Predicting the Bruins opening night lineup
The final preseason buzzer couldn’t have come at a better time.
Eight exhibition games (eight!), roughly a week overseas in China, and an overall nagging sentiment from players and coaches that seems to scream, “just drop the puck already.” These are all factors that would hopefully explain the Bruins’ sluggish final preseason game on Saturday, a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
For starters, the Bruins first shot of the game came 9:38 into the first period. Shortly after, Torey Krug went down the tunnel to the locker room and was ruled out for the evening. And then, the third period was filled with what head coach Bruce Cassidy called “lowlights” featuring three unanswered goals from the Flyers, one of which came shorthanded after a Charlie McAvoy turnover.
Since the Bruins have clearly closed the book on the preseason, let’s do the same and look toward Wednesday’s season opener against the Washington Capitals.
A couple of notes: this is assuming the status of certain players remains on track. For example, if Cassidy thinks that Patrice Bergeron will be ready for the opener, well, he’ll be included here. This also assumes a scenario that gives the Bruins flexibility to carry more than 23 players if someone is added to the IR.
Bruins first line
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
The trio is one of the formidable lines in the league and, barring any setbacks, is once again the team’s top line. If Bergeron can’t go, expect David Backes, not Trent Frederic, to get the nod. After Saturday’s game, Cassidy was asked if he was comfortable having Frederic center the first line if Bergeron still wasn’t ready. His response?
That’s a no.
Bruins second line
Jake DeBrusk — David Krejci — Ryan Donato
While Danton Heinen started Saturday’s game on Krejci’s right side, he was quickly swapped with Donato in yet another attempt to play the former Harvard Crimson on his off-wing.
There’s no doubt that this should probably be the second line based on talent alone but something still seems off here.
The Bruins are lacking in true right-shot, right wingers. Currently, the Bruins have six right-handed forwards on the roster — two of which are fourth liners and another two of whom play center. While the Bruins have certainly had wingers play effectively on their off-side, a true right shot winger who can play top-six minutes is certainly an area of need.
But Donato is a center. And Krejci is a right-handed shot. Hmm.
Bruins third line
Danton Heinen – Sean Kuraly – David Backes
The great question of which prospect will center the Bruins’ third line is coming to an anticlimactic close. It’s probably going to be Kuraly.
Kuraly was the safest option possible and closely matches the Bruins’ insane desire to want a center that will closely match the production of Riley Nash from last season. And that’s fine, but Kuraly is best deployed as a fourth-line center, not a player who can play upwards to 15 minutes a night.
It’s hard to imagine there’s not a slight shred of disappointment from Bruins brass who imagined one of Frederic or Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson would do more to secure this spot. But who knows? Very few expected Nash to turn into the reliable third line center that he was during his two-year stint, either.
Bruins fourth line
Joakim Nordstrom – Noel Acciari – Chris Wagner
The fourth line of the Bruins has experienced a bit of a renaissance in the past few seasons with the emergence of role players like Nash, Kuraly, Acciari, and Tim Schaller. Now that Nash and Schaller have left, Wagner and Nordstrom look to be suitable replacements, though the latter’s game still has to improve. This trio can still be a threat but like any new combination, there’s going to be some time for all to get acclimated.
The plus side? This has the potential to be a tough line to play against, especially if Saturday’s showing was any indication. They were easily the Bruins’ best line.
Healthy scratches on offense
Anders Bjork, Lee Stempniak
Bjork looks close to NHL-ready and could be the player that can disrupt these lines and shift players out. If Bjork does make the team, it makes sense for him to play in a top-9 role only, meaning, the Bruins will have to likely shift Kuraly down to the fourth line and figure out if Donato or Backes will revert back to center.
Stempniak has had a great camp and looks like he can still play. It’d be wise of the Bruins to sign him to a veteran’s minimum deal as useful depth.
Bruins first defensive pairing
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Like the Bruins’ first line, not much will change here, either. Look for Cassidy to stick with his top pair.
Bruins second defensive pairing
John Moore – Brandon Carlo
This is where it might get tricky. If Torey Krug was healthy, expect him to be here paired with Carlo instead of Moore. Instead, you have two middling, two-way defensemen together rather than forcing two other defensemen to play on their opposite side.
Again, there’s something to like about this pairing, too. There’s a certain potential where you could see Moore step into plays and force Carlo to stay at home. It would help Moore to become more confident with the puck and Carlo to become stable in his own end, with both knowing that they have the other to rely on. If that doesn’t work, expect some swapping to happen with the third D pair.
Bruins third defensive pairing
Urho Vaakanainen – Kevan Miller
In what could be a sneaky good pairing, Vaakanainen could be in the lineup not only because of injuries, but because he had an excellent camp. Cassidy was quick to mention how good he has been and how he was confident he could step in if Krug was out.
Miller is a decent partner that could help Vaakanainen focus on becoming a better two-way defender. It’s no secret that the 2017 first-round pick has some offensive upside, too. Though he looked solid and comfortable paired with Moore on Saturday—the former playing on his opposite side—he would be a better fit with Miller, rather than having two pairs with two d-men playing their off-side.
Healthy scratches on defense
I’ll err on the side of giving Kampfer the nod for the seventh defenseman if Grzelcyk and Krug aren’t with the team. Call it veteran insurance for now.
On Injured Reserve?
Matt Grzelcyk, Torey Krug
This is sketchy because it’s very well possible that Grzelcyk is good to go and is on the third pair with Miller. If that’s the case consider Vaakanainen destined for Providence…for now. Krug’s status seems more up in the air, especially if the reports of him seen in a walking boot are true.
Krug spotted in a walking boot.
— Joe McDonald (@JoeyMacHockey) September 29, 2018