BOSTON - Kevan Miller took the latest step in his recovery from knee surgery on Thursday when he joined his teammates for practice at Warrior Ice Arena. The blue liner, who was donning a maroon non-contact jersey, appeared to be skating smoothly during what was a light 30-minute session.
Miller suffered a broken kneecap on April 4 in Minnesota, causing him to miss the first three rounds of the postseason. The 31-year-old was moving along well in his recovery, eyeing a return for the Stanley Cup Final, when he re-injured the knee while going through his off-ice training during the Eastern Conference Final in Carolina.
The defenseman, who played just 39 games last season due to various injuries, required a second surgery and spent the summer rehabbing. Miller started skating a couple of weeks ago and could be back practicing in full sometime late next week.
"We'll see how he did. I'm sure he's fine coming out of today's practice. It wasn't contact," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "I suspect he will join us for practice in a contact jersey sometime next week, assuming today, and if he's with us tomorrow, go well..[he's] progressing well. He looked good out there. But there's still a timeline that he wouldn't be available in the next three games anyway."
Putting in Work
For the second straight week, the Bruins find themselves with a lengthy break between games. Following Tuesday's win over San Jose, Boston is idol until Saturday night when they host the Ottawa Senators at TD Garden.
As such, Cassidy has been strategic in his scheduling, giving the team an off day on Wednesday, before holding a light practice on Thursday morning. The Bruins will skate again on Friday in preparation of the Senators.
"We're trying to stay crisp in these practices, stay sharp," said Cassidy. "We adjust depending on what goes south in our game. Our guys are pretty good at reeling it in. Earlier in the year, we were loose. A lot of the practice was the teaching parts. We always want to get out and work on our skill.
"But the teaching parts were neutral zone related, tightening up, knowing our assignments in lanes, managing the puck in there…this is more about maintaining our legs, good energy, good pace so that they feel good every night we play right now."
Having won four straight and nine of 12 (9-1-2) to start the season - tying the best start in franchise history - there is plenty to feel good about. But despite their eight-game point streak and league-low one regulation loss, the Bruins know there is still plenty to shore up.
"You've got to be smart about what you pick at," said Cassidy. "I think our players recognize there's a lot of work that goes into it, that we're not anywhere near our ceiling. They're good that way. Today we did a little 3-on-3, simulating overtime. You work different things in.
"I think our group is very responsive if you give them something and back it up. You can't fool them but if there's areas - earlier in the year it was our offense. We didn't create many second chances or recover enough pucks to stay in the offensive zone, using the D. We've kind of built some of that in again.
"There will always be stuff that kind of pops up. In general, the state of our game recently has been good. Now it's about staying sharp and developing chemistry now that [David Krejci] is back in. There's always some little things we can work on."
Ready for a Breakthrough?
The Bruins' fourth line was, perhaps, the best such trio in the National Hockey League a season ago. With Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom, and Chris Wagner getting most of the time in that role, Cassidy could depend on them in any situation, particularly when it came to checking the other team's top players.
That role has remained this season, though the parts have been a tad different. Acciari is gone to Florida and Nordstrom has played in just five games because of injury. As such, the unit - which has included Wagner, Kuraly, Nordstrom, Par Lindholm, and David Backes - has been trying to find some consistency, particularly offensively.
"They always do their job defensively," said Cassidy. "They've got tough matchups. I think they were sporadic at times. I think Sean's still searching to find his game. I think he's frustrated that even though he's a checker he hasn't gotten on the scoresheet yet. It's human nature. You want to score, especially as a forward.
"Overall, for what we ask them to do, I think they've performed well. Very few nights do they got a matchup that's not high-end from the other team. If they can play that to a draw then that's a win for us, I feel. They've done a good job with it."
With Nordstrom and Lindholm (upper body) sidelined, the fourth line consisted of Wagner, Kuraly, and Backes during Tuesday night's win over San Jose. And based on their performance - which included Wagner's first goal and Backes' first point - Cassidy believes they could be poised for a breakthrough.
"There's more offense there. You started to see it the other day," said Cassidy. "Backs had a couple looks from the slot. Wags was in three times [on breakaways]…I think there's more there and it started to show the other night. I think our whole group is starting to turn the corner [offensively]."
Video: SJS@BOS: Wagner goes backhand for breakaway goal
Thursday's Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Danton Heinen
Anders Bjork - Charlie Coyle - Brett Ritchie
Chris Wagner - Sean Kuraly - David Backes
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Connor Clifton
Kevan Miller - Steven Kampfer
Missing: Par Lindholm (upper body), Joakim Nordstrom (infection)