On Friday, the news got even better: McQuaid told reporters that he is close to returning to game action.
“I felt pretty good out there today,” McQuaid said following Friday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “Shot’s coming along better, getting the feel for the puck and just getting in the flow of things out there. So it’s definitely close.”
Right now, the Bruins look a lot different than they did when McQuaid last played. When McQuaid broke his thumb, Boston was en route to a decisive 2-0 win over Western Conference stalwart St. Louis. Including that game, the Bruins had emerged victorious in seven of their last nine. If the season ended that day, they would have been in the playoffs.
Now, times are tougher. Boston has had trouble winning consistently, and the B’s have lost more of the 18 games that McQuaid has missed than they have won.
Needless to say, the return of one of their veteran defensemen will be a boon. When he does return, it gives the Bruins the healthiest lineup they have had in a long time, and the stability that comes from icing a healthy squad will prove crucial.
“Our guys are starting to [play] with who they should be with, and that just gives you a bit more stability, so now it's about finding your rhythm,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “I think that the biggest thing is the rhythm of your hockey club, and when you see us play like we did against Detroit — and those sequences, also, against Toronto — you see what the ability of our club is, or has the potential to be. So it's up to us to try and put those things together, from start to finish.”
Whether McQuaid’s return will come this weekend, though, remains to be seen. McQuaid still requires medical clearance in order to be able to take the ice for game action.
“I feel really good out there, and every day, pretty significant improvements,” McQuaid said. “We’ll have a talk with the trainers, and we’ll see from there.”
The past year hasn’t been an easy one for McQuaid. He missed 52 of Boston’s 82 games in 2013-14 with quad and ankle injuries, and before the 2014 postseason began, his season officially ended with arthroscopic surgery on his right ankle.
With each of his injuries, though, McQuaid has continued to focus on the future rather than the past, and it was no different with this one. There could have been plenty of time for dwelling — particularly after McQuaid found out his recovery timeline of 6-8 weeks was far more than what he originally anticipated — but he would not allow himself to waste his time dwelling on what he couldn’t control.
“I kind of try to treat each [injury] individually,” he said. “When I’ve come back from past injuries and stuff, I kind of try and move on from them. Originally, I didn’t think it was going to be quite as long; I found out afterwards it was going to be a little longer than it was, so that was disappointing to find that out, but you play the hand that’s dealt to you.
“A great thing is, I was able to continue skating, and at least I didn’t have that part to catch up on. I think that was an important part of the process, and getting back to playing and stuff is getting your legs under you and feeling good in your skates, so luckily I was able to do that part of it.”
McQuaid had screws inserted in his thumb on Nov. 19, and since then, his focus has been on getting back in uniform and helping his teammates turn this season around.
“I just approached it one day at a time,” he said. “It was a little different [from the other injuries] — at least with a bone, you have your set timeline and kind of know, OK, this is how much time it takes to heal. Once you get to that point, you’re basically good to go. It’s not one of these things that you’re worried about coming back too soon or having a reoccurring injury.
“I knew my timeline, and just working toward getting ready to go whenever it’s healed.”
Big Divisional Matchup Looming
At the beginning of this week, the Bruins stressed the importance of taking points from each of three games against divisional opponents. They started off on precisely the foot they wanted to, wearing down Detroit with a complete 60-minute effort on Monday night and getting two points to show for it.
Wednesday night’s matchup against Toronto didn’t go quite as well. The Bruins had some of those dreaded lapses in compete level in the first 30 minutes of the game, and though they amped up the pressure for the second half of the game and erased a two-goal deficit to send it into overtime and an eventual shootout, a single point is never any consolation.
“We need to make sure we’re focused for a full 60 minutes," said defenseman Kevan Miller. "We want to take it one period at a time. I don’t think it was our best start [against Toronto]. We had a good five minutes there, then we had a couple minutes where it wasn’t the greatest hockey, but we need to make sure we focus on that, and then it’s period by period.”
Saturday’s matinee against Ottawa offers the Bruins an opportunity to end the week by taking five of a possible six points against divisional opponents.
“Obviously three important games this week,” said forward Chris Kelly. “We got the result we were looking for against Detroit, fell a little short against Toronto, so we’re in the situation we’re in, and these are huge games, huge points for us. [Saturday’s] a big game.”
In Julien’s eyes, it’s not just the division games that are significant at this stage. The Bruins are in fifth place in the Atlantic Division and ninth place in the Eastern Conference. If they want to be in the playoffs at season’s end, every game from here on out is significant, no matter the opponent.
