Granted, the Bruins have had it bad, but they haven’t had it as bad as Columbus — and that’s saying something, considering Boston’s captain has been out with a knee injury since Oct. 23.
Through 18 games this season, the Blue Jackets have already lost 124 man games to injuries. Nathan Horton’s struggles have been well documented — he has yet to play this season due to a back injury and is currently faced with the impossible decision between opting for potentially career-ending surgery or waiting it out.
On top of Horton, the Blue Jackets have been without Brandon Dubinsky (18 games, lower body), Mark Letestu (9 games, groin), Cody Goloubef (7 games, knee), Ryan Murray (7 games, lower body) and Fedor Tyutin (2 games, knee).
Still, as Blue Jackets Head Coach Todd Richards said on Friday morning, his team is going to face adversity at various points throughout the season. The story has to be how the team responds, rather than the story being the adversity itself.
“One thing I think we prided ourselves on, going back last year, was dealing with adversity and having composure and being a resilient team,” Richards said. “Again, we’ve got to find that composure, but that comes with doing things right, and that’s what gives you confidence in that everything’s going to be OK when adversity does hit.
“So our team game’s got to be good, and we need four lines. We need all four lines, six D bringing that energy. To me, it’s that infectious, contagious energy that you can create.”
On Friday night, some of that energy will doubtlessly come from Matt Calbert, Jack Skille and Kevin Connauton, who are expected to be in the lineup for the Blue Jackets. Up to this point, though, Columbus has had to find ways to infuse their game with desperation in the hopes that it would provide a necessary spark.
“It’s easy to get frustrated and get down on yourselves when you’re in slump or if you lose nine games in a row, but good teams find ways to win, no matter what,” said forward Cam Atkinson. “You’ve got to just stay loose. It’s easy for you to bear down harder on your stick if you’re not getting the goals or the assists or doing the things you’re used to doing. Obviously you get frustrated, but you just have to keep it simple and play your game, and you’ll have some success.”
The Blue Jackets are well aware that Boston faces some injury woes of its own, but they also know that the Bruins have managed to weather the storm just fine thus far. One after another, it seems, players are going down, but even after the Bruins lost defenseman Adam McQuaid to a broken thumb during Tuesday’s 2-0 win over St. Louis, Richards knows the team on the opposite bench will find a way to fight.
“[The injuries] will impact just because of the players that are out of the lineup — just because they’re impact players,” Richards said. “They’re great players. But I don’t think it affects their team game. Their team game doesn’t drop off that much.
"They’re real sound in their systematic play. They’ve got other leaders — other talented players over on that side — that are committed to playing a certain way, and that’s what makes them so difficult to play against. From top to bottom, they play the same way.”
McQuaid joins Chara, Brad Marchand and David Warsofsky on Boston’s list of injured players. But as they have done all season, the Bruins continue to look at the bad luck as an opportunity.
“It’s a challenge — it’s a challenge, in one way, and it’s an opportunity in the other,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien following his team’s optional skate on Friday morning at Nationwide Arena. “You’ve got some players playing some big minutes that probably wouldn’t if you were healthy, and that helps your young players grow. It helps all your players grow, as a matter of fact, and you try to use that as a building block, I guess.
“Obviously, if you keep winning some hockey games, that’s a lot easier. But for me, there’s some experience that’s being gained by players here that probably wouldn’t have [otherwise]. That’s how we look at it, and again, when you respect your system and what you should do out there, all you expect out of those guys is that they work hard and compete hard and respect that.”
One of those players who has seized the opportunity is defenseman Joe Morrow. The third-year pro caught Julien’s eye during training camp and seized his opportunity to play with the big club when he was called up from Providence in the wake of Torey Krug’s finger injury in late October.
Since then, Morrow has played in nine games, his time on ice has gradually increased and he has developed into a reliable asset in Julien’s system. The offense hasn’t been there yet, which has been unexpected for Morrow, who considers himself a more offensive-minded defenseman.
But he’s not feeling any pressure. He has made no secret of the fact that his primary focus has been playing a sound defensive game, and he is confident that the offense will come around eventually.
