What the Bruins have to be thankful for this Thanksgiving
It’s that time of year again. The week of Thanksgiving is always a big one for the Bruins — whether it’s the Black Friday matinee that will be played against the New York Rangers this season at TD Garden (on NBC Sports), or the annual quarter-pole to the NHL regular season represented by the American Thanksgiving holiday.
NHL teams in a playoff spot at the end of November have qualified for the playoffs around 80 percent of the time over the last 20 years, so it’s become a harbinger of good things to come.
With Thanksgiving now here, the Bruins hold nearly a double-digit lead in the Atlantic Division and have Tuukka Rask, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand enjoying Hart Trophy-level seasons to this point. With that in mind, the Bruins have plenty to be thankful for in this season of giving, so here’s a list of what every Bruins player — along with the coaches and executives — is thankful for on this enjoyable Turkey Day.
For my money, it’s the best holiday on the yearly docket so let’s hope everybody has a safe and enjoyable Thanksgiving. We all have so much to be thankful for.
The Bruins center is thankful for the job that the Bruins as a team have done when he’s been out of the lineup. The record is impressive given Bergeron’s standing as the best all-around player on the team and points to the organizational depth when an irreplaceable piece is forcibly removed due to injury. The tough question now is whether Bergeron’s chronically problematic groin issues are going to end up forcing some kind of surgical procedure like the one that has sidelined Sidney Crosby in the middle of his season with the Penguins. That’s a difficult proposition for a player so important to the Bruins, but could be the only way for him to truly get healthy.
The B’s agitator is thankful for a career year to date. Marchand is already one of the best players in the league and one of Boston’s top scorers, but he’s on pace to shatter his career-highs with 57 goals and 139 points. Everybody is talking about David Pastrnak, and rightfully so given the goal-scoring binge that he’s on to start the season, but Marchand is also in the top-5 in goals scored and has been every bit as dominant as the 23-year-old Pastrnak in the first six weeks of the regular season. Could this be the year that Marchand takes a really legit run at the Hart Trophy after getting some consideration for the hardware last season?
The 23-year-old is thankful to be once again be on pace to put up monster numbers again this year. Last season he was on a 50-goal pace prior to injuring his thumb away from the rink. Now Pasta just needs to simply stay healthy and he is going to put up a monster offensive season when it's all said and done. He could be the first Bruins player to lead the NHL in goals scored since Phil Esposito all the way back in 1974-75. It’s been that long since the Bruins had a generational game-breaker like Pastrnak is turning into.
David Krejci is thankful to have regained good health after missing six times as many games in this season’s first month as he did in all of last season when he missed just one game at the very end of the year. Health is something that players don’t ever take for granted, but that goes double when you are a player in your mid-30’s as Krejci is these days.
Krug is thankful for movies like Wolf of Wall Street and Old School that have given him some solid goal celebrations with the Boston Bruins over the years. When Krug moves up to goal celebrations from movies like Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction then we’ll know he’s making his way through all the classics. It’s a good thing Krug doesn’t score with the frequency of guys like Pastrnak or Marchand, or he’d run out of his goal celebrations a couple of weeks into the regular season. Instead it’s a delightful romp every time Krug lights the lamp.
Coyle is thankful for spending the whole season home in Massachusetts where he can do things like enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with his family, and do pretty cool stuff to represent Weymouth like the friendship he struck up with “The Mighty Quinn” over the summer. It’s always great to see local kids put on the Black and Gold, and to see them do so much with it as Coyle has done in his time with the B’s is pretty cool.
Heinen is thankful that shots on net isn’t a stat that gets more attention because it’s one of the weakest points of his game. Heinen has offensive skill and he’s shown it with his passing and playmaking ability on the power play in particular, but he’s got just 25 shots on net in 23 games. Only Chris Wagner and Connor Clifton have fewer shots on net than him among the B’s regulars, and that shouldn’t be the case given the kind of offensive skill he brings to the table. He can finish when he actually looks for his shot.
