Bruins Finally Getting Production From All Four Lines

If this past weekend was any indication of how the Boston Bruins could look while at their best, then their disappointing start to the season could be securely in the rear-view mirror.

Returning to action on Jan. 1 for the first time since Dec. 16, head coach Bruce Cassidy decided to shake up his lines in a meaningful way. The aftermath of this shakeup led to Craig Smith playing on the team’s top line next to Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Erik Haula skating on the team’s second line alongside Taylor Hall, Charlie Coyle centering a line of Jake DeBrusk and Nick Foligno and the fourth line consisting of Trent Frederic, Tomas Nosek and Curtis Lazar (on Saturday) and Oskar Steen (on Sunday).

Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins
Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins, shuffled his team’s lines and got immediate results to start off the New Year. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Additionally, Cassidy pulled the trigger on a defensive-pairing switch with Derek Forbort dropping to the third pairing with Matt Grzelcyk returning to a familiar spot alongside Charlie McAvoy on the team’s top pairing.

It’s no secret that the Bruins have had some significant core roster pieces leave the team in recent years. From Torey Krug and Zdeno Chara to David Krejci and even Tuukka Rask (for now), the Bruins have been missing some crucial pieces that helped shape how the team looked in recent years. What’s even worse than that is the fact that even with those core pieces in place, the Bruins were still depending entirely too heavily on their top line and special teams units to get results.

It would be disingenuous to say that two games against the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings are enough to form a clear picture of how good the Bruins could be, but it wasn’t merely the results that were encouraging. Rather, it was the way the team played in their back-to-back contests that should instill confidence in fans.

It wasn’t only Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak or the power play producing points for the team. Instead, the Bruins got a full four-team attack for what felt like the first time in forever.

What exactly did that look like?

Well for starters, it entailed 14 different Bruins recording at least one point over the weekend. Included in that list was Bergeron, Marchand, Smith, Hall, Haula, Coyle, DeBrusk, Foligno, Nosek, Steen, Frederic, McAvoy, Grzelcyk and Mike Reilly.

For those keeping score, that’s a player on all four Bruins’ lines getting into the action with three of their top-four defenders getting in the mix too. Even better than that was the fact that the Bruins got all of this scoring output without recording a single power-play marker.

Shuffling the lines and in turn creating more balance throughout the lineup was one thing. It wasn’t the first time that Cassidy had made moves like this, though, and realistically, it won’t be the last time he tinkers with the lineup either. This is why it’s important to remember that changing the lines is only half of the battle. The other half comes from the players on the ice and what they do with the minutes they’re given in-game.

Related: Bruins Need to Keep Smith in Position to Succeed

For the first time this season, players like Hall and DeBrusk looked to play like the best versions of themselves. Part of this came from the linemates they were slotted with. Part of it also had to do with the effort they were giving which was noticeably better than it had been earlier in the season. The fourth line also played with energy and was buzzing all weekend long. This was the case when Lazar was in the lineup and it was more of the same even when Cassidy turned to Steen in the second game of the back-to-back.

Taylor Hall Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall looked like his former self with the Boston Bruins over the New Years Weekend (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The result? Hall would score a vintage Hall-goal, Foligno would score his first as a Bruin, Haula would score his first goal since Nov. 13, Frederic would score his first of the season, Steen would record his third point in his fourth game of the season and the Bruins would come away with two much-needed wins to right the ship.

Bruins Overcoming Multiple Obstacles

It’s been a tough season for the Bruins to build any sort of chemistry this season given how inconsistent their schedule has been, even without counting the two-week impromptu break that took place in December. No team has played fewer games than the Bruins this season. Sitting at the bottom of the pack are the Bruins, Colorado Avalanche and New York Islanders who have all played 28 games this season. Rounding out the bottom-five teams in terms of games played are the Ottawa Senators and Dallas Stars who have also only played 29 games.

To put this in perspective, Roughly half of the league has already played at least 33 games this season, with some even eclipsing the 34-game and 35-game mark.

The inconsistent schedule combined with so many new faces on the team led to a difficult start to the season. This was only amplified by the fact that the team was tasked with figuring out their second-line center role for the first time in over a decade with the departure of Krejci to the Czech Republic.

Still, despite all of this, the Bruins’ inconsistent and disappointing season hasn’t been a total letdown. Instead, the team had found a way to wade water while figuring out how to play given the circumstances. It would be a lot easier to claim gloom and doom for the Bruins if they weren’t still sitting at 14th in the NHL and eight in the conference in points percentage.

Given where the Bruins have finished in the standings in recent seasons, obviously 14th across the entire league isn’t good enough to meet expectations of the fans, media or even management of the team. Still, if everybody can agree that the team hasn’t started the way anybody wanted them to yet they still sit in a wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, then it hasn’t been as bad as some might be claiming either.

Bruce Cassidy, head coach of the Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins have overcome some challenges and waded water this season. Now they’re looking to finally turn the corner. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

It’s still too early into this new lineup’s tenure to know if it’ll be exactly what the doctor ordered to fix the team. It should go without saying though that it’s better for the Bruins to win these two games and get the production they were looking for rather than them losing the games, or at the very least, not playing this well as a unit.

Whether they can do this with consistency or not will be the next question, but for now, the Bruins should feel good about what they have going after a rough end to 2021 and an encouraging start to 2022. Fortunately, they’ll get to put this new-look lineup to the test against the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes and the Nashville Predators in the coming weeks.

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