Bruins Schedule Presents Interesting Challenges

With the 2021-22 NHL season fully underways, fans have gotten a chance to watch their favorite teams take to the ice and compete at hockey’s highest level for nearly two weeks. While most fans got a chance to watch their teams play early on, fans of the Boston Bruins had to wait until the fifth day of the season, after 29 other teams had already made their debuts. The only two other teams to not play at least one game before the Bruins’ first game of the season are the Calgary Flames and San Jose Sharks who also had to wait for their opening night.

Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins
Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins looks on during his team’s second game of the season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

With the Bruins only kicking off their season on Oct. 16, 2021, it would make sense for the team to then play with a little more frequency early on to level out their schedule relative to other teams around the league. Instead, though, the Bruins will play only three games in the first nine days of the season, the second of which coming five days after the first. In the same month, though, they’ll also have to play three games in four nights to close out the month with back-to-back games against the Florida Panthers and Carolina Hurricanes followed by one night off before a rematch with the Panthers.

After that, the team will have four days off, followed by another stretch of five days off in a row in the middle of November, sandwiched between two sets of back-to-backs, including a three-games in four-nights from the 11th to the 14th.

The Bruins schedule actually contains multiple three-in-four situations this season, totaling 10 in all, including a stretch of six games in nine nights to close out their season in April.

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The NHL’s schedule has always felt weirdly distributed. While it isn’t easy to create a schedule for 32 teams with the specific criteria in place, there still has to be a better option than what’s currently being presented to teams. This isn’t uniquely a Bruins’ problem, so it’s certainly not an excuse should they ultimately fail to win a Stanley Cup this upcoming season. Still, it’s an obstacle the team will have to overcome.

It could also be a blessing in disguise, depending on how the team approaches it come April.

Bruins Have to Overcome Early Season Lulls

A schedule that appears very light at the beginning and closes with such a busy schedule, including 15 games in both March and April to close out the season, may seem daunting on the surface. It’s less than ideal to finish out the year with six games in nine nights, but it’s something the Bruins will have to deal with this season.

For many NHL players, long stretches between play are actually worse than playing a busy schedule. While rest and relaxation are important to keep players healthy and fresh for the postseason, there’s also the risk of falling too far out of game shape or being a little sloppy rather than being consistently warmed up and ready for game action.

For the Bruins, this was fairly noticeable when they took on the Philadelphia Flyers on Wednesday. A game that they would lose 6-3 saw them play well in some instances but sloppy as a whole. The defense had a bad night and Jeremy Swayman would, unfortunately, put together his worst performance as a professional thus far in his young career.

Related: Bruins’ Swayman Still a Rookie Despite Lofty Expectations

It’s a weird, fine line and balancing between staying fresh and also staying ready to complete in the playoffs is tough.

The question ultimately comes down to the Bruins and their preference to play a busy stretch leading right into the postseason compared to less game action and on-ice preparation for playoff hockey. The schedule could have been a little more generous to them as playing six games in nine days to close out the season is a tough sell for any team in the NHL. This is especially true for a Bruins team who has dealt with numerous injuries up and down their lineup over the last few seasons.

Getting so much downtime early on in the season means the Bruins won’t get a chance to find a rhythm early in the year and could still be searching for their optimal lineup for far longer than they’d prefer. Coupling in an early injury to Nick Foligno and this is even more true.

Related: Boston Bruins 2021-22 Season Preview Index

Speaking of injuries, the schedule looking like it does also means that any injuries that occur later in the year will be punished more severely as the Bruins will have to play such a big chunk of games in March and April that could prove costly.

It’s a double-edged sword in that regard, but it’s also not something that the Bruins can use as an excuse. With the Stanley Cup window closing at an alarming rate, especially with the departure of David Krejci this offseason and Tuukka Rask set to miss significant time before potentially returning to the team. The Bruins can’t take anything for granted this season and will have to prepare accordingly for what promises to be a tough schedule.

As mentioned, the Bruins aren’t the only team who are going to have to deal with a tricky schedule at times. Every team goes through weird stretches every single season and they’re tasked with controlling the things that they can control. That mindset will have to be embraced by the Bruins for the 2021-22 season.