How Much Are the Boston Bruins Missing Their Many Injured Skaters?
They subsequently rinsed out their vinegar on Tuesday with a 2-0 win over the lowly Calgary Flames, their second win in that matchup in as many weeks. They thus improved to 5-0-1 in their last six games, 4-0-1 in their last five and 3-0-1 in their last four.
Each game that began each of those spans was preceded with more injury news―and, in one case, suspension news that everyone was likely expecting for a week.
Facing Calgary and the Edmonton Oilers, the plebeians of the Pacific Division, a combined three times has likely helped the Bruins retain a characteristic output in the “W” column. But head coach Claude Julien and/or at least one of his players have alluded to not-so-perfect performances in those three games when speaking to NHL.com reporters on the scene.
While the active personnel would be right to shun excuses, it is safe to imagine that the presence of some of these injured players could have made a difference. They could have relieved the reserves of excess pressure and given Julien more convincing options when an in-game shake-up was needed.
The following is a capsule of the five skaters in question, their respective statuses and how the team is faring in the effort to fill their voids.
Injury Info: On injured reserve with a concussion.
On Wednesday afternoon, WEEI.com beat writer DJ Bean quoted Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli as saying: “I talked to Loui (Eriksson) a little bit yesterday. He’s coming along, but he’s still experiencing some symptoms. With that type of injury, you see slow improvement, and that’s what Loui’s going through, so I don’t know what the time period would be.”
Eriksson, who has primarily played on the second line opposite Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, is dealing with his second confirmed concussion of the season. He sustained his latest ailment early in a Dec. 7 game against Pittsburgh and has not seen action since.
Replacements: Reilly Smith
Impact: Because Eriksson endured two concussive hits a mere 45 days apart, it is best that the Bruins use maximum caution and offer him maximum time to return to game-ready shape. His teammates can alleviate any and all pressure by performing reliably in his absence, and Smith is helping in that regard.
In a recap of the team’s four-game road trip from last week, Dan Cagen of the MetroWest Daily News wrote that Smith “showed how effective he can be when he gets a full head of steam going towards the net down the right side.”
As of Wednesday, Smith is tied for second on the team with nine goals on the year and third in point production with 23. He deposited the deciding strike at Calgary with four minutes, 33 seconds left in regulation last Tuesday and, with two goals, was one of the sparse bright spots in last Saturday’s Vancouver letdown.
Injury Info: On injured reserve and expected to miss two to four weeks with a lower-body injury.
Dougie Hamilton left the Bruins’ Dec. 8 tilt in Toronto late in the first period. Three days later, The Boston Globe’s Amalie Benjamin reported the two-to-four-week prognosis that the aforementioned TSN still lists on its online injury page.
Replacements: Matt Bartkowski, Kevan Miller, David Warsofsky
Impact: Although Miller did not start suiting up until after Hamilton’s injury, Bartkowski more or less replaces Hamilton by virtue of closer skill-set similarities. While not quite as prolific as Hamilton, he bears something of an offensive tool kit, which has translated to six helpers in 20 games played so far in 2013-14.
Still, he has yet to constitute quite the same productive point-patroller Hamilton and Torey Krug have been at times this season.
But for what it’s worth, here is what the would-be seventh defenseman and top Providence blueliner have done in their day jobs over the last five games: Bartkowski has landed nine body checks, including four against Toronto, and blocked two shots. Miller distributed three hits and blocked a whopping 16 opposing bids over his last five outings.
Now there is a chance that David Warsofsky, recalled as of Wednesday, per The Patriot Ledger, will step in to help recompense Hamilton and Adam McQuaid (more on him later).
Injury Info: On injured reserve and out indefinitely with a broken ankle.
The aforementioned Benjamin elaborated Dec. 9 that Chris Kelly could miss between four and six weeks (as did other sources, such as WEEI and CSNNE). Benjamin’s report was published in the Globe two days after Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis slashed Kelly in the foot.
