Now in his fifth NHL season, the once-promising left winger, projected to a top-six contributor for years to come after solid freshman and sophomore seasons, has become but a spare part in a top-heavy, oft-one-line Boston attack.
Acting head coach Joe Sacco, asked what he believed to be the issue behind DeBrusk’s faltered offense, said, “I don’t know what his issue is. I just know as a staff we try to work with Jake and try to prepare him the best we can to make sure, when it’s game time, he’s ready to help the team any way he can.”
Beyond the high-production first line — which remains without Brad Marchand, serving game No. 2 of a three-game suspension — virtually all of the Bruins wingers have struggled to put up points. DeBrusk entered the night with a 3-3—6 line in 18 games. Paltry numbers, for sure, but good enough to rank him sixth among all Bruins forwards, and fourth among all wingers.
Numbers aside, coach Bruce Cassidy made it clear yet again that he needs to see more detail in DeBrusk’s game. That’s coach-speak aimed at reminding DeBrusk to pay more attention to his defensive play, particularly on transition, and to add sandpaper to his game in the offensive end.
That latter point has escaped many of the forwards, especially the wingers. After Marchand and David Pastrnak, the wingers for the most part have been short of moxie.
“We want to make sure they are helping their team any way possible to win hockey games,” said Sacco, building on his answer about DeBrusk’s game. “That’s what we expect from Jake.
“I really don’t know what else to tell you. He’s going to show up, he’s going to be a good pro, hold up his end of the bargain, and we’ll hold up our end of the bargain and make sure we coach him and continue to make sure that he continues to help the Boston Bruins win hockey games.”
Hall of Fame coach Al Arbour, who directed the Islanders to four Stanley Cups (1980-83), employed a drill specific to his defensemen when he detected a slump in their battle level. He instructed his backliners to hold their sticks by the blade end, making it all but impossible for them to fish for pucks. He wanted contact, physical play, and that drill teased it out of them immediately.
“That’s an old-time hockey drill,” noted Sacco. “We used to use that in the past as well.”
Asked if a similar drill could be devised to prompt more physical play and net presence out of his forwards, Sacco said, “Certainly it’s an area we need to focus on, in both our defensive zone, with the first guy closing on the puck carrier, and in the offensive zone, with our F-1 on the forecheck.
“We expect that first guy to use his feet, get in there, create contact and hopefully separate [the opposing player from the puck]. And if you don’t separate, at least get the puck loose and the second guy can move in and pick up the puck.”
Emphasizing that forechecking point, noted Sacco, ideally will lead to more chances.
Meanwhile, Sweeney has a tough assignment in trying to get back substantive value for the 25-year-old DeBrusk, whose production slumped badly last season. Along with his anemic scoring line spanning two seasons, he is earning $4.85 million, a figure negotiated in part to help him springboard to a beefier figure when becoming a restricted free agent after this season.
Given where he stands at the moment, he will not see the market match that $4.85 million next summer.
The figure also works against clubs adding him to their payroll this season, although his smaller cap figure of $3.675 diminishes that issue somewhat.
For now, particularly with COVID concerns preventing troops coming aboard from AHL Providence, DeBrusk plays on, hoping for a better day, be it with an improved scoring line here or with a fresh start elsewhere.
Patrice Bergeron, who took a maintenance day Wednesday in hopes of quieting some nagging injuries, was back in the lineup, with Taylor Hall in for Marchand on the left side . . . Jeremy Swayman was back in net, after Linus Ullmark drew cage duty the previous two games. The Bruins remain eager for one of their two tenders to catch a spark. “It would be nice to get someone in the groove,” Sacco said after the morning workout . . . Trent Frederic again centered Nick Foligno and Karson Kuhlman. The trio played together in Sunday’s win over Vancouver and showed some promise.
Nine of Swayman’s 42 saves were off Roman Josi, who entered the night T3 in scoring by NHL defensemen. Josi landed nine of his total 15 shot attempts. The Predators squeezed off a total of 75 attempts while the Bruins, who landed 33, fired a total 60 times … Bergeron led all Bruins shooters with seven shots on Juuse Saros, the Finn who has taken over full charge of the Predators net now in the wake of Pekka Rinne’s retirement … Charlie McAvoy was nursing an injury at game’s end but Sacco said the ex-BU standout appeared to be fine as the club hustled to catch its charter flight home.