Matt Beleskey has been a scratch in two of the last three games. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)
Bruins winger Matt Beleskey has hit the proverbial reset button too many times to count this season. And rarely has it actually worked.
A scratch in two of the last three games (or half of the games coached by interim B’s coach Bruce Cassidy), Beleskey has missed time to a knee injury and has struggled to the tune of just two goals and five assists in 33 games this season. It seems tough to find the perfect fit to work the hardworking winger back into the mix too, especially before Beleskey’s return to Anaheim, where he played for the first seven years of his NHL career, on Wednesday night at the Honda Center.
The Bruins tried to find a different role for Beleskey last week when he stepped in for Tim Schaller. But Beleskey struggled to play his game in a fourth line role with Dominic Moore and Riley Nash, with just one shot in goal and a season-low 7:37 of time on ice (unless you count that injury-shortened night which ended after just six shifts and 5:27 of time on ice against Buffalo back on Dec. 3) in a 4-0 win over the Habs.
Schaller responded to the scratch with an impact in his next game out, with three hits and three blocked shots in just over 13 minutes of time on ice while often matched up against the Sharks’ Brent Burns. In other words, he doesn’t seem like a fit for the press box in the Black and Gold’s next contest, not after an effort like Sunday’s, anyhow.
So just what becomes the team’s go-to route to salvage Beleskey’s second year in town?
The spot initially believed to be Beleskey’s — on the left side of a second line combination with David Krejci and David Pastrnak, which was one of his most common lines a year ago — has been seized by first-year North American pro Peter Cehlarik.
While these fill-in situations tend to work themselves out as a player fizzles out (Austin Czarnik, Anton Blidh, and an entire roster of puck-moving defensemen saviors that came before Torey Krug), Cehlarik has looked damn impressive with Krejci and Pastrnak, and the line’s chemistry has seemingly led to magnet-like possession skills in the attacking zone and countless opportunities (and in different fashions). Ready for the ultimate compliment to Cehlarik, too? It’s been increasingly difficult to tell the difference between he and Marchand when on the ice, which is something that was originally because of Cehlarik wearing No. 83 and Marchand sporting No. 63, but it’s Cehlarik’s undeniable creativity along the walls once over the attacking blue line that has helped make that more than a numbers game. Carrying out a hypothetical that throws Cehlarik back to the press box (or back to the AHL) despite his budding chemistry with Krejci would only further complicate a year that’s been rife with chemistry issues and (or because of) a revolving door of linemates to the veteran Czech’s left. And his right, actually, for that matter.
Elsewhere, Marchand, the team’s top winger, is not coming out of the lineup. Nor is Frank Vatrano, who missed the first 34 games of the season due to a training camp foot injury that required surgery, coming off that third line or second power-play unit.
So, again, where’s the fit for No. 39? It’s hard to find a legitimate answer. But maybe that’s the wrong question, though, as for the 28-year-old Beleskey it may not be a where he fits back into the mix, but rather a when he’s fit for a jump back into action.
On the shelf for 23 games because of that aforementioned injury against the Sabres in December, which affected his right knee but did not require surgery (not to our knowledge, anyways), Beleskey’s skating game has been noticeably dull since his return. The numbers back that up, too, with just two assists, a minus-4 rating, and 13 shots in nine games played. It’s also been subtly hinted as that Beleskey is still not at 100 percent, healthwise or game-speed wise. And Beleskey has worked with the club’s skating coach at recent practices, which would indicate that it’s something that’s been acknowledged by both the player and the team.
But at some point this season, the Bruins will need the Beleskey that registered a career-best 37 points last year to show up.
Beleskey simply means too much to the Bruins in the ‘little areas’ of the game as a physical tone-setter to sit as a scratch when the games matter the most. I understand the unquantifiable nature of the buzzwords thrown out there in that last sentence, but it’s honestly hard for me to remember a player that’s loved a city and team as quickly as Beleskey has taken to Boston in just one and a half years here, so motivation or efforts, especially on a shift to shift basis, should never be in question. And in the second year of a five-year deal featuring a $3.8 million cap hit, he’s too expensive to become dead weight in the press box. (You thought people were mad when Jimmy Hayes’ $2.3 million sat as a scratch again and again?) One of the things that impressed the Bruins the most about Beleskey too was his monstrous postseason run with the Ducks in 2015, which featured eight goals — three of which held as game-winning goals — in 16 playoff games. Those are goals and results that the B’s will need, be it in the stretch run or in the actual playoffs, if this climb back from the near-dead under Claude Julien leads to a legitimate playoff run under Cassidy.
Production that can only come when Beleskey is back on the ice for the Black and Gold, not where.