Lost in the midst of the terrific start by the Celtics and the predictable run to first place in the AFC by the Patriots has been the Boston Bruins.
For the first month and change of the season, that was a really good thing, because no one needed to notice the B’s.
But now, the Bruins have actually demonstrated a pulse, and have recently made a run. Yes I get that winning four games in a row isn’t really that monumental of an accomplishment, but anyone who suffered through watching the first quarter of the season understands just what I mean. The only thing that the Bruins were legitimately good at this season was being completely maddening to the point where you questioned your sanity in spending time watching and following this team. Try writing about them too…
Yet if you look at the roster and the absurd amount of injuries – that won’t seem to end – the fact that the Bruins are currently just one point out of a playoff spot should be looked at as a pretty big deal.
The injuries may have actually been a blessing in disguise for the Bruins. Yes I know that sounds crazy. Again I write about the team… so yeah I’m not that sane. At all.
Bear with me here… get it? Bear. Bruins are bears.
Still questioning my sanity?
I believe that there has been some good that has come from having an entire season’s worth of injuries lumped on a team in the span of a few weeks.
First off, we really should have expected the crazy ups and downs of the first part of the schedule. This roster, which was a mix of veterans and young players, would always need some time to get acclimated with each other, which likely led to some spotty play early in the season. Seemingly after every game, there were a new slew of injuries and illnesses that caused lines to be shuffled and many players taking frequent trips from Providence to Boston. This constant influx of bodies led to some crazy line combinations, with some of them working and some being terrible fails.
The line shifting and jumbling of the roster may have turned out to be a good thing, because it showed the coaching staff and the organization who deserves to stay and who shouldn’t be seeing the ice once the team regains its health (whenever that may be).
Without the injuries, Danton Heinen would likely still be in Providence, while Jake DeBrusk could either be joining him there, relegated to the rafters as a healthy scratch, or getting little ice time after a rocky start to his NHL career. Joining Heinen and possibly DeBrusk in the AHL would be Peter Cehlarik, Matt Grzelcyk, and maybe Sean Kuraly if the Bruins were close to being 100% healthy right now. Those five players combined for six goals and eight assists during the winning streak, and had a combined +15 rating.
Unfortunately for the B’s, Cehlarik won’t be making a big impact in the near future, because he was added to the ever-growing list of injured players with a leg injury that may keep him sidelined for at least a month. Heinen, DeBrusk and Kuraly should all be safe to stay up if/when the Bruins’ stars get back into the lineup, while Grzelcyk is making a case to squeeze his way into regular action even when McQuaid comes back.
Conversely, there are guys who really haven’t done much with their opportunities and should be sent packing when the reinforcements hit. Frank Vatrano has done little to nothing all season long, and probably should have spent most of the year back in the minors, yet he has gotten chance after chance to make an impression. The only one he has made is that he stinks. Noel Acciari was out for a good portion of the season (shocking right?), but did not produce offensively and had a team-worst -3 rating during the B’s best stretch of hockey. Tim Schaller has also done little recently, but his veteran presence and penalty killing prowess would likely keep him in the starting lineup.
The injuries may also be good as we progress into the season, with less wear and tear on valuable forwards like Marchand and Krejci (and I guess Spooner but I’m still on the fence about him). While it would obviously be better to have Marchand, Krejci, Backes, Spooner, and McQuaid in the lineup from the start, this break in the action could be beneficial as players begin to wear down towards the end of the season.
With the young guns starting to impose their will on the team, it gives the Bruins time to integrate the injured players back into the roster. If guys aren’t totally ready to play, they don’t need to be rushed back because players like Heinen and DeBrusk have shown that they are more than capable of increased ice time and being bumped up onto the top lines. The four-game winning streak also took some pressure of the team as a whole, as tension was mounting around their spot in the standings even though the calendar still read November. 10-8-4 looks a lot better than 6-7-4, and there’s now no need to rush guys back to provide an offensive boost or to compensate for inconsistent play from their goaltender.
Speaking of Tuukka Rask, you can add the starting goalie to the list of well-rested players, since he was riding the pine for the entire four-game winning streak only to start on Sunday and have that streak miraculously end… but that’s a different topic for a different article. Just needed to bring that up.
Once the Bruins become fully healthy, they have a chance to take the league by storm, as their young players should have plenty of confidence, and many of their veterans will just be hitting their stride. In the second half, where some teams start to wilt and lose players, the B’s are now set up to succeed, and should have the legs and the youth to make a longer run than four games.
Maybe I’m crazy (well actually that’s not a maybe), but I think the pulse of the Bruins is going to be a lot quicker and stronger as the season progresses, with the injuries and the youth movement combining to become a strength instead of a weakness.
Written by: Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)