The Boston Bruins have reached the midway point of the 2021-22 season. They are holding onto the eighth and final Eastern Conference wild card playoff spot ahead of the Detroit Red Wings. Their recent stretch in the month of January, going 11-4-1, is a big reason why they have climbed the standings.
There is still a lot of hockey left and the trade deadline is looming on March 21. With that said, here are three storylines to watch as the Black and Gold begin the second half of the season trying to hold onto a playoff berth.
What does Bruins general manager Don Sweeney do between now and March 21? There are certainly needs as his team could use a second-line center and a defenseman, mainly a left-shot. If he can somehow pry John Klingberg away from the Dallas Stars as a right-shot blueliner, then by all means he should consider it. Boston could also use some toughness on the roster, but beggars can’t be choosers at the trade deadline.
It is widely known that Jake DeBrusk requested a trade in November and there is a good chance that Sweeney honors that request and starts a trade package around the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft. There are a few prospects that could be had for the right deal to address either need. Things have gone well with Erik Haula as the second-line center since Jan. 1, but in the big picture, is he the answer for the rest of the season and in the playoffs? That’s what the Bruins need to figure out.
The way the Boston roster is constructed now, they are good enough to get one of the two final card spots, but they might not be good enough to go very far in the playoffs unless some needs are addressed by mid-March. What moves are made by Sweeney is worth keeping an eye on.
Bruins Goaltending Situation
Since December, the Bruins goaltending duo of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark played very well and kept the Black and Gold in games. The case could be made that they stole some games with the way they had played. On Jan. 11, the month-long speculation of rumors that Tuukka Rask would sign a free agent contract following offseason hip surgery came true. Swayman was not able to be part of the Bruins taxi squad, which meant he would go to the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) to get much-needed playing time.
As expected, Rask has shown some rust in his outings so far, while Ullmark has been great. It should not come as a surprise that Rask has struggled as he did not get any games in the AHL with games he was expected to play in being postponed because of COVID-19 protocols. Since returning, Rask is 2-2-0 with 4.29 goals-against average (GAA) and a .844 save percentage (SV%). On Friday, the Bruins announced that Rask, who was scheduled to play against the Arizona Coyotes, was out with a lower-body injury. It remains to be seen how long he will be sidelined and Swayman was recalled from Providence to back up Ullmark.
Ullmark is 15-6-1 with a 2.66 GAA and a .912 SV%. He recently went through a stretch where he was 7-0-1 in the month of January. Swayman was good in his time in Boston before Rask returned, going 8-6-2 with a 2.31 GAA and a .916 SV% with one shutout.
Adding a former Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender is a no-brainer and Rask needs time to get into game shape, but his lower-body injury should be considered a concern. It’s nice to have a player of Swayman’s caliber waiting in the wings if this turns into a long-term situation.
Since coach Bruce Cassidy adjusted the lines following the COVID-19 shutdown, the Bruins have got more secondary scoring. Not just from the new-look second line of Taylor Hall, Haula, and David Pastrnak, but the bottom-six has contributed too, as has the defense. Usually, Boston is relying on the first line, but they have been getting contributions from other lines.
Not only has the 5-on-5 goal scoring improved, but the power play played a big part in the recent seven-game homestand. Third-period power-play goals from Pastrnak against the Winnipeg Jets and McAvoy against the Washington Capitals, were the difference in two regulation wins. In a 2-1 road victory over the Coyotes Friday night, McAvoy again scored the game-winning goal on the power play.
The Bruins are getting contributions from Charlie Coyle, Oskar Steen, DeBrusk, and Curtis Lazar from their bottom-six, while Matt Grzelcyk has also been more of an offensive defenseman in the last month. Going forward, Boston is going to need more contributions from their bottom six and defensemen.
As far as a playoff spot goes, the Bruins are in a good spot now, nine points ahead of the Red Wings for the final spot in the Eastern Conference, but just as quickly as they have gone up the standings, they could also slide back down the standings. Forty games remain in the 2021-22 season and there are bound to be plenty of storylines with the Boston Bruins.
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.