Banged up Bruins Have Backs against the Wall

At the start of the season, if you told Boston Bruins fans that their club would rank fifth in the Atlantic Division they’d probably tell you that you’re wrong and you’ve struck a nerve. On Thanksgiving eve, that is exactly where the Bruins sit in the standings. The reaction, however, is vastly different than one might expect.

The Bruins are the most injured team in the NHL; their roster looks like an expansion team and their injury report like a M*A*S*H unit. Monday brought more bad news, Patrice Bergeron will miss around four weeks with a rib and sternoclavicular injury.

Patrice Bergeron Bruins
Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bruins’ M*A*S*H Unit

The loss of Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, who injured his knee in Denver back on Nov. 14, is crippling. No team in the NHL can deal with losing their best veteran defender and their top center, but that the reality facing the Bruins right now. They are going to have to get through the next three weeks, at least, without both of those mainstays in the lineup. That’s asking a lot.

If those two being out isn’t enough, arguably the Bruins’ best defender, Charlie McAvoy is still battling injury. He, John Moore, Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo and rookie Urho Vaakanainen are all out, in what has turned into an IR group of defenders arguably better than half the league’s healthy depth chart.

For any team, losing that kind of talent would be crippling. For the Bruins, it could bury them in the standings before Christmas. The B’s still have goaltending issues though Jaroslav Halak has stepped up and earned the starter’s job over Tuukka Rask early this season, while the club’s secondary scoring is gone with the wind and there isn’t much behind that dominating first line.

Now, the Bruins have lost their top center in addition to missing four regular defenders and a rookie. The only two rearguards from Boston’s starting six that will play tonight against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena? Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk.

There is good news, however. We’ve seen some players really step up from AHL Providence, mainly on defense. The future is bright for Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril, who have arrived from the minors and given Bruce Cassidy good minutes in their first cup of NHL coffee. Connor Clifton impressed me over the weekend, while up front I thought Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson played the best hockey of his young professional career.

Jeremy Lauzon Boston Bruins
Boston Bruins defenseman Jeremy Lauzon. (Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

More good news? McAvoy won’t play tonight against the Red Wings in all likelihood, but he skated yesterday and looks closer to a return. On top of that, Vaakanainen is also back skating. Getting them both into the lineup won’t fix all of the issues, but it will help the Bruins’ cause during what is becoming a very important stretch of games.

Up front, things are worse. With Bergeron out of the lineup, David Krejci is getting his time to shine on the top line with David Pastrnak and Anders Bjork, while Brad Marchand slides down to play with Joakim Nordstrom and Jake DeBrusk. The one positive that can be taken from Bergeron’s absence? Krejci will get a chance to reignite the fire with Pastrnak, potentially giving the B’s two duos moving forward. It might suck right now, but it could benefit the team long-term.

Bruins Week That Was

Believe it or not, there were also games to be played last week. It started in Denver, where the Bruins not only lost the game but lost Chara to a knee injury. I thought the B’s played a great first forty minutes, leading the Avalanche 3-2 through two periods of play. The third period, however, was a disaster. The Avalanche scored four goals in the final frame, led by the top line and Nathan MacKinnon. Matt Calvert, Tyson Jost and Alexander Kerfoot also chipped in, while Boston’s offense evaporated in the final frame. Unfortunately for the B’s that would be a theme moving forward.

In Dallas, the B’s were unable to get anything going against the Stars. Another major injury made headlines as Bergeron’s current upper-body issues were sustained on a dirty hit from Stars’ forward Radek Faksa in the second period, while Marchand spent a good chunk of the night in the penalty box. Rask stood tall, making 36 saves, but the Stars evened the season series with an overtime winner of their own, compliments of Jason Dickinson at 1:34 of the extra frame.

Last stop for the week was the desert, where the Bruins met the Arizona Coyotes for the first time this season. The Yotes, sporting the best third jersey in the NHL, simply were not ready for what turned out to be a hungry and angry Bruins team. The B’s struck twice in the game’s first 2:45 on goals from Forsbacka Karlsson, his first in the NHL, and DeBrusk. Keeping in line with the theme of the trip, that was it for a pop-gun Bruins offense, forcing Halak to step up and take the reins. He did that, making 32 saves and hanging on for a 2-1 victory on the road.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson - Bruins
Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Boston Bruins, September 17, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Bruins Week Ahead

A 1-1-1 record isn’t a bad mark when you consider the team’s injuries. The fact they are .500 without their best two defenders and now their top-line center is impressive. On Wednesday night, they’ll have a chance to snag five of a possible eight points on this trip as they finish it off in Detroit. This will be the second meeting of the season between the teams, with the first being an 8-2 drubbing by the B’s on Oct. 15.

Turkey Day will be an off-day for the Bruins, but an epic back-to-back gets rolling on Friday when Sidney Crosby and the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins come rolling into town. The Pens haven’t been up to par this season, and are in the basement of the Eastern Conference. Saturday night, it is a trip up north to Montreal for the second meeting of the season with the Canadiens. The Habs knocked off the Bruins in late October, so you know the B’s will want to get a little revenge on Hockey Night in Canada.