The good news: Loui Eriksson and Shawn Thornton are back with the Boston Bruins after Eriksson’s head injury on December 7, and Thornton’s lengthy suspension as a result of a poorly executed retaliation for Eriksson’s injury. Also, Tuukka Rask had his league leading fifth shutout of the season in the Bruins’ most recent game, a 1-0 win against the Sharks in San Jose.
The bad news: The Winter Olympics are still a ways away. The Bruins are shaky on defense, usually a strength for the team, as they try to adjust to life without Dennis Seidenberg, who is out for the rest of the regular season and playoffs with a torn ACL and MCL. Also, they struggled mightily against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, two teams that could very well be there at the end of the playoffs.
And yet, the hockey season must go on.
Every team goes through doldrums. Even the Chicago Blackhawks, who were the NHL’s dominant team from start to finish in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, looked lost for a few games against Detroit in the second round of the playoffs before returning to form. The B’s had a stretch in December and early January where they continued to win games despite having what seemed like most of the Providence Bruins playing for the Big Club. They got strong contributions from guys like Ryan Spooner, Kevan Miller, David Warsofsky, and Niklas Svedberg while Eriksson, Thornton, Chris Kelly, Adam McQuaid, and Dougie Hamilton missed time. It was a testament to the Bruins’ organizational depth. Then Seids went down.
Dennis Seidenberg is a guy appreciated by Bruins die hard fans, but does get a ton of attention from casual fans and the national media the way guys like Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, and Tuukka Rask do. In the playoffs, he usually finished second on the team in minutes played after Chara, and the two make one of the toughest defensive pairings to play against in the NHL. He’s not flashy, and rarely scores, but he takes care of business in his own zone in a big way. Losing him for the season is devastating. Replacing him for the rest of the season will be a tall order.
Fortunately, the Bruins have time to figure out a solution. There is still plenty of time to make a trade and get a new defensive defenseman acclimated to Claude Julien’s system well before the playoffs. The B’s have plenty of competent, if not exciting, young talent in Providence so they can make trades without overhauling a roster whose core has been to the Stanley Cup Finals twice in three seasons. Perhaps the deepest position for the Bruins is goaltender. Tuukka Rask is one of the NHL’s elite goalies and is under contract long term. In Providence, they have Svedberg, who had an impressive .925 save percentage for the Baby B’s last season, and Malcolm Subban, who is in his first professional season after being drafted by Boston in the 1st Round of the 2014 NHL Draft. The younger brother of Montreal Canadiens’ star defenseman P.K. Subban, Malcolm was one of the best goalies in that draft and was selected by a team with no immediate need at the position. Svedberg and Subban are both promising young prospects, but the logjam at the presence of Rask prevents them from promotion chances in Boston that they might have elsewhere. If the Bruins are smart, they could get good returns for either minor league netminder.
There is a long way to go, and the Bruins are hitting a rough patch in the season. They lost earlier this week to the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings, two of the best teams out west, while still trying to figure out the blue line situation. They still have as good a shot as anyone to reach the Stanley Cup Finals once again, but right now, the Olympic break can’t come soon enough, it seems. Five Bruins: Chara (Slovakia), Bergeron (Canada), Rask (Finland), Eriksson (Sweden), and David Krejci (Czech Republic) will get a change to represent their country and try to take home the Gold, while the rest of the team will get some much needed rest in the middle of a long regular season.