When Bruins’ fans first saw the NHL’s intramural divisional schedule, there’s no doubt many of them figured they might get sick of seeing teams like the New Jersey Devils by the end of the season.
They just didn’t know exactly how much they’d hate seeing the sons of Lindy Ruff, and why.
When the B’s play their sixth game against the Devils on Tuesday, they will be looking for their first 5-on-5 goal of the season series and the first goal of any kind in the last 121:06 against Jersey.
While there were some encouraging signs of injured players taking steps forward in their rehabilitation at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday, it is still unknown which, if any, players currently out from injury or virus protocols will be available to turn the tide against the Devils, for whom the Bruins have provided nearly a quarter of their season wins (4 of 13).
With the number of important players out of the lineup right now, the B’s are no doubt in some semblance of water-treading mode, doing their best to keep their heads above the surface. Their 48 5-on-5 goals are the second fewest in the league, currently above only the historically bad Sabres. Still, they’ve given up only 48, allowing them to cling to a playoff spot.
Considering the circumstances, coach Bruce Cassidy, whose team had a four-game point streak snapped Sunday, said a crisis of confidence has not befallen his players.
“Not yet. We’re still getting points. Not as many as we’d like. We’re not going to sugarcoat it. Nobody is happy losing to New Jersey 1-0 the last two times and by a goal the previous time. Whoever the opponent is, we feel we can beat any team in this league. We’ve played well against some of the top teams. Not the Islanders but certainly Washington and Pittsburgh and Philly early in the year when they were winning,” said Cassidy on Monday.
Cassidy and his staff had begun the year trying to emphasize getting shots through from the blueliners, which has not worked particularly well, especially lately.
“We have a good group here. We’ll reset. Again, we’re going to look at some things we feel could help us score. We’ve done a lot of that this year. Obviously we haven’t found the magic formula yet,” said Cassidy. “Some of that is ‘What are we doing as a staff to help them?’ And some of that is their execution and their willingness to finish plays and get to the inside themselves. It’s a mix. We’re going to keep hammering away at it, maybe with forwards driving in a little more. We’ve been going low to high because teams have been collapsing. And (we’ve got to) recognize when we can go to the net ourselves as forwards. That’s where our experience is in scoring. So take it upon yourself a little more. That’ll be part of the message. Understand when there is no room. That’s when you use your D. We’re still figuring some things out.”
As Cassidy pointed out, the B’s could use some production from their proven commodities. David Pastrnak put 11 shots on net in the past two games, but he’s still looking to snap a three-game goal-less skid. Patrice Bergeron missed on a chance to add to his legend after scoring what appeared to be the equalizer on Sunday after having his nose enlarged by an inadvertent Trent Frederic elbow, but it was taken off the board for goalie interference. He hasn’t found the back of the net in seven games.
But a little boost from the kids wouldn’t hurt, either. Jack Studnicka, pegged to be a top six centerman at some point, has just 1-2-3 totals in 18 games this year. Anders Bjork had positive moments recently but has just 2-3-5 totals in 27 games. And Frederic, as valuable as he’s been in re-establishing a belligerence for this team, has not yet been able to seize the chance given to him when he was bumped up to the top line in Brad Marchand‘s absence. He was the only Bruin not to land a shot on net on Sunday.
“I thought he had some opportunities to attack and he deferred a little bit … so we’ll keep working on that part of his game to grow the offense and hope he brings the nastiness,” said Cassidy.
Frederic is not naturally a shoot-first player.
“Switching to wing you have more opportunity to go down the left side and you have more chances to shoot. Probably in the past I’ve always been in the middle kicking it out to those guys and not getting as many of those looks that I should probably be putting on net, I’d be looking to make a pass. I have to work on that and have that shot mentality,” said Frederic.
Studnicka has been considered the B’s top prospect for the past couple of years. His current role as fourth-line center may not fit him perfectly, but that’s how he’s in the lineup. It’s up to him to make something of it.
“I thought he did a decent job when the opportunity presented itself, but like a lot of young guys, when you’re opportunity comes, if you’re an offensive guy then you’ve got to play to your strengths and create a little bit. If you’re more of a PK or energy then you bring that element. That’s where he’s at right now,” said Cassidy. “I think he’s had some moments where he’s been pretty good for us and other moments where he can be better on the puck, stronger on pucks and create a little more. That’s where his game’s at right now and we’ll see where it leads down the road.”
Rask remains out
Tuukka Rask did not participate in the B’s optional practice on Monday. Cassidy doesn’t expect him to play this week and wasn’t willing to venture a guess when he’d be ready.
“I tried to speculate before on that, didn’t think there was much going on but obviously it was a more serious injury than we first anticipated. So no use going down that road till he’s in a full practice,” said Cassidy.
Sean Kuraly, who has been on the COVID protocol list since March 18, skated with assistant Kim Branvold prior to the practice. He remains on the list, however.
“I’m not completely clear on this, but guys are allowed as they get closer to the end to do some activity by themselves,” said Cassidy.
Marchand and Jake DeBrusk also remained on the list.
In the good news department, Brandon Carlo, who hasn’t played since suffering a head injury on March 5, and Kevan Miller, who hasn’t played since Feb. 18 because of recurring knee issues, both took part in the practice and took contact. Cassidy didn’t rule either player out for Tuesday, though he did not think Miller would be in the mix. Ideally, both players would be able to go through a couple of full practices, but those will be few and far between with this compacted schedule.
The Bruins Alumni announced that Bobby Schmautz died at the age of 76. Schmautz was an eight-time 20-goal scorer and was a member of the 1977-78 B’s team that had a record 11 20-goal scorers, including Schmautz, who had 27 that year.