Kalman: Bruins overthinking things with pre-Final scrimmage

Matt Kalman
May 22, 2019 - 5:40 pm

Several Bruins players bristled at the idea that having an intra-squad scrimmage Thursday to break up the monotony of having 10 days off and sharpen their skills four days before the start of the Stanley Cup Final was a risk not worth taking.

“I think guys will be smart overall,” defenseman Brandon Carlo said.

Therein lies the problem. Over the years, before and after exhibition games or meaningless late-season games in the regular season, or when a player is obviously battling through something, I’ve heard the same refrain a million times: “when you go out there trying to not get hurt, that’s when you get hurt.”

So should the Bruins play all out and risk an injury before facing the St. Louis Blues, or should they “be smart overall”? It’s a tough line to toe, and one that could’ve been avoided by just having a couple more high-paced practices mixed in with another day off or two, and then starting the Final on Monday.

Coach Bruce Cassidy seemed to want his team to do two different things when he explained the risk vs. reward dynamic of Thursday’s festivities at TD Garden.

“Well I think … there’s still risk in practice. I mean we battle, not every drill, so we try to get some in every day. Players are aware of it, we’ll discuss it again tomorrow. Pace and competitiveness is what we want as much as anything to get up, not the physicality part,” Cassidy said after practice Wednesday. “And what I mean by competitiveness is still battling for pucks, finishing plays around the net. In practice you have a tendency not to basically try to shoot the puck through the net, whereas in playoff hockey, I mean it’s you’re all. So some of those little details you’ve got to get back to. Faceoffs, just little things maybe you wouldn’t get in practice. So that’s what we’re hoping to sort of get back up to speed.

“And the risk, again, there’s always risk when you step on the ice. In this format, there shouldn’t be any more than our normal practice, but that’s … the chance we’re willing to take.”

Cassidy says “shoot the puck through the net,” I hear accidentally hit the goalie up high with a shot you have no business taking. Tuukka Rask was in the zone before this ungodly break began; he may or may not still be there when play resumes. But I don’t think he has to take a David Pastrnak one-timer from the circle off the mask to get him back into the groove. Cassidy said every player except the long-term injured Kevan Miller and Chris Wagner will play Thursday. That means Zdeno Chara and his mystery ailment; that means David Krejci and whatever required maintenance on Sunday. What a way to re-aggravate something, in a scrimmage days for the Final.

Of course there’s risk in practice, and we’ve seen practice incidents cost the Bruins over the years. Rask got injured in a collision with Anders Bjork a couple years ago. Patrice Bergeron took a puck off the foot in practice. Anton Khudobin injured his hand in practice. But that's the point, why up the ante?

Now the Bruins want these guys to get their competitive juices flowing something that’s more akin to a game than a practice. If you want them to get into their daily game day routine of waking up, skating at the practice rink, then going home and napping, and then playing at night, just shift your practice to night. Routine simulated.

Instead not only are you asking guys to up their intensity, but they’re going to be out there 5-on-5, they’re going to be going full ice, and there are going to be Black Aces mixed into the lineup. I’m not saying some prospect or journeyman from Providence is going to try to make his name and do something dopey in the scrimmage, but I am saying that those guys are in Providence for a reason and they may not be able to control their bodies or their shots as well as the seasoned NHLers, and that increases the risk of accidents.

It’s great the Bruins decided to sell tickets for the scrimmage to the fans and donate the proceeds to the Bruins Foundation. But there has to be a better way to raise money. There has to be a better way to get ready for the Cup Final. The Bruins say they consulted with all the local sports teams to determine how best to handle the long break. Whichever one of them suggested a scrimmage should be sued for malpractice.

More than likely the Bruins will come out of the scrimmage having broken a sweat, having had some fun, and they’re all going to say the right things about it being the perfect decision to do this instead of a regular practice. No one will get hurt, and whether the Bruins will beat the Blues or flop in the Final, the fact that they scrimmaged won’t be a factor.

That doesn’t make scrimmaging the right decision, nor does it make it worth taking the risk when such a glorious opportunity to win the Cup begins in mere days.

 

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