What Jake DeBrusk lacks in consistency he makes up for in awareness of criticism and accountability.
One goal (none 5-on-5) in 17 games to start this season landed the Bruins forward as a healthy scratch on Tuesday and put his name in every trade rumor this side of Edmonton. Coach Bruce Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney, just days apart, didn’t duck questions about DeBrusk’s ineffectiveness and the things they were expecting out of him.
He responded Thursday with his first full-strength goal of the season in a 4-0 rout of the New York Rangers at TD Garden. And then he didn’t shy away from the cause-and-effect situation that propelled him to both score and play a better all-around game.
“There was obviously distractions and I’m a pretty easy target at the moment, so I understand the territory,” DeBrusk said. “It’s pretty much warranted, so I get that. But yeah, I took it personally for sure. Who wouldn’t? Any time you get scratched it stinks. So you know I was pretty beyond frustrated already, and it kind of was nice, it was a nice little reset for me because I knew I was going to come with some heat today.”
The cute storyline was that DeBrusk got a haircut and changed his stick and boom, he was back in the form that made him a 27-goal scorer the last time the NHL played a full season. The less reported aspect of DeBrusk’s long-awaited breakout wasn’t as pretty and had two parts:
First, he had seven shots on net against the Rangers on Feb. 10, talked about how he was ready to break out and then he scored just one power-play goal over the next month. So we’ll see what he does after his one-night breakout.
Second, although it’s fashionable to pick on DeBrusk because of his track record, his lofty draft status from the oft-criticized 2015 first-round (rightly panned) and his usual position as Boston’s second-line left wing, he’s been far from alone in keep the Bruins’ offense in neutral the past several weeks as the team struggled through a 3-5-2 stretch before exploiting the young, Artemi Panarin-less Rangers on Thursday.
Craig Smith was brought here to shoot at every turn and provide secondary scoring. He now has one goal in his last 15 games. Charlie Coyle has scored two goals against a goalie in his past 18 games. David Krejci finally found the back of the net Thursday for the first time this season in his 20th game. We’re still waiting for Anders Bjork’s hands to catch up with his feet (one goal in 22 games).
Does DeBrusk deserve every ounce of the scorn he gets for his lengthy slumps? Well at least as much as is left over after the rest of Boston’s under-producing forwards get their fair share too.
So how do the Bruins, who haven’t won consecutive games since winning five in a row Feb. 1-12, build off Thursday’s victory? Should everyone get a haircut and a new stick?
No, first thing they have to do is take the criticism of DeBrusk to heart and use it the way he did. He sounded like a guy not ready to rest on one strong game, and now that he’s thrown the monkey off his back the spotlight could easily now shine on Smith or Coyle. And it’s not just about those other forwards scoring. Like DeBrusk, they have to fine-tune their two-way games.
Had it not been for Jaroslav Halak’s fine play early Thursday, the Rangers could’ve turned the game in their favor. That’s been the case too many times this season. The Bruins haven’t played many complete, 60-minute games. The defense has been strong, the top line has been its spectacular self.
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When Sweeney said Wednesday, “we can find it from within or I’m going to have to make moves to bring in support,” many might’ve been thinking about DeBrusk, but there are a handful of guys he could’ve been considering replacing. If those guys want to stay in the lineup, if they want to stay in Boston, they’re going to have to play with more desire and determination to get to the middle of the ice, to shoot the puck, and to be conscientious when playing in the defensive zone, which can lead to more offense.
The Bruins’ back end is going through a rash of injuries in addition to the inevitable transition after the departure of Torey Krug from the attack. There are no worthwhile excuses, two months into the season, for the forwards not at least giving the level of effort DeBrusk gave Thursday, and then hopefully getting rewarded at the offensive end.
DeBrusk is a less easy target now, but he should also have the attention of his teammates, especially the ones that need to replicate his performance to make sure the Bruins’ win over the Rangers isn’t another false start in a month’s worth of them.