By: Patrick Donnelly
The Boston Bruins have not been completely healthy once throughout training camp and the start of the season. Camp started with Patrice Bergeron and Anders Bjork nursing injuries as they continued their recoveries from issues stemming from last season.
As Anders Bjork returned to action, Torey Krug went down while Bergeron remained on the shelf. Bergeron ended up being ready to go for the start of the season and hasn’t missed a step. On Krug’s end, he is nearing a full recovery as he has begun skating with the team.
With Krug on the mend, David Backes, Charlie McAvoy, Urho Vaakanainen, and Kevan Miller are all on the shelf right now. Miller looks to have a broken his hand after taking a shot there in last week’s game against Edmonton and has been placed on injured reserve, expecting to miss three weeks. Miller was seen skating without a stick at Warrior Ice Arena this morning before the team’s morning skate in preparation for Thursday’s tilt against the Flyers, essentially confirming the suspicions of a broken bone in his hand.
Cassidy cited “not feeling well” for McAvoy and Backes’ absences. For Backes, fears of another concussion have been raised while McAvoy’s issue seems precautionary and unrelated to his heart procedure from last season.
As for Miller’s replacement, 19-year-old Urho Vaakanainen, he left Tuesday night’s game in Ottawa after taking a blatant elbow to the face from Mark Borowiecki and entering concussion protocol.
As a result of all of this, Matt Grzlecyk has been thrust into a much larger role and has been adequate, but the power play clearly misses Torey Krug. Brandon Carlo has stepped it up after rejoining a pair with Zdeno Chara while Steven Kampfer has seen his first game action of the season and has been up to the task so far. Without Vaakanainen, there was speculation about who would be recalled from AHL Providence to fill in, the top two candidates being Jakob Zboril or Jeremy Lauzon.
Lauzon was recalled on an emergency basis Thursday morning, joined the team for the morning skate, and will make his NHL debut Thursday night at TD Garden. Lauzon has spent the last two seasons in Providence after being drafted 52nd overall by the Bruins in the second round of the 2015 draft. Lauzon plays a steady two-way game and has great vision and passing, racking up assists, usually on the power play. So far, in six games for Providence this year, Lauzon has shown tremendous progress with one goal, three assists, and four points.
As for the depth issues facing the team, we’re seeing the same story as last season: the first line is carrying the production. The first line has a combined 44 points in just 10 games; Bergeron has 16, Pastrnak has 15, and Marchand has 13 points.
Next in line is David Krejci who has nine points in ten games. After Krejci, Charlie McAvoy has six points in seven games while Matt Grzlecyk has five in ten. Then, far below those two falls Jake DeBrusk with three points (all goals) and Joakim Nordstrom with two goals. Not good, not good at all.
It’s unacceptable for the bottom three lines to account for next to nothing of this team’s production. Bjrok, Heinen, and DeBrusk have all looked good, but haven’t shown up on the scoresheet as expected while Ryan Donato (1G) simply looks overmatched. Chris Wagner has a lucky tip-in goal and one assist, Sean Kuraly has one goal and one assist, and David Backes has a whopping zero.
This is all the more frustrating as it forces Bruce Cassidy to play musical chairs with the bottom-nine. Kuraly and Backes were both given shots at the third line center role and both didn’t find the spark, although things did look better with Backes there. As for potential call-ups, Trent Frederic and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson are two guys who, perhaps, did as little as one could with an opportunity during training camp and haven’t been too dazzling so far in Providence. On the other hand, Colby Cave has come out like a house of fire to start off his season with five goals and two assists in six games, but his best-suited NHL role is likely the fourth line.
Right now, the current fourth line stands as Anders Bjork-Sean Kuraly-Chris Wagner, showing an infuriating trend of grinders, like Wagner infiltrating up the lineup for long stretches of time (something that will work in a pinch for a jumpstart, but isn’t sustainable).
So, does Cassidy try spreading the wealth with David Pastrnak on the second line? He tried it Saturday night in Vancouver for a few shifts to no avail, so maybe the fix would be to try it for a longer period of time.
Or does a trade for a second line winger or third line center need to take place? As far as that option goes, there aren’t many teams shopping third line centers these days while the only realistic option for a second line winger is Artemi Panarin.
As for that route, I’ll pass. Columbus’ reported asking price starts with Jake DeBrusk and Charlie McAvoy with an extension already in place for Panarin. McAvoy is untouchable, although I would listen on DeBrusk as there are options in Bjork, Heinen, and Donato at wing. However, it doesn’t seem worth it for a guy in Panarin who has explicitly made it his goal to chase paper.
All we can hope for is the team to continue to stay afloat while Krug, Miller, McAvoy, and Vaakanainen recover, and the bottom three lines find their stride.