The Boston Bruins are a model of attrition in the battle of attrition that has become the Atlantic Division.
While 11 players up and down the lineup have participated in at least 34 of the 37 games completed on the 82-game schedule, it would be far-fetched to suggest the team is the envy of its rivals insofar as health is concerned.
David Krejci is one of the most distinguished members of the 34-game club. Suiting up in 35 games, the pivot is second on the team with a 11-22–33 line. Krejci missed 35 games in 2014-15. The Bruins missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007. He’s currently out ‘week-to-week’ with an upper body injury.
Defenseman Torey Krug missed his only game of the season last Sunday, a 3-1 loss to Ottawa, with an upper body injury. Veteran blueliners Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have missed time over the past few seasons with various injuries, and began the regular season on the shelf. Meanwhile, defenseman Adam McQuaid is one the four Bruins with perfect attendance through 37 games. That’s the same McQuaid that missed 87 games in three seasons prior to this one, suggesting a bill of health too good to be true.
Bottom-six forward Joonas Kemppainen has missed the last 11 games with an upper-body injury, though he could be back as soon as Tuesday. David Pastrnak, out since Oct. 31 with a foot injury, was on the cusp of getting back into the B’s lineup when he injured his finger representing his native Czech Republic in the World Junior Championship.
So, you get the point. The Bruins are reeling on the ice, with losses in four of their last five games. To add injury to insult, the trainer’s room is no desolate wasteland.
With Krejci out, others hobbled, and veterans who are no spring chickens, here’s the players whose absence could spell doom for the Bruins, who are clinging to the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, with Ottawa and Pittsburgh (both two points behind) lurking closer.
1- Tuukka Rask. The Bruins lifeline to the Stanley Cup playoffs stands between a pair of iron pipes. Rask is closest thing this roster has to the paramount in the world at his respective position. The Bruins have been fortunate in the crease over the past 15 years in terms of health (though mediocrity – sorry Steve Shields, post-lockout Andrew Raycroft – is another topic). The nearest brushes include the 2009-10 season, when ace goalie Tim Thomas struggled in net due to a torn labrum in his hip (which wasn’t disclosed until after the season), and in March 2012, when Rask was sidelined with a strained groin. In the former case, Rask stepped in and tended the B’s net on an elite level. The Finish netminder was a backup to Thomas when he injured his groin in 2012.
The Bruins have been relatively catastrophe-free with their ace goaltending (when they’ve had it) since Byron Dafoe’s back-to-back seasons of futility in the 1999-2000 and 2000-01 seasons, when injuries and a 1999 contract holdout limited the 1999 Vezina Trophy finalist to 89 games over the two seasons, his .898 save percentage over that span much lower than the .911 he posted over his five seasons in Boston from 1997-2002. The Bruins missed the playoffs both seasons, two of just three times the Bruins missed the playoffs between the 1967-68 season and the 2004-05 lockout.
2- Patrice Bergeron. Unlike Rask in the world of goaltending, Bergeron is not held in the same ilk as peers John Tavares, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, or Evgeni Malkin, fair or unfair as it might be. That said, there’s not a more adept 200-foot forward in the world. His 26.6 shifts per game are tops among B’s forwards and 10th among NHLers this season. He’s taken 928 of the team’s 2,322 faceoffs (40 percent), winning 56.6 of them. Bergeron is the only Bruin to average more than 2:30 per game on the powerplay (2:53) and penalty kill (2:33). New Jersey center Travis Zajac is the lone NHL forward who can hold such a claim.
3- Zdeno Chara. Trade him? Yeah, OK. After missing the first two games of the season, the veteran ace defenseman has averaged 24:21 per game while posting a 5-14–19 scoring line and leading the Bruins with a plus-nine rating. The minutes will need to be scaled back as the season progresses for Chara, who turns 39 in March, but there’s no denying the value the captain brings to the team.
4- Brad Marchand. Look no further than the Winter Classic, when Marchand – serving the first game of a three-game suspension for his hit on Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki last Tuesday – was out of the lineup. Brendan Gallagher – who plays a similar style to Marchand – was back in the Montreal lineup after missing 17 games. A Habs 5-1 win, Gallagher had a goal and an assist against a Bruins team that lacked not only Marchand, but also a pulse.
Marchand, who some might line up on the left wing in a game of ‘put any five players on the ice for a faceoff’, is not just an elite 200-foot wing with 30-goal capability, he’s the Bruins sparkplug. The Canadiens were 2-11 in the final 13 games of Gallagher’s absence. A similar fate could befall the B’s should they miss Marchand for an extended period of time.
5- Dennis Seidenberg. This one might have you scratching your head. But experience can never be overstated. Like Chara, the 34-year-old can still play big minutes, albeit not at the level he used to. Unless the Bruins add another defenseman, the blueline corps going into the playoffs (provided they make it, of course, which is a big if) would be Chara, Seidenberg, Krug, McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller, then Zach Trotman/Joe Morrow. Chara and Seidenberg combine for 210 games of playoff experience, while the other six aforementioned players combine for 92, 81 of which are accounted for by McQuaid (54) and Krug (27). Seidenberg has 69 playoff games to his credit, experience that isn’t easy to replace.
6- Ryan Spooner. Julien’s teams have always been largely predicated on two things, in particular: depth up the middle, and secondary scoring. Spooner provides both those things from the No. 3 spot, a role he’s flourished as an NHLer. Playing against weaker opponents, Spooner can use his skill and speed to his advantage. His 25 points, which ranks fifth on the team, is a big part of that.
7- Matt Beleskey. A big, physical forward who can put the puck in the net and create offense, there’s not a player like Beleskey in the Bruins line up. He’s been the player the Bruins thought they were getting when they signed him to a five-year, $20 million deal over the summer. Now he’s starting to score, with five goals in his last nine games.