At this point one month ago, the Boston Bruins were struggling to establish an identity.
Not having a healthy lineup in hand had a lot to do with the Bruins’ struggles through early-November. At one point, the Bruins were without the likes of Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Anders Bjork, David Backes, Noel Acciari and Ryan Spooner for a significant amount of time.
At this point last month, the Bruins were near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Whether it was costly mistakes by Zdeno Chara and the rest of the blue-line, shaky goaltending from Tuukka Rask or struggling offensively, the inconsistent Bruins were trending in the wrong direction.
By the time the final horn sounded against the Ducks on Nov. 15, Bruce Cassidy had heard enough about the injury talk. Instead, he called his veterans out in hopes of getting a spark, particularly on the back end.
“Listen, I’m not going to use that as an excuse. We’ve got some young players up front, we know that. But at the back end and our goaltending, there’s experience there,” Cassidy said following the Bruins’ 4-2 loss in Anaheim in the first game of their California trip.
“Other than Charlie [McAvoy], these guys have played in the league, and they’re going to need to carry this team a little bit until we find our scoring and until these young guys get comfortable playing on the road. It was a bit of an issue tonight, and guys are going to have to take ownership of that. We’ve got some leaders back there and I hope that they take it to heart, because we had to be better back there. Sometimes you have to win 2-1, and like I said, that part is experience.”
Well, the D took that to heart, and the very next night just up the Freeway in Los Angeles – the Bruins battled out a 2-1 victory over the LA Kings on the back of a strong defensive performance.
That game became the catalyst for the Bruins’ next 10 games. As veterans like Krejci, Backes, Marchand and Spooner returned, the B’s found a rhythm on both ends of the ice and got solid goaltending from Rask and Anton Khudobin resulting in eight wins over that span.
Offensively, the Bruins are more well-rounded and don’t have to rely on a top-heavy lineup even with a No. 1 line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The third line of Danton Heinen, Riley Nash and David Backes has been equally impressive. David Krejci is starting to develop chemistry with Bjork and Jake DeBrusk on line two and the fourth line of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Acciari are displaying a good combination of energy and physicality.
Sans the two losses to the Predators and Oilers, the back end has been just as solid. Rask has controlled his rebounds and solidified the No. 1 goaltending spot putting an end to the ‘goaltender controversy’ after Khudobin’s four-game hot streak. The defense in front of Rask and Khudobin are clearing bodies in front while delivering quick outlet passes and minimizing the mistakes in their own end.
Not bad going up against some of the NHL’s marquee players like Steven Stamkos, Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid and John Tavares over the last few weeks.
From start to finish, the Bruins have been a more consistent bunch. Their 60-minute efforts from the young guys and the veterans have factored into a stretch where they’ve outscored their opponents 32-18.
“I think it’s been consistency. There’ve been lots of guys stepping up as well [with] full 60-minute efforts,” said Jake DeBrusk, who has six points in eight games – missing two due to an undisclosed injury – during this stretch.
“I found that the spurts where we weren’t playing a full 60 we survived and got out of it. I felt like we got contributions from lots of guys…the veterans and leaders here do an amazing job in helping us young guys and leading the way on the ice. So we’re just following suit.”
Learning directly from leaders like Chara, Backes, Bergeron, Marchand, Rask and Krejci is only going to help the Bruins’ youth movement blossom into into the next wave of superstars on Causeway Street.
Sure, the B’s got to beat up on some teams like the lowly Flyers and Coyotes in that stretch, but their victories against quality teams such as the Penguins, Lightning, Islanders, Devils, Kings and Sharks have separated themselves from teams beneath them in the standings.
Now sitting pretty in third place in the Atlantic Division, the Bruins (32 points) will look to create more separation from the pack with a three-game-in-four-day span starting tomorrow in Detroit versus the Red Wings – and ending with the Capitals and Rangers on Thursday and Saturday at TD Garden.
“When you’re winning its lots of fun,” DeBrusk said following Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena, “and we don’t want to go back to that little something that we had before.”