Photo Credit: Lisa Gansky
The NHL season is just about a quarter of the way complete, my boys in Black and Gold are doing… well, okay I suppose. The Bruins own an 8-7-4 record (20 points) and sit in fifth place in a top-heavy Atlantic division. Not an ideal start to the season, but when I consider the elephant in the room, I’ll surely take it. The elephant here being, of course, the injuries. I hate to make injuries seem like an excuse for average play in any sport, but in this case it’s pretty hard to make a claim to the contrary.
The Bruins have lost Patrcie Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Torey Krug, Noel Acciari, Adam McQuaid, David Backes, Ryan Spponer, Anders Bjork, Tuukka Rask, and Anton Khudobin for varying numbers of games this season (with Krecji, McQuaid, and Backes each missing significant time). In the last two weeks, the Bruins have sent out on to the ice a lineup that, were it not for their few healthy vets, could probably be mistaken for an AHL roster. It’s just bad luck. The injury bug bites one team the hardest every year, and it looks like Boston is that team so far.
Now, their record doesn’t say much other than this team is remarkably average. But I do give this squad credit. Coach Bruce Cassidy has the Bruins competing in these games despite being decimated by injuries, and has managed to win a few games with a team comprised of mostly third- and fourth-line guys (case in point, this recent West Coast Road trip). But on the whole, Boston has often been out-manned and outclassed by opponents. Buried in their average record is a winless record in six games against Eastern Conference foes. And unless a) they get real healthy, real quick, or b) these call-ups start playing out of their minds, I worry the next few weeks could be a tough stretch for a team that is struggling to gather any type of momentum, especially given incoming opponents such as New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Tampa Bay.
But let’s not sound the alarm just yet. The season is still young, and given the injuries at every position it’s hard to tell what the Boston really has here. With that said, the following are my main takeaways from the first few weeks of the Bruins season:
The Kids Can Play
GOD IS THIS REFRESHING. The Bruins may be .500, but seeing young guys like Anders Bjork and Charlie McAvoy fly around out there is a sight for sore eyes. For those of you who watched this team under former coach Claude Julien, you (like myself) may not remember what it’s like to watch newbies play significant minutes. Under Claude, guys like David Pastrnak would see 11 minutes a game, or less if God forbid they turned the puck over once in the neutral zone. But not anymore. Whether it’s out of preference or necessity, Cassidy has given ample playing time to rookies including McAvoy (2 G, 8 A), Bjork (3 G, 6 A), Jake DeBrusk (4 G, 5 A), and Danton Heinen (4 G, 6 A). And while production has not been off the charts for these guys, they all have been able to contribute for a team that sorely lacks depth at scoring. More importantly, they are getting the chance to develop. To learn from guys like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron, and get their beaks wet in a season where fan expectations are relatively low. If the Bruins can end up making a run at the seventh or eighth playoff spot in the East, great. But in the long view, the most important thing to come out of this season may very well be the grooming of the Bruins young core. The kids can play, so keep on playing ’em.
Thank Goodness For… Anton Khudobin?
That’s right, Dobby has been a silent savior of the team to this point. In seven starts, the backup goaltender owns a crisp 5-0-2 record with a 2.17 GAA and a .936 save percentage. His numbers are strikingly better than starter Tuukka Rask, and although this will even out in time, it still shows that Kudobin is a capable backup who can handle a good 20-25 starts. This is critical as the season progresses for Rask in particular, as his numbers tend to slide the more he is worked. Ideally, Khudobin can hold his own this year and leave Tuukka a comfortable 55-60 starts as opposed to the 64 he made a season ago. And so far, Khudobin looks up to the task. Keep it up Dobby.
Anton Khudobin channeled his inner Timmy Thomas last night in Denver. pic.twitter.com/qcFQN8cCtd
— The Goalie Guild (@TheGoalieGuild) October 12, 2017
Pastrnak Has a Chance to Lead
David Pastrnak is one of the few Bruins top-six forwards who has actually been healthy this season. With Bergeron and Marchand missing time at different points, Pastrnak had received plenty of minutes on Boston’s top line and first power play unit. He has answered the call offensively with a team-leading 10 goals, and is currently second on the team in assists. With that said, his game has room for improvement. The slick and creative Pastrnak is still turnover prone, with 17 giveaways this season (several of which have directly lead to goals). He needs to minimize the unforced errors, especially in the transition through the neutral zone. At points he tries to do too much, which is understandable, I suppose, given the lack healthy bodies so far this season. But Pastrnak has a chance here to lead by example for less-experienced teammates, and that starts by making the smart play at the right time. Whether it’s the safer breakout pass or defensive pinch, if Pasta can round out the rest of his game to match his offensive brilliance, the 21-year old will put himself on the path to a leadership role on the team alongside the likes of Bergeron, Marchand, and Chara.
David Pastrnak is filthy? pic.twitter.com/V34nMflJKH
— Tommy Curtin (@tcurtin_15) October 21, 2017