On Monday, however, they found out that Krejci, one of their top two centers, has been labeled week to week with an undisclosed upper body injury.
“Definitely, it’s a big loss for us,” said captain Zdeno Chara following Monday’s practice at TD Garden. “At the same time, it’s a challenge. We all know that, but we’ve just got to take it with the right attitude, and obviously, other guys have to step up and fill the big shoes that he filled.”
That is precisely how the Bruins will view this unfortunate twist: as a challenge. As an opportunity for them to grow stronger as a team in Krejci’s absence.
The Bruins have suffered plenty of key losses in the last couple of seasons. This year alone, they have already lost Chris Kelly and Joonas Kemppainen, leaving them thin up the middle. But in the past, the Bruins have abided by a philosophy that they must compensate for injuries as a group, and once again, that is the mantra they will adopt in the wake of the latest injury to a key player.
“I don’t think that we have a player that can exactly bring what David brings, but I think we have players that can definitely contribute with their work ethic and commitment,” Chara said. “I think that everybody has to step up. There’s only one David Krejci, and nobody’s asking anybody else to copy him; we’ve just got to focus on what we can do as a team.”
Last season, the Bruins got a taste of what life without Krejci is like. They lost him for a chunk of time at the beginning of the 2014-15 season, when he suffered an undisclosed lower body injury, and for another big chunk of time late in the season, when he suffered a partially torn MCL.
It is true that last season, the Bruins struggled offensively without their most potent playmaker. But they managed. They hung in there in the playoff race. They didn’t come out on top in the end, but they held on.
“When you have 96 points, I don’t think [things have gone] haywire,” Julien said of the way the B’s pushed without Krejci last year. “We’re four points away from 100. We missed the playoffs, and at the end of the day, that’s a failure, but I think we handled it fairly well. At the same time, I think it’s important, again, that those guys that are given the challenge take it over, and I don’t want to comment on what’s going to happen here until it happens. We don’t know.
“We’re hoping we’re going to succeed, and we’re going to do everything in order to succeed with this situation.”
At the forefront of those hopes, of course, is Ryan Spooner. Spooner took over for Krejci in the third period of Sunday’s game, centering Matt Beleskey and Loui Eriksson. But that wasn’t the first time the 23-year-old center had to step in for Krejci: Last year, when Krejci went down with that knee injury in late February, it was Spooner who was recalled from Providence.
And during the two months that followed, he seized his opportunity, solidifying himself as a player worthy of a permanent spot in the NHL lineup.
“It’s not good to see somebody go down, but at the same time, it was a chance for me, and last year, I had some ups and some downs, but for the most part, I thought that I played well,” Spooner said. “Again, at the beginning of the season here, I kind of just came in and I didn’t really say to myself that I had a spot here; I just said to myself, I’m going to come in here and try to earn it.
“With this season, I’ve had some ups and some downs, but I think in the past month, I’ve been playing a lot better. I just want to try to improve each game that I play.”
That will be a requirement for Spooner now that he has been forced into a role as a top-six center, but it is one Julien believes he is ready for.
“This, to me, I think, is a challenge he should relish and he should want to have as a player,” Julien said. “You’re given an opportunity here to step up for your team, to obviously step up for yourself and say, ‘Listen, I can do this job.’ He’s shown times this year where he’s very capable of doing that now. He’s given the opportunity right now to do it.
“So those guys are being put there because we feel they have what it takes to be able to confront that challenge and succeed at it. So that’s where we’re at, and it’s about making sure they’re ready to go and they want to take on that challenge, and for us, to keep pushing them and encouraging them to succeed in those positions.”
Back to the Sens
Things can change quickly in the span of a couple of days. Such is the reality of the Eastern Conference this season.
On Saturday, as they prepared for their first game back from the holiday break, the Bruins found themselves in second place in the Atlantic Division with a chance to jump into first. Two days and two losses later — one to Buffalo on Saturday, and one to Ottawa on Sunday — the B’s have dropped down to seventh place in the conference, in possession of the first Wild Card spot in the East.
Every point is important, even now, and by the looks of it, every point will continue to be important from here until the end. Still, despite being in the midst of a three-game losing streak, the Bruins are far from being in panic mode.
“The biggest thing is, we can’t make everything dramatic,” Julien said. “I feel that in those three losses that we’ve had, I think we’ve played pretty well in two of those three losses. You’re disappointed in the way the Buffalo game ended because you have the 3-1 lead, but I think we played well enough [Sunday] in Ottawa to win. Unfortunately, it’s based on results, and we didn’t get the results we wanted, so we can’t be happy. But we can’t criticize the effort of the team and what they put in there. Same thing with St. Louis [on Dec. 22]. They had just blown a 3-0 lead the night before; they came in here prepared, and it was a hard-fought game right till the end. So you’ve got to put things in perspective.”
