By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — All things considered, the Bruins had a successful road trip to start their season.
They were without Patrice Bergeron, Adam McQuaid and Kevan Miller but managed a 2-1-0 record against middle-of-the-road foes.
Amazingly, their defense corps wasn’t the major issue during their loss or the rough patches of their two wins. Rookies Brandon Carlo and Rob O’Gara admirably filled in for the injured veterans and everyone else held their own on Boston’s back end.
The lack of balance to the Bruins’ offense, especially a threatening second line, was the most concerning revelation of the trip. David Krejci centered rookie Danton Heinen and Ryan Spooner right up until the second half of the third period of the final game of the trip Monday in Winnipeg, and that trio combined for two assists (one each by Krejci and Spooner).
Meanwhile the line of David Backes centering David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand carried the load, scoring eight of the Bruins’ 11 goals.
“There’s a young player on that line and Spoons hasn’t been as good as you need him to be, so it’s been hard,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said about the second line after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Wednesday. “And then David Krejci is coming off a major hip surgery. So he’s got to find his game, he’s got to work through that stuff and so it’s kind of expected a little bit that it’s not going to succeed in that.”
Translation: Julien is disappointed he didn’t get anything from his second line through the first three games. With the home opener against the New Jersey Devils next on the schedule on Thursday, the Bruins are going to need to get more from forwards not named Marchand or Pastrnak. Luckily, Bergeron seems ready to return to the lineup after practicing with the Bruins on Wednesday.
With Bergeron centering Marchand and Pastrnak in practice, Backes moved to the wing to the right of Krejci. Heinen moved back over to his natural left side and Spooner practiced as one of four fourth-liners. Make what you will of that lineup, but it appears Spooner might wind up in the press box against the Devils. In fact, the Bergeron return couldn’t have come at a worse time for Spooner because Julien has to take someone out of the lineup and might not be able to give Spooner more of an opportunity to show the gumption he’s lacked so far.
Bergeron’s return should help the Bruins iron out some of the troubles they’ve had on the back end. They’re still working on exiting their own end cleaner and making quicker plays. Adding a three-time Selke Trophy winner to support the defense corps will help and Backes will make the second line more responsible as well. All six defensemen have had their share of gaffes and redemptive plays. Along the way the two first-year pros have passed their early tests.
“But those two young guys, I thought for their first three games and never having played in the league, they handled themselves fairly well,” Julien said. “There were some mistakes made and there are some areas I think we keep working with them on, but definitely those guys have been a good addition to our group. Whether they’re here short-term, long-term it doesn’t really matter. I think at the end of the day they’re going to be bona fide NHLers.”
That’s about as close to a glowing review as the rookies can expect from Julien at this early date. And both young defensemen hope to earn more emphatic compliments moving forward. Julien’s avoided criticizing his second line too much, partly because he hasn’t been able to assemble it the way he wants. Now Bergeron’s back, Backes is on Krejci’s right and we’ll find out if the Bruins can be more than a one-line team.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.