BOSTON – Bruce Cassidy addressed the elephant in the room earlier today after the Bruins were roundly criticized for failing to step up and protect goaltender Tuukka Rask when he was concussed by a punch to the head Tuesday night in Columbus.
It was a tepid response form the B's with Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug and Joakim Nordstrom challenging the skill forward (Emil Bremstrom) that knocked Rask out of the game, and nobody playing with much fire or anger in a limp 3-0 loss to the Blue Jackets.
For a couple of days, Bruins fans and media alike bashed the Bruins for failing to stand up for their goaltender and playing a softer brand of hockey than people are used to around the Hub where they were once known as the Big Bad Bruins.
Certainly it’s a different NHL than it was in the 1970’s or even nine years ago when the Bruins last won the Cup with an extremely tough crew, but Cassidy said he still believes that his players stick up for each other when the moment calls for it.
“I do believe that this team plays together, sticks together [and] has been accountable for years. We’re not the same makeup as maybe we were in the 1970’s or 2011 for that matter," said Cassidy.
"We’ve tried to change our roster – that’s Donny and I both – we’ve had discussions on who we’ve drafted. You draft skill guys like [Anders] Bjork, [Danton] Heinen, [Jake] DeBrusk and you can put [Pastrnak] in that mix too because he’s that type of a skill player and that’s the direction we’ve tried to go while keeping – obviously [Zdeno] Chara is more than tough – the Kevan Millers of the world. [He] happens to be injured and that’s a tough one. Connor Clifton is a guy that gives us some bite sometimes [but] he’s injured.
“We’ve tried to keep certain guys in the lineup. Chris Wagner is a physical player, [David] Backes had some of that in him, but he gets concussions a little bit and now we’re talking about what level is he going to be able to go for his personal health? I think we’ve tried to balance it.
“But if it’s out there [that there was a lack of response], people have a right to say it. I believe that if anything happens the guys in this room will be together. I think the incident the other night [in Columbus] to be perfectly honest nobody knew what the hell happened in the first. Then we addressed it between periods and a couple of guys tried to engage [Emil] Bremstrom.
"If we want to go back and talk about other teams, and how they’re built, we can have that conversation. I think there are teams that are less physical than us and I think there are a few that are more [physical]. We’re trying to be the best of both worlds with our roster and we’ll see where it leads us.”
Cassidy pointed to the current situation with the Black and Gold where arguably their toughest, meanest warrior in Miller has been almost an entire calendar year with kneecap problems, and 35-year-old Backes understandably isn’t the willing pugilist he once was due to a slew of concussions he’s suffered since coming to Boston.
But does that speak to a need for that kind of player on a Bruins roster that suddenly seems to have tipped the scales way toward speed and skill rather than brawn, strength and a little bit of snarl?
“We will deal with internally. I’m comfortable with the guys sticking up for one another. Do we need a little more of it some nights? We need maybe somebody to pull it out of us on some nights,” said Cassidy. “That’s where I think it’s out of the coaches to pull it out a little bit or it’s up to a player that’s a pest to stir it up a little bit. We’ll address that internally as well.”
Cassidy referenced the impending return of Anton Blidh from shoulder surgery as a possible player that could stir the pot for the Black and Gold and get their dander up in some of the nights when it’s lacking across the 82-game regular season.
But with all due respect to Cassidy, they are missing some serious snarl and tough guy attitude in their lineup with guys like Miller, Brett Ritchie, Connor Clifton and David Backes either injured or unable to bring even a little smidge of the old Big Bad Bruins to the table when it’s called for.
It’s clear as day when they run up against bigger, tougher and heavier teams like the Capitals and Blues that the Bruins are lacking in those areas, and it’s to a point where even teams like the Blue Jackets know they can rattle cages when they’re playing the Black and Gold.