A Bruins offense averaging 1.6 goals per game over its last five matchups is set to lose another big piece up front this weekend.
After missing Saturday’s morning skate, Bruce Cassidy confirmed that winger Jake DeBrusk will miss tonight’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, along with Sunday’s tilt against the Ottawa Senators.
“Came in yesterday not feeling well,” Cassidy said of DeBrusk. “Was not feeling great during the Tampa game and after. So he hasn’t come in today. Right now, we can only speculate. I know he got hit in the back of the head in Toronto with a puck late. Right now, we’re waiting for him to come in and let us know where he’s at. Definitely out tonight and definitely out tomorrow. Hopefully he feels better when we see him next.”
The play Cassidy was referencing against Toronto was in the closing minutes of Boston’s 4-2 loss against the Leafs back on Nov. 26 — when a shot from Danton Heinen struck DeBrusk in the back of the helmet while the winger was down on the ice.
— Boston Bruins on CLNS (@BruinsCLNS) November 27, 2018
Although DeBrusk played in the next four games following that Toronto matchup, he didn’t post a point while logging a minus-6 rating.
With DeBrusk — who ranks second on the Bruins with 10 goals this season — out of the equation, Boston’s lines have once again been put in a blender for Saturday’s tilt with Toronto. Cassidy opted to go heavy up front with David Krejci centering David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, while Colby Cave will center a “second line” with Danton Heinen and David Backes.
One line looking to carry over some momentum from Thursday’s loss to Tampa Bay is Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson’s group, with Ryan Donato remaining on the left wing and Joakim Nordstrom on the right.
“Nordstrom is on the right wing to start,” Cassidy said. “Again, we’ll move people around, but it gives them a veteran presence there. Nordy has kind of moved all around. I know he’s not naturally a right winger. But thought it might be a good fit for JFK too. They can talk in their native tongue, there’s a lot going on out there.”
Plagued by inconsistent play for most of this season, both Donato and “JFK” were solid together against Tampa, with Boston posting a 78.57 Corsi For Percentage and holding a 6-1 edge in shots on goal during the 10:55 five-on-five TOI in which both were out on the ice together.
“That’s been a bit of JFK’s issue and Ryan, for that matter,” Cassidy said of finding consistency. “Every night, all year. That’s kind of the task in front of them. I thought our guys last year, the younger guys put in that position handled it well. We were going better. We had a whole D corps, guys to talk to, centermen.
“So they can have some bumps along the road and it didn’t affect us as much. Right now, everything is magnified when you’re not winning or scoring. But that’s the hand they’re dealt with this year. What I liked about JFK, he got bumped in there, he’s in there getting his nose dirty. And knocked a few people off the puck, got knocked off and came back. That’s it, you’ve got to do it every night.”
Smith gets his first shot
After getting picked up off the waiver wire on Thursday, Gemel Smith is set to make his debut with the Bruins on Saturday, with the speedy, bottom-six forward expect to skate with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner on the fourth line.
Averaging 8:01 TOI so far this season with Dallas, Smith had little opportunity to capitalize with the Stars, but a few advanced statistics shed some light on a player that could have a chance to produce with some added reps.
“I think I can play up and down through the lineup,” Smith said. “I can bring energy and I’ve got skill. I can score, make plays, so I just want to be a gritty, two-way kind of player that is responsible and can provide offense.”
It’s been an odd road to Boston for Smith. Growing up close to Toronto in Etobicoke and Mississauga, Smith actually was not a Maple Leafs fan as a kid.
"I actually rooted for Detroit and my younger brother (Givani) rooted for Boston,” Smith said. “Now my little brother is in Detroit and I’m in Boston."
No enforcer needed?
When asked if Boston needs to add some muscle to its lineup, Cassidy was candid. Although players like Nordstrom and Torey Krug have been the ones to drop the gloves as of late, Cassidy noted that it’s been more of a circumstance of having players like Kevan Miller out of the lineup, rather than it being a team-wide issue with a lack of toughness.
“I don’t think we need an enforcer,” Cassidy said. “I think a couple of our heavier guys are hurt that take care of a lot of that. When we look at the lineup for our team, we thought we’d have enough. Think guys get hurt and even a guy like Bergy that plays hard against everybody goes out. He’s certainly not a fighter by any means, but he’s hard to play against. … Are you going to disrupt your whole team to do that? That’s Donny’s call.
“I think there’s been some games where I think teams have taken liberties with those guys out. But I think we always answer the bell. Might not be with our biggest guys with those guys out. … I don’t think we need an enforcer, we need to continue to have a team toughness mentality and make sure we’re there, I always think if you initiate, you don’t have to retaliate. It takes care of a lot of that."