B’s Will Be Tested on Road Trip
By Steve Conroy
Over the past two weeks, the Bruins have run off an eight-game point streak (5-0-3) and solidified their standing as playoff team with an eight-point bulge over the closest non-playoff qualifier (Carolina).
Now we’ll see what they’re really made of.
The B’s embark on a five-game western swing that begins on Friday in Anaheim and moves to Los Angeles on Saturday. Then things get really challenging. They face the Pacific Division-leading Sharks on Monday, the ever-tough Golden Knights in Las Vegas on Wednesday and they finish up with the scorching hot St. Louis Blues a week from Saturday.
And it’s not like the B’s have been road warriors this season. They’re a mediocre 11-10-5 away from Causeway Street. In the last month, they’ve have big wins in Toronto and Washington, but they’ve also blown two-goal leads in New York and Philadelphia, losing both those games in extra time.
While Anaheim and Los Angeles are both well outside the playoff structure, Anaheim (a league low minus-55 in goal differential) just changed its coach (from Randy Carlyle to GM Bob Murray) and you never know what kind of bump a team will get from that. And though the Kings have started to sell off pieces (Nate Thompson went to Montreal earlier this week), their heavy style gave the B’s problems in last Saturday’s game, a 5-4 overtime Bruins win in which the B’s spit up another two-goal lead.
The B’s, who would actually be in first place if they were in the Metropolitan Division, will be tackling this challenge without their most dynamic offensive weapon, David Pastrnak, currently out with a thumb injury courtesy of a late night stumble. The B’s responded well in their first game without Pastrnak, putting up half a dozen goals against a Blackhawks team that was an utter mess in its own zone. Don’t expect things to be so easy on this trip.
“We’re just trying to find some consistency in our game,” Jake DeBrusk Tuesday night after the win over Chicago. “Obviously third periods have been a focus for our team. I remember last year we were always down going into the third periods and we’d always come back. This year, it’s not necessarily the other way around, but sometimes we’ll be up and then it gets a little scrambly. So on the road, it will be a big test, some good teams and some big, heavy teams. It’s about staying consistent in our game and improving what we do. I don’t think we’ll score six every night but I think if we play and have the mindset like we did (on Tuesday), we’ll get more looks. And that’s how we have to play, especially with Pasta being out. When you lose someone like that at this time of the year, it has to be a group effort, for sure.”
While the Pastrnak injury will be tough to overcome for an offense-challenged team like the B’s, the best sign of the season has emerged during their current points streak. Some of their second-year players, dormant for most of the season, have showed signs of real life.
Danton Heinen appeared to be in the midst of a lost season when he got bumped up to the top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in coach Bruce Cassidy’s effort to balance the scoring. He has seized the opportunity. In three-plus games in the penthouse, he’s got 3-3-6 and is plus-6.
Charlie McAvoy, dogged by a couple of longterm injuries, is back to being an impact player. His back-to-back performances over the weekend were a reminder of the elite level defenseman that he could one day be.
And DeBrusk himself snapped a skid. He’d gotten off to good start this year and had appeared to have avoided the sophomore slump that afflicted others. But he’d gone 13 games with just two assists before chipping home a pass from David Krejci in the second period, his 15th goal of the season that turned out to be the game-winner over Chicago.
In less than two weeks, we’ll find out what, if anything, GM Don Sweeney adds to the mix before the Feb. 25 trade deadline. DeBrusk will be glad when the deadline’s come and gone.
“I’m confident with what we have in here to be honest with you,” said DeBrusk in the glow of the win over Chicago. “Obviously there’s lots of talk, lots of rumors, we all see it, especially us younger guys on social media. We’re kind of tuned into that. We see lots of different things, especially with Pasta being out, there’s more of an emphasis you could probably say. Honestly, we’re trying to take it game-by-game. That’s my mindset because you never knew what can happen. You never know if you’re part of the deal or someone is, or if there even is a deal. Obviously management will do whatever is best for the team.
“It will be exciting after the road trip coming home. It’s almost two weeks we’re going to be away and then we come back. I remember after last year’s trade deadline. It was kind of a cool moment after (the deadline), we were in the room and it was like ‘This is who were going to war with.’ We feel the same way right now in here, don’t get me wrong, but things will get a little more intense.”