With the All-Star Game in the books for another year, the NHL will begin the march to April and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. On Monday, the league resumes the regular season schedule.
Over the next two-plus months, the Boston Bruins will look to hold off the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers in the Atlantic Division. If they are to do so, keep an eye on four storylines as they return to the ice Jan. 31 at the Winnipeg Jets.
1. Get Healthy
Injuries have been a factor for the Bruins this season. No unit has been hit harder than the defensive grouping. With Zdeno Chara occasionally missing games with still feeling effects of last year’s broken jaw in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, the injuries have been building up all around.
Charlie McAvoy is day-to-day with a head injury and Matt Grzelcyk is day-to-day with an arm injury. Connor Clifton has an upper-body injury and is day-to-day, while Kevan Miller is also day-to-day with a knee injury. With four defensemen currently injured, the Bruins depth is being tested in a way they don’t want.
In goal, Tuukka Rask has been sidelined with a concussion since a game Jan. 14 against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Backup Jaroslav Halak was pressed into regular duty before the break going 2-2-1, but with the Bruins having their bye week mixed in with the break, a 10-day break comes at the right time.
2. Power Play Production
Boston owns the third-ranked power play in the league, in large part because of their first line of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The trio has combined to scored 28 goals with the man advantage.
Pastrnak leads the group with 16 power-play goals (PPGs) and Bergeron has eight. Jake DeBrusk has assumed a spot on the power play as well and has five goals, while Bergeron has four. As a team, Boston has 42 PPGs and Bergeron beat the New York Islanders on the road on Jan. 11 in Brooklyn with a goal on a 4-on-3 in the extra session. With recent struggles scoring 5-on-5, the power play will be key for the rest of the season.
3. Trade Deadline
General manager Don Sweeney has a couple of ways he could look to improve the roster for coach Bruce Cassidy before the Feb. 24 deadline. He could add a forward or with recent injuries, he could look to bolster the blue line.
The Bruins have been linked to a number of players. Left wing, Massachusetts native Chris Kreider of the New York Rangers and right wing Tyler Toffoli of the Los Angeles Kings have been two of the names mentioned.
With the top line set, adding to the second line is a priority. Defensively, the Bruins got a good effort from Jeremy Lauzon in their last game before the break, but with four defensemen down, Sweeney would be wise to kick the tires on available defensemen over the next couple of weeks.
Last year, Sweeney landed Charlie Coyle from the Minnesota Wild and Marcus Johansson from the New Jersey Devils in deals at the trade deadline. Both moves were thought to be small at the time, but it ended up being a pair of moves that helped the Bruins reach the Stanley Cup Final.
4. Overtime and Shootouts
As the season has gone along, it seems that it’s in the Bruins best interest to end the game in regulation. Once they go to overtime or even a shootout, it just becomes a horror show.
Boston is 3-5 in overtime games. They won two games in November at home against the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers six days apart in overtime. Shootouts are a different story as they are winless in seven tries.
If the Bruins are going to finish at or near the top of the Eastern Conference, they need to solve these two issues and pick up some wins.