The Boston Bruins have been thin on the blue line for weeks.
There’s a chance they might soon become even thinner.
Defenseman Jarred Tinordi left the Bruins’ eventual 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the second period after getting boarded by Brandon Tanev, who was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct.
It’s unclear how severe Tinordi’s injury is, but it casts doubt on his ability to play Thursday against the Buffalo Sabres. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t declare Tinordi out right away, but admitted it wasn’t encouraging.
Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller and Jeremy Lauzon already are unavailable, and John Moore is not on the trip with the team due to a lower-body injury. The five remaining defensemen who did play Tuesday were Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, Jakub Zboril and Steven Kampfer.
The only other defensemen with the Bruins right now on their trip are Urho Vaakanainen and Jack Ahcan, who both are part of the taxi squad. While Vaakanainen appears to be the likely candidate to slot in and play if Tinordi can’t, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t rule out Ahcan.
“It could be Ahcan,” Cassidy said after Tuesday’s game. “He’s a smaller body, but gives you more of a dynamic puck moving (makeup). And so we’ll look at Buffalo and see what the best fit would be. Vaak’s been the one that’s been playing, but Ahcan is here.”
Signed as a NCAA free agent out of St. Cloud State a year ago, Ahcan is in his first pro season and has really impressed in Providence. A gifted offensive skater with a bulldog mentality, he’s proven reliable in his own end despite his 5-foot-8, 185-pound build. He drew comparisons to Torey Krug coming out of college, and was arguably the best college free agent available last season.
The question becomes if it is worth it to play Ahcan right now. His confidence must be at an all-time high given the way his pro career began, and it’s worth wondering if he’s better off continuing to develop in Providence while having Vaakanainen serve as the stopgap for now.
Regardless, it’s an imperfection situation to have five defensemen unavailable, so the Bruins simply will have to be flexible. Boston doesn’t practice Wednesday, but you can bet Cassidy is spending his day thinking of potential contingency plans.