By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins’ winning percentage is never high enough and it’s never too early in the season to turn the heat up on a few individual players.
Sure the Bruins are 3-2-0, but throughout their 15 periods they’ve had their share of struggles. And in their loss to Montreal on Saturday the 4-2 margin didn’t represent how much they were outplayed for the majority of the 60 minutes.
Injuries are ravaging their goaltending, with Anton Khudobin joining Tuukka Rask on the shelf after an injury at practice Monday at Warrior Ice Arena. Coach Claude Julien mixed up his lines a little bit by shifting Ryan Spooner from wing to center, where he could be between Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes on Tuesday against the Minnesota Wild. And the Bruins might have veteran right-shot defenseman Adam McQuaid back after he missed the first five games with an upper-body injury.
After their home date with the Wild, the Bruins will be on the road for some crucial Eastern Conference clashes with the New York Rangers, Detroit, Florida and Tampa Bay. They’re going to need to be more than a one-line team and with inconsistent defense play and goaltending.
It’s put-up-or-shut-up time for the following Bruins:
When Spooner, who has one goal and one assist in four games this season, has been asked about playing wing rather than his natural center position, he’s said all the right things. But the look on his face as his lips moved always looked like he was trying to pretend he didn’t smell something bad. To his credit, he played pretty well on the wing last season. But with the exception of a few chances against the Canadiens, and his power-play goal, he hasn’t embraced the wing the same way this season. So Julien had Spooner practice between Beleskey and Hayes in an effort to give the Bruins’ third line a spark. With Austin Czarnik to start, and Riley Nash more recently, centering those two wings the Bruins’ third line has been ice cold. Now it’s time for Spooner to make his mark. The Bruins need secondary scoring and David Krejci is still getting up to speed after offseason hip surgery so his line might not be ready to produce. It would behoove the 24-year-old Spooner to produce because he would help the Bruins in the present and in the future could play an expanded role here or maybe get a shot to be a top-two center elsewhere. He’s playing his natural position, now he has to make good on his natural talents.
If Rask and Khudobin can’t start against the Wild it could fall to Subban to make his second start of his NHL career. No one will forget his first shot on February 20, 2015, when he allowed three goals on six shots in 31 minutes at St. Louis. He was drafted in the first round in 2012, he’s in his fourth pro season and here’s his chance to shake up the Bruins’ depth chart. He’s off to a terrible start (0-3-1, .846 save percentage, 4.50 goals-against average, pulled twice) with Providence, but this could be his fresh start to the season. If he gets the opportunity to play and doesn’t live up to the challenge, he won’t be able to complain about being behind Rask and Khudobin or maybe even losing playing time to Zane McIntyre with the P-Bruins.
Julien had just one message for whoever starts against Minnesota.
“As a coach, there’s one thing that worries me, it’s stop the puck. I don’t care how you do it, just stop it,” he said.
Few players are as self-critical and accountable as Krug, who said after the loss to Montreal, “I have no consistency to my game at all. I make a good play and next shift I make a poor play… it’s something I am not proud of at the moment, but I’ll work through it, I always have.”
This is supposed to be the season Krug, who has no points in five games, makes the step up to full-time top-four defenseman after signing a four-year contract worth $5.25 million over the summer. Instead he’s struggled at both ends, especially battling in his own end. He wouldn’t make any excuses when asked, but he is coming back from offseason shoulder surgery and he’s also been asked to play with Rob O’Gara (a rookie) and Joe Morrow (a highly touted underachiever). But Krug has to be the catalyst on his pair regardless of who skates next to him. Based on practice Monday, Krug might be reunited with McQuaid. In that case, Krug won’t have any excuse for not playing his best. McQuaid has plenty of deficiencies but he provides size, physicality and experience, which should help Krug in the defensive end and provide a cushion for Krug to be more active offensively. So far Krug has made people who say they wouldn’t trade him for Jacob Trouba look sillier than they looked when they said it before the season. Some better play from Krug could at least lessen the blow of not having a Trouba-type on the Bruins’ back end.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.