It was not the beginning to the post-All-Star break that the Boston Bruins were looking for. First, during their 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Tuesday night, it was reported during the second period that Tuukka Rask’s come back from offseason surgery was going to end earlier than expected with the former Vezina Trophy winner expected to announce his retirement (from ‘Bruins don’t expect Tuukka Rask to continue comeback attempt: Sources, The Athletic, 2/8/22). Wednesday night, the winningest goal in Bruins’ history confirmed the news.
That was not the worst thing to come out of the game, mainly the third period. With the Bruins trailing 3-2 midway through the final period, captain Patrice Bergeron collided with Sidney Crosby, falling on his back with the back of his head hitting the boards. He skated off to the locker room and was not seen again. Bergeron did not practice Wednesday and coach Bruce Cassidy said he would be out of Thursday’s game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
To make matters worse in the final minute of the game, Brad Marchand punched and shoved his stick in the face of Pittsburgh goalie Tristan Jarry. Wednesday, Marchand was offered an in-person hearing with the league for his actions. There was no question that Marchand will be lost for a significate amount of time with his six-game suspension and with Bergeron’s concussion history, there is a good chance that Boston will be missing two-thirds of their first line. If that ends up being the case, Cassidy has options on how to fill the gaping holes.
Bruins Options to Mixing and Matching Lines
The first move should be a simple one as moving the current second line of Taylor Hall, Erik Haula, and David Pastrnak to the first line. It’s not ideal, but they have been playing well together over the last month-plus since being put together following the COVID-19 shutdown. From there, that’s where things get interesting.
As far as the second line would go, this is where Jack Studnicka comes into the picture. In training camp, he was in a battle with Charlie Coyle for the vacated second-line center spot after David Krejci left to return to his home country of the Czech Republic to continue his career. After a strong camp and preseason, the Bruins sent Studnicka to the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL) where he has had a good season. Now is the time to give the second-round pick in the 2017 Entry Draft another chance in the NHL.
Playing him as the second-line center with Jake DeBrusk on his left and Craig Smith on his right would make sense. It gives DeBrusk confidence moving up to the top-six as he has been better as of late, while Smith has been shuffling up and down the lineup with some of Cassidy’s in-game adjustments. Coyle has played better as the third line center with any combination of wings, with Nick Foligno and Oskar Steen being the two obvious choices. On the plus side, it also gives DeBrusk and maybe Studnicka, an opportunity to improve their trade value?
Studnicka Deserves His Opportunity
The Bruins signed a flurry of left-shot bottom-six forwards last offseason in Foligno, Haula, and Tomas Nosek, who all have experience at center. It’s most likely that Cassidy is going to go that route as that is the way they practiced for the most part on Wednesday, but Studnicka deserves his opportunity to come up and fill in at least a middle-six center role. He is expected to be the center-in-waiting for when Bergeron is gone and this is a perfect chance to give the 22-year-old his chance.
Last season, Studnicka made the Bruins roster out of training camp, but as a right wing and things didn’t go as well as everyone had hoped. When he has been in his natural position of center, he has played better. The Bruins missed on a chance to give him an opportunity a week ago against the Seattle Kraken when Haula was placed into COVID-19 protocols and passed on him.
Missing two of your top three-point leaders is going to be nearly impossible to replace. With a seven-point lead over the Detroit Red Wings for the final Eastern Conference wild card spot, this is going to be a key stretch of the season for the Black and Gold. They have the luxury of some breathing room with 38 games remaining in the regular season for the final postseason berth, but just as quickly as they built their lead in January, it can shrink the other way.