3 Bruins Benefitting From Bruce Cassidy’s New Line Combinations

When the Boston Bruins returned from their 16-day break, coach Bruce Cassidy shook up his lines. It was just not the top-six that were affected, but it was a shake-up that went up and down the lineup with the forwards.

The results through three games have been very good for Cassidy and his team. They have scored a combined 14 goals, all at even strength, in their three wins over the Buffalo Sabres (in overtime), Detroit Red Wings, and the New Jersey Devils. Yes, the competition is what it is with the rebuilding Sabres and injury and COVID-19 riddled Devils. The Red Wings, however, were the toughest of the three teams on the schedule as they are an up-and-coming team looking to get a playoff spot.

The schedule is going to get significantly harder with games against the Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning, and the Washington Capitals coming up. Those will be a good test to see how the new-look lines will perform against two of the top teams in the league in the Lightning and Capitals. With that said, here are three members of the Black and Gold that have benefitted from the line changes through the first three games in 2022.

Taylor Hall

This has been an up and down 2021-22 season for Hall. When he has been on the first line with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, he has shown flashes of being the player he was in the 2016-17 season when he won the Hart Memorial Trophy. Moved down to the second line with Craig Smith and Charlie Coyle, it’s been a different story. 

Taylor Hall Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

In the latest line shuffle, Hall was left on the second line, but Erik Haula was moved up as his center and Pastrnak came down from the first line on the right-wing. Against the Sabres, he tied the game with a third-period goal, while accounting for five of his lines nine shots in the game. In Detroit, he had three of his lines six shots and assisted on Charlie McAvoy’s third-period goal. Tuesday against the Devils, he failed to land a shot on the net, but he assisted on Pastrnak’s game-winning goal late in the third period.

Related: Bruins Finally Getting Production From All Four Lines

Like there was when he moved up to the top-line with Pastrnak and Bergeron, there has been an extra step in Hall’s play in the last three games. If the Bruins are going to survive the vaunted remaining schedule, they are going to need more nights as they have gotten from Hall than the ones before the shutdown. He is a big piece of the Black and Gold and when he’s producing, they are a better team.

Erik Haula

Haula has had his moments as a third-line center this season and even on left-wing when he was moved there by Cassidy before the shutdown. Since he was placed with Hall and Pastrnak, the veteran has played better than Cassidy would have hoped. Coyle held the slot prior to the season resuming, but he is a better fit as the third-line center.

Erik Haula, Boston Bruins
Erik Haula, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Haula supplied a distraction on Hall’s goal against Buffalo by driving hard to the net, but his best performance was against the Red Wings. With the game tied 1-1 in the second period, he skated from the Bruins zone on a 2-on-1 and unleashed a wrist shot that went over the shoulder of goalie Alex Nedeljkovic for what turned to the game-winning goal. Against New Jersey, he recorded an assist on Pastrnak’s goal, but was just as valuable on faceoffs, winning eight of his 13 faceoffs. He is not a big point producer, but he has been valuable at the faceoff dot on his previous teams.

Is Haula the long-term answer as the second-line center for the rest of the season? Most likely not, but for now, he’s more than holding down the fort in the last three games.

Oskar Steen

Steen was inserted into the lineup against the Red Wings when Curtis Lazar missed the game with an injury. After that one performance and the previous three performances this season, it’s hard for Cassidy to keep him out of the lineup. 

Related: Bruins Weekly: Bergeron Passes Bourque, Steen, Haula & More

In Detroit, Steen was placed on the fourth line with Trent Frederic and Tomas Nosek and had an assist on Nosek’s third-period goal. The trio finished with a combined nine shots on the net in the game and it could be argued that they were the best of the Black and Gold’s lines that day. Against the Devils, Steen scored his first career goal in the second period in bizarre fashion when he knocked the puck off the top of the net and off the back of New Jersey goalie MacKenzie Blackwood. Moved up to the third line with Nick Foligno and Coyle because Jake DeBrusk was entered into the league’s COVID-19 protocols, they were a line that created scoring chances and could have easily had more goals.

In his press conference before the Devils game, Cassidy said that despite DeBrusk entering protocols, Steen was still going to be in the lineup. It’s easy to see why as he has a goal, three assists, and plus/minus of plus-3 in just five games this season. He is making an impact in different ways, but whenever he’s on the ice, good things tend to happen, especially in the offensive end. If there is one thing we have learned this season, it’s that Steen is a productive bottom-six forward.

You have to think at some point, the law of averages are going to even out with the four lines and even these three players. For three games in 2022, however, things have gone the way the Bruins had hoped they would have at the beginning of the season. They are getting secondary scoring, some of the players they were counting on have looked better and now they need to carry it over to the next three games, which will be the three toughest since the changes. We will know a lot more about these new lines by next week. There is a lot to like about the new lines, but there’ll be even more to like if they have the same success against the Wild, Lightning, and Capitals.

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