By: Cam McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter @CSthinks
The Bruins have been hurt all year. You’d be hard pressed to recall a game in which their regular roster was 100% healthy. If you can in fact recall such a game off the top of your head, then you are likely someone with a strangely strong memory who would probably weird me out if we were to meet in person. The point is, these games have been few and far between.
No one position in the lineup has been immune to these injuries. The list of injured Bruins players includes… well, just about everyone. Big ups to David Krejci for not only staying healthy all year, but for staying positive when all his friends were licking their wounds and putting band-aids on their boo-boos.
But as we approach the playoffs, an area that draws significant focus in terms of game management and recovery for players is the defensive unit of the Bruins. The man-games lost to injury among Bruins defensemen alone has been astounding. So much so that I used the word astounding just now, and I took a vow to never use that word without just cause.
At the tail end of a pretty significant stretch of games where the Black and Gold have been undermanned at the defensive position, things are starting to look hopeful at the right time. Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, and Kevan Miller are all rejoining the Bruins’ lineup within one week of each other. Undoubtedly, some rust is to be expected out of these three as they return (Krug only had 2 assists in his return from injury, yuck). But on the whole, the Bruins will be a much better and more well-rounded team with half of their regular defensive unit back in action.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) March 29, 2019
A dilemma that Bruce Cassidy might be faced with, however, is how to treat the other half of the defensive unit. This would be the half that has helped keep the team afloat when a weaker team might have folded. This is the half that has been tasked with playing significant minutes in the absence of their compatriots, in order to minimize the amount of pressure and responsibility placed on the defenseman mitigate the negative affects of a beaten up D-core replete with AHL callus and press box regulars. Specifically, it will be interesting to see how Cassidy will handle the playing time and workloads of Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara, and perhaps most importantly Brandon Carlo over the final five regular season games. Chara is 42, and despite being in remarkable physical condition, some rest might be crucial to entering the postseason in top form. Carlo has been solid all year long, yet went down in the later part of the regular season last year, and his absence was more than noticeable against Tampa Bay. McAvoy, despite being relatively healthy for at least the latter half of this season, has been tasked with shouldering the load as far as ice time is concerned, averaging around 23 minutes throughout each of his past five games.
Charlie McAvoy today:
55.00 CF% in 19:13 of 5v5 play
3 hits, 2 blocks, 1 assists
Logged over 11 minutes of 5v5 TOI against Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen line — Boston held a 9-7 edge in SOG during that stretch.
He’s hitting his stride at the perfect time.
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) February 10, 2019
Unfortunately, there McAvoy struggled in the third period of a game against Tampa Bay on March 25th, a result that could very well be linked to fatigue and overuse (McAvoy played nearly 27 minutes in that game).
All this to say, the balance between effective rest and harmful idleness is one that Cassidy will have to find for the three aforementioned D-men. Certainly any coach would like to rest the legs of those on whom he will have to rely in the playoffs (as well as protect them from injury), but it is important to keep them fresh and primed as the postseason approaches. This balance is one that is going to have to be found by calculating the right amount of minutes per night for each of the defensemen, as well as how many games they will actually dress for.
What does coach Cam do?
If it were up to me (and it won’t be), I would play all 6 of my regular defensemen in the final game of the season. Sure, this game comes against Tampa, whose run-and-gun style is one that could potentially place some stress on the Bruins defensively. While this might factor into a potential decision to use the game as a rest for some of the B’s defensemen, I would leave them all in. Toronto is a lock for the Bruins as a first round matchup, and the closest thing that resembles the star-power the Bruins defensemen will be facing in the first round is the star power of Tampa’s forwards in Point, Kucherov, and Stamkos.
For the four games leading up to the (regular) season finale, I think it would be wise to play Miller, Grzelcyk, and Krug as much as possible. Conversely, Bruce Cassidy would be wise to allot 3 games to Chara, McAvoy, and Carlo as the season comes to a close. Apart from the final game, find two others for each defenseman to skate in, and have Connor Clifton and Steven Kampfer fill in as needed. If all goes well, maybe John Moore will even be healthy by the time playoffs roll around.
Torey Krug low key led all Bruins skaters with 22:12 TOI. Not bad for a first outing back.
— Matt Castle (@Matt_Castle22) March 28, 2019
This is all speculation and opinion from someone who writes with more confidence than he ever played hockey with. But to me, it seems pretty clear that the Bruins D-core could benefit from some balance and rest as the season comes to a close, so that they are not decimated by injuries as was the case at the heartbreaking end of last season.
Don’t worry. I’ll have my guy talk to Butch. They text a lot.