Bruins Will See Some Positives From the Season Pause

After struggling through the first 26 games of the 2021-22 season, the Boston Bruins were shut down by the NHL on Dec.18 after they placed two more players into the league’s COVID-19 protocols for a total of nine. Some of the nine players were players that the Black and Gold could not afford to lose.

The shutdown was supposed to last through the NHL’s three-day holiday break from Dec. 24-27, but on Tuesday, the league announced they were shutting down the whole league beginning at midnight on Dec. 22 and lasting through Dec. 26. When the Bruins return, they will have their work cut out for them with 56 games remaining in the season, but the pause comes at the right time for the Black and Gold. Here are three positives to Boston’s eight-day break.

Bruins Get Closer to Getting Healthy

Boston has been pretty lucky to date this season without having an injury to a key player that would cause them to miss a significant amount of time. Defenseman Jakub Zboril was playing well for coach Bruce Cassidy before he suffered a lower-body injury against the Nashville Predators on Dec. 2 and the young defensemen had surgery for a torn ACL, which will keep him out for the remainder of the season. After that, the major injuries have been few and fat between. The struggling Craig Smith missed time with an injury early in the season and other than Brad Marchand’s three-game suspension for slew-footing Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Vancouver Canucks on Nov. 28, the Bruins have been lucky.

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

That was until their COVID-19 outbreak. It started with Marchand and Smith entering protocols on Dec. 14 and the list slowly grew the next day with captain Patrice Bergeron being added with backup goalie Jeremy Swayman. After losses to the Vegas Golden Knights (Dec. 14) and the New York Islanders (Dec. 16), the list grew to 10 with Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar, and Brandon Carlo recently added.

If the Bruins were not shut down, they were going to miss Marchand, Smith, and Bergeron for up to six games, which could have put them in a big hole in terms of wins and losses. Already three points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the final Eastern Conference wild card spot, losing four of their top-six forwards would be devastating. If they were not shut down, there is a good chance that the spread would have been worse.

Related: Bruins Weekly: Studnicka and Steen’s Wild Week, COVID-19 & More

The Bruins have only played 26 games, tied for the fewest in the league with the Islanders. Following their shutdown, Boston will have 56 games remaining and the nights off are going to be few and far between. On Dec. 21, coach Bruce Cassidy said he’s hopeful that Marchand, Smith, and Bergeron are able to return when the Bruins resume practices and games.

Pastrnak Gets a Break to Reset

One of the Bruins players that have been frustrated early in the season is David Pastrnak. The 2019-20 co-winner of the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy with Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Pastrnak has eight goals in 26 games, with four coming on the power play.

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

While a lot of players would take that, for Pastrnak, he could easily have more, but he has been frustrated by the opponent’s goalies. He has had opportunities to score goals near the net, but he has been unable to lift a lot of pucks and when he does, he has missed the net. He has broken a fair amount of sticks when he tries his trademark slap shot as well. It also has not helped that Marchand was suspended for three games and both Bergeron and Marchand missed some games in COVID-19 protocols.

The frustration comes out at different times for the Bruins’ first-line right wing. When the Black and Gold resume their season, they need Pastrnak to find his goal-scoring touch quickly if they are going to climb closer to a playoff spot.

Closer to a Possible Tuukka Rask Return?

It’s clear that the Bruins have needs on their roster. A second-line playmaking center would be at the top of the list, while an addition to the defense with another left-shot. Any of those needs would have to be filled through a trade, but Boston could be adding a key piece in free agency.

When Linus Ullmark was signed as a free agent this offseason to create a new goaltending tandem with Swayman, there were some eyebrows raised. Was that the end of Tuukka Rask in Boston? Well, the 34-year-old veteran has been rehabbing from hip surgery at Warrior Ice Arena, the Bruins practice facility, and even participated in a few practices as an emergency backup. The former Vezina Trophy winner said that if he chose to play this season, it would only be with the Black and Gold.

Tuukka Rask Boston Bruins
Free-agent goalie Tuukka Rask with the Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Bruins have had many issues so far this season, but goaltending is not one of them. Swayman and Ullmark have been good and even stole a couple of games. Even in close games they have lost, they have kept their team in the game, giving them a chance in the third period. If Rask wants to return, it’s a no-brainer for Sweeney to sign for the second-half run toward getting a playoff spot. 

Shutting down is not an ideal situation for any team, but the Bruins have struggled and missing key pieces in upcoming games would have been tough for them to overcome. The shutdown gives a lot of Bruins to get healthy and even allows some to hit the reset button as they look at a very busy remainder of the 2021-22 season once they return.


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