This past weekend was a tale of two Bruins teams. On Saturday, the B’s carried a 3-1 lead into the final 10 minutes of regulation against the Sabres, only to squander it and fall 6-3. On Sunday, the B’s were better — they were more defensively sound, more disciplined — but they could convert on only one of their 39 chances in a 3-1 loss.
Boston liked its effort on Sunday. Now, though, this team must find a way to put the puck in the net when the big opportunity comes — something they were unable to do against Craig Anderson and the Sens on Sunday.
And they’re going to have to do it, for the time being, without Krejci.
“It’s a long season; I said it before, you’re going to have your challenges along the way,” Julien said. “I think the [important] thing is, how do you handle those challenges? Right now, as you know, we’re being challenged because right down the middle, we’ve gotten thin all of a sudden where we used to have a lot of depth. We’re talking about Krejci, we’re talking about Kemppainen, we’re talking about Kelly. The team takes a bit of a shot when you lose that many guys, but having said that, this is an opportunity for us, again, to show some character and go in there and find ways to win hockey games and find ways to continue to compete.”
The Bruins have seized momentum in bursts this season. They were excellent at the end of October, at the end of November and through most of December, when they have managed to take points from nine of 13 games.
But the last three games have been tough. The Bruins have fallen in regulation in three straight for the third time this season, and once again — just as they did the previous two times — their focus will be on ensuring that three does not become four.
“We played a very solid game last night — probably deserved a better outcome, but that’s what’s going to happen over the course of the season,” Chara said. “We know we had a really bad game against Buffalo, decent game against St. Louis. Three losses that probably we could have had better results, but again, we’ve got to focus on what’s ahead of us, and that’s tomorrow’s game. We really have to play our best for 60 minutes.”
Every point is crucial, whether it comes in regulation, or overtime, or the shootout. After going pointless in three straight, the B’s have their work cut out for them on Tuesday, in their final game before the Winter Classic.
“We see that the whole not just division, but conference, is really clogged up — maybe five, six points, you have six, seven teams [fighting],” Chara said. “So that just shows you how close it is, how every game means so much, every point. It’s a chance, like I said, for us to grab it, and make the best out of it.”
Krug, Kemppainen Skate
Defenseman Torey Krug went down in the first period of Saturday’s game against Buffalo with an undisclosed injury. He, along with Krejci, missed Monday’s practice, but he did skate beforehand with Bruins Strength and Conditioning Coach John Whitesides.
After practice, Julien termed Krug as day-to-day and did not rule him out for Tuesday’s matchup against Ottawa.
“That’s what day to day means,” Julien said. “He skated a little bit today; we’ll see how he is tomorrow because he is day to day.”
Joining Whitesides and Krug on the ice on Monday was forward Joonas Kemppainen, who has been out ever since sustaining an upper body injury in a Dec. 7 matchup against Nashville. Julien was unsure whether it was the first or second day Kemppainen has skated, but either way, it is a good sign moving forward for Boston’s bottom six.
“He’s starting to skate, and right now, his conditioning is what we’re working on,” Julien said. “Again, the report is he’s doing well, so when you see him on the ice with the rest of the team, I think it will mean, in his situation, that he’s pretty close.”
Center Patrice Bergeron left Monday’s practice early, but Julien said there is no injury there.
During practice, Spooner took Krejci’s place centering Beleskey and Eriksson, while Landon Ferraro moved up from fourth-line duty to center Frank Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes on the third line.
Pastrnak at World Juniors
During Saturday’s game against Buffalo, Bruins GM Don Sweeney announced that forward David Pastrnak would be made available to the Czech Republic’s World Juniors team once the NHL roster freeze ended on Dec. 28.
Pastrnak has reported to the Czech team, currently in the midst of the tournament in Finland. He has suited up in one game and tallied a goal in a 2-0 shutout of Slovakia.
When asked if Pastrnak might return to the Bruins earlier than expected given the recent rash of injuries, Julien was noncommittal.
“He’s been assigned there,” Julien said. “Again, that’s left to upper management to work on that stuff, and again, I’ll keep working with what I have, and when we’re talking Dave Pastrnak, we’re only talking about a few days, too, right? Shortly after the New Year, and then the decision can be made [to bring him back].
“Giving him the opportunity to get better and to, again, [have] that experience at the World Juniors — I know he’s been through it, but he’s got an opportunity to really gain some confidence there, and be a good leader, and when he does come back, being able to have a real good impact on our hockey club, hopefully — that’s the plan. So I think sometimes, you’ve got to suck it up as an organization and do what’s right for the individual, and do what’s right for the team.”
Monday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Loui Eriksson
Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Brett Connolly
Gray Jerseys: Frank Vatrano, Landon Ferraro, Jimmy Hayes
Red Jerseys: Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, Tyler Randell
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg, Zach Trotman, Joe Morrow, Kevan Miller, Colin Miller
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson