BRIGHTON, Mass – With November here, the harsh reality for the Bruins is they are out of the playoff picture right now and under siege because of injuries and inconsistency.
The latest barrage was the unwelcomed news Wednesday that David Backes is out for at least a couple of months after surgery to remove a portion of his colon due to his diverticulitis. The player and the team knew surgery was a strong possibility at the time of diagnosis, but the way things have played out the Bruins are now down three experienced centers with Backes, David Krejci (back) and Ryan Spooner (groin) all out.
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“We knew it was a possibility, but it’s really unfortunate,” said Patrice Bergeron of losing Backes. “It’s all the intangibles on the ice, as well as off the ice. He’s a good leader and he’s got a big voice in the locker room. He’s been around for a while and he was a captain in St. Louis, so he’s a big void to fill on and off the ice. It’s just that ‘next man up’ mentality, I guess. I’m sure we’ll all pick up the slack.
“Everybody that gets the tap on the shoulder gets more responsibility and more ice time as a result of it, and then you’ve got to go out there and do the job. We may all be asked to do a little more for the team, and we just have to answer.”
Backes is out for at least two months, Spooner is out at least another month with his injury and Krejci is week-to-week while not having skated at all in roughly a week’s time. The embattled Bruins have had their good lineup intact for exactly one game, the Oct. 19 win over the Vancouver Canucks, where both Bergeron and Krejci were healthy and on the ice together. They’ve never had their planned opening-night lineup healthy and together even for a single game thus far.
The injuries have left the Bruins with Riley Nash, Jordan Szwarz and Sean Kuraly as the three centers behind Bergeron, who himself missed the first few weeks of the season with a lower-body injury. Those injuries to key spots and across all the positions have made it challenging for the Bruins to find early season consistency, and has contributed to the wild and unruly swings in play we’ve seen from the Black and Gold over the first month.
“It’s challenging every because of [the injuries],” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “You want to develop some chemistry in the lines, and you want to some chemistry with the goaltenders and both of them have been hurt. Just to be able to play a certain style of game every night and to have that repetition, that’s what makes you better generally.
“Talent and work ethic obviously [are important], but repetition makes things easier as you go along so you’re not thinking too much. That’s been difficult. But that’s the hand you’re dealt and you’ve got to play it. Our job as a [coaching] staff is to make it as seamless as possible, put our minds together to help incorporate the young guys.
You’re going to have nights like Columbus where there are pockets where it doesn’t look pretty and pockets that once it comes together we can be effective. We have a core group of guys that can really carry this team, and we just need the other guys pulled into it very quickly. That’s our job.”
Clearly, there is no good time of season for injuries to ravage a team but that’s exactly what’s happening right now with Backes, Krejci, Spooner, Adam McQuaid, Noel Acciari and Anton Khudobin all out. November could be a disastrous time for all of this to happen, however, with the Bruins already a couple of points out of a playoff spot one month into the proceedings.
The good news is that the Bruins have games in hand on everybody else in the Eastern Conference while stuck in 10th place out of 16 teams, but they look they’re in an extremely compromised position to make up ground while missing so many bodies. The remaining healthy Bruins are accepting the situation with the knowledge Boston’s best players need to play that way every night if they’re going to survive the stretch.
“It is a test. It’s been a challenge since Game One. We’ve been missing somebody since the first game, and we haven’t had our full lineup for even one game this season,” said Bergeron. “I’d be lying if I said it’s ideal obviously. But that being said it’s…and coach has been saying this as well...it’s opportunities for other guys to step up and take a bigger share of the responsibility. We have to take that upon ourselves, whoever is on the ice, to do the job.
“Whenever we do get those guys back on the ice, it’s going to be great and it’s going to feel like we had some trades or something has happened. So we just have to hold the fort until we get some more players back, and it’s about is in this dressing room [right now].”
The burning question now for the Black and Gold is just how well the remaining rag-tag group can hold the fort in a grueling month that starts on tonight against the upstart expansion team out of Las Vegas.
Eight of the 12 opponents the Bruins will be facing in November were in the playoffs last season and three of the other four non-playoff teams are the biggest early-season success stories: Vegas, New Jersey and Los Angeles. That could spell doom for a B’s roster that looks more like a glorified AHL team on some nights given all of the regulars stuck on injured reserve. That reality was stunningly clear when the Bruins tapped Kenny Agostino, of all people, as their big goal-scoring hope with a shootout point on the line in Columbus on Monday night.
It’s a critical time for the Bruins where teams not in the playoff picture by Thanksgiving have only a 25 percent chance of making the playoffs. It's the kind of uphill battle Boston successfully scaled after their coaching change last season. That’s certainly not the kind of late-season surge the Bruins are planning on this time around.
The bottom line for the undermanned B’s: They need to find a way to survive the next four weeks where the schedule is doing them no favors. Still, they seem to be losing another injured player from their roster with each passing day. It’s no easy task, but then again nobody said it was going to be easy as the Bruins embarked on their 82-game journey this season.