With the precarious nature of playing hockey in a pandemic, Bruins general manager Don Sweeney emphasized how important it will be to start strong.
Considering the goaltending, a strong forward group, and a healthy Brad Marchand, Sweeney sees core pieces that will keep the team together early on. Variables like health and availability, however, will inevitably test them as the year plays out.
“You can’t afford to go on a real dip and not get out of the gate,” Sweeney said. “If you’re chasing throughout the course of the year, there are going to be some challenges thrown our way whenever COVID rears its head at some point in time.”
A condensed training camp with no exhibition games made the run-up to Thursday’s start of the season trickier than usual. While Sweeney can see some continuity forming, there are also new faces still adjusting. Along with the 23-man roster, teams will be able to keep up to six players on a taxi squad.
“We hope to be in a position that if the player is playing well, but he’s on the taxi squad, that we’d be able to put him into the lineup,” Sweeney said. “But that might take some roster moves associated with that — what flexibility you have in either clearing players through waivers to get them to the taxi squad and/or some of the young players that don’t have to clear.”
Sweeney said Marchand, who had surgery in September for a sports hernia, should practice Wednesday after sitting out the past two days due to soreness. He’s expected to be available when the Bruins open against the New Jersey Devils.
“We always set up a goal for him to be there opening night,” Sweeney said. “We still expect that to happen, but we have to react with them how he’s feeling.”
Sweeney said he won’t start looking at a timetable for David Pastrnak’s return until February following his September hip surgery. Coach Bruce Cassidy said recently that Pastrnak, on the ice Tuesday doing non-contact work, was ahead of schedule.
“We’ll allow him to go through his progressions so our training staff — our entire medical group and the strength and conditioning side of it — can find out where he’s at and continue to increase his load overall as he goes through,” Sweeney said.
Pastrnak won’t travel with the team because of the limited number of available players.
“Unfortunately, he won’t be with us on the road to do some of those battle situations,” Sweeney said. “But we expect him to fully re-integrate into practice upon our return and then we’ll get a much better indication of where he is, sort of circling a date sometime in February.”
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Before the Bruins made Patrice Bergeron’s captaincy official last week, they had to have a little fun with him. In a video posted to Twitter, the Bruins showed a well-staged prank led by Sweeney, who stood in the middle of the locker room with team president Cam Neely and announced the team’s newest captain: Marchand.
Sweeney leaned into the bit, handing Marchand a jersey with a “C” stitched on the chest. A quick pan to Bergeron showed his eyes darting slightly, trying to figure out what was happening. But he said he figured it was a ruse the whole time.
“Honestly, I kind of knew it was a joke because of the fact that I spoke to Sweens and had a little conversation with them beforehand,” he said.
Bergeron said he knew what was going on once he spotted two jerseys. But if Marchand was tapped to be captain, he would’ve been happy for him.
“I wasn’t necessarily surprised either if that was the case, if Marchy was getting the captaincy,” Bergeron said. “So I was smiling because at the same time I saw both jerseys so I kind of read into it a little bit.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.