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Examining the state of the Bruins during their unexpected hiatus originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Bruins are getting an unexpected bye week due to the rise in COVID-19 cases with the team and the NHL as a whole.
Many teams have seen games postponed recently, and those will continue through the NHL's holiday break, which extends through Sunday.
The Bruins have had their last two games postponed, and their next two also have been moved, although no makeup dates for any of these four matchups have been announced at this time.
Where does Boston stand amid this pause in the schedule?
Here's a Bruins season reset.
It's a little weird to see the Bruins in fifth place in the Atlantic this far into the season. There are a couple factors that explain it. For starters, they've placed less games than their division rivals. Boston's schedule was pretty light over the first two months of the season. It's backloaded with a ton of games late.
The Bruins also have been inconsistent and largely mediocre to this point, and their 14-10-2 record reflects that. They've also struggled mightily against teams currently in a playoff spot. Even with fewer games played, Boston's .577 points percentage still is well-below the top three teams in the division (Lightning .724, Leafs .700 and Panthers .690).
Monday, Dec. 27: vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Wednesday, Dec. 29: at Ottawa Senators
Saturday, Jan. 1: vs. Buffalo Sabres
Sunday, Jan. 2: at Detroit Red Wings
The Bruins are set to return to game action next Monday when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden. The B's also will be busy New Year's weekend with a back-to-back against divisional opponents.
This actually will probably be one of the easiest weeks for the Bruins over the next month. Boston's January schedule is full of games against quality opponents, including the Wild, Lightning, Capitals (twice), Avalanche, Ducks, Hurricanes, Jets and Predators.
1) Is Tuukka Rask returning?
Rask has been working out at Warrior Ice Arena and even took part in a recent practice when the Bruins didn't have enough goalies. The 34-year-old veteran, who's recovering from offseason hip surgery, reportedly is hoping to be game-ready in January and still hopes to play for the Bruins.
“If indeed he is healthy and wants to play, then he’s likely to be a part of our group,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney told reporters at the end of November.
Why the need for Rask?
Well, the goaltending duo of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman has been good not great, although it's been better recently. Swayman has posted a .923 save percentage since the start of November. Ullmark has tallied a .929 save percentage and a very impressive .878 high-danger save percentage over his last six games.
Ullmark SV% last 6 games
Whether the Bruins need Rask might depend on how this tandem is performing in January. If the Bruins do intend to sign Rask, Swayman might be the odd man out because he can go to the AHL's Providence Bruins without needing to clear waivers. That ignites the debate over whether the Bruins should send Swayman to Providence and if that would negatively impact his development.
It's a fascinating scenario for the Bruins. If Rask is healthy, he's still a very good goalie. But after a decade with Rask, is it time to fully commit to Swayman as the present and future in net? It's a tough decision for Sweeney and the team as they try to balance winning now but also doing what's best long term.
2) Jake DeBrusk trade request
Reports of DeBrusk's trade request surfaced Monday, Nov. 29 and he's still a member of the team. The Bruins reportedly are looking for a player of equal value in return for DeBrusk, which makes sense for a franchise like the Bruins that's hoping to compete this season.
A deal involving DeBrusk won't happen this week for the simple fact the league's holiday trade freeze went into effect Sunday night and expires at 12:01 a.m. ET on Monday, Dec. 27.
The Bruins currently have six forwards in the league's COVID-19 protocol. If several forwards are still out when the B's host the Penguins next Monday -- assuming that game is played -- they might need to hold on to DeBrusk just to have enough NHL-caliber forwards to put on the ice. It can be challenging for teams to trade NHL players when guys are in and out of the lineup as part of the COVID protocols.
"I mean, we’re still continuing to talk but you can imagine the entire league is a little bit handcuffed and we have the roster freeze coming up," Sweeney told reporters via Zoom last Saturday night.
DeBrusk's play has improved a bit since his trade request. He has scored twice and been more engaged at both ends of the ice over that span.
— NHL (@NHL) December 10, 2021
The trade deadline isn't until March 21, so the Bruins can take their time and look for the best deal possible. There shouldn't be any rush to make a move with DeBrusk.
3) Secondary scoring still an issue
Secondary scoring has been a problem for the Bruins for several years now, and they tried to address it via free agency over the summer by signing veteran forwards such as Tomas Nosek, Erik Haula and Nick Foligno.
These additions have provided very little offense so far. Nosek has four points in 23 games. Foligno has four points in 18 games, and Haula has five points in 25 games. These three players have combined to score just three goals and we're about a third of the way through the regular season.
They aren't the only secondary scorers struggling, though. Second-line left wing Taylor Hall has gone 10 games without scoring a goal. Second-line right wing Craig Smith battled an upper body injury earlier in the season and has struggled offensively with two goals in 19 games. Young players expected to play a larger role, most notably Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka, have yet to score a goal in 2021.
The Bruins are once again a top-heavy team that relies way too much on the superstar first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak to shoulder most of the scoring burden. You can mostly get away with that in the regular season, but come playoff time this weakness likely will prove fatal unless the B's make some roster changes before the trade deadline.