According to Patrice Bergeron, the extended absences of Bruins teammates Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk will pay dividends mid-season, in the second half and in the playoffs.
“I see it as a challenge to be better as a team, but also an opportunity for the guys to push themselves and for us to become a better team all the way,” Bergeron said from his booth at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday. He was speaking after the first informal team-wide practice of the preseason, a practice called to order by the third-year captain.
Almost all Bruins regulars and roster prospects showed up for the 45-minute skate, joining Bergeron, who had been training in Brighton for two weeks. Bergeron, who entered a steeply discounted 19th season in the Spoked-B ($2.5 million, plus an additional $2.5 million in potential bonuses), said his surgically repaired elbow was ” right there, getting better every week,” and he expects to be all-out for camp.
Since he won’t have Marchand sitting as his shotgun until maybe December, he’ll have to find chemistry with another left winger. Pavel Zacha, coach Jim Montgomery said recently, will get the top spot.
“He’s a great player,” said Bergeron. “He’s a very smart player. Something I knew even before he arrived: he plays the game the right way. He’s always in a good position. He has a great shot, and even talking to him, I think he wants [be] a bit of a shoot-first [player]more than it was in the past.
It was the focus of Zacha’s offseason study. The ex-Devil, shipped here in July in exchange for Erik Haula, scored 15 goals in 70 games last year. His shooting percentage of 10.1 was more in line with his career average (10.6) than the previous season, when he set personal bests in goals (17 in 50 games) and shooting percentage ( 16.5).
Nico Hischier, his regular center in New Jersey for the past three years, is a handsome young player. He is not Bergeron. David Krejci and David Pastrnak, if Zacha ends up playing with them, would be the most accomplished offensive teammates he’s had.
“Watching a lot of videos about when I had the opportunity last season to [shoot]”, Zacha said. “Just to get an idea, when I play with players like that, I will have more opportunities to be in shooting situations and to throw more pucks. That’s something that he wants me to do too. I’m going to focus on that even more now in the future.
Clever moves and shot preparation could get someone a lot of goals, but Zacha would fill Marchand’s spot. Montgomery is highly unlikely to break up one of the game’s oldest duos.
“The two of us are second nature,” Bergeron said. “We know where everyone will be on the ice pretty much all the time. That being said, you play with great players with talent, great vision and hockey sense. This is [up to] it’s up to me to adapt.
Bergeron’s early conversations with Montgomery had them both excited about the possibilities.
“When you have new ideas, if I can put it that way, when you look at them too closely sometimes, you don’t think about things to change and work on,” Bergeron said. “It’s good to have a different opinion and view on how the game should be played. It’s always interesting. I always find it great and exciting to be able to work on things and find ways to be better as a team but also individually as a player.
With McAvoy out, ground defender Hampus Lindholm for thirty minutes a night against anyone else’s best forwards. To book.
“Exactly,” Lindholm said, laughing at the playful suggestion. “I wouldn’t complain about that.”
Maybe Montgomery will reduce his workload a bit, but Lindholm hopes to show he’s capable of filling a No. 1 role in Boston, like he did in Anaheim.
“That’s the position I’ve held my entire career,” said Lindholm, who could team up with Brandon Carlo to start the year. “It’s nothing I’m new to.”
Lindholm said Montgomery, who has expressed a wish for more offense at the back, matches his style. He comes into camp ready to use his wheels and big frame (6-foot-4, 216 pounds) to create for the forwards.
“It’s always nice to start from the ground up,” Lindholm said. “There are new parts, a new trainer and everything, so I think it will be a good start for everyone to get some fresh air.”
Krejci, Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk were the only presumably healthy regulars who did not skate. Marchand (hips), McAvoy (shoulder) and Grzelcyk (shoulder) continue to recover from their off-season surgeries… Pastrnak and Krejci were due to arrive next weekend. DeBrusk was likely to show up early – he was on the guest list for the Bruins Foundation’s annual season kick-off golf tournament, to be held at Pinehills Golf Club in Plymouth on Thursday… The league locker rooms will reopen to the media this season. “It’s been a tough two and a half years, anyway,” said Bergeron, who happily greeted a host of reporters. Glad we’re back to pretty much normal now. Normalcy here in the locker room and in everyday life.