The Bruins put up a fair fight Thursday night on Long Island. Futile, but fair.
Such has been the ridiculous battle they’ve waged in what fast turned into their COVID hurt locker. It was the same senseless fight it appeared the NHL would have them wage this weekend with scheduled stops Saturday night in Montreal and Sunday afternoon in Ottawa — until the league announced early Friday morning the game in Montreal was postponed.
As of Friday night, Sunday’s game remained on the board. But it should be scrubbed. The Bruins had no business being on the ice Thursday night in Elmont, N.Y.
“I had no issue with the effort,” said coach Bruce Cassidy following his undermanned squad’s 3-1 loss to the Isles. “I thought our guys came to play. I’d say after the first 10 minutes, we were on our toes much better.”
Cassidy then added a pertinent short list of impingements, not excuses, but the extenuating circumstances that, in part, developed around his squad being without the services of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Craig Smith, and others when the puck was dropped.
Because of the mounting number of players entering COVID protocol, the Bruins opted out of their travel routine Wednesday and instead flew on the morning of the game to Long Island. The itinerary, which allowed time before takeoff to review COVID testing results, allowed no reasonable time for players to have their traditional morning workout in the opposition rink.
Soon after landing on Long Island, they learned AHL callup Oskar Steen also would have to enter COVID protocol — their seventh player in recent days. Even a COVID callup couldn’t catch a break.
Cassidy ended up dressing a lineup with only 11 forwards and the requisite six blueliners, leaving his bench one man short. The last time the Bruins entered a game with only 17 skaters in the lineup: March 6, 2000, a 5-1 loss to the Senators at the Garden.
In today’s NHL, with its focus on speed, 40-seconds shifts, and fastidious four-line rotations, playing one man short is tantamount to being forced to yank off a flat tire and driving on that emergency donut, with its warning to ease off the gas pedal.
“Travel day . . . not practicing [Wednesday] . . . losing our morning skate [Thursday],” said Cassidy, noting some factors that contributed to the Bruins’ slow start, one that had the Isles with a 9-2 shot advantage when they struck for their 1-0 lead 11:47 into the first. “Our power play [consisted of] different units — that’s where you’d like a little practice time, to get some chemistry. On a night when we’re having trouble scoring, it could have helped us.”
No one on the coaching staff or among the stick carriers would care to state the obvious: The game vs. the Isles was a posted “L” before the puck dropped.
Marchand and Bergeron are two of their best forwards, two of the league’s elite. Smith isn’t in their caliber, but he is the No. 2 right wing on a club that scratches for all the loose change it can find after the big money line of Marchand-Bergeron-David Pastrnak.
Without getting into a this-for-that comparison, the Bruins as of Thursday night were essentially as depleted as the Flames were at the start of this week when the NHL appropriately chose to close Calgary’s doors for a COVID pause. It should do the same now with the Bruins.
On Saturday, the Flames will be off, their fourth game of the week to be postponed. The Bruins were scheduled to face the Habs, maybe with the luxury of 18 skaters, even if a couple of them were kids they spotted playing street hockey as the team bus pulled up at the Bell Centre.
Reports Thursday night were that the COVID-diminished Avalanche, 5-2 losers in Nashville, were given the option to have the game postponed. They chose to take their dose of fish oil, but have subsequently been shut down through at least Dec. 26, which means a Bruins-Avalanche game Dec. 23 at TD Garden is also off the board.
The Predators, it should be duly noted, were without seven players and had to find fill-ins for their entire five-man coaching staff — a total of 12 personnel forced to sit at home. Ridiculous.
The case doesn’t need to be made yet to shut down the league, as happened in March 2020 when the COVID nightmare stormed into the rink. But if the NHL has the sense to shut down the Flames, as it did earlier this season with the Isles and Senators, it needs to apply the same logic evenly across its 32 teams. The Bruins were in no shape to play the last two games (losses to Vegas and the Isles). Ditto Thursday for the Avalanche and Predators.
Oh, and what of the consumer? Yes, the likes of you, dear reader. Some have paid NHL ticket prices to see rosters patched up with AHL stocking stuffers. You’ve paid Rolex prices for sidewalk knockoff models (two for $99!).
Not true of Flames fans, of course, or in another few cases thus far where the league opted to shut down a game here or there.
How about those Hurricanes? Two of their guys, Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis, went into protocol during a stop in Vancouver earlier this week and remain there because of quarantine mandates, which could have them holed up through Christmas. Splendid city Vancouver, but . . .
Goaltender Linus Ullmark, the loser in the Boston net Thursday, stood strong in support of all his teammates when I asked about a Bruins lineup cobbled together with AHLers. Good for him, he didn’t want to hear it.
“First of all,” he said, “everyone who’s in front of me and has the Bruins jersey is certainly on my team. It’s not going to be any different. It doesn’t matter what their name is on the back. If they put on the Bruins jersey, they are part of the family, they are part of the team.”
Ullmark added, “So I think you are wrong, definitely,” over the assertion here that it’s not the NHL product fans have paid to see.
“Obviously there’s a reason some people in the stands want to see Bergy, Marchy or whatever. That’s totally valid. They are future Hall of Famers, and who wouldn’t want to see those guys?”
Which, in the end, sounded like Ullmark was conflicted.
To which I say, aren’t we all? But we aren’t the ones running a multibillion-dollar enterprise. We’re just the amateurs, watching a multibillion-dollar enterprise that right now is being run by amateurs.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.