Unfortunately, in the past 12 months, the Bruins have seen more than their fair share of leaders go down with injuries. Unfortunately, there have been too many losses for which to compensate, and unfortunately, there was another one on Tuesday night, as Chris Kelly suffered a fractured femur in a 5-3 loss to Dallas.
Kelly is projected to miss 6-8 months after undergoing surgery on Wednesday morning. But as Krug reiterated once again following Wednesday’s practice at TD Garden, the Bruins have no choice but to move forward.
“I think what makes this group a good group is the depth that we have, and we keep saying every time someone goes down, we’re a bigger team than just one player,” Krug said. “But Kells brings a lot to the table, and on and off the ice, he’s a really important player for us — a big leader for us.
“Now, it’s just about making sure that we’re smart about this and realizing that not one person is going to take over, and just step up as a committee and just be the group that we are.”
Many times in the past, Boston has proven that if it works together, it can compensate. As Head Coach Claude Julien said earlier this week, this is not a team that has a 50-goal scorer, but it has a collection of solid, sound players who are more than capable of producing, even in the absence of a grinder like Kelly.
The next 6-8 months will be another test of that.
“For us to be successful, it’s going to be a big team game,” said forward Jimmy Hayes. “We’re going to have to have all guys going every night. Losing a key component like Kells is going to make the team have to step up even more. We’re going to have to continue to find ways to win and continue to be a tough team to play against.”
Resilience is a word that is often mentioned in Boston’s dressing room, and it came up plenty following Tuesday’s loss. The good news is, resilience isn’t something that can be taught. You either have it or you don’t, and the Bruins will have to prove for the rest of the 2015-16 season that they still have it — not only on the ice, but in the room.
“Kells is huge — he’s critical to our room,” Krug said. “Times like [Tuesday] night, he’s going to step up and he’s going to talk in the room, and by no means should anybody be trying to step up and force the issue to become more of a leader in this group, but those things come naturally to some people. I think we have the depth in here as a group of leaders to step up, and hopefully, we see that.
“It’s a tough loss for us, but we have to make sure that we’re ready to keep going.”
On Wednesday morning, there was a familiar face on the ice who should be able to assist in that department. As soon as Max Talbot arrived in Boston via trade last March, his leadership was an immediate boost to a club that needed it.
Now that he has returned from a brief, seven-day stay in the AHL — he was recalled on Wednesday morning — Talbot won’t have to force it. The leadership will come naturally.
“I’ll be myself,” Talbot said. “I think Kells is the type of player and guy in the room that is irreplaceable. He’s a big part of this team, so I’m definitely thinking about him and it sucks to see those things happen. But for me, I’ll just be myself and work hard and bring the leadership and experience that I can bring, and a positive attitude for sure.”
That positive attitude was implicit, even in Talbot’s post-practice comments on Wednesday. As a 10-year veteran of the league, he could have been discouraged by last week’s assignment to AHL Providence. He wasn’t.
“I took it as a positive experience for me,” Talbot said. “Obviously, it’s not something that you wish for, but at the same time, I went down there and worked on different things and kind of got a little bit of confidence back, and glad to be back and help this team.”
After playing in just two of Boston’s first even games of this season, Talbot played in three games with Providence last weekend, tallying four points and seeing time both on the penalty kill and on the power play.
With Kelly out, Talbot will certainly have big shoes to fill on the PK in particular, but he is eager to carry forward the momentum he built in Providence.
“We brought in Max Talbot because number one, he is a penalty killer, and number two, he’s a great veteran,” Julien said. “He’s a great leader. He comes and he plays hard every night. So somewhere along the way, you find ways to compensate for Kelly’s loss. Max is our answer right now to come in and help us out in that area.”
Concern on the Penalty Kill
Throughout his career with the Bruins, Kelly became one of the team’s most reliable penalty killers. After he went down in his first shift of Tuesday night’s game, the PK proceeded to allow a whopping three power play goals to the Stars.
That, Julien said, is not representative of what the PK is capable of doing.