“I just see it as a good opportunity to kind of showcase my ability to play defense,” Morrow said. “I haven’t brought anything offensively to the table yet, but they came in and asked me, ‘You know, you have to play steady defense and kind of be relied on for those things.’ So it was a nice opportunity to change it up like that and prove to them that I could kind of be a more versatile player, I guess.”
It isn’t just the rookies, though, who have responded to the opportunities that have arisen from injuries. Every player on the Bruins takes pride in making sure that this team is able to put forth its best effort for a full 60 minutes every night, and while they haven’t gotten quite there yet, they are on their way.
“I think with our team, [the injuries have] been pretty crazy so far,” said defenseman Dougie Hamilton. “So again, you can’t really control those kind of things — just try to play and do your best with what you have as a team.
“I think we’ve done pretty good so far, with missing Zee and missing guys at the same time and everything. So we just have to keep playing, and just accept what it is.”
For both of these teams, there have been no excuses thus far, and there won’t be any now.
“Consistency is a huge thing, to just be able to bring what we’ve brought the past couple of nights and keep improving on that and keep progressing with what we’ve built through the past couple of games,” Morrow said. “Just simple hockey. Everybody’s doing their part. You can’t have any passengers on board for this game, so I think everybody’s ready to go and ready to keep improving.
“It’s a lot more fun when you’re winning.”
Not Overlooking Anyone
As Julien said following Thursday’s practice at TD Garden, there are no easy games in the NHL.
So despite the fact that Columbus has started the season 6-11-1 and is currently decimated by injuries, the Bruins are expecting a battle at Nationwide Arena on Friday night.
“At times, you do what you can with what you’ve got, and what I see from that team is that they compete hard every night, and that's a credit to their coaching staff, that they can get their team to come out and compete that hard, for the most part, during every game,” Julien said. “When you have that many injuries…sometimes, there’s certain things you can and can’t control, and I think right now, the coaching staff has done a real good job — just from watching their games, how hard they go out there and compete and give themselves a chance to win.”
The Blue Jackets are coming off a disappointing 5-0 loss to Detroit on Nov. 18, so the Bruins are expecting some extra motivation from a somewhat desperate team.
“I think you can kind of look at their roster and expect a pretty tough game,” Hamilton said. “I think at the same time, it’s more focusing on what we have to do and worry about ourselves and worry about the things that we keep talking about.”
In their most recent two games, the Bruins’ effort hasn’t been perfect, but they have certainly gotten closer to playing their style of game — they have been physical and they have played within their structure, and it has translated into two straight wins and just a single goal allowed.
“When we do those things and when we focus on them, we’re successful,” Hamilton said. “When we get away from them, we’re not. So just for us to focus on ourselves and our game — I think that’s important.
“I think when we’re moving our feet and skating and the effort’s there, that’s when we’re our best. It’s just a matter of trying to do that for 60 minutes, and we keep talking about it, and hopefully we’ll get to that point. But we just have to keep thinking about it and keep staying positive on the bench and helping each other out.”
Most importantly, as the Bruins enter the first of three games in four days — knowing that the next two feature matchups against heavyweights Montreal (Saturday) and Pittsburgh (Monday) — it is critical to avoid overlooking the opponent they face on Friday night.
This is no time for a misstep. The Bruins have managed to build on some positives over their last two games, and they want to keep those positives flowing through the weekend.
“It’s definitely a game that you need to build on, especially since last game, we played well, and this game, we’re going to have to play a little better, and then hopefully improve the next game, too,” Morrow said. “So if you keep that consistency through it, and you consistently play well and stay positive about everything, it should carry over from game to game.
“It’s definitely not a game to be overlooked. [We’ve] got to tweak the little improvements that we’ve talked about during practices and things like that, and carry it over to these next games through the week.”
Projected Lineup vs. Columbus
*Based on Friday's optional pregame skate
Milan Lucic — David Krejci — Seth Griffith
Matt Fraser — Patrice Bergeron — Reilly Smith
Chris Kelly — Carl Soderberg — Loui Eriksson
Simon Gagne — Gregory Campbell — Daniel Paille
**Forward Alex Khokhlachev was recalled on an emergency basis from Providence on Thursday afternoon.
Defensemen: Dennis Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski, Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg