The month of January has come to a close, and things are, tentatively, going smoothly for the NHL and the Boston Bruins in 2021. There have been some issues with COVID protocols, and games have had to be rescheduled, but that was to be expected. If things continue as they are, the NHL should have no problem finishing out the season in July. As for the Bruins, after a rough start, they swept their four-game homestand and are looking pretty good, even without David Pastrnak on the ice.
Still, as always, there is room for improvement. Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly through the first eight games in January.
How is Patrice Bergeron this good? He has hardly missed a beat at the start of this season, even with the new pressure of the “C” on his jersey and his normal right-wing injured to start the season. In their second game against the Pittsburgh Penguins last week, Bergeron had two goals and assisted on all three Boston goals in recent overtime loss to the Washington Capitals. His first goal of the season was a beautiful shorthanded goal, assisted by Brad Marchand of course.
In eight games, he has 11 points, including five goals. The 35-year-old is also a plus-two with a 64% face-off percentage.
At this point, is it even a surprise that he is having a good start to the season? The sky is blue, water is wet, and Patrice Bergeron is good at hockey.
A more surprising member of the “Good” column in January is Nick Ritchie. I will be the first to admit that I was skeptical about this trade last February and was unimpressed by his performance in the 2020 playoffs. I thought he was going to be more of a liability with his penalties than an asset. Going into this season, I wondered if there was a chance he could even lose his spot in the starting lineup.
I am very glad that I was proven wrong. Ritchie has been a bright spot through the start of the season. Through eight games, he has four goals and seven points, making him one of the top scorers of the team. He currently has more goals than David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, and Charlie Coyle.
He’s been incredibly effective on the power play, getting time on the top unit along with Marchand, Bergeron, Krejci, and Matt Grzelcyk. Coach Bruce Cassidy obviously trusts him if he’s getting time with the skill players. He’s never had more than 31 points in a season, but don’t be surprised if he comes close to matching that even in an abbreviated season.
Another good piece of the Bruins’ season so far has been the emergence of young players who are quickly solidifying spots for themselves in the lineup.
Much has already been written about the impressive play of the Bruins’ young players so far this season. Trent Frederic, Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jack Studnicka have all been given solid playing time and taken advantage of their chances. Given the lackluster play in the 2020 Playoffs, having some new faces eager to prove themselves has provided a push for the rest of the team. It may have taken a little while for some of these guys to develop, but it’s looking like it has been worth it so far.
Similar to previous seasons, the Bruins continue to be dynamic on special teams. There were some worries going into this season with the loss of Torey Krug on the power play and Zdeno Chara on the penalty kill, but special teams are one area where the team hasn’t lost a beat. They’re above the league average for both power play and penalty kill percentages.
Marchand and Bergeron continue to be excellent on special teams. They each have a shorthanded goal and multiple goals on the power play. Ritchie has scored all four of his goals this season on the power play. Also, Charlie McAvoy and Grzelyck have each stepped up to take over much of Krug’s previous responsibilities on the power play. It’s eight games into the season, and McAvoy already has more power play points than he did in 67 games in 2019-20.
Early Return of Pastrnak
Even though the team lost to the Capitals this weekend, it was good to see Pastrnak’s return to the ice. Though he only had one assist in the loss, his return is a great thing for the team. After having right hip arthroscopy and labral repair back in September, he wasn’t predicted to be ready until the middle of February. Having him back for their first two games against the leaders of the division is a game-changer.
There are, of course, some other positives from the Bruins’ season so far, but these are the ones that have stood out to me the most so far. Now, let’s get into the less than great things from early on in the 2020-21 season.
Let’s not let this recent hot streak distract us from the fact that the Bruins went through the first three games of the season without a goal during even strength. This comes after they only scored five goals at 5v5 during their five-game series against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the second round of the 2020 Playoffs. Their drought was eventually snapped against the Philadelphia Flyers on Jan. 21 when Studnicka, Coyle, and Brandon Carlo all scored even-strength goals in the third period. They eventually went on to win the game in a shootout.
Things are pointing upwards for the team when it comes to 5v5 scoring, which is why this isn’t under the ugly column. It’s also good to be seeing contributions from players outside of the top line, especially Ritchie, newcomer Craig Smith, and Coyle.
Still, even with some recent success, their early stretch of play in January was bad, and there is too much of a history with even-strength issues in recent years to be certain it is completely solved. While Krejci has six assists, he is goalless through the first eight games. DeBrusk, who is in the first year of a new contract, is also goalless through the first six games before suffering an injury. They are both two players that need to be consistent contributors for this team.
