Bruce Cassidy thought he’d have a clean bill of health when he returned from the Christmas break. Instead, the third-year Bruins coach is still waiting to roll out his ideal lineup.
First the good news: Zdeno Chara (left MCL), Jake DeBrusk (concussion) and Kevan Miller (throat) will return for the Bruins-Devils tilt at TD Garden Thursday night. Charlie McAvoy, however, won’t be joining the team in their first game following the Christmas break. The former Boston University standout is day-to-day according to Cassidy after sustaining a lower-body injury while blocking a shot during Boston’s 5-3 loss to the Hurricanes on Sunday.
“Here we are,” Cassidy told reporters after the pregame skate in Brighton. “It was enjoyable for about eight hours.”
McAvoy’s absence puts a bit of a damper, but the trio of aforementioned returnees gives the Bruins much-needed needed depth throughout the lineup. They’ll need that as Boston embarks on a 12-game-in-24-day stretch beginning with its tilt against New Jersey. And they get a break as the struggling Devils won’t have reigning Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall, who is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.
Zdeno Chara-Matt Grzelcyk
Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo
John Moore-Kevan Miller
Devils projected lines
Jesper Bratt-Nico Hischier-Kyle Palmieri
Miles Wood-Travis Zajac-Blake Coleman
John Quenneville-Pavel Zacha-Stefan Noesen
Brian Boyle-Brett Seney-Drew Stafford
Andy Greene-Damon Severson
Sami Vatanen-Steven Santini
Will Butcher-Ben Lovejoy
– Patrice Bergeron’s return was a welcome sign, but Cassidy temporarily opted for breaking up his top line wingers in Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. The talented trio were back together as the Bruins fell behind in Carolina. But now Cassidy has an excuse to put the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line back together for good as DeBrusk reunites with David Krejci on the second line. Danton Heinen, who assumed top line duties for roughly a game and a half, moves to the second line with DeBrusk and Krejci.
– How will the Bruins’ secondary scoring fare in Bergeron’s return? Well DeBrusk’s return gives the Bruins another double-digit goal scorer for starters. Ryan Donato’s two-goal output in Carolina broke an eight-game drought, but his assertiveness without the puck improved greatly since returning from Providence. Cassidy would love to see more out of Heinen no doubt, but the former Denver product is finding his two-way groove as of late. The Bruins could still use a bonafide top-six forward come the Feb. 25 trade deadline, but getting the young trio off and running in the second half of the season is key as the Black and Gold search for their offensive stride.
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