BRIGHTON, Mass – For the second straight game, it appears Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk has dodged the injury bullet.
After appearing to suffer an army injury when he got tied up with Jordan Eberle in Monday’s loss to the Islanders, Grzelcyk once again went awkwardly into the end boards in Thursday night’s 5-4 shootout win over the Flyers at TD Garden.
Another look at Matt Grzelcyk’s awkward collision into the boards. Scary stuff. pic.twitter.com/JzgmCJ3XIc
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) January 22, 2021
Grzelcyk limped off the ice following the impact and remained in the game, but didn’t skate in the overtime session out of caution his skating speed might have been compromised by any nagging lower body issues.
Fortunately Grzelcyk appears to have came out of everything okay and instead took a maintenance day off the ice at B’s practice on Friday along with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Kevan Miller. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said the hard-nosed Grzelcyk is expected to play Saturday night against the Flyers despite getting knocked around a bit in the last couple games.
“Everybody that missed today was a maintenance day,” said Cassidy of the 5-foot-9, 174-pound Grzelcyk. “Gryz actually felt pretty good. He didn’t go on the ice obviously, so he’ll try it in the morning. I suspect he’ll play. It was maintenance with the other guys. [Kevan Miller] has been good since camp and worked really hard without a lot of time off. So, his was ‘hey, let’s take a day.’
“Gryz was the guy that got hurt last night when he went into the boards awkwardly. But knock on wood it’s nothing serious. We’ll keep him off the ice [today] and get him ready for [the Flyers on Saturday].”
The concern with the 27-year-old Grzelcyk is that he’s now being asked to shoulder a much bigger workload with the Bruins now that both Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara are gone. Grzelcyk is being counted on to fill a top-4 role and will likely surpass 20 minutes of ice time per game if everything goes well with the Boston Bruins.
He’s averaged 19:44 of ice time in his four games thus far this season, and that’s more or less where the Boston Bruins hope to keep him for the season. That’s a heavy workload for a defenseman that’s not built quite as sturdily as guys like Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. The close calls with injuries for Grzelcyk in the last few games makes one wonder how much workload is “too much” for one of the smallest D-men in the NHL.
“Yeah. We have to be careful. There were some injuries in college, but in pro he’s been relatively fortunate. He got tangled up with the Islanders the other day and I think he was trying to do a little too much in the offensive zone, so we’ve addressed that. He’s got a different role with us and he’s got to understand that,” said Cassidy. “You never want to tell a player to pace themselves, but ‘keep yourself out of those tough positions.’ The injury on [Thursday] I think he just lost an edge and there’s nothing you can really do about that.
“His minutes will be up this year and we know that going in. But we thought they wouldn’t be as [taxing] with the [additional] power play time because they’re not hard minutes on your body. And the overtime minutes have really piled up early. So, let’s get back to a normal routine and we’re not in overtime every night. If he was at 18 [minutes a game] I expect him to be around 20 [this season], and it should be because of power play which isn’t that taxing. He’s an important guy for us now because he’s at the top of the power play. So especially without a left stick that we’ve seen out there [on the top power play] a lot, that’s the concern with Gryz. We lose a lot if he’s out, so we want to see him stay out of harm’s way. But then again, he’s got to play hockey and if he’s got the puck a lot then chances are, he’s going to get hit.”
The power play aspect of the added ice time is a good point by Cassidy, as that is not going to be considered hard, taxing minutes that could wear him down. Grzelcyk clearly knows now that he’s a key player for the Bruins as a top PP unit guy and a top-4 defenseman, and that means he’s going to be a target for more punishing from opponents.
It’s certainly not a question of toughness for Grzelcyk, however. He’s played through painful injuries plenty of times and he does his rugged, blue collar hometown of Charlestown proud with his ability to stoically play through nagging issues.
But there’s only so much of an NHL pounding that a 5-foot-9, 174-pound frame can possibly endure with Grzelcyk counted on to playa major role for the Boston Bruins this season and beyond. So there’s an element of carefulness and awareness that’s part of the deal for Grzelcyk these days in Black and Gold.