It started off very ugly with losses in Anaheim and Los Angeles, but it ended on a high note in the Bay Area.
After rough patches in which they were outscored 9-4 in their two losses to the Kings and Ducks, the Bruins bounced back nicely in San Jose Saturday night and salvaged a 1-0 victory to sweep the season series from the Sharks. More importantly, the Bruins are getting healthier again with the return of Loui Eriksson (concussion) – with Chris Kelly (broken tibia) soon to follow – and Shawn Thornton from his 15-game suspension.
There were some negatives on the road trip, but some positives came along as well. That said, here are the three takeaways from the three-game California getaway.
Bruins’ penalty kill still struggling
This is just one reality the Bruins are facing without Dennis Seidenberg. The PK’s struggles without Seidenberg were well documented in Anaheim when the Ducks – ranked 21st in the league on the power play – scored three times on the man advantage in Tuesday’s 5-2 victory. One night later, the B’s allowed one power play marker against a Kings team that’s 24th in that category.
Saturday, on the other hand, was a little different. On the lone Sharks’ opportunity, the B’s held the 12th best team to one shot on the man advantage and gave San Jose very little room to work with.
Still, for a team that was ranked second on the PK at one point, the Bruins’ shorthanded unit has fallen quite a bit without Seidenberg. Since his absence, they are 15-for-24 on the kill and have fallen to 10th in the league.
There’s no denying that Chiarelli is going to make a defensive upgrade at the deadline, and hope to strengthen one of the Bruins’ top strengths under Claude Julien. In the meantime, they’ll have to rely heavily on top killers like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Tuukka Rask, just to name a few.
When in doubt, Tuukka bounces back
Speaking of Rask, the Finnish netminder faced his first tough stretch of the 2013-14 season.
Sure, Chad Johnson had to replace Rask on a few occasions this year, and Tuukka has also seen his game dip without Dennis Seidenberg. But against his fellow countryman in Antti Niemi Saturday night in San Jose, Rask stepped up in a battle between the two goalies, making some clutch saves, including at the end of the third, en route to his league leading fifth shutout of the year.
Sure, there’s still some questions that Rask needs to answer this season. He has yet to play the majority of a full 82-game slate, and one has to wonder if going over to Sochi to represent the Finns will affect him in the long-term. But so far, he’s answered many challenges when his back is against the wall, and he finds himself as one of the favorites to take home the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goalie.
Eriksson, Spooner and Soderberg a trio to watch
Prior to his return, many were wondering where Eriksson would fit in the Bruins lineup. Would he go back to his second line right wing spot along with Bergeron and Brad Marchand? Or, with Reilly Smith filling in nicely for Eriksson and taking the team lead in goals, would Julien find a way to fit him in elsewhere?
Weighing all his options, Julien decided to put Eriksson on the third line with Ryan Spooner and Carl Soderberg. And boy did it pay off Saturday night as the trio all factored in the game’s only goal. In his first game back, Eriksson fed Soderberg with a beautiful pass, and the fellow Swede buried it past Antti Niemi to give the Black and Gold the spark they needed in the end of their road trip.
Eriksson’s two-way play is a nice compliment to Soderberg’s net drive and Spooner’s speed and playmaking ability. Moreover, it gives Julien yet another scoring option along with the top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla, and of course the Bergeron, Marchand, Smith unit.
I have a feeling that the best is yet to come with these three. And so should The Hub of Hockey.
See what Claude, Tuukka and Loui had to say after Saturday’s win in San Jose.