By: Patrick Donnelly | Follow me on Twitter @PatDonn12
After nine days off, the Bruins will return to action on Tuesday, January 29th, as the Winnipeg Jets come to town. While it is just one game, the way the Bruins play on Tuesday night can set the tone for the remaining 33 games of the regular season.
As things currently stand the day after the All-Star game, the Bruins hold the first Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference — two points behind the Montreal Canadiens for third in the Atlantic Division (the Bruins have two games in hand on the Habs) and three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for second in the Atlantic.
While those deficits don’t seem like too much to overcome, the Bruins cannot afford to fall into an extended rut as Montreal has been hot lately and Toronto seems to be coming out of a slump, which could result in their cushions on the Bruins growing.
After the way the last few games went for the Bruins going into the bye week and the All-Star break, it’s no secret that the team needs to be better, collectively. With that being said, let’s get into keys for success for the Bruins coming out of All-Star Weekend:
The injury bug that walloped the Bruins through the first half of the season has been well-documented, and while injuries are mainly out of human control, the Bruins absolutely cannot afford to lose a key player or a few for an extended period of time. The team was able to weather the storm just fine without Chara, Bergeron, etc. but the remaining schedule appears to be much tougher than the first leg of the season. So, if another key cog to the Bruins’ lineup goes down, it may not be as easy for the team to get by as it was the first go around.
Quality Goaltending (from BOTH goaltenders):
Speaking of health, Tuukka Rask gave us all quite a scare after the hit he took in the collision with Filip Chytil in the last game before the break. For those of you who haven’t seen it, please direct your attention here:
Woof, Tuukka fan or not, you have to feel for the guy, he got DEMOLISHED, but it seems like he’s going to be alright, after all, after exiting the game with a concussion, at least according to David Pastrnak and Rask’s agent:
Before his injury, Rask had been playing some incredible hockey, working his way up to tied-eighth in the NHL in save percentage with colleague Jaroslav Halak at .919. Since getting off to a rocky start, Rask has been much improved, especially after returning from his leave of absence — he’s also one win away from becoming the Bruins’ all-time leader in wins.
In terms of Halak, his performance has regressed steadily by the month since his gaudy start. Halak had a 4-0-2 record and a .947 save percentage in October, a 4-3-0 record and .928 save percentage after in November, a 4-3-0 record and .910 save percentage in December, and now a 1-3-0 record and .846 save percentage through January so far. Now, every goalie has slumps, but the play of late has been alarming for Jaro.
Rask’s ability to keep up his strong play in spite of his injury and Halak being able to pull himself out of his slump is going to be imperative for the Bruins to have success going forward.
Playing with intensity each night for the full 60:
The Bruins made a habit of scoring, then allowing their opponent to answer almost right away in the games leading into the break (most notably in the most recent loss to Washington, see video below), which is simply unacceptable.
This team needs to be able to take the lead and protect it because goal-scoring won’t always be there to bail the team out like it did in the game against St. Louis. The Bruins cannot afford to sit back on their heels and get too comfortable if they want to be able to go on a run, rack up points, and catch/surpass Toronto and Montreal.
Contributions from up and down the lineup in all situations, not just the top line:
Don’t get me wrong, it is fantastic to see the top line rip teams apart, but it is not going to translate into playoff success, just look at last year’s second round. Secondary production has been better of late, especially with the addition of Peter Cehlarik on the second line, but Jake DeBrusk has gone cold recently, which doesn’t help. The power play has also looked anemic, too.
When the top line goes quiet, which can happen, it will be up to DeBrusk to find his stride again, Krejci and Cehlarik to continue their production, and for the youngsters on the third line (Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen, and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson) to keep building confidence and bury more of their chances.
The top line isn’t off the hook, either. Brad Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak’s importance to the offensive output cannot be understated, and they’ll need to continue what they’ve been doing all-season-long.
Consistency on the backend:
Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzlecyk have been the Bruins’ two best defensemen, overall, to this point in the season, considering every other member of the defense corps has missed time in one instance or another. Both will need to continue their strong development and play as we creep closer to April.
As for two other key d-men, Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara, they need to be able to find their games as the latter portion of the schedule begins. McAvoy has shown flashes of brilliance (like the game at Montreal) along with some clunkers. An extended bill of health should allow him to stay on the right track.
As for Chara, still, the team’s best shut-down defender, the level the 41-year-old was playing at before his knee injury had flashes of vintage Zdeno Chara. After taking a few weeks to get back up to speed, hopefully, Chara can hit the ground running and regain that form.
A lot of the Bruins’ future success seems to depend on health, and for a good reason, too. If key players can stay in the lineup, and if the team plays to its full potential (like in the five-game win streak from the end of December through the beginning of January), the Bruins should like their chances throughout the remainder of the schedule.