“Our penalty kill definitely has to be better,” Julien said. “Right now, I feel we’re on our heels. The confidence level isn’t there like it should be, and that’s our job — as players, as a team, as a group, as a coaching staff — to create that confidence that you’re going to need to be able to kill penalties.
“It takes sacrifices, whether it’s blocking shots, whether it’s being more assertive in certain areas, having better sticks — so those are areas that have to get better for us. I feel we’ve got the players in our dressing room to be a better penalty killing team; right now, we just haven’t done a good enough job, even clearing pucks. It’s a work in progress, but it’s something that we plan on rectifying here.”
Talbot will certainly be able to assist in that regard. But aside from him, there are plenty of players who will be relied upon to perform better than they did against the Stars.
“We still have lots of players that should be able to step up and do the job,” Julien said. “Don’t want to use [Kelly] as an excuse, but certainly, the more guys you have that can do those jobs, the better it is. So we have to look at what we have, and [with] what we have, [we] should be good enough to be a lot better than what we are right now.”
Tough Road Ahead
The Bruins’ success on the road thus far in 2015-16 has been astounding. In five road games, they are unbeaten. By far, they have been at their best away from TD Garden. They have played a simpler game, a more fundamentally-sound game, a better game.
“I think the first road trip was a huge test for us, starting out of the gate 0-3 and then having to win two big games for us,” Krug said. “Then, I think, in Florida, we had a big test, too, that we passed as well, chasing two teams. I think it’s another test for us [coming up], and to go on the road is good for our group. Hopefully, we can come out there with the right attitude and the right mindset and play the hockey that we want to.”
This upcoming three-game trip, however, will be Boston’s biggest test to date. Last season, the Capitals and the Candiens were the two toughest opponents the Bruins faced. They were hard to play against and hard to score against, but with a new season upon them, the Bruins are looking forward to rewriting the dialogue where those two teams are concerned.
“I think this is a good opportunity for us to take that challenge,” Julien said. “We’ve been playing some decent hockey lately, and you can’t let [Tuesday] kind of blow that up. I think it’s important that we bounce back. I think it’s important that we play a strong game.
“Both those teams are obviously the elite teams in the league right now, and if we feel like we’re a part of that group, then we’ve got to go out there and show it. We’ve had some challenges that we have to work with and get better at, and this is what we’re going to be facing in the next few days, and I think we’re going to be fine.
“I think it’s a matter of fine-tuning certain areas of our game to make ourselves better.”
In five road games thus far, the Bruins have scored 22 goals and have allowed just 10. Their defense and their goaltending have been far better on the road than they have been at home.
If the Bruins intend to return to Boston at the end of the week with wins, those trends will have to continue over the next three games.
“It’s probably our biggest test of the year — [they’re] the kind of teams that are playoff teams, and you’re going to have beat them and find ways to beat them,” Hayes said. “I was talking to some guys today and they said they struggled with [these teams] last year, but it’s a new year, and our team’s going to have to go out hard and just play a simple game like we’ve been playing and continue to put pucks in the net.”
Seidenberg Traveling; Pastrnak Staying Back
For the first time this season, injured defenseman Dennis Seidenberg will accompany the team on a road trip.
The blueliner — who sustained a back injury just before training camp began and is slated to return sometime in November — will not be available for games but will continue to practice with the team, Julien said.
Forward David Pastrnak will not make the trip with the team, as he continues to be hobbled by a foot injury sustained on Oct. 27 against Arizona. Pastrnak has played in two games since then but missed Tuesday’s contest against Dallas.
Providence callup Alex Khokhlachev replaced Pastrnak in the lineup on Tuesday.
Wednesday’s Practice Lineup
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Brett Connolly
White Jerseys: Loui Eriksson, David Krejci, Alex Khokhlachev
Gray Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes
Red Jerseys: Max Talbot, Zac Rinaldo, Joonas Kemppainen, Tyler Randell
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Joe Morrow, Colin Miller, Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson