Cassidy’s hand forced as Bruins again look for scoring balance
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: the 2018-19 Boston Bruins need a significant upgrade in the middle of their lineup.
Boston GM Don Sweeney hopes to help that cause with the trade deadline a mere two weeks from Monday. Until then, head coach Bruce Cassidy is doing what he can to create a more balanced lineup as the Bruins host the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche this weekend at TD Garden.
Cassidy’s latest changes came in the second period of Boston’s 4-3 shootout loss to the New York Rangers Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. A sluggish start forced the hand of the third year Bruins bench boss. He did the previously unthinkable task of breaking up the potent top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
Danton Heinen took Pastrnak’s place on the top line. The former University of Denver product tied things up as part of a three-goal second period against the Blueshirts. Pastrnak, who skated with fellow Czech’s David Krejci and Peter Cehlarik, gave the Bruins the 2-1 lead moments later with his 31st goal of the season.
Even with the second-period spark, the Bruins didn’t get enough from the other makeshift line of Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic and Joakim Nordstrom.
The rebuilding Rangers fought back and earned a come from behind victory. But Cassidy saw enough production from his top two lines and considered keeping those trios intact heading into their weekend slate.
“I’m not going to say no,” Cassidy said about pulling the trigger on giving those new-look lines another shot heading into Saturday’s matinee with the Kings. “We’re going to look at it and see if that’s the best way to go.”
Friday’s practice came. Cassidy kept the same top-six from his changes during the second less than 48 hours prior. The tinkering continued on the bottom six with Sean Kuraly joining DeBrusk and David Backes — a healthy scratch Wednesday night — on the third line. Nordstrom moved to the third to the fourth line flanked by Chris Wagner and Noel Acciari.
The new look lines provide plenty of opportunities heading into Saturday. For Heinen, it’s a chance to get into a groove and break out of his sophomore slump by skating with the highly skilled Marchand/Bergeron tandem. Cehlarik gets to skate with his fellow countrymen as he aims for a full-time spot in Boston. DeBrusk, meanwhile, returns to his strong side wing as he aims to break an 11-game goal skid.
Cehlarik, in particular, meshed well in his stint with Pastrnak and Krejci. The 23-year-old hopes to build off that as the Bruins look to take care of business against a team that’s destined for the golf course in April, which is a troubling trend of late.
“They like to criss-cross and I’m just trying to fill a lane with them and win the pucks for them,” Cehlarik said about his approach with Pastrnak and Krejci. “I’m looking forward to joining them again. I think we can create a lot of offense.”
They have a good chance to find that scoring balance this weekend. The Kings come in ranked 15th in goals against per game (2.94), while the Avalanche have allowed the eighth most goals in the league (176)
But even if things pan out with the latest band-aid attempt, the Bruins still need that coveted top-six upgrade between now and Feb. 25.
Cassidy has done all he can with his roster. He navigated the team through injuries and inconsistent scoring all season long. And somehow, the Bruins are still within striking distance of the Maple Leafs and the Canadiens for second place in the Atlantic Division.