Creating Depth on the Bruins’ Bench
It was a smile you don’t quite see often, but after Saturday night’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes, one could not blame Coach Cassidy. His Boston Bruins beat the ‘Canes 7-1; a blowout game that saw the black and gold score five goals in the first period alone. With all the recent buzz about the youth movement for the Bruins, it was the Bergeron line that reminded everyone just how dangerous they were. As the night went on, it was becoming clear that this team, and its players, are the real deal.
“They were fun to watch when they got puck possession.. It’s amazing to watch Bergy get a shot off from there. But if you’re at Warrior enough, you’ll see him working every morning skate to getting that quick release”.
As the schedule is nearing the halfway point, the Bruins will be looking to continue their recent winning streak. With Saturdays’ win, the black and gold continue to embarrass teams. They are outscoring their opponents 42-12, and are riding an eleven game point streak. The first line alone garnered twelve points from the Hurricanes game. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak produced five goals with seven assists. Bergeron, a future hall of fame inductee, scored four goals. He also nabbed his 700th career point-a personal reminder of how good he really is. The thing about this year’s Bruins team is that no matter which line is out on the ice, you know that you’re going to see some good hockey.
HAVING SOME FUN
The Boston Bruins have always prided themselves as being a blue-collar team; a team that was once the “Big Bad Bruins”. But as things change in the NHL, the Bruins also had to change. The days of using brute force are gone. The players today rely more on pure skill and working hard towards one goal: winning the Stanley Cup. But for the Bruins, there was panic early on. With every game came new injuries, and with new injuries Coach Bruce Cassidy had to make important roster changes; especially if he didn’t want his team to fall far behind. As the season wore on, the Bruins somehow managed to stay afloat and reached third or fourth in the Atlantic Division-something extraordinary if you think about how depleted this team was early in the season.
But then something happened. This team started to get their legs. You saw young players like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen, and Charlie McAvoy score their first NHL goals. The veterans were helping these young players, which in turn helped them with their gameplay. The Boston Bruins were finally becoming a healthy team, creating noise around the league. They were quickly becoming a bunch of guys that love playing with each other and connecting on and off the ice. With each win, the confidence of the Bruins continues to flourish. As Brad Marchand put it:
“ We are just confident right now.. you see the way that some young guys are stepping up, it just seems like everyone is connecting..we’ve got a great group of guys in the room and we all get along really well.”
RAISING THE BAR
Overcoming injuries early in the season created a problem for the Boston Bruins. With key veteran players such as Brad Marchand, David Backes, David Krejci and enforcer Adam McQuaid out, a call to Providence was imminent. For the defense, the Bruins once again looked to Charlie McAvoy. A hard-nosed first-year player, McAvoy is not only scoring winning goals, but has quickly become one of the leagues most formidable defensemen. As the young players began to find their identity on the ice, key players slowly started to emerge as unlikely superstars, especially Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly. For Coach Bruce Cassidy, finding that right combination of players was proving to be a tough task. And for some veteran players, confidence was starting to wane.
PROTECTING THE NET
The Bruins’ starting goalie Tuukka Rask had a very shaky start. Analysts were starting to worry that the Vezina winner wouldn’t be able to bounce back. As losses piled up, Rask’s save percentage dipped down to .870, a far cry from his 2015 stat of .927. Consequently, Cassidy had to find a way to get his number one starter confident again: creating competition.
Enter Anton Khudobin. The 31-year-old Kazakhstan goalie would be given a chance to play between the pipes and perhaps give Rask a much-needed realization that if his numbers continued to suffer, so would his goaltending chances. With Khudobin in net, the tide started to slowly change for the Bruins. As a “goalie controversy” gained steam in the media, all eyes were on Khudobin. Questions were asked: would the Bruins trade Rask and how worried should the team be about their number one starter? With Anton in net, the Bruins would enjoy a four-game winning streak.
Rask needed this motivation. Not only has the 30-year-old Finnish goalie begun winning games, the team that played in front of him were starting to gain some steam. Both Tuukka and Anton are currently boasting impressive numbers, with Rask 11-0-1 in his last twelve games, 1.20 GAA with a .962 save percentage. Khudobin, since Saturday’s win, is now boasting a .964 SV%. For Bruce Cassidy, no longer would he have to rely solely on Rask, he now has a solid back up goalie in Anton Khudobin.
With continued injuries plaguing the team, it was now time for the young players to step up. From recent efforts, the call to arms has been answered. Having players like David Krejci, Adam McQuaid and Ryan Spooner out, the lines had to be tweaked. At first the Bergeron line had himself, Marchand, and newcomer Anders Bjork. The second line saw the pairing of fellow Czech players David Krejci and newly signed superstar David Pastrnak. But as Krejci continued to sit out due to his nagging injury, the lines have, needless to say, changed. For this Bruins team, those changes have worked to their advantage. One impressive feat: in the last 38 games played, the Bergeron line has not given up a 5 on 5 goal.
The fourth line that sees Sean Kuraly, Tim Schaller and Noel Acciari finished with a combined 8 shots on goal, (2 of which were part of the 5 goals scored vs. the Islanders), and ended with a combined +5 rating. Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Spooner, and a now healthy David Krejci all posted goals when playing against the Senators. For the Heinen, Nash and Backes line, scoring has now become second nature; posting two goals during Tuesday’s game against the Islanders. As goaltender Tuukka Rask puts it,
“They give us energy. They’re just buzzing around and making hits, making plays. You need four lines in this league nowadays to contribute and lately, we’ve had that”.
THE ROAD AHEAD
With last night’s thrilling game against a well-rested Pittsburgh Penguins, Bruins fans saw a team that had goals from each line. Players Ryan Spooner, Noel Acciari, David Backes, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak all scored to bring the Bruins up 5-3 during the second period. Despite the loss in overtime, one thing was clear: you can never count this team out. The Bruins have now become the “dark horse”, frustrating and breaking the spirits of their opponents. With each game comes the question; which line will be the one to shut their opponents down, shoot the puck and win faceoffs?
As teams head into their bye week, the Bruins to keep up the pace in the second half of the season. For the black and gold, clinching a spot in the playoffs is the ultimate goal. And having a team with so many skilled, hungry players has become a “luxury” for Coach Bruce Cassidy; a luxury that the fans have been waiting for.