Ondrej Kase set to return Monday, where does he fit in?
If you forgot about Ondrej Kase, you’re probably not alone.
Kase was last seen in game action on Jan. 16, the Bruins second game of the season. He left the game with an upper-body injury and hasn’t been seen since.
That was until Friday when Kase returned to practice. Kase had been skating on his own for several weeks now, but head coach Bruce Cassidy could never really pinpoint a timetable for a return until he joined the main group.
With a pair of practices under his belt, it appears Kase will be a go Monday night when the Bruins host the New York Islanders at TD Garden.
"He's on track to play [on Monday]. Get through today, let's re-evaluate in the morning. It will be his call and the medical [team's] call. If they tell me he's ready and wants to get in, then the sooner the better is the way I look at it,” said Cassidy.
With two games left before the season ends and a likely playoff date with the Washington Capitals, the more game action for Kase the better.
Normally in a case of a player returning from a lengthy rehab process, the player wouldn’t play in both games of a back-to-back.
But with the Bruins two remaining games coming on back-to-back nights, Cassidy doesn’t have much of a choice.
“The back-to-back, usually when you haven't played that long, they'll recommend, 'Well, let's not start back-to-back.' But we don't have a choice here,” said Cassidy. “This is all we got is Monday-Tuesday. That decision to sort of ease him in is no longer available because we only have two games left and they're two days in a row.”
With a single point either Monday against the Islanders or Tuesday against the Capitals, the Bruins will open the postseason in Washington.
Regulation losses in both games sends the Bruins to Pittsburgh to open the playoffs.
For now at least, it sounds like the Bruins will go with who is healthy and available on Monday, with some players getting Tuesday night off in preparation for a playoff series expected to start over the coming weekend.
"We'll take account of everyone's health, obviously, first, see where everyone's at, but we'll play our team [on Monday]. Obviously, we may tinker a little bit with the bottom of the lineup. Tuesday with Washington, obviously, we'll sort of deal with that after [Monday] night's game,” said Cassidy.
"Back-to-back, we'll be a little more cautious with who we play, etcetera, how we fill in our lineup on Tuesday. Tomorrow we'll go with a very similar group to [Saturday]."
With Kase back in the mix, it gives Cassidy another card to play with, using these next two games to see if Kase fits into the Bruins playoff plans, at least in the early stages of their opening series.
Charlie Coyle’s health could be a deciding factor if Kase finds himself in a Game 1 lineup.
While Coyle might not see game action before the playoffs, barring a setback, he’s expected to be back for the start of the playoffs.
"I don't know if he'll play these two games. I've got to check with the medical staff, see what the risk-reward is. Or is it better to get him ready for the playoffs? He will be ready to go for the playoffs if he does sit out these two games,” said Cassidy.
“Do we further risk injury if he does go back in. Does he need the game or two to get ready? Those are things we'll discuss with the player and the medical team and go from there."
With Coyle back, he will likely slide back to the right of Nick Ritchie and Sean Kuraly on the Bruins third line, a line that was rolling before Coyle’s injury.
That leaves Kase, Jake DeBrusk, Curtis Lazar, Chris Wagner, Karson Kuhlman and Trent Federic all vying for playing time on the fourth line.
Lazar has been a pleasant surprise for the Bruins since his trade from Buffalo, his spot in the lineup should be safe.
A line of DeBrusk, Lazar and Kase could be an interesting fourth line. A more skillful and offensive-minded fourth line. Both Kase and DeBrusk have 20-goal seasons on their resume.
In a series against the Penguins, to me, this line makes more sense. But should it be the Capitals the Bruins see in the opening round, it’s undoubtedly going to be a more physical series, one where the Bruins will need the physicality Wagner and Frederic bring to the table.
Either way, it’s a good problem for Cassidy and company to have.