How Nick Ritchie’s flat debut epitomized Bruins’ play in loss to Flames

Matt Kalman
February 25, 2020 - 11:36 pm

Brett Ritchie can tell Nick Ritchie: it only gets more difficult from here.

At least Brett Ritchie scored a goal in his Bruins debut way back on opening night. He bought himself some good will that soon disappeared when it was apparent he wasn’t the power forward general manager Don Sweeney thought he’d signed. He wound up getting sent to Providence of the AHL.

Now Sweeney thinks he has the right Ritchie, and to be fair, the guy was thrown into the Bruins’ lineup without a practice, less than 24 hours after he arrived in Boston, and caught his new teammates on horrible night Tuesday.

Typically positive coach Bruce Cassidy described Boston’s play in a 5-2 loss to Calgary at TD Garden by saying he didn’t think some of them “broke a sweat.”

Yeah, Ritchie joined the first place team in the whole NHL in a trade with Anaheim on Monday, but he must’ve felt like he was back with the 27th-place Ducks.

“I don’t think it was a great game by the team. Obviously my first game and I’m getting used to playing with different guys and different players. So it’s tricky but hopefully it’ll come sooner than later,” he said.

What Brett Ritchie didn’t learn in his stint in Boston was that at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, all he had to do was throw one pulverizing hit or engage in one spirited fight to win over the home crowd. By the time he dropped the gloves against San Jose, he’d already lost his chance to stake his claim to the fans’ hearts. It didn’t help that that was the last time an ounce of toughness came through.

His 6-2, 230-pound brother is now here and expected to do more than be a physical presence. The Bruins are hoping he brings goals as well as hits. But again, one big hit, one face-pounding fight and he could get all of New England to line up to buy his sweater. He had a chance when he lined up for the opening faceoff against Matthew Tkachuk, who was exercising his gift of gab.

“He likes to talk and it wasn’t about much and that’s kind of his game. And I wasn’t really buying it tonight,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie was credited for a hit when he basically accidentally collided with Milan Lucic in the neutral zone early in the first period and the new Bruin was generously given seven hits on the night. He took the puck to the net for his lone scoring chance in the second, lost the puck and avoided contact with the goaltender. He started on a line with Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork, but by late in the second period Cassidy was getting nothing out of his middle six forwards so he juggled them around, and Ritchie got some shifts with David Krejci.

With the game on the line he threw a pass from behind the Flames net onto the stick of Calgary’s Mikael Backlund, who took the puck end-to-end to make the score 4-2.

He could’ve just torpedoed himself into any Flames player, with or without the puck, and declared “I am not my brother” to nearly 18,000 people plus those watching at home. Instead he gave peace a chance.

“I don’t think you want to do that. You just want to play your game and you’re better off if you just play under yourself, play comfortable and I think I’m going to get to that soon,” Ritchie said.

Of course no one should be judged on one night, especially a game when the Bruins’ new fourth line of  Sean Kuraly, Par Lindholm and Chris Wagner was the only one that looked like it brought its game back from Western Canada. Even the first line looked sluggish, despite Brad Marchand scoring a shorthanded goal. David Pastrnak spent a couple stretches of the game looking allergic to the defensive zone.

Cassidy called Ritchie’s performance “fine” and that was truly the best way to sum it up. The Bruins without his fellow former Ducks forward Ondrej Kase isn’t whole yet and not everyone was in their expected roles. In particular Karson Kuhlman has to stop skating in the top six because he can’t finish. Kase can’t come back from his injury soon enough.

While Brett Ritchie was a bust for 27 games in the NHL this season, he never really hurt the Bruins. Nick Ritchie was only a miniscule part of the Bruins’ loss Tuesday, and if he begins to be a burden the Bruins won't hesitate to replace him. They just might not that big body to play on the inside and get to the net that they've been searching for since they lost Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

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