Credit Bruins for defending themselves, but they aren't scaring anybody


BOSTON – Some will say that the Bruins showed their team toughness in their 6-3 win over the Maple Leafs on Saturday night.

They threw the first punch physically in the first period, dropped the gloves to defend teammates and got the better of Toronto on just about every front in an impressive victory given how many players they were missing from the lineup. So from that standpoint there was a lot of metaphorical Black and Gold chest-thumping going on after the victory.

“It just seems like every time one of those hits happen it’s our smallest guy that’s the closest guy in the vicinity, but they always go and show up, so you have to give them credit for that. I think the response from those hits comes, and we’ve talked to our team about that,” said Bruce Cassidy, who has unfortunately watched guys like Brad Marchand, Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and Joakim Nordstrom do all the fighting for the B’s this season. “You just have to be hard on their skill. Not dirty, but hard, and Chris Wagner I thought had a great response.

“You hit a guy in open ice with his shoulder, had his head down. That usually takes a little bit of wind out of the sails if that’s how you want to finish a hockey game.”

Yes, Matt Grzelcyk, all 5-foot-8, 180-pounds of him, went after Zach Hyman after he threw a late, dirty hit on Charlie McAvoy in the third period of a 6-1 game. And Wagner crushed Morgan Rielly a few minutes later and then dropped the gloves with Ron Hainsey to answer for the big open ice hit against Toronto’s best D-man.

Those are pieces of evidence that show a Bruins team willing to fight for each other, and that’s a good thing.

“Charlie’s a big boy and he’s going to make his plays, and obviously when he has a chance to finish on them he’s going to do that as well,” said Torey Krug. “I thought we did a good job of responding after that, you know, going hard against their skill. Obviously, Wags [Chris Wagner] came through, and hits their top-moving defenseman as well, so…it’s a tough part about the game.”

But there’s also continued, irrevocable evidence that teams are taking liberties with the Bruins and consistently targeting their best players. Sure, there was the occasional instance in the past when Marc Savard was head-hunted by Matt Cooke and Aaron Rome concussed Nathan Horton in the Stanley Cup Final, even when the Bruins were at their biggest and baddest in recent memory.

But it wasn’t happening on a seemingly nightly basis like it is now. The Bruins lost McAvoy for 20 games with a concussion suffered on a big hit, and it remains to be seen if Saturday night’s late, dirty Hyman hit will put him back on the shelf.

David Krejci was crushed two games in a row in the open ice, and managed to avoid injury aside from losing some teeth in a win over the New York Islanders. Patrice Bergeron was lost after Radek Faksa drove him hard and shoulder-first into the boards, and really didn’t pay any price at all for taking out Boston’s best player. David Pastrnak has been a target in many games as well, but has managed to avoid injury to this point while still scoring his goals.

It wasn’t like this when the Bruins had Shawn Thornton, Milan Lucic and Adam McQuaid around to take care of the trash on the ice, or in some cases keep their own teammates in line when the need arose.

“Obviously, we took exception to it. I find that we’re at a state of kind of flux with no instigator, the tough guys kind of being out of the game. I think there was typically a tough guy on each team that kind of kept their own team [in line] even more than other teams because if shenanigans go down now he’s got to face [a fight]…or a tough guy goes after the offender,” said David Backes, who is no stranger to dropping the gloves. “You know, Griz [Matt Grzelcyk] stands up for our teammate and rightfully so, and does a heck of a job. Tip your cap to him.

“Hopefully Charlie is okay. There are exceptions like that, in a game solely in hand, you need to stick up for your guys and I think we made a little bit of a statement after that. But, in the old days, they made you yearn for them a bit at least from my perspective on the bench.”

There are still players like that around the league, of course. Ryan Reaves in Las Vegas is a classic old-school tough guy that can play the game, and Edmonton has Milan Lucic and Zach Kassian. With Tom Wilson in Washington, you don’t see too many teams taking liberties with the Capitals despite all the skill on their roster. The Flyers have Wayne Simmonds, who went toe-to-toe with mammoth Pittsburgh D-man Jamie Oleksiak just a week ago and showed his impressive blend of skill and toughness that the Bruins desperately need.

For the Bruins, it’s a matter of prioritizing a little more old-school size and toughness over college players that aren’t really scoring all that much right now. It would be nice if the Bruins would use a first or second round pick in one of these drafts for a big, mean power forward that fits in a little better with the traditional Bruins style. That way the Bruins could get that player for his best and most effective years as they did with Lucic rather than paying for an older player that’s breaking down after logging the hard miles.

Because right now the Bruins are defending themselves, but they’re not scaring anybody based on the big hits being leveled at their best players. And that’s not going to change until the Bruins decide to do something about it organizationally.

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