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Anderson: Impossible to set expectations, identity for Bruins given injuries

Ty Anderson
November 02, 2017 - 3:00 pm

With 11 points through the first 10 games of the season by way of their 4-3-3 record, just two points out of the second wild card and with multiple games in hand over everybody, the Bruins are probably where you thought they’d be when the year began.

But we truthfully haven’t even scratched the surface in terms of what this team can be this season, and I’m not sure that we’re going to see it anytime soon.

Top-six center David Krejci is out week-to-week with an upper-body injury suffered two weeks ago, and for what it’s worth, you honestly should not expect to see him back anytime soon. Premier power-play weapon Ryan Spooner is two weeks into the recovery of a groin injury expected to come with a four-to-six week recovery. David Backes, who missed the first five games of the season because of diverticulitis, is going to have part of his colon surgically removed and is going to miss the next eight weeks. Adam McQuaid has a broken leg and is also on the shelf for the next two months, and even fourth-line banger Noel Acciari, with a broken thumb, is out injured right now.

Patrice Bergeron, also absent for the first five games of the season, has returned, but is playing at less than 100 percent, which is obvious to anybody with working eyes.

Consider this: The Bruins have had Bergeron and Krejci, the club’s formidable one-two punch down the middle for practically a decade, in action together for less than two full periods of hockey this season. One goes in, two or three come out, it seems.

The B’s are a d-man injury away from Bruce Cassidy going full Reg Dunlop on us.

Of course, the flipside of this injury nonsense is that injuries are like excuses and excuses are like words unfit to print (at least I’m pretty sure I can’t write that one, but I’ll have to ask Bradford first): Everybody’s got them, and they all stink.

Yet, they’re also a real thing that should temper your everyday expectations for this team.

For the Bruins, this is no longer about proving your worth as an Atlantic Division contender. It’d be nice, but it has to be put on hold while the Lightning full-on run away with this division thanks to Nikita Kucherov straight-up refusing to stop scoring goals.

Instead, it’s now about survival and simply not digging yourselves into a standings grave too deep while waiting for the injured bodies to return to the mix later this season.

And while it’s a small sample, the Bruins have done a fine job of that thus far, with a five-game point streak (they’re 2-0-3 over that span), and with points against some quality competition, too, in the Sharks, Kings, and Blue Jackets (those opponents are averaging a 68 percent point percentage through their first 12 games of the year).

The Bruins have also done what they can to make up for some of these aforementioned losses to injury over that span, by working on their defensive zone structure, too, and toning back some of the up-tempo, high-scoring games that Cassidy preferred.

“It’s been our identity around here for a long time,” Cassidy said. “We got away from it for a couple of weeks. We’ll get back to it. Try to find the right balance of playing aggressive brand of hockey without giving up grade-A chances. I thought [Saturday] from the normal course of play, we’re pretty good at that. The one goal was a turnover and the other one was a faceoff. So for the most part, I think we’ve cleaned that up.”

The numbers have backed this up, too, as the B’s enter Thursday with the 11th-fewest shots allowed per game, at 31.6, and 1.8 five-on-five goals allowed per game.

“Defense leads to offense so if guys want to score goals they need to come back and do the job the right way and stop them in front of the net,” B’s d-man Torey Krug said. “Obviously it’s the NHL – guys are going to get their chances. I think guys are more committed to the defensive side of the game and it leads to more chances [for].”

But this is as much about structure as it’s Cassidy tinkering with his roster makeup, with a clear understanding of their obviously lowered capabilities in some respects.

These injuries have essentially forced the Bruins to load up their top line, reuniting David Pastrnak with the lethal one-two combination of Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and rely on a defensively sound, north-south grouping from the other nine.

The star-studded approach to the first line does take away some of the Bruins’ preferences with the rest of their lines -- it was always believed that the Bergeron line would be, well, the Bergeron line while David Krejci’s line was a strong cycling line and David Backes’ third line would be a grind-it-out kind of line -- but it forces the team to basically stick to one identity. That’s one reason why Riley Nash becomes a second-line center in the now, as it’s basically that or throwing one of your lines to the wolves of inexperience and overwhelming them with a role they simply can’t perform.

That ‘identity’ situation can be a good thing, especially when you’re integrating so many young faces and new players into your lineup on a night-to-night basis, and could actually be the easiest way for those players to transition, albeit at the sacrifice of their own personal numbers and statistical achievements. And this was often a staple of some of the early Claude Julien B’s teams that were often similarly undermanned, either because of talent or massively, near-damaging beyond repair injury situations.

It’s not going to be pretty. It’s actually an operation held together entirely by Bergeron glue and Chara tape, in fact.

But it’s pretty much all the B’s have until the next injury. 

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