Kevan Miller will likely make his return to the Bruins lineup Wednesday night following a 13-game absence, but Bruce Cassidy made sure to pump the breaks on the expected recovery timetable for one of the team’s younger blueliners.
While both Charlie McAvoy (concussion-like symptoms) and Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) traveled from Boston to Detroit to take part in the Bruins’ practices, Vaakanainen was not present on the ice for Wednesday’s morning skate, while McAvoy donned a red, non-contact jersey for the practice.
Vaakanainen, who hasn’t played since Oct. 23 against Ottawa, resumed skating activities weeks ahead of McAvoy, but Cassidy was quick to note that the team doesn’t expect the 19-year-old defenseman to be back in the fold any time soon.
"I've got nothing on Vaakanainen,” Cassidy said Wednesday following the morning skate. “He's not even close to playing, really. He's in and out, skating. There's protocol involved. I wish I could give you news or updates, I have nothing. Charlie's skating, skated again today. Still in a non-contact jersey, so that's the update on them."
With Vaakanainen still out for the foreseeable future and McAvoy’s recovery timetable still uncertain, Boston’s D corps will still likely roll out two rookies on Wednesday in Jeremy Lauzon and Connor Clifton. Jakub Zboril is also expected to dress and take part in warmups, but is only expected to play in case Miller (game-time decision) is not able to go.
Meanwhile, both Brandon Carlo (upper-body injury) and John Moore (lower-body injury) remain in Boston, with their status going forward to be determined. Carlo has not played since the B’s matchup against the Maple Leafs on Nov. 10, while Moore last suited up on Nov. 14 against Colorado.
Miller expected to shuffle across pairings
Cassidy expects there to be some rust for Miller, who is coming off of his extended absence due to a broken hand, but given the state of Boston’s D corps, there’s a good chance the veteran defenseman logs heavy minutes if he’s good to go for Wednesday’s matchup.
Prior to going down with his injury against the Oilers, Miller had recorded an average of 18:07 TOI while providing the usual hard-nosed, physical play that the California native has become known for over the years, along with dependable reps on the penalty kill.
While Boston’s de-facto “shutdown pairing” over the last couple of games has been Lauzon and Matt Grzelcyk — a duo that has largely excelled in their new roles despite their youth — Miller skated alongside Grzelcyk over the last two practices.
The Grzelcyk-Miller combo has plenty of experience together with 562 total minutes on ice last season — posting a plus-13 goal differential when both were out on the ice.
But given the success of the Grzelcyk-Lauzon pairing so far, Cassidy noted that there’s a chance Boston could rotate Miller as the game progresses, even if that puts the left-shot Grzelcyk on the right side at times with Lauzon.
"It will be interesting, because it's up to Kevan and how he plays tonight,” Cassidy said. “He's a well-conditioned person to begin with, so I'll imagine that he'll be able to handle the workload, but we've got to be careful, it's his first game in a while. Lauzon has done a good job there, so I wouldn't be surprised if you saw a bit of both, where Gryz goes to the right side with Lauzon and plays some with Miller.
“That probably would be a bit of the plan with the attack and certain matchups, but once the game starts, a lot of that is dependent on how heavy or hard minutes Kevan has to endure, how much of the penalty kill does he have to endure, so some of that will be predicated by his situation."
Noel Acciari looking to add thump to the third line
A healthy scratch for two straight games earlier this month, Noel Acciari is expected to get some reps higher up in the lineup following Patrice Bergeron’s injury, with the physical winger slated to skate once again on Boston’s third line with Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Danton Heinen Wednesday night.
Acciari’s bruising style of play might be a bit of a mismatch on that line, but the Providence product made the most of his promotion in Saturday’s win over the Coyotes.
In the second minute of play, Acciari generated Boston’s opening goal by winning a puck battle behind Arizona’s net and putting a shot on net off of a wraparound. While the puck was turned aside, Forsbacka Karlsson buried the rebound from the slot for his first career NHL goal — as well as Acciari’s first point of the season.
With Boston forced to grit its way through its latest string of injuries, the Black and Gold will have to rely on contributors such as Acciari — who also logged 5:20 on a PK that went a perfect 4-for-4 on Saturday — to stay afloat during a challenging stretch.
Acciari will get the nod on the JFK line again on Wednesday, but Cassidy said that Boston’s lineup will be fluid over the next couple of weeks, especially if any forward trio starts to stall.
“Someone had to move up,” Cassidy said. “We picked Noel because he gives them a little stiffness on the line. Goes straight to the net, resulted in a goal the other night in Arizona. No surprise, took it to the net and he got some people going there for a rebound.
"He's a good defensive player, helps those younger guys. At the end of the day, we thought it might be a good fit. Was for a game, we'll see going forward. Could easily be a (Chris) Wagner or (David) Backes, we move different people around.”