Bruins’ Jake DeBrusk to miss next two games with concussion symptoms
The ever-expanding M*A*S*H list of injured Bruins on Saturday added the name of Jake DeBrusk. The second-year winger is feeling ill — with symptoms often related to a concussion — which will keep him out of the lineup this weekend.
“Came in yesterday and was not feeling well, and was not feeling great during the Tampa game [Thursday],” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “So right now, can only speculate. We know he got hit in the back of the head with the puck in Toronto [Nov. 26] . . . but played . . . so right now we are waiting for him to come and let us know where he’s at.”
DeBrusk was scratched for Saturday night’s 6-3 victory over the Maple Leafs at the Garden and will not suit up for Sunday’s 5 p.m. start in Ottawa. The club likely will be off Monday, which means the next update on DeBrusk, 22, likely won’t be until after Tuesday’s day-of-game skate (Arizona in town).
DeBrusk, who has scored 10 times this season, took friendly fire Nov. 26 in Toronto, a short-range snap shot by linemate Danton Heinen nailing him low on the back of the helmet, near the base of his skull, at the 10:44 mark. DeBrusk missed a shift but did play later in the night.
Heinen’s shot came moments after DeBrusk, jostling for position at the left post, was upended at the top of the crease as Heinen ripped into a chance for what could have been the tying goal.
“Hopefully he feels better when we see him next,” said Cassidy, following his squad’s late-morning workout in Brighton. “Physically not feeling well. Once we have an update from him, we’ll update you.”
Earlier the same night in Toronto, the Bruins lost the services of veteran defenseman Kevan Miller , who was rushed to a local hospital when a puck rode up his stick and struck his throat in the final seconds of the first period. Miller suffered damage to ligaments and is not expected back for the remainder of the month.
In a freefall in the standings, dropping from fifth overall to 15th in the last two weeks, the Boston lineup has been decimated of late, leaving team captain Zdeno Chara (wrenched knee) and Patrice Bergeron (ribs/collarbone) also hors de combat for extended stays — likely through December.
With DeBrusk (10-2—12 through 28 games) the latest casualty, Cassidy in the morning practice moved David Krejci, the center on DeBrusk’s line, to a No. 1 trio with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
The Bruins entered the night mired in a season-worst three-game (0-3-0) losing streak, clinging to the second, and last, wild-card playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with a record of 14-10-4 (32 points).
As of the morning of Nov. 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving, they had 30 points and were tied for fifth (with Colorado and Minnesota) in the league’s overall standings. Their 1-3-0 record since that morning dropped them 10 rungs down the ladder to No. 15, tied with Minnesota and Edmonton.
Newcomer Gemel Smith, 24, acquired two days earlier on waivers from Dallas, took his first skate with the Bruins at the morning workout and then suited up (sweater No. 28 in your program) against the Leafs.
“He’s got some time in the league — he’s fast,” said Cassidy, who started the newbie at left wing on a fourth line with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner. “He should help us on the forecheck. He’s done some penalty-killing work and the power play. He played in a good program with Dallas, so I suspect he’ll be good away from the puck.”
Smith, who grew up in the Mississauga section of Toronto, was chosen 104th in the 2012 draft, the same year the Bruins selected goalie Malcolm Subban in Round 1. He spent his entire pro career in the Dallas organization, typically spotting into the same bottom-six support role that he assumed in his first game with the Black and Gold.
“A lot of guys battling for jobs, and unfortunately I was the odd one out,” said Smith, reflecting on his tenure with the Stars. “I think I can play up and down through the lineup . . . bring energy. I think I’ve got skill and can make plays and score . . . just want to be a gritty two-player that’s responsible and can provide offense.”
The Bruins claimed Smith, in part, because they have not seen the kind of pluck and consistency in their bottom-six group after losing Riley Nash and Tim Schaller to the free agent market in June.
General manager Don Sweeney signed Joakim Nordstrom and Wagner ostensibly to replace Nash and Schaller, but the results to date have been mixed. Their limitations, particularly on offense, have been more pronounced, too, amid the Bruins’ overall struggle to put the puck in the net (16 goals in 10 games prior to the Toronto visit).
The Bruins most of last season rolled out a very effective fourth line that had Kuraly between Schaller and Noel Acciari — the club’s high-energy Trench Connection Line. The big-bodied Schaller departed for Vancouver, and Cassidy had yet to conjure up a fourth line approximating that trio’s effectiveness. Acciari (0-1—1 through 25 games), a healthy scratch, watched Saturday night from the press box.
Smith was a low-risk, low-cost acquisition. His claiming price off waivers was zero, the Bruins only responsible for what remains of $720,000 contract for this season.
“We’ll see if he slides up or moves around,” said Cassidy, noting Smith’s entry point in the lineup. “He’s played left wing predominantly, and some center.”
Why haven’t the Bruins won much of late? It only takes a few seconds listening to local sports talk radio to find the answer: They don’t have an enforcer.
No telling how an enforcer perks up an offense averaging 1.60 goals a game over the last three weeks, but that has not changed the narrative on the airways.
“I don’t think we need an enforcer,” said Cassidy. “I think a couple of our heavier guys that take care of that have been hurt. So we look at our team, we thought we’d have enough . . . and then guys get hurt.”
Chara and Miller are the two toughest Black and Gold customers, both of whom are expected to be out through the Christmas break. Minus their muscle, the Bruins have to rely more on an overall “team toughness” ethos, all the harder with the number of young kids they’ve tried to force into the lineup to make up for players lost to injury.
“Even a guy like Bergy who plays hard against everybody,” noted Cassidy. “He goes out. Certainly not a fighter, by any means, but he’s hard to play against. So you lose Miller, Z . . . are you going to disrupt your whole team to [acquire an enforcer]?”
Such a move, noted Cassidy, would be up to Sweeney. Some teams, acknowledged the coach, have “taken liberties” with his squad during the absences of Chara, Miller, et al.
“But I think we always answer the bell — maybe not with our biggest guys now,” he said. “So I guess to answer the question, I don’t think we need an enforcer — we need to continue to have a team toughness mentality and make sure we are in there. I always think if you initiate then you don’t have to retaliate, it takes care of it. Maybe that’s where we need to be better, just to put teams on their heels — be hard on their skill before they come hard on ours.”