BUFFALO — So the Bruins exorcised a few demons in their last game before the Christmas break, some long-standing and others short-term.
They not only beat Capitals’ goalie Braden Holtby, they chased him from the game after only 20 minutes. Brad Marchand snapped a 12-game goal-less streak and Charlie Coyle did the same to a nine-game skid. And the best development of all was that Tuukka Rask looked very much like his old self after a five-game winless streak (0-2-3).
So what should we glean from that rare win over the Caps as the B’s begin what is close to the second half of the season? Probably not a whole heck of a lot. The big, nasty Caps may have ended the game snorting fire, but they entered with thoughts of sugar plums dancing in their heads, especially Holtby, and they could never get back in the game.
The B’s have to follow up that win with a renewed sense of purpose if that win is to mean anything. They return to action with a key home-and-home against the Buffalo Sabres, starting Friday at Keybank Center. Jack Eichel is playing like the Hart Trophy candidate a lot of people thought he was going to be when he was drafted behind Connor McDavid. He just had a streak of 18 straight games he played with a point on Dec. 23.
These two games are hugely important to the Sabres and, as such, should be pretty important to their Atlantic Division rivals. The Sabres stumbled into the break, going 1-3-1 and finding themselves a point out of the divisional playoff structure. They’ll need to come out of the hiatus strong, and it should serve as a good gauge to judge just where the B’s game is right now.
We thought the B’s were out of the woods after their previous win in Florida, only to come home and lose three straight games in extra time. This time the B’s were allowed to exhale after the win over Washington. They have to be ready to go again starting Friday, with the full knowledge of the fact that they are one of the hunted.
Here’s a few more notes and one-timers to ponder:
Many fans decried the B’s so-called lack of toughness after the Caps took some runs at the B’s without any Washington players being beaten to a bloody pulp at center ice. Having grown up watching the likes of O’Reilly, Wensink and Jonathan, I can appreciate the sentiment. But the Caps’ tactics on that night were both a result of captain Zdeno Chara not playing and Washington resorting to the tactics of frustrated losers.
No, the B’s are no longer the toughest team in the league, but the notion that they should make a tough guy their No. 1 priority is nonsense. Would it be nice to get a combo of talent and truculence that, say, Tom Wilson possesses? Sure. But those players are increasingly hard to find. You can’t just take any 6-foot-4 body and drop him into the top six, as we’ve learned with the Brett Ritchie experiment.
This Bruins’ team is one built on skill and work ethic and they’d be better off trying to enhance that identity instead of trying vainly to change it.
Solving the second line right wing dilemma may eventually lead GM Don Sweeney to look outside the organization, but there’s one more in-house possible option that really should be given at least a handful of games. That would be Anders Bjork.
When Bjork first returned to Boston from Providence, Coach Bruce Cassidy said he preferred to use him on the natural wing on the left to simplify the game for him as he tended to put himself in harm’s way when playing on the right side, where he played much of his college career. But Cassidy said he no longer feels that way. It’s amazing how much Bjork ended up on the right side anyway. His strength on the puck and attention to detail is much improved and worthy of a heightened role.
This observer is as big a fan of Danton Heinen’s game as much as anyone. His smarts, tenacity on the puck and ability to win battles are valuable assets for the B’s. But in his third full season with the B’s and on a pace to again finish short of the 20-goal plateau (six goals in 38 games), it’s becoming more clear that — while he can certainly handle spot duty up in the lineup — his finishing abilities are best suited for the third line as opposed to a top-six role.
Tough break for B’s prospect Jakub Lauko, who suffered an MCL injury to his right knee on his first shift of Czech Republic’s win over Russia on Thursday, according to reports. The extent of the injury was not immediately known (an MRI is scheduled for Friday) but it didn’t look good. He was seen with his knee braced with crutches resting on his leg as he dejectedly watched his teammates hang on to the win.
We’ll find out Friday if the B’s will be shorthanded on the blue line. Cassidy said he expected Chara to be ready for the first Sabres game following jaw surgery on Monday. Meanwhile, Torey Krug left Monday’s game in the second period following a Wilson hit and Charlie McAvoy departed after getting run by T.J. Oshie.