McAvoy off to Strong Start for the Bruins

W2ST2453.JPG(Photo Credit: Matt West)

By: Ian Smith | Follow Me On Twitter @IanMalcolmSmith

It’s still early in the season for the Boston Bruins, but it really looks like defenseman Charlie McAvoy is going to have a huge year. Through the first five games, McAvoy is averaging a point per game, as he has dished out four assists and netted one goal.
His performance last season hinted that he was going to be a great player at this level, and he’s already building on the promise he showed last year.

He played in 65 games last season and tallied 32 points, which consisted of 25 assists and seven goals in 22:09 average time on ice. The only rookie defenseman in the NHL last season who played at least 10 games and averaged more points per game than McAvoy was Will Butcher of the New Jersey Devils. McAvoy also led the Bruins with 26.4 shifts per game, illustrating the team’s belief that he can be deployed in any type of situation.

Playing with Zdeno Chara as a blue-line partner is every young defenseman’s dream, as there aren’t many better mentors than Chara to learn the game from. Chara was the only player on the Bruins to log more average ice time than McAvoy last season, and McAvoy actually had more Point Shares than Chara. McAvoy had 2.3 Offensive Point Shares and 4.5 Defensive Points Shares for a total of 6.8 Point Shares. Chara had 1.1 Offensive Point Shares and 5.2 Defensive Point Shares for a total of 6.3 Point Shares.

It’s fitting that McAvoy starred at Boston University and now looks like a future star for the pro club in town. He was drafted 14th overall in a 2016 draft class that’s already being highlighted by stars like Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine. McAvoy was the third defenseman off the board in that draft, following Mikhail Sergachev taken 9th by the Montreal Canadiens and Jake Bean picked 13th by the Carolina Hurricanes. Bean has not debuted in the NHL yet, and Sergachev is coming off a 2018-19 season in which he had 40 points in 79 games.

McAvoy is a two-way defenseman who possesses a great feel for the game, although at 6-foot and 208 pounds he doesn’t have ideal size for the position. It hasn’t stopped other guys with a similar frame from becoming elite defensemen, but it lingers in the back of the mind as a concern. It looks even more dramatic when he’s paired with the 6-foot-9 and 250-pound Chara, although Chara would dwarf anyone partnered on the blue line with him.

The team is trying to pick up some of the slack with Torey Krug out for a while with a left ankle injury, and McAvoy is certainly doing his part. He’s tied for seventh in points among NHL defensemen as of October 15. Yes, it’s extremely early, but it’s also extremely encouraging that McAvoy hasn’t fallen into any type of prolonged sophomore slump to start the season. The Bruins are hoping that McAvoy can be a fixture on their top defensive pairing for the foreseeable future, and right now they have to be ecstatic about what they’ve seen from him so far.

Halak Already Proves He’s Reliable for Bruins

Bruins Sabres Hockey(Photo Credit: Boston Herald)

By: Ian Smith | Follow Me on Twitter @IanMalcolmSmith

The Boston Bruins made the decision to sign Jaroslav Halak as a free agent this offseason to serve as Tuukka Rask’s backup goaltender. The contract Halak received was for two years and $5.5 million, and the Bruins can expect him to be a solid backup when Rask needs a breather.

Rask has averaged about 62 games per year over the previous five seasons and is one of the premier goaltenders in the league when he’s on his game. Halak ideally won’t have to carry too much of a load this season, and a team is really in great shape in terms of their goaltending situation if they can boast Halak as their backup.

Anton Khudobin served as the backup for Rask last season, but he signed with the Dallas Stars this offseason for two years and $5 million. Halak is set to make about $250,000 more per year than Khudobin, but it’s probably worth the slight price increase for the Bruins.

Halak is only a year older than Khudobin and has both a higher career save percentage and a higher career quality start percentage compared to Khudobin. Halak has a career save percentage of .916, and a career quality start percentage of 56.1%, while Khudobin has a career save percentage of .915 and a career quality start percentage of 54.8%.

Halak had what was probably his best season back in 2011-12 when he played for the St. Louis Blues. He put up a .926 save percentage, which was the highest of his career among seasons where he has played at least 10 games, and a career-low 1.97 goals against average. He finished sixth in Vezina Trophy voting that year and shared the Jennings Trophy with Brian Elliott. Halak started 46 games that year for the Blues while Elliott started 36, so Halak was the main option for the duo that gave up the fewest goals in the NHL that season. He has quite an impressive track record to be a team’s backup.

Halak is already proving to be a reliable asset for this Bruins squad. He had a shutout in his first start of the year against the Buffalo Sabres on October 4, saving all 32 shots against him. He also came into the Bruins opening game against the Washington Capitals after Rask gave up five goals on just 19 shots. Halak managed to save 16 of 18 shots in what was basically mop-up duty for a disastrous Rask start.

Halak had a relatively poor season with the New York Islanders last year, but the Islanders gave up a league-leading 35.6 shots per game. The Bruins defense was more stingy last season, giving up just 29.3 shots per game, which was the second-fewest in the league.

Halak is going to benefit from not having to face such a barrage of shots every appearance he makes, and his stats are going to likely improve as a result. He was an All-Star back in 2015, and if his early performances this season are any indication, it was a smart signing by the Bruins. They’re going to be getting some solid performances out of him when Rask gets a rest.