Injuries make Bruins difficult to assess right now
DETROIT — Offering a loaded leftover sandwich of Bruins thoughts, best consumed after a post-Thanksgiving meal snooze (but still plenty tasty in the days after):
■ So where are the Bruins right now? Yes, in fourth place in the Atlantic Division, but . . .
Trending up? Treading water? Trending down?
Assessing this team over the next month, when the line between contenders and pretenders is usually drawn, will be a challenge. The defense may not be whole until January, and Patrice Bergeron’s long-term status is unknown; a four-week checkup could — could — reveal surgery to be his best option.
In the here and now, they’re swimming along. Plucking 4 points from the recent road trip is a palatable result, given the tryptophan effect injuries can have on a club. But a point-per-game pace the rest of the way would have the Bruins couch-bound, slumbering with the rest of the DNQs.
By the new year, Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and John Moore could be back in the lineup. But this is a contend-now club. They can’t wait that long for results.
So, they need a wake-up — from within preferably, or from the trade market. More of what? Not goaltending. Other than the Predators, Jets, and Maple Leafs, it’s hard to find teams that wouldn’t trade the performances of their goalies for those of Boston’s, even though some here would blame Tuukka Rask for their turkey being too dry.
More defense? When healthy, the Bruins have a good group. That’s not the issue.
More scoring? Pass the gravy.
We have not seen this collection of forwards produce in a way that makes us think the Bruins shouldn’t add before the holidays are over. Some of the inconsistency is due to injuries and the resulting shuffle of centers and wingers learning each other. But having grinders such as Noel Acciari and Joakim Nordstrom in the top six is not a winning recipe.
The summertime prices were too high (Ilya Kovalchuk is 5-9—14). Would a veteran scorer be available now, at reasonable cost?
The Bruins have intriguing young wingers, and other teams may want youth and promise. Perhaps the Bruins could dangle some of that (in the person of Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, or Danton Heinen) for a change-of-scenery candidate. Think: Los Angeles, last in the NHL (7-13-1 for 15 points) and one of the league’s older teams.
Los Angeles general manager Rob Blake, on the job since April 2017, has not dealt with Don Sweeney before, but he was assistant to Dean Lombardi for the Milan Lucic trade. Would he move a mid-ager such as Tyler Toffoli (5-7—12), a right-shot, second-line winger? Worth considering, given Toffoli’s age (26) and production (approximately a goal every three games, with a season high of 31 in 2015-16). He makes $4.6 million each of the next two years, not a small slice of pie.
What about an impending RFA like Adrian Kempe (2-3—5, but a Heinen/DeBrusk-like 16-21—37 last year)? Enticing combination of speed, skill, and jam. A wrinkle here: Kempe, a left winger by trade, is playing center for the Kings, and they just acquired fellow Swede Carl Hagelin to play on his left side.
If Blake has a particular interest in a Boston prospect, maybe he and Sweeney could talk turkey.
Why not poll Columbus about a Riley Nash return? It would at least solve the third-line center issue. Nash, who can play on any line, could let Nordstrom (or Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson) shift to the wing when Bergeron returns.
Nash, off to a dismal 0-2—2 start, is due $2.75 million each of the next three years, and could, in theory, be taken off Columbus’s cap for a scoop of stuffing and some green bean casserole (in real terms: a pick and a Providence player). Familiar faces and expectations probably would help him.
■ Allowing five goals in three road games, as the Bruins just did, is a good result. Doing it with a group of defensemen that hits between Nos. 4 and 12 in the batting order (Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Matt Grzelcyk, Steven Kampfer, Jeremy Lauzon, Connor Clifton, Jakub Zboril) should boost their confidence.
They allowed too many high-slot chances, but the netminding mostly bailed them out. Rask, after his layoff last weekend, had two strong games.
“Rock solid,” said coach Bruce Cassidy.
Jaroslav Halak, despite taking the loss at Colorado, was excellent in Arizona (32 saves on 33 shots). He’s a good bet to go against Pittsburgh Friday.
■ The Penguins, waddling along at 8-8-4, are feeling better now that Sidney Crosby is once again Sidney Crosby. He produced a 1-2–3 line in a 5-1 win over Dallas Wednesday, and has 8 points in his last four games (17 in his last 11), though he missed three with an upper-body injury.
But the Penguins got bad news Thursday when goalie Matt Murray was put on injured reserve because of a lower-body injury. Murray is 4-5-1 with a 4.08 goals-against average and .877 save percentage in 11 games.
Pittsburgh recalled Tristan Jarry from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL.
The absence of Bergeron, to say nothing of Chara and the rest of the defense, looms large in this game — and in the next two against Montreal and Toronto.
■ Kampfer has done a fine job as a fill-in, and Cassidy, who coached him in Providence, has a level of trust there. But the coach wasn’t happy about Kampfer’s risky pinch against Detroit Wednesday, which saw the defenseman overextend himself while protecting a one-goal lead in the third period. Detroit scored on the resulting two-on-one break to tie the game.
“Unacceptable,” Cassidy said. “It’s a poor decision.”
He committed a similar blunder last week at Colorado, helping the Avalanche break away for the 3-3 goal in a 6-3 win.
■ Good news: McAvoy went 2 for 2 this week, practicing Tuesday and morning-skating Wednesday, neither of which involved much more contact than the playful shoves he received from his happy-to-see-ya teammates.
When will Chuckie check in for game duty? TBD. Cassidy, a straight shooter with reporters on most topics, said he wishes he could say more. The club is usually tight-lipped about those concussed.
Cassidy also keeps it zipped about Urho Vaakanainen, who went 1 for 2 in on-ice attendance the last two days. The word on him, from Cassidy: “Not even close to playing.”