The Boston Bruins survived a late surge from the Buffalo Sabres to pick up a 3-2 shootout victory on Tuesday night, starting off on the right foot with new acquisitions Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar, and Mike Reilly in the lineup.
Boston’s performance as a whole left a lot to be desired, but each of the new guys showed flashes of what they can bring to the team. They were immediately thrust into considerable roles, and in the case of Hall and Lazar, had no issue playing against the team they suited up for only a few days ago.
Hall lined up with David Krejci and Craig Smith on a second line that has suddenly become a threat. Lazar played alongside Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner on the fourth line, and Reilly was paired up with Jarred Tinordi on the third defensive unit. They didn’t wow us statistically, but they did show us why Boston traded for them in their play on both ends of the ice.
Second Line Showing Signs of Life
Just as many of us (including myself) were starting to lose hope of seeing a competent second line, Hall and the red-hot Smith have made this unit a force to be reckoned with. This was the most productive line for the Bruins last night by far – Smith was the first star of the game with one goal and one assist, and Krejci also scored a rebound goal.
Hall, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner with the New Jersey Devils, immediately showed some of his offensive prowess. He led the second line with three shots on goal and finished fifth among all forwards with 16:43 time on ice, after the perfection line and Krejci.
We also briefly saw Hall on the second power-play unit, which has been a complete non-threat this season. Most teams breathe a sigh of relief when they see Boston’s first power-play unit skate off the ice, but with Hall added to the second team, we may start to see that second group start to contribute.
In the five-minute overtime period, Hall was arguably the best skater for the Bruins. He got a quality scoring chance and also broke up a last-second rush from the Sabres on the other end to send the game to a shootout. With his no-movement clause, Hall had the final say in coming to Boston. He wants to be here, and he showed it in his first game, wearing #71 for the black and gold.
Reilly Adds Skill and Stability to Blue LIne
Due to injuries, inexperience, or a combination of the two, Boston has seen many different duos suit up throughout the season. Former Ottawa Senator Reilly is a good start at changing that pattern. He is the perfect counterpart to the hard-hitting Kevan Miller on the second pairing.
While Miller delivers the hits, Reilly is more of an offensive-minded blueliner with a solid left-handed slapshot and a better feel for the puck, as he showed on Tuesday night with a team-leading five shots. He led all Bruins defensemen with 19 assists before he even took the ice, so it is no surprise that we saw him on the second power-play unit.
Reilly was among the best that Don Sweeney and company could hope to get on the trade market for defensemen, and they got him at a remarkably low price. They only gave up a 2022 third-round pick, making this a low-risk, high-reward addition to a depleted blue line.
With the state Boston’s defense is in, Reilly should be a consistent top-four guy so long as he stays healthy. After Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk, he is clearly the next best scoring threat from the blue line and a valuable addition to the team.
Bruins Come Out on Top in Lazar/Bjork Swap
The Bruins effectively swapped one depth piece for another before the deadline, with Anders Bjork and a second-round pick heading to Buffalo in exchange for Hall and Lazar. Bjork had been a healthy scratch since his last appearance on April 3, and it already looked like his days in Boston were numbered, making this a great trade.
Boston has killed two birds with one stone here, getting rid of the unreliable Bjork and bringing in a more consistent depth player in Lazar. He has scored more goals this season (five) than any of Boston’s bottom six besides Charlie Coyle, and he did it under much worse circumstances with the Sabres. H was only a minus-4, which is actually rather impressive considering he played on one of the worst teams in recent memory.
Lazar is simply a much more well-rounded hockey player than Bjork. He’s taken good care of the puck, having 16 takeaways to just six giveaways on the season. He can also get involved in the faceoff game, which Boston uses to create more scoring opportunities than anyone in the NHL.
Depth has been a weakness in Boston for years now, especially on the bottom six. The addition of Lazar brings the Bruins one step closer to solving that weakness and gets rid of a frustrating prospect in the process.
Bruins Have Addressed All Needs…For Now
Although it is just one game and plans can change, we should expect these new acquisitions to remain where they are in the lineup. All of Boston’s major needs – a reliable wing on the second line, bottom-six depth, and more skill on the defensive end – have been addressed in the trade market. The goalie situation is still fuzzy, but it appears that Tuukka Rask is getting healthy and will be ready for the postseason.
Time will tell if Hall, Lazar, and Reilly can rally Boston to a deep playoff run, but one thing is certain: they are all undoubtedly upgrades at each position. As a team nearing the end of its championship window, they were right to let go of some draft picks and a talented but unreliable prospect and go all-in. They owe it to veterans like Patrice Bergeron, Rask, and Krejci to make another push for the Cup, while those guys can still compete at a high level.
Don’t let the lackluster performance against the Sabres fool you: the Bruins are a better team than they were before the trade deadline. It will take some time for these new faces to get acclimated with their surroundings, but they will go a long way in helping Boston not just make the playoffs but compete for a championship.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.