Both former Anaheim Ducks forwards only played a handful of regular season games with the Bruins after arriving in trades with Anaheim last season, went through the long COVID-19 pause and then participated in a Toronto bubble playoff that was weird for pretty much everybody.
“Coming in with the shutdown, the bubble and this season where it’s still a little strange, it’s obviously a little more normal now that we’re traveling and playing in other [NHL] buildings,” said Ritchie. “Hopefully, every day it gets a little more normal and we’ll need that going forward.”
All of the aforementioned circumstances allowed Ritchie and Kase to hit the reset button with the Boston Bruins after not making much of a B’s impact last season, and the hulking Ritchie appears to be making the most of it with a power play goal in Boston’s 3-2 opening night shootout win over the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center.
Eyebrows were raised a bit when Ritchie was slotted into the second power play unit during training camp, but his massive size and decent hands are a natural front for the net-front on the PP. And the immediate dividends served as a reward for the faith that the Boston Bruins coaching staff put in the player. Then Bruce Cassidy made an in-game adjustment with Marchand’s PP positioning vs. the Devils that saw Ritchie pushed up to the top power play unit in the third period.
That slight adjustment paid dividends with Ritchie banging home a cross-ice pass from Brad Marchand on Boston’s second goal.
It was the kind of start that Ritchie hoped for this season with the Black and Gold as a talented 25-year-old guy that’s scored as many as 14 goals and 31 points in the NHL prior to arriving in Boston. He has the size, strength and talent level to be a power forward that Bruins fans could love if he can put it all together.
“It’s obviously nice to get some extra opportunities and help the team out. You get to feel the puck a bit [on the power play]. It was a good first start for our team and now we’ll move on to Saturday,” said Ritchie, who ironically enough saw his brother Brett Ritchie score a goal for the Bruins in last season’s road opener against the Dallas Stars. “I just kind of took a shift there on a split-power play and Marchand made a great pass. It was sitting right there for me…not too tough of a goal. But I’ll take it, for sure.”
Ritchie finished with six shot attempts and a hit in 11:16 of ice time and was strong skating with Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork on the third line, even adjusting to the last-minute injury absence of Craig Smith after skating with him all throughout training camp.
“We moved Ritchie in front. A little bit of that was the 4-on-4 right before that with [Charlie] Coyle out there, so then I put [Brad] Marchand on the half-wall and Coyle in front for the third period. Marchand has been on the half-wall and the net front, and that was just an adjustment that we saw,” said Bruce Cassidy. “New Jersey has their D’s play away from the net a little bit and getting into Patrice Bergeron’s shooting lane. So, I thought maybe if we played a little closer around the net then maybe we’d get some second chances and it worked out on Ritchie’s goal. The second goal we had talked about that back post play and it worked out for us.”
Keeping consistent is going to be the challenge for Ritchie, but there have been some encouraging signs after a solid training camp and a power play goal opening night for the Black and Gold.