BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins are readying for another weekend of back-to-back afternoon games amid a month that has been uniquely demanding for them.
The good news for the B’s was that they got an extended 10-day break in January over NHL All-Star weekend and a bye week. It clearly re-energized them as they ripped off a six-game winning streak sandwiched around that idle time.
Still, the Bruins are paying the price now with a crazy schedule that includes five pairs of back-to-back games in February, and just last weekend had the B's playing two games in about 22 hours with a 12:30 pm start in Detroit after a 3 p.m. home afternoon date the day prior.
This weekend it will be a 1 p.m. matinee at home against the Detroit Red Wings followed by a 3:30 p.m. Sunday matinee against the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden that will at least give the B’s a couple of extra hours of recovery time.
But nobody on the Bruins could remember any other instance in recent history when they had so many back-to-back games in such a short period of time and it will be interesting to see how that impacts them both short- and long-term.
They didn’t look as focused mentally and locked in energy-wise in the loss in Detroit on Sunday as a result of playing four games in six days with trips to Chicago and Detroit sandwiched in there and it was plain to see the reasons behind it.
“We’re fortunate in that we’ve got good goaltending, so either one we’ve got a chance right away. It is a lot. It seems like a lot and it seems that we’ve had a lot [of back-to-back games] this year in general for whatever reason,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I don’t know. You just play them. We’ve got a lot of depth, so we can move guys in and out of the lineup. We’re well-conditioned. I don’t think it’s a big problem for us in general.
“But last week the Sunday game [in Detroit] I think it showed up a little bit. When you’ve got four games in the same week with the quick turnaround in travel and Chicago was a late start. So, you’re losing a bit of sleep. I think Sunday it showed up mentally with us a little bit, not physically. We had our legs and we competed hard, but we didn’t execute like we usually do. So I think it caught up to us a little bit.”
The one thing that the Bruins understand, though, is that the bye weeks are impacting all 31 teams from a compacted schedule standpoint and they aren’t the only ones going through it. It will affect teams in different ways. Injuries are hitting a Tampa Bay Lightning team chasing the Bruins in the standings, even if it hasn’t affected the results on the ice with the Bolts riding a nine-game winning streak that has them just one point behind Boston.
These schedule challenges are just another little piece of adversity the Bruins will have to overcome. Some of the younger guys on the B’s roster don’t even mind playing many games in a short period of time, but it’s a bit tougher for older players, such as their 42-year-old captain, when it comes to bouncing back.
“It’s just the way it is. I think every team is going through it,” said Zdeno Chara. “I was looking at the other teams and the schedules they have, and it was no different for them either. It’s a little bit challenging especially when you play the first game a little later than the second game, but we have to do our best to do our postgame recoveries and that you expend the energy in the right places at the right time.”
Give it another five or 10 years for the 22-year-old Charlie McAvoy, and he might not be such a fan of playing back-to-back games that clearly don’t faze him right now.
“It does [present a challenge]. It was kind of wild when we got back from the bye week and saw [our schedule]. You take that into consideration, but I think back-to-backs are good. We’ve been good in them and that’s encouraging,” said McAvoy. “I think the schedule has been fine. Usually, on the back end [of the back-to-back], we’ll get an off-day and a practice day. It’s been good that we’ve been able to mix in rest with playing. It’s been fine.”
As it is, the Bruins are a solid 6-1-1 in the first night of back-to-backs, but they drop to 3-4-1 in the second game for an overall back-to-back record of 9-5-2. The Bruins have two more sets of back-to-back games this month and two more in March and early April, so they will have ample opportunities to bump up those numbers.