December 22, 2013

Warsofsky enjoys Black-and-Gold return to Garden

By Andrew Merritt

Marshfield, Mass., native David Warsofsky plays the puck during the Bruins' 4-1 win over Buffalo on Dec. 21 at TD Garden. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

BOSTON – Over the course of a postgame chat with the media lasting about four minutes Saturday night, David Warsofsky used the phrase “keep it simple” four times.

Combine that with Torey Krug repeating the mantra twice when talking about Warsofsky’s play, and it’s pretty obvious what the theme was for the Marshfield, Mass., native, whose first regular season game at TD Garden as a Boston Bruin was a 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Warsofsky made his long-awaited NHL debut on Thursday in the Bruins’ 4-2 loss at Buffalo, after being called up with defensemen Adam McQuaid and Dougie Hamilton both out with injuries. It wasn’t the most memorable start for Warsofsky, who was on the ice for two of the Sabres’ goals, including the one that gave Buffalo its 4-2 margin of victory.

Saturday night was a far sight better for the 23-year-old Boston University product. After playing just 14 shifts for a total of 12:29 and garnering a minus-1 rating Thursday night, on Saturday Warsofsky took 17 spins for 13:01 of ice time, including a 2:10 monster shift early in the second period.

“I think I didn’t have as many nerves tonight,” he said. “I only had one game under my belt, but that first game is important, and I felt a lot better tonight than I did the other night.”

Even more importantly, he spent 1:10 on the power play, which isn’t an opportunity granted to most rookies. And he made the most of it. Warsofsky went out for the first power play of the night after Linus Omark’s hook on Milan Lucic 9:07 into the game. After Patrice Bergeron won an offensive zone faceoff, Warsofsky got three touches on a sequence that led to Reilly Smith’s goal, the first of the game.

The second of those touches was the kind of play that could keep Warsofsky around. Buffalo’s Alex Sulzer tried to rim a puck from behind the Buffalo net up the left wing, but Warsofsky was quick to cut it off before it trickled out of the zone. Had he not been Johnny on the Spot, the Bruins would have had to clear the zone and reset. Instead, Warsofsky turned the play back around.

A few seconds later, he gave Bergeron a safety valve as the centerman was double-teamed in the high slot. Bergeron found Warsofsky near the blue line, and Warsofsky set up Jeff Spooner for the tic-tac-toe play that led to Smith’s goal.

“I’ve been playing on the power play down in Providence, and that’s kind of the role I want to come into,” Warsofsky said. “I felt comfortable out there, and Spooner made a nice play to Smitty, and he buried it, so it was good to get a goal.”

Were it not for the injuries, Warsofsky and Spooner might still be taking power play shifts in Providence instead of up with the big club. But as the Bruins struggle through their toughest manpower problems to date this season, coach Claude Julien has had to try some different lineup combinations.

“Right now, when you’re missing some of those power play guys – [Loui] Eriksson’s one of those good players that can play that position well, and with Spooner being a left-hand shot, same thing, he’s very good on the half wall,” Julien said. “To us, it was a logical decision to make. And then [David] Warsofsky has played the power play in Providence and I think he’s done a good job; when I saw him play I thought he handled the power play extremely well so we thought we’d give him an opportunity here too.”

Spooner and Krug weren’t the only familiar faces for Warsofsky. The MASH-unit Bruins, who have lost 62 man games thus far, started Providence mainstays Matt Fraser and Nick Johnson. Although ugly losses to Vancouver and Buffalo took some wind out of the team’s sails, the fact that they’re still winning more games than they’re losing despite the absence of three starting forwards (Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly and Dan Paille) and two the two starting defensemen is a testament to the organization’s depth – not just in numbers, but in quality.

Warsofsky is just the latest example.

“We don’t ask that those guys come in here and be saviors, we don’t ask them to come here and change their game, we just ask them to come back here and play the same way they played [in Providence],” Julien said. “[Warsofsky is] a good puck mover, he can carry the puck well and that’s what he’s done so far. So I’m happy with his game so far.”

Krug famously blazed a path from the minors to a starting role last year, and that role has only expanded this season into quarterbacking a power play unit, and even taking the point-coverage position during an extended 5-on-3 penalty kill Saturday night – not usually the domain of a defenseman. The shifty, puck-carrying blueliner said he didn’t need to show Warsofsky the ropes too much after his callup, but he’s seen the key to inserting one’s self successfully into the mix.

“When you come into a lineup like this, it’s pretty crazy all the great players you get to play with, how deep we are as a team and an organization,” Krug said. “It’s important to just keep your game simple, and just do what you’ve been doing to be successful down there, because there’s a reason they called you up.”

Krug’s success has also shown players like Warsofsky that the short-on-size, long-on-speed defenseman has a place in the Bruin lineup.

“When you see a guy who can come up here and be productive, it’s obviously some confidence for yourself too.” Warsofsky said.

While every hockey-loving resident of Marshfield might have wanted to see Warsofsky’s first official game at the Garden since the 2011 Beanpot Consolation game, he said he had to limit his ticket requests to his brothers, parents and girlfriend.

“Gotta keep it simple nowadays with everyone that wants to come,” he said.

Warsofsky was drafted by St. Louis in 2008, but the Bruins acquired his rights from the Blues for Vladimir Sobotka in 2010 while he was still at BU, where he won a national championship the year prior. He eschewed his senior year at BU in favor of going pro in the spring of 2011, and has been a consistent presence in Providence ever since.

But consistent time in the AHL isn’t the ultimate goal, of course, and Thursday and Saturday represent a giant leap for the Marshfield native.

“There was frustration at times, but it’s a long journey,” Warsofsky said. “Not everybody gets to play in the NHL, so I just kept that in the back of my head, and knew hopefully one day it would come, kept working hard, and luckily it did.”

Twitter: @A_Merritt