(Photo Credit: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

By: Jason Cooke | Follow me on Twitter / X @cookejournalism

Mason Lohrei doesn’t expect every game he plays to be perfect. But one thing is certain for the Boston Bruins rookie blueliner: when he does have a performance that is rough around the edges, his next game will be five times better. That’s exactly what happened in Boston’s 5-4 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.

“It’s one of those things where you’re going to have bad games, but it’s all about how you bounce back, and you can’t string them together,” Lohrei said after the game. “Just tried to come out tonight and be hard and simple early.”

Lohrei was the hero on Causeway Street, unleashing a one-timer through the five-hole of Adin Hill to net the game-winning goal in what turned out to be a wild game against the National Hockey League’s defending Stanley Cup champions. As he dropped to one knee—fist-bumping to celebrate his first goal on TD Garden ice—it was another high in a season filled with ups and downs for the youngster.

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The goal came on the power play, quarterbacking the secondary unit alongside veteran defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. Lohrei sunk down to the right face-off dot, collecting a pass from his defensive partner before putting everything he had into a one-timer, sliding right through Hill’s legs as he shifted across the top of the blue paint.

“My mindset was off that draw try to get a puck to the net,” Lohrei said. “(Shattenkirk) walked the line, and I kind of took a peak and saw no one was there in front to block it, so I let it loose.”

The tally marked Lohrei’s first NHL goal in 14 games, dating back to his first stint with the Bruins before being sent to the American Hockey League in January. Since being brought back to the big club, the 6’5″, 211-pound defenseman has looked miles better than when he debuted in November. His development was represented on the team’s latest four-game road trip, collecting three helpers in a 6-5 win over the Edmonton Oilers on the first leg of the trek. He proceeded to have two solid games until he took a step backward against the Seattle Kraken. 

“The game in Edmonton, never mind the three assists, I just thought he was really solid all around,” said head coach Jim Montgomery. “I think he continued that, maybe there was one game where he wasn’t at the level he was the other three games on the road trip. But I thought he was right back there tonight.”

Montgomery is most likely referring to his game against Seattle, where the lapses that led to his return to Providence began to show through. Nobody debates whether Lohrei’s offensive skill is fine-tuned enough to be a regular, top-four NHL blueliner. He’s strong on pucks, has good puck protection skills, and isn’t afraid to assert himself in the rush. It’s the defensive zone where his game can go sideways. 

While he was even on the plus-minus scale in Boston’s 4-3 loss to Seattle in 16:46 of time on ice, he made a few costly decisions in his own zone, including a play in the second period where he tried to corral a flipping puck along Boston’s blue line. This is a challenging play for even the better defenders in the NHL. Lohrei had to pivot backward, attempting to control an airborne puck while being pressured by an attacker. He whiffed once on the bouncing puck, managing to recover and control it on his stick. However, with the attacker right on his hip, Lohrei waits too long before attempting to make a play to send the puck back up north. His pocket was picked, and the Kraken transitioned to offense.

Lohrei has struggled to make these kinds of plays in the NHL. When under duress with the puck in the defensive zone, he’s revealed a tendency to either hold onto it too long or to make an irresponsible giveaway that puts the Bruins on their heels. So, when Boston returned home to meet the Knights for Thursday’s puck drop, Montgomery made sure to converse with the rookie.

“Talking to him yesterday at practice, in this league, if you have an average or subpar game, that next game you got to get it back right away, and I thought he did that for us tonight,” Montgomery said. “I really liked his response.”

So Lohrei hit the reset button, piecing together one of his more sound performances of the season. He simplified his game, had an active stick in the neutral zone, and limited those costly turnovers in his own end. But still, it wasn’t picture-perfect. At the beginning of the second frame, Vegas had already broken the ice to cut into Boston’s three-goal lead. While gaining momentum, Lohrei nearly cost the Bruins a goal, wheeling around his net with the puck before turning it over. 

This appeared to be more of a communication mishap, as it looked like Lohrei anticipated Brandon Carlo would streak up the boards to collect the pass. But that didn’t happen, translating into a scoring opportunity for the Knights. However, Lohrei recovered, getting his stick on Michael Amadio’s shot and saving a goal. After he makes a mistake, Lohrei has shown he can recover. At this point in his development, it’s all about simplifying his game, which Shattenkirk has had a front-row seat to witness.

“I think the biggest thing is that he’s learned how to manage the game,” Shattenkirk said. “Obviously early on, we knew how special he is with the puck and his skating abilities. He’s become much more confident defensively and his strength and bodying guys up. Earlier on, it seemed like he forced a lot of plays, and now he understands when there’s a play to be made and when you just have to live to fight another day and make the safe, hard play. So the more and more that he gets those reps in and starts to put that in into his game, he’s just going to become more and more of a complete player.”

As Boston begins to gear up for a potential run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Lohrei must continue on this upward trajectory to keep his name penciled in on Montgomery’s depth chart. If he can, he’ll be a real boost for the Bruins, providing some youthful skill to Boston’s back end.