Jake DeBrusk, greatly in need of something good happening, like, say, a puck or two going in the net off the end of his stick, played in his 400th regular-season game Saturday night with the Canadiens in town.
Louie DeBrusk, the family’s senior NHL statesman, played 401 games. Perhaps as early as Wednesday when the Bruins play in Sunrise, Fla., it will be Louie’s boy Jake, so besotted by the game as a kid that he once wore his new hockey skates to bed, who’ll hold the family record for games played.
“Oh, total bragging rights,” said the smiling 27-year-old chip off the old DeBrusk block, prior to faceoff on Causeway Street. “I’ll never catch him on penalty minutes, but right now, I think I’m getting the lead on everything else.
Jake didn’t score in the 5-2 thumping of the Habs, but he was a presence shift to shift, firing eight shots (three on net) and picking up an assist — his first point in five games.
“I thought it was Jake DeBrusk’s best game of the year, for 60 minutes,” noted coach Jim Montgomery. “I thought he was relentless.”
It could be, theorized Montgomery, that Jake was motivated by having his dad in the building.
“Maybe it was a great thing for him,” said Montgomery. “Maybe it’s related. Everyone wants to play well for their dad. You want to score for your mom and you want to play well for your dad. You don’t want to get crap in the car on the ride home.”
The senior DeBrusk, in town as part of the Bruins’ “Fathers Trip” that begins with Sunday’s charter flight to Florida, accrued his 401 games across a decade-plus in the NHL. His hands best suited to the crustier side of the game, Louie also amassed a career 1,161 penalty minutes.
Jake, his softer-handed progeny, had only 87 PIMs on his rap sheet in his first 399 games. Same name, same game, vastly different method and legacy.
Those smoother leather mitts, though, have lost their offensive touch thus far this season. The younger DeBrusk’s output has been all but kaput, evidenced by his near-anemic 1-4–6 line through 15 games.
That’s not the DeBrusk we’ve come to know, and expect, in the Hub of Hockey, particularly after seeing him knock in 52 goals (14 for game-winners) the last two seasons.
“There’s lots of different things that need to go right,” said a frustrated DeBrusk, noting how complex the game can seem when the points aren’t there. “When things are going hot and things are going amazing [the points follow]. And when it doesn’t, things can go this way.”
When he is on, with speedy wheels in full Roadrunner (meep! meep!) motion, DeBrusk is a legit scoring force, able to slice and dart his way into high-danger scoring spots. To date, though, even with his average time on ice at a career high 17:31 prior to Saturday night, points have been harder for him to find than it once was for his dad to find willing fight opponents.
DeBrusk has been in this spot before, for stretches long and short, each marked with understandable frustration. This time has been no different. It has weighed on him.
“Yeah, I think I’m my own biggest enemy,” he said. “I think that’s something that’s been with me throughout my entire career. I think the mental things in life, honestly, it’s what you think of yourself — If you wake up and it’s raining, if you feel good about yourself, that doesn’t matter . . . doesn’t matter if the sun comes out or not.”
DeBrusk was ready and eager for the sun to rise on the season, ideally pick up right where he left off after producing career highs for goals (27) and points (50) last season. Success was absent from the start. He opened without a point in his first three games. He was again 0-0–0 in the four games headed into the visit by the Habs.
Along the way, despite averaging his most minutes per game, DeBrusk slipped into a bottom-six role, riding these days on a No. 3 line with returnee Danton Heinen at left wing and rookie Matt Poitras at center. It’s a trio high on energy and eagerness, but it’s not the elite company DeBrusk kept the prior season and a half with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
In times like these with a struggling player, noted Jim Montgomery, much of a coach’s time and energy are spent teaching, typically in one-on-one video sessions. Player and coach spend ample time comparing clips of when times were good vs. times of struggle.
“There’s a lot of teaching when things aren’t going well,” noted Montgomery, though not naming DeBrusk directly “You’ve got to show, like, ‘Well, you’re turning your back on the puck . . . you’re like a shark turning away from it and you’re never in a support position to get a breakaway,’ or whatever the case may be.”
It’s an understatement, or “misunderstood by a lot of people,” added Mongtomery, how hard DeBrusk can be on himself.
“Internally, he demands a lot,” he said. “Externally, he comes across as this very laid back, calm individual. But he’s very proud and an elite NHL player who expects to do really good things to help the Bruins.”
Marchand, who took over the captaincy this year from Bergeron, said he understood what DeBrusk has been going through.
“I see it, yeah, because I’ve lived it,” said Marchand, when asked if he saw how hard DeBrusk is on himself. “I lived it last year. It’s very tough, when you are going through it, not to be hard on yourself. You expect . . . this is a game of results . . . even though it’s process-oriented . . . at the end of the day, you need results and that’s what allows you to feel good.”
By his eye, said Marchand, DeBrusk has worked diligently in practice, especially of late. He is too good, too much of a “special player” for it to continue much longer.
“Guys like him, he’s so gifted and so talented,” added Marchand, “when he does the right things, he’s able to capitalize on his opportunities. He’s been good. He’s not playing bad. The puck just isn’t going in for him. He’s all around it. He’s going to the net hard, makes great plays. Sometimes you just need a bounce or a lucky break.”
The timing for this dip, though never good, has been particularly bad for DeBrusk. He is on an expiring contract, one that averages a $4 million payout, and is eligible to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. He has plenty of time to pick up the pace, position himself for a huge payday, but he needs to start piling the pennies of goals and assists on his side.
“We’re winning,” he said. “I say that a lot. We’re winning, and I know I’m not scoring, but I do think I help the team in other ways, too . . . penalty killing, the defensive side of the puck. It’s a bigger foundation for my game. So when the points come . . . ”
Ideally, they’ll come soon, with free agency approaching, and with a team that undoubtedly will need him to contribute over what is a very long season.
“When it goes to contract talks or whatever,” he said, laughing as he noted the realities of market forces, “I just have to focus on getting that damn puck in the net.”
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com.