The 42-year-old is thankful for another healthy, impactful season as a shutdown defenseman who's averaging 21:44 of ice time and able to play at an effective top-4 defenseman level despite the NHL getting smaller and faster every single season. Chara truly is a physical marvel and a surefire Hall of Famer still carving out his legend with his legacy in Boston. The only question now is how many more seasons Chara can continue to excel at his current level, even if he is a step slower than he was in his prime days. It’s going to be quite the competition to see which of Chara and Tom Brady ends up succumbing to age first because both are fighting Father Time valiantly right now.
DeBrusk is thankful for the 27 goals that he scored last season because that kind of production is going to guarantee him a pretty second contract after this year no matter what kind of season he has this year. He’s barely on a pace for 20 goals this season at this point and hasn’t really heated up as of yet, so it’s still conceivable he gets to that number this year. But DeBrusk needs to step up his play a little bit if he wants to get there.
The 22-year-old is thankful for the return of his offense this season. After a pretty trying goal-scoring drought that stretched over the previous two seasons, Carlo is on pace for seven goals and 28 points this year, which would be career-highs for him and a long way from two years ago when he had zero goals in 76 games played.
McAvoy is thankful to be past the injuries and the concussion issues that sidetracked him for the first half of last season, and effectively wiped out the first half of the year for him. Now the 21-year-old is healthy, averaging a team-high 22:29 of ice time and is working on developing his game after signing a new three-year contract in the offseason. It hasn’t all been there for him at the start of the year like it was for him in the playoffs last spring, but being on the ice is the first part of developing into the No. 1 defenseman he’s destined to become.
The 25-year-old defenseman is thankful for the recent chances to step in for the injured Torey Krug, and show what he can do as a top PP quarterback and a top-4 role. Grzelcyk stepped up the offense with a two-goal game and had two goals, four points and a plus-3 rating on the five games while Krug was out. Grzelcyk also topped 20 minutes of ice time in three of those five games and showed some pretty good chemistry with Brandon Carlo. It puts the Bruins in an interesting position seeing an admittedly small sample size where Grzelcyk might be able to capably handle Krug’s role if they can’t afford to keep him.
The fourth-line center is thankful for the career-high three assist game in Tuesday night’s win over the Montreal Canadiens, which basically doubled his season output on offense. Kuraly hasn’t had a great season to date while grappling with the balance of being a two-way player on the fourth line, and finding ways to produce while bringing energy and physicality to the table in his well-defined role. Well, perhaps an excellent offensive night where he piled up some points will get him on the right track. Interesting to note, though, that the big game arrived while he was centering Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen in a third line-type situation.
Wagner is thankful for a couple of looks in the shootout, even if it didn’t translate into successful shootout wins for the Bruins. The fourth-line winger is known for his hustle, toughness and hard-hitting, but he’s also shown an ability to finish off plays on breakaways when his skating speed brings them into the fold. Wagner could stand to shoot the puck more with just 23 shots on net in 23 games played, but any time a fourth-line banger gets tapped in the shootout it’s cause for that player to celebrate. If he can actually score on it the next time he gets the call, then all the better.
The speedy winger is just thankful for the healthy shot with the Bruins after shoulder surgeries ended each of his first two pro seasons in Boston. Bjork appears stronger, tougher and more willing to do the things that bring players success at the NHL level after his trials and tribulations over the last two seasons, and it's translated into four goals in 16 games and a niche as a top-9 winger using speed and skill, along with a newfound tenacity on the puck, to help the Bruins.
Ritchie will be thankful for good health when he can finally get his upper body injury behind him and play through a healthy stretch this year. Ritchie seemed to just be sliding into a power forward groove with the Bruins both offensively and showing some thump to his game when he came down with the infection issue currently at play. It’s taken him in and out of the lineup a couple of times, at times surprised the B’s medical staff with his unreadiness to play and prevented him from living up to his potential. At this point it’s got to be frustrating for a player like Ritchie hoping to find a role with his new team.
The fourth line is thankful he was finally reunited with his linemates after they were so successful at times during the playoffs. The return of Nordstrom, Kuraly and Wagner to a fourth-line trio hasn’t developed into the kind of season that the B’s energy line enjoyed last season, but the fact that the pieces are all there would lend everybody to believe that the fourth line will again eventually become a big factor for Boston. Nordstrom has just two goals in 13 games while going in and out with injuries, so there is more to accomplish from an individual perspective as well.
