Thanks in large part to injuries and perhaps somewhat out of curiosity, head coach Bruce Cassidy and the Boston Bruins are well rehearsed in the mixing and matching of line combinations, up front. While the team’s ability to adapt to these changes is commendable, one would hope to see a more permanent lineup by Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Since the additions of Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson prior to the trade deadline on Feb. 25, an unsolved debate has been waged within Bruins Nation. The big question mark concerns the placement of David Pastrnak in the top-six, whether it be with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand or David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
With the postseason approaching, here’s my take on how the Bruins’ top two lines should shape up for an Eastern Conference Quarterfinals rematch with the Toronto Maple Leafs, starting Apr. 10-11.
Heinen Has Earned Chance With Bergeron, Marchand
Among the few certainties in the Bruins’ lineup is a package deal, linking Bergeron and Marchand on the top line. Their time together dates all the way back to Marchand’s rookie year in 2010-11, which culminated with a Stanley Cup. The duo gelled with the likes of Mark Recchi, Tyler Seguin, and Reilly Smith before Pastrnak joined their ranks, creating “The Perfection Line.”
Pastrnak seems the logical choice to join Bergeron and Marchand, given the trio’s dominance, particularly in the first-round triumph over Toronto last year. My choice, however, is Danton Heinen. The 23-year-old fit in well with the top line, on his off-wing, with a goal and 12 assists. This came in the absence of
Pastrnak Alongside Krejci, Debrusk Will Pay Dividends
By dropping Pastrnak down to the second line, center David Krejci, a natural playmaker, would be provided a second scoring threat. The Czech tandem has shown plenty of chemistry in the past. Pastrnak would still see ample time with Bergeron and Marchand on the power play, from where his 17 goals stand tied for fourth in the National Hockey League.
Krejci, the only Bruin to play in all 78 games so far this year, has enjoyed a resurgent season with 19 goals and 48 assists. The 32-year-old has historically been at his very best in the postseason with 87 career points (32 goals) in 108 games. With Pastrnak on his right, Krejci could rediscover his top form that twice led the playoffs in points (2010 and 2013).
Left-winger Jake DeBrusk truly came into his own in the opening round last season with five goals and two assists in seven games against the Maple Leafs. He, like
Bruins’ Bottom-Six Will Benefit as Well
In moving Heinen to the top line, the make-up of lines three and four not only becomes more clear, but more formidable. Call it nostalgia, but the idea of Coyle and Johansson together on the third unit recalls that aforementioned run to the Cup, when newcomers Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley thrived together, alongside Michael Ryder. This time around, David Backes should man the right wing.
Speaking of comparisons to the 2010-11 team, the usage and production of this season’s fourth line certainly resembles that of the famed “Merlot Line.” Even with Sean Kuraly out of the lineup with a fractured hand, the trio of Noel Acciari, Joakim Nordstrom, and Chris Wagner has proven reliable. Wagner’s strong play earned him time on the third unit, but he is most effective with the fourth line.
With three games remaining on the regular season schedule, it will be interesting to see if the line juggling continues. The decision to move Pastrnak off of the top line is not an easy one, but it would be in the best interest of the team. Should it not work out that way, the Bruins can trust Cassidy to shuffle the deck until it comes up aces.