Bruins Got Back on Track in April

After a disappointing rollercoaster of a month in March, April was much better for the Boston Bruins. After a hot start to the season, the team seemed to hit a wall at the end of February. No one could generate offense, injuries were piling up, and then the team had a rash of players go on the COVID-19 protocol list. As the calendar flipped to April, the trade deadline could not come soon enough. 

The Bruins looked like an actual Cup contender again this month. They weren’t without struggles, but for the first time since the beginning of February, they actually looked like a team that could win a playoff series in 2021. But like I said, they weren’t without their struggles. So let’s take a look back at the good, bad, and ugly moments from April.

Bruins That Impressed

Trade Deadline Acquisitions

It’s only been a few weeks since the trade deadline, but immediate reactions point to Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney being the winner of this year’s deadline. They only had to give up a second-round pick in this year’s draft and Anders Bjork, a guy who’s been in and out of the lineup throughout his career in Boston, for Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar. 

Even with Hall’s struggles for the Buffalo Sabres, predictions had returns for him being much higher. Luckily for the Bruins, he had a no-trade clause, giving him a spot in the driver’s seat. While we don’t know exactly how the discussions went down, Sweeney was able to use Hall’s desire to go to Boston to his advantage. While I’m sure other teams were probably able to offer more, ultimately Buffalo had to accept what they could get for him from Boston since that seems to be where he ultimately wanted to go.

In addition to Hall and Lazar, Sweeney also added a puck-moving defenseman in Mike Reilly for only a third-round pick to the Ottawa Senators. All three acquisitions have looked great for Boston so far. In 10 games wearing the B in April, Hall has five goals and eight points, and Reilly has five assists. Lazar has one goal and three points while bringing new life and energy to the bottom six.

Mike Reilly Boston Bruins
Mike Reilly, Boston Bruins (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The trade deadline came exactly when the Bruins needed it. The team has looked revitalized in the second half of April. Hall, Reilly, and Lazar have all made positive contributions and played important roles in the winning streak they went on after the deadline. But, the person who has maybe benefited the most from Sweeney’s deadline moves is David Krejci.

David Krejci

Krejci has had a rough go of it in the 2020-21 season. While he was getting a fair amount of assists, he didn’t score his first goal of the season until March 11 against the New York Rangers. He was struggling to generate points at even strength and was taking the brunt of the heat from fans and Boston sports media.

April was a game-changing month for Krejci. Seven of his eight total goals this year have come this month, and six of them were after the deadline. He’s playing like a brand new guy. Honestly, the clip below speaks for itself as to why he falls into the good category in April. 

In 45 games, Krejci has eight goals and 26 assists for 34 points and is a plus-nine. Now that he has found consistent linemates and the goals are coming, he’s playing like a second-line center on a team that could actually make a deep playoff run. Playoff Krejci has always been a legend in Boston, but it’s nice to see his emergence a little earlier this season.

Jeremy Swayman

Jeremy Swayman was probably the most talked-about Bruin in the month of April. Going into the trade deadline, he was considered one of the Bruins’ “untouchable prospects” and had been making a name for himself down in Providence of the AHL in his first professional hockey season. Due to injuries and Covid-19, he made his NHL debut on April 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a little sooner than people may have thought.

Right away, Swayman was impressive in net. In his first seven starts, he has five wins and two losses and a save percentage of .946 and a goals-against average of 1.56. In addition, he’s already had his first career shutout, and against the New York Islanders, the bane of the Bruins’ existence this season, no less. He has less than 500 minutes of professional hockey under his belt so far, but they have really been impressive minutes. 

Jeremy Swayman Boston Bruins
Jeremy Swayman, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

So impressive that some are even arguing that he should become the starter going forward. While I think that it is too soon to be discussing that, he has no doubt been extremely good for the Bruins and a bright spot when things were looking bleak with Tuukka Rask injured and Jaroslav Halak testing positive for the Coronavirus.

He’s only 22-years-old and is matching up against the league’s top talent and coming out on top. This was just the first month in what will hopefully be a long and successful career for Swayman.

Craig Smith

Craig Smith was the Bruins’ big offseason signing in 2020 to try and be a solution to the team’s depth scoring issues. Through the first few months of the season, he fluctuated between being okay and a bit of a disappointment. He wasn’t proving to be the solution, which honestly, he’s a good piece of the puzzle but has never been “the guy.” 

Craig Smith Boston Bruins
Craig Smith, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He completely turned his game up to a hundred in April. He had four goals and 11 assists for 15 points in 17 games. His season total for points is 29, meaning that more than half of them came in the last month alone. The new Bruins’ second line of him, Hall, and Krejci has completely changed the look of the Bruins’ offense and is making a difference in the final push for a playoff spot.

Bruins’ Concerning Storylines

Halak Testing Positive

On April 5, Halak tested positive for the coronavirus and was put into the NHL’s COVID-19 protocols. A positive test is always going to be a bad thing, and he would remain on the COVID-19 list for almost two weeks before returning to the ice. While this opened the door for Swayman, it’s still tough to see a guy lose his spot in the rotation like this. He’s only played once since getting off the COVID-19 list, going in for 17 minutes in relief of Rask in Boston’s April 23 loss to Buffalo. 

Last week, I wrote about the odds of each upcoming UFA getting an extension, and after the past month, the odds are pretty low for Halak. Hopefully, he’s able to stay healthy down the stretch and doesn’t have any long-term effects.

