After an offday Thursday following their loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Bruins’ top two centers — Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci — missed practice Friday and coach Bruce Cassidy’s explanation for their absences was that they were “unfit to participate.”
Cassidy said he expected the issues to be short term and was certain they would be available Saturday.
Cassidy put goalie Jaroslav Halak in the same category as his two top-liners. With one game left Sunday against the Washington Capitals in the round-robin portion of the NHL restart, Cassidy admitted it was a bit frustrating not having his roster at full strength.
“We’re just going to coach through it and keep playing,” Cassidy said.
With Bergeron and Krejci out, Jack Studnicka and Trent Frederic skated with the first line while Par Lindholm and Ondrej Kase filled the hole in the second line. Cassidy had hoped to get Kase some reps with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk during practice but looked on the bright side.
“I look at it as the younger guys, if they’re forced in later for whatever reason, are getting reps with good players,” Cassidy said. “So there’s always a benefit. We look at kind of the glass-half-full side of it. We anticipate [Saturday] we’ll have our full group, but until we do then we’ll just keep trying to make it work.
“I’d like to see our group together, see what it looks like first of all, all together. But until that happens we’re just going to fit people in for practice or games if need be where I best think they can help us and go from there.”
Since returning to play last week, the Bruins haven’t looked like the team that ran away with the Presidents’ Cup before the league was shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic in March. They dropped their round-robin opener to the Flyers, 4-1 last Sunday, then fell to Tampa Bay 3-2. They’re still very much trying to find their rhythm.
“Obviously this whole training camp, we haven’t had lines together consistently,” Cassidy said. “I think everyone’s aware of that. I think it’s been discussed for different reasons. Will it affect us in the postseason? Time will tell.”
Seeding up for grabs
The Bruins came into the restart with a guaranteed playoff spot, but Sunday’s game will determine whether they go in as the third or fourth seed.
With a win, the Bruins would be the No. 3 seed and face the seventh-seeded Islanders. Otherwise, they would grab the No. 4 seed and face the sixth-seeded Hurricanes.
While the Bruins had hoped to use their first three games to regroup and prepare for a run at the Stanley Cup, Cassidy saw some upside in being in a situation with higher stakes.
“The approach going into this whole thing was get ready for the playoffs,” Cassidy said. “We had hoped that, hey, we could have a great start and use this game as a maintenance game if need be or see where we’re at in the seeding and all that stuff. It’s a little bit unpredictable not only for our position but who we’re going to play.”
“Yes, there is something at stake, I think that’ll make our players a little more focused. But I’ve said all along, the major part of their focus is on Game 1, our first postseason game.”
For defenseman Torey Krug, the goal for the round-robin finale is still to build momentum.
“Ultimately, I think no matter where you end up, you’re playing four pretty good teams,” Krug said. “In order to win the Stanley Cup, you’ve got to beat them all. The seeding isn’t too much of an issue for us. I think we’re just trying to focus on our game.”
Kase ready to go
Kase will see his first action since joining the team in Toronto last Saturday.
“We need him to play,” Cassidy said. “He’s going to go over the boards when it’s his turn and hopefully he can pick it up quick as he’s missed some time.”
As the Bruins look for a spark offensively, Kase could be an answer on the second line.
“He looks good,” Cassidy said. “He’s making some plays. He’s got some jump. I think the first three days were tough on him for obvious reasons. Now he’s been at it probably — I don’t want to speak out of turn — but I’ll say about a full week here. You can see he’s a little more natural just with everything he does.
“My expectation is he’ll have lots of energy, he’ll fight the puck a little like all our guys did early on their first game back because of the speed of the game that’s going on around them. You just can’t replicate that.”
Cassidy said he’ll keep a close eye on Kase’s minutes to make sure he doesn’t overextend, but he wants him to be aggressive.
“I anticipate he’ll get some shots,” Cassidy said. “He’s been doing that in practice. He thins shot first, so we could use some of that right now.”
Pastrnak piles up shots
The Bruins’ need to fire off shots wasn’t lost on David Pastrnak. In the loss to the Lightning, Pastrnak let 16 shots fly. He put five on goal and had nine blocked, and didn’t find the net. But the sheer volume was an indicator that he was returning to form after taking just five shots against the Flyers.
“That’s my job, to shoot the puck,” Pastrnak said. “So obviously from the past game, I haven’t done it. More so my main focus was put the puck on net. You know that’s one of the things that gets me going personally. It didn’t bounce our way, but I think overall the game against Tampa was pretty good.”
Cassidy stressed how important it will be for the line of Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Brad Marchand to be effective.
“Listen, that line hasn’t produced for us,” Cassidy said. “Typically when they don’t for extended periods of time, we’ll have trouble winning and that’s fair to say. The top of our lineup hasn’t been scoring much for us. That’ll have to change or we’ll have to defend better.”
The time off may have led to some rust in terms of structure, position, and support for each other away from the puck, which Cassidy said is understandable. What he knows about them, though, is that they look for solutions themselves, diving into film for answers.
“I don’t have a lot of worries about that No. 1 line finding their game,” Cassidy said. “I think they’ve proven in the past they can get it going in the playoffs and that’s what I think will happen.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.