Bruins’ Injuries Raising Serious Lineup Questions

October proved to be a month full of treats for the Boston Bruins as they finished with a 9-1-2 record and finally began to see scoring from outside of their top line. Just two games into November they are still able to keep their win-streak alive, but as we all know, with success comes a price to pay.

Following Saturday’s game against the Ottawa Senators, they managed to go down another player, as David Backes collided with Scott Sabourin and both players left the game. Upon evaluation, he was ruled doubtful for the next couple of games with an “upper-body injury,” suspected to be a concussion.

Boston Bruins David Backes
Boston Bruins’ David Backes doubtful for the next couple of games (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

With the injuries stacking up against them, will they be able to keep their spot at the top of the Atlantic Division or will their early success begin to crumble?

Providence Players Stepping Up

Amid the injuries, they are fortunate to have some players from the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Providence Bruins who have been able to fill the voids. Anders Bjork has appeared in six contests thus far and has tallied 1 goal in 11 attempts. After scoring his goal in his second game, the expectation was that he would be able to provide more secondary scoring and essentially earn his keep.

“[He] came probably a little earlier than we’d [have] liked. We didn’t have a timetable but I think it’s important for him. If he’s going to play up here, he has to be some level of a scorer. Getting onto the power play would be the next challenge for us if he does continue. But [it’s] one step at a time, and if he gives us some five-on-five secondary scoring with his foot speed, his energy [and] getting some youth in the lineup, I think it will make us better.”

Bruce Cassidy

His speed and confidence are bonuses when it comes to finding secondary scoring. However, with a minus-one rating, he’s going to need to step up his defensive game if he intends on making a lasting impact.

Related Story: Bruin’s Bjork Determined to Make NHL Return

Peter Cehlarik has also been able to prove his worth. It didn’t come as a big surprise when he was sent to the AHL to start the season given his injury during the preseason. He had an impressive start with the AHL club, scoring at an alarming rate and proving he is an effective two-way player. However, despite his impressive goal-scoring abilities for Providence, he has struggled at the NHL level.

Boston Bruins left wing Peter Cehlarik
Boston Bruins left wing Peter Cehlarik carries the puck up the ice. (Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

In his first game against the New York Rangers, he saw some time alongside Sean Kuraly and Backes where he took an offensive zone penalty, was a minus-two and failed to register a shot on net. In his next appearance against the Senators, he appeared on the third line with Bjork and Charlie Coyle. However, he was still unable to register a shot on goal and came away with a single hit, two blocked shots, and one takeaway in just under 10 minutes of ice time. Neither performance was stellar and had him sent back to Providence in exchange for Cameron Hughes. 

“He’s an energy guy. Good motor. He should be able to help us on the penalty kill. He did a good job [in Providence] so that’s an area we’re looking for him to support with some guys out,” said Cassidy in regards to Hughes. “He’ll be a fit with Kuraly and Wagner because he plays a straight-line game. He’s just a guy that will get on pucks and give you everything he’s got, so he should add to whatever line he’s on and be a good fit for a bottom-6 role.”

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Hughes made his debut Nov. 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins on the fourth line. He had some time on the penalty kill and blocked two shots. Although he ended the night with a minus-one rating and no shots on goal, he had a decent work ethic and, if nothing else, learned from the experience. He is expected to stay with the team for their division rivalry against the Montreal Canadiens Tuesday night.

Defensive Depth Becoming a Problem

On the defensive end of things, the Bruins are fairly solid with their six pairings, but that may soon change as Kevan Miller is on the road to recovery and should be returning to the lineup by the end of the month. His return raises a couple of questions; where will he fit in and who will he replace?

He hasn’t seen any playing time since April 4 when he originally fractured his kneecap and re-injured himself as he was nearing a return, missing the entire postseason and all of this season thus far. Re-entering the lineup, it’s likely that he will be rotated with Steven Kampfer to be paired alongside Matt Grzelcyk, sending Connor Clifton back to the AHL.

Kevan Miller is getting ready to make his return to the lineup for the Boston Bruins. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While Clifton has proven that he is an NHL player, he only has a few games left that he can play at the NHL level before he would have to clear waivers to go down. With the injured defenseman’s return nearing, the decision becomes simple as it is unlikely that he would clear without being snagged by another club.

Miller plays a strong, physical game and has been paired alongside Grzelcyk since his NHL debut. They have a history together and should have no trouble picking up where they left off. It is likely that for a rotation he would suit up against the more aggressive teams while Kampfer (and eventually John Moore) would see time against the less aggressive teams.

Related Story: Bruins’ Next Priority Is Keeping Krug

The other option they have to make room for him is to make a trade. In a perfect world, Bruins fans would like to see Miller or Moore traded upon their return. It’s not impossible given there are a few teams hurting for gritty, physical defenders (ahem, Winnipeg Jets). However, from a general manager’s standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to sign an aging player at $2.7 million who has just come off of injured reserve.  

If this takes place, it is highly likely that the Torey Krug rumors are going to resurface as he becomes a free agent July 1 and there have been no contract discussions as of yet. This would be a big hit to the defensive depth the Bruins have established but could be the only viable option they have.