Maybe next month, we’ll be having a different conversation, but for now, the Bruins 5v5 scoring has remained an area of concern in January.
Going into the season, there was quite a spotlight on DeBrusk. After signing a two-year contract in the offseason, many were eager to see if he could take a step forward in 2021. Going into his draft year, many thought he had the capability to become a 30-goal scorer in the NHL. In 2018-19, he scored 27 goals in 68 games but then took a step back the following year, only scoring 19 in 65 games.
Unfortunately, he has not had a great start to the 2020-21 season. He played in the first six games of the season before suffering a lower-body injury. He had a terrific shootout performance against the Flyers on Jan. 21, but other than that, it hasn’t been great. He only has one assist and is a negative-one. With Pastrnak’s injury, he’s even had a chance to play with Marchand and Bergeron.
For a player known for his goal-scoring ability, going goalless in January isn’t great. He should be back from his injury soon, so hopefully, we’ll see DeBrusk’s full potential on the ice when he returns.
With losing two blue line stalwarts and adding multiple young players, growing pains are expected. No one can completely replace Krug and Chara, and their absence has definitely been felt at moments throughout the young season so far.
There have been multiple moments of missed coverage, and these defensive miscues have been putting more pressure on goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak to make the big saves to cover up defensive mistakes. While both Rask and Halak have been good through the first eight seasons, the blue line, as well as the entire team, needs to step up and not allow teams to get back into games while they are down. I think they are moving in the right direction, but the defense has been shaky through the first month of 2021.
Now, let’s move into the final column, the ugly.
Ondrej Kase’s Injury
Ondrej Kase has been sidelined with an upper-body injury since he exited the game against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 16 after a hit high from Miles Wood. He had to be helped down the tunnel and hasn’t been on the ice since. The chance of him returning anytime soon seems unlikely.
Kase’s young career has been marked by injuries. Since the start of the 2018 season, he has missed 65 games due to injury and had at least one documented concussion in that time. He suffered several concussions prior to 2018 as well. He’s only 25 and presuming that this most recent injury is another concussion, there are reasons to be concerned, both as a fan of the Bruins and as a person concerned for another’s long-term health.
If the injury is serious enough, and given the shortened season, there may be a chance we don’t see Kase on the ice again this season. This is a guy who was part of a trade that saw a first-round pick going to the Anaheim Ducks. While the trade allowed the team to shed most of David Backes’ contract, it has certainly come at a cost. While you can’t blame a guy for being injured, his trade to Boston is looking like less of a good decision.
Hopefully, he is able to recover quickly. Given his history of concussions and knowing how harmful they can be, I’m sincerely wishing him the best.
Anders Bjork has had an up and down tenure in Boston so far, and the month of January was no different. He hasn’t looked particularly impressive through the month of January. He’s been moved up and down the lineup, only has one assist so far, and is only averaging a little over 12 minutes of ice time a game. While he found some success at the end of the month on the fourth line, it may be too little too late.
Over the past few seasons, Bjork has spent a lot of time in Cassidy’s “doghouse.” He’s been a healthy scratch on multiple occasions and has just never found a foothold in the lineup, which is why recent trade talks make sense.
I wrote this past fall about Bjork’s potential to be a trade candidate if he doesn’t find a solid spot in the lineup, and it’s looking like it might happen. Given injuries to DeBrusk and Kase, it probably won’t happen immediately. But keep an eye on this as the calendar flips to February.
The John Moore deal continues to not age well. He is signed for three more years with an AAV of $2.75 million. He’s the fourth highest-paid defenseman on the team and didn’t play a single game in January after being a healthy scratch for most of the 2020 Playoffs. Now, he was retroactively placed on IR recently with an undisclosed injury.
It may be time to move on from Moore sooner rather than later. Given the return of Kevan Miller and the arrival of Zboril, he’s dropped further down the depth chart. He’s a talented player, and even with some recent injury concerns, he should be fairly moveable. Will the Bruins get a lot in return? No, but he makes too much money to be a scratch when he’s healthy.
I would like to quickly commend the Bruins organization for continuing to show their support to the larger Boston and New England community. Last week, a young high school hockey player suffered a spinal cord injury. The team and organization were quick to show their support, pledging a minimum $100,000 donation and auctioning off game sticks from Bruins and Penguins’ players, with all proceeds going to support the family.
It’s always important to remember that some things are bigger than hockey.
That’s it for the good, the bad, and the ugly for the Bruins in the month of January. Let us know what you would include, or not include, on this list.