The Boston Bruins find themselves at an uneasy 3-3-1 record in the middle of a four-game homestand. The Bruins routed the Vancouver Canucks by a score of 6-3 last week before letting the Buffalo Sabres come back from three goals down and steal a win in overtime.
The B’s will take on the San Jose Sharks on Thursday at TD Garden. The Sharks are in a similar position as Boston with a 4-4-1 record. They are coming off a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers on Monday. Both teams will be hungry for a win in order to hurdle over the .500 marker.
The Los Angeles Kings will pay a visit to Boston on Saturday night where they’ll look to continue their dominance of the Pacific Division.
Bruins’ Young Players Worthy of Hype
Three of Boston’s top seven point producers so far during the 2017-18 campaign are rookies. While Brad Marchand (11 points) tops the list with six goals and five assists followed by David Pastrnak’s six goals and two assists (8 points), 19-year-old defenseman Charlie McAvoy’s stat line features a goal and six helpers (7 points).
Anders Bjork and David Krejci find themselves just outside the top three with six points each while Jake DeBrusk and Patrice Bergeron have four points each, though Bergeron did so in just two games.
These are most definitely the seven guys Bruins fans ought to expect to see at the top of production table this season. It’s early, but this proves that returning powerhouses in Marchand and Pastrnak are picking up where they left off last season; Marchand potted 85 points during the 2016-17 campaign while Pastrnak managed 70. Bergeron and Krejci are right there with them as usual. Considering the number of injuries both players have endured throughout their NHL careers, this is great to see.
Still, McAvoy, Bjork, and DeBrusk remain the most impressive performers for Boston throughout the month of October, not simply because of the numbers they’ve produced during their first month as NHL players, but the roles they’ve been forced to take on at the dawn of their careers. All three rookies have been thrown into the thick of it and they are certainly proving themselves capable of such a daunting yet exciting opportunity.
Of course, all three players have fallen victim to rookie mistakes, but that’s a part of the learning process. Some may say that the pace of said learning process is quickened when a young player is surrounded by top-notch veterans, and the Bruins are no exception to that theory.
Bjork has found comfort alongside Marchand and Bergeron on Boston’s first line while DeBrusk’s skillset has complemented that of Krejci and Pastrnak on the second line. These guys are being mentored on every shift in every game and in every practice, and Bjork expressed his excitement in reaping the rewards of such linemates in a recent article by Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald:
“These guys are so easy to read off…They’re going right away and they’re in the right spot all the time. It makes it easy for me to get open and receive a puck like I did there and make an easy pass to the slot to Marchy. That’s them playing the right way and, with that much skill, it’s pretty deadly.” (from ‘Bruins get Patrice Bergeron back for 6-3 win over Vancouver Canucks’, The Boston Herald (10/20/17)
McAvoy has been slated alongside the hard-nosed defenseman Kevan Miller and gets the opportunity to lace up his skates in the same room as captain Zdeno Chara and passing-machine Torey Krug.
All that remains to be seen is how consistent Boston’s rookies will be. The challenges for these players will only increase in difficulty as the season putts along, especially if injuries continue to pile up.
Related: Bruins Not Panicking…Yet
Third Line Catastrophe
It is well known that Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, and Frank Vatrano were all in jeopardy of losing their starting roles entering the 2017-18 campaign.
Spooner showed signs of life during the preseason but has contributed just an assist in five games before being injured. His diagnosis of a right groin adductor tear has him sidelined for, at the time this article was published, three to five weeks. That slates him for a return in late November or early December.
Beleskey and Vatrano, on the other hand, each find themselves with a plus-minus rating of minus-two. While Beleskey, the former Anaheim Duck, has averaged just under 11 minutes of ice time per game, the speedy 23-year-old Vatrano is averaging 9:18 per game. Beleskey has registered seven shots on goal while Vatrano has notched six, yet neither winger has been able to produce a single point in six games.
All three of these players were expected to make bids for the third line this season. Even the return of David Backes, who is also a minus-two after two games, didn’t spark anything. Though, with Krejci currently day-to-day with back spasms, Backes has been slotted as the second-line center between DeBrusk and Pastrnak.
#NHLBruins practice lines:
Marchand – Bergeron – Bjork
DeBrusk – Backes – Pastrnak
Vatrano – Nash – Agostino
Schaller – Kuraly – Beleskey
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) October 24, 2017
Instead, the Bruins will be looking to guys like Tim Schaller and Riley Nash who have been solid role players since last season. Kenny Agostino, who has an assist in two games, and Sean Kuraly, who has chipped in with two helpers in seven appearances, are looking to stay on the main roster even when Spooner and Krejci return from injury.
It looks like Agostino, Kuraly, and even Danton Heinen, who recorded three assists in three games, could very well beat Vatrano and Beleskey out for their positions. Spooner, however, will likely be given a shot upon his return from injury. How long he will stick around is really up to him. Some may say the ball in his court, I like to say the puck is on his stick.
Rask’s Concussion, McQuaid & Miller injuries
Any hockey team will experience a lapse in confidence when their starting goaltender goes down with an injury. Now, consider that injury being a concussion that was dished out in practice.
That is the very situation the Bruins find themselves in. Though Rask returned to practice on Tuesday, backup goaltender Anton Khudobin and prospect Zane McIntyre could suit up against the Sharks on Thursday and even the Kings on Saturday.
With that said, Boston needs to stay steady in front of whichever goalie finds themselves between the pipes this week. Doing that, however, will require someone to step up on the back end. While Kevan Miller’s return to duty is considered questionable for Thursday’s bout with the Sharks, Adam McQuaid could miss up to eight weeks after breaking his right fibula.
Providence Bruins product Rob O’Gara has received time on Boston’s blue line in wake of the injuries. Paul Postma has also been put to work in the very role General Manager Don Sweeney brought him in to play: seventh defenseman.
Coach Bruce Cassidy has his work cut out for him judging by the fact that the Bruins seem to have a case of the injury bug. Though even the best coaches in the league can’t control who gets hurt and who doesn’t, they can corral their players and refocus them when injuries do occur. If Cassidy can keep his team focused and energized, the Bruins stand a chance of entering next week at 5-3-1.
I cover the Boston Bruins and NCAA Hockey here at The Hockey Writers. Born and raised 10 miles north of Boston, I developed a love for the game of ice hockey at a very young age. There’s really nothing better than this sport, though steak is a close second.