The holiday season is just around the corner, and all Bruce Cassidy wants for the time being is a clean bill of health. For now, the Bruins coach will have to settle on the injured players slowly returning to the lineup over the coming days, weeks, and months.
Not an easy task when trying to guide his team through some rough waters, none choppier than their latest three-game skid in which the Black and Gold suffered a slow start against the Rangers in Madison Square Garden last Wednesday and a Maple Leafs home-and-home sweep. Those three losses – two in regulation and one in overtime in Toronto after relinquishing a late lead in the third period – have put the Bruins back at .500 with a 6-6-4 mark.
It isn’t going to get much easier for the Black and Gold, either, as they embark on their annual trip to California starting on Wednesday in Anaheim against a Ducks team that is also going through their own problems with injuries. A rematch with the Kings – following the dramatic overtime ending in the first meeting back in Boston – follows the night after and a chance to sweep the Sharks comes on Saturday night.
While they might have David Krejci back during the next three games after missing the last several weeks due to an upper-body injury, the Bruins have seemingly been dealt another blow. Both Brad Marchand and Anders Bjork did not join their teammates aboard the five-plus hour flight as they were nicked up from Saturday’s 4-1 setback against the Leafs. Marchand and Bjork could join the team as the trip progresses.
Because of the injuries, the Bruins have been dealing with plenty of unknowns. Those injuries to key veterans like Krejci, Marchand, David Backes (diverticulitis), Ryan Spooner (groin), and Adam McQuaid (lower body), combined with the rookies in the lineup like Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and Charlie McAvoy (to name a few), have put the Bruins in an early hole.
Though he may not see the rough start as an identity crisis, Cassidy, obviously, would prefer to help the team establish a mentality to being tough to play against. Instead, he’s been forced to shuffle his lineup to be top heavy – as seen with his top line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak – which hasn’t helped in the growth of some of the young Bruins.
“We know we’ve got some consistency issues for young players,” Cassidy said in his postgame press conference following Saturday’s loss to Toronto. “We know that going into the game. It’s up to us as a staff to figure out early on, ‘Okay, who’s going, maybe who needs [to be] pulled back a little bit tonight.’ Sometimes, you know, you find out the hard way. I guess that’s the challenge you have, and you’re just hoping everyone will be consistent, and it’s a big ask for a young group, but that’s what we want, and we’re sticking with it.”
In an ideal world, the Bruins would stick with their young group as the veterans heal up. Sooner or later, however, general manager Don Sweeney may have to look elsewhere for reinforcements.
With 16 points, the Bruins enter the upcoming week in 14th place in the Eastern Conference standings. Though the Bruins and Maple Leafs were the exception in the East last year, teams who are in the top eight by the end of Thanksgiving have historically made the playoffs more often than not.
The Bruins will likely be on the outside looking in of a playoff spot post-Turkey Day. They may be getting some bodies back soon. As Bob McKenzie noted on NBCSN last week, Sweeney, while actively pursuing the trade market – most likely for a left-shot defenseman or top-six forward – would like to wait to evaluate his squad until the likes of Backes, McQuaid, Spooner and Krejci return.
Once again, the Black and Gold will have to work with what they have in one of their more important weeks of the young season. From getting off to a better start to closing out games, minimizing mistakes and getting the power play back on track, the Bruins need to get results and play to their identity out west. Otherwise, their hole is only going to get deeper.
“It’s on us,” Bergeron said, “we’ve got to be better, bottom line.”