WILMINGTON — In need of building some momentum, the Bruins instead lost a key building block Thursday when they put veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid on the injured reserve list, further deconstructing a lineup that in mid-December briefly played its way into a top-four spot in the Eastern Conference.
McQuaid, drilled into the boards Tuesday night by Washington's Zach Sill, possibly is suffering from a concussion, but the Bruins would characterize his status only as an "upper-body injury.'' It's highly unlikely that the big blue liner will be back for any of the next five games, beginning Friday night in New Jersey, that the 20-14-4 club will play on the road.
To fill the roster spot, the Bruins recalled right winger David Pastrnak, their promising second-year pro, from AHL Providence. Based on a late-morning practice here, Pastrnak will find himself on the No. 1 line Friday night, with All-Star Patrice Bergeron at center and Loui Eriksson flipped over to left wing.
"Great player,'' said the ever-welcoming Bergeron, who was granted a day off skates on Wednesday, allowed to get some rest after logging heavy minutes of late. "He has great speed, smarts, and vision. For sure, we are happy to see him back with us.''
Pastrnak, only 19 years old, returned to North America this week after a four-game stint with the Czech Republic in the World Junior Championships (won by Finland). Sidelined in late October with a foot injury, Pastrnak played four games in seven days in Helsinki, collecting a goal and three assists.
"It was really good,'' said Pastrnak, the Bruins' top pick, 25th overall, in the 2014 draft. "The best thing to do to get in shape is to play games.''
Question is, can Pastrnak help the Bruins shake a midseason funk in which they have gone a disappointing 1-4-0 since returning from the holiday break, and now find themselves in a footrace for the final playoff spot in the conference?
They desperately need the scoring that Pastrnak, who had 27 points as a rookie last season, might be able to provide. In the recent funk, they have been outscored, 15-7, in their four losses, including a 5-1 trouncing at the hands of the Canadiens in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic.
"We'll have to see,'' offered coach Claude Julien when queried on how he will deploy Pastrnak. "I haven't seen him play much lately.
"It's always the same with me: If he's going well, he'll be utilized more. But if there is a little more rust than we expect, then I'll have to make some decisions. But it's nice to have him back.''
On Saturday night, when the Bruins play in Ottawa, Julien also will have Brad Marchand back from a three-game suspension. With Marchand returned to active duty, Pastrnak likely will be bumped off the No. 1 line, possibly paired with Matt Beleskey or Jimmy Hayes, or both. During the workout, Pastrnak joined both forwards on a second-unit power-play configuration, while the crafty Ryan Spooner joined the Eriksson-Bergeron combo on the first unit.
The Boston lineup perhaps is impaired most by the continued absence of top center David Krejci, who was injured just prior to the Winter Classic. The return Tuesday night of Joonas Kemppainen helped to fill some of the void at center, but the loss of Krejci puts stress on the entire offense, particularly Bergeron, who has averaged some 21 minutes of ice time over the last five games, at least two or three minutes above where Julien would typically play him.
Frank Vatrano, a house of fire upon entering the lineup Nov. 7, ripping off 19 shots in his first five games, has seen his game turn to cold ash. His Dec. 18 hat trick vs. Pittsburgh aside, the ex-UMass standout has failed to pick up a single point in 16 of his last 17 games. He landed but one shot on net in his last three.
"It's normal, I think,'' said Julien, who has stuck with the 21-year-old first-year pro. "I really liked the way he came in. He played on his toes, excited and aggressive and stuff like that.
"Through the course of a season, this is where you look at a guy — 21 years old, first year out of college — and now he's playing a much different schedule.''
The typical college season has players in action only for a pair of weekend games, then spending the rest of the week focusing on books and training. The NHL, as Julien noted, often demands players to be ready for six games in nine nights. It's a big adjustment, campus to career, for most players.
"Sometimes they hit a bit of a wall,'' said Julien. "We saw Smitty [Reilly Smith] go through it. When you go through it the first time, you hit a few bumps here and there. I think this is where he's at.
"I still think he's a good player. I wouldn't say he's hit a wall, but he doesn't have the same spark. You try to help him through it, but at the same time, it's almost like a player has to go through it to get himself better.''
Given the back-to-back schedule, Friday in New Jersey and Saturday in Ottawa, Julien is likely to split the work between goalies Tuukka Rask and Jonas Gustavsson. But with points now so precious, if Rask were to start Friday and lose, then it would be no surprise to see him back in there Saturday . . . Bergeron had the day off skates Wednesday, but he was at the workout facility for a day of bike riding, stretching, and watching video. "Trying to get some rest, not just physically, but mentally,'' he said. "Staying away from the ice sometimes is not a bad thing. You get to rest your mind a little bit.'' Bergeron said he has felt the wear and tear of his recent surge in playing minutes. "A few games, yeah, I can't lie,'' he said. "But it hasn't been bad, actually, I feel pretty good.'' . . . Julien on the uptick in trades around the league this week, which included young studs Ryan Johansen (to Nashville) and Seth Jones (to Columbus) switching sweaters: "They are big names. It seems like once it gets started, it can open the door for other things to happen.''