Bruins

Injuries, bad draft finally catching up to struggling Bruins

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Injuries, bad draft finally catching up to struggling Bruins

SUNRISE, Fla.  -- The Bruins gritted their teeth and valiantly went 4-1-2 in their first seven games after an already injury-plagued hockey team lost both Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron in successive games on the road.

But they’ve now lost two games in a row to the weak sisters of the Atlantic Division in Detroit and Florida, and had one of their worst losses of the season in Tuesday night’s 5-0 shutout loss to the Panthers at BB&T Center. Certainly even in their weakened state they are better than they showed in a careless game against Florida with some of their best players, Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk among them, simply not playing well at all.

Aleksander Barkov, Mike Hoffman and Jonathan Huberdeau were all dominant forces and the Bruins simply didn’t have the defensive shutdown power to stop any of them while missing their two best defenders from the lineup. That effectively blew up Boston’s formula for winning games – tight defense, perfect goaltending and a dominant power play -- with a bare bones lineup and turned them into a hockey club that looked like they were missing their best players.  

It was a fact not lost on the Bruins after the listless defeat and the hard truth is there may be another one or two of these rock-bottom losses until No. 33 and No. 37 finally return to the lineup.

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“I think there are a lot of things to be learned here. I think a lot of habits are starting to catch up to us,” said Krug. “Our goalies having been doing a great job of keeping us in games. Even though on paper it looks like defensively we’re doing a good job, there are a lot of slow opportunities for the other teams and our goalies have stood up tall. Our power play is the only thing that’s scoring goals right now. We need to keep working, hopefully pop a few and get our confidence back. 

“But we’re so reliant on our power play that it’s got to be good in order for us to win games, and tonight it was not. It’s up to the skill players and a lot of leaders in the room to be better. We’ve got to fix that.”

Some of Tuesday night’s issues will be addressed in practice, and there’s little doubt that Bruce Cassidy and the B’s coaching staff will be able to tweak the power play to get it operating again at a higher level.

“I know there’s a lot of pride and character in the room. Some of it is sitting home in Boston unfortunately,” said Cassidy. “But the guys that are in here have to realize that if our best players aren’t our best players, especially now, then we’re going to have a tough time.”

There is also perhaps a deeper organizational issue at work as injuries rip a chunk out of the Black and Gold.

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AHL call-ups like Colby Cave, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Connor Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon have done the best that they can, but there’s a limit to how good they can be while forced into regular NHL duty for the first time in their careers. None of them were first-round picks and only JFK is really looked at as any kind of dynamic offensive prospect while operating more as a smooth, smart two-way player than an offensive performer.

With the Bruins scrapping for 5-on-5 goals and clearly without firepower to come back when it became a three-goal lead for the Panthers, it’s beginning to become apparent that the B’s 2015 NHL Draft is really starting to hurt them. With three-plus years of development, this should have been the time when 13th overall pick Jakub Zboril and 15th overall pick Zach Senyshyn stepped up and injected some talent and explosiveness to a lineup that’s bereft of both right now.

The man taken in between both of them, Jake DeBrusk at 14th overall, is second on the Bruins with 10 goals this season and has turned into a top-6 winger and one of the best forwards on the roster. He has proven to be a good pick by the Bruins and will probably be in Black and Gold for the next decade given his skills and his mature off-the-ice approach.

But Zboril has managed just a couple of NHL games when the B’s were really desperate for help last month, and was never entrusted with more than 11 minutes of ice time. Senyshyn has never come close to cracking the NHL roster despite the clear need for a goal-scoring winger. This season the 21-year-old has five goals in 22 games for the P-Bruins with a minus-9 rating, and really doesn’t look all that much better than a “meh” AHL rookies season where he totaled 12 goals and 26 points in 66 games.

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Both Zboril and Senyshyn are still young, but it says a lot about what the Bruins think of them that they’re not up in the NHL right now with an injury-ravaged roster.

With so many other players from that 2015 first round taken after them already contributing highly at the NHL– Brock Boeser, Thomas Chabot, Mat Barzal, Travis Konecny and Sebastian Aho to name a few – it’s fair to wonder how much better Boston’s situation would be if they’d done even a little better at executing that first round of the draft.  

It’s beyond fair to ask how much better off the Bruins would be offensively if the 6-foot-3, 200-pound Senyshyn was actually the Chris Kreider-type they projected him to be when they selected him. Instead he’s one of only two first round picks from that 2015 NHL draft that has yet to even suit up at the NHL level, and it doesn’t look like he’s close right now.

The same goes for Zboril given that he was sandwiched in between D-men selections of Noah Hanifin, Ivan Provorov, Zach Werenski and Chabot, and would be a huge benefit to the B’s if he were as good as any of them.

The reality is it’s only a two-game losing streak and the B’s have every excuse to lose a few games given the substantial players they’re missing from the lineup. They’ll also bounce back because they’re talented, well-coached and before too long guys like Chara and Bergeron will be back and ready to play.

