) have landed him in trouble with the league.
Saturday night may have marked a step towards normalcy when it comes to McAvoy’s physicality. His coach, Jim Montgomery, saw the Canadiens try to throw some big hits once the Bruins went up by a couple goals. And he saw, as he has before, McAvoy counterpunch with a couple hits of his own to help prevent any sort of momentum shift.
“He had a couple big hits,” Montgomery said of McAvoy. “Montreal, when they got behind, started looking to make some runs, and I thought he answered that right away. His sense of understanding momentum in the game.”
Of course, hitting is just one way McAvoy can impact any given game. His shutdown defense has been his most consistent contribution throughout his career, and that hasn’t gone anywhere. There is one area where he keeps getting better, though: Offense.
That was on display in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Montreal as well. He opened the scoring with a 5-on-3 power-play goal in the first period, stepping into a Brad Marchand pass and burying a rocket of a one-timer into the top corner.
McAvoy now has a six-game point streak, the third-longest of his career. He has three goals and six assists during that time and is up to 12 points in 12 games on the season. That puts him on pace for a career high in points and a fourth straight season of increasing his production on a per-game basis.
Beyond the point totals, what’s encouraging is how McAvoy is doing it: He’s shooting more. His 11.38 shot attempts per 60 minutes this season are two more than his previous career high. He is scoring goals and creating rebounds at career-high rates. The Bruins’ 4.55 goals per 60 minutes when McAvoy is on the ice are the highest mark of his career, too. In short, good things are happening because McAvoy has been more willing to fire away.
Montgomery said Sunday that McAvoy’s offensive game is “at the best level that I’ve seen him at.”
“That confidence is starting to really show up on the offensive side,” Montgomery said. “I think on the defensive side, it's always there. He knows that he can shut people down and he relishes that, but I think lately… like that slap shot [Saturday] and a couple of the other shots, that's him wanting to take shots now. Before I think he was looking to defer. I think now he has that balance of knowing when to pass and when to shoot.”
The Bruins needed guys to step up offensively after losing so much production over the summer. So far, McAvoy is certainly doing his part. In addition to helping his team, he may be on his way to helping himself get back in the Norris Trophy conversation.
Missing time early last season after shoulder surgery and taking a little bit to really find his game after that resulted in an 18th-place finish after back-to-back top-five finishes the previous two years. To win the award or even crack the top three, McAvoy was always going to need to score more.
Well, now he is. He’s currently one of nine defensemen in the NHL averaging at least a point per game. He’s not the Norris favorite, because Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar are both averaging an absurd 1.5 points per game. McAvoy’s suspension would work against him right now anyways, although that will probably slide more towards the back-burner as the season goes on.
Those are all conversations for a later date, though. For now, all McAvoy cares about is continuing to help the league-leading Bruins win games… and, of course, avoiding any more suspensions.
If there’s been any loss of confidence when it comes to physical play, McAvoy has more than made up for it with that increased offensive confidence Montgomery highlighted. There may have been no better example of it than McAvoy’s matter-of-fact answer when asked if he’s found another level offensively this season.
“Yeah. I mean, I have. It’s been fun.”