The Boston Bruins head into the final stretch of the regular season fighting for playoff positioning in the Atlantic Division. Boston’s opponent in the first round of the playoffs could be one of a few teams at this point. Regardless of who that is, the Bruins will have a tough challenge ahead of them. Before the postseason begins, head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club has a few questions that need answers. Here are five concerns facing the club:
What is the Best Third Defensive Pair?
With the addition of left-shot defenseman Hampus Lindholm, general manager Don Sweeney seemed to find a suitable partner for workhorse Charlie McAvoy. But even with Lindholm, the Bruins still felt a need for more defensive depth and acquired Josh Brown from Ottawa. Since the trade deadline, Cassidy has tried different pairings on the third defensive pair. Thus far, each duo has had some struggles, and the revolving door that has occurred seems to have created some inconsistent play. The Bruins have 12 games to figure out which pair will work best.
Who is the #1 Goaltender?
Back in February, when Tuukka Rask ended his comeback attempt, and rookie goalie Jeremy Swayman was recalled from Providence, Swayman began to solidify himself as the top goalie on the team and was beginning to get more starts than $5 million netminder Linus Ullmark. There was even talk of Swayman being a Calder Trophy candidate for best rookie in the league. But since March 15th, Swayman is only 3-3 with a 3.39 goals-against average. Ullmark, on the other hand, is 5-0 with a 1.69 GAA during that same stretch. These last dozen games (none against playoff teams) should provide insight into who will play game one of the playoffs.
The Injury Bug
The Bruins had difficulty at the beginning of the season, with COVID making its way through the team. As far as injuries are concerned, Boston did not face much roster maneuvering for long periods. However, David Pastrnak recently aggravated a nagging core injury and has missed two games. The team’s leading goal scorer’s status is still up in the air. The third line forward Trent Frederic was injured in a recent game against Columbus, and there has been no report on his possible return. And in a loss to Detroit on Tuesday, Lindholm left the game with a lower-body injury. The timing of these injuries is not ideal. Boston’s forward depth will be challenged if multiple forwards get hurt. Injuries are a part of the game, but the Bruins can’t afford to have too many at once.
The Power Play
Boston certainly has elite goal scorers in Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, but lately, the power play has struggled some. The team is currently tenth in the league in man-advantage percentage at 23.27 percent. The top power-play unit heavily relies on Pastrnak’s lethal one-timer and Patrice Bergeron bumper position. It is imperative that the power play gets back to being one of the most effective in the league in the playoffs, and a healthy Pastrnak is essential.
Solving the Late Period Defensive Issues
The Bruins have given up a league-worst 24 last-minute goals on the season. Thirteen of those have happened since March 1st. Most of these situational mishaps occurred without Lindholm. However, this is something that Cassidy has admitted is a problem that needs to be addressed. Boston can ill afford to cough up late leads in the postseason.
These last 12 games against mainly playoff-caliber teams should be a good barometer for how these concerns will remain as the playoffs begin. This could be a long Stanley Cup run if the Bruins can avoid injury, fix the power play, and hold onto leads. If some of these issues linger, the end may come sooner than later.