Bruins fortunes back on the upside after solid win.
The NHL season is an up and down affair throughout an 82 game schedule. It’s easy to get caught up in a team’s day-to-day or game-by-game highs and lows. Take the Boston Bruins, for example; before Monday’s matinee against the NHL’s top team in the standings, the Colorado Avalanche, the Bruins seemed on their way to the lower floors of the NHL’s 32 story high-rise.
On Saturday, Boston struggled to beat the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa, a 3-2 overtime win. A two-game stint in New York saw them lose to the Islanders on Thursday 4-1, after falling to the Rangers 2-1 in a shootout on Tuesday. Before that, they beat the Senators 2-0 in Ottawa on the previous Saturday.
But a 2-1-1 stretch, on the road, without one of the league’s best players (Brad Marchand serving his 6-game suspension), while also having just one home game squeezed in between that trip and the next one, a West Coast trip shouldn’t have the sky is falling feel to it. That certainly changed on Monday.
The Bruins attacked the Avalanche from the opening puck drop, keeping the high-powered Colorado attack neutral and capitalizing on the opportunities that arose from their forechecking. When the Avalanche could get going, they ran into Jeremy Swayman (28 saves).
Boston’s rookie netminder had a more leisurely day than Colorado’s Darcy Kuemper. Still, an offense featuring Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Nazem Kadri, and Cale Makar isn’t a casual day at the office. Kuemper faced 45 shots and missed five of them as the Bruins fired on all cylinders in a 5-1 win.
“I think it was the best game of the year, if were talking a full game, sixty minutes,” said Bruins winger David Pastrnak of the win. “We stayed in the moment, we were really energized. It was a great win for us. A big two points.”
Pastrnak had two goals in the win, giving him 27 on the season, and 19 since January 4.
The Bruins’ “woes” began with a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on February 8 at TD Garden. Patrice Bergeron was injured, and Marchand lost his nerve punching Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry in the head. Bergeron would miss three games, while Marchand would miss the next six.
The only doozy of a game in the recent stretch came against the Carolina Hurricanes, who have the Bruins number this season. Carolina blanked a listless Bruins team 6-0. (What one would expect from the Bruins without Bergeron and Marchand.) The Hurricanes are 3-0 against Boston and have outscored the Bruins 16-1 in the three games with that win.
This game was the proverbial throw away the tape and forget about it type of game.
Monday’s 5-1 win over the visiting Avalanche was a statement game. It was the Bruins’ most complete game. And it’s the one that Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will be saving for later in the season, if/when the team needs it.
“You know those videos you throw in the trash can?” said Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy. “This is one you keep. There’s going to be a lot of clips we’re going look back at a month from now and say ‘Hey, this is where all five guys were involved in the forecheck, forwards were covering for the D.’ Etc. so there’s going to be some really good teaching moments in this one.”
Monday was the last game of Marchand’s suspension. Adding him back into the mix can only continue to send the Bruins to the higher floors.
“We’ll welcome him back and we’ll be better off for it,” said Cassidy. “We’ll be a better team when you put a guy like him back in your line-up.”
Add to that that Boston has begun to find solid line combinations that have produced offensively. Marchand and Bergeron are among the most productive duos over the last decade and are the sheave and motor that power the Bruins elevator. Bergeron will probably center Marchand and Jake DeBrusk if Cassidy chooses to keep Craig Smith with the reunited and rejuvenated “numerical line” of Trent Frederic, Smith, and Charlie Coyle (numbers 11, 12, & 13), which have been productive at both ends of the ice.
The Hall and Pastrnak second line has been clicking, for the most part, since the calendar flipped to 2022. Erik Haula will probably return to center those two. That would be three solid lines.
The fourth line will consist of Tomas Nosek centering a combination of Curtis Lazar, Anton Blidh, Jack Studnicka, Oskar Steen, and Nick Foligno. Nosek has been, as advertised, a solid two-way center that will win face-offs and help on the penalty kill. Blidh, Steen, and Studnicka are coming into their own and can be an integral part of a fourth line.
Foligno has dealt with injuries a few times this season. He looked slow and had trouble clearing the Bruins defensive zone on multiple shifts. He’s going to get his minutes because he’s a veteran, but he shouldn’t. He should be the odd man out.
“We’d like to keep that together. Someone’s probably going to be unhappy,” Cassidy said when asked about how the lines may change with Marchand back for Thursday’s game against the Kraken. “Someone’s going to have to get moved around. It’s just the way it is. We’ll sort through that when we practice Wednesday in Seattle. We’ll put together the best plan as possible and see where it goes.”
The following six games will see the Bruins face the 30th overall Kraken and the .500 San Jose Sharks. They will travel to Los Angeles to play two wild-card teams, the Kings and Ducks. Then Sin City is the destination for a tilt against the Golden Knights before wrapping up in Columbus against the Blue Jackets on March 5.
The Bruins are 2-2 against four of the six. They have yet to face the Kings and Blue Jackets. They’ve beaten the Kraken and Sharks and lost to the Ducks and Golden Knights all at TD Garden. The Kings and Ducks will be back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday of next week, followed by the Vegas game on Thursday. That’s the heart of the trip right there; those three games are the measuring stick.
The Bruins are the better team overall. None are ahead of the Bruins in standings, not that that matters, but the West Coast trip is always a good barometer of where the team stands.
When they return home for a three-game stretch, on which floor will the Bruins be? Will Monday’s performance be the catalyst? Tune-in to find out.