Cracks are beginning to show for Bruins without Patrice Bergeron


Cracks are beginning to show for Bruins without Patrice Bergeron

TORONTO – The Bruins managed to find some magic against the Columbus Blue Jackets in their season opener, but it’s clear the foundational cracks are starting to show for the Black and Gold with no Patrice Bergeron in the lineup.

The B’s head to Winnipeg after a 4-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night, and their ears are ringing with the sound of Toronto celebrating their organizational centennial amid a crowd of promising, young star players. The crowds were certainly making noise for the 90-minute pregame ceremony honoring the 100-year history of the franchise and the fitting, deserved retirement of a slew of jersey numbers, but also because the Bruins played the perfect, polite guest at an on-ice butt-kicking.

The job was made that much easier because Boston was missing its best player and heart-and-soul leader, and there doesn’t seem to be much expectation that No. 37 is going to suit up for the road trip finale after missing the first two games this season.

Instead, the Bruins will try to patch together another effort without Bergeron, but his absence loomed large against the Leafs in the Toronto loss. It all started in the faceoff circle, where the B’s were destroyed in losing 30-of-52 draws, and David Backes struggled to a 6-for-21 evening filling in for Bergeron while largely matched up against Toronto nemesis Nazem Kadri.

The important draws are obviously a place where Bergeron is counted on for yeoman’s work throughout the season, and the dropoff in face-offs was plainly noticeable on Saturday night.

“There’s no question you miss guys like [Bergeron], and [Adam McQuaid] and [Kevan Miller],” said Zdeno Chara. “But we did a pretty good job in the first game, and tonight was a different game. We need to play like we did in the first game.

“[Faceoffs] really decides whether you’re going to start with the puck, or whether you’re going to be chasing. Obviously it’s not just the centerman’s job, but it’s everybody’s job to go after that loose puck. But if you’re starting with the puck and making a play, then you’re not taking your time chasing the puck.”

It wasn’t just draws where Bergeron was missed, of course.

Toronto’s top line of James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Mitch Marner ended up scoring a couple of damaging goals in what might normally be a match-up against Bergeron and his line. Boston’s top power play unit has also looked a little lost without No. 37 playing the familiar bumper role while directing traffic in the slot, and linemate David Pastrnak admitted that’s where he’s felt the absence of Bergeron the most thus far.

“You can see we miss him on the power play. He plays a big role in that bumper role on the PP. You can see we miss him on the face offs, but we still have good guys that can fill in there,” said Pastrnak, who scored the game’s only goal and leads the Bruins with three strikes on the season. “We just need to help our centermen a little bit more.”

There’s also the simple disruption to the lines that the B’s coaching staff had designed prior to the start of the season. Shifting Backes up to center on the top line leaves the Bruins with one forward line that’s been a threat through the first two games, and the second line with Ryan Spooner, David Krejci and Danton Heinen has been completely invisible through three games. The same could be said for a third line that hasn’t been able to consistently possess the puck, or amass a consistent stay in the opponent’s end of the ice.

It’s still early in the season, but it’s clear watching the Bruins that an already-thin roster is having trouble functioning without its leader and top two-way center.

There are no excuses in hockey, of course, and nobody is going to throw a puck pity party for the Bruins with so many big injuries to start the season. At this point, Bergeron is just another participant in the World Cup of Hockey that’s fallen victim to an injury before the season even started, and now leaves the NHL missing a significant group of their star players that went full throttle in the fall tourney.

To his credit, Claude Julien wasn’t having any of the injury excuse after the exasperating loss to the Leafs where the coach didn’t feel all his players were properly focused.

“We’re always going to look at losses and whine about who isn’t here,” said Julien. “But we were fine in Columbus, so it’s certainly not an excuse. Our guys can be better there, and that’s not just the center-men. I think guys can come in and help out with loose pucks. I thought at times it was a tie, but our forwards and our D lost battles for loose pucks. That goes back to what I said before, I think [the lack of effort] hurt us a lot.”

Perhaps the overall focus is another area where a tone-setting leader like Bergeron could have helped everybody snap to attention if a lower-body injury hadn’t knocked him out of the season’s early going. Because it’s clear right now the Bruins aren’t consistently putting things together the way Bergeron demands when he’s on the bench, and on the ice setting his maximum-effort example and lending his elite skill level.

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

It might have caused a ripple when Ryan Donato wasn’t on the ice on Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis for Bruins practice on the day after his brilliant, three-point NHL debut for the Black and Gold. But the 21-year-old Donato was still back in the Boston area fulfilling some class requirements at Harvard University to help him close out the current semester properly, and not lose the credits that will keep him in line with fulfilling his junior year at Harvard University.

Believe it or not, the schoolwork is important to the newest member of the Boston Bruins and he intends to study and hit the books on his road trips, and also intends to take classes in the summertime to still graduate on time next season.

“I’m planning on finishing the semester academically. I want to finish the semester academically,” said Donato, after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena prior to last night’s debut vs. Columbus. “Obviously it’s going to be something that’s difficult, but for me it was a dream to graduate from Harvard. I’m putting that off a little bit, but I need to be able to finish this semester in order to have that opportunity, and not put it off for another couple of years. I want to finish out the semester.”

Donato is also still living in the Harvard dorms while “moonlighting” as an NHL hockey player for the rest of the season, but that isn’t all so uncommon among some of the college players that leave school early. Charlie McAvoy was similarly living in the Boston University dorms last spring through Boston’s playoff run, and didn’t clear out of his college living situation until after the Black and Gold had been eliminated by the Ottawa Senators last April.

Missing practices on an NHL schedule is certainly a new one with, Donato, however, and takes the student-athlete concept to a whole new level for somebody that's already turned pro. One has to expect this was one of the things being discussed in full when the Donato family, Ryan's agent and the Bruins discussed his contract terms over the weekend before coming to an agreement.

Along with Donato, who is scheduled to fly into St. Louis and play against the Blues on Wednesday night, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk, Rick Nash and Torey Krug were all missing from the ice at Tuesday’s team practice ahead of a four game road trip against Western Conference opponents.


Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

File photo

Morning Skate: Claude's Habs 'not a very good team'

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while not really digging these forecasts of more snow.

*You know, if he weren’t making millions and millions of dollars I might actually feel bad for ol' Claude Julien up in Montreal busting out the “We’re not a very good team” soliloquy with the Habs. That team flat out stinks this season and these past few weeks it can’t be fun at all being the head coach of that dumpster fire.

*Darren Dreger says there is no rush for the Toronto Maple Leafs to bring back Auston Matthews before he’s ready to go, and that’s absolutely the case so close to the playoffs.

*Here are five Hart Trophy-caliber players that won’t get a sniff of the voting, but deserve some attention nonetheless. There are no Bruins players on the list if you’re wondering, but some pretty good ones in Johnny Gaudreau and Aleksander Barkov.

*The NHL general managers are weighing potential changes to the goalie-interference interpretation ahead of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

*While it still looks a Swedish defenseman is going to be the No. 1 overall pick this June, there are some other players rocketing up the list.

*For something completely different: The definitive ranking of Girl Scout cookies from best-to-worst that we’ve all been waiting for.

*Song of the Week: Haven’t done one of these in a long, long time, but I like this Calvin Harris/Katy Perry/Pharrell Williams tune that I hadn’t heard until the past couple of days.