The Boston Bruins are currently 15 games into the 2021-22 regular season and sport a 9-6-0 record. Due to this, it feels fair to begin discussing which players have been off to slow starts for the team.
Without much surprise, stars like Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak are continuing to dominate their opponents. Yet, issues with the team’s depth is once again a major talking point and one that just seems to never go away. This remains true even after an offseason where Boston made a plethora of changes to their lineup, but most notably, with their bottom-six.
The season is still quite young, so it’s certainly justifiable to make an argument that these three specific players can turn it around by its completion. In fact, one could even state that some have been showing signs of improvement lately. Yet, even if this is the case, there’s ultimately no denying that things haven’t gone right with them for one reason or another.
In Erik Haula’s first 11 games with the Bruins, he recorded just one assist. With that, his lone point came in the season opener against the Dallas Stars. From here, the 30-year-old center proceeded to go 10 straight contests without getting on the scoresheet. That cold streak alone certainly makes it fair to say that he’s been off to a slow start with his new team.
However, it seems as though that his struggles could be on the verge of changing. Over his last four games, Haula has scored a goal and added an assist. Although that isn’t necessarily enough to erase the very cold start he’s been off to, it does provide a bit of optimism moving forward. It’s just a matter of him continuing to produce at a similar pace from here, but more importantly, avoiding another monstrous offensive dry spell.
The Bruins signed Haula during the offseason to help strengthen their depth down the middle and provide a new look to the team’s third line. With the Nashville Predators during the 2020-21 campaign, he scored nine goals and had 21 points in 51 games. He also recorded 24 points in 48 games between the Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers the year before. Thus, it’s hard not to believe that he is capable of bouncing back from here. The Bruins desperately need that kind of production and the effort has certainly been there from him.
Mike Reilly is coming off of the best season of his career. In 55 games between the Ottawa Senators and Bruins, he had an impressive 27 assists. His previous career-high in points was 12, but that was also in just 30 games the year before with Ottawa. Thus, he has seen his play improve significantly over the previous two seasons. Due to this, the Bruins rewarded him with a three-year, $9 million contract this offseason.
However, this season hasn’t been off to the best of starts for Reilly. Although he scored his first goal since the 2019-20 campaign, he only has three points in 13 games. Points aren’t everything, of course, but he more notably was a healthy scratch for two straight contests. That is extremely concerning for a defenseman that was just given a contract with a $3 million cap hit.
Now that Reilly has spent time in the press box, perhaps it will end up being the spark that pushes him through this rough patch. When the Bruins originally acquired him from the Senators last season, he was an immediate fit. In 15 games following the trade, he had eight assists and also was a plus-7. It isn’t far-fetched to believe that he can once again produce at a similar rate, right? He is still only 28 years old, so regression of any kind shouldn’t be present at this said time. Here’s a player to keep a close eye on these next few games.
With longtime Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller announcing his retirement over the summer, Connor Clifton was destined to take over his spot on the bottom pair permanently. Clifton had spent a significant part of his career as a depth defenseman for the Bruins. Although he did suit up in 44 regular-season games last season, the Bruins had a plethora of injuries on their backend that allowed him to.
With more lineup security presented to him this season, Clifton has had his fair share of struggles. In 11 games, he has one assist and a minus-4 rating. The minus rating is the more alarming statistic, however, as he is primarily known as a defensive defenseman. Furthermore, he has been a healthy scratch a handful of times due to inconsistent play just like Reilly.
Jakub Zboril has been playing well since being utilized in Boston’s lineup, too. In his last four appearances, he recorded two assists and sported a plus-3 rating. He also has shown the Bruins that he is capable of playing on the right side. Thus, if he continues to thrive and form solid chemistry with Reilly, Clifton may have to wait a good amount of time before being reinserted into the lineup. It also could open the door to the Bruins looking to add a right-handed defenseman at the trade deadline.
From here, we’ll have to wait and see if these three players are able to rebound after their slow starts. If the Bruins hope to go on another long playoff run, they certainly will need them to.
Michael DeRosa is a contributor who covers the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. Since 2017, he’s written and edited for numerous websites. Besides his work for THW, you can also find him on NHLTradeRumors.me, BBallRumors.com, BaseballRumors.me, FootballRumors.me and The Rat Trick.