The 2015-16 campaign for the Boston Bruins is off to a putrid start.
Opening Night saw the Black and Gold come out flying in the first 20 minutes against the Winnipeg Jets only to trip over themselves and fall flat on their face for the final 40 en route to an embarrassing 6-2 defeat.
It was more of the same on Saturday night, as the hated Montreal Canadiens controlled the game from start to finish. Boston had their opportunities early but Carey Price held firm while the Habs suffocated the Bruins offense in a 4-2 victory.
Just when it couldn’t get any worse, the club found out their top scorer last year will be on the shelf for a while.
Brad Marchand suffered a concussion, per Julien
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) October 11, 2015
On Sunday, coach Claude Julien confirmed that Brad Marchand suffered a concussion on Saturday night and that there is no timetable for his return. The native of Nova Scotia took an inadvertent elbow in a collision with Dale Wiese and had a fair bit of difficulty getting off the ice. His injury only adds to the growing list of concerns Boston faces after just three games this season.
The Bruins will have some work to do in an attempt to replace Marchand’s offense. How can they do it?
If there’s one bright spot in the dark cloud that hovers around Causeway Street it’s the performance of second-year pro David Pastrnak.
The 19-year-old is defying the dreaded sophomore slump thus far, factoring in on three of Boston’s four goals scored this season. Playing alongside fellow countryman David Krejci has done wonders for him coming off a strong performance down the stretch last season.
However, Marchand’s injury means that Pastrnak is arguably the only pure “finisher” the Bruins possess on their roster. The first-round pick (24th overall) in 2014 has shown early signs that he could very well finish the season leading the club in scoring. His challenge will be to find the back of the net consistently and start converting on the chances he has created with his speed and smooth hands.
In addition, Julien must find a way to insert Pastrnak on the power play. The Bruins are one-for-six on the man advantage so far and his youngest forward was awarded a primary assist on Patrice Bergeron’s late consolation marker Saturday. The coaching staff has to find a place for their dynamic winger on the power play.
Pastrnak is arguably the Bruins’ best forward in the early going. He needs to be utilized more to create the offense Boston desperately needs.
Change Of Scenery For Connolly
Marchand’s injury also opens the door for Brett Connolly to move on up to the top-six.
The deadline day acquisition back in March has spent the first two games on the Bruins’ third-line with Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes. They have combined for no points and an ugly minus-12 rating through the first two games while allowing 82 shot attempts.
Connolly will now move up to play alongside Bergeron and Loui Eriksson on the second line until Marchand returns. This benefits the sixth-overall pick in 2010 twofold. First, he gets to play with two defensively responsible forwards who are better at protecting the puck. More importantly, Connolly will get more playing time to showcase the offensive abilities that made him a top-10 pick.
Some of the scoring responsibilities will fall on his shoulders as Pastrnak cannot be realistically expected to carry the offense in Marchand’s absence. Former general manager Peter Chiarelli gave up two second-round picks for Connolly in an attempt to spark the club offensively.
It is time for the right-winger to repay the faith shown in him by Don Sweeney and ease any fears about the Bruins presumed lack of offensive punch.
Of course, Pastrnak and Connolly cannot do it alone. It will have to be an overall team effort to generate enough offense to overcome their glaring weaknesses on the blue line.
The eventual return of captain Zdeno Chara will, in theory, stabilize the defense corps and restore a sense of parity to the blue line. The Bruins have allowed a staggering 10 goals in their first two games, resulting in offseason signing Matt Irwin being placed on waivers after a torrid beginning to his Boston career.
If the Black and Gold will not be able to generate a lot of goals, the defense will have to bear down and suffocate the opposition. Given the youth and inexperience at the position, it’s easier said than done.
Matt Beleskey is another name to watch for. The former Anaheim Duck scored a career-high 22 goals last season, earning him a five-year deal with the Bruins to inject some offense. He scored his first of the season on Saturday via a bank shot past Price. Beleskey will need to get himself into high traffic areas and continue to score those dirty goals.
The loss of Brad Marchand will not be an easy one to overcome. However, if the Bruins want to keep their heads above water in the playoff discussion early this year, they will have to step up or else it could be a long season on Causeway Street.