The young defenseman is thankful to be in the NHL. Just a year ago he was a player signed by the Bruins after he drifted away from the Arizona Coyotes organization, and a good college player coming out of Quinnipiac who was entering a deep Bruins organization with a wealth of strong, established defensemen. Now Clifton is an NHL D-man with experience in the Stanley Cup Final and a player who’s learned what it takes to stay at the NHL level. Now it’s more a matter of developing his game and trying to hold onto his spot.
The Swedish center is thankful to be with the Bruins right now rather than the Maple Leafs team he kicked things off with last season. It remains to be seen what he’s going to do with the Bruins after scoring just one point in his first 14 games with 13 shots on net as a defense-first center who’s come in handy as injuries have hit the Bruins up front. As good as it is to have a reliable player like Lindholm, though, it would be even better to see a little more production from the bottom-6 center who actually filled in for the injured David Krejci at the start of the season.
The 35-year-old power forward is thankful to actually be feeling better after recently joining the Bruins for practice after suffering what’s believed to be his fourth concussion in the last couple of seasons during an awful collision with Scott Sabourin a few weeks ago. Backes is a big, strong winger who clearly worked on his skating in the offseason and can definitely help the Bruins still when he’s at his best. But there is also some genuine concern about the veteran’s health and well-being after suffering another head injury in a day and age where one too many of those that can really impact a player’s life after their hockey career has ended.
Tuukka Rask is clearly thankful for Mac & Cheese as documented in this funny video produced by NBC Sports, and he’s also got to be thankful for the best month of October (6-0-1 with a .951 save percentage and a 1.41 goals against average) in his entire career. Normally a slow starter, Rask was tremendous out of the starting gate and ranks among the NHL’s league leads in goals against average and save percentage. He did go through a little dip in his performance in the beginning days of November, but it didn’t take him long at all to get back on track while winning games and stopping pucks.
The Bruins' backup netminder continues to be thankful for a role that’s put him in a great position to succeed working with Tuukka Rask. The Bruins make certain to not sit Halak for too long of a stretch in order to avoid rustiness with the backup, and Halak has responded with a 5-1-3 record and a .930 save percentage — even better than Rask’s numbers at this point. Halak is entering the last year of his deal with the Bruins, but it would behoove both the goalie and the team to continue this working tandem for as long as they can keep both Halak and Rask under contract.
The Bruins head coach has plenty to be thankful for, namely the second chance he received with the Bruins at the NHL level after things didn’t work out with the Washington Capitals nearly two decades ago, and the group of Bruins core players that have meshed perfectly with Cassidy’s coaching style and methodology.
The Bruins have just as much to be thankful for with Cassidy as well. He’s been exactly what they needed when they had big shoes to fill with Claude Julien’s firing, and he’s also the kind of thoughtful, creative hockey mind who's always happy to explain his moves and pretty much anything hockey-related. That is a joy to be around from a media perspective.
The Bruins general manager is undoubtedly thankful for the things that have pushed the Bruins to first place in the Atlantic Division — The Perfection Line, the dominant PP and the elite goaltending tandem — six months into the season. The Bruins are in a good spot while playing to their strength, and to this point have shown that their path to the Stanley Cup Final wasn’t a fluke last season. But Sweeney also should be fully aware that the Bruins are going to need help later this season if they hope to go on another run. They’ll need to address extension plans for Torey Krug and Charlie Coyle, and they need to find a top-6 winger capable of playing on David Krejci’s line if they hope to fully realize their potential.
The Bruins President is thankful for what appears to be another strong hockey team this season. Certainly, there have been frustrating moments, whether it’s all the overturned goals, or the injury situation that is cropping up with Patrice Bergeron’s chronic lower body injury issues from the last few seasons. But the Bruins are way ahead in the Atlantic Division at U.S. Thanksgiving, which is always an indicator that a team is bound for the playoffs at the end of the year. And they are having success without playing at anywhere close to their top level. The big concern for Neely and Co. is still the wall they are likely to hit in the second half of the regular season. But until then, it looks like it’s going to be a happy holiday season for everybody associated with the Bruins.