Boston Bruins' Keys to Surviving a Grueling Schedule the Rest of November

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Boston Bruins' Keys to Surviving a Grueling Schedule the Rest of November
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

For the first time in their 2013-14 itinerary, the Boston Bruins will cram four games into a span of six nights this week.

The second time they tackle much rigor will be none other than next week, beginning Monday, Nov. 25 and sprinting through Saturday, Nov. 30.

The back-to-back set of four-in-sixes will chalk up to a stretch of eight game days out of the final 13 days of November. The slew of extramural engagements will be bookended by a pair of back-to-back game nights and will not feature any sets of consecutive off days.

The Bruins will twice engage the Carolina Hurricanes (this Monday and Saturday) and the Rangers (this Tuesday and on Black Friday). In addition, they host St. Louis this Thursday and Pittsburgh next Monday to envelope a three-game homestand, then visit Detroit on Thanksgiving Eve and conclude the month by hosting Columbus.

Afterwards, the arrival of December will bring four straight off nights, a change of pace that the club will likely accept as merciful. But how do they ensure that the next breather feels sufficiently hard-earned?

In this situation, the adage that success starts from the goal out applies seamlessly.

If one goes by the last two outings, the “hot hand” in the goalie guild is backup Chad Johnson, whose Thursday overtime win over the Blue Jackets preceded Tuukka Rask’s Friday loss to Ottawa. The 4-2 letdown in the Canadian capital ended Boston’s five-game point-getting streak with Rask in the crease.

With a pair of back-to-back road matches in Raleigh and Manhattan right on tap, a repeat of the Johnson-Rask pattern is best to start this stretch.

The afterglow of his latest effort will not be too stale for Johnson on Monday. In the other zone, the host Hurricanes have both of their top two netminders, Anton Khudobin and Cam Ward, on injured reserve.

Furthermore, per tsn.ca, two of Carolina’s most leaned-on scorers, Alexander Semin and Jeff Skinner, are either questionable for the game or on reserve, leaving the league’s third-least productive offense even shallower than usual.

Meanwhile, Rask could stand to stock up on physical and psychological gusto in advance of a presumptive Tuesday night tangle with Henrik Lundqvist.

Although it might hinge on how he fares against the Hurricanes, Johnson is in a position to let the circumstances fall into place for himself and his employers. He can serve his role in this grueling stretch by fostering an upper hand on Carolina and Columbus alike, facing each of them a second time over the next two Saturdays.

That approach would spare Rask the specter of taking on six straight assignments within 10 days, beginning Tuesday and ending with a Rangers rematch next Friday afternoon.

Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Johnson is not the only recent reinsertion who warrants more regular looks in the near future. Defenseman Matt Bartkowski, who has plugged the recent void in the wake of Adam McQuaid’s injury, fits under the same heading.

Per csnne.com beat writer Joe Haggerty, Bartkowski will at least be dressing for the next two contests. Haggerty noted on Saturday morning that “Bart will continue getting chances to excel offensively as Adam McQuaid is out for the remaining two road games after not going on the trip with the Black and Gold.”

Assuming McQuaid, who as of Sunday remains day-to-day with a groin ailment, is ready to return when the Bruins host the Blues on Thursday, helping Bartkowski stave off rust should become a priority. That should form a twofold benefit with, if nothing else, the first in a sprinkling of energy-saving healthy scratches for minutes-leading skater Zdeno Chara.

Next to Rask, Chara is most likely the player Boston will need to bank on the most when the homestretch and postseason arrive (assuming they reach that front). As the team’s luck would have it, though, he is also in Rask’s company among the Bruins most prone to wearing down as fatigue from this season piles onto last season.

The fortuitous side, though, is the fact that each player’s positional stand-in is presently entitled to confidence over recent performances. The coaching staff must exercise diligence in capitalizing on those circumstances and keeping the momentum on Johnson and Bartkowski’s side.

As vital as it is to rest the key cogs, Claude Julien and company should also be wary of asking too much or too little of either the backup backstop or the reserve rearguard. Starting Johnson for three of the next eight outings and dressing Bartkowski for a minimum of two and a maximum of three between Nov. 21 and Nov. 30 is the tentatively ideal plan.

But meticulous minute management on the back end will only do so much good unless the 18-man strike force starts supporting the stoppers with better regularity. Incidentally, having the likes of Bartkowski as one of the point patrollers can be one of the ingredients in that formula.

As evidenced by one of Boston’s scoring plays against the Senators, linking up a quality point shooter and able-bodied screener can be an energy-efficient means of reaping offensive production.

Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Loui Eriksson, whom Boston Globe reporter Fluto Shinzawa recently described as “strong on his skates,” tipped Bartkowski’s blast home to extend his point-getting streak to five games. Whether it has amounted to statistical gain or merely a worthwhile close shave, Eriksson has become a useful staple on the porch or otherwise in the neighborhood of the net.

There is at least one forward on each line with enough size and strength to take a similar approach. Extraordinarily enough, Eriksson is not even among those who tip the scale north of 200 pounds, but Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic, Carl Soderberg and Shawn Thornton all do.

All five of them are sufficiently capable of breaking open and using space in the dirty-nose area, withstanding opposing nudges and, at least among the upper-liners, deflecting low-riding shots for a goal or a quality rebound.

Likewise, between Bartkowski, Chara, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug, the Bruins have a shift-by-shift abundance of certifiable pin-pointing puckslingers to spawn upfront traffic from a distance.

Throw in a pair of other forwards raring to work the open lanes and determined to make races and battles infrequent, quick and victorious and the Bruins should have their chief source of offensive sustenance ready for this arduous voyage.

The longer and tighter they grip the puck, the more strain they will save their most vital assets, thus insuring the future while keeping the present stable.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com

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