The Boston Bruins enter Sunday with more questions than answers after back-to-back humiliating defeats. They lost 7-3 at the New York Islanders on Thursday and followed that up with a 6-2 loss at the New York Rangers the next day. Not what was expected from the Eastern Divisions leading team, who were 11-3-2 before. They were also riding a high from their 7-3 win in Lake Tahoe. The fun in sun in the west has come to a screeching halt in the east. How did things go so wrong so fast, and what is wrong with the Boston Bruins defence?
Boston Bruins Defence is Thin
The obvious answer to the Boston Bruins defence and their woes in New York is injuries. They entered both contests without three of their top-six defensemen. Kevan Miller, who also missed Lake Tahoe, is dealing with soreness in his surgically repaired knee. Matt Grzelcyk continues to try to come back from a lower-body injury that has kept him out 12 of the Bruins 18 games. They also lost Jeremy Lauzon in Tahoe to a broken hand, which will keep him out for at least four weeks. Number two centre David Krejci also did not make the trip with the team to New York. He is nursing a lower-body injury. Add all this up and you can perhaps excuse the defending Presidents Trophy champions from not being at their best. But is there more to this than just a lack of manpower at this point in the season?
Next Man Up
The Bruins are no strangers to injuries. This year alone, all-world forward David Pastrnak missed the first seven games of the season. Second-line right-wing Ondrej Kase has been out since game two. As well, Jake DeBrusk was on the shelf for five games earlier in the year. Yet Boston managed to thrive in their absence, with only one regulation loss in the first 13 games of 2021. Injuries have plagued them in years past as well. Coach Bruce Cassidy is a big proponent of the “next man up” mentality and this has served this team well. After all, they allowed their top-scoring defenceman Torey Krug to sign elsewhere in the offseason. They also let longtime captain Zdeno Chara go as well.
Yet young players have managed to step in and keep Boston as the top team in the division once again. Every team over the course of a year will battle injuries or illness, maybe this year more than ever with COVID-19. This is a team with high expectations as one of the favourites to win the Stanley Cup. It is also a young team, especially on defence, still trying to find themselves. Perhaps they need to find something else.
However, you can’t place all the blame on this young Boston Bruins defence. Hockey is a team game and the Bruins and Cassidy preach team defence, perhaps more than any team in the NHL. Yet, if you look up and down this lineup the holes are pretty apparent and very glaring. They have also been since the start of the season. Here is how Boston came into 2021 with their defensive pairings.
Right: Charlie McAvoy-23 years old. 184 games played
Left: Jeremy Lauzon-23 years old. 35 games played.
Right: Brandon Carlo-24 years old. 297 games played
Left: Matt Grzelcyk-26 years old. 197 games played
Right: Kevan Miller-33 years old. 324 games played
Left: Jakub Zboril-23 years old. 2 games played.
The senior member of the group, Miller has played the equivalent of just over four full NHL seasons and he has not played in well over a season due to knee injuries. Both McAvoy and Carlo are young but have proven to be very capable defensemen. However, they are also still learning. It is on the left side of the defence where the real holes appear. Lauzon played well before his injury but In no world is putting a 23-year-old with 35 games played over three years on the top pair a good idea.
Then a rookie (Zboril) paired with an oft-injured veteran with average defensive skills also doesn’t look like a winning formula. And the “veteran” of this left side, Grzelyck being asked to fill the shoes of Krug, who played 523 games in Boston. That is 289 more games than the entire left side of the defence combined. Chara alone has played over 500 more games than the entire starting six for the Boston Bruins. This is a massively inexperienced group, who were deemed to be the best options for the start of the 2021 season. We know that General Manager Don Sweeney wanted to “see what they had” as far as these young players/assets. But what happens if you don’t like what you see, or you do have to face some injuries?
Below the top six on D, the Bruins depth chart consists of :
John Moore-a veteran of 537 games, who has been a healthy scratch for Boston more times than not.
Connor Clifton 25 year old with 50 games played prior 2021
Urho Vaakanainen 22-year-old rookie with 7 games played
Steven Kampfer 32-year-old with 211 games played.
This is not a strong group and they have shown that as they have been pushed into the lineup due to injuries. Yet that is their job on the taxi squad, to be able to jump in and contribute to the team winning when there are injuries. Clifton has been a lukewarm bright spot in his time up in 2021, but even the most casual fan can see there are issues here. Changes need to be made if the Boston Bruins want to compete for the Cup this year.
Don Sweeney, Cam Neely and the powers that be in the Bruins front office need to start working the phones/zoom. The need for a top-four defenceman is obvious and another bottom pair player would also be ideal. There are names that are out there. Mattias Ekholm or Alex Goligoski would fit well in the top four and on the powerplay. Then there is Marc Staal or Brandon Montour. All UFA’s at the end of 2021 and capable players on the backend. The Stanley Cup playoffs are a long and gruelling war of attrition where veteran defencemen are worth their weight in gold. The black and gold would do well to address this issue sooner, rather than later.