The Boston Bruins had a few days to unwind from a very emotional New Year's holiday weekend highlighted by an exciting 2-1 comeback victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2023 Winter Classic at Fenway Park.
It was a remarkable event that confirmed a lot of what we had learned about the B's this season, including the fact that they are super resilient, they're very confident they can erase any deficit, the veteran leadership is tremendous and goalie Linus Ullmark is the Vezina Trophy favorite.
But the season rolls on and it's time to turn the page.
The Bruins are in California for a three-game road trip that begins Thursday night:
- Thursday at Los Angeles Kings
- Saturday at San Jose Sharks
- Sunday at Anaheim Ducks
What should Bruins fans be watching closely on this road trip? Here are three areas of focus.
Jake DeBrusk injury and who replaces his production
DeBrusk was the hero of the Winter Classic. His two third-period goals were the difference for the Bruins. It came at a heavy cost, though. Daily Faceoff's Frank Seravalli reported Wednesday that DeBrusk has a fractured fibula and will be out for a while. The Bruins on Wednesday announced DeBrusk has been placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR) with hand and lower-body injuries. The B's did confirm that the injuries were suffered during the Winter Classic, and that the expected recovery time is "approximately four weeks."
The lower body injury might have happened just before DeBrusk's first goal in the Winter Classic when he took a puck off his lower leg. He finished the shift and later scored on it to tie the game. Playing through that sort of injury and ultimately winning the game with two goals is a great example of DeBrusk's impressive toughness.
DeBrusk's absence is a real setback for the Bruins. He's having the best year of his career with 30 points (16 goals, 14 assists) in 36 games. He is on pace to score 35 goals, which would be eight more than his previous high for a single season.
His injury also is an opportunity for other players to step up. One player who could see an increased role is Craig Smith. The veteran right winger has been banged up a bit this season and he's seen his ice time decline (14:25 per game last season, 9:32 per game this season) with the Bruins having lots of forward depth.
DeBrusk has mostly played first-line right wing alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand this season, and that spot could potentially be a place for Smith to revive his career. Smith has tallied just four points (one goal, three assists) in 23 games this season.
DeBrusk being out of the lineup also is a chance for Pavel Zacha to get more ice time and maybe more looks on the power play. Zacha skated with Taylor Hall and David Krejci as the second-line right wing during Wednesday's practice, so it looks like he'll get a top-six opportunity Thursday night versus the Kings. Hall, who has not scored in seven consecutive games, also needs to step up and be more consistent offensively.
The Bruins announced Wednesday they've called up veteran winger Chris Wagner from the AHL's Providence Bruins to replace DeBrusk's spot in the lineup. Wagner is a fourth-line player who doesn't generate a ton of offense. Maybe the Bruins could give top prospect Fabian Lysell his first taste of NHL action while DeBrusk is out, but he's currently with Sweden at the World Junior Championships in Canada.
Lysell has struggled at the tournament, but he's been very good in the AHL this season with 19 points (eight goals, 11 assists) in 20 games. His goal-scoring ability, playmaking skill and speed would be valuable without DeBrusk in the lineup.
Power play outage
The Bruins went 0-for-3 on the power play against the Penguins in the Winter Classic and have scored on only one of their last 15 opportunities with the man advantage.
Boston's power play was eventually going to come back down to earth. It was scoring above a 30 percent rate for a while and at one point from mid-November to early December this unit had scored in 10 consecutive games.
This road trip should be a good opportunity for the Bruins power play to get back on track. While the Sharks have the third-best penalty kill at 84.1 percent, the Kings (72.9 percent) and Ducks (71.3 percent) rank 28th and 30th, respectively, in penalty killing.
Better starts needed for Bruins
The Bruins rarely trailed over their first 20 to 25 games, especially at home. That has not been the case over the last couple weeks. In fact, over the last six games, the Bruins have a lead time of 126:16 and opponents have a lead time of 121:47.
Boston has trailed 1-0 in three of its last four games, including the Winter Classic. The B's still took six of a possible eight points (2-0-2 record) from those matchups, but at some point these bad starts will become a problem if not corrected.
The Bruins are a popular team and own the league's best record. They are usually going to get the opponent's best shot as a result. They need to be ready to match the opponent's high intensity to start games or they will continue to play from behind.