The trade deadline is a week from Monday. The playoffs start in about six weeks. A few experienced hands may soon to return to the lineup.
For several young Bruins hoping to be a part of the playoff push, show-me time is now.
Coach Bruce Cassidy did not make changes to his lineup before Thursday’s 4-1 loss to the Penguins, which meant another shot for the down-the-order players he said lacked energy and sharpness in Tuesday’s jittery win over the Devils: forwards Karson Kuhlman, Trent Frederic, Zach Senyshyn and Anton Blidh, and defenders Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril and Connor Clifton.
After being called out by name, each one followed it up with a forgettable game.
Cassidy’s name-check Tuesday night “lights a fire under us, for sure,” Kuhlman said before puck drop of a group that, on a player-per-player basis, averaged about a half-season’s worth of NHL experience.
“We all know what we’re here for. “We want to help this team win. I think all three of us on our line [Blidh-Frederic-Kuhlman] know what we’ve got to do to help the team night in, night out. Now it’s just a matter of executing that.”
That line tailed off after a few energetic shifts early on, and while Blidh (seven hits) and Senyshyn (six) led the hit parade, they were often chasing the play. The age-25-and-under defenders, particularly Lauzon, had a rougher time.
Lauzon, whose giveaways hampered the Bruins against the Devils Tuesday, submitted another tough night. He took a momentum-stunting interference penalty after his shot was blocked and broken out by the Penguins. In the second, he didn’t move his feet quickly enough to stop Penguins defenseman Mike Matheson, who blew his doors off for a highlight-reel, breakaway goal.
Unless he’s willing to give the youngsters a longer leash, Cassidy may have lineup changes to make for Saturday’s game. Jarred Tinordi and Steven Kampfer are on the sidelines waiting. Brandon Carlo’s upper-body injury — he left the game after the first period — may play a factor.
The Bruins have options up front. Chris Wagner (healthy scratch), Jack Studnicka and Greg McKegg are waiting in the wings. Sean Kuraly, now off the COVID list, skated before the game with Ondrej Kase (not seen since knocking his head Jan. 16). Jake DeBrusk, still stuck in COVID purgatory, skated on his own. How soon Kuraly, who has missed six games, and DeBrusk (five) could contribute is unclear. Cassidy clarified Kase’s status this week by mentioning that “anything he gives you is gravy.”
A trade for help, be it anywhere in the lineup, is a possibility. But the Bruins will be in a much better place if the young players getting a chance prove they can hack it.
Cassidy said players generally understand their place on the roster, and what might prevent them from moving up. Much of the rest is up to them.
“When a player comes to me and is like, ‘What’s going on?’ It’s like, ‘You’re in the lineup ahead of a player that may have helped us get to the Stanley Cup, and got injured along the way,” Cassidy said. “He was a valuable player for us. There’s some loyalty there. But we feel you might give us a better chance to win, so you have to do your part.’ Those messages certainly go out to the players.”
When it goes public, it isn’t new information.
“I don’t think any player or any person in general wants to get called out through the media,” he said. “Everything you’ve heard, typically, I’d say 95 percent of the time has gone through the players’ ears. It’s been addressed: why, what the expectation is, and sometimes I’m asked a question and I’ll answer about specific players, right or wrong.”
One player seemingly putting it together: Anders Bjork.
Right now, the Bruins don’t view him as a high-producing forward. Could he chip in more offense when he gains a better understanding of the league, and his own game? Yes.
“I think some of that is instinct,” Cassidy said. “You can look at different scenarios all you want, or video — goal scorers just separate themselves. I think it’s a natural ability. That’s kind of where he’s lacked a little bit the last few games. Charlie Coyle’s been around the front of the net, with some good looks, too. Hopefully they start going in.”
Bjork and Coyle, who opened the night with Senyshyn on the third line, were generating chances. Cassidy pointed to one from Tuesday’s game against New Jersey. With the puck on the penalty kill, Bjork had a chance to use his leverage for a backhand chance while being defended by the smaller, 19-year-old Jack Hughes. He settled for a bad-angle forehand.
After a word from the coaches, “sure enough, the next penalty kill he tracked down Hughes and stripped him, and then got inside and was all alone with the goaltender,” Cassidy said. Devils goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood used his 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound frame to deny Bjork’s stickhandling.
“Maybe he needs to keep going across the crease there and get Blackwood to open up,” Cassidy said, “because he’s such a big guy, and then shoot.”
Penguins without Malkin
The Penguins were without centers Evgeni Malkin, who missed his eighth game in a row, and Teddy Blueger (nine in a row). Without Malkin on the power play half-wall over the last seven games, the Penguins were 7 of 20 (35 percent) … The Bruins are 4-2-1 in their last six, 7-5-3 in their last 15 … Charlie McAvoy and Nick Ritchie were minus-3 … Jaroslav Halak is likely to start Saturday against the Penguins, with Tuukka Rask (upper body) still out.