The Bruins are in a fix right now, and general manager Don Sweeney doesn’t have answers within easy reach. It’s possible the answers don’t exist.
The Black and Gold lost again Tuesday night, leaving them 3-5-2 in their last 10 games.
Their reservoir of offensive confidence, early in the season wider and deeper than the Atlantic Ocean, has gone drier than the Sea of Tranquility. Which also aptly describes their sleepy attack around the net.
Three of their better blue liners — including the top-four likes of Jeremy Lauzon and Brandon Carlo — will be sidelined not for days, but weeks.
Once the division leaders, the Black and Gold slipped to the No. 4 hole in the East with Tuesday night’s 2-1 loss on Long Island. They awoke in the morning with only a 1-point lead over the Flyers for what could take shape as a tussle for the final playoff seed in the MassMutual mixer.
Who would have thought it possible?
What to do about it?
Sweeney, now nearly six years in the corner office, is the one charged with having the answers. During a 20-minute Zoom news conference Wednesday, the former Bruins backliner sounded appropriately glum, suitably dissatisfied … and equally without an immediate remedy.
“Our group has played well, but not quite good enough,” said Sweeney, “and the scoring has been the Achilles’ heel up to this point. Hopefully we can find [help] from within, or I’ll have to make a move to bring in support.”
Sweeney has never been at this particular juncture during his tenure, dealing with a lineup going the wrong way as the trade deadline (April 12) approaches. What he has today is a club still with a very talented veteran core, but also one that looks tired, offensively stymied, and not with bodies that could provide a rescue.
Sweeney typically has been in a position of strength come deadline time. Not now. Not with the backline battered and forwards 4 through 12 offering little in support of top dogs Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.
Ondrej Kase? One of last year’s key deadline acquisitions is not expected back soon. The GM envisioned a No. 2 line this season anchored by David Krejci, with Kase (RW) and Jake DeBrusk (LW) helping to lead the way with secondary scoring.
As of today, with the Rangers in town to begin a two-game set, Krejci is without a goal (0-11—11), DeBrusk has tallied once (1-4—5) and was scratched Tuesday, and Kase (0-0—0) hasn’t been seen since the Trump administration (Game 2, Jan. 16).
“It’s a problem, throughout your lineup,” said Sweeney, noting the overall disruption of a Line 2 gone kaput. “[Kase] is back on the ice, but there’s zero timetable for when he returns
As for the three injured defensemen:
▪ On Lauzon: “He is back on the ice and he’ll continue to keep his legs. It was always a 4-6 [week] timeline and we’ll evaluate that in four weeks and hopefully he is on the shorter side of that.” Lauzon suffered a hand fracture Feb. 21.
▪ On Kevan Miller: “Back on the ice. Had a setback from a volume standpoint, which we probably expected, but he is making some strides.” Miller returned this season after missing all 2019-20 with a twice-fractured kneecap.
▪ On Carlo: “No timeline there. He feels better but is not back on the ice, and until that happens, we won’t have any indication what direction he’s headed.” Carlo was concussed Friday by Tom Wilson’s head shot.
Meanwhile, coach Bruce Cassidy has continued to shuffle the parts. Displeased with DeBrusk’s compete level, he sent the fourth-year winger to the press box Tuesday in a matchup against the division leaders.
Not a good look for a kid who should have figured out day-to-day grind and commitment in the first three years on campus. He could be on Sweeney’s shopping list.
Cassidy also recently has scratched Sean Kuraly (back Tuesday vs. the Islanders), moved Nick Ritchie off the No. 1 power play, juggled the line fits for rookies Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka, and otherwise churned the personnel the way a stockbroker shuffles equity holdings in search of a better return.
None of it has worked. In the seven recent losses (five in regulation), the Bruins put but 10 pucks in the net and allowed 23 goals (not counting shootouts). The name of the game is scoring, and the Bruins right now are a bunch of no-names.
It’s possible that Sweeney, before pulling or forcing a deal, will summon the likes of Zach Senyshyn or Jakub Lauko, both wingers, from AHL Providence. They may not be ready for NHL duty, but readiness soon could be a factor the varsity will have to dismiss.
Defenseman Jack Ahcan, signed out of St. Cloud State last spring, could be another long-shot addition. He has all but a month of AHL play to his credit, and he is small (5 feet 8 inches), but he has a bit of moxie that the lineup can use, front to back.
Oddly, going into the year, the focus was whether a re-engineered backline, with newbies Jakub Zboril and Lauzon, could keep pace, carry the load. When healthy, they proved fine. But beyond the big line, the forwards have been the ones proven not to be ready for prime time. The three big forwards have scored 32 goals and all other forwards, 15 in total, have chipped in with 27.
It’s all upside-down, going nowhere, recovery options few.
Just to make a deal, Sweeney could be left to ponder something such as, say, DeBrusk to Calgary for Sam Bennett (3-1—4 in 23 games), who was the No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft when he was projected as a stud center. A left-shot pivot, he could anchor a fourth line, shifting Kuraly to a wing, and maybe … maybe something begins to click.
Hardly the stuff that inspires. But that’s where the Bruins are at this hour of the 56-game season: try a kid or two, or take a shot before the trade counter closes.