WILMINGTON, Mass. – There are certainly plenty of teams in the NHL that could lose six roster players to injuries, suspensions and other regular season road blocks, and simply give in to the adversity. Sprinkle in a stomach bug that ravaged the remaining healthy players on their first West Coast trip of the season, and the Bruins really took their lumps over the past couple of weeks.
They’re still missing Chris Kelly, Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille, Adam McQuaid, Loui Eriksson and Dougie Hamilton as they ready for the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night, but they haven’t stopped to feel sorry for themselves. Instead they’ve won seven of their past nine games and took six out of a possible eight points during a rough road trip that truly challenged them.
That leaves the Bruins in first place among their Atlantic Division rivals, and behind only the Pittsburgh Penguins among Eastern Conference teams. Sure, the Bruins have players appealing suspensions, badmouthing their hometowns after getting assaulted and continuing a season-long struggle in what’s been at least a minor maelstrom of bad behavior, but they also have players that are winners refusing to buckle under the weight of a challenge.
“It’s been a real grind. You always get hit these spells with the injuries, but then there was the suspensions and the flu,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli. “It kind of casts a shadow over the team because everybody just feels crummy. It’s definitely a good test, and – with our depth – it gets some life into the results in general.
“The silver lining in all of this is that some of the young players are getting a chance to play. We’re getting a chance to look at them at this level, and we can see how they’re going to play. It’s been just showing some good character.”
As much as it’s about some of Boston’s best players like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara, quite a bit is also being expected of the B’s young group of players such as Ryan Spooner, Kevan Miller and Matt Fraser. That’s allowed the Bruins to keep opponents at bay over the last few weeks, and should continue to factor in scoring on Thursday night and moving forward.
“The silver lining to all of this is that it’s giving the young players a chance to play,” said Chiarelli. “You’ve seen the forwards, and I know you’ve seen the defense. It gives us a chance to look specifically at Fraser from the Dallas deal, just to name one guy. Sometimes these guys come up and they only get one or two games.
“Most of these guys have come up, and [the new players] have been getting a sustained look with the Spooners and the [Frasers]. It’s really given me more of an extended chance to watch and make decisions on those players.”
Those lengthy looks for Bruins management at their young assets will clearly help the young Black and Gold players taking part in their development process, while Boston determines who can play, and who can’t and then moves accordingly over the next few months.