Bruins’ Remaining 2021-22 Schedule Poses Depth Challenges

The Boston Bruins entered 2022 with two wins; a messy overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres and a resounding victory over the Detroit Red Wings. After going into their “COVID pause” with two ugly losses, it was nice to get back in the winning column. Even more significant, the two wins over the weekend highlighted their scoring depth.

Related: Bruins’ Finally Getting Production From All Four Lines

It’s been said before and will be said again, but the Bruins have struggled to get points from players not named Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, or David Pastrnak. However, in their two recent victories, they had goals from Craig Smith, Nick Foligno, Taylor Hall, Charlie Coyle, Bergeron, Erik Haula, Charlie McAvoy, Trent Frederic, and Tomas Nosek, while Oskar Steen, Mike Reilly, Marchand, Jake DeBrusk, and Matt Grzelcyk registered assists. That is 14 different players with points over the two games. You’d be hard-pressed to find back-to-back games this season or last when that many Bruins contributed to the scoresheet.

Boston Bruins Bench Celebrates
Boston Bruins Bench Celebrates (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s a good sign, given what lies ahead for the Bruins. The 2021-22 regular season is set to end on Apr. 29. There are 115 days between now (Jan. 4) and then, and Boston has 54 games still to play, which means they are looking at playing every other day from now until the end of the season. This is a daunting task for any NHL team. For a team like the Bruins, who have struggled with scoring depth throughout this season and last season, it will be a real challenge.

Bruins Injuries Already a Factor in 2021-22

The Bruins’ roster has already suffered several injuries this season. Smith missed games at the start of the campaign with a “lingering injury,” which could explain his slow start, though he seems to be getting back to himself and playing more like the player we saw last season.

We don’t know much about the specifics of his injury, but he has sat out for two stretches this season. Thankfully, they weren’t long stretches, but there is reason to be concerned about how he’ll fare with the packed schedule ahead since it has been described as a nagging issue. In the 2021 calendar year, he was one of the team’s top producers after the first line, and the team will need him for the second half.

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

The Bruins’ blue line did not have a ton of depth to begin with this season, particularly on the left side, and it took a blow in December when Jakub Zboril tore his ACL and will be out for the rest of the campaign. Injuries are always unfortunate, but what’s worse is that he was playing at his best when it happened.  

If the schedule is condensed for the rest of the season, any player who suffers an injury will miss more games than they typically would, and the Bruins’ defense doesn’t have many depth options. They have John Moore and Jack Ahcan, but overall, their pickings are slim. They will need to acquire another defenseman at some point, and they might not be able to afford to wait until the trade deadline.

Depth Beyond Marchand and Bergeron?

The biggest challenge ahead is finding offense if Marchand or Bergeron are impacted by the tight schedule. The Bruins’ average age is 28.1, around the NHL team average of 28.0. The concern here is that their two top contributors are ages 33 and 36, respectively. Playing that many games in a short time frame is hard on any body, let alone players in their mid-thirties – even if they are playing like they’re in their early 20s.

Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron Boston Bruins
Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Losing Marchand or Bergeron at any point or having them slow down at all would hurt the team. In the two games before the COVID pause, we saw just how much the Bruins rely on them. The question has always been what the Bruins will do without them, but it seems much more pressing as they stare down a daunting schedule for the rest of 2021-22.

Related: 3 Bruins Storylines to Watch For When Season Resumes

Marchand has 30 points in 23 games, and Bergeron has 24 points in 27. Pastrnak is third on the team in points with 21 in 28 games, McAvoy is fourth with 20 points in 27 games, and then Hall and Coyle both have 16 points in 28 games. There’s a significant dropoff from there to DeBrusk with nine points in 27 games. More than anything, the Bruins’ ability to score goals will be tested. If Marchand and Bergeron dip from their elite level of play, where will the scoring come from? This weekend’s games showed a flash of what could be, but they need to do it more often for confidence to be restored.

Bruins Positives

It’s always good to end on a positive note. The season will be challenging from here on out, but the Bruins know how to work hard and handle adversity as it comes. They had a rough start to the campaign with so few games on the schedule, part of the reason they will have to play so many in the next three months. They had long pauses that made it hard to find their groove, which might be helped by playing every other night. We’ll have to trust the coaching staff to give players rest days when they need them.

Related: Bruins Will See Some Positives From the Season Pause

This is the time for the Bruins’ depth to rise to the occasion. Last season and this season, players were given an opportunity to play a larger role, and they didn’t rise to the challenge. The depth of the roster will be tested in the coming months since the first line and McAvoy can’t carry the load alone. Coyle has improved from last season, and if a few more forwards (Smith, Hall, or Haula) could step up and contribute, the team could thrive heading into the playoffs more than expected.

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