Benjamin wrote, “Kelly was placed on long-term injured reserve, meaning he can’t return until the beginning of January at the earliest.”
Replacements: Ryan Spooner
Impact: Spooner has brought some stability to the top nine by spending the bulk of his promotion in the third-line center slot. Though not perfect by any means, the NHL rookie has had many impactful shifts, including one that culminated in his assist on the winning goal at Calgary on Dec. 10.
As one could logically expect of an unripe professional center, Spooner bears a sore spot at the faceoff dot, struggling to win the majority of his draws. But his compete level and his eagerness to grow have often been plain to see for the viewers of recent games.
Kelly’s deletion from the lineup creates another complication, though, in that he is usually in the company of fellow centers Bergeron and Gregory Campbell as Boston’s most common penalty-killing forwards.
His nightly average of 1:57 shorthanded minutes is third on that list, sandwiched between Campbell’s 1:58 and Bergeron’s 1:53. That is a bit much to try to keep replacing over a protracted period, which the Bruins are stuck with attempting.
Injury Info: On injured reserve with a lower-body injury.
On Tuesday, Amanda Bruno of The Republican wrote that McQuaid, who has not made any game appearances since Nov. 30, has at least resumed skating within the past week. Like Eriksson, this is a recurrence of a previous ailment, which prompted Julien to tell Bruno, “we’ll have to be extremely careful with it being the second time around.”
Replacements: Bartkowski, Miller, Warsofsky
Impact: As hinted in the Hamilton slide, Miller is more of a de facto replacement for McQuaid than anybody else because of similar size, strength and style. Like McQuaid, Miller is more of a stay-at-home blueliner.
Miller’s scouting report from The Hockey News credits his “puck-moving skills,” but also concedes that he “Won’t produce huge numbers.” That, in turn, generally renders the 6’2”, 200-pounder a less NHL-seasoned version of McQuaid, a 197-pounder whom THN sums up as a “Solid physical defenseman.”
Upon reassigning Miller to the AHL on Wednesday, Chiarelli explained on the team’s website that the transaction was geared toward keeping the defensive prospect safe from waivers.
That notwithstanding, the point is becoming clear that the Bruins will be better off once they have all four of their established defensemen―Johnny Boychuk, Zdeno Chara, McQuaid and Dennis Seidenberg―healthy and active again. They have held up fine on most nights in terms of preventing opposing goals, although that six-goal outburst by the Canucks is a hard-to-ignore exception.
Injury Info: Out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms.
In a Monday write-up, csnne.com’s Joe Haggerty relayed Julien’s details on Daniel Paille’s diagnosis, which was conducted in Calgary before he was sent home in the middle of last week’s road trip.
Replacements: Jordan Caron, Craig Cunningham, Matt Fraser, Nick Johnson
Impact: If he were healthy, odds are the fourth-line veteran Paille would have been a go-to choice to fill in on one of the top three units. After all, he has done that before with irreproachable reviews, particularly during last year’s Stanley Cup Final.
Instead, with Paille joining Eriksson and Kelly among the injured forwards, that task is variously falling on the much greener likes of Fraser, Johnson, Smith and Spooner. Just look at Monday’s list of practice lines, as posted on the team’s website.
In addition, the fact that Paille went down shortly after Shawn Thornton stepped out of line and incurred a suspension means two-thirds of the Merlot Line is missing indefinitely. That means using any combination of Caron, Cunningham, Fraser and Johnson to give Campbell a pair of wings to work with.
None of those up-and-coming players is at a point where he can supplement Paille’s horizons. Paille is not only a dependable shake-up asset, but also fourth among Bruins forwards with 93 seconds of shorthanded ice time per night.
Fraser suited up for all four installments of the recent road trip but gave way to Cunningham against Calgary this past Tuesday. Now Cunningham is back in Providence, per CSNNE.com, and so the revolving door keeps turning.