The entire National Hockey League is back up and running after its shutdown for the mandatory three-day Christmas break. On a personal level, the league certainly does the right thing by allowing the players, coaches, and employees of the teams to enjoy the holidays with their families. Not many professional sports leagues in existence have the luxury to make that call, but the NHL should be commended for that action.
On a professional level, it is good to get things back to a sense of normalcy. When it comes to the Boston Bruins, they want to put the break behind them and get right back to work.
After all, can you really blame them?
The Bruins had three solid victories last week against the likes of the Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks, and Nashville Predators. If you are a fan of the Bruins, one would say that was an incredibly productive week and that would have anyone feeling encouraged about the state of the B’s. However, the Black and Gold had a disappointing showing against the Carolina Hurricanes in the final game before the Christmas break.
Instead of enjoying a positive plane ride back to Boston celebrating a highly-obtainable two points against a very young ‘Canes squad, the Bruins had to enjoy their holiday meals with a pre-existing bad taste in their mouths.
That brings us to present day. The Bruins were back in action this past Thursday night at TD Garden against the New Jersey Devils. What was even more encouraging about this game was that this marked the first time all season long that the Bruins were as close to being fully healthy as you can get and had their full compliment of NHL-caliber players out on the ice.
This goes all the way back to the first game of the regular season against the Washington Capitals. Boston entered that game minus Torey Krug, who had been injured in the preseason. Once he finally returned to the lineup, Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy were knocked out of action for significant time with their respective injuries. All three of those young studs are (relatively) back on the blue line. However, McAvoy is listed as day-to-day with a minor lower-body injury.
Patrice Bergeron, who had missed over a month of game action due to a rib injury, returned this past Saturday afternoon against Nashville and recorded a four-point game. It is safe to say that he did not miss a beat. With Noel Acciari (lower body) and Ryan Donato (demotion) back skating with the big club, the forward lines had been in shambles as well. Colby Cave has been a nice addition from Providence and has plugged a temporary hole that used to exist in the third-line center position.
Thursday night against the Devils signified the return of three major players, solidifying the lineup for the foreseeable future.
Zdeno Chara, who injured his MCL back on November 14 against the Colorado Avalanche, returned to his dominating self on the top pairing for the B’s. In somewhat of a surprising note, Kevan Miller made his return to the lineup after coming back sooner than expected from a larynx injury that was supposed to sideline him until January. Lastly, the top-six forwards were back in tact after Jake DeBrusk returned this past Thursday from a concussion.
Unfortunately, New Jersey played the role of spoiler. The Bruins ended up falling to the Devils by a final score of 5-2. Chris Wagner and Bergeron were the goal scorers for Boston, and DeBrusk notched an assist in his first game back from injury. Jaroslav Halak finished the night with 28 saves. From the opening puck drop, Boston never seemed to be in this game. It just was not a very good effort in all three zones and the team neglected to play simple hockey. This was not an ideal way to come back from a three-day break.
The Bruins only have one game remaining in the calendar year, which will take place this coming Saturday night on the road against the Buffalo Sabres. As the midway point of the season draws near, the Bruins currently hold one of the two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Now that the team is fully healthy, we can finally get an accurate portrayal of what this team is and, more importantly, what this team can be. This could not have come at a better time because the trade deadline is just under eight weeks away and gauging a sense of how this team clicks will determine whether upper management will make a significant move.
Will the return of the key players count as “midseason acquisitions” in the minds of the coaches and upper management? Only time will tell in that regard.
Either way, the Bruins will break in the year with the 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on New Year’s Day against the Chicago Blackhawks. Enjoy the spectacle known as “hockey in its purest form outside in the elements.” Let’s hope the Bruins have a better showing this time around as opposed to the last time they laced up the skates for an outdoor game.