By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Writer
As if the injury bug hadn’t gotten fat enough feasting on the Bruins this fall, it decided it would have another helping of defenseman Kevan Miller – who has a history of missing time with a myriad of maladies in his time with the Black and Gold – resulting in the club that general manager Don Sweeney added little to this summer seeing it’s blueline once again becoming thin as the MBTA’s Green Line tracks that run beneath the B’s barn.
While it appears as if the MASH unit that has become the trainers’ room on Causeway Street is close to returning two key members of the once deep defensive corps – Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy, with Carlo a possibility for Thursday night’s tilt at home against the New York Islanders (Which will be preceded by the well overdue retirement of Rick Middleton’s #16 sweater.) – there is still a major mountain to be scaled before the heart and soul – captain Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron – are back at head coach Bruce Cassidy’s disposal.
Nevertheless, as they have done in the five games that they have been without their top two leaders on offense and defense, Cassidy’s kids need to find a way to compete on a nightly basis without their complete roster.
“We played hard, you’re not going to win every game,” Cassidy said following a 4-2 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Monday night. “I think we generated lots of offensive zone time and chances in front of the goaltender. The power play got back on the track, it was a little scruffy there losing (Patrice Bergeron), but we found some other options to use.”
While it is one of the worst kept secrets in the NHL that the Bruins are in search of secondary scoring – and would likely be even if Sweeney’s squad was entirely intact, as he confirmed in a conversation with Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman earlier this week – the B’s just might find they could benefit from their big guns being out of the lineup.
“We don’t know what our team really looks like,” Sweeney told the longtime hockey scribe. “If there’s good news, it’s that some other guys have had to drive the bus… given us an idea of what they can do. [head coach] Bruce Cassidy and [assistant coach] Kevin Dean were part of our development plan, so they knew what we had.”
Which leads to the question, is now the best time for the B’s GM to include adding a forward to his wish list for Santa for Christmas?
That answer depends on how much you think of the prospects that Sweeney has assembled, in now his fourth year at the helm of the Spoked-B’s system.
Whether you are an optimist or pessimist (We still have those in Boston, right?), there are arguments to be made for either path the Bruins brass chooses to take. That being said, Sweeney’s lack of action – other than grabbing a piece of the losing side of the wishbone with free agents Ilya Kovalchuk and John Tavares – this past offseason is the strongest indication of how the B’s big boss feels about the talent he has taken in the last three entry drafts.
Whatever path Sweeney decides to take either now or at the trade deadline in February, there is one thing that should not be overlooked in the reemergence of the Bruins as a team to be reckoned with in the East, and that is the fight that Cassidy has instilled in his club since taking over from Claude Julien nearly two years ago.
While many will point to Cassidy’s uptempo style of play as one of the key reasons for his early success in Boston, as time goes on it is clear that the man they call Butch has restored what was missing under the B’s black and gold sweaters the last couple of years before he took over – heart.
So while many will ponder what position his team will be in for the race for the playoffs when Chara and Bergeron return around the New Year, one thing that Bruins fans can count on from whatever crew Cassidy is handed between now and then.
They will fight for points each and every night.
And if a team of inexperienced kids can carry their coach’s mindset to the game the way Cassidy’s kids have almost always done under his tutelage, then one can only imagine how potentially dangerous this team could be this spring if they weather this storm and come out stronger – and perhaps more talented – come playoff time in April.