Their backline a 6′s and 7′s shambles due to injury, and their 5-on-5 scoring delivering next to nothing all season, it doesn’t take an analytics major to figure out where the Bruins need help ahead of the NHL’s Monday (3 p.m.) trade deadline.
Following their embarrassing 8-1 shellacking at the hand of the Capitals Sunday night, the Bruins picked up some relief help on the backline, acquiring veteran Mike Reilly from the Senators for a third-round draft pick in 2022.
Reilly, 27, and a lefthand shot, should slot in as immediate help on the second or third defensive pairing. In 40 games with the Senators, he established a career high in assists (19) and logged an average 18:36 in ice time. A bonafide NHLer, he should benefit a bedraggled defensive corps that Sunday night saw three rookies, including Jack Ahcan, forced to contend with Washington’s massive firepower.
The Capitals, by the way, entered the night ranked No. 1 for 5-on-5 scoring with 100 goals. And then bumped it to 105. With ease.
Up front, where the likes of David Pastrnak and Charlie Coyle have been as quiet as the MyPillow sleep lab of late, the Black and Gold could desperately use a bigger body with some moxie at touch to help beef up the 5-on-5 striking power.
If the Bruins somehow can eke into the Cup semis, it’s hard to envision the current bunch of forwards, with only 63 goals at 5-on-5 all season, cracking inside on, say, the likes of the Lightning, the defending Cup champs, who went out Saturday and added the reliable David Savard (ex-Columbus) to their backline strongbox.
“Net presence, size, righthander,” Bolts coach Jon Cooper said in his Saturday night Zoom presser after swapping for Savard, a 10-year vet. “I think it’s a really good add for our squad — he’s a gamer.”
Added Cooper: “We needed to add depth on the back end, and we have got the top prize out there.”
Until late Sunday eve, Boston GM Don Sweeney, who pulled off at least one deal each of his previous five deadlines, had delivered on par with his club’s 5-on-5 scoring. Reilly, who also can help out on the power play (where he logged four assists this year), is by no means a major get. But he has experience (244 career games with the Wild, Habs, and Senators), much needed experience.
Prior to Sunday night, Sweeney’s only add had been spare part defenseman Jarred Tinordi, acquired as a waiver castaway from Nashville at the end of February. The 6-foot-6-inch Tinordi drew into a backline six pack Sunday as a touch of Krazy Glue, part of a corps that also included rookies Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, and Ahcan.
Everyone expected there would be on-the-job training this season on the blue line, but all the injuries back there have made it a crash course in survival. Combined, the entire Boston backline Sunday boasted NHL experience totaling 500 regular season games, and nearly half of that modest sum belonged to Steve Kampfer (223). The other five averaged 55 games, including Ahcan, playing the second game of his career.
Alex Ovechkin, he of 727 career goals to start the night, played in his 1,191st game. The Great Ovie can, and often does, ring up inexperienced defensemen like cash-heavy Vegas slot machines ready to spit out those digital silver dollars.
Not to mention, Bruins rookie goalie Dan Vladar was in net for only his fifth regular-season game. He gave up all eight goals, though not one of them was initialed “A.O.”
Sweeney, as per his standard operating procedure, was not available for comment the day before the deadline. A member of the communications staff noted late Sunday morning the GM will talk Monday, at approximately 4 p.m.
Coach Bruce Cassidy said in his morning Zoom presser that he was part of organizational discussions some 10 days ago that included “sort of spitballing on where we could be better … and then what’s available becomes up to Donny … I have no idea what the asking prices are —who’s sellers, who’s not.”
“Like everyone else,” added Cassidy, “I can guess … but I don’t get too involved in that.”
The first month of the season, when Cassidy had a healthy bunch of six defensemen, led by No. 1 Charlie McAvoy, the Bruins looked as if they could challenge all season for the top spot in the NHL East. The picture grew even brighter when Pastrnak, his return delayed by off-season hip surgery, came in with stick a blazin’ (5-2—7 in his first three games). Pasta as of Sunday morning had but 6 points (2-4—6) in his last 10 games.
The injuries piled up in back. The 5-on-5 scoring, a flatline the first month, has barely shown a blip through 12 weeks. The power play, ranked among the top three for the first month, stood a decent No. 9 (23.3 percent) as of Sunday morning, but was in search of reclaiming its Conor McGregor billionaire strut.
Truth is, what has kept the Bruins clinging to the No. 4 playoff seed in the East has been their oft-flawless penalty killing, which carried a league-best kill rate of 87.1 percent into the Capitals game. If not for the PK, Sweeney today could be in sell mode rather than in search of shoring up all the old familiar places. PK or bust, though, isn’t the way to win a Cup.
What we are seeing here is the annual spring exercise, albeit framed differently now with the Bruins not positioned as serious Cup contenders as they were in the springs of ’18, ’19 and ’20.
The Bruins need help as noted above, at the very same spots we always talk about here incessantly, but the lack of results since mid-February have made clear it’s a roster not within, say, a Rick Nash, or a Marcus Johansson-Coyle duo of shimmying into the thick of a Cup race.
What we have instead is a team fighting to stay above the playoff DNQ line, very much challenged to trade goals evenly at 5-on-5, and perhaps simply too chewed up on the backline, even with Reilly aboard, to expect that the training and medical staff can provide a promising, sustainable late kick.
The hours grow few. The dream remains alive, though it feels far more a fantasy at trade deadline ’21.
“I put in my opinion when asked,” noted Cassidy. “Otherwise, as far as I’m concerned, we’re coaching the guys that are here.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.