Winslow Townson/Associated Press
Rookie winger Jake DeBrusk (5-7—12) was back in the lineup Thursday night when the Bruins faced the Coyotes at the Garden, and Ryan Spooner was back in the press box, hindered again by a chronic groin injury that has pestered him for nearly two months. Later in the day, the team put Spooner on injured reserve.
So, for the moment, little-used winger Matt Beleskey remains on the Black-and-Gold roster. The underperforming Beleskey, scratched Thursday night for the eighth time in nine games, would have been in peril of being demoted to AHL Providence, but the Bruins seemed to buy some time to decide on the roster number.
“Donny and I are going to sort through that this afternoon,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, noting that he and GM Don Sweeney would confer on roster issues later in the day. “Spooner didn’t skate today and we have to look at where he’s going, in terms of progress for Saturday.”
The Bruins play the Islanders at the Garden on Saturday. If Spooner were ready to re-enter the lineup, then the Bruins, up against the roster limit, would have to make a corresponding move — thus, perhaps, putting Beleskey in jeopardy.
Beleskey, 29, has suited up this season for only 14 games, the Bruins a disappointing 4-8-2 in those games (vs 8-1-2 when he sits).
Signed as an unrestricted free agent for $19 million over five years in July 2015, Beleskey has underperformed since his arrival, and could be a prime target for a buyout in June 2018. If cut free in the summer, the Bruins would save $2.53 million of the remaining $7.6 million owed on his contract, and his cap figure would drop from $3.8 million over two years to $1.27 million over four.
Meanwhile, DeBrusk began the night at left wing on a line with David Krecji and Anders Bjork. DeBrusk had produced well of late (2-4—6 over six games), until getting his head banged against the glass on a Darnell Nurse check when the Oilers were in town Nov. 26.
“I think with Krech, it’s an easy switch,” said Cassidy, noting the veteran center’s ability to adapt to different wingers. “He’s getting his feet wet again — feeling up to speed — after missing some time. He looks very close. I like the youth on his wings, [kids] who can skate. It forces him to skate as well, and it’s worked out well for him, having those young guys on his wing.”
Bjork, limited to 3-6—9 in 18 games prior to Thursday, is making his way back after taking a big hit to the head and shoulders by Toronto’s Matt Martin on Nov. 11. The game against the Coyotes was only his third since missing seven games due to the big hit. Bjork tallied his fourth goal of the season during the Bruins’ three-goal eruption in the third period, scoring at 18:51.
Before that, Bjork had been without a goal since potting a pair against the Canucks on Oct. 19. Cassidy said he was impressed that the ex-Notre Dame standout picked up his skating pace late in the game Monday night vs. Nashville.
“I think Anders has to learn that there’s a lot of defenses in this league that gap up and gap up quick, and they are big, and they will hit you, if you are not ready,” said Cassidy. “He is learning that process. Because of his speed, in college there was a little bit of a fear factor in gapping up with him because he could make you look bad — so D backed off, and waited for help, for layers.
“In the NHL, Bjork is still fast — his best trait — but his speed isn’t so far above the norm that the opposition is caught out of synch.
“He’s going to have to understand, when there’s ice available in front of the defenseman he can use his skill,” Cassidy noted. “Or if there’s space available behind them and he has to chip-‘n’- chase; chip to a spot, get in and forecheck.”
DeBrusk’s return also moved fellow rookie Danton Heinen to a different line. He began the night on a trio with Riley Nash and David Backes.It proved to be a productive move as the trio combined to score four goals (two by Backes in the second period) to go along with two assists (both by Nash).
Backes’ back-to-back strikes snapped a 1-1 stalemate and came in his ninth game of the season, and fourth since returning from colon surgery. He picked up his 500th career point in the 5-3 loss to Nashville on Monday.
His confidence restored this season after being demoted to Providence early last season, Heinen picked up two assists over his last three games, including a nice feed to Charlie McAvoy for one of the club’s rare power-play goals of late.
Heading into the matchup with the Coyotes, the Bruins were an anemic 3 for 37 (8.1 percent) on the man-advantage over the previous 13 games. On Thursday night, David Krejci had the Bruins’ lone score out of four power-play opportunities vs. the Coyotes.
Headed into their 26th game of the season on Thursday, only seven Bruins skaters had played in all 25 previous games. Across the 31-team league, the average was nine. The bottom feeders: Anaheim (6), Colorado (6) and Nashville (6). Alone at the top of the heap: Tampa (13), followed by a half-dozen clubs at 11. Arizona had 8 . . . Ex-Jets defenseman Paul Postma remained out of the Boston lineup for the sixth time in seven games . . . Frank Vatrano sat out his third straight game and has not registered a point since his goal against the Maple Leafs on Nov. 11.
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