When a team is rolling the way the Boston Bruins have been, the hope is that nothing changes for as long as possible. Unfortunately, life isn’t always fair and things don’t always go as planned. For the Bruins, this was the case when Charlie McAvoy had surgery, Brad Marchand got suspended and Noel Acciari got hurt.
To make up for those subtractions from the lineup, the Bruins plugged in Kevan Miller, Anders Bjork and Frank Vatrano. While Bjork and Vatrano were new additions to the lineup Thursday against the Ottawa Senators, Miller was already in the lineup Tuesday when the Bruins beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2.
With so many changes to the lineup, it would be reasonable to expect a drop-off in production for the Bruins after such a lengthy point-streak. In reality, however, the Bruins still outshot the Senators 44 to 23 and came away with the 3-2 victory with goals coming on the power play, shorthanded and at even strength.
The win brought the Bruins to 14-0-4 in their last 18 games and a testament to the next-man-up mentality that this team has employed all season long due to their plethora of injuries early in the year. It wasn’t a perfect game from the team’s replacements, but the team has too much talent to be held down at this point, regardless of who’s missing and who’s filling in.
Bjork and Vatrano Playing Catchup
While Bjork started the game on the team’s top line alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, he found himself replaced by Danton Heinen before the end of the second period. While he didn’t play a bad game, his defensive deficiencies and inconsistency from shift to shift were a little too much for head coach Bruce Cassidy to handle with the Senators keeping the game so close early on. To his credit, Bjork did draw the penalty that led to the Bruins first goal of the game.
Still, in his first game of NHL action in weeks after shining in the AHL, Bjork played admirably considering he was playing on the left wing. Playing exclusively on the right wing at the NHL level prior to this game, there was certainly a learning curve for the young forward when adjusting to the opposite flank. He rose to the occasion when needed and wasn’t a liability, allowing the Bruins to keep rolling. In the end, that’s all the Bruins can hope for from their young players, especially when the team is missing so many key role players.
For Vatrano, the didn’t go quite the same as Bjork’s. Considering he’s played so few games in the last few months, last drawing into the lineup on Dec. 21, Vatrano looked rusty and was benched in the third period as a result.
While the Bruins’ training staff were able to keep McQuaid ready to play when he was tasked with returning to the lineup following Miller’s injury, they couldn’t do the same for Vatrano. Unfortunately for the 23-year-old winger, it’s unlikely that he can do anything to retain a spot in the lineup once Acciari and Marchand are ready to return. Even if he played a perfect game, the Bruins success has been too dominant to necessitate keeping Vatrano in anybody in the regular lineup.
Bergeron Continuing to Dominate
No Bruins’ player has looked better in recent weeks than Bergeron. Despite missing his trusty sidekick in Marchand, Bergeron still tallied two assists on the Bruins’ three goals and helped lead the team to another victory. In his last 11 games, Bergeron now has 11 goals and 19 points, including at least one point in each of his last five.
While he may not be an NHL All-Star, Bergeron has proven time and time again that he can rise to the occasion and outplay anyone on the opposite side of the ice. This season may be his best one yet though, which has to be a scary thought for the rest of the league considering Bergeron is 32 years old.
If Thursday’s win against the Senators proved anything, it’s that the Bruins top line can perform even when 33 percent of the trio is missing, especially when Bergeron remains in the lineup. Marchand and Pastrnak are two of the better players at their positions in the entire world, but Bergeron is the engine that keeps this line moving forward regardless of who lines up alongside him.
Nobody is questioning the fact that Bergeron is great, but even his biggest fans have to be thoroughly impressed by his continued excellence with each mistake occurring so few and far between. Despite the Bruins continuing their winning ways, however, nothing changes in regards to the team needing Marchand to learn from his mistakes.
Marchand Needs to Reflect on His Actions
It’s been said before, but hopefully, it won’t have to be said again. Brad Marchand needs to stop making careless plays that hurt his team in the long term. While he may be the league’s best pest, he’s also one of the league’s best goal scorers and best 200-foot players. His role on the Bruins is too crucial for him to make mistakes like the one he made against the Devils on Thursday.
Costing himself a 40-goal season last year with a senseless spear of Jake Dotchin, the consequences can be far more significant this year as the Bruins approach first place in the entire NHL. The Bruins may have won their first game without him, but they could have just as easily lost with a few bad bounces the other way.
The team also has to find a way to win their next four games without their top scorer as well, something that the Bruins will need to drill into Marchand’s head, ideally showing him how costly his actions were once and for all.