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The Boston Bruins are in California for yet another make-or-break road trip. Their place in the standings (first in the Atlantic Division) is better than where it was when the Bruins embarked on that then-season defining five-game road trip that included stops in Nashville and Dallas, yeah, but a poor showing in California could legitimately send the Bruins out of the Golden State with a 0-3-0 record.
The San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks, and Los Angeles Kings are -- and no pun intended here -- among the golden standard of NHL clubs, even if it’s taken them 70 games or so to get that point in 2015-16.
And the trip has already kicked off with an interesting note, as Monday came and went with the Bruins recalling Frank Vatrano
from the American Hockey League on an emergency basis and top-six center David Krejci
missing practice (though he was at the rink, per the Boston Globe).
The 22-year-old Vatrano comes back to the Big B’s with downright filthy minor league numbers to his name. In fact, Vatrano’s 31 goals are tops among AHL skaters. The crazy thing: He’s played in just 31 games, too. The next closest scorer to Vatrano, Mike Sislo of the Albany Devils, has scored 27 in 54 games this season. The third-highest scorer, Chris Bourque, has 26 goals in 59 games played. And when the numbers game ultimately landed Vatrano back in Providence with a send down on Jan. 21 earlier this season, the East Longmeadow, Mass. native skated like a man possessed for the P-Bruins, and recorded a ridiculous 21 goals (including seven multi-goal nights) and 32 points in the 17 games that have followed. He’s put six shots or more on net in 11 of those 17 games, too. Like I said, possessed.
And while the AHL has been on notice when it comes to the 5-foot-10 winger’s ability to shoot at will, the NHL is a bit familiar as well, as Vatrano tallied six goals on 76 shots in 30 NHL games this season.
But Vatrano’s recall -- and the ‘emergency basis’ tag that comes with it -- is a bit of ‘good news, bad news’, as it means that somebody on the Boston roster is ailing from something. And with Krejci missing practice, it seems only logical to assume that he’s the one. It would make sense in a way, too, as Krejci has been rather quiet of late, with just four assists and 14 shots in his last ten games.
From the sounds of head coach Claude Julien
, however, Vatrano’s recall could be the solution to an ongoing issue where multiple Bruin forwards are dealing with some minor issues at the moment and that this is merely a case of the Bruins making sure they have additional numbers on a trip that puts them 3,000 miles away from their hometown and minor league affiliate.
Vatrano spent Monday’s practice on a second line centered by Loui Eriksson
and with David Pastrnak
on the right wing. And while that line has straight-up electric offensive capabilities, I can’t think of a single time Eriksson has played center in Boston -- or maybe his NHL career for that matter -- so it’s tough to imagine the Bruins rolling with that exact line combination.
But a Vatrano and Pastrnak combination on the wings of a line centered by Krejci, well, that would be something. That goes out the window if Vatrano has been recalled to replace an injured Krejci, of course, but again, if there are multiple injuries to the B’s forward corp, subbing that player out and rolling with that trio would be a look that could give the Bruins a seriously deep top nine, especially if that plugs Eriksson on a third-line combo with Ryan Spooner at center and Matt Beleskey on the left.
Or maybe this was just some birthday cash for Vatrano, who turned 22 on Monday, from Don Sweeney.
Ty Anderson has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, has been a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter since 2013, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com.