Can Bruins Turn to AHL for Scoring Help?
The Boston Bruins are in a precarious position. With a six-point lead in the Atlantic Division and the second-best record in the National Hockey League, a quick glance at the standings would indicate smooth sailing for last year’s Stanley Cup runners-up. But a deeper look at the Bruins of late reveals issues – potentially serious issues – that threaten to cancel out the lead that Boston has built in the standings.
The Bruins have suffered three straight losses, two of which were in overtime (bringing their overtime/shootout loss total to an astonishing 11 loser-point losses, which easily paces the league), and have scored just four goals between those games. And while a three-game span isn’t much to get worked up about, the lack of scoring has become a consistent issue for the Bruins.
In fact, most of Boston’s success over the last month-plus has been a result of strong defense and goaltending as opposed to a potent offense. In 19 games since Nov. 27, the Bruins have potted four goals in a game just twice – in a 4-2 win against the Florida Panthers on Dec. 14, and a 7-3 spanking of the Washington Capitals on Dec. 23. During that stretch, they’ve been held to two or fewer goals ten times. Could Boston’s scoring troubles be solved with some reinforcements from their AHL squad in Providence?
Bruins Need a Spark
It goes without saying that something needs to change to spark some offense for the Bruins. The million-dollar question, of course, is: “what exactly needs changing?”
The most obvious answer – and stop me if you’ve heard this one before – is the all-too-familiar second-line right-wing issue. The gap on David Krejci’s wing has been a thorn in the Bruins’ side for what seems like forever, but it’s one that Bruins’ general manager Don Sweeney and company still need to solve.
But the 2RW issue, as obvious as it has become, isn’t the only hole the team needs to plug. Rather, secondary scoring has been an issue for the Bruins up and down the lineup.
Take a look at the individual stat totals and you’ll see what I mean. Outside of the monstrous seasons that David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand (who was undoubtedly snubbed of an All-Star Game appearance) are having, with 61 and 60 points, respectively, there’s a massive drop-off. Patrice Bergeron sits third on the team with 36 points to round out the top line. Then come David Krejci and defenseman Torey Krug with 28 points. Behind those five players, nobody has recorded more than 20 points.
So, what options do the Bruins have? A trade seems to be the most obvious answer, although things have been relatively quiet on that front so far. Perhaps Boston’s brass feels they have all of the pieces they need to make repairs internally. Or, maybe the right deal hasn’t presented itself yet. With the trade deadline a month and a half away, I’d expect to see the rumor mill heating up soon.
In the meantime, could the Bruins reach into their minor-league pool for some much-needed reinforcements?
Options in Providence
If the Bruins are going to look for answers within their own organization, then Jack Studnicka’s name could be one of the first to get called. The 2017 second-round pick is in the midst of an impressive rookie season with Providence, having racked up 26 points in their first 36 games. He’s undoubtedly a skilled player – in fact, five of his 14 goals this season have come while shorthanded – a feat which demonstrates his ability to find the back of the net even while his team is down a man.
Studnicka got a brief look with Boston’s varsity squad back in November when Patrice Bergeron was ruled out with injury, and he tallied one assist in 24:15 of ice time between two games. It was a quick glance for the 20-year-old, who was re-assigned to Providence shortly thereafter.
Studnicka certainly shows promise, but expecting him to fill in and fix Boston’s scoring issue is a bit lofty. The Windsor, Ontario native doesn’t quite fit the bill as the Bruins’ savior just yet.
On one hand, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted that Studnicka was “ahead of schedule in Providence” back in mid-December. On the other hand, it’s a big jump from the AHL to the NHL, especially for a player with as little pro experience as Studnicka has. In particular, Studnicka’s 6-foot-1 inch frame shows promise, but at just 175 pounds, it’s likely he’d get pushed around by some of the league’s heavier-hitting teams. The last thing that the youngster’s confidence needs is getting his clock cleaned by the likes of Tom Wilson, Ryan Reaves or some other bonafide-big-man.
Studnicka could be a depth option if the Bruins are in desperate need of reinforcements down the road, but rushing him into the NHL game right now, where he’d likely be forced to the wing (as opposed to his natural center position) or to the bottom-six probably won’t be as beneficial as Bruins fans would hope.
Beyond Studnicka, it’s hard to imagine any of the Bruins’ youngsters in Providence would provide a consistent answer to Boston’s scoring woes. Zach Senyshyn, one of Boston’s first-rounders from 2015, has just three points in 18 games with the AHL-Bruins and has dealt with injury issues as well. He has appeared in four games for Boston this season, tallying two assists while averaging 8:26 per game.
Trent Frederic, a 2016 first-rounder, has notched 17 points in 35 games for Providence. He, too, had a brief stint with Boston earlier this season but failed to record a point in his limited opportunity. As it stands, the Bruins seem to have quite a few kids in Providence who are demonstrating somewhat promising potential, but their chances of solving Boston’s problems with a call-up seem a little too optimistic.
There are some more experienced players at the AHL level that the Bruins could call on, although the fact that they have NHL experience but haven’t been able to stick around in the league leaves little hope for a long-term solution.
Other, Less-Likely Options
Paul Carey, for example, a 31-year-old journeyman and co-leading scorer (alongside Studnicka) in Providence, could provide a more experienced option, but the longest NHL stint he’s had was with the Rangers in 2017-18, when he notched 14 points in 60 games.
Peter Cehlarik, who has bounced between Boston and Providence since the 2016-17 season, has also been pretty impressive with 22 points in 29 games in the AHL but would be a longshot to solve the scoring issues the Bruins are having.
Barring a surprising breakout performance from one of Boston’s minor-leaguers, it looks as if the best chance the Bruins have at solving their scoring issue may come from elsewhere. If the Bruins decide that a trade is necessary, there are a number of ways they could go about getting a deal done. As of now, only one thing’s for sure: the next few weeks will play an enormous role in determining the fate of the 2019-20 Bruins.
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