Bruins

Bruins' mission now is to survive November

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Bruins' mission now is to survive November

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.
 

Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

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Heinen beginning to look like a keeper for Bruins

BRIGHTON, Mass – While it’s still early in the careers of all the young Bruins rookies making their way this season, it sure looks like 22-year-old Danton Heinen is among the B’s youngsters that are here to stay. The former University of Denver standout didn’t make the cut at the end of training camp this season and he failed early last year when it was clear he wasn’t ready during an eight-game audition with the big club.

But Heinen continued to look ready while scoring a pair of goals and three points in the three games on a pivotal road trip through California last week, and is now tied for fifth on the Bruins in points despite missing four games in the AHL. In all, Heinen has four goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 rating in 15 games this season, and is on pace for a really strong 21 goals and 52 points in his first full year.

This has been a really nice step forward for Heinen after being a point-per-game player for Providence during their playoff run last spring.

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“Last year’s playoff did a lot for him. When I saw him playing there, he was a different player than when he’d left [Boston],” said Bruce Cassidy. “There was a willingness to stay in the battle and his growth when it comes to winning pucks…you’ve seen it here. A lot of the things he’s down well are his second and third efforts on the puck where last year I thought he was pushed off the puck pretty easily [at the NHL level].”

There could be a period when his offense slows down or some other part of his game drags his minutes down, but right now he looks like he’s well on his way to establishing himself in a key role with the Black and Gold. The difference has been Heinen increasing his speed and also adding a little more tenacity to the skill and offense package that he was always bringing to the table.  

“I don’t want to say that because when we get our guys healthy then we’ll see where we’re at,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked if Heinen was a keeper at the NHL level at this point. “But I think he’s certainly shown he’s a much more consistent player than he was last year. He’s probably a bit ahead of the other younger guys because he has gone through a bit of it [at the pro level]. The fact that he’s been able to play in a lot of different situations, play left or right wing, and moved up in the lineup while being very effective with [Sean] Kuraly and [Tim] Schaller down in the lineup, as a coach it’s to have a guy like that who can move around and fit in a lot of different places.

“So he’s certainly helped himself [to stay in the NHL]. I think it’s too early to say if he’s here for good, but I don’t envision him leaving [Boston] anytime soon with the way that he’s played.”

Only time and consistently good play will allow the playmaking Heinen to truly lock up his spot on the NHL roster, but it’s increasingly difficult to envision any scenario where the fifth-round pick isn’t playing an increasingly important role for the Bruins. 

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Bruins' Backes returns to ice after surgery for diverticulitis

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Bruins' Backes returns to ice after surgery for diverticulitis

BRIGHTON -- In a development that was certainly much sooner than originally anticipated, David Backes has returned to the ice just a matter of weeks after having 10 inches of colon removed during surgery for diverticulitis. It remains to be seen how gradual a process it will be for the 33-year-old to actually return to game action given his original timetable for recovery was eight weeks following the early November procedure, but it seems like it might end up being ahead of the two months Backes was initially expected to be sidelined. 

For his part, Backes was happy to be back skating with his teammates and pushing his recovering body after feeling pretty sluggish for the first few days following surgery. He confirmed he’d been skating for a couple of days while the team was on the West Coast, but Monday was his first team doing anything post-surgery with the rest of the team. 

“It’s good to be back with the guys and to be around the room, and to have seen the kind of resiliency that these guys showed on the road trip. The back half of the road trip was impressive,” said Backes, who has an assist in five games with the Bruins before succumbing to the surgery. “To be on the ice and moving around after sitting around doing nothing for too long where you don’t think you’re going to see the light at the end of the tunnel, it feels good. 

“The doc’s advice is that if it doesn’t hurt then I can keep moving forward and add more of a workload on, so that’s the update for today. It’s still non-contact, but we’ll keep moving along and hopefully I’ll be back doing what I love to do on a regular basis. I haven’t been notified that the timeline has changed at all, so I’m just going to keep putting in the work. The more I seem to do the work the better it is, and I seem to be able to do a little more each day. So those are all positive signs.”

For the Bruins it’s clearly a morale booster to see the big power forward back doing regular hockey activities, and serving notice that he’ll be bringing his size, strength, leadership and physicality back to a B’s team that definitely needs him. Clearly the return of another high-end forward would also immensely help a Bruins team that’s still very undermanned up front, but it would appear there will be some other B’s forwards getting back prior to Backes. 

Brad Marchand and Ryan Spooner appear poised to return to full practice on Tuesday with a possible return to the lineup not too far beyond that after all three injured forwards took part in Monday’s optional skate at Warrior Ice Arena. 

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