The Boston Bruins finally returned to game action over the weekend following a two-week break due to COVID-19, and they couldn't have started 2022 any better.
The B's earned back-to-back wins, defeating the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 in overtime at home before traveling to Detroit and defeating the Red Wings 5-1 on Sunday afternoon.
The wins, while important and needed, were not the most impressive aspect of the weekend. The most encouraging sign was the scoring depth finally coming alive.
The Bruins' No. 1 weakness all season -- and for much of the last several years, to be honest -- has been a lack of scoring depth. This team is too often overly dependent on the first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak to produce the majority of the offense. You can get away with that, to a degree, in the regular season. But come playoff time, you need more than one line rolling to make a deep run.
Boston scored nine goals over the weekend and only one of them was scored by a first-line player (Bergeron on Sunday). The Bruins entered Saturday having scored 43 goals during 5-on-5 play, which was the third-fewest in the entire league. They scored eight 5-on-5 goals over the weekend, improving their season total by almost 20 percent (!) to 51 through 28 games.
Taylor Hall snapped a 10-game goal drought Saturday versus the Sabres and had a gorgeous pass to set up a Charlie McAvoy goal against the Red Wings on Sunday.
The Bruins need Hall to be more productive and more consistent offensively in the last two thirds of the season. Six goals in 28 games is not good enough for a player of his caliber.
Craig Smith was in a major scoring slump early in the season as he battled an upper body injury. After scoring Saturday and picking up an assist Sunday, he's posted five points in his last seven games. He's starting to hit his stride. Nick Foligno scored his first goal of the season Saturday. Getting him going offensively would be a major boost for the third line.
Erik Haula scored on an absolute snipe in the second period versus the Red Wings. He used his excellent speed to create separation and fired a rocket into the back of the net. Haula has been the worst of the Bruins' offseason signings so far. Maybe this goal can give him a jolt of confidence.
"I felt like my game was headed towards the right direction before all this stuff happened, and I thought my game elevated when I got put on the wing a little bit," Haula told reporters after Sunday's win. "I feel like it's been trending towards what I expect for myself."
Trent Frederic has been a major disappointment from a scoring and physicality perspective all year. He took a bad penalty Sunday but responded with a goal in the third period by driving to the net and capitalizing on a rebound. Fourth-liner Tomas Nosek also scored in the third period.
Sure, these tallies came when the outcome was mostly decided, but getting some goals and building much-needed momentum for the fourth line is great for the Bruins going forward. They need the bottom-six to start generate scoring chances and find the back of the net, and these players stepped up over the weekend with excellent performances.
The Bruins have plenty of ground to make up in the standings after a mediocre start to the 2021-22 season. Their schedule for the rest of the regular season has few off days and lots of games. January is full of matchups against playoff-caliber opponents. It's going to be a grind.
If the Bruins are going to challenge for a top three spot in the Atlantic Division and become a true contender in the Eastern Conference, they must have more balanced scoring. This team spent a lot of money in free agency to beef up the third and fourth lines.
We finally saw some encouraging signs in that regard over the weekend, and now it's up to these players (Haula, Nosek, Foligno, Frederic, etc.) to build on that success and establish much-needed consistency.