“I think the guys are starting to feel it a little bit more,” Julien said. “We’re getting better net-front presence and scoring chances and all that stuff, so it's a matter of just staying with your game and not looking so much at statistics right now — looking at each game as a whole.
“We need to look at our game here as a whole basically — the offensive, defensive, all parts of our game — and the competitive level of our game is what's really important right now. We're trying not to get too focused on the stats, because they don't mean anything going into [Saturday’s] game. It's all about living in the present, here, and doing what you have to do.”
In two matchups against the Senators this season, the Bruins have taken three of a possible four points. On Nov. 1, they earned a decisive 4-2 victory, and in mid-December, they weren’t quite as dominant, fighting their way to a point in a 3-2 shootout loss.
This time around, the Bruins know they can’t settle for a single point. If their mission is to climb the division standings, there is no better time to start than on Saturday.
“It’s huge,” Miller said. “We actually talked about that before the week started, and that’s definitely a big thing for us. They’re big points, so we need to make sure we’re ready to go.”
New Year, New Direction
Milan Lucic said it best when, following Boston’s 4-3 shootout loss to Toronto on Wednesday night, he told reporters he was glad 2014 was over and was eager to start anew in 2015.
After an off-day to reflect on Thursday, his teammates reiterated that notion on Friday.
“I think that’s probably a key thing for us,” Miller said, “is to put 2014 behind us and kind of move forward.”
There are some positives that the Bruins would like to take with them into the new year. For one, excusing a Dec. 27 loss at Columbus, they have improved their play over the last handful of games. They still have struggled to elevate their compete level for a full 60 minutes, but for larger chunks of games, they have been focused, they have been driving the net and they have been able to show resilience when it is most necessary.
‘There’s areas to improve, for sure, but I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Kelly said. “A lot of mistakes that we made were us trying to maybe do a little bit too much, and sometimes, that happens when you’re in the situation we’re in. But I thought we responded well being down by two [against Toronto] and came back and got a point.
“You want to take the good from games, and I liked the way we played the second half of that game, so moving forward, I like where we’re at.”
Boston has taken points from seven of its last nine games. Moving forward, this team understands it must scratch and claw for those points, night in and night out, if it wants to be in contention at the end of April.
“We’ve got to try and get our game going here,” Julien said. “Whether we're healthy or not, we've got to get better. I think our team's competing better lately, and you take the Columbus game away — that we all know — but before that, and afterwards, our compete level's been better.
“So you hope that you can improve and get better results as those things continue. Again, we had some lapses in the Toronto game that allowed them to be a better team, but at the end of the night, if you look at the balance of the whole game, I felt we were the better team and we should have won that game.”
Last season, Boston’s credo was to take each game one at a time. Don’t dwell on the past, and don’t look too far ahead.
That, too, is one thing they will look to carry over from 2014 into 2015.
“You can’t say [the team's position in the standings] doesn’t matter, because it does,” Miller said. “Every point right now matters, and our position does matter. It makes it tougher every game that we don’t climb. I think it is important for us to be looking at the standings, but at the same time, we need to focus on game by game and not get too overwhelmed with our standings.”
2014 was not easy. No Bruin would deny that. But no matter what, the 82-game season is a grind for every team, and though some years are smoother than others, every player in Black & Gold — plus the coaching staff — is committed to making sure this one ends the way they want it to.
“Sure, it's a little tougher when results aren't always there, but this is what we're paid to do,” Julien said. “Some years may be a little easier than others, and this year's more of a challenge, but certainly not something that is wearing you down.
“You look at it as far as this being a good challenge and rising to that challenge, so my job is to try and turn this team around, and with our coaching staff, we feel we've got the players and the coaching staff to be able to bring this team where we want it to be.”
Trotman, Lindblad Assigned
On Thursday, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli announced that defenseman Zach Trotman and forward Matt Lindblad had been assigned to Providence.
Trotman’s stay in Boston was a lengthy one: Since being recalled on Oct. 24, he has spent all but nine days with the big club and played in a total of 17 games with Boston, registering four assists. He served as a healthy scratch in Boston’s last six games.
Lindblad was recalled prior to Monday’s game against Detroit and played against the Red Wings before serving as a healthy scratch on Wednesday against Toronto.
Friday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Milan Lucic — David Krejci — Seth Griffith
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Reilly Smith
Gray Jerseys: Chris Kelly — Carl Soderberg — Loui Eriksson
Burgundy Jerseys: Daniel Paille — Gregory Campbell — Craig Cunningham/Jordan Caron
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Dennis Seidenberg, Kevan Miller, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg