The Boston Bruins have dropped two straight contests. Prior to that blip, they rattled off 19 consecutive games without a regulation loss and looked impossible to put away. No matter the deficit, they were seemingly never out of it, displaying inhuman resilience to tie things up and at the very least force overtime. Consistently earning points — even in defeat — has positioned the Bruins very well (2nd in the Atlantic Division) as they enter the home stretch.
Oddly enough, this hot streak has come at an otherwise trying time for the team.
Leading goal scorer David Pastrnak (31 goals in 56 games) has been sidelined since Feb. 10 with a thumb injury. New acquisition Marcus Johansson (28 points in 52 games), who was brought in to produce in Pastrnak’s absence, suffered a lung contusion in a massive collision with Carolina Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland.
Fellow trade deadline pickup Charlie Coyle (29 points in 69 games) has amassed a single point in nine games with the club. He’s never been a true difference-maker on the attack and hasn’t found his rhythm in Beantown yet.
Nevertheless, Boston has averaged 3.50 goals per game without Pastrnak…and it hasn’t just been the usual suspects at work. Sure, Brad Marchand (85 points in 69 games) and Patrice Bergeron (65 points in 54 games) have been terrific. The pesky winger has posted 20 points in 14 contests without his running mate and remains an absolute monster on the counterattack, converting turnovers into goals in the blink of an eye. Meanwhile, perennial Selke Trophy front-runner Bergeron has put up 14 points over that same span while maintaining his remarkable all-around play. On the strength of his savvy and picture-perfect positioning, the Bruins own 55.9% of the shot attempts, 55.6% of the scoring chances and 58.6% of the goals scored during his 5-on-5 shifts.
This is nothing new, though: Bergeron and Marchand are nearly always deadly together. The Bruins’ climb from good to great hinges on their depth — more specifically, depth that extends beyond David Krejci (60 points in 70 games). The 32-year-old has long been one of the more underappreciated centers in the NHL, and he’s delivered another solid year with a 55.6 CF%, 55.0 SCF% and 57.7 GF% in addition to his offense. That measure of control is invaluable on a team that could easily deflate every time Bergeron’s group heads to the bench.
Krejci has stepped up lately as well, registering 17 points in 14 games to complement a scintillating top line. The biggest difference for Boston’s attack now is Jake DeBrusk (34 points in 57 games). The second-year winger seemingly didn’t fit alongside Krejci for most of the season, but he’s found his groove and racked up 15 points in his past 10 outings.
Given Boston’s recent luck, perhaps it’s no surprise that the injury bug has also claimed DeBrusk. He’s missed the past four games with a lower-body issue, but it doesn’t seem particularly serious. The major question is whether his confidence will remain sky high upon his return.
Prior to that setback, the 22-year-old was asserting himself more and driving the net to create opportunities. After getting 48% of his shots from the slot or closer in his rookie year, he’s upped that rate to 54%. His shooting percentage has risen accordingly from 11.2 to 15.9. Krejci performs best with a power forward who will flood the dirty areas, and while DeBrusk may not necessarily meet the “power” requirement, continuing to attack the front of the net will ensure that his production isn’t a flash in the pan.
Achieving that consistency isn’t only key for his own career. It would establish a better-rounded top six capable of hurting opponents that devote all of their resources to stopping Bergeron, Marchand and company. Krejci can drive play and generate chances like few other second-line centers, and finding him a winger who will actually win battles in the trenches and finish with regularity is crucial.
Elsewhere, Danton Heinen (29 points in 66 games) has woken from his early-season slumber at just the right moment. With injuries piling up, the versatile second-year forward has posted 13 points in the past 14 games and seen his ice time gradually increase as his contributions have.
The shifty sophomore is a jack-of-all-trades who can slot in just about anywhere. Fortunately for him, that has meant some time alongside Bergeron and Marchand — and he’s held his own in that spot. The 23-year-old has always had the skill and smarts to perform well, but his level of engagement often left something to be desired. He’s improved in that regard since the start of February, looking to impact the game rather than sit back and wait on the bigger names to pull through.
That activity and involvement have allowed his natural talent to flourish. He’s making the right reads in all three zones and has been rewarded with a team-leading 64.6 GF%. Head coach Bruce Cassidy never hesitates to throw him over the boards. Moreover, Heinen has been granted higher-quality opportunities on offense. It’s funny how the puck just seems to follow some players when they put that extra effort in.
About a month ago, Boston felt that it needed a boost up front and acquired two forwards (Coyle, Johansson). The team hasn’t gotten much from either player, but it’s managed to bolster its attack all the same with a couple of depth pieces stepping up to the plate.
We’ve seen hot streaks from both DeBrusk and Heinen before, so the Bruins’ fate this season may well depend on sustainability. Will DeBrusk still look like a man possessed when he rejoins the lineup? Can Heinen produce with lesser linemates? Beyond those two, is the Bruins’ clutch gene for real? They’ve shown an uncanny ability to mount charges late in games and nearly caught up to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday after limping out to a 5-1 deficit.
It wouldn’t surprise anyone if Pastrnak resumes his season as though he hasn’t missed a beat. But if DeBrusk and Heinen can extend their streaks, it would go a long way toward disproving that inescapable one-line rhetoric and make Boston that much scarier in the postseason.