NOVEMBER 21, 2017 | 3:00PM ET
By Shawn Hutcheon, The Fourth Period

WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT THE BRUINS?

 
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Brad Marchand, forward

 
 

BOSTON, MA -- Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs was inducted into the Builders category of the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 13, 2017. During his acceptance speech, he mentioned the new construction that is being conducted as part of the expansion of North Station, which is where the home of the Bruins, TD Garden, sits.

The expansion includes an apartment building, retail and office spaces. Jacobs may want to consider negotiating with Massachusetts General Hospital in order to have the health care facility move from its present location approximately a mile away from TD Garden on Storrow Drive to North Station.

Not only has the Bruins arena served as home for games this season, it has also served as a MASH unit for Boston’s players. With American Thanksgiving a couple of days away, the Bruins are nearing 100 man-games lost to injury.

All but eight players have spent time in the doctor’s office. It is easier to list the players who have not missed playing time due to injury with those players being David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, Tim Schaller, Riley Nash, Sean Kuraly, Brandon Carlo, and Zdeno Chara. 

With a lineup laden with players who were slotted to spend the season in the American Hockey League, Boston ventured into hockey’s Bermuda Triangle also known as California and returned to the east coast after going 2-1-0 with wins over the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. The lone setback came at the hands of the Ducks in Anaheim’s Honda Center. 

We all know there is the belief that says if an NHL team is not in playoff position or at least challenging for a spot in the postseason by the time Americans make the trip to grandmother’s house, that club will not see its season extended in April. Boston (8-7-4) sits 12th in the 16 team eastern conference. Three points and three teams stand between the Bruins and the final wild-card playoff position. 

It may be easy to say that things do not look good but after the success the club enjoyed versus their Pacific Division foes, it may be easier to say things are looking quite good for Boston, if not for this season then for future seasons.

The play of the players who Boston fans have been waiting to see put on the Spoked-B jersey, such as, Jake DeBrusk, Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen, Peter Cehlarik, Rob O’Gara, Jordan Szwarz, Kenny Agostino, and the return of Charlie McAvoy, who gave us a glimpse of his talents during last Spring’s playoff series against Ottawa, have contributed greatly to Boston remaining in the hunt for an Eastern Conference playoff spot. 

Not only have those players made the quick adjustment from the minors/college to the NHL, they have shown how correct general manager Don Sweeney was in adding them to the Bruins organization. He saw the direction in which the game was trending and chose players who showed the skating ability, speed and skill, that would transform Boston from the slower Big, Bad, Bruins into a faster squad that should rival teams, such as Pittsburgh and Nashville, known for winning with speed.

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy likes the direction in which his team is heading.

“Well, we’re hoping we’re a more dynamic, up-tempo team,” Cassidy said the day after arriving home from the California roadtrip. “We’ve added more skill to the lineup with DeBrusk, Bjork, Peter’s (Cehlarik) now in that mix, Charlie (McAvoy) obviously, Kuraly is a little different from those guys but we like his pace, so if you blend that with (David) Backes, Bergy (Patrice Bergeron), Zee (Zdeno Chara), (Adam) McQuaid, (Kevan) Miller, kind of old Bruins hard to play against with the new way the game’s kind of going, that’s the way we liked it to be. Then you see at San Jose (3-1 win) when the kids did a real good job for us so maybe it’s (team success) not that far away.”     

As long as the blend of youth and veterans continue to adjust to the new brand of NHL hockey, success may return to Boston sooner than most think.

Goaltender Controversy

Aside from the litany of injuries the Bruins have sustained, the popular topic in Boston is whether Tuukka Rask has lost his status as the team’s number one puck stopper.

Rask, coming off a summertime surgery for a groin muscle issue, has struggled thus far. After Boston’s loss to Anaheim, Rask’s record sunk to 3-7-2, which placed him 39th among the League’s goaltenders. His 2.89 goals against average ranked 41st best in the NHL and Rask’s .897 save percentage was 51st-best. 

Anton Khudobin was inserted into the crease in Los Angeles in game two of the trip and the backup stopped 27 of 28 Kings shots on his way to a 2-1 win. His effort contributed to ending Boston’s four-game losing streak. 

The rumbles of a controversy surfaced two nights later when Cassidy called Khudobin’s number for the second consecutive game. Khudobin was again instrumental by making 36 saves in Boston’s 3-1 victory. 

Rask showed no ill-will with his coach’s decision saying he would have made the same move of going with Khudobin. 

Khudobin also has done his part to keep the waters calm.

“My (backup goaltender) role is still the same,” he said after a recent practice. “Whenever I get the call then I’m going to play and I’m going to get ready for all of the games so nothing has changed. I played two (games) in a row. Everyone talks about it but coach decided to put me in net against San Jose so I go in and play. There is nothing happening here.” 

Of course, Khudobin is correct. The fact that he played in two consecutive contests does not mean he is giving Rask a run for his money. The roles of Rask being the go-to guy with Khudobin being the backup have not changed. What has changed is that for the last three seasons, the Bruins dressing room has had a revolving door when it came to who would be at the ready on the nights Rask needed a rest. Even at the start of this season, some questioned whether Khudobin should be that man. 

Now, that it is clear that naming the native of Kazakhstan was the right decision and he has compiled a 26th-best 5-0-2 record with a 10th-best goals against average of 2.17 to go with a sixth-best .935 save percentage. It appears the quest for a true number two goaltender has come to an end.  

What Have We Learned

Up to this point in the season, we have learned that Sweeney’s stockpiling of draft picks since assuming the general manager’s title in 2015 was not as “crazy” as many believed. Those draft picks, free agent signings, and trades along with the plan to have the youngsters get on-the-job training in the NHL is showing that his plan was a very good one. 

This is just the tip of the iceberg. The youngsters who have come in, and are coming in, will take on bigger roles as the guard changes in the Bruins dressing room. As much as people do not want to face it, the players who are loved by the fans, the veterans, will be hanging up their skates or skating for different teams in the near future and the first and second year players they are watching now look as if they will provide plenty of exciting nights of hockey in TD Garden. 

And speaking of roles, those of Rask and Khudobin playing behind the new players will ensure that the kids will be alright.

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Shawn Hutcheon is the Boston Correspondent for The Fourth Period.
Follow him on Twitter.