A trying time for the Bruins blueline
They’re beyond next man up.
The Boston Bruins knew they had some work cut out for them on this four-game road trip with several injuries to their blue-line. Charlie McAvoy (concussion), Brandon Carlo (upper-body) and Urho Vaakanainen (concussion) all stayed in Boston as the team departed for Denver Tuesday, while Kevan Miller, who is still nursing an upper-body ailment, joined his fellow teammates.
Miller, who last appeared in the B’s overtime loss to the Oilers in Edmonton on Oct. 18, could return as early as Wednesday in Detroit. The Bruins wished it could come sooner thanks to the latest pair of defensive injuries during the team’s 6-3 loss to the Avalanche Wednesday night.
The biggest departure — both figuratively and literally — came when Zdeno Chara didn’t join his teammates for the start of the second period. The Bruins ruled their 6-foot-9 captain out after taking a tough hit to the knee following a first period hit with former teammate Carl Soderberg. The 41-year-old Chara returned to Boston on Thursday for further evaluation.
Add free-agent acquisition John Moore to the latest list of injuries. Head coach Bruce Cassidy deemed the former Devil day-to-day following the Bruins’ morning skate in Dallas on Friday.
So here we are in Game 19 of the 2018-19 season. A solid pool of defensive prospects will be thrown into the proverbial fire in Big ‘D’ against Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and the rest of the Stars. But experience is the main issue as Boston’s six defensemen enter Friday with a mere 667 career NHL regular season games combined. Only Torey Krug (405) and Steven Kampfer (177) have more than 100 games under their belts.
Two members of Boston’s defensive pipeline, Jakub Zboril and Connor Clifton, will make their NHL debuts. The former, a 2015 first round pick, gives the Bruins another puck moving option outside of Krug and Matt Grzelcyk and will pair with Kampfer on the third defensive unit. The latter, a former captain at Quinnipiac, is a physical, yet undersized specimen standing at 5-foot-11. He is one of Boston’s two right shot defensemen — with Kampfer — and will get top line minutes with Krug.
There’s potential with Zboril, Clifton and Jeremy Lauzon, who moves up to the second defensive unit with Matt Grzelcyk. All three will likely go back to Providence if or when the Bruins D heal their wounds. From even strength to special teams, it’s all hands on deck Friday with Tuukka Rask making his first start since his absence to attend to a personal matter last weekend.
“I’ve seen [a heavy amount of injuries] during the course of the year, but not all at the same time,” Cassidy told reporters following the morning skate at American Airlines Center. “It will be a challenge — all at once — no doubt. You’ve got [young] guys going into situations that’s not ideal. You want them to play minutes where they’ll have the most success, but some of them are going to be forced on the penalty kill. Power play [with Krug and Grzelcyk] is intact, so we’ll be okay there. But the penalty kill and playing against top lines is going to be a real indoctrination for a few of them,”
“It is what it is,” Cassidy added. “It’s the National Hockey League. You can either play in it or you can’t. For some of these guys, sometimes it’s the best way to find out. That’s the positive in it, but the negative is we’ve got a lot of good players out of the lineup back there.”
A good first impression can go a long way, especially for Zboril and Clifton. Here’s a breakdown of Friday’s matchup as the Bruins aim for the season sweep in this inter-conference matchup.
Gametime: 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: NESN/98.5 The Sports Hub
Records: Bruins 10-6-2 (22 points), Stars 9-7-2 (20 points)
Location: American Airlines Center
Bruins projected lines
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Joakim Nordstrom-David Krejci-Jake DeBrusk
Danton Heinen-Jacob Forsbacka Karlsson-Anders Bjork
Noel Acciari-Sean Kuraly-David Backes
Torey Krug-Connor Clifton
Jeremy Lauzon-Matt Grzelcyk
Jakub Zboril-Steven Kampfer
Stars projected lines
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov
Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Brett Ritchie
Blake Comeau-Radek Faska-Tyler Pitlick
Gemel Smith-Jason Dickinson-Valeri Nichhushkin
Esa Lindell-Julius Honka
Miro Heiskanen-Roman Polak
Gavin Bayreuther-Joel Haney