With just one regulation loss in their first eight games, the Boston Bruins are off to one of the best starts in the National Hockey League. At a glance, there’s a lot to be positive about – David Pastrnak leads the league in goals, Tuukka Rask’s start to the season is among the best in the league, and Boston’s 12 points has propelled them to second in the division, behind a red-hot Buffalo Sabres team that will almost certainly fall off sooner or later.
But a deeper dive into what lies below – below the first line, in particular – reveals some cause for concern. The truth is, the Bruins are being carried by the best line in the NHL, and while it’s all fun and games right now, the question of sustainability remains a very real one.
The ‘Perfection Line’
NBC Sports Boston’s Bruins Insider, Joe Haggerty, has dubbed the Bruins’ first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak the ‘Perfection Line.’ While it’s easy as a journalist to throw shade at what some might call a fanboyish title for a group of players you’re supposed to cover objectively, the line’s play early this season serves as an argument in favor of Haggerty – that maybe he isn’t too far off after all.
Pastrnak alone has more goals than everyone else who isn’t on his line combined, and Marchand and Bergeron have twenty points between them. Three of Boston’s five game-winning goals have come from the top line. In fact, of the 22 goals the B’s have scored this season, 15 have come from the top line. They’re on pace to blow last season’s point total out of the water – something that might’ve seemed impossible (and, honestly, still kind of does) considering the season they had last year.
And for the sake of beating the dead horse, you could make a very strong argument that it’s the best two-way forward group in hockey, with four-time Selke Trophy winner Bergeron (the most all-time) leading a line that can get it done in all three zones.
Does Haggerty get carried away sometimes? Sure. But when it comes to the
‘Perfection Line,’ it’s hard to find a line in hockey that’s more… well, perfect.
Secondary Scoring Issues
It would be all sunshine and rainbows for the Bruins if their first line could produce at the rate they have for the remainder of the season, but to be frank, it’s simply unsustainable. The top line, as good as it is, will go through some rough patches throughout the season – even if it’s only a rough patch by their standards. But when it comes, the Bruins had better make some changes, or else the glaring issue that has been hidden behind the veil of greatness early on will become apparent.
It’s as simple as this, the Bruins need some secondary scoring, or else head coach Bruce Cassidy will have no choice but to break up the best line in hockey.
Last season, when the Bruins fought their way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, the team was at its best when it could rely on the entire lineup, top to bottom, to produce. The Bruins top line led the charge, but when they needed the backup, the rest of the team was there to bail them out.
Take the Eastern Conference Final, for example. Through the first three games of that series against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Bruins’ first line didn’t bury a single goal during five-on-five play, but their depth guys were there to pick up the slack. In those three games, the Bruins scored ten goals from players who typically play in the bottom-six forwards or bottom defensive unit. Their strength was in their persistent threat – if the first line didn’t beat you, they’d at least wear you down, and let the rest of the team finish the job.
That hasn’t been the case so far this season. Behind Boston’s first line, their top producer has been defenseman Torey Krug, with six points. And just behind him, you’ll find six players tied… with just two points.
So far, the Bruins have been strong enough to overcome the lack of depth scoring. The team defense has been pretty strong, goaltending has been a plus, and the first line has simply been too good. But if something buckles, the defending Eastern Conference champions could find themselves in a far less dominant place.
Killing Something Perfect?
So, why break up a line that’s on pace to put up more than 350 points? Why kill something so perfect? The answer should be pretty obvious by now – because the rest of the team simply needs them more than they need each other.
If Cassidy is going to keep the first line intact, then the rest of the forwards need to start pulling their weight. Jake DeBrusk is a minus-4 through his first eight games (you can argue the value of plus-minus as a stat, and I’ll probably agree with you, but nonetheless you’d like to see more from him), Charlie Coyle (also a minus-4) is still looking for his first goal, and David Krejci has just a single point through five games (and is now dealing with injury).
To make matters worse, Karson Kuhlman, who many hoped would be the answer to Boston’s never-ending second-line right-wing problem, hasn’t recorded a single point. Oh, and they’re still paying David Backes, who has played in half of the team’s games thus far and hasn’t recorded a point, but costs $6 million in cap space per year. The chances of moving his contract to free up some more cap space are only getting slimmer.
The Bruins do have some options. If they think a roster shake-up could get them going, there are reinforcements available in American Hockey League with the Providence Bruins, such as Anders Bjork, who sits among the top 10 in AHL scoring. But Bjork, or any reinforcements for that matter, aren’t a certain fix.
At the end of the day, they need more out of the guys they already have in the room, or else we’ll be saying goodbye to the best line in hockey. Maybe it is too good to be true.