Anders Bjork makes his pitch to fill Bruins’ top-six forward hole

Matt Kalman
December 19, 2019 - 11:43 pm

Were it not for an old-fashioned highway robbery on ice, Anders Bjork would’ve had a two-goal game and the Bruins might have enjoyed their second win in three games Thursday.

Instead Semyon Varlamov made his pitch for save of the year with a glove stop on Bjork at 16:27 of the second period, Bjork finished with just one goal and the New York Islanders went on to win 3-2 in a shootout.

The Bruins are now 1-4-3 in their past eight games after winning eight in a row. They’re 0-0-2 since ending their five-game losing streak with a win at Florida on Saturday. But guess what: they’ve extended their lead in the Atlantic Division. The Sabres’ loss Thursday helped Boston build an 11-point lead. So it’s still not time to panic about the losses piling up.

However, it’s always time to worry about that forward “hole” the Bruins have yet to fill in their top six, or maybe top nine. Hole may sound like a cruel term, but it’s the one Jake DeBrusk used Tuesday and coach Bruce Cassidy used Wednesday morning. The Bruins obviously aren’t ignoring their problem.

Taylor Hall has been traded to Arizona, so he won’t be this year’s Rick Nash. Ilya Kovalchuk sounds good to the Twitter experts, but obviously not to the 30 NHL GMs that so far have passed on his services. There will be rentals and some players on terms once the holiday roster freeze, which started Thursday, expires.

But the Bruins may not have to go big and bold with their acquisition this year if Anders Bjork continues to perform the way he did, especially if Cassidy is more willing to play the 23-year-old left-handed shot on his right side.

The Bruins sleepwalked through the first two periods against the Islanders, registering just 10 shots on net and going to the last period down 2-1. Bjork, though, had the Bruins’ goal at 1:58 of the first period on a snipe after Charlie Coyle forced a giveaway.

As the first two periods unfolded, Bjork was practically the only Bruins forward making his presence felt. He played some key penalty-kill minutes (Boston went 2-for-2 on the kill) and then he nearly gave the Bruins the lead with that second-period one-timer Varlamov nabbed out of the air.

“Yeah, I mean obviously upset there. It was a great overall shift, Coyle had another good shift, and he’s playing great right now. And Charlie McAvoy too, had a lot of big-time shifts for us, and another there,” Bjork said. “[McAvoy> made a great play there coming around the net and I definitely thought I had that one, but it was a great save. Probably learn from it, maybe keep it low when the goalie’s diving for it. So you know hopefully that’ll go in next time and I can learn from that.”

The goal Bjork scored ended an 11-game goal drought. It wasn’t the ugliest double-digit goal drought we’ve seen around these parts because Bjork’s continued his aggressive play that started when he returned from Providence of the AHL on Oct. 25. He’s getting used in more and more situations and averaging 13:03 of ice time. He has five goals. He had a cup of coffee playing with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk during the Bruins’ recent road trip. It’s definitely time to see more of him in that role.

To his credit, he’s not satisfied with playing a bit role in the production department.

“I think for sure after tonight after the last couple games I’m not satisfied with my game personally,” he said. “I think there’s a lot more I can do and I think I can elevate my game more and be more hungry so I can help this team a little more maybe offensively, so I can help us get those wins, especially in these close games. We need guys not in our top six, not the guys scoring every night, to kind of step up. These guys can’t score two or three goals every night, just everyone’s aware of them and stuff. So it’s something I’m kind of taking personally, I want to definitely improve upon and you know find ways to help the team more.”

The Bruins are getting help in the standings. They could use more help offensively so that their first line and their power play don’t have to carry them. General manager Don Sweeney could use help from players like Bjork producing and lessening the Bruins’ need for the stud right wing for Krejci.

Bjork seems ready to do his part.

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