Will Recent Injuries Lead to a Slump for Boston Bruins?

Al DanielCorrespondent IIDecember 9, 2013

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 5: Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars skates by the bench of the Boston Bruins after scoring in a shoot out at the TD Garden on November 5, 2013 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
Steve Babineau/Getty Images

Besides the outcome of Shawn Thornton's impending disciplinary hearing, the Boston Bruins’ big question for this calendar week is whether they will make a friend or enemy with their arrangement.

The first key element of that arrangement is a week-long Canadian road trip, which started in Toronto on Sunday and will finish on the opposite coast in Vancouver on Saturday. It will be a crisp pattern of game days and off/travel days covering four cities.

The other element is the handful of key absences. Thornton’s suspension-worthy action against the Pittsburgh Penguins this past Saturday has combined with multiple injuries, necessitating several promotions from Providence on the fly.

As with any bout of adversity, there is a way that the Bruins can work this aggregate situation to their advantage.

Team bonding is easier to foster and sustain during a protracted road swing than it is when everyone is home. Therefore, this could be what the taxis and AHL call-ups need in order to be effective in their indefinite roles.

On the other hand, the fact remains that many relatively inexperienced skaters are being pressed into extra service. For some, that has already been the case in recent weeks, and all the while, Boston has arguably gotten away with multiple missteps and subpar performances.

Most recently, the Bruins have simultaneously compensated for injuries to the defense and for an offense that is not exactly saturating scoresheets very often. They have won four of their past five contests since Thanksgiving with no more than two opposing goals in any of those games.

Out of those past 15 periods, they have kept the adversary off the scoreboard for nine.

The rewards for that stinginess have helped to kick ice chips over the fact that, prior to Sunday night’s 5-2 outburst in Toronto, Boston’s offense mustered merely 10 goals in its previous four outings.

In other words, with the exception of last Thursday’s 2-1 loss in Montreal, the Bruins cultivated just enough to reward a defense and goalie guild that has blinked with negligible frequency.

The recent defensive efficiency and pairs of wins sandwiching that Montreal falter has also clouded a shortage of depth production. Of Boston’s past 15 goals in the past five games, eight have come off the sticks of top-six forwards, four via defensemen and three from depth forwards.

Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg, who are usually third-liners, were both in the midst of cold spells until this past weekend.

Smith finally broke out on Saturday with a goal-assist value pack while filling in for Loui Eriksson on the Patrice Bergeron-Brad Marchand line. The next night, he collaborated with Bergeron to set up Soderberg for his own skid-stopping strike, which the Swedish winger followed up on with an assist barely 10 minutes later.

By then, usual third-line pivot Chris Kelly had joined Eriksson on the sidelines with his own injury. Those two absences meant lining Soderberg with AHL call-ups Matt Fraser and Ryan Spooner while Smith joined Bergeron and Marchand on the second line for Sunday night’s even-strength shifts.

For the record, Fraser is a 23-year-old, third-year pro with 14 NHL games on his transcript. The 21-year-old Spooner is in his second season on the Providence-Boston shuttle with seven NHL contests and counting.

As long as the key absences up front remain, it is safe to assume these configurations will continue. Ditto fourth-year pro Jordan Caron joining Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille on the fourth line, if not swapping positions with one of the third-line wingers at any given point.

To Smith’s credit, he has been a fairly consistent producer with any pair of linemates for most of the season. He just cracked the 20-point plateau at the 30-game mark and has only three sets of consecutive scoreless performances, each lasting three or four games, on his 2013-14 log.

But is that sustainable, assuming he is to fill in on the top six for a longer stretch? Meanwhile, can Soderberg jell with his less seasoned allies quickly and adequately enough to lend the bottom six more firepower?

It is not out of question, particularly when the team is spending each of the next several days closer together as opposed to dispersing to their respective homes after practice. Whether or not that will translate to results on the scoreboard and stat sheet, how quickly and in what quantities is another matter.

It will all but need to if Boston wants to ensure at least four, five or six new points in the standings over its next three stops. Over time, overreliance on top-sixers and point patrollers to whip up and finish scoring plays will become an act of juggling with torches.

That holds true all the more for a blue-line brigade that, over the weekend, had four players each with less than two full NHL seasons under their respective belts in Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Kevan Miller.

Now NESN’s Mike Cole reports that Hamilton may be out for the rest of the road trip due to an ailment suffered in Toronto. Although, Cole mentions in the same write-up, via Jamie Erdahl, that Boychuk could be back in time for Tuesday’s tilt with the Calgary Flames.

That is an uptick in collective experience. But Adam McQuaid―the defense’s fourth elder statesman opposite Boychuk, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg―is presumably still out as both The Hockey News and TSN list him on injured reserve as of Monday. As long as that is the case, the recent NHL debutant Miller will continue to see action.

For all of the aforementioned benefits of travel, it also incurs a natural physical tax, particularly on those whose positions call for more minutes of action each night. That is why this week figures to be a more urgent time for the offense to step up its end of the bargain and give the blueliners a sturdier cushion.

It would not be a jutting shock if Boston nabs more than half of its allotted points while out west. In addition, whether it surfaces sooner or later down the road, its unripe stand-ins ought to benefit from this baptismal fire.

With that said, a bare minimum of one, if not two of the remaining stops on this journey is bound to yield a testament to the roster’s recent chaos. The constant nomadic movement and scrambling will have its say. Even if, as they likely will, the Bruins manage to stifle it before it reaches an overwhelming decibel.

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