The Bruins continue to suffer through an unprecedented deluge of injuries, and that was once again the case when Bruce Cassidy ruled out both Brad Marchand and Anders Bjork from the first two games of their three-game road swing through California.
Perhaps they will be able to return against San Jose this weekend or will be ready to go on the night before Thanksgiving against the Devils in New Jersey, but that’s a different story for a different day. The bottom line is that the Bruins are missing half the top-six forwards they were counting on at the start of the season. Only Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and rookie Jake DeBrusk are currently playing.
That group has had exactly one game together this season when both Bergeron and David Krejci were both healthy, and that was a 6-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 19.
“I would really like to have all [top-6 forwards] at my disposal, and then we could sort it all out,” Cassidy said wistfully. “The message going forward is to play well and to play hard. Control the things that we can control like effort and execution. In terms of effort I think it’s been pretty good, but the execution is coming on even though it’s hurt us in certain games.”
The Bruins will have DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly, Jordan Szwarz, Danton Heinen, Kenny Agostino and Peter Cehlarik all in their lineup on Wednesday night against the Anaheim Ducks, and expecting six rookies to help stabilize things on a California road trip usually spells doom. Certainly things will be helped by a potential return from Krejci over the next few games, but the Bruins are going to struggle to merely be competitive down so many players from their regular lineup.
Another less obvious consequence resulting from the injuries is the enormous burden being placed on Bergeron’s shoulders since he returned from his lower body injury. The 32-year-old has four goals and 11 points in 11 games, but he’s also averaging a career-high 21:28 of ice time per game and topping the 20-minute mark for the first time he was 22. Similarly, Brad Marchand is averaging a career-high 21:30 of ice time per game, which is two minutes more per game than he’s ever played in his NHL career. Perhaps it shouldn’t be all that surprising that Marchand is now banged up after being used so much, and the same fate may break Bergeron down again if the Bruins aren’t careful.
After all, it’s Bergeron and Marchand that play the heaviest of the shifts pulling massive weight at both ends of the ice while also playing in every situation against the other team’s best players. It’s a situation that Cassidy is keenly aware of, but it’s difficult to navigate while also trying to win.
It was watching Bergeron wear down under heavy usage a couple of seasons ago that spurred the Bruins to signBackes in the first place (and that certainly hasn’t gone according to plan, either).
“We’ve got to be careful because we play the next night [in Los Angeles],” said Cassidy. “You want to stay in the moment and you want to win games, but you also want to make sure you’re not overtaxing [players]. So how do you juggle all that? That’s the challenge that we have as a staff right now, and that’s what is in front of us.
“That’s when it helps when a guy like Szwarz comes up and gives us some good, solid minutes. That’s when it helps when a guy like Riley Nash has to step up in penalty kill, shut-down situations. Sean Kuraly, I think, has done a pretty good job. Earlier in the year he was having a tough time, but now he’s settled in, he’s giving us some good energy and has chances to score most nights. So we’re relying on those guys a little more than you normally would, and that’s the hand we’ve been dealt.”
“Careful” was the right word used by Cassidy when it comes to the heavy workload that Bergeron is carrying right now, and there’s really no other choice for the Bruins until the healthy bodies starting returning to the lineup. The question is just how much No. 37 is going to have left in the tank when it matters most at the end of season after doing the yeoman’s work in the first few months.