Mike Reilly just might have secured his spot in the lineup for Saturday’s game when he jumped the Devils’ Miles Wood after Wood drilled Charlie McAvoy in the first period on Thursday against New Jersey. It was the kind of all-for-one, one-for-all moment that any coach would appreciate as his team heads into the stretch run.
But there was more to Reilly’s game that coach Bruce Cassidy liked in the Bruins’ 8-1 pounding of the Devils that kept the left-shot defenseman in the lineup against the Blue Jackets, even though he had to move to the right side with Derek Forbort getting back in the lineup.
“I think he was just trying to play a grittier, more determined game defending. I thought his puck play was good.. He can obviously make some plays at the O-zone blue line. He made one to (Brad Marchand) that we saw a lot more of last year, so maybe that will come a lot more for him as well,” said Cassidy. “It’s a little tougher on your right side, it’s more of a shooting side, you’re on your off side, but you can still make some seam plays from there. I just saw a guy that wants to get back in and stay in in all areas of the game, trying to close gaps quicker in the neutral zone, something we’d been on him for, trusting his feet to kill some plays, getting back on the puck for first touch if necessary. I think his puck play will always be good. He sees the ice well. That’s not going anywhere. But to get him to round out his defensive game in those areas is something we’ve been trying to encourage him to do.”
Being a healthy scratch was certainly not what Reilly envisioned, nor did the Bruins, when he signed a three-year, $9 million extension in the offseason. Acquired at the deadline last year, Reilly was the kind of puck-mover who could get his shot through traffic that the B’s desired. But his play has been somewhat inconsistent this year, and he was scratched earlier in the season. He had righted his game when paired with McAvoy, but then Hampus Lindholm came aboard and Reilly was all of a sudden a man without a definitive role.
In the game against the Devils – his first game since Lindholm went into the lineup — Reilly reminded the coaching staff of what he can bring, especially on that cross-seam pass on Marchand’s second goal.
“There wasn’t much conversation with us on exactly where we stand, but I feel like I’m a guy who should be an every day guy,” said Reilly. “For me, you’re a defenseman first and you’re defending but I think if you can break the team out and get the play going the other way, you’re going to defend less and you’re going to play in the other zone more and it’s going to make your life a lot easier. For me, it’s just digging in and trying to be aggressive, getting on guys quick and taking away guys quick. I thought I was doing that right before the trade deadline a little, but I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing, I guess.”
Reilly is hardly known as an enforcer type, but he did not hesitate in going after Wood.
“It’s pretty early in the game and I know Miles Wood is a pretty heavy guy and physical guy. He didn’t necessarily take a run at our best defenseman but early in the game he knocked him down a little bit, so it was just kind of an instinct reaction a little bit. Obviously, Charlie’s our horse on the back end and it was an instinct play,” said Reilly. “I’ve been here about a year now and the guys and the coaches talk about that in the locker room all the time. That’s just the Bruins’ way. I’m not saying every single hit deserves attention after the whistle, that’s not the case at all. But I think there are times in the game – obviously, that was early in the game – and I was just trying to get the guys going a little bit. But that’s something that’s been a staple here for many, many years.”
Reilly has played the right side in college at Minnesota and sporadically at the NHL level. There are adjustments to be made to play the off side, but it’s something he said he can embrace.
“I definitely think I can. If they need me to play the right side, I’m definitely willing to do it. I’ve done it before and it’s just a matter of repetition, some practice and I think it’ll get better and better,” said Reilly.
After scoring his first goal in his NHL debut on Thursday, Marc McLaughlin came out of the lineup on Saturday as the player he replaced, Craig Smith, was feeling better. But Cassidy expects he’ll see more NHL time down the stretch,.
“He’s obviously eligible for Providence so he may end up there,” said Cassidy. “We want to get him in a few games to get a look and see if he could help us. We’ve seen (Oskar) Steen, we’ve seen (Jesper) Froden, (Chris Wagner) is in that mix, too. He hasn’t been up but we know his game. This is just a guy we don’t know as well and he can fit in the middle as well. So to have him here for our sake is more beneficial right now. If it gets to the point that he’s not getting enough games and he needs to play, he’ll go down there. They’ve got the rule this time of year with the call-ups (four are allowed) and you’ve to be careful with how many you use, which really works against a younger guy getting player time. That factors into some of your decisions, too.”
This and that
The B’s were set to honor Nick Foligno‘s 1,000th game before they took on his old team, Columbus. He was back in the lineup after missing Thursday’s game with a lower body injury.
“I came up about (964) short, so for me I have a lot of respect for how hard it is to play in this league and play consistently and be effective consistently to stick around,” said Cassidy. “Good for Nick. He’s a great guy, but he’s new here and you can tell why he’ so popular in dressing rooms. Just a fantastic guy. So I’m very happy for him with his Dad (Mike) and his brother on his way to 1,000. It’s quite an accomplishment for the Foligno family. To be able to to do that will be a first if Marcus (at 666) makes it.” …
Josh Brown, who left his Bruin debut after the second period with an upper body injury, was back on the ice for the morning skate and Cassidy said he could be available on Monday (in Columbus) or Tuesday (Detroit).
Connor Clifton remained the B’s healthy scratch on defense. Anton Blidh came out of the lineup as Foligno went back in.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism