Before this season began, I declared that the Boston Bruins’ second line would largely decide the team’s success. I made this declaration with the hope that Ondrej Kase and Jake DeBrusk would provide David Krejci with some consistent scoring help, but that was not to be. Instead, the second line was largely underwhelming for the better part of this season, and the Bruins’ record showed it. They were an average playoff team, but nothing more.
It’s time we give some due credit to general manager Don Sweeney and friends. They have addressed the team’s biggest needs with their latest moves, most importantly, secondary scoring. They nabbed Smith, a consistent 20+ goal-scorer, from the Nashville Predators on a three-year deal. Then they made arguably the best trade of the deadline for Hall, who has shown immediate chemistry with Smith and Krejci.
In Boston’s most recent win against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, we witnessed the team’s winning recipe in its completion. They won the battle on the boards, supported the goalie with blocked shots, controlled the face-off game, and got scoring from the top two lines. It was the defining win of the season thus far, and the Bruins will need to replicate that performance in the weeks to come if they want to compete for the Stanley Cup.
How We Got Here
The second line has undergone some big changes this year. Preseason plans to flank Kase and DeBrusk around Krejci were quickly scrapped. Kase has been out for nearly the whole season with injury troubles, and DeBrusk seems to have lost all his confidence. Both of them may have roles to play yet, but they are firmly out of the top six for now.
Smith moved up to the right wing in Kase’s place, but he didn’t bring much in terms of scoring at first. Nick Ritchie looked like the answer at left wing early in the season, but he has all but disappeared from the scoring column. After a 10-1-2 start, the Bruins became painfully average. The usual trends reemerged: Krejci was left on an island, and the Perfection Line drew all the attention from opposing defenses.
Boston was in limbo, barely hanging on to their playoff spot. As the trade deadline approached, fans and analysts were divided about this team’s direction. Would they go all-in and acquire some pieces, or would they sit tight and move towards a rebuild in the offseason?
Meanwhile, Sweeney was quietly putting together a lopsided trade with the Buffalo Sabres: Hall and Curtis Lazar for a second-round pick and Anders Bjork. Lazar has played well, to his credit, but the real story here is Hall’s sudden resurrection.
The Taylor Hall ‘Curse’ Has Been Lifted
Hall was often a scapegoat during his time with the Edmonton Oilers, but he put those criticisms to bed after winning the Hart Trophy with the New Jersey Devils in 2017-18. However, he failed to find similar success with the Arizona Coyotes and Buffalo Sabres, and rumors of a curse began to follow him.
Hall put up decent numbers in Arizona, but the team’s record was abysmal. The suspicions about “The Hall Curse” were all but confirmed when he went to Buffalo. He scored two goals in 37 games for the Sabres, while the team went 10-25-6. His career had quickly gone off the rails, going from league MVP to an afterthought on the worst team in the NHL in just two years.
From what we’ve seen these last couple of weeks, it seems that the organization was the issue, not the player. Is it really any wonder that Hall’s production dropped on two of the most dysfunctional franchises in the league? All he needed was a change in scenery, and Boston provided that change.
In his nine games with the Bruins, Hall has scored four goals and three assists, along with a plus-8 rating. If there really was a curse, it has officially been dispelled. He wanted to come to Boston, and he has shown it with his play on the ice.
Everything Is Coming Together
While Hall has given the left wing a spark, Smith has also played his best hockey in recent weeks from his spot on the right wing. He was the offseason signing that was supposed to help with scoring depth. Nobody else in the bottom six could boast his consistent numbers (five 20+ goal seasons in Nashville). Things did not start off well, as he only scored four goals through the first two months of the season. But fortunes have changed.
Smith has turned it around at just the right time, scoring six goals and 11 assists in the last 18 games. He uses his slick skating ability and applies constant pressure to create scoring opportunities, which fits the mold of the Bruins’ top forwards.
In our small sample size of games, Smith’s energy and Hall’s elite speed have meshed well with Krejci’s facilitative playing style. As we saw on Tuesday and in some of their recent contests against Buffalo, they can be Boston’s most productive trio on any given night. This is something that Bruins fans have been waiting to hear for a long time: the second line is reliable again.
Time will tell if they can keep up the pace, but we know they have the talent to be great. As I said at the beginning of the season, the second line will decide how far the Bruins advance. Although the line has changed since then, that statement still stands true. The play of Krejci, Hall, and Smith will determine Boston’s success in the weeks to come.
I cover the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. Fan of all things New England sports.