There is nothing like a three-game losing streak to get the local fandom hysterical. The Bruins ended that in grand fashion with Brad Marchand’s overtime game-winner on Saturday over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But while the B’s got back on the winning track — with Marchand’s celebratory tribute to Conor McGregor’s trademark strut — there are indeed some legitimate reasons for concern about this team.
That seems crazy to say about a team that entered Saturday night’s game against Columbus in second place in the Eastern Conference. But the fact is the injury bug has yet again taken a bite out of the B’s at exactly the wrong time. With less than a month to go before the playoffs begin, I cannot tell you what any of the top three lines will look like.
Yes, we know Marchand will skate with Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, and the so-called fourth line of Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner will probably be reunited at some point. Beyond that? Well, we shall see.
General manager Don Sweeney acquired two pretty important pieces at the deadline in Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle, but Johansson, who looked good as the second line right winger with Krejci, was lost to a lung contusion two shifts into his fourth game on March 5 and has been out since. Coyle, ideally the third line center, has had to bump up to second line right wing in recent games.
Some of the big picture should come into focus soon. David Pastrnak, out since suffering a thumb injury in an off-ice tumble Feb. 10, will practice with the team today and could be back playing on the upcoming four-game road trip. Johansson is expected to start skating early this week, though his return date is more hazy.
In a perfect world, coach Bruce Cassidy would have time to tinker around with a fully healthy lineup and get to know where his new players fit the best. But it doesn’t appear he’ll have that luxury.
“I don’t know if there’ll be much experimenting time,” conceded Cassidy. “I think when they do all get back, we’d like to play with our lineup. I don’t know if we want to go into our first game (of the playoffs) — we’re making the assumption that we get in, we’ve got a nice comfortable lead but we have to make sure we finish the job here — I don’t know if we want to go into Game 1 without some repetition of lines and (defense) pairs. Some of that will be dependent on when these guys come back. Let’s say we have five or six games. We’d like to firm it up fairly quickly. I think that’s the best case for everybody. So the experimenting? There may not be time for it, depending on Marcus. He’s the biggest wild card. He’s had very little time with anybody here. That one, we’ll try to slot him in as best we can.
“Krech and Bergy have both played with (Pastrnak), so I don’t think that’s a huge adjustment, though he’s certainly more comfortable with Bergy and March. So we may not have the luxury of messing around.”
The B’s also went into Saturday’s game missing half their regular defensemen: Kevan Miller (upper body), Torey Krug (concussion) and Matt Grzelcyk (arm). That’s clearly an issue, too, but assuming they’ll all get back in time (Miller and Grzelcyk could start skating this week; Krug is still in the protocol), they’ve been here all year and it’ll be easier to slot them.
But the forward groups are very much an unknown. Cassidy went through this last year when the newly acquired Rick Nash suffered a concussion on March 17 that kept him out of the rest of the regular season. But that situations was a little more straightforward.
“I think with Nash, we never had any doubt where he would play,” Cassidy said. “When we made the trade, he liked to play right wing, that was our opening. The other line was humming, we were slotting him in there (with Krejci). . . . Marcus has played more left wing. We tried him on right (with Krejci) because he was amenable to it. He hasn’t played there as much. And we also had our third line pinned down last year. It was (Danton) Heinen, (Riley) Nash and (David) Backes. This year it’s ‘Is Marcus a better fit with Coyle?’ That’s the difference this year from last year, there are probably two spots we’re trying to pin down as opposed to just the one.”
The one bit of good timing the B’s have been afforded is that Heinen, seemingly headed for a lost sophomore season, has relocated his game and could be a decent option on either the Bergeron or Krejci line, which could allow Johansson to drop down to potentially give the B’s a third line with a little offensive punch, something they’ve been without most of the season. That would be the best case scenario, and a darn good one at that.
But time is running out, and there’s just a little too much uncertainty to feel totally comfortable with this team right now.