By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins were going so great for more than two months it appeared they had no weaknesses.
Well, over the weekend, they looked a little more human in losing to Buffalo and then grinding out a win at New Jersey on the Saturday-Sunday back-to-back.
Here are a couple of thoughts about the Bruins’ depth and what they should be looking for with the trade deadline two weeks away:
– The 5-3 win at the Devils exposed some of the Bruins’ depth problems, with head coach Bruce Cassidy curtailing the minutes of several of his players. Although he’s done this in the past, he had never done it to so many skaters in one game. Jake DeBrusk (9:41), Danton Heinen (a team-low 9:04), Matt Grzelcyk (11:40) and even David Pastrnak (13:42, no shifts the final 5:42) all became spectators for large chunks of the game, while Tim Schaller played a season-high 18:25. The Bruins also rode defenseman Brandon Carlo for 21:53, which meant they played a large chunk of the game with less of an offensive dynamic on their back end.
Although Cassidy didn’t comment on his lineup decisions after the game, any observer could tell he wasn’t pleased with some of the decision making and battling the above-mentioned players that had their ice time cut were displaying.
The Bruins were able to survive a mid-February game with just Cassidy trusting 14 skaters, but this can’t turn into a habit and it would not be sustainable in the postseason regardless of opponent. Although the Bruins are basically locked into their playoff position already, many of their opponents will be fighting for their lives. Sunday was one of those games that may as well have been a playoff game for the Devils, and several of the Bruins’ younger players weren’t trusted with their usual allotment of minutes. That has to send a message to general manager Don Sweeney to not be complacent and do whatever it takes to sure up the Bruins’ weak spots.
That brings me to my next point …
– Inquiring about rental forwards Rick Nash and Patrick Maroon is all well and good, but for the Bruins to solidify their position as one of the handful of Stanley Cup contenders this season they have to upgrade their defense corps. We’ve seen teams take liberties with Grzelcyk the past several games and Adam McQuaid (despite his game-winning goal Sunday, which was tipped by New Jersey’s Drew Stafford) has had a tough time keeping up with the Bruins’ pace the past couple games.
Kevan Miller’s eventual return from injury will help, but the Bruins have to, at minimum, see if they can trade McQuaid or a healthy Miller for a left-shooting version of them.
And then there’s Ryan McDonagh, a left-shot, top-two defenseman who would come at a steep asking price from the Rangers. But if you’re the Bruins you have to consider that he’s not a rental (he’s signed through next season) and could really put you over the top in a wide-open Eastern Conference. McDonagh be a cornerstone of the left side of Boston’s defense for several years. The Bruins have the future assets to make this type of deal and there comes a time when an organization has to stop promising the future and deliver in the present. The Bruins aren’t alone in this regard because every team is treating its picks and prospects like they’re all going to turn into future Hall of Famers.
But the Bruins should have confidence that their strong string of scouting and drafting would be able to replenish the coffers in the years ahead, and go ahead and do what they can to land McDonagh.
Imagine a top four of Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, McDonagh and Carlo for the postseason, with Torey Krug able to play on the third pair and mix into the top depending on the situation. And ask yourself if the Bruins can really go all the way with Krug and Carlo as their second pair.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.