Jake DeBrusk

Bruins vs. Lightning Overreactions: Jake DeBrusk's struggles are concerning

Bruins vs. Lightning Overreactions: Jake DeBrusk's struggles are concerning

It's hard to find much to like about the Boston Bruins' performance through two NHL round robin games.

The Bruins lost Sunday to the Philadelphia Flyers and again Wednesday to the Tampa Bay Lightning. As a result, the B's cannot finish any higher than third in the round robin standings, which means they won't be the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the upcoming Stanley Cup Playoffs despite winning the Presidents' Trophy in the regular season.

Outside of a few impressive individual performances, there are plenty of areas for concern involving this Bruins team. The Bruins' top line -- arguably the best trio in the league -- has one point in these two games. Patrice Bergeron earned an assist on Charlie McAvoy's second-period goal against Tampa Bay. His linemates Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have been held scoreless to this point. The second line has played even worse. David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk have generated almost nothing offensively. 

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Time is running out for the Bruins to analyze their play and make the needed corrections. Sunday's round robin finale versus the Washington Capitals is Boston's final game before the first round of the playoffs. 

Let's take a look at three instant overreactions from Bruins-Lightning and assess their merit (All advanced stats via Natural Stat Trick).

1. Jake DeBrusk's play is a concern
Verdict: Not an overreaction

The Bruins won't advance very far in the playoffs if their secondary scoring doesn't show up. One player who's relied on to provide this offensive production is DeBrusk, but he's been totally invisible through two round robin games. DeBrusk has zero goals and zero assists in two games, and after tallying two shots against the Flyers last weekend, he posted zero shots versus the Lightning.  The Bruins were out shot 11-4 during 5-on-5 action when DeBrusk was on the ice Wednesday.

DeBrusk scored a career-high 27 goals in 68 games last season, and he was unable to match that scoring rate this season with 19 goals in 65 games. The 23-year-old left winger scored only one goal in the last 14 games of the regular season, so his struggles in the Toronto bubble are not exactly new. DeBrusk is at his best when he's driving hard to the net and being aggressive, and we haven't seen enough of that in the round robin.

Let's not forget DeBrusk will be a restricted free agent in the offseason. He's playing for his first sizable contract, so he certainly doesn't need any more motivation to improve.

2. Bruins will have a really tough Round 1 opponent
Verdict: Not an overreaction

One of the consequences of the B's playing so poorly in the round robin is they will earn themselves a difficult first-round matchup. If the B's finish as the No. 4 seed, which is pretty likely at the moment, they would play the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If the Penguins are upset by the Montreal Canadiens in their qualifying round series, Boston would take on the Carolina Hurricanes in Round 1.

The Penguins would be the worst possible first-round opponent for the B's. Pittsburgh is loaded with veterans, many of whom were part of the team's back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are two of the best players of their generation, and they both have scored at better than a point-per-game pace in their playoff careers. The Hurricanes are a well-balanced team that ranked 11th in goals scored, eighth in power play percentage and fourth in penalty killing during the regular season. Carolina also is an elite puck possession team (fourth-best shot attempt percentage at 5-on-5) and gave up the third-fewest scoring chances at 5-on-5 in the regular season.

The Bruins' lack of results in the round robin has made their path back to the Stanley Cup Final a lot harder than it needed to be. It's a tough break for a team that won the Presidents' Trophy, but the B's knew the importance of the round robin and have still played terribly. 

3. Tuukka Rask will struggle to begin the playoffs
Verdict: Overreaction

Rask gave up a somewhat soft goal in the first period when the Lightning opened the scoring. The B's goaltender lost track of the puck and Lightning center Brayden Point was able to capitalize in front of the net. The Lightning scored again later in the first period on a double deflection that Rask didn't deserve much blame on. After that, Rask settled in and gave the Bruins a chance to get back into the game, and they responded by tying the score with goals from McAvoy and Chris Wagner.

Rask played his best in the third period with several important saves on quality Lightning scoring chances, including this one to deny Point.

Rask did give up the winning goal when Tyler Johnson pounced on a juicy rebound and scored to give the Lightning a 3-2 lead with 1:27 remaining. But overall, Boston's No. 1 netminder played well enough for fans to be optimistic that he'll be ready to perform at a high level when Round 1 of the playoffs begins. 

Wednesday's matchup was only Rask's second game since the season was paused in March. He was the league's best goaltender during the regular season and is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. There's no reason to panic over his playoff readiness at this time.

Krug stands up for teammate, fights Lightning's Blake Coleman

Are we overlooking a critical weakness for Bruins in Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Are we overlooking a critical weakness for Bruins in Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Last year, the Presidents' Trophy winning Lightning got absolutely steamrolled in the first round.

We all know that and we've had our laughs over it, but let's not forget why they lost: It was because they blew a big lead in Game 1. That was it. Jumped up 3-0 in the first period, blew the lead and couldn't recover, not just for the game, but for the series.

The Lightning, the best team in the regular season, had a flaw.

They'd sprinted so far out ahead of the rest of the league that they had never been in a tight spot, had their backs against the wall or had to prove anything. Then the second those things happened in the postseason, it was over in a four-game sweep.

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The Bruins were the best team in the NHL this season, but they, too, have a flaw. I don't think it's a "lose in the first round" flaw, but it's a tangible flaw.

By my count, the Bruins have three (3) solid goal-scorers on the wing. Two of them happen to be among the best wings on the planet (David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand), but they have three sure things, with the third being Jake DeBrusk. Their lack of stability beyond the top line — specifically on the wing — is glaring.

