With the Christmas holiday in the rear view mirror and the three-day NHL holiday break coming to a close on Monday night, the Bruins will be getting back to work on Tuesday against the hottest team in the NHL. That’s right the B’s will be traveling to Columbus to take on a Blue Jackets hockey club that’s won 12 games in a row while the Bruins lost seven of their last 10 games going into the break.
The Bruins are in a playoff spot in the Atlantic Division three months into the season, and sit only three points behind the Ottawa Senators for second place in their division. They also have been one of the worst offensive teams in the NHL while getting subpar first half performances from key performers like Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Ryan Spooner and others. In fact many of the club’s weak spots have been covered up by dazzling performances from Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak to start the season, and they’ll need those players to continue dominating for the points to keep coming.
But enough contemplation about the B’s future, and what is in store for them. CSN New England was able to obtain documents straight from the North Pole about what was left for each of the Boston Bruins, so here’s what Santa Claus left for each member of the organization on Sunday morning as they arose out of bed:
Brad Marchand – A couple of cases of Red Bull and Five Hour Energy Drink. The Bruins forward is the leading point guy for the team with 10 goals and 29 points in 36 games, and was red-hot to start the season coming out of the World Cup. But things have slowed down for Marchand a bit as he’s averaging a career-high 18:53 of ice time per game, and it seems like he’s hit a bit of a wall given how much hockey he’s played. Mix in a few energy drinks and some rest over the last three days, and Marchand should be energized to help carry a Bruins offense that needs him at his 37-goal best the rest of the way.
David Pastrnak – His two front teeth. All the 20-year-old needed for Christmas were his two front teeth after they were chipped on a high stick from J.T. Brown back in a game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in early November. Pastrnak has left his teeth dinged up over the last few months in the style of Lloyd Christmas from Dumb and Dumber, and it really adds to his stunning transformation from skilled youngster to front line star player this season as he sits second in the NHL with 19 goals scored in 29 games. Pastrnak looks, plays and scores like a hockey player these days.
David Krejci – A big winger that can consistently score. David Krejci certainly should be the kind of player that can elevate his linemates, but that hasn’t been the case this season with Ryan Spooner and David Backes, a couple of natural centers, lining up on either side of him on most nights. He really misses Loui Eriksson the most of anybody on the Bruins roster, and needs a true winger on his line that can A) play a power game to help give him room on the ice and B) put the puck in the net. Backes is doing a decent job of filling those job requirements, but the sense is that it could be even better with a more explosive player by his side.
Torey Krug – A good luck charm. Krug has one goal scored on 109 shots this season. That’s an eye-popping, hide the wife and kids 0.9 shooting percentage for the player with the second-most shots on net on the B’s roster behind Patrice Bergeron. Krug seemed to be taking fewer shots and trying to create more plays in the last few games leading up to the holiday break, and that might be a good way to go for him for a while.
David Backes – A couple of pretty goals. Let’s hope that the 32-year-old Backes gets a few lamp lighters that rank high on the aesthetic beauty scale. Because right now just about every goal that Backes scores is a mucking, grinding and hardnosed tribute to camping in front of the net for the dirty goals. It’s exactly what the Bruins needed and credit Backes for going there consistently, but variety in scoring is the spice of life after all.
Ryan Spooner – A new NHL home in the near future. Ryan Spooner has qualities that don’t show up all that often in Bruins prospects with speed, skill and some very good instincts on the power play, and he posted nearly 50 points in his first full NHL season. But he has played left wing most of this season and simply doesn’t look like he’s going to be playing center, his preferred, natural position, anytime soon under Claude Julien in Boston. So Spooner might have to end up going elsewhere to get the legit chance he’s looking for to be a top-6 center in the NHL.
Dominic Moore – a contract extension with the Bruins. One wouldn’t want to extend a 36-year-old like Moore too far, of course, but he’s exceeded expectations as a fourth line center with face-off skills, penalty killing strength and the kind of occasional offense that’s seen him score eight goals in 36 games. He’s been the constant on a fourth line that’s been good for the Bruins this season, and he deserves another season in Boston as long as the second half is just as good as the first half has been.
