"Six" was the number of choice, representing the combined number of regulation losses at home for Boston's next three opponents - the Anaheim Ducks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
|Tuukka Rask's equipment bag & the Bruins' gear being loaded onto the plane before the team jetted off to California. |
That was before Monday morning came around, and that number still stuck on January 6, as the Bruins jetted off on a day's worth of travel to the West Coast.
On Sunday, Corey Perry scored with just 0.6 left in overtime to lift Anaheim to a 4-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks that gave them their seventh straight win at Honda Center. At 17-0-2, the Ducks have picked up 36 points at home so far this season, and the Bruins will aim to thwart that on Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, the Kings (Boston's opponent on Thursday) started a five-game homestand with a 3-1 win over the Canucks on Saturday, snapping a four-game losing streak, and putting them at 14-5-2 on the season in STAPLES Center. They also have goaltender Jonathan Quick back, after he missed 24 games with a groin strain.
It’s a challenge that I and the rest of the team are really looking forward to, because that’s the kind of challenge we need right now. - Coach Julien, on the trip West
Boston will round out the week in San Jose on Saturday, January 11, where the Sharks are 15-1-3 in the SAP Center as of January 6.
"Well it’s going to be a challenge, I’ve said it all along," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said on Saturday, after being fairly pleased with the team's effort in the win over Winnipeg, before hitting the road.
"The players know about it. We might as well mention the fact that they have a combined 6 regulation losses between those three teams so it goes to show you how hard it is to go there and win some hockey games."
"It’s a challenge that I and the rest of the team are really looking forward to, because that’s the kind of challenge we need right now."
Traveling Coast to Coast is the first challenge.
"Well it’s that distance; you’re going to the West Coast, and time change, and you have to get used to a long flight and a lot of different things," said Tuukka Rask.
But they're professionals. So the more important test comes once the puck drops.
"Tough home teams to play," acknowledged Rask. "But we don’t want to think about too much. If we just play our game, I think no matter who we play we always have a chance to win so that’s what our main focus has to be – to play our game."
Six of the Bruins' next seven opponents are in the Western Conference, starting with the California swing. They enter the stretch first in the Atlantic Division and second in the Eastern Conference, with a 28-12-2 record through 42 games, for 58 points.
While each team the Bruins will face along the West Coast has its own identity, there are similarities that breed the success they have all achieved through the first half of the season - attention to details, confidence in their play and commitment to the game plan, mixed with character and grit.
Those qualities, also laced within the Boston dressing room, make a team "tough to play against." While we hear plenty of that rhetoric from the opposition about the Black & Gold, the same could be said of these three teams, and you'll likely hear it from the crew in the Spoked-B all week.
"You try to win every game, right?" said the always cool, tell-it-like-it-is Rask. "Obviously. But we can’t just go there and expect to win with an okay effort because they’re great teams and they’re home records are probably one of the best in the league so we have to be really tight defensively and be smart about it and make smart plays. Game by game."
"We’ll start on Tuesday, try to get it off on a good note."
Eriksson Making Trip
Loui Eriksson is progressing steadily in his recovery from the concussion sustained on December 7 against Pittsburgh. He's been skating every day for the past week, and even though he's still "a way's away" from a return to game action, according to Julien, he made the trip with the team to California.
"I think he’s going to make that trip because he’s practicing with the team. He’s way better to skate with us than he is to stay behind on his own at this stage," Julien said prior to Saturday's game at TD Garden. "But when he’s going to be back, we still don’t know."
Eriksson has not yet been cleared for contact, and has been wearing a green jersey during practices as a result. As we've seen over the past month, it's been a cautious approach for the winger.
"It’s his second concussion here in two months," Julien had said right after the concussion on December 8. "And I think, a little bit of sensitivity there on our part."
Kelly Stays Back
While Eriksson was slated to travel, Chris Kelly was not (according to Julien), since he had not begun skating yet.
However, the centerman is on track in his recovery from the broken right fibula, and has said he would be hitting the ice soon.
"I've been on the bike with both legs and I'm hoping to skate fairly soon and be back as soon as I can," Kelly said, when he spoke to reporters on January 1, for the first time since suffering the injury back on December 7.
"I try not to use timetables," he added. "As players and anyone, they always go by those timetables, and everyone's different, sometimes you can get back quicker and sometimes it takes longer."
"But everything's going as planned and every day I get a little bit better, and that' the most important thing I think - if you have setbacks, it's frustrating, where if you can come in and do a little bit more each day, it's always a positive thing."
Florek Along for the Ride
On Monday morning, the Bruins recalled forward Justin Florek on an emergency basis from the Providence Bruins, and he joined the team for the journey out West.
Florek is fresh off his NHL debut on Saturday, in the Bruins' 4-1 win over Winnipeg at TD Garden.
The winger filled in alongside Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, with Jordan Caron sidelined by a stiff back. He logged 10:14 in ice time, including time on the penalty kill, while recording two hits and a shot on goal.
He was sent back down to suit up for the P-Bruins on Sunday, recording two assists in their 8-2 win over the Worcester Sharks, capping off three games in three days, before being recalled again on Monday.
"He’s scheduled to play [Sunday] in Providence, but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to bring him with us on the trip here," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien had said on Saturday, following Boston's win.
"He played well. He’s a good skater, he’s got good size, and obviously on one of [Torey] Krug’s goals, it was him doing a great job in front of goaltender there, and I thought he had a real good game for us, no doubt."
For more on Florek's NHL debut, and to stay up to date on all of the latest Bruins news throughout the road trip, check out the Bruins Blog and keep following on Twitter @NHLBruins ^CS.