But it’s borderline painful to think how much better off the Bruins would be if things had gone a little differently for them three-plus years ago during the draft at the very-same BB&T Center arena where they got their clocks cleaned on Tuesday night.  

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Bruins' David Pastrnak gets wistful in tweet about missing hockey

Bruins' David Pastrnak gets wistful in tweet about missing hockey

There’s no doubt it’s hurting hockey fans to not have the NHL as a welcome distraction from the global coronavirus pandemic currently ripping through North America.

But there’s also little question it pains those involved in the NHL even more to not have hockey at a time of year when teams are finishing up the regular season, and gearing up for the best time of year in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Bruins hotshot right wing David Pastrnak sent out a tweet over the weekend that was simple and short with its actual words, but truly conveyed exactly the kind of heartbroken emptiness that the 23-year-old is feeling while house-bound amidst what was the best season of his excellent NHL career.

“Haven’t done the thing for a while…” wrote a wistful Pastrnak without any need to elaborate that he was talking about playing hockey and scoring goals.

For young, single NHL players like the happy, go-lucky Pastrnak this period of time has to be particularly difficult with no immediate family to keep their minds off just how much they are missing hockey in their lives.

Pastrnak was approaching both 50 goals and 100 points for the first time in his NHL career (48 goals and 95 points in 70 games) and was destined to be a Hart Trophy finalist when the NHL regular season was suspended nearly three weeks ago. It feels like hoping for more regular season games is more fantasy than reality at this point, but hockey players like Pastrnak are still clinging to the hope that there will still be some kind of hockey playoffs when some sense of normalcy hopefully returns months from now.

The good news is that guys like Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk are doing something good with their downtime as they played on a Fortnite tournament over the weekend to raise money for the COVID-19 Solidarity Relief Fund for the WHO (World Health Organization).

NHL players are still currently in quarantine after a handful of them tested positive for the coronavirus over the last week, most notably in Colorado and Ottawa, but at least the league is beginning to host video conference calls between players and the media to make certain that fans can still keep an eye on what their favorite players are up to these days.

Shawn Thornton, Mark Recchi reflect on Bruins' Game 7 vs. Canadiens in 2011

Shawn Thornton, Mark Recchi reflect on Bruins' Game 7 vs. Canadiens in 2011

The Boston Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup run was unbelievable -- especially since Claude Julien's team was considered an underdog throughout the entirety of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Although Tim Thomas, David Krejci and Nathan Horton played key roles in the 2011 championship, everyone did their job, including Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton. 

Recchi and Thornton reflected on that historic 2011 Cup run in a recent interview with SportsNet's Eric Engels and solely focused on Game 7 of their quarterfinals matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.  

"The whole series was so intense like it always is with Montreal and Boston and it just got elevated because you're in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs," Recchi said of an epic Game 7 against the Habs. "Just the energy and the passion in both teams displayed was just incredible to be a part of. There was a lot of ups and downs throughout the whole game and it just showed you how even everything was throughout the whole year with our two teams." 

Thornton had a similar take but also mentioned how much the B's-Habs rivalry impacted his career. 

"This rivalry was everything for my career," Thornton said. "I loved playing Montreal. I love being involved. I loved the passion, the fire. This game... was I even on the ice for most of it? I think I just had the best seat in the house. I think most people in Boston paid $1,000 bucks and I just got to sit there for free and watch Recchi do his thing.

"But you know, we were lucky we ended up moving on and had a great finale to that season. Being there was a lot different than the Game 7 my first year when I was in Boston when we lost to Montreal. That rivalry was at its height when we were playing there and I'm just happy to have been a part of it. Doesn't matter what side you're on really. I mean, I'm a Bruin in those days but either side you just had to enjoy the rivalry."

And of course there would've been no Stanley Cup victory without former Bruins head coach Claude Julien, and Thornton reflected on how much of an influence Julien had on that 2011 team throughout the entire season.

"I remember Lake Placid the most. We were going to Lake Placid to hide but when you go to Lake Placid there's nowhere to hide so all the media knew we were going there and it ended up being a bigger fishbowl," Thornton said. "But, Claude [Julien] was amazing at the one game at a time or the one period at a time. Like we don't have to win four straight guys. We don't even have to win the next two games, we just have to win the next period and then take it from there.

"I think our team really adopted that. He should also send Recchi and Horton some of his paychecks that he's still getting because he wouldn't be getting those sheets in Montreal if it wasn't for us winning that game. We were there for a lot of years together and he definitely had a calming influence when it came to those situations and our leadership group in the room too was huge for us."

After defeating Montreal in seven games, the B's went on to sweep the Philadelphia Flyers in the semifinals, crush the Tampa Bay Lightning's hopes in the conference finals, and well, we all know what happened in the Stanley Cup Final. 

That team was something special, and the only members from that squad still with the Bruins are Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask. 

If one thing's for sure, those four guys will need to become leaders in the 2020 playoffs, provided they happen, and help Boston avenge its 2019 finals loss to the St. Louis Blues. 

You can watch the full interview below or by clicking here.