By no means are the 2021-22 Boston Bruins a finished product.
For that reason, among others, head coach Bruce Cassidy is practical about where the team stands.
Injuries had marred parts of the Bruins’ season in the early months, only for a COVID-19 outbreak over the last week to railroad them, causing a shutdown through Christmas. They have plenty of talent, but it’s been rare for them to ice a full, healthy lineup, so it’s tough to get a sense of just how good they can be.
“A little inconsistency at times,” Cassidy said Tuesday over Zoom. “Obviously team defense I think has been solid from Day 1. Special teams I think are good. They can be a little better if we want to get to where we’ve been historically, but still pretty solid. For us, it’s putting the puck in the net. We’ve generated opportunities. We need to generate more high-end opportunities. We started doing a better job with that probably the last — maybe not the last two games, but the previous eight or 10 before that, getting inside ice.
“I think obviously we’ve typically been at the top of the division battling with Tampa and Toronto for first place. That’s not the case for this year,” Cassidy also noted. “Obviously that’s where we want to be, but by the same token, we’ve added five new faces, plus faces at the deadline last year that were basically just coming in, getting ready to play. There wasn’t a ton of integration going on then. We’ve had a lot of turnover in our team, so we expected a couple bumps in the road. We just have to iron them out in the second half — not even the second half, because we’ve only played 26 games.”
Perhaps the current shutdown will allow the Bruins, despite having 10 players and two staffers in the COVID-19 protocol, to regroup and catch their breath. Cassidy sounded optimistic about the direction of the Bruins coming out of the shutdown, but the emergence of the Florida Panthers, as he indirectly alludes to, has made the Atlantic Division a real grind, so the Bruins have their work cut out for them to earn a playoff spot — even as a wild card.
The Bruins were showing some impressive resolve leading up to their outbreak. After struggling to beat some good teams earlier this season, the Bruins had just beaten the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames on the road. Also helping the Bruins’ cause is that wonky scheduling early in the season means they have as many as five games in hand on some of the teams in front of them. That’s a double-edged sword though, because it means the next few months will be a sprint for the B’s.
The overarching point is this: Boston has the ability to be one of the Eastern Conference’s most-competitive teams. It’s not there yet, but time will tell if the Bruins are still one of the league’s top teams.