Sentinel & Enterprise

B’s defense in rough shape

- By Steve Conroy

The Bruins have dealt with injuries all year and have managed to keep their head above water, albeit barely at times.

But the decimation of the B’s back end reached a new level for Sunday’s game against the Washington Capitals. With Matt Grzelcyk out of the lineup with what the team termed an upper-body injury — he did take what looked like an inadverten­t elbow to the head from the Flyers’ Sean Couturier on Saturday — and Kevan Miller taking a scheduled day off so that his troublesom­e knee would not be exposed to the rigors of back-toback games, the six-pack of defensemen the club had at their disposal against the Caps was unrecogniz­able from preseason projection­s.

Grzelcyk and Miller joined Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy (both upper-body injuries) on the sidelines. That left coach Bruce Cassidy with his three defense pairings of Jakub Zboril–Steven Kampfer, Jeremy Lauzon–Jack Ahcan and Jarred Tinordi–Connor Clifton.

The combined NHL game experience for the entire group was an even 500 games before Sunday’s game, with Kampfer leading the way 223 games, the only one of the six with more than 100 games.

The greenest of the bunch was the 5-foot- 8, 185-pound Ahcan, the undrafted free agent out of St. Cloud State who was getting his second NHL game on Sunday. His first game was against the Buffalo Sabres on March 18. In that game, Ahcan

showed that he’s not afraid get involved offensivel­y but also that he’s got some things to learn.

“I thought he played to his strengths,” said Cassidy. “He was involved in the play offensivel­y. He had some good looks, got caught a couple of times as well. I guess for him it’s about managing your risk-taking. We want you to be a guy that gets up in the play, supports the rush, make plays when they’re there. I thought he got stripped a couple of times on the forecheck. He’s got to understand these players have better sticks at this level. I think he knows some of the guys are older so there’s a strength issue we’ve made him aware of. I think every player knows that when they first come up. Just better sticks, that’s another thing at this level that players defensivel­y are better at. They have sticks in better spots, they strip pucks better, they’ve just been around a little longer.”

More production needed from Coyle

Charlie Coyle has been playing better lately, especially since the return of Jake DeBrusk and his addition to Coyle’s line. He’s got assists in four of the last five games.

Still, there’s no getting around the fact that he went into Sunday’s game with an 18- game goalless skid. More is needed from the player who could very well be the B’s No. 2 center next season. His last goals came on Feb. 28 when he scored two, one on a pretty inside move and another an empty- netter.

Cassidy broke down what Coyle needs to do to find the back of the net.

“He’s not a guy who scores his goals like a ( David Pastrnak) with the one- timers. For him, he’s got to get inside a little more. He drove wide once on his backhand and he put it on net. That’s fine. But ( on his last goal against the Rangers) he cut in and roofed it. A little more of that mentality. If you’re a guy that needs to be near the net to score, then fine. Get closer to the net, find your way in there. You’re a big body, you’ve got good enough hands. So that’s on him a little bit to initiate more inside drive to get those looks. He had a couple against Washington, it didn’t go in. Then ( Clifton) had a backdoor play to him and he tried to angle it in with his stick and it ends up going over the net. A little bit of tough luck. On the goal that ( Craig Smith) scored ( in Washington), he had a chance and it trickled off the post and we got the rebound, He’s done a good job on net drive and getting there for traffic, screens for goals. But for him, it’s a shot mentality and getting closer to the net to do that. It’s how he has to score. … So, yeah, we want him to produce more. He’s had Smith on his wing, DeBrusk, (Nick) Ritchie. Those are good players. … Yes, chemistry matters but at the end of the day we have a lot of good players here and it’s up to the individual to do what he does best to create offense and score.”

Trade deadline today

This afternoon at 3 p.m. is the trade deadline and the B’s could use a couple of things. The never-ending search for a top-six right wing continues and, with the current state of the defense they could use a player of the someone/anyone variety, preferably a left shot. There were also a couple of interestin­g names on waivers on Sunday. Once promising D-man Victor Mete, who has fallen out of favor in Montreal and has played only 14 games this year, is out there, as is veteran New Jersey defenseman Sami Vatanen.

Having used the B’s first-round draft picks in two of the last three years for Rick Nash and Ondrej Kase, and having those deals blow up on them because of serious injuries to both players, it remains to be seen if GM Don Sweeney will go down that road again to help his aging core take one more crack at a run. Also of concern is that the few assets already in the pipeline will be needed to fill in the holes in the coming years.

The B’s would appear to be in a tough spot. But you have to wonder if Sweeney is looking at anything bigger. Jon Merrill, a reliable left shot defensive defenseman for a bad Red Wing team this year and reportedly a Bruin target, was gotten for a fifthround pick and minorleagu­er Hayden Verbeek by Montreal. You’d think the B’s could go a little better than that.

Go U, Go UMass!

Cassidy gave a shoutout to new national champion UMass Minutemen. College hockey is an entity he’s gotten in tune with since coming to Boston.

“As you know, I was a junior player not a college guy. But you end up in this market and you learn a lot about college hockey,” said Cassidy. “I’m surrounded by a coaching staff that talks about it quite a bit. Good for UMass. Some of the power programs, BC, BU have done well here for years. Now you’re seeing UMass, Providence, Northeaste­rn, some of the other ones are starting to catch up. I think that’s good for college hockey. Congratula­tions to Greg Carvel and his team and his staff.” ... Jaroslav Halak remained on the league’s Covid protocols list for the seventh day.

 ?? NANCY LANE / BOSTON HERALD FILE ?? Jack Ahcan stepped into the lineup on Sunday night following Saturday’s injury to Matt Grzelcyk.
NANCY LANE / BOSTON HERALD FILE Jack Ahcan stepped into the lineup on Sunday night following Saturday’s injury to Matt Grzelcyk.
 ?? MATT STONE / HERALD STAFF FILE ?? Matt Grzelcyk joins fellow blueliners Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy with injuries.
MATT STONE / HERALD STAFF FILE Matt Grzelcyk joins fellow blueliners Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy with injuries.

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