BOSTON - A simple eye test makes it clear that Charlie McAvoy had a pretty solid game on Wednesday night against Tampa Bay. The rookie blueliner tallied a goal and an assist to help the Bruins to their fifth win in six games.
But a more in-depth look at his night will catch your attention, particularly after a quick glance at the scoresheet. McAvoy played a game-high 28 minutes, 11 seconds, which was over four minutes higher than the next closest Bruin (Zdeno Chara). It was the third time this season he has surpassed the 28-minute mark and is first in the league in rookie time on ice (23:42), almost four minutes higher than Colorado's Samuel Girard.
"Felt good. I was kind of alluding to this…I don't necessarily set a 'I want to play this much' or something like that," said McAvoy. "So when you get out and see how much you actually played - kinda like tonight - I wouldn't have thought I'd play that many minutes. It's something that I take great pride in, to see the coaches have trust in me like that."
Video: TBL@BOS: McAvoy rips home slapper through traffic
Despite McAvoy being 19 years old and seemingly more equipped to take on a heavy workload, Cassidy is mindful of the taxing nature of playing that many minutes on a regular basis. But with two days off before the B's next game, Cassidy felt it was an appropriate game to extend the defenseman a bit further.
"I think that's something you have to be mindful of," Cassidy said after the game. "Now, we don't play until Saturday so if you're going to do it, today's the day. But, you're playing against one of the best offensive teams in the league, so you've got to be a little more mindful of your matchups
"Charlie got a lot of work. And he's an efficient player, he can handle it, but 28 is a lot. So we'll have to take a look at that and try to get it to a more reasonable number, for sure."
Part of the reason for McAvoy playing that much was the need to defend Tampa Bay's high-octane offense. The Lightning split up Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov after the first period, which required the services of McAvoy and Zdeno Chara more than Boston expected. Kucherov and Stamkos connected for a power-play goal early in the third, but other than that were held relatively in check.
"Playing against Stamkos and Kucherov in that line was something that me and Zee were matched up against, and they ended up splitting those guys up a bit in the third, so kind of trying to pair with both of them and play with both of those guys, along with any other line," said McAvoy. "So it gets late in the game there, to see that [Cassidy's] calling me back out there, that's something I'm real appreciative of."
David Krejci (upper body) and Adam McQuaid (broken fibula) both skated ahead of the Bruins' optional practice on Thursday, while Anders Bjork (undisclosed) joined the group for the official session, which was heavy on skill work.
"Krech is still day-to-day, he went out and skated a little bit today, so that might be better answered tomorrow with him [if he can play on Saturday]," said Cassidy. "Bjork is progressing well so he's a potential for Saturday…we're trending.
"McQuaid is skating, he's still on his same rehab protocol…I'm not sure exactly what the exact date of his return is but he's on schedule."
Jake DeBrusk (upper body) did not skate and has not been ruled out for Saturday, but is not as far along as the other, according to Cassidy.
Marchand, Backes Provide Boost
David Backes and Brad Marchand, who had missed the last 12 games and six games, respectively, were impressive in their returns to the lineup against Tampa. Marchand contributed two first-period assists, while Backes landed five hits and two shots on goal in just under 19 minutes of ice time.
"I thought March was real good, played a lot of minutes, situation dictated that - it wasn't how we drew it up but he's certainly capable of it," said Cassidy. "I liked Backes. He was physical - you could tell there was a little rust, which we expected, but just having his presence out there…we were happy to have them back. I mean, they're good players in this league."
For Backes, it was a particularly impressive return given his original estimated recovery time from colon surgery. Initially, the veteran forward was expected to miss eight weeks following the procedure on Nov. 2. He was back in four.
"I think I felt better than I expected to feel," said Backes. "I think the benefit might be that the surgery is normally done on older people that are maybe not in great shape and I might've been able to beat the norm a little bit that way. Starting off in a little better shape and having to get back to NHL pace might've taken a little bit longer."
Video: The Bruins speak after their 3-2 win over TBL
With David Krejci sidelined, Riley Nash slid up to the second-line center slot and cashed in with his second goal of the season, a snipe over the glove of Andrei Vasilevskiy off a feed from Danton Heinen. The tally extended Nash's points streak to three games (1-2-3).
Cassidy believes an uptick in the pivot's minutes could be contributing to an increase in his offense.
"You classify guys as goal scorers and other guys have the ability to score some goals. He's in the latter, and I think he can," said Cassidy. "He's got a good shot, he's got a good nose for the net, good hockey sense. Sometimes, I don't know if he pushes himself hard enough to score because he's worried about the defensive part of it because that's kind of his bread and butter.
"Good for him, because it's in him. It's in him to contribute."
David Pastrnak also extended his points streak to four games (2-2-4) with his assist on McAvoy's goal.
Video: TBL@BOS: Nash wires a wrist shot past Vasilevskiy
Cassidy went with seven defensemen for the second time in three games. With the forward group banged up, the B's bench boss has found it an effective way to manage minutes on the back end.
"We'll probably use it more as the year goes on, especially with our forward group hurt," said Cassidy. "If they get healthy, then I would imagine - when I say we use it as the year goes on, going forward here until we get Krech. Once you get your full forward group back, I think we'll be fine with our four lines. Just haven't had that luxury."
Besides the victory against Tampa, the biggest accomplishment for Boston may have been escaping without injury. Cassidy was quite pleased with that development after the game.
"Speaking of injuries, we didn't have any tonight, so we'll have 10 extra minutes tonight to talk about the game," Cassidy quipped.