By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj
The 2021 NHL season officially gets underway tomorrow with five games taking place including the defending Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay Lightning taking on the Chicago Blackhawks and an iconic Original Six rivalry between the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Bruins, although, will not start their shortened season until Thursday in a game against the New Jersey Devils – one of seven teams to not qualify for the 2020 NHL Playoffs Play-In round and will play the Devils again on Saturday. Both games are scheduled to be in the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey.
Over the past few days, the Bruins have been participating in their annual pre-season training camp to sort out and finalize roster spots, line combinations, and specialty teams strategies ahead of the meaningful games. On Monday, the Bruins had a scrimmage game to get the players back in the feel of playing an actual hockey game.
BOSHockeyNow writer, Joe Haggerty, mentioned in numerous Tweets that the coaching staff was adamant about practicing the penalty-kill and power-play in anticipation of seeing a decline in both of those units for the upcoming season. Torey Krug was the main power-play quarterback so the hunt is on to find his full-time replacement while Zdeno Chara ate up a lot of shorthanded minutes over his long tenure with the team, another player Boston is looking to adapt to not having going forward.
Chris Wagner ended the scrimmage with a shootout snipe, a great send-off for the Bruins’ training camp festivities. Following the in-team game, some players as well as Head Coach Bruce Cassidy gave additional thoughts to the media. One of the topics that intrigued me the most: the decision to separate goaltenders Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak as much as possible.
Quite honestly, it was not something I had even considered to be a crucial step. But, with the Covid-19 protocols set in place by the National Hockey League as well as the well-being of the players, it makes perfect sense. For argument’s sake, let’s say one of the two tests positive for the virus. If both Rask and Halak are always alongside each other for goaltender meetings, practices, etc., they will both likely have to quarantine due to potential exposure – even if only one of them contracted Covid-19.
“We’re trying to separate those two as much as possible in case there’s an outbreak,” said Cassidy. “That’s the part that [stinks] about this for the players in terms of separating guys even though they have good friendships. There’s bigger stuff going on with the virus and we have to do it.
Losing one-half of the 2019-20 William M. Jennings Trophy winners would hurt Boston enough, nevermind both at the same time. Tuukka Rask has been one of the best goaltenders in the league for a good part of the past decade and Jaroslav Halak has emerged as one of the top backup netminders, creating a formidable goaltending duo in Massachusetts. While Rask has had success in the past with subpar backups and Halak did close out a playoff series against the Hurricanes last year in Rask’s absence – they are much better as a complete pair.
The worst-case-scenario for the Boston Bruins is if both Rask and Halak have to take time off due to Covid-19 protocols. In a very competitive division and a shortened schedule, the successful teams by years’ end are going to be the ones with consistent goalie depth. Boston, too, needs that consistency especially if they plan to make it into the postseason.
According to Cassidy, the Bruins plan to have the goalies attend meetings separately, potentially utilizing the use of Zoom as well. In addition, he brought up the scenario with the NFL’s Denver Broncos, who earlier in the season played a game against the New Orleans Saints without a quarterback. Four of the QBs in their depth charts were ruled out of that game due to Covid concerns and the Broncos got steamrolled 28-3.
Of course, there will be times where they run into each other, but it is a good sign to try and limit those moments as much as they can. This is just another example of the Boston coaching staff proving how they’re one of the best in the league, even with small decisions like this.