The Blue Jackets need to bounce back from a disappointing loss on Tuesday night, but they'll have to go through a red-hot Original Six team to do so. The Boston Bruins visit Nationwide Arena on Friday as winners of two straight games and seven of their last nine.
The Bruins are one of the more balanced scoring teams in the NHL. Patrice Bergeron leads the team in both points (15) and assists (10) through the team's first 20 games. No Bruin has more than five goals this season (Bergeron, Carl Soderberg, Brad Marchand, and Seth Griffith), while Dougie Hamilton and Reilly Smith have two apiece. In total, 10 different Bruins have at least three goals this season.
There was concern at the start of the season that the Bruins might miss Johnny Boychuk on defense, whom they traded to the New York Islanders to alleviate salary cap strain. They'd love to have him, but that offense has been replaced by Hamilton's 11 points from the blue line.
Hamilton may be questionable for Friday night’s contest, however; he missed practice Wednesday with the flu, while Brad Marchand remains day-to-day with an undisclosed injury (Marchand will not play Friday). Adam McQuaid will also be out with a broken thumb suffered in Tuesday’s game against the Blues. That’s all in addition to captain Zdeno Chara, who has been out with a knee injury since Oct. 23.
These teams haven’t met in a long time, almost a calendar year since the Bruins defeated the Blue Jackets 3-1 at TD Garden. The Nov. 30 game was the teams’ third meeting in the season’s first two months.
Milan Lucic scored twice for Boston, along with Patrice Bergeron. Ryan Johansen scored in the third period to ruin the shutout for Bruins backup goaltender Chad Johnson. Johnson didn’t need to do much otherwise in one of the Jackets’ more disappointing offensive outings of the season. They had 14 shots on goal in the game.
"Well, we were two steps behind. They were bigger, they were stronger, they were faster,” said coach Todd Richards after the game. The Blue Jackets were shorthanded six times in the game.
Matt Calvert is expected back in the lineup for the Blue Jackets against the Bruins. He’s skated in practice with Alexander Wennberg and Jack Skille for the past two days, and it appears that would be the case for Friday night. “(Wennberg) is good in his own zone for being so young. For me and (Skille), I think we’re going to try to help him out in the defensive zone and try to push the pace, get pucks deep, and get in on the forecheck to play to our strengths,” said Calvert. Calvert has missed nine games with an upper-body injury, including a re-aggravation of that injury, and has two points on the season. The Blue Jackets know he is a valuable player when at full strength and when he is playing his physical grinding style, and they'll need that edge to combat a Bruins team with a grinding style of its own.
Patrice Bergeron is one of the best two-way centers in the game today, and lately, he’s been finding the back of the net. Bergeron has six of his team-leading 15 points during the Bruins’ last five games. He’s scored a goal in each of the Bruins’ last two games, as well. Bergeron is on the ice in all situations, is one of the game’s best face-off men, and can quietly take over a hockey game. He’s also a player who makes those around him better. He’ll be just as difficult for the Blue Jackets forwards to deal with on Friday night as he will be for the defense.
Fourth line battles
Before everyone in the NHL raved about the incredible depth of the Los Angeles Kings and their ability to run four lines, the Bruins did it first. With Gregory Campbell, Shawn Thornton, and Daniel Paille, the Bruins had one of the more productive fourth lines for years, dubbed "The Merlot Line." Thornton is gone, but the Bruins have replaced him with former 40-goal scorer Simon Gagne, who’s still a heady hockey player. The Jackets have practiced with Adam Cracknell centering a fourth line with Brian Gibbons and Jared Boll. Those players have combined for five assists in the team's first 18 games, compared to three goals and three assists for Boston’s fourth line trio. The Jackets will need production from their fourth line, not only on the scoreboard but to wear down a Bruins defense that is spread thin due to injury.