It had to happen eventually. With the Boston Bruins playing the lightest schedule in the NHL to this point in the season, it was obvious that the schedule would eventually get heavier. The only team to play fewer than 30 games this season (having played in 29 to date), the Bruins’ upcoming schedule features a string of five games in just seven nights starting Saturday against the New York Rangers.
An argument can be made that a schedule with too few games in too many nights is just as bad as a schedule with too many games in too few nights. While it’s a known factor that playing three games in four nights is difficult, the Bruins starting their season with so many days off led to a painfully slow start to the year for the team. Coupling that with the injuries to the team (which is finally nearing full health), it’s impressive that the Bruins are positioned as well as they are this far into the season. The team has done so well despite their injuries that the impending return of Adam McQuaid has led to questions on what the Bruins will do with their personnel.
While the Bruins have managed to earn 34 points in 29 games despite a sporadic schedule and an injury-riddled first-half, they will now have to prove to themselves and to the rest of the hockey world that they can excel when the games start to pile up.
Bruins’ Busy Schedule Looming
By the time Dec. 23 rolls around, the Bruins will have played in five more games than they did at the start of Saturday, Dec. 16. Kicking off their week with a home game against the Rangers, the second matchup between these two teams this season, the Bruins will likely be getting some reinforcements in the form of forward Ryan Spooner. Though Spooner is returning to the lineup, somebody will have to sit to make room for him. All signs indicate that the odd-man out for Saturday’s contest will be Anders Bjork who simply hasn’t looked like the same player since his return from injury.
Scoring three goals and 10 points in his first 15 games this season, Bjork has found trouble recording points since returning at the start of December. With only one goal in six games in that stretch, letting him watch the game from the ninths floor of the TD Garden might do him some good to let him see the game from a different perspective than that of ice level. Taking a step back is important for young players sometimes as it can be easy to forget what works and fall into a rut as a result.
Second Meeting With the Blue Jackets
With very little time to regroup after their game with the Rangers, the Bruins will meet with the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday. The Blue Jackets hold first place in a very tough Metropolitan Division at the time of this writing, but given how much change that division has seen throughout the course of the 2017-18 season already, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them in a different spot by the time they meet the Bruins on Monday.
The last time these two teams faced off in October, the Blue Jackets narrowly came away with a victory in a shootout against the Bruins. With the Bruins playing at full strength this time around, they’ll be working to ensure a different outcome this time around. It won’t be easy given how talented the Blue Jackets are, but the Bruins have proven that they can hang in games until the very end and that’s what they’ll need to do Monday against Columbus.
Road Bout With the Sabres
When the Bruins take on the Buffalo Sabres just one night later on the road, they’ll be looking to avenge a 5-4 overtime loss that they suffered in October earlier this season. Despite the fact that it’ll be the teams’ third game in four nights, there will be no excuses for the Bruins to not dig deep and come away with a win against the lowly Sabres who sit in last place in the Atlantic Division and 30th place in the entire NHL.
While the Sabres have struggled, the Bruins have been surging as of late. Despite a loss to the Washington Capitals – a team that has utterly dominated the Bruins in recent years, the success that Boston has experienced in the last few weeks will need to carry over in a divisional game against a team that can’t get out of their own way in Buffalo.
While it’s easy to say Team A should beat Team B, the fact of the matter is this: if the Bruins want to make the postseason this year, they need to win the games that they are supposed to win. When a game against the Sabres presents itself at this point in the season, there can be no excuses made if a team doesn’t give it their all and come away with two points.
Fourth Game in Six Nights Against Jets
Arguably the toughest game the Bruins will have to play in this hellish stretch, the team will return home to welcome the Winnipeg Jets. This will be the first time these two teams meet this season and the Bruins will need to be wary of the talent level on the Jets. Despite finishing near the bottom of the league in recent seasons, the Jets have finally seemed to put it all together, compiling a record of 18-9-5 at the time of this writing, good for 41 points and third-place in the Central Division.
A team that has talent from top to bottom at forward, defense and in their crease, the Jets will pose a big threat to the Bruins as they look to capitalize on the games-in-hand they currently hold. This game will be the hardest for the Bruins to win next week, but it might also be the most important. While it’s important to beat teams that you’re supposed to beat, it’s also important for teams to prove that they can beat other contenders. With the way the Jets have played this season, they are undoubtedly contenders. It’s for that reason that the Bruins will need to bring their A-Game to prove that they can hang with the best.
Rematch with the Red Wings
Finally, to close off that big stretch of games ahead of the holidays, the Bruins will get a rematch with the Detroit Red Wings. After being outplayed in the early goings of their contest against the Red Wings on Dec. 13, the Bruins were able to come away with two points in an overtime win courtesy of a beautiful Brad Marchand backhand goal. While the Red Wings may have started the season hanging with some of the better teams in the league, reality started to sink in for them and they are regressing into the team that many expected them to be at the start of the season.
Whether it’s been the slew of bad contracts, a string of bad drafting or some combination of the two, the Red Wings are a far cry from the team they were known to be for a quarter century. The Bruins have already proven that they can beat Detroit when playing from behind, now they’ll need to prove that they can beat them again heading into the break from Dec. 24 until Dec. 26.
It’s unlikely that the Bruins will win all five of these games, especially considering they’re coming in just seven nights. Still, if they can manage to do so, it would give the team 44 points in 34 games played. That would put them on pace for 106 points – a virtual lock for the postseason barring any huge surge in the Atlantic Division from another team. Again, it’s unlikely the Bruins end up with five consecutive wins in such a tough stretch, and even if they do manage to pull it off, reaching 106 points will be no easy feat. For now, Bruce Cassidy and his squad will need to focus on each game one at a time.