BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s normally a sequence of peaks and valleys for rookies in their first foray through the NHL and Anders Bjork is definitely in one of those lower points right now.
Bjork, 21, registered a season-low 6:47 of ice time in the Bruins 5-3 loss to the Washington Capitals on Thursday night at TD Garden and was benched for portions of the second and third period after looking pretty timid throughout the game.
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Bjork has just a single point and two shots on net in his past six games since returning from an upper-body injury believed to be a concussion. It's been an extremely quiet period for a player expected to make a top-six forward impact. It’s all trending toward a potential healthy scratch for Bjork on Saturday against the New York Rangers with a healthy Ryan Spooner potentially taking over for him on David Krejci’s left side.
“We’ll make the decision tomorrow, but [a Bjork scratch] is definitely a possibility and something we’ve discussed,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I just find that he’s not as strong on the puck as he was at the start of the year, or as quick to create turnovers. There are parts of his game that are always going to be worked on, like his play away from the puck.
“But the issue right now is being strong on pucks. The goal [Washington] they scored the other night is a good example. We make a play through the middle of the ice tape-to-tape, he’s in the crease and he’s not able to handle a puck. They’re coming back at us while we’re thinking we’re on offense. There were breakdowns after that clearly, but that’s an area [that needs improving]. Just before Charlie [McAvoy’s] penalty, we’re on a draw and [Bjork] gets pushed off a puck that comes back on us and we get beat up ice. Some of it is plays where he needs to be better, and some of it is where he’s at in his career where other guys are just stronger.”
Perhaps some of Bjork’s hesitancy is also an after-effect of getting tattooed in the middle of the ice by Tampa Bay's Matt Martin in a play that knocked him out of the lineup for a few weeks. Coping with the immediacy of those kinds of hits is part of life in pro hockey for a young player. It's a considerable adjustment when going straight from college hockey to the NHL.
Bjork knows that he hasn’t been a high-impact player since returning from injury and hasn’t really utilized his greatest offensive assets, speed and skill. It may not matter much if Bjork watches Saturday from the ninth floor of the Garden as a healthy scratch, but he has a plan to get his game back on track when he does get his next opportunity for the Black and Gold.
“I think it’s mainly a confidence thing. I have to use [my speed] and it’s on me if I don’t,” said Bjork, who has four goals and 10 points in 22 games this season. “I think I just have to have that confidence every shift, so I can avoid the mistakes. There are bounces good and bad in hockey, but you create your own luck sometimes. You do that by playing the right way, and when things aren’t going your way you need to get back to basics of making things simple. That’s what I need to focus on: Making the simple plays and doing the details right.”
A healthy scratch was exactly the right thing to spark fellow rookie Jake DeBrusk when he was scuffling a bit last month, so perhaps the same plan of attack for Bjork to unlock his game while on a pace for 14 goals and 34 points this season.