Bruins offense shows signs of life but has a long way to go
The Bruins had to have a collective sigh of relief when Jack Studnicka -- with his first career NHL goal, no less -- broke the team’s even strength scoreless streak.
It took 267:38 for the Bruins to score five on five, dating back to August when David Krejci scored in Game 5 of the Second Round against the Lightning.
Needless to say, they desperately needed a spark; in the 5-4 shootout victory over the Flyers in their home opener on Thursday night, it finally came.
“What was said in the room (during the second intermission) is that we’re too easy to play against offensively,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We discussed a couple of ways we can get better, harder to play against, and in a little forceful manner so the message gets across.”
While the Bruins are without David Pastrnak and now Ondrej Kase, their right side -- already thin over the years -- is a game of musical chairs. Jake DeBrusk, a left winger, was boosted up to the right of Patrice Bergeron while Studnicka played on the right of Krejci.
The rookie hasn’t been perfect, but his goal crashing the net on Thursday was exactly what they need more of as he turned in a solid game.
One four-goal third period outburst against a decimated Flyers defense doesn’t spell the end of the Bruins five-on-five woes overnight, though. Boston has struggled with that element for years, and while a sudden surge is a positive sign, it shouldn’t be seen as a cure-all.
“We know we’re an offensive group in there,” Studnicka said. “Just try not to get frustrated. It was fortunate that pucks started going in.”
The Bruins offense could struggle until Pastrnak is healthy and the entire right wing depth chart is operating as expected. Having Nick Ritchie as the most productive forward in the lineup isn’t exactly sustainable, though his contributions -- including a power play goal on Thursday -- have eased the burden.
Where they might have to worry is on the other side of young offensive wingers. Anders Bjork played just 2:04 of the third period after being benched for the first half of it, and his production hasn’t been there despite being in a prominent role aside Charlie Coyle.
Bjork has been plagued with inconsistency since day one with the Bruins, switching lines and wings and undergoing two shoulder surgeries. He appeared to have turned a corner last season with 19 points in 58 games.
That’s still not where they’d hoped he would be, and they expect another boost this season if he can get extended time with Coyle -- not a given with all their line switching.
With no points in four games so far, Bjork has been somewhat invisible, which doesn’t help when the offense needs sparks from all angles. In 10:45 of ice time on Thursday, he didn’t register a shot on goal.
“I believe if it’s not (time for him to step up), it’s really close,” Cassidy said Friday. “Someone’s going to come out, assuming everyone stays healthy. There’s always guys pushing from underneath. (Karson) Kuhlman missed some time here. We like him as a depth player. Anton Blidh’s a left winger who can give us some energy. There’s always somebody ready to push you.”
It’s not really fair to assume the Bruins won’t get better either, when Pastrnak is healthy and they have a full lineup again. After all, they are the type of team that can randomly score four goals in the third period then win it in the shootout (2021 is a new year)!
In an ideal world, the Brad Marchands and Patrice Bergerons wouldn’t be stagnant five-on-five, with Pastrnak or not. But, with a depleted and weak prospect system as it is, the young players making the most of their ice time is a nessecity.
Studnicka has always been the higher ranking prospect in the Bruins system, and has made the transition from center to wing without missing too much of a beat. He’s taken his opportunity to get consistent time and ran with it, taking criticism to heart with a focus on being a net crasher more.
They want to see more of that out of Bjork, too; maybe then their scoring outside the power play can get an ounce of consistency.
“We as coaches are trying to build his confidence,” Cassidy said Friday. “But we’re trying to win hockey games. Last night, we’re behind and we’re going to put the people on the ice that give us the best chance to win.”