Tell me if you have heard this before. Behind their top-line, the Boston Bruins are looking for consistency with their bottom-nine, mainly with their second line. It feels like it’s an ongoing issue, season after season. Early in the 2021-22 season, it has been no different.
Looking for a spark, coach Bruce Cassidy changed things up when Nick Foligno and Craig Smith returned from early-season injuries and the early returns on the second line have been positive. In fact, they have been so positive, dare we can that the new line has found some chemistry?
First Bruins Second Line Combination Struggled to Begin Season
Charlie Coyle missed most of training camp and preseason games dealing with a “nagging injury’’ from his offseason knee surgery, which kept him out of the lineup until the final preseason game. That left Jack Studnicka to take most of the shifts between Taylor Hall and Smith. When Coyle returned at the beginning of the season, the trio struggled to find chemistry.
Smith then went down with an undisclosed injury which put the line behind the eight-ball in terms of forming chemistry and consistency. Hall even was benched for the final 10 minutes of a 3-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Nov. 9 after turning the puck over in his defensive zone and taking an offensive zone penalty in the third period. After their lackluster play, you knew changes were coming from Cassidy.
New Look Second Line Providing Stability
When Foligno returned from an injury, Cassidy formed a new second-line of Foligno, Coyle, and Hall. With each passing game since the trio has been put together, they are playing better, gaining chemistry, and slowly providing offense.
The biggest example of their strong play happened in Wednesday night’s 5-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres at the KeyBank Center. The line combined for 10 shots on the net, two goals, and a plus/minus of plus-6. Coyle scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal in the first period when he collected the puck along the wall, cut towards the net, and fired a wrist shot under the crossbar, over the shoulder of Sabers goalie Aaron Dell. Foligno made the biggest impact on the play, winning a board battle to allow the puck to get to his center.
Unfortunately for Dell, he lasted just one period in the game as he was replaced by Dustin Tokarski between the first and second periods after allowing four goals on 22 shots. To be fair, it was not his fault as his teammates in front of him put up little resistance in the opening 20 minutes.
Hall, who was booed by Sabres’ fans each time he touched the puck in the game for the second consecutive game in Buffalo this season, scored his goal in the third period. Charlie McAvoy was hit from behind by Buffalo’s Zemgus Girgensons, who was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for the hit. During the major, Hall scored the Black and Gold’s fifth and final goal on a shot from the top of the left circle. Since his benching against the Senators and been playing with Coyle and Foligno, Hall has been better both with his skating game and overall performance.
Foligno Providing Second Line Spark
When Foligno began the season on the third line with Jake DeBrusk and Erik Haula on the third line, he was doing the little things on the ice, winning puck battles, being strong on the forecheck, while also providing leadership. Since being put with Hall and Coyle, the 16-year veteran is doing the same thing, which Cassidy likes to see.
“He’s done a good job recovering pucks, he’s done a good job as a screen. I think he just has to find his pace, get some games under his belt. He missed some time, some time at the end of last year. Just get playing and then we’ll worry about where he best fits by position and even line. I like him with Coyle and Hall becasue he’ll go to the net, a good net presence. He did that with (Erik) Haula and (Jake) DeBrusk as well. That’s one of the reasons he’s there but he could toggle back and forth.”Bruce Cassidy
Foligno has also brought the same energy to the Bruins’ first power play unit, as he replaced Hall when he came back from his injury. He has been causing problems for opposing teams and their goaltenders, setting screens, and causing a distraction. That was evident on David Pastrnak’s power play goal against the Sabres when he came out from the side of the net and cut in front of Dell as Pastrnak one-timed a slap shot inside the near post.
It still in the early stages together, but the trio is clearly playing the best as a second line that the Bruins have had this season. All three are veterans and know what it takes to be successful in the NHL. Foligno has yet to score a goal this season and you have to think that his time of finding the back of the net is coming. Despite not scoring, he is doing the little things to help Coyle and Hall play better.
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.