Bruins' COVID-induced pause buys injured group some time

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DJ Bean
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Bean: Halt buys injured B's time, but won't solve biggest issue originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

There is no "good" time to have a rash of players in COVID-19 protocol. It’s a health concern first and foremost, and the Boston Bruins were seeing glimmers of hope in their play before having their games postponed. 

Prior to the halt, the Bruins had won two games in a row for the first time in over a month. With their most recent win, a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres, they’d scored multiple even-strength goals for just the second time in seven games. 

Sure, their success was taken with a grain of salt — the Pittsburgh Penguins are a borderline playoff team and games against the Sabres shouldn’t even count in the standings given how bad Buffalo is — but the struggling Bruins (losers of four of five before their two victories last week) will take what they can get at this point.

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Postponing Saturday’s and Tuesday’s games took another automatic victory against Buffalo off the board for now, but there can be benefits to the B’s having to hit pause. The biggest one is in net. Tuukka Rask hasn’t played since suffering what looked like a back injury on March 7. He is on injured reserve and eligible to come off whenever he’s ready. 

Rask appeared to be closing in on a return at the time of the pause. Bruce Cassidy had told reporters Rask would practice with the team Friday and possibly start Saturday depending on how he felt. The break in the schedule gives the Bruins’ No. 1 starter more time to get right. 

The same idea can be applied to a couple of Boston’s defensemen. Jarred Tinordi missed the Sabres game after leaving the win over the Penguins last week with an upper-body injury. 

More intriguing, however, is the Jeremy Lauzon timeline. Tinordi is needed in the lineup to play for Lauzon, who had surgery on his hand last month. The Bruins said Lauzon would re-evaluated four weeks after the surgery, which was Feb. 24. A week with no games means Lauzon will end up having missed fewer contests whenever he does return.

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So the Bruins are getting closer to healthy on the back end. It’s nice to think that will get Boston back to winning consistently, but the team has somewhat rolled with the punches defensively. Even when players have been injured — which has been often — defense and goaltending haven’t been the biggest problem. 

Take last Monday’s loss to the Penguins, for example. That was the only game since Rask has been out that Boston’s goaltending has been particularly terrible. The Bruins scored one goal in that game, so even if they had Rask, it would have been unreasonable to expect a victory. Same goes for the team’s 4-0 loss to the New York Rangers in the previous game. Lack of offense is the common denominator.

Uneven strength

Bruins' NHL rank in even-strength goals scored

30th

Variation

Single

While injured players on defense and in net are healing up, hopefully the players up front will be finding answers. Scoring is still a major issue for the B’s -- 23rd in goals per game as of Monday -- and seemingly will be unless additions are made at the deadline. 

Sean Kuraly is the only one of the five Bruins in COVID protocol known to have tested positive. It’s possible the others (David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, Craig Smith) could be in it due to contact tracing. 

For obvious reasons, the Bruins should hope it’s just contact tracing and that the players can return promptly. In addition to not wanting anyone to get sick, we’ve seen players across the various leagues struggle to regain their conditioning or usual level of play coming off COVID. Boston’s offense has had enough problems without having to factor in one that serious. 

So, assuming the Bruins are cleared to return to practice Wednesday, maybe they’ll see some familiar faces back on the ice. Getting healthy on defense and in net isn’t what’s going to save this season, though.