Miller and young defensemen stepping up for Bruins

Miller and young defensemen stepping up for Bruins
January 20, 2014, 11:30 pm
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BOSTON – Kevan Miller couldn’t help but smile when asked if that heavy, punishing style of hockey rolled out against the Los Angeles Kings on Monday afternoon was right in his wheelhouse.

“That’s more of my type of game, to be honest,” said Miller. “I like both but I kind of thrive off that a little bit.”

It was pretty apparent that Miller was whistling while he was working in Monday’s 3-2 victory over the Kings at TD Garden given the punishment he was doling out as both heavy hockey teams tried to impose their will. Miller led all players with five registered hits, and twice completely trucked Kings captain Dustin Brown when both teams were trying to seize control of the game.

The first hit on Brown came in the neutral zone as he’d collected a puck out of midair, and sent both players tumbling into the side boards. The second came in the final minutes of the third period with the Bruins protecting a one goal lead, and Miller dug his shoulder into Brown and drilled him into the corner as they battled for puck possession. It was a pretty clear message from an NHL rookie to one of the faces of the NHL that today wasn’t going to be a good day for the Kings.

“I’ve played with Kev [Kevan Miller] for three years now, we been D partners. He just plays his game,” said Matt Bartkowski. “It’s a pretty simple game, its and effective game, he’s a strong kid and I’m sure he’s a bear to play against for the other forwards.”

That physicality and surliness in the defensive zone helped the Bruins through a game where they had four rookie defensemen with a combined 120 games of NHL experience entering Monday afternoon’s tilt. To put that in perspective, the other two defensemen (Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk) in Monday’s group of six defensemen had a combined 1,392 regular season games of NHL experience.

Given the heavy hitting and the simple, mistake-free play with the puck, it wasn’t a big surprise that the Bruins coaching staff was calling Miller’s No. 86 in crunch time at the end of the game.

“We’ve got four guys on the back end that are in their first year. [Miller] is pretty big, he’s pretty physical and he was having a good game. Nothing changes as far as that’s concerned: guys that are playing well should be out there and they’re normally out there,” said Claude Julien. “He was really solid for us tonight. Big body, threw some heavy checks, and was a big factor in our win today because again, we’re a little young back there.”

It was a nice bounce-back for Miller, who was a minus-2 in Sunday’s shootout loss to the faster, skilled Blackhawks despite actually playing pretty solidly in the defensive zone for the Black and Gold. It was impressive when you combine Miller’s rugged game with Matt Bartkowski’s five blocked shots in 22:58 of ice time, Torey Krug’s power play goal while being able to withstand plenty of physical punishment from the Kings, and Zach Trotman playing with composure in only his second career NHL game.

The contribution from the young D-men – which needs to be constant and consistent with Dennis Seidenberg out of the picture for the season – hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rest of the B’s team.

“They’re stepping up huge for us right now. It’s not easy when guys go down,” said Brad Marchand. “Trots [Zach Trotman] did a great job coming in tonight and played a really good game, and all the guys – Millsy [Kevan Miller], and Bart [Matt Bartkowski] and [Torey] Krug – they’re all playing well and stepping up. That’s what we are going to need going down the stretch.”

Miller said he’s just taking it “one day at a time” when subjects like the trade deadline and the long range future come up, but it’s safe to say his future in Boston is secure if he keeps bundling players like Dustin Brown on a regular basis.

The ability of Miller and the rest of the young defensemen to meet the elite competition in Chicago and Los Angeles head on, and play up to their considerable potential, is no small part of Boston’s overall success over the last few games.

Now it’s all about bringing that same level night in and night out in a league where consistency is king.