By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins earned a surprise split of their visit to Southern California – losing 4-2 to injury-ravaged Anaheim on Wednesday and defeating Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles 2-1 on Thursday.
Along the way they got center David Krejci back in the lineup but lost defenseman Torey Krug to an upper-body injury that held him out of the Kings game. The injury bug just can’t contain itself around the Bruins.
Here are some post-SoCal Bruins observations while they get ready to finish their three-game road trip at San Jose on Saturday:
*There was sweet redemption for the captain Zdeno Chara in Los Angeles. One night earlier against the Ducks, Chara had one of his worst games. For those who subscribe to such stats as meaningful, he was minus-3. More telling was his lackluster play, handful of giveaways below the dots and then the game-shifting Ducks goal that went in off Chara’s skate. Chara uncharacteristically stopped playing when he saw the referee’s arm go up to call a penalty on his attempt to prevent Corey Perry’s scoring chance near the Boston net. While play went on, Chara looked at the referee, Anaheim defenseman Chris Wagner centered the puck and next thing you knew Anaheim was back up 2-1 as the puck went off Chara and past Tuukka Rask. The Bruins outshot the Ducks 15-3 in that second period but came out behind 3-1.
Despite playing on the second half of a back-to-back, Chara was a beast against the Kings. Playing 26:34, Chara was second only to Charlie McAvoy (27:53) in ice time. While Anton Khudobin was calm and impenetrable in net, he received help from several Chara stick blocks down the stretch and numerous other positional plays Chara made to reduce the dangerousness of many Los Angeles scoring chances. And Chara capped it all off with the game-winning goal one second after a power play ended, taking advantage of his rare opportunity to contribute on the man advantage. He was charged with six (Six? Really?) giveaways by the Kings’ official scorer, but that’s an objective stat recorded without consistency building to building in the NHL. What was charged as a giveaway was probably more often than not Chara winning a battle along the walls and exchanging the puck a few times with the opposition.
One has to wonder how much Chara beat himself up immediately after his miscue against the Ducks. There was no doubt his gaffe cost the Bruins momentum and spoiled one of their best periods of the season. Everyone knows how seriously he takes his game and his leadership, setting a quiet but stern example for the younger players. The Bruins had five rookies in the lineup against Anaheim and it wasn’t a great look for the elder statesman to have an in-game brain cramp.
There were no media reports of Chara’s public reaction, but one has to believe that behind the scenes he was apologetic and one has to imagine Chara promised his teammates he’d make up for the mistake. He made up for it and then some against the Kings.
*Through two periods against Anaheim, Danton Heinen was ninth among Bruins forwards in ice time and he finished the night seventh. Even coaches make mistakes and Bruce Cassidy made up for his misuse of Heinen by playing the rookie 17:13 overall, which was third-most among Bruins forwards, and 14:44 at even strength, the most among Bruins forwards. It was about time Heinen was recognized for being one of the Bruins’ better all-around forwards.
Heinen didn’t attempt a shot against the Kings, but he’s the rare player who doesn’t have to shoot to be effective (although he scored the lone goal while the Bruins-Ducks result was in doubt on Wednesday). His vision and poise with the puck affect the game by forcing defenders to make split-second decisions and creating chances for teammates. Sure, Chara scored the goal and Jordan Szwarz set the screen in front, but the offensive sequence began with one of Heinen’s excellent break-ins and his setup of Paul Postma for a rocket shot that went wide.
Time and again Heinen has shown the ability to make passes from tough positions and in traffic. He’s also seemingly always on the right side of the puck when the Bruins don’t have it and has that ability to think ahead of the play at either end of the rink. All he needs is to get stronger along the walls to win battles when positioning alone won’t do.
One has to expect Heinen’s ice time will be among the top six among Bruins forwards for the foreseeable future and even when the Bruins are at full strength health-wise, he might be the perfect fit with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand moving forward.
*The Bruins are desperate right now. The two points in Los Angeles were huge, but they can’t afford to have anything resembling their recent four-game losing streak if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt. So if Cassidy decides to ride the hot hand and play Khudobin in San Jose (and maybe beyond), it’s his prerogative and might even be the right decision. Playing Khudobin more at this point might give the Bruins a better chance for points and also provide the right dose of competition for Rask. But remember, there’s a reason the 31-year-old Khudobin has bounced around the NHL and never been a No. 1. His style isn’t conducive to sustained success and at some point he’ll probably falter. That’ll be when the Bruins will have to lean on the poised, experienced Rask to carry them down the stretch. For now there’s nothing wrong with a “play until you lose” strategy by Cassidy with his goaltenders.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.