How load management could help Bruins’ energy players perform better

Matt Kalman
February 04, 2020 - 1:39 pm

It took more than half the season, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy finally has the type of depth that allows him to do different things with his lineup based on the performance of his players, the opponent and the schedule.

With Karson Kuhlman and Anton Blidh getting healthy up front just before the Bruins took their All-Star/CBA-mandated midseason break, and Jeremy Lauzon getting a chance to replace the injured Connor Clifton, Cassidy can use ice time to motivate his players, reward them, and sometimes rest them.

Even after the Bruins won an emotional, physical game at Winnipeg in their first contest after the break on Friday, Cassidy took out Sean Kuraly – a player he wanted more consistency of energy from – and Danton Heinen, who took a shot off the foot against the Jets, for the Bruins’ game at Minnesota the next night.

Back home to face the Vancouver Canucks on Tuesday, Cassidy was set to re-insert Kuraly but sit Heinen again, this time for performance-related reasons rather than injury. Joakim Nordstrom’s battle with a medical condition related to allergies opened up a spot for Kuraly to go back in.

“We’re going to try to dress the best lineup every night, we’ve always said that, but we’re also going to create some competition. If it means putting in a player that on paper hasn’t quite been the same as someone else, we feel it’s going to get the best out of everyone, that’s what we’re going to do. We’ve tried to stay true to that, especially the last two to three weeks,” Cassidy said.

A game like the win at Winnipeg usually elicits two reactions from observers and participants alike:

  1. What a great game;
  2. You can’t play like that for all 82 games.

With that in mind, WEEI.com wondered if Cassidy has considered – especially in a back-to-back situation like the Bruins had over the weekend or again have this week with a game at Chicago the night after the Canucks game – applying load management to the likes of Blidh, Chris Wagner and other players that might expend more energy than most of take a greater physical beating.

Think of it as load management, but instead of resting stars like Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara (a topic that was discussed at the beginning of the season but has since been scrapped), Cassidy could let a player like Wagner know he’s not playing the next night so treat the current night’s game like it’s a playoff game and empty the tank. No player in the NHL, especially a non-star, wants to sit out a game. But it could be in their best interest physically and mentally.

“Two thoughts, right. You want to reward the guys for kind of putting out that effort. Any time we have a back-to-back, we feel the guy going in can give us a boost or we’re not less of a lineup in terms of the personnel, then we’re going to probably do it then.

“I think any game really, the message has to be delivered to the guys positive or negative,” Cassidy said.

General manager Don Sweeney is probably far from done tweaking the Bruins’ roster, but the removal of David Backes and Brett Ritchie to make room for Blidh and Kuhlman has created options Cassidy didn’t have just a few weeks ago.

The Bruins have three more sets of back-to-back games and they have 10 games total (including Tuesday night) in the less than three weeks until the Feb. 24 NHL trade deadline. We’ll see if the Bruins stay healthy and how Cassidy manages his personnel. But it won’t be the worst thing if there’s a rotations established that lets Boston’s energy players know they can go all out and will have extra time to recover after the final horn.

Lineup notes

Tuukka Rask will start against Vancouver; Jaroslav Halak will start at Chicago. … John Moore remains the odd-man out of the defense corps. … In trade bait news, Chris Kreider missed the New York Rangers’ game against Dallas on Monday but he took the morning skate and then practiced on Tuesday. So the forward doesn’t appear to be out long term.

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