Patrice Bergeron – Some time to heal up. Hopefully three days off the ice are enough for Bergeron to sufficiently heal up whatever ails him in the first half of the season because the five goals and 10 points in 33 games have played a big role in Boston’s offensive slowdown. Bergeron did score in the pre-Christmas break finale for some good news, but he’s looked slower, less explosive and almost laboring in his skating at times over the last few months. It would appear some kind of lower body injury is bothering him and has played into his reduced numbers, so the hope is that a little time will get him back to healthy. The Bruins are in trouble if they have a reduced Bergeron over the course of an entire season.
Tim Schaller – A couple hundred of the giant Tim Schaller heads. A huge credit to Schaller’s New Hampshire friends and family for the giant “Schaller” heads that have invaded the balcony at TD Garden on occasion this season to commemorate the local kids place on the Bruins roster. Now we just need enough of them to fill up the entire TD Garden because the Schaller heads are pretty sweet.
Austin Czarnik – A long stretch at third line center over the second half of the season. There’s no doubt that Czarnik has looked better in the seven games since sliding over to center with a couple of goals, three points and an even plus/minus rating with 12 shots on net. He’s also had better offensive chances while manning the middle as well. It will be as a center that Czarnik will sink or swim as an NHL player, so the Bruins need to get a long evaluation of him there.
Brandon Carlo – A little love from the NHL rookie hype machine. The 20-year-old defenseman has led all NHL rookies in ice time and plus/minus pretty much wire-to-wire for the first three months of the season, but other first year D-men like Zach Werenski and Ivan Provorov seem to be getting more attention than the Bruins D-man. Some of that might be about Carlo’s impact as a shutdown D-man rather than an offensive blueliner, but he’s been just as important to the Bruins as either of them have been to their respective teams.
Zdeno Chara – Continued trips to the same fountain of youth he’s visited for the first three months. Chara has been mostly excellent for the Bruins in the first few months of this season as their No. 1 defenseman, and has averaged a team-high 23:14 of ice time per night while keeping the other team’s best offensive players in check. He’s even contributed a bit more recently to the offense and PP, and has done it while tutoring rookie Brandon Carlo as his D-partner. He’s not what he was five years ago, but he’s still the best that Boston has on the back end at 39 years old.
Matt Beleskey – A return to full health. Beleskey is out with a knee injury and didn’t enjoy a consistent line of production prior to his injury, so the physical left winger could use a stretch of good, productive time playing with some quality linemates to get his numbers up to snuff. Beleskey always brings his best every night, but two goals, five points and a minus-6 rating in 24 games leaves a lot for improvement.
Riley Nash – His first official “moment” with the Bruins. Riley Nash has been solid to the point of not being a detriment when he’s on the ice with the Bruins, and he’s shown an ability to play multiple positions up and down the forward group. But Nash also hasn’t done much to truly distinguish himself in 36 games with the Bruins, and could use a key moment within a game to really mark his time with the Black and Gold. Perhaps that will happen sooner rather than later for a player that has clearly earned the trust of the coaching staff.
John-Michael Liles – A clear head free of concussion symptoms. Liles hasn’t practiced with the team in a month since suffering a nasty-looking concussion, and has missed 14 games after a couple of other significant concussions in his long NHL career. In the good news department, Liles was spotted going on the ice with his family prior at the Bruins practice rink to the Christmas holiday. So he’s clearly feeling good enough to do that and perhaps will again become a playing option for the B’s.
Colin Miller – A box of swagger, confidence. The thing that Miller needs most is the kind of playmaking confidence that his skating, shooting and puck-moving skills would dictate, and the kind that he showed in his last few games headed into the holiday break. The booming shot can create a ton of offense when he can find shooting lanes in the offensive zone, and that started to happen in the last few games. The talent is there for Miller to be a constant in the Bruins lineup moving forward, and that should happen in the second half of the year.
