BOSTON - Bruins general manager Don Sweeney held a virtual midseason press conference on Wednesday afternoon to assess his club's performance as it approaches the halfway point of this shortened 56-game schedule. After a 10-1-2 start, Boston has dropped seven of its last 10 games (3-5-2) and sits in fourth place in the East Division, just one point clear of a playoff spot.
While the team has battled through injuries in recent weeks, the B's biggest problem of late has been secondary scoring, which has plagued Boston at several points over the last few seasons. The Bruins have allowed just five goals over their last five games, but are just 2-1-2, having scored only two goals combined in the three losses.
"Not at the current rate that we're going," Sweeney said when asked if the Bruins have enough within the current group to break through offensively. "Clearly, we've played well defensively in the last five games and such. We just haven't generated - or finished, I should say, inarguably. Five-on-five is just not where it needs to be to consistently win or to extend leads if you do get them…I think it's a major concern for us."
Sweeney noted that injuries have certainly played a part in Boston's struggles, particularly when it comes to the B's transition game, but that ultimately the Bruins' forward group has failed to consistently get to the interior and finish chances.
"I think we're a little more mobile [on the back end] or had been when all our guys were healthy and our transition game looked a little bit better," said Sweeney. "Your team doesn't function if you don't come out of your own end clean and get through the neutral zone. Our rush chances have been pretty good. I think the ownership is a little bit with our forward group to get to the interior ice.
"We haven't tipped a lot of pucks home. We need to do a better job there, and that's also in conjunction with what the D-men do at the offensive blue line, finding the ability to change lanes and get it through the first layer…teams pack the house. It's tough to get shots through.
"But you watch the highlights around the league and some of the [defensemen] have had the ability to sift it in there and find holes or tip them in. Our group has to do a better job in the same regard if we're going to be the team we're capable of being."
Sweeney, of course, also has the option to tinker with his roster. Whether it's through call-ups from Providence or trades - the trade deadline is April 12 - the B's general manager acknowledged that he would not hesitate to change the make-up of the group should the struggles continue.
"If we have to shake things up, I think we will do that," said Sweeney. "And understand that the expectations haven't changed. Our group has played well, but not quite good enough and scoring has been the Achilles' heel up until this point. Hopefully we can find it from within, or I'm going to have to make a move to bring in support."
One of the changes coach Bruce Cassidy opted to make on Tuesday night against the Islanders was to sit Jake DeBrusk as a healthy scratch. The 24-year-old winger, who missed six games due to injury earlier this season, has just one goal in 17 games, a sharp decline from his first three seasons. Over his first 203 NHL games from 2017-20, DeBrusk tallied 62 goals, which ranked fourth on the Bruins behind top-line stalwarts David Pastrnak (121), Brad Marchand (98), and Patrice Bergeron (93).
"I think Jake takes all of it to heart, as all players do," said Sweeney. "When you lose ice time, I think that's the greatest lever to pull with a player at the National Hockey League level. Whether that's within a game or actually missing games. You look for responses from really any area - if you've addressed it through video, coaching, through practice, through ice time, and hit the reset.
"Clearly, we understand that Jake is not where he needs to be. He recognizes that, takes ownership of it. And we have to do everything we possibly can to put him in situations that he can work his way out of it. And work is a big part of that."
DeBrusk was expected to be part of a strong second line with David Krejci and Ondrej Kase, but injuries to all three players have derailed that plan. All three have missed at least four games thus far and have combined for just one goal - DeBrusk's power-play tally on Feb. 18.
"You might have drawn it up that Krejci, DeBrusk and Kase would have played some time together, and at this stage would probably have more than zero even strength goals amongst the three of them," said Sweeney. "It's a problem throughout your lineup."
Kase, who was acquired at last year's trade deadline, has yet to settle into the Bruins lineup since his arrival last spring. Just six games into his Black & Gold tenure, the 2019-20 season was shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. And upon the season's resumption last summer, the 25-year-old right shot missed all of training camp due to COVID protocols.
While he appeared to be on track for a much more normal 2020-21 campaign, Kase took a high hit from Devils forward Miles Wood in Boston's second game of the season on Jan. 16 and has only over the past week begun to skate on his own.
"He's back on the ice, but there is zero timetable's for when he returns," said Sweeney. "It's just whatever medically allows him to continue to progress and he'll do so. He's eager to play, but sometimes things just take their own natural course to get past where he needs to."
In Other Injury News
Sweeney also provided the following updates on injured defensemen Jeremy Lauzon, Kevan Miller, and Brandon Carlo:
Lauzon (fractured hand): "Again, fractures are what they are. He had surgery to hopefully help the healing process. Dr. [Matthew Liebman] did the job that he generally does. He'll help Lauzy, whose back on the ice, to continue to keep his legs. It's just a matter of the healing process. It was always a four- to six-[week] timeline, and we'll re-evaluate that in four weeks and hopefully he's on the shorter side of that. Time will tell."
Miller (knee): "Kevan is back on the ice and working his way back. Had a setback from a volume standpoint, which we probably expected at some point in time over the course of the season with the layoff he's had. He's making some strides."
Carlo (upper-body): "There is no timeline there. He feels better. But he's not back on the ice and until that happens, we won't have any indication of what direction he's headed until he's healthy."
Sweeney said that he expects trade chatter to remain quiet for the next couple of weeks, but that it could pick up significantly as April approaches. With just over a month until the deadline, teams are still trying to evaluate what they have and what they may need down the stretch and into the playoffs. And with the pandemic continuing to provide roadblocks from both a financial (limited cap, decreased revenue) and logistical (quarantine, travel) standpoint, any transactions could be more of a challenge than usual.
"I think it's unique," said Sweeney. "I think everybody is going to evaluate where their team is at for really the next two weeks. You could be above the [playoff] line, below the line pretty quickly. And injuries have certainly taken their toll, the compression of the schedule. I think there are a lot of variables in play…but your team usually dictates what you should try and do.
"We certainly have areas we would like to explore to add, but it's been a challenge. I think things will loosen up because there are teams that will identify themselves as not necessarily in the position they want to be and some player movement will happen.
"But moving across the border is a difficult thing with quarantine. I think a healthier group is sometimes dictating how many player transactions will be there. Money is tight…it's really navigating the unknown right now. But plenty of talks and conversations going on. We'll see where it goes in the next couple weeks."