That's a problem, and an easy Leo-pointing-at-the-TV meme of "what could prevent the Bruins from winning the Cup?"

It's not like the Bruins exactly had it figured out last year, either, with mostly a revolving door of Karson Kuhlman and David Backes skating to David Krejci's right, but that team had at least a steady duo on every line thanks to the presence of Marcus Johansson skating on the third line.

Johansson is gone. So too are — don't laugh — Danton Heinen and Backes. It appears there are auditions for the second-line right wing job, which could be filled by Anders Bjork or top prospect Jack Studnicka, neither of whom have played an NHL postseason game. Studnicka has the highest ceiling, but he's played in two NHL games. He's also a center who'll be playing the wing. Bruce Cassidy told reporters this week Thursday's preseason game will likely feature a DeBrusk-Krejci-Studnicka line.

Ondrej Kase, whom the Bruins acquired when they gave the Ducks a first-round pick to take Backes' contract, is not in Toronto with the team. He'll be a candidate for top-six minutes if he joins the Bruins and gets up to speed, but he's a major question mark. He played just six games for the Bruins before the season was halted and had seven goals over 55 games in the regular season.

Then there's Nick Ritchie, whom the B's brought on to give them size. Though he had eight goals thanks to a high shooting percentage in 41 games with the Ducks, he's best served as a bottom-sixer. Ritchie's also not been on the ice of late.

This isn't to say these are bad players, because they're not. It's to say that not knowing whether you've got a steady middle six is not a sign of a Stanley Cup favorite.

Boston's defense, goaltending and top line are absolutely Stanley Cup caliber. Yet what cost them last June — no, it wasn't that they "weren't tough enough" — was their inability to bury chances.

So in addition to all the uncertainty the NHL's return to play carries, the Bruins have quite a few "ifs." If Kase gets caught up and becomes a strong fit on the second line, that will go a long way. If the Studnickas, Bjorks and/or Ritchies of the world turn themselves into household names while the rest of the roster does its thing, the Bruins will be right there with Tampa as the best equipped group to raise the Cup.

Yet if no one ends up grabbing a hold of that second line right wing spot and Bruce Cassidy can't settle on sure-fire linemates for Charlie Coyle, the Bruins could be the latest Presidents' Trophy winner to fall short of their ultimate goal. 

Bruins' Jake DeBrusk has 'changed mindset' about contract after NHL break

Bruins' Jake DeBrusk has 'changed mindset' about contract after NHL break

With fellow restricted free agent Anders Bjork now signed for three years with his future in Boston very much a certainty, it would be natural for Bruins left winger Jake DeBrusk to wonder what awaits him after these Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The 23-year-old DeBrusk is obviously focused on the postseason right in front of him while housed in the Toronto bubble preparing for the Stanley Cup Playoffs to begin. But the former 2015 first round pick is also one of several Bruins free agents likely to still be unsigned once the playoffs conclude over the next couple of months.

Both Bjork and backup goalie Jaroslav Halak have signed contracts since the regular season went on pause back in mid-March and now the Bruins have roughly $16 million in cap space left to potentially sign DeBrusk, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and Zdeno Chara.

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DeBrusk is going to get paid, of course, as he’s averaged 20 goals and 40 points over his first three NHL seasons pretty much exclusively as a top-6 winger. And it will likely be with the Bruins unless there’s a surprise development this fall brought on by the dire economic landscape for the NHL over the next three years.

Fellow 2015 first round picks Brock Boeser and Travis Konecny have already signed their second contracts paying them over $5 million per season, and both wingers were in comparable positions to DeBrusk at the same point when they signed. So those two will be comparable players in contract negotiations along with a guy on the low end like Jakub Vrana who signed a two-year, $6.7 million contract with the Capitals.  

DeBrusk is pretty clearly going to land somewhere in the neighborhood of $4.5-5.5 million per season and could even strengthen his bargaining position, and up his price tag, if he excels in these upcoming playoffs.

If that’s the case then it would be human nature to have the big contract on your mind a little bit at this point, right?

“That’s fair. How I look at that is No. 1, I’m happy for [Anders] Bjork. He’s going to be able to get some more shoes now. I know he’s pumped about that. That’s awesome to hear,” said a laughing DeBrusk during a Zoom video call with NBC Sports Boston. “But for me personally, anytime I play well I know it means I’m helping the team. I feel like secondary scoring has been the question mark since I’ve been here, so I feel like if I can help lead in that [category] during the playoffs then that would be great.

“It would be ideal. But even if I don’t, I’m not really too focused on that. I think the quarantine break before now has really changed my mindset on everything and that includes [my contract]. I’m just happy to be here and happy to be here playing. It’s just great to be here. Obviously, it would be way better if he we had home-ice advantage all through the playoffs. But I want to be a big game player. I think anybody would say that. You want to score clutch goals and come up big in timely moments. It could be a blocked shot. Everybody wants to look at stats and production, but for me it’s about if I’m playing well. That’s what I’m focused on with [the contract].”

The “changed mindset” has to be a pretty commonplace phenomenon among the NHL players who had something they dearly love — the game — taken away from them suddenly and without guarantee that it would return. Maybe it will lead to an even better DeBrusk on the ice with his speed game and energetic offense transformed into a bit of a more consistent quality.

It sounds like the four months away from the ice during quarantine acted as a bit of cleansing process for DeBrusk’s psyche after an up-and-down regular season. Perhaps that’s exactly what was needed ahead of a pivotal playoff for both him and for the Bruins starting on Sunday night.