Being on the short end of a 6-2 drubbing isn’t the best way to cap off a road trip, but the Bruins probably would have given up another six goals if it got them back to Boston sooner. While the only loss on the ice during the four-game road trip came in Vancouver, it’s the off-ice losses that should have Bruins fans concerned. During their last five games alone, the Bruins have lost Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly, Dougie Hamilton, and Daniel Paille, and that’s not counting the flu bug that ran through the locker room (hitting Tuukka Rask, Chad Johnson, and Reilly Smith, though it didn’t seem to slow him down at all), or Jarome Iginla’s finger that looks like it’s trying to escape his hand. To say the Bruins are a little banged up would be a massive understatement, and it’s starting to show.
All the injuries combined for one of the most understated winning streaks this year where the Bruins won four in a row with players practically dropping left and right. Boston managed some seriously ugly wins against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Calgary Flames, and the Edmonton Oilers, before flat lining in Vancouver against the Canucks. Wins are wins, and the Bruins remain atop the Atlantic Division, but didn’t manage sixty minutes of solid hockey combined on the road trip, let alone one three-period effort of what coach Claude Julien calls “Bruins hockey.” But that’s been almost a necessity with a lineup with players even Bruins fans would have a tough time picking out of a lineup.
And help’s not exactly on the way either. Eriksson still hasn’t returned to the Bruins facility after receiving his second concussion this season, and that’s definitely not a good sign. Kelly’s healing from a fractured right fibula, so don’t expect to see him back on the ice for a while, and it was announced just recently that Paille’s suffering from ‘concussion-like symptoms,’ which don’t usually come with speedy recoveries. Defenseman Adam McQuaid is still on the injured reserved, leaving the Bruins defensive corps a little thin without Hamilton, who will miss about two to four weeks with a lower body injury. Before the last five games, the question was whether or not the Bruins could separate from the rest of the conference by putting together wins. Now, the Bruins are just looking to hang on until they get healthy.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s Boston’s ultra-soft schedule for the rest of December. The Bruins only play one team that’s above .500 until the end of 2013, and that’s the Nashville Predators, who are hardly world-beaters at 16-14-3. As for the rest of Boston’s competition, it’s practically a parade of cellar dwellers: the Bruins play the last place Islanders, the last place Sabres (twice), the second to last place Flames, and the Senators (twice) who are sixth in the Atlantic division. While it’s still tough to win games in the NHL, that’s not exactly the toughest stretch the Bruins will face this season.
In the meantime, these injuries will test the Bruins’ depth at both forward and defense. Reilly Smith has already stepped up in Eriksson’s absence, scoring six points (four goals, two assists) in the past five games, and he’s third on the team in scoring with 24 points. On the defensive end, the injuries have allowed the Bruins to check on their depth in Providence, and some fans are getting their first looks at Kevan Miller, who has played well in limited time. It’s also meant that Torey Krug has had to take on more responsibility, and while it may be sooner than the Bruins organization had intended, Krug’s having to raise the level of his game on the fly.
There’s no doubt that when the Bruins are healthy, they’re one of the best teams in the league. Unfortunately, it’ll be a while before we see Boston back at full health, and until then, the name of the game is survival. It’ll be a testament to the Bruins depth and resiliency if they’re still at the top of the East come January 1st.