The Bruins will open the 2021 season without their top sniper and reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner in the fold, but David Pastrnak may not be on the shelf for quite as long as most expected he'd be after undergoing a right hip arthroscopy and labral repair during the offseason.
Even though early projections had Pastrnak slated to miss five months after going under the knife back in September — setting him up for a return by mid-February — Bruce Cassidy noted on Tuesday following Day 2 of Bruins training camp that Pastrnak could potentially be available a few weeks earlier.
"The original prognosis was mid-February. So we feel he's a little bit ahead of that," Cassidy said of Pastrnak. "How much? We've got still a ways to go. Let's get through like January, and then see where he's at. So I don't like to speculate in the medical part. I'm just repeating what I hear from our guys. So it was originally mid-February coming out of the surgery up to this point, which is approximately four months. His rehab has gone very well, no setbacks.
"And I think because of his natural conditioning or work ethic that pushes him ahead a little bit. How much? It's too early for me to speculate. I just know he won't be ready when we head to New Jersey. So after that, a little bit ahead of mid February. Could that be February 1? February 4? I don't know down there. I guess getting back from the road trip and having him in our lineup doing regular practice is always the best indicator for me and he's not there yet. So I don't want to guess."
The return of Pastrnak — who is already skating on his own, per Cassidy — would do wonders for a Bruins offense that, while likely improved from previous campaigns, is poised to dip in the short-term with its top scorer and power-play ace for weeks out of commission. Given that points are at a premium this season with just 56 games on the docket, the fewer games Boston takes to the ice without Pastrnak, the better — as a sluggish start could suddenly have Boston behind the eight-ball in a competitive East Division.
For now, it appears as though Jack Studnicka remains as the early favorite to slot into Pastrnak's regular role on Boston's top line for the time being, with Brad Marchand looking to open the new season in his regular spot to Patrice Bergeron's left. Marchand, who underwent sports hernia surgery back in September, shed his red, non-contact jersey from Monday's practice in favor of a regular, black sweater on Tuesday.
Cassidy maps out plan in net
As daunting as this new revamped East Division might be, the Bruins very well could have a leg up on other contenders such as the Penguins, Capitals and Flyers in that they still boast arguably the best tandem in net in both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. While Halak's arrival has been a godsend for Boston in terms of limiting Rask's reps and keeping him fresh for the postseason, the luxury of having two starting-level goalies on your roster will be magnified in a year where Boston has to play 56 games in 116 days.
However, don't expect the reps between Rask and Halak to stand at an even split, at least to open the year.
"I don't think it'll be 50/50," Cassidy said of reps between Rask and Halak. "Obviously it's always play driven. We have a script at the start of the year. And now that we got the times finalized, (goalie coach) Bob (Essensa) and I will go through that. See where Jaro is at, he wasn't here as long — so we want to see where his fitness level is after maybe the scrimmage this week and early next week and then chart out a course. We know the back-to-backs, we've got two good goaltenders, so they'll split those. Who gets the front end, the back end? We'll decide that. And after that, I think Tuukka was around 60% of 82 (games) or gunning for — that's roughly 49-50. I thought that was a good number for us. Low 50s.
"So with 56 games, that's that's probably somewhere around 33-34 games for him if we stick to that. .... And I don't see any issue with that at all. But again, that'll depend on him and a little bit of the spacing between games. The good news is there's not a lot of travel. So that can help a goaltender, recover so that you know might edges games up. But that's our original plan, we're not going to deviate too much from from that number of percentage wise. So whether it's 56 or 82, and then go from there. Again, we could get into the middle of March, not be where we want to be and need more starts from one of the two goal. So we'll adjust accordingly. But that's the original plan."
Roster cuts incoming
With Boston a little over a week away from opening regular-season play down in New Jersey, Cassidy and his staff are preparing to trim down the B's current camp roster — likely splitting what has currently been two even Group A / Group B practices into one session comprised of the team's projected 23-player roster, with the following practice featuring players in line for a "taxi squad" assignment or an eventual spot down with the Providence (or Marlborough?) Bruins.
"Probably Sunday or Monday," Cassidy said of when Boston was augment its camp roster. "We're gonna have some scrimmages Thursday and Friday. Get a little look at guys live. We'll sit down Saturday. Right now, we believe that'll be the day off for the players — they need one off in camp. And then look at where one's at. For example, how is Brad progressing? We feel he'll be on time for the start of the year — no matter what, he's going to get that opportunity, but that might affect some other decisions. We know pasta is not going to be there. So who has the best opportunity to play in that spot. So those are some of the decisions you make. How are guys progressing this week? How did they do in the scrimmages? Because that's the evaluator for us a little bit — the scrimmages,. We don't have exhibitions. So they're just taking the place of exhibition games."
Steen, Kuhlman & Blidh not cleared
Along with Pastrnak's absence, there have also been three names etched on Boston's training-camp roster that have yet to hit the ice — as forwards Karson Kuhlman, Anton Blidh and Oskar Steen have not been spotted at either of Boston's first two camp sessions.
"We've been instructed to say unavailable to participate," Cassidy said. "So I think with Kuhlman, I'll elaborate a little bit — he got caught up in a testing issue. So we're trying to get that squared away for him. He was here ahead of time and cleared and did his quarantine. So a little bit unfortunate for him. So hopefully we'll see him back out there soon. The other two, like I said, unavailable right now and I think Steen is going to get out on the ice tomorrow in some capacity. He's been off quarantining as well. And then Blidh will be a little bit down the road. ... Marchy is doing well as we classify him as injured and has joined the group, will continue to be in the group as directed by the medical staff."
- Well, if the Bruins need a solution to their infamous shootout woes, they might have an answer in Craig Smith. The veteran was once again a standout performer on Tuesday, beating both Jaroslav Halak and Callum Booth on a number of breakaway chances as Group A's session started to wind down.
- Once again, Cassidy rolled with Jeremy Lauzon next to Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk paired with Brandon Carlo on Tuesday morning. Carlo was arguably the top performer in practice, negating a number of scoring chances during 1v1 drills. It's a regular camp cliche, but Carlo looks considerably stronger through these first few practices, as he's routinely pushed skaters out of Grade-A ice with ease.
- Boston might have something with a fourth line of Trent Frederic, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner. The trio worked pretty extensively alongside a D pairing of Kevan Miller and Jakub Zboril on Tuesday, with Bruce Cassidy running through drills with the grouping before opening up a full 5v5 drill. It remains to be seen if Frederic's offensive tools can translate up to the NHL ranks and allow him to remain in the lineup, but the 22-year-old forward certainly has the size and snarl to be a fourth-line stalwart — especially after leading the AHL in penalty minutes this past season. After Boston's fourth line struggled to gain traction throughout the 2019-20 season, a line of Frederic-Kuraly-Wagner should bring plenty of thump against top-six opponents in 2021.
Here were the lines from today's skate:
GROUP A LINES:
DeBrusk – Krejci – Kase
Ritchie – Coyle – Smith
Marchand – McKegg – Lantosi/Hughes
Grzelcyk/Moore – Carlo
Vaakanainen/Wolff – Clifton
GROUP B LINES:
Bjork – Bergeron – Studnicka
Frederic – Kuraly – Wagner
Filipe/Carey – Lindholm – Senyshyn
Lauzon – McAvoy
Zboril – Miller
Ahcan – Kampfer