By: Ryan Duffy | Follow Me On Twitter @Rduffy26
Before the Boston Bruins embarked on their road trip into Western Canada, plenty of drama surrounded the team due to questions surrounding goaltending, Jake DeBrusk’s trade request, lack of depth scoring, and how the Bruins would play without Bruce Cassidy. While some of the questions still need answers, the Bruins managed to collect five out of a possible six points in their road trip.
Even though the Bruins came out with points in the three games played, they were far from perfect performances. At times, they were dominated in their zone, heavily outshot, and had difficulty on the penalty kill (71.4% PK in 3 GP). Regardless, it was a successful road trip, and hopefully, the Bruins can build momentum off their performance in Western Canada. Here are a couple of takeaways and notes from their games out west:
Strong Goaltending Proves to be the Difference:
As mentioned previously, the Bruins were out substantially outshot in two of the three games in Canada. Altogether, the Bruins collected 93 shots on goal, and their opponents’ had 117. After Boston’s victory over Calgary, assistant coach Joe Sacco said, “We need to tighten that up. That’s not the identity of our group. We’re certainly a team that thrives on being good defensively and limiting our chances, and limiting our shots. We’ll get back home and get back to work on that part of our game.”
While Boston was outshot, Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark played spectacularly in their respective starts and stole the crucial five points for the Bruins. Swayman and Ullmark combined for a .958 save percentage and 1.67 goals-against average in the three games.
Swayman got the start for the Bruins in the shootout loss against the Vancouver Canucks. He posted a .969 save percentage and allowed one goal when the Bruins were shorthanded. Through Ullmark’s two starts against the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames, he achieved a .952 save percentage and allowed four goals through the two games. No disrespect to the Canucks, but the Oilers and Flames are obviously more competitive teams at this point of the NHL season. These two victories were crucial for the Bruins to come out with points to remain in competition for a wild card spot.
Depth Scoring is Coming Into Form but still Needs Improvement:
The Bruins got significant contributions from their depth players as four goals came from the bottom six forwards (DeBrusk and Lazar) and bottom four defensemen (Grzelcyk and Clifton). While the bottom six forwards have contributed offensively, the second line continues to be an anomaly for the Bruins. Even though Taylor Hall (2 assists) and Charlie Coyle (1 assist) both had at least a point in the three games, they didn’t play with any consistency. The Bruins’ have tried to keep Hall and Coyle together to develop chemistry, but things seem to be stale between the two.
The Bruins may be dealing DeBrusk to upgrade their second line in the near future, but nothing is imminent at this point. The NHL has a mandated roster freeze from December 20-27 that won’t allow any teams to make transactions or deals in that time frame. It will be interesting to see whether Bruins’ management decides to pull the trigger on a DeBrusk deal before the roster freeze.
Finally in the Playoff Race:
With the Bruins 4-2 win over Calgary, the Bruins jumped both the Columbus Blue Jackets (29 points in 26 GP) and Detroit Red Wings (29 points in 28 GP) for a wild card spot. Even though the Bruins have had inconsistent performances and an awkward schedule through their first 24 games this season, it’s surprising to see that this is the first time they’ve been a playoff spot this season. The Bruins have been competing with the Red Wings for the wild card position for most of the season.
This year, the Red Wings are one of the teams that have seemed to turn things around with the emergence of rookie players Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider. With Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi leading the way, Detroit won’t be going anywhere any time soon. Unless something catastrophic happens to Florida, Toronto, or Tampa Bay, Boston will probably compete with Detroit for a wild card position through the rest of the year.
On Monday, December 13th, Calgary announced they had multiple players and a staff member enter the COVID-19 protocol, and now the Flames’ next three games have been postponed. The Bruins played the Flames last Saturday, and it seems COVID has once again caught up to the Bruins. Boston announced today that both Craig Smith and Brad Marchand have entered the NHL’s COVID protocol.
With Smith and Marchand in COVID protocol, Bruce Cassidy will be adjusting the lines ahead of the Bruins game against the Vegas Golden Knights. Per @ByLoganMullen, Jake DeBrusk took line rushes on the right side of the second line with Hall and Coyle. As Bruins fans know from last year, DeBrusk did not look comfortable playing on the right side last year. Nonetheless, DeBrusk has looked sharp over the previous few games, so being bumped up to the top-six could spark more production out of him. Marchand entered the protocol after morning skate today, so Taylor Hall will likely jump back up to the second line alongside Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
Puck drop tonight at the TD Garden is at 7:00 PM EST on NESN.