The Boston Bruins are 1-0 to start the 2020-21 NHL season. In a shortened 56-game season, collecting two points whenever possible will be vital for playoff seeding. Though it may be a little early to think about the playoffs, it’s still important to consider how important winning in the regular season is now compared to past seasons.
Though the regular season is so important this season, tinkering with lines and determining optimal combinations will likely be an on-going discussion that will likely be had about all four forward lines and all three defensive pairings for the Bruins at various points of the season.
While the team would love to lock-in their best lineup early and let it ride throughout the year, talent evaluation still has to take place to figure out these optimal lines. It’s also important to note that lines and pairings at the beginning of the season are almost never indicative of the final product a team will ice by season’s-end or in the postseason.
It makes sense, then, that the Bruins are using this time to experiment with certain players in their lineup at different roles. Whether it be figuring out who will play alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand while David Pastrnak recovers from his injury, who plays top-pairing defensive minutes alongside Charlie McAvoy and everything in between.
Bjork and Studnicka Competing for Top-Line Role in Pastrnak’s Absense
To start the season against the New Jersey Devils, the Bruins opted to roll with Jack Studnicka alongside the team’s top-duo of Bergeron and Marchand. He didn’t stand out in a way that most fans and the team would have liked early on and in-game adjustments limited him to only 11:40 of ice time in his first game of the season.
Only Nick Ritchie (11:16), Trent Frederic (10:44) and Chris Wagner (10:42) played fewer minutes in the game.
Still, it would be strange to see the Bruins give up on Studnicka entirely after just one game that didn’t yield the desired results. This simply won’t happen and shouldn’t cause panic. Even with the team is giving Anders Bjork a look on the top-line and opting to keep Trent Frederic in the lineup with Craig Smith making his Bruins-debut during Saturday’s matinee game against the Devils.
Taking Studnicka out of the lineup may not feel like the right decision, but it’s better that coach Bruce Cassidy make these decisions now to figure out what he has on his roster, rather than being forced to make such changes in the postseason without any reassurances about what his players are capable of in a larger sample size.
If the Bruins are forced to rely on players like Studnicka, Bjork, Frederic or any of the other young, inexperienced players down the stretch, it’ll be better to know what they’re capable of now than to simply hope things work out when the season is on the line.
This also gives these young players an opportunity to flourish and earn more prominent, regular roles on the team if they can capitalize on the opportunity.
When the team practiced Friday, the lines looked as follows:
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Anders Bjork
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Ondrej Kase
Nick Ritchie – Charlie Coyle – Craig Smith
Trent Frederic – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner
Par Lindholm, Greg McKegg, Jack Studnicka
Jeremy Lauzon – Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk – Brandon Carlo
Jakub Zboril – Kevan Miller
John Moore – Connor Clifton
If the results of the first game of the season are any indication, then this lineup makes the most sense for the second game of the year.
Taking Frederic out of the lineup would be a mistake given how well he played alongside Kuraly and Wagner at five-on-five in his first look of the year. Bjork also stepped up and looked to be playing well which seemingly led to him getting the nod over Studnicka. With only so many spots on the roster, the team had to make a decision and Studnicka just happened to be the odd-player out in this situation.
Bruins Defense Also Prime With Opportunities
On defense, Miller looked excellent in his first game back from injury and if he can stay healthy throughout the year, he’ll be a welcome piece on the back-end for the Bruins, especially with Zdeno Chara’s departure affecting how the team will divvy-up defensive-zone opportunities.
Though Grzelcyk playing alongside McAvoy may be better for the team in the long-run, the Bruins seem content with giving Lauzon an extended look before making any changes to their top-four.
The Bruins were outshot 11-6 with McAvoy and Lauzon together while playing in 11:51 of ice-time together at five-on-five. This certainly isn’t ideal, but one game isn’t enough of an audition to write the book on Lauzon in this top-pairing role. Giving him more time makes sense.
With that in mind, the Bruins consider themselves to be legitimate Stanley Cup contenders this season. It makes sense given their success in the regular season just one year ago, winning the President’s Trophy and looking like the best team in the NHL before the season was paused. For this reason, the team can’t spend too much time experimenting with players in crucial situations.
Grzelcyk, on the other hand, was able to elevate his game and played in 24:07 in his first contest of the season. He’d also play on the team’s top power-play and earned himself a power-play assist right off the bat.
In net, the Bruins know what they have with Rask and Jaroslav Halak winning the William M. Jennings Trophy for the 2019-20 season.
Halak has already been confirmed as the starter for Saturday’s contest which also makes sense. Rask looked good in his first game of the season and keeping both netminders fresh throughout the year will be key to success in the playoffs.
For most people, these early lineup decisions won’t even be a thought by the time the playoffs roll around. For the Bruins, though, these decisions, no matter how big or small, will help paint a more complete picture for their lineup construction.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for six years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.