The Bruins played four games this past week. To recap, they lost 1-0 to the New Jersey Devils, fell 2-1 in a shootout to the New York Islanders, beat the New York Rangers 4-0, and then lost to them 4-0 on Saturday.
There were a lot of headlines around the team this week, including news of Jake DeBrusk’s benching and general manager Don Sweeney’s press conference expressing his willingness to “shake things up” at the trade deadline if the team scoring doesn’t come. There’s a lot of talk going around on what the team needs to do and speculation about what they will actually do as the trade deadline gets closer.
This week’s slate of games highlighted issues that have been plaguing the Bruins all season as well as a player who is quietly having a good season.
Takeaway One: Depth Scoring Remains Inconsistent
This isn’t a surprise to anyone who follows hockey, the Bruins struggle with getting goals from players not named Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. It’s been the story with this team for the last few seasons and nothing has changed this season. The team has made moves to try and address this issue at the last three trade deadlines and with the 2020 free agency signing of Craig Smith, but nothing has yet to prove to work.
The top line has accounted for 34 goals this year, half of the team’s 68 total. Players ranked fourth through tenth on the Bruins scoring chart only account for 23 goals. The team’s top five goal scorers right now are Marchand and Pastrnak with 12, Bergeron with 10, Nick Ritchie with eight, and then Charlie Coyle with five.
The biggest frustration is how inconsistent they’ve been. The Bruins were held scoreless against the Devils and Pastrnak was the only goal scorer against the Islanders, but then David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk both scored against the Rangers on Thursday. It was Krejci’s first goal of the season and DeBrusk’s second, coming the game after he was benched.
But that’s how it’s been going all season. They’ll get depth scoring one game and then the next game, it’s all on the top line again. It’s what happened last season and the season before that as well.
Now, nobody is expecting the rest of the forwards to score at the same clip as Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak. There is a reason the three of them are considered elite talents in the NHL. The problem is that they will go stretches where the top line is the only ones scoring at all, then they’ll have a game where two or three other guys will score, and after that, the rest of the lineup will forget how to find the back of the net for another stretch of games. And when there are games where the first line is not playing their best, like Saturday’s game against the Rangers, there is nobody else at the moment who can step up.
It’s frustrating because it’s been the same thing year after year. But it seems that the frustration is not just limited to the fans. Sweeney had this to say in a press conference this week.
“If we have to shake things up, I think we will do that. Understand the expectations haven’t changed. Our group has played well, but not quite good enough. Scoring has been the Achilles heel up until this point. Hopefully we can find it from within, or I’m going to have to make a move to bring in support.”Tom Westerholm
At this point with only $2.48 million in cap space and a fairly weak prospect pool, there isn’t a ton the team can do unless they really are willing to trade someone currently in the lineup. Even then, the biggest changes to this roster probably won’t happen until the offseason when Tuukka Rask and Krejci’s contracts, the two biggest on the team right now, come off the books.
Most likely the season will continue how it is, with one game of scorers other than the top line followed by multiple games with most of the team disappearing from the score sheet.
Takeaway Two: Injuries Continue to Pile Up
The injury bug continues to go around the Bruins locker room. So far this season, Krejci, DeBrusk, Zobril, and Smith have all missed at least one game with an injury. Ondrej Kase remains out with no timetable to return since suffering what is assumed to be a concussion in the second game of the season. Defenseman Jeremy Lauzon is out through at least the end of March and Brandon Carlo is week-to-week after the hit to his head from Tom Wilson during the March 5 game against the Washington Capitals.
This week saw Rask, who was day-to-day earlier in the season, added to the injury report after the Devils game, as well as Zach Senyshen. It’s bad luck for the 2015 first-round draft pick, who suffered an upper-body injury in his first game of the season in Thursday’s win against the Rangers. It comes after arguably the best start to a season in his professional career down in Providence.
After the Devils game last Sunday, Rask was put on the injury report with a back issue that has lingered through most of the week. This meant that Halak played in three out of the four games this week, but more on that below. There is the potential that he could be ready to play against Pittsburgh, but no official word has come out yet.
Every team deals with injuries through a season, and it’s only going to be more pronounced in a shortened season like this year. Still, this is starting to get a little ridiculous.
The one good thing about injuries is that they can often open the door for players to have an opportunity to step up and make a name for themselves. So far, no one on this Bruins roster has done that. Connor Clifton has had some good moments but remains goalless through 18 games this season. Urho Vaakanainen hasn’t been particularly impressive in eight games this season and it’s becoming clearer why Zboril got the final spot on the blue line over him at the start of the season.
Saturday was a perfect opportunity for someone to make a name for themselves in a game where Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak weren’t at the top of their game. But no one stepped up to the plate to bring some much-needed energy to the ice.
Hopefully, the Bruins can continue to weather the injury storm and be back to full strength for a playoff run in a few months.
Takeaway Three: Halak Is Quietly Finding Success
Jaroslav Halak was by far the best player on the Bruins’ roster during their Saturday home loss to the Rangers, don’t let the final score lead you to believe otherwise. An argument could also be made that he was the best Bruins player for all of the last week.
Goaltending across the league has been up and down this season. Back in February, Emily Kaplan of ESPN wrote about the struggle of goalies to start the season without a training camp. The average save percentage (SV%) of goalies across the league in January was the worst for the first month of a season since the 2005-06 season.
Halak though is actually playing some of the best hockey of his career. His .922 SV% is above his career average .917 and he’s had two shutouts so far this season, including Thursday against the Rangers. He’s also currently ranked ninth amongst all NHL goalies with a goals-against average (GAA) of 2.07. He also has a goals saved above average, which looks at the number of goals a goalie has saved compared to the league average goalie, of 4.53, good for 14th in the league.
Up until Saturday’s game where not a single skater decided to show up and play, the Bruins hadn’t allowed more than one goal in a game since Feb. 26. That is a testament to both Halak and Rask, who isn’t having a great of a year statistically but is still winning. Halak currently has a 6-3-2 record and Rask has an 8-4-2 record.
In the team’s three losses this past week, the problem hasn’t been the goalies. There have actually been very few losses this season where you could look to goaltending as being one of the major issues.
This was not a great week for the Bruins. Their depth scoring issues were on full display, and they played their worst game of the season so far against the Rangers on Saturday. In addition, the team saw more players sidelined as injuries continue to stack up.
After Sweeney’s comments this week, there has to be some growing frustration behind the scenes. While there are doubts as to how much the team can afford to do at the deadline, something has to give moving forward.
But after an embarrassing game on Saturday, one would hope to see a different team take the ice against Pittsburgh on Monday. Hopefully, a disappointing last week can be put behind the Bruins as they reach the halfway mark of the season this week.
I’m Hannah Garfield, a graduate of Elon University with degrees in Film and Media Analytics. I’m a lifelong, passionate Boston sports fan and love all things Bruins.