This is the first time in nearly a decade that the Boston Bruins have entered a new year not in position to make the playoffs. The reigning Presidents’ Trophy winners are determined to make sure that changes.
Besides feeling better about its recent play and having a renewed focus, Boston should soon get a key piece back on the ice, and there’s a shot that happens as early as Saturday’s matchup with the visiting Ottawa Senators.
Adam McQuaid was third on the Bruins in ice time when he broke his thumb Nov. 18. They had a 12-8-0 record with the sixth-year defenseman but have gone 7-7-4 without him while giving up nearly half a goal per game more. McQuaid has been practicing and said Friday he’s close to returning, but he hasn’t been medically cleared.
"I feel really good out there, and every day, pretty significant improvements," McQuaid told the team’s official website. "We’ll have a talk with the trainers, and we’ll see from there."
McQuaid, one of the club’s top penalty killers, could provide a boost for a team whose last five opponents totaled 17 goals and went 4 for 12 on the power play. Boston (19-15-4), though, went 3-1-1 in that span.
"We’re getting better net-front presence and scoring chances and all that stuff," coach Claude Julien said. "… We’re trying not to get too focused on the stats, because they don’t mean anything going into (Saturday’s) game. It’s all about living in the present."
Julien’s club is within two points of an Eastern Conference postseason berth. They hadn’t been out of playoff position going into January since the 2005-06 season.
"Every point right now matters, and our position does matter," defenseman Kevan Miller said. "It makes it tougher every game that we don’t climb."
The Bruins are looking to get five of a possible six points on a key three-game stretch this week against fellow Atlantic Division foes. They dominated Detroit in Monday’s 5-2 win, then came back from a two-goal deficit to force a shootout in Wednesday’s 4-3 loss to Toronto.
"These are huge games, huge points for us. (Saturday’s) a big game," said Chris Kelly, who has nine points in the past eight games.
Both meetings this season have been in Boston, with the Bruins winning 4-2 on Nov. 1 and the Senators winning 3-2 on Dec. 13 on Bobby Ryan’s shootout goal off Tuukka Rask.
Ottawa (15-14-7) has had four days off since Ryan’s hat trick – his first since 2011 – keyed a 5-2 victory over Buffalo on Monday.
The Senators had lost their previous three games, but coach Dave Cameron was pleased with their 4-2-2 finish to 2014.
"I’m seeing better execution," Cameron said. "I’m seeing good effort."
Goaltender Craig Anderson agreed, and he has keyed Ottawa’s solid play with a 3-1-1 record and 1.79 goals-against average in his last five starts.
"Lately we’ve been playing really simple, giving ourselves an opportunity to win games," Anderson said. "… The chances and the amount of opportunities we’re giving up are way down."
Anderson hasn’t received many opportunities to face the Bruins recently, partly because his 3.50 GAA against them is his worst versus any East team. He’s given up 23 goals in his last five games in Boston but is starting Saturday after being left on the bench in the previous two meetings.
Rask is 6-3-1 with a 1.99 GAA in 10 career starts versus Ottawa.
While Boston is 10-2-3 at home since the beginning of November, Ottawa is 2-5-2 on the road since Thanksgiving.