It was only a matter of time before the injuries and missing bodies from the Bruins lineup finally caught up to them.
The B’s were able to grind their way through the Western Canada trip and even had a little left in the tank to dispatch a troubled Calgary Flames team at TD Garden earlier this week. Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli perhaps sensed that trouble was on the horizon for the Black and Gold if they couldn’t coax a little more out of some of the young players called up from Providence to fill in for six B’s regulars.
“It’s been a real grind,” said Chiarelli on Wednesday. “With our depth, it’s good to get [the young players] up and playing. The silver lining in all of these [injuries] is that these young guys get to come up, and have an opportunity. Sometimes these guys come up, and they only get one or two games. It’s a nice way for me to able to evaluate them over a fair time period rather than just one or two games. If these are players that you want to consider for regular roster spots, then you want them to be more than neutral.
“You want them to show their wares. I don’t want to pick on [Ryan Spooner] because I’ve liked his game since he’s come up here, but he’s an offensive player with speed. He can make plays, and we’ve seen him make plays up here. That’s the type of player that you want to see make some [offensive] plays, and show his wares a little bit. Matt Fraser, for example. He’s a got a terrific shot and release, so let’s see that a little bit more.”
Well, guys such as Fraser, Spooner, Nick Johnson and Jordan Caron were plenty neutral in the 4-2 loss to the Sabres on Thursday night.
The bottom two lines were on the ice for the tying and winning goals for the Sabres, and they contributed nothing in the way of offensive production. The six forwards making up the bottom two forward lines for the Black and Gold finished with a minus-8 rating, and eight shots on net in a disappointing performance at both ends of the ice.
There were some good, gritty moments, of course. Fraser dropped the gloves with Marcus Foligno in the first period while trying spark his team, but that’s pretty far removed from his normal game scoring goals for the slot area. Ryan Spooner blocked a shot in the third period that hobbled the 21-year-old while continuing to skate his shift.
Still, players like Fraser and Spooner were called up to show off the offensive skill that has allowed them to put up big numbers at the AHL level.
But the injury bug has impacted more than a bottom pair of forward groups that couldn’t make an impact against the lowly Sabres.
It also showed up in the first goal allowed of the game with Johnny Boychuk manning the right point on the power play, a spot where a healthy Dougie Hamilton would normally be playing. There’s a good chance Hamilton would have been able to keep the bouncing puck in the offensive zone, but instead the Buffalo clearing attempt skipped past Boychuk to allow a speeding Brian Flynn to take advantage.
The Sabres forward collected the goal on the partial shorthanded breakaway, and lowly Buffalo was off and running.
There’s clearly nothing to worry about with the Bruins after one uneven, mistake-filled effort in Buffalo. Backup goaltender Chad Johnson obviously deserves some blame for allowing two goals on five shots faced in that fateful third period – including the atrocious wraparound goal allowed to Stafford.
Most hockey experts saw the hard times coming immediately for a Bruins team that’s been through the ringer with injuries over the last 10 days, and the B’s were able to hold their own. The best thing they have going for them is their December schedule, where they don’t face another good team until the month of January.
In fact every single one of their opponents for the rest of the month don’t’ add up to a great day of money.