Carlo Injured Again

After a great start to the season, Brandon Carlo has missed most of the last two months due to injuries. The first was a concussion suffered in an early March matchup with the Washington Capitals. Then, in his second game back on April 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, he left with an upper-body injury that was thankfully not another concussion. He was then labeled week-to-week.

The 24-year-old defenseman has become a staple on the blue line since his NHL debut at the start of the 2016-17 season. He’s a stay-at-home defenseman, so he doesn’t get a lot of points or recognition, but he quietly does a great job in each game in shutting down the lanes and matching up against top talent. He holds it down in the Bruins’ own end of the ice and his reliability has been missed. In 320 career games, he’s a plus-58 with 54 total points. 

Brandon Carlo Bruins
Brandon Carlo, Boston Bruins, Dec. 2, 2017 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He’s one of the most experienced blue-liners on the Bruins’ roster, and they have definitely missed his presence on the ice. He’s great on the penalty-kill and blocks shots. He luckily ended the month back participating in practice. Now, the team will just have to figure out the best way to work him back into the lineup going into the playoffs.

Fourth Place in the East

Sitting in the last playoff spot is a stressful place to be. While it’s better than not being in a playoff spot at all, it’s a precarious position to be in. But it is exactly where the Bruins have found themselves over the last month, with the Rangers bearing down on them from fifth place. 

Luckily, the Bruins have been able to pull away in the standings in the last few weeks. At this point, it would require a historically phenomenal finish from the Rangers and a complete meltdown in Boston at this point for them to give up their spot. They currently sit at 66 points, the most points the Rangers could possibly get. With six games remaining, they need just one overtime loss to secure their berth.

Still, this falls under the bad category because clinging to a playoff spot after spending a good portion of the season in one of the top two spots in the division is not ideal. It’s reflective of how the Bruins played prior to the trade deadline, doing just enough to sneak into the playoffs but very little to look like a convincing contender. Things have changed since mid-April, but we can’t forget how close it came to the Bruins potentially losing their spot in the 2021 Playoffs.  

What Went Wrong

Loss to Washington

On Sunday, April 11, the Bruins suffered their worst loss of the season at home to the Washington Capitals. The Caps scored eight while the B’s managed a single goal from Smith in the third period. Within the first minute of the game, though, it was clear what kind of night it was going to be. 

It was truly an ugly loss. Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Kevan Miller, and Carlo were all sidelined with injuries, leaving the blue line to be anchored by rookies Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril. In fitting fashion, three goals were scored by the Capitals in the first 10 minutes. It wasn’t just on the blue line either. The forwards weren’t helpful; everyone was a minus player except for Smith, Jake DeBrusk, and Connor Clifton.

Thankfully, in the team’s weakest moment, help was on its way as late into the night, the Hall and Lazar acquisition was finalized. The Bruins are lucky because the trade ultimately became the main talking point of the next day rather than this abysmal game.

Jake DeBrusk Healthy Scratched…Again

It’s been said before, and it will be said again, DeBrusk has had a rough season. He’s missed games due to injury and found himself on the Covid-19 protocol list for a few weeks, stifling any momentum he could have been trying to build. After being a healthy scratch for a game in March, he found himself once again out of the lineup for the last two games in April.

Jake DeBrusk Boston Bruins
Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In 35 games this season, DeBrusk only has four goals and 11 points. This isn’t what the Bruins want out of the 24-year-old, former first-round pick, and frankly, it isn’t what he wants either. Frustrations are evident on both sides at this point. He’s shown that he can be a great goal scorer in this league with his 27 goals in the 2018-19 season, but since then, he hasn’t been able to string together a really consistent group of games.

Unfortunately, this season is pretty much a wash for DeBrusk. He has one more year on his contract with the Bruins, so next year will be a big season for him and one more chance. Trading him right now won’t get much in return, and I don’t think it would be the right move. Let’s see how next season goes for him.

Charlie Coyle Drought

DeBrusk and Krejci have been the ones in the hot seat for most of the season, but Charlie Coyle has also struggled mightily this season. He finally snapped a 28-game goal drought on April 30 against the Sabres. It was the worst drought in his nine-year career.

The third line has been just as ineffective for most of the season as the second line. In 49 games, Coyle only has six goals and 16 points. He is also a minus-five. This has been one of the worst seasons of his career. As the second and fourth lines improved after the trade deadline, the weakness on the third has become more exposed. There have been a carousel of players on the line, but no one has managed much chemistry or consistency with each other.

If he hadn’t broken the drought on the last day of the month, this probably would have been a little harsher. But, since Coyle ended the month on a high note, I’ll end this on one as well and say that I really hope breaking the drought is a good sign that he’ll be able to turn up his game as the playoffs approach.

The Playoffs Are Almost Here

Somehow, despite all the struggles and the challenges of the 2020-21 season, we have reached the end of it. This weird, strange season will be over soon, and we can turn our focus to the playoffs, which will hopefully be a little more normal. 

After a surprisingly stellar start, the Bruins faltered in the middle but are luckily getting hot again at the right time. With only six games left, they are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth and only one point behind the Islanders for third place with a game in hand. 

April was an all-around good month thanks to the trade deadline acquisitions and a rejuvenated second-line. As we head to the playoffs, let’s hope they can keep the momentum going.

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