After serving a six-game suspension, Brad Marchand returns to the lineup Thursday night against the Seattle Kraken to kick off a six-game road trip. In Marchand’s absence, the Boston Bruins went 3-2-1 and gained some separation from the Detroit Red Wings for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Coach Bruce Cassidy mixed and matched his lines the last six games, getting some good performances from some surprising players. It will be easy for Cassidy to slot Marchand next to Patrice Bergeron on the top line, but who plays the right wing? That will be the question, will the Black and Gold’s coach mix things up some more?
Who Plays the Right Wing on the First Line?
Prior to Marchand’s suspension, Craig Smith was moved to the first line in January with Bergeron as part of some mixing and matching with the top-six, while David Pastrnak slid down to the second line with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula. The move paid off in multiple ways. Yes, Smith has struggled, however, Pastrnak has caught fire and now has 19 goals since Jan. 1, while Hall has played better and has scored six of his 11 goals of the season during that stretch, while assisting on 16 goals, including three in Monday’s 5-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
It should not get overlooked that since Pastrnak was moved down to the second line with Hall, the Bruins became a different team offensively and gives them two producing lines. Haula, who was signed as a bottom-six free-agent forward last offseason, has played well between Hall and Pastrnak, and after spending the last couple of games as a wing, he should slot back between them.
Where the Bruins go after that is where things get interesting, especially with who gets bumped up to the top line with Marchand and Bergeron.
Cassidy Needs to Keep Coyle, Frederic & Smith Together
In recent games, Cassidy put Trent Frederic on the left wing with Charlie Coyle at center and Smith on the right. The trio played well together, putting together shifts that have given opponents fits. They have been relentless on the forecheck, while producing plenty of scoring chances. In the first period against Colorado, they had a shift that lasted over a minute that pinned the Avalanche in their defensive end, which ended up leading to a Pastrnak goal. The trio failed to record a point on the goal, but without their physical, and relentless shift, that goal does not happen.
Later in the opening period, Frederic nearly doubled the Bruins lead when the line once again supplied pressure in the offensive end, which led Smith to feed Frederic in the slot, and if not for an outstanding save from Avalanche goalie Darcy Kuemper, they would have been rewarded with a goal. The trio finished with seven shots on the net in the game, but the chemistry they have formed recently should keep them together, something Cassidy hinted at after Monday’s game.
“We’d like to keep that together. Someone is going to be probably a little but unhappy, someone is going to have to move around,” said Cassidy. “It’s just the way it is. So, we’ll sort through that when we practice Wednesday in Seattle and put the best plan together as possible and see where it goes.
“Those are the guys that made it all happen [on the first goal]. The D couldn’t get out of their end, they’re fatigued. We go in, we forecheck, create a turnover. The D does a good job keeping a puck alive, and they’re very good at that. Had some good looks.
“Freddy had a point-blanker again, and hopefully they will start going in for them, because you don’t want them to get away from what they’re doing. Usually, the more you get rewarded, the more you will stick with it, so hopefully that is kind of their mindset.”
Keeping that line together is a no-brainer for now and would eliminate Smith as an option to return to the first line with Marchand and Bergeron.
DeBrusk & Froden Two Options as First Line Right Wing
There is no doubting the talent that Jake DeBrusk has. He has been a 20-goal scorer in his career once already and if not for the coronavirus shutdown in March of 2020, he was well on his way to a second consecutive 20-goal season with 19 with 12 games remaining on the schedule. In November, the 14th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft requested a trade, but Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is being patient in honoring that request.
Marchand has forced Sweeney’s hand in being patient as he has been suspended twice in the last three months for a total of nine games, which has opened the door for DeBrusk. Recently dropped to the fourth line with Tomas Nosek and Curtis Lazar, DeBrusk has goals in back-to-back games against the Ottawa Senators and Avalanche. He is up to nine goals and eight assists on the season, but his overall game has been getting better. He is driving to the net more, his skating game has been better, and is shooting the puck more.
DeBrusk has a history of playing on the off-wing, so he would be a prime candidate to slide up next to Marchand and Bergeron. Hall and Pastrnak need to stay together, with Haula in the middle, while the third line of Frederic, Coyle, and Smith should stay together. Plus, with DeBrusk’s trade request still hovering over the Bruins, this is an opportunity to showcase him on the top line ahead of the trade deadline. Playing with Marchand and Bergeron should get the 25-year-old DeBrusk to put forward his best effort and give him a jolt. He has two goals in the last two games, so it might be time to ride the hot hand.
Jack Studnicka was an option to play the right wing, but he was returned to the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) on Tuesday, but he has struggled when he’s been on the outside. He’s been a better player when he’s in his natural position at center. To replace Studnicka, the Bruins brought up Jesper Froden, which is an interesting decision. Signed last June as a free agent, the 27-year-old has had a solid season with Providence, scoring 12 goals with 15 assists. At 5-foot-10 and 179 pounds, Froden being placed on the top line is not out of the question. He certainly has earned it and impressed Marchand in training camp back in September.
“Talented kid,” Marchand said of Froden. “You can see he has a lot of abilities— skates well, shoots the puck well, seems to get in good areas. Seems like he’s a real good player.”
Cassidy Has Options
The Bruins put together their best 60-minute performance of the season together against Colorado Monday, but they are getting their co-leading point producer back in Marchand, which is going to help give them more balance. Smith has been snake bitten this season and has struggled to put the puck into the net no matter what line he has been on. Bergeron and Marchand are the leaders and they should adjust to whoever is on the right side. Breaking up Hall and Pastrnak or breaking up the third-line trio is not the best option, but moving either DeBrusk or Froden to the top line might be the best move for Cassidy.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.