Jimmy Hayes – Goals, goals, goals. There has been far too much talk about a player in Jimmy Hayes that literally did nothing for most of his first three months of this season. Hayes has begun to play with a fire under him in recent games, and has a couple of goals in the last few weeks while joining the battle in and around the net. But it’s not nearly enough as Hayes needs a long stretch of productive, heavy hockey to make people forget scoring just a single goal in a 41-game stretch over the last two seasons. For better or worse, the Bruins need Hayes and the kind of offense he can bring camped out in front of the net.
Noel Acciari – Offensive instincts. Acciari is a nice kid, a gritty competitor and the kind of player that bothers opponents simply by playing hard to the whistle. He’s an asset on the fourth line when he plays there. But there isn’t much offense there with or without the puck, and the two assists and 14 shots on net in 18 games attest to that. Acciari needs to keep working to try and find his offensive niche at the NHL level because it isn’t there yet.
Adam McQuaid – A willing dance partner. Adam McQuaid has looked ready to drop the gloves at numerous times this season, but hasn’t found many combatants willing to take him on in this new peace-loving NHL. Hopefully there won’t be as much for the Bruins D-man to be angry about on the ice in the second half of the season, but that’s doubtful given McQuaid’s willingness to always stand up and defend his teammates.
Kevan Miller – A point. Miller is the only Bruins regular that still hasn’t cracked the score sheet at this point in the season, and it’s not for a lack of trying as he’s been active pinching in the offensive zone at times. But it’s been quiet thus far for a player that had five goals and 18 points in 71 games last season for the Black and Gold.
Tuukka Rask – Another Vezina Trophy. Rask has been the best thing about the Bruins this season, and is the single biggest reason that they’re in a playoff spot at the holiday break. Given the lack of offense and the very average defensive corps in front of him, Rask should be up for Vezina and Hart Trophy consideration if he can follow through with an equally strong second half. Everything is riding on Rask’s ability to maintain this level of play through the season.
Anton Khudobin – Another win to go with his only one for this season. Khudobin has had a rough go of it with a 1-5-1 record as Tuukka Rask’s backup, and the rogue’s gallery of backup goaltenders, in general, simply haven’t been good enough for the Bruins when called upon this season. If Khudobin can’t find a way to give the Bruins good enough goaltending to win games, then they need to find a better replacement whether it’s Zane McIntyre or somebody else.
Claude Julien – An answer on the power play. The Bruins power play is ranked 28th on the season and has scored less than 14 percent of the time. If the Bruins could find a way to turn their PP into a top-10 unit from their current bottom-10 status, it would go a long way toward solving the overall issues with putting the puck in the net. Patrice Bergeron hasn’t been effective in the bumper role and it’s too early to tell what kind of impact David Pastrnak will have on the top unit now that he’s been installed there. But special teams play is an NHL coach’s pride and joy, and this has been a dreadful start for Julien and Co. this season.
Don Sweeney – A true winger that can score. This is the biggest need on the Bruins right now. Perhaps it will be Frank Vatrano that steps up and fills this role as the true finisher on the wing that the Bruins have been missing all season. Three goals in his first four games back from injury, counting both Providence and Boston, is a pretty good place to start. But the bottom line is that there are far too many centers on this roster that make plays rather than true wingers that can finish off plays with a knack for scoring goals. That’s on the GM to fix that situation when this was an obvious situation prior to the start of the preseason.
Cam Neely – A playoff team. This is the one that might cause Santa Claus the most strain to make it happen this year, but the Bruins are in pretty good position entering the New Year. Sure they don’t have nearly enough offense or a reliable backup goaltender, but the defensive structure and Tuukka Rask give them a combination that should be good enough to qualify for the postseason. They just have to hope that no more than one of the Lightning, Panthers, Red Wings or the Maple Leafs really catches fire over the next couple of months. This Bruins team feels more like a playoff club than the last couple of years, but the last few home losses headed into the break also raise some doubts about them as well.