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.
 

Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

Bruins wary of negatively impacting "very good chemistry" at trade deadline

TORONTO – It doesn’t take much searching on the Google machine to uncover noteworthy accomplishments from the Bruins this season. 

The Bruins are top-five in the NHL in offense, defense and penalty kill, and they have gone an amazing 31-6-4 since the middle of November while storming to the very top of the NHL standings. Along the way they’ve overcome injuries, tough losses bad starts, one lengthy Brad Marchand suspension and a fan base that was only half paying attention until the season ended anticlimactically for the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago. 

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They also did all of this while introducing a lineup with five or six rookies in it every single night, and playing for a head coach in Bruce Cassidy in his first full year running the NHL team after 13 years between NHL gigs. They’ve been resilient and filled with fighting character all along, and they’ve overwhelmed opponents with their depth and quality of players on the vast majority of nights. 

They’re an entertaining and fun hockey club to watch, to be sure, and they are a group that sticks up for each other and genuinely likes one another while also sitting mere points behind the top dog Tampa Bay Lightning. That was all evident when the entire team enjoyed a night out together in Toronto on Wednesday, and wound up using the team-wide get-together as quality content for their Instagram accounts. 

Long story short, the Bruins have been extremely good this season on a consistent basis and look primed for an intriguing run into the postseason as the NHL trade deadline beckons. 

With all that in mind, it’s a delicate balance for Bruins management between making necessary roster improvements and not upsetting a tangle team chemistry that’s been notably special this season. The always candid Cassidy admitted as much when asked that question while meeting with reporters at the Bruins team hotel on Thursday morning. 

“I think it’s been factored into conversations between me and Donny [Sweeney] that we have a group with some real togetherness there this season,” said Cassidy. “At the end of the day if you can add and make your team better then you always have to look at it, and Donny is looking at that right now. 

“Adding [Nick] Holden I think he’s done that and we’ve added some more depth. But after that I do worry about if we subtract somebody from the room. If you’re adding and you’re not subtracting, i.e. future assets, then as a coach you always prefer to go that way. But Donnie will do what’s best and as a coaching staff we’ll take it from there so to speak. But there is a good chemistry with that group…a very good chemistry in that locker room.”

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Translation: There's a real concern that trading away a young NHL roster player like Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen or Brandon Carlo could be altering the team's DNA a little too boldly. 

This is the factor to keep in mind chasing after rental wingers like Michael Grabner, Thomas Vanek and Patrick Maroon that are unlikely to cost more than a “B” prospect or reasonable draft pick in exchange for them. It’s expected that the Bruins would need to give up at least one young NHL asset, possibly two in a true blockbuster for a player with term, if they chased after bigger ticket targets like Rick Nash or Ryan McDonagh with the Rangers.

Certainly there might be some level of impatience that the Bruins should go for broke at the deadline based on the promise this group has shown this season. Perhaps some are worried the window is starting to close for some of their veteran core players, but the numbers say otherwise with players like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand all enjoying vintage seasons. This isn’t a 2011 “Go for the Cup” type situation this season with the Bruins where they were primed and ready for a lengthy playoff run, and deals for Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Tomas Kaberle helped put them over the top. 

This year’s group is much more reminiscent of the 2008-09 Bruins that blew away expectations with a strong regular season, and enjoyed breakout performances from a number of younger players that saw them soar high above expectations. The youth and inexperience caught up to the Bruins that season when they were eliminated in the second round during a rugged seven game series with the Carolina Hurricanes, but the experience helped grow them into a contender on a steady trajectory over the next three seasons. 

That’s where the Bruins are this season. 

They’re a pleasant surprise team with a group of talented youngsters helping to push them to a higher level, and they’re due for a learning experience down the stretch and into the postseason. That isn’t likely to develop into an extended two-month Cup run unless a lot goes tremendously right for the Black and Gold, but the experience will pay dividends for next season and beyond. 

It might be that there’s just one more player for the Bruins to add ahead of Monday’s deadline, and that it will be more “sensible roster addition” than “take-your-breath-away blockbuster.” But that’s really okay when it comes to the Black and Gold.

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It’s okay because it means Don Sweeney hasn’t attempted pulling the roster apart at any of the seams, and will instead roll with his chemistry-filled Bruins regular season juggernaut to see exactly how good they stack up to be in the postseason. They’ve certainly earned that right after kicking the tar out of the rest of the NHL for the last three plus months, and it’s starting to feel like they’re going to get it.

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Bruins' Bjork out for season after undergoing shoulder surgery

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Bruins' Bjork out for season after undergoing shoulder surgery

TORONTO -- Anders Bjork's up-and-down rookie season has come to an end, as the Bruins' left wing underwent left shoulder surgery this week that’s expected to keep him sidelined for the next six months. 

Bjork was knocked out of a Jan. 30 loss to the Anaheim Ducks when Francois Beauchemin caught him with a cross-check to the left arm, but it’s unclear whether he was already playing through some level of shoulder injury prior to that collision. According to the B’s release, the 21-year-old winger “underwent successful left shoulder arthroscopy and labral repair on Tuesday” at Mass General Hospital. Bjork had been spotted around the Garden in recent weeks wearing his left arm in a sling, but it was difficult to guess the severity of the injury based on what looked like a fairly run-of-the-mill hit from Beauchemin. 

The injury and season-ending surgery ends a bit of a lost year for Bjork, who cracked the Opening Night roster and finished with 4r goals and 12 points in 30 games.

He showed the speed and skill required to be a top-6 forward at the NHL level, but also appeared to need more development time when it comes to battle level and adjusting to the physicality level in the pro game. The former Notre Dame star never seemed to fully bounce back from getting steamrolled in the neutral zone by Matt Martin in the middle of November, and ended up spending time in Providence as well prior to his season-ending injury. 

Bjork’s injury certainly doesn’t rule him out completely as a trade asset ahead of Monday afternoon’s trade deadline, but it probably makes him less attractive to NHL teams looking for young, NHL-ready talent that can step into their lineups right now. With Bjork headed for the long-term injured list and Frank Vatrano traded to the Florida Panthers for a third-round pick, that certainly opens the door for both a) a deal to bring on a veteran rental winger ahead of the trade deadline and B) a spot to be opened up in the Bruins organization for Ryan Donato when the Harvard University star, currently at the Olympics, is ready to sign.

Those are both very good things despite the downer news about Bjork, who watched fellow rookies Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen live up to the expectations many had for him.

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