Conroy: Bruins get a big lift when needed from new additions
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney made one of the biggest splashes of the trade deadline with the acquisition of Rick Nash the day before the final bell.
After that, pretty much anything short of Ryan McDonagh was going to elicit an “OK, whatever” reaction from the happy fandom.
So far, Sweeney’s additions, for the purpose of adding depth, have been on the money.
Defenseman Nick Holden, who has an assist in each of his three games, took a turn as a healthy scratch last night at the Garden. However, forwards Brian Gionta and Tommy Wingels skated together on a third line and combined for Gionta’s first goal with the Bruins during a 3-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. It was another one of those wins that make you think this could be a special season for the Bruins.
The B’s right now are in desperate need of contributions up and down the lineup. Forward Patrice Bergeron (broken foot) and defenseman Charlie McAvoy (MCL sprain) both are out for the foreseeable future due to injuries. David Backes joined the ranks of the spectators after being thumped with a startling three-game suspension for his late hit Tuesday on Detroit’s Frans Nielsen.
Wingels stepped into Backes’ slot as the third line center and made the kind of hustle play that endears him to the Garden crowd, just as he did in his debut against Carolina last week. Against Philadelphia with the score tied 1-1 in the final minute of the first period, Wingels made a great backcheck to break up Wayne Simmonds as he was receiving a pass in the high slot. Philly wanted a tripping call and didn’t get it. Instead, 40-year-old Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara picked up the loose puck and hit the 39-year-old Gionta for a breakaway.
With 1,009 career games and 289 career NHL goals under his belt, the former Boston College star calmly made a move to his backhand and beat rookie Flyers goalie Alex Lyon.
“It’s always nice to get that first one out of the way,” said Gionta. “I obviously had some time to think about it all the way down the ice.”
The goal gave Gionta four points in four games with the B’s and Wingels now has a goal plus two assists in his four games with his new team. That production makes their acquisition a lot more than an afterthought. And it’s still early, but it might allow Sweeney to give the Golden Knights’ George McPhee a little competition for GM of the Year.
Coach Bruce Cassidy is particularly appreciative of what Gionta has brought after not having played in the NHL all season while gearing up for the Olympics.
“You know he’s smart, he’s been around. But to be able to come in here, with the every day battles that go along with being an NHL player, time and space, little plays, it looks like he hasn’t missed a beat at all,” said Cassidy. “It’s really a bonus for us when you lose Bergy and now Backes, that you can plug a guy like that in. We had help early in the year with (Austin) Czarnik and (Jordan) Szwarz, and no disrespect to them, but here’s a guy that’s played 15-plus years and played it well. It’s a real nice addition to the team.”
Leading up to the deadline, much of the rhetoric from Sweeney, Cassidy and team president Cam Neely was about the team’s chemistry, so much so that you wondered if the B’s were going to do much at all. When Sweeney grabbed four new players and subtracted one — Ryan Spooner — it seemed like it was almost too much change. But the chemistry has not been hurt in the least.
“This is one of the best teams in the league, but you just have to go in and do your thing,” said Wingels. “They were very welcoming, very accepting. Guys were happy to see me come across here. When you get in a new room, there’s always that apprehension of how you’re going to be accepted. But these guys have welcomed me with open arms, from Z on down to a guy like (Brad Marchand), who we probably battled with a couple of times over the years. But that’s what’s fun. You battle guys incredibly hard over the years but you put that stuff aside because we all have one goal here. And we all know what that is.
That is the Stanley Cup, of course. And wins like last night, when the B’s were outshot and outplayed by a Flyers team that doesn’t have a big margin for missteps, make one believe the B’s have what it takes.
And the newcomers are proving that they’re not just along for the ride.