Kalman: Bruins have to mix in more Rock’em Sock’em hockey to survive

Matt Kalman
December 02, 2018 - 1:17 am

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Don Cherry, the man whose name brands all those “Rock’em Sock’em” hockey videos, was asked about the current Bruins’ injury issues prior to being honored for The Sports Museum this week.

“We used to be the ones to give the injuries,” Cherry said about the Lunch Pail AC teams he coached in Boston in the late-70s.

It’s time for the current Bruins, within the parameters of what’s an acceptable level of physicality almost 40 years since Cherry coached his last game for the Bruins, to emulate their Terry O’Reilly-led forefathers and initiate the contact on a more regular basis.

Currently the list of Bruins injuries is a mixed bag of ones that couldn’t be controlled and ones that were inflicted on them by opponents. Zdeno Chara’s knee injury and Kevan Miller’s throat injury were just part of the game. But Urho Vaakanainen was concussed by a cheap shot from Ottawa's Mark Borowiecki and Patrice Bergeron injured his ribs and collarbone on an overzealous hit by Dallas' Radek Faksa. Charlie McAvoy is out with a concussion from a mysterious play.

The Bruins were fortunate they didn't lose David Krejci this week. He was nailed by New York Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey, and Krejci had the lost teeth to prove it after Boston’s 2-1 shootout win on Thursday. In the Bruins’ 4-2 loss to Detroit on Saturday, forward Luke Witkowski ran over Krejci midway through the second period – a hit that set off a chain reaction of physicality from both sides, starting with Joakim Nordstrom picking up the second fighting major of his NHL career (his last one was in 2016-17) by challenging Witkowski.

“They’re going to hit Krech like that then we’re going to respond,” said Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who was, of course, involved in all the hijinks later in the period. “I think you see it, Nordy going out and doing a great job, and then the next couple shifts guys were running around, [Sean Kuraly’s] line same thing, they had a bunch of big hits, our line a few of the same thing. So again it kind of woke us up.”

After the fight Red Wings forward Thomas Vanek nailed Bruins forward Chris Wagner high. Marchand nailed defenseman Nick Jensen on the forecheck and then all that was missing from the circus was the tent. Tyler Bertuzzi tried to get Marchand to fight. Colby Cave skated over to defend Marchand and was called for a penalty. Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard was skating toward his bench when Marchand gave him a tap. All the skaters paired off, and with Howard involved in the scrum Tuukka Rask had no choice but to skate out of his crease and challenge Howard. Only a couple party-pooper linesmen denied the world the sight of a Rask-Howard bout.

The temperature of the game never cooled until Marchand’s giveaway turned into Frans Nielsen’s go-ahead goal that made the score 3-2 Detroit with 8:07 left to play. But the Bruins had ridden the momentum of the extra physical play to a 20-7 edge in shots in the third period, a total that should teach them a lesson about how they have to play.

“Our spirits kind of picked up and we wanted to get more competitive. It didn’t work out in our favor, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said.

Without Bergeron, Chara, Miller and the rest of their wounded, the Bruins should be a scrappier bunch. From general manager Don Sweeney to Cassidy to the players, they all claim they have enough toughness to counter teams trying to exploit their best players even when the lineup is fully healthy. In the modern era they’re probably right. For every Justin Abdelkader or Casey Cizikas in the Detroit or New York Islanders’ lineup, the Bruins have a Wagner, Kuraly, David Backes or Noel Acciari. All have shown their physicality at times, but they have to do it more consistently and earlier in games to set the tone. It shouldn’t take Krejci getting blown up for the Bruins to start hammering people, especially at home, especially against a divisional opponent, especially against a team that beat the Bruins in their last meeting.

They need to prove their words about their roster are true, and do it from the puck drop. The best way to make up for the talent and size deficiency they currently have because of their lengthy injury list is to impose their will on opponents.

Cassidy didn’t want to panic after the loss to the Red Wings because the Bruins have been winning without Chara and Bergeron (4-1-1 before the Detroit game). But they can’t expect to get a .950 save percentage game from their goaltenders every night. And they might not be able to control when they get out of their scoring slump. But what they can do is impose pain on their foes and level the playing field.

By doing that they’d make Cherry proud, have a better chance of staying afloat in the standings until they get healthy and have a better idea of what it’s going to take when (if?) they’re back in the playoff battle.