BOSTON – At a certain point, one would think the Bruins would react to what’s happening on the ice.
Sure they are still winning their share of games and the Black and Gold are still in the top wild card spot with 32 points on the season after their 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night at TD Garden.
But the Bruins have been losing players at an alarming rate to injuries all season, and have been increasingly been getting bullied on the ice when they were once the Big Bad Bruins pushing other teams around. The 98-pound weakling dynamic has been exacerbated in recent weeks by the losses of Boston’s biggest and toughest hombres, Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller, with both of them out for a significant period of time.
So opponents aren’t afraid of taking liberties with the B’s, and that’s been apparent over the last few games as David Krejci has been absolutely steam-rolled in two straight games with big neutral zone hits. There was no real reaction from the B’s when it happened on Thursday night against the Islanders at the end of a period, and it took roughly a minute before Joakim Nordstrom finally stepped up and dropped the gloves with Luke Witkowski after he drilled Krejci on Saturday.
Later in the game Luke Glendening threw a cheap, dirty hip check on Matt Grzelcyk that was away from the puck as the Red Wings forward was headed back to the Detroit bench. It’s the kind of stuff that routinely doesn’t happen when the Bruins have their warrior D-men in the lineup, and it’s something that almost never happened back in the 2011 Stanley Cup era when they were the ones doing the pushing around.
It’s also worth noting that there was no Chara or Miller in the B’s lineup when Radek Faksa ran Patrice Bergeron shoulder-first into the boards with an injury that also put him out for over a month. Some of them might be written off as “hockey plays” that happen from time to time, but you can bet teams are taking note that they’re not paying much of a price for taking runs at Boston’s best players right now.
Is Bruce Cassidy noticing that other NHL teams are punking the Bruins with no Miller or Chara in the lineup for the next month or so?
“[It] could be. It could very well be. We still feel we have guys in the lineup that will answer the bell.
Sometimes that…psychologically the group looks at the board and it’s not as hard to come in when you’re missing Zee or Miller, is it? But, we still have to find way to stick up for one and other,” said Cassidy. “I thought Nordy [Joakim Nordstrom] is not a guy that certainly is going to do that, tried to show that he’ll stick up for one of his teammates. What you want to do is then get physical with their skill.
“I thought our guys tried to do that. [Noel] Acciari, [Chris] Wagner certainly tried to get out there and bang bodies. I thought after some of that took place that we actually played some good hockey after that. It kind of woke us – I don’t want to say wake us up -- but get our dander up, so off we went. I thought in the third we did a good job. We just couldn’t score in their end, and they got a good deflection.”
Certainly the Bruins have shown heart and resiliency in this stretch while dealing with a critical mass injury situation, but nobody is going to mistake this team for a modern day version of the Big Bad Bruins. The Bruins actually lead the NHL with eight fighting majors, but half of them are from the three smallest guys on the team (Brad Marchand, Noel Acciari and Torey Krug) being asked to do something they weren’t built for.
So, what are they to do?
Well, they still very much need a top-6 forward that can score, throw around his body and put the fear into opponents the way Chara and Miller do on the back end. The way things are going in Philly, a player like Wayne Simmonds could make a great short term Bruin that could immediately address the situation, but he would certainly come at a hefty price.
They also could use a player on the fourth line that’s more fearsome than gritty and gutty, and could bring a Shawn Thornton-type element to this team. Ideally it would be a Ryan Reaves-type player that could actually serve a role while taking care of business when players like Krejci have the misfortune of finding themselves in the other team’s crosshairs. This obviously isn’t the NHL of 10 years ago where every team has an enforcer, but there are still tough guys that exist out there that can both play and drop the gloves.
Maybe they could ask John Scott to come out of retirement for a few months for the NHL minimum to keep the peace on the TD Garden ice?
It would come at a price by downgrading their current fourth line, but let’s be honest: it’s not exactly the Merlot Line that we’re talking about changing either.
The worst thing the Bruins could do is nothing and watch as somebody takes out Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak without any fear of paying a price. Because that fear isn’t there right now and the B’s need to do something about it before the situation gets any worse than it already is.
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