It certainly has been an up and down first quarter of the 2021-22 season for the Boston Bruins. They sit in the middle of the pack both in the Eastern Conference and the NHL. They are 12-8-1, but it is hard to find a “quality win’’ on their resume through their first 21 games.
Injuries are slowly piling up for the Bruins and their young and talented third-line left wing, Jake DeBrusk has requested a trade. Brad Marchand missed the last three games serving a three-game suspension for slew-footing and coach Bruce Cassidy has also been sidelined in COVID protocols. With Boston limping through the first 21 games, here are three takeaways from the first two months of the season.
Bruins Are Stuck in Mediocrity
Right now, the Bruins are stuck in mediocrity, not a place you want to be in the NHL when you want to contend for the Stanley Cup. They are on the outside looking in on a playoff berth and now is the time where the contenders start to separate themselves from the pretenders in the standings.
The Bruins have spent the first 21 games of the season beating the teams they should and not beating the top teams in the league. They tend to outshoot their opponents, even against the top teams in the league, but are unable to beat them. Their only win against one of the top teams in the league is a shootout win over the Florida Panthers on Oct. 30.
December is not going to be easy with road games against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, as well as home games against the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights. Until the Bruins can get some quality wins, both at home and on the road, they are going to be stuck in mediocrity spinning their wheels.
Tuukka Rask Won’t Solve the Bruins Problems
Over the last couple of weeks, free agent Tuukka Rask has been spotted at Warrior Ice Arena skating before the Bruins’ practices as he recovers from offseason surgery. Monday, Rask went through drills in the Bruins practice as an emergency backup goalie with Linus Ullmark sidelined with an illness. Rask has said that Boston is the only place he wants to play if he continues his career. That is all well and good and if he returns, then most likely Jeremy Swayman goes down to the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) to get more consistent playing time.
Rask won’t solve some of the Bruins’ biggest issues, however, which is secondary scoring and help on defense. As talented as Rask is between the pipes, he can’t go down the other end and score. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but beyond the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, the Black and Gold are searching for production. Taylor Hall played well the last three games on the first line with Bergeron and Pastrnak in Marchand’s absence, which if that doesn’t show the front office that a second-line center is needed to jump-start Hall’s game, I don’t know what will.
Bottom-nine production has been an issue in the past and the Bruins could use Craig Smith, Hall, Charlie Coyle, and anyone else to give them production behind the first line. On defense, Boston could use some stability with their pairings, but aside from Charlie McAvoy, there has been too much inconsistency. Defensive zone turnovers and failing to get the puck out of the zone to relieve pressure from their opponents have left Ullmark and Swayman to shoulder more of a load than they should have to.
Signing Rask is not a given, but if he does end up signing, he won’t solve the glaring needs for Cassidy’s crew.
Free Agent Signings Are Struggling
Over the summer, general manager Don Sweeney signed five veterans to add what he hoped would be stability on the bottom-six, on defense, and in goal. Through 21 games, the results have been less than stellar for some.
Erik Haula, who has played better of late after being a healthy scratch against the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 28, has one goal and five points in 20 games, but has been good on faceoffs, winning 53(%)-percent of his draws. Nick Foligno, who began the season as the right wing on the third line with Haula and DeBrusk, has yet to score, but does have four assists. With injuries and suspensions, Foligno has found himself shifting back and forth between the middle-six. Tomas Nosek, the third and final forward brought in from outside the organization, has also struggled to find consistency as the fourth-line center.
Defensively, Derek Forbort has played well as of late, but the beginning of the season was a struggle for the 15th overall pick by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2010 Entry Draft. He leads all Bruins defensemen with four goals, but some bad decisions and clearing attempts have led to goals by the opposing team. Any offensive production is an added bonus from Forbort, but he needs to tighten things up defensively in his own zone. The Bruins were hoping for better play from the 29-year-old left-shot.
Ullmark has been steady in goal splitting time with Swayman. In nine games, he is 5-4-0 with a 2.68 goals-against average (GAA), with a .911 save percentage (SV%). The play in front of him has been shaky at times, but a couple of big saves at different times might change how he is viewed. Sweeney gave him a four-year, $20 million contract and out of all the deals handed out last summer, that might be the one that makes you scratch your head.
You are what your record says you are and the Bruins record says that they are a mediocre hockey team. They have three-quarters of the season remaining, but with a compact schedule coming up before the Olympic break in February, they need to become a better hockey team if they want to make the playoffs in May.
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Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.