With a little less than two months of the season under their belts, the Bruins consider themselves satisfied if they are in the playoff picture — relatively satisfied. As of now, they are in the mix for a postseason spot, and while that is obviously a positive, they are the first to admit that there is still a lot of work to be done.
“Historically, teams that are there at the time stay there, but guys on the fringe move up and down,” said General Manager Peter Chiarelli after Thursday’s Thanksgiving Day practice at Ristuccia Arena. “But it’s a good milestone for us, and this year, the amount of injuries the amount of roster fluctuation that we’ve had — I’m relatively satisfied with where we are now.
“I think what I look at when I assess a team and assess the games, game by game — it’s effort and work ethic, and I think the system will eventually come into place and the proper personnel will eventually be in place. Those first two things have been good, I’ve found. So we’re in a spot where we say we want to be in that kind of area, where historically you’ve made the playoffs, if you’re there at this time.
“So we’re there. We’ve reached an interim goal, and relatively satisfied.”
Though the Bruins have come out on the short end against Montreal and Pittsburgh in their most recent two games, they have managed to shore up their net-front presence, which has been an area of emphasis throughout the first two months of the season. Still, though, like everything else, it can get better.
The effort is there and the chances are there; now, the B’s just have to convert.
“I know it’s improving, but part of that is a function of the younger personnel on the blue line,” Chiarelli said. “So those guys have to find their way in general. And that blocking out and boxing out is a hard task for younger D to do. So that has to be better, and it’s getting better.
“The breakout, I think, has been better — still getting better — and of course, on the other side of the puck, the goal-scoring and the offensive chances getting better. Still has to get better.”
Head Coach Claude Julien said that of late, the Bruins have placed a lot of emphasis on protecting the house. Since allowing 11 goals in two games against Toronto and Montreal a couple of weeks ago, they have been protecting the house far better, but now, they need to continuing doing that and also rediscover their scoring touch: In their last two games, the B’s have been outscored by a 5-2 margin.
“We’ve tightened up a little bit,” Julien said. “We’ve talked about protecting the house — when we do that well, we seem to break plays up and we seem to be out of our zone a lot quicker than when we start running around on the outside and giving them some opportunities from the inside.
“So we’ve gotten a little bit better, and the D’s are doing a good job — or a better job, I should say — of boxing out, and that net front becomes a little bit tougher for teams to score on. Again, for the most part, a lot of our guys are doing a better job protecting the house, and we still got to keep working on that, keep getting better at it.”
Heading into tomorrow’s matchup against Winnipeg at TD Garden, the Bruins stand at 13-9-1. They are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 27 points. Given all of the injuries they have dealt with thus far — to Zdeno Chara, to David Krejci, to Chris Kelly, to Adam McQuaid and more — one could say that it could be a lot worse.
But for the B’s, that’s no excuse.
“I think we expect better of ourselves, and even having the injuries that we have on our team, we don’t find those excuses,” said forward Daniel Paille. “We learn to find answers and get results, and we always want to improve. So we definitely need to be a little bit more consistent moving forward.”
So while the Bruins are grateful for a lot this Thanksgiving, that doesn’t mean they aren’t hungry for more.
“I think what’s important with this group is that even with all of the injuries and everything, it can be easy to say we’re in a good spot right now,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “We’re happy with where we’re at, but we’re not a satisfied group, so I think that’s really important — especially when guys start to return.
“We’re a hungry group looking to move up in the standings, and that’s where that sits.”
Kelly Could Return on Friday
Forward Chris Kelly, who has missed the last two games with what he deemed an upper body injury, should be in the lineup on Friday against Winnipeg, if all goes well.
Kelly practiced with the team for the second straight day on Thursday, and Julien said that if the trainers give him the go-ahead, there is “a good chance” Kelly will see game action on Friday night.
Given Boston’s two straight losses, Kelly’s return — and the leadership he brings to the ice — could not come at a better time.
“We always talk about the big goal scorers, or the top, top players, and those guys [like Kelly], a lot of times, are underrated for what they bring,” Julien said. “We’ve said that about a lot of players, but the energy, the commitment — he likes to keep the team accountable, as well. He’s not afraid to speak up, and at the same time, on the ice, he’s a very reliable guy.”
Chiarelli was also asked about the condition of defensemen David Warsofsky (groin) and Zdeno Chara (knee). Both players have skated with Strength and Conditioning Coach John Whitesides before practice each of the last two days.
Chiarelli declined to offer specifics on Chara, or to say whether the captain would be making the trip out west with the team next week, but he did say that Warsofsky is getting closer.
Amidst the serious talk about the Bruins’ refusal to be satisfied and their hunger to climb the standings moving forward, Krug did offer some insight into his Thanksgiving plans.
“Just going to have dinner with some friends and a couple of teammates and have a good time,” he said with a smile. “Obviously give our thanks — and get ready for tomorrow.”
The native of Livonia, Mich., forgot to mention one important Thanksgiving ritual until he was pressed about whether he’d be watching his Lions take on the Chicago Bears.
“Every year — I guess I left that one out. That was just a given,” he said. “I’ve been watching the Lions on Thanksgiving my whole life, and that continues.”
Friday Night Action
While the Bruins have hosted a matinee on Black Friday in recent years, here is a friendly reminder that Friday’s game against Winnipeg is scheduled for 7 PM ET. The Celtics will play a matinee at the Garden beforehand.
Thursday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Reilly Smith, Chris Kelly, Seth Griffith, Matt Fraser
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak
Grey Jerseys: Milan Lucic, Carl Soderberg, Loui Eriksson
Red Jerseys: Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell, Simon Gagne
Defensemen: Dennis Seidenberg, Dougie Hamilton, Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski, Joe Morrow, Torey Krug
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg