Bruce Cassidy hinted at potential lineup changes the morning after the Bruins’ 4-1 loss to the Islanders in Game 4.
Specifically, he discussed the struggling bottom-six.
Nick Ritchie has hit his roughest patch of the season. Jake DeBrusk’s inconsistent season reared its ugly head in a defensive breakdown of Mat Barzal’s go-ahead goal on Saturday. The fourth line of Sean Kuraly, Curtis Lazar and Chris Wagner has been outplayed by New York’s checking trio of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck.
Putting everything into account, Cassidy followed up on his sentiment from Sunday’s media availability. With a pivotal Game 5 looming, the fifth-year Boston bench boss tabbed Karson Kuhlman to re-enter the lineup in place of DeBrusk.
“What Kuhlie typically brings is high energy and he gets his feet moving,” Cassidy said of Kuhlman. “I think the first game he was in, there was some apprehension about how much time and space that he had. It’s going to be a physical series — it has been a physical series — so sometimes you need some shifts under your belt. And I felt as the game went on he got better. So [I hope to see] good play away from the puck, and again, help us win. Do what you do best, which is energy, get on the forecheck. He certainly can create some secondary offense, can shoot the puck, and can get in and disrupt some of the breakouts. He does it more with his footspeed rather than his stickwork and physicality, but he’s certainly capable of finishing some checks when they’re there.”
Kuhlman displayed those traits in Game 2, tallying an assist on Charlie Coyle’s marker on his first shift of the night.
The former Minnesota-Duluth product developed a knack for providing a spark in the past whenever Cassidy inserted him into the lineup. His consistency over long stretches remains an issue, but the circumstances heading into Game 5 prompted Cassidy to re-insert Kuhlman over a struggling DeBrusk to rejuvenated a stagnant third line.
“I don’t think it was their best game, but that’s okay,” Cassidy said of the third line’s outing in Game 4. “It’s the goal against [by Barzal] that they needed to be better on. You’ve got to help us win. Not every line is going to score every night — it’s the playoffs, it’s hard to score. Do what you can to help us win whether it’s physicality, penalty kill, faceoffs, checking role, etc.”
Kuhlman over DeBrusk wasn’t necessarily a no-brainer. The Bruins could’ve moved DeBrusk to his natural left-wing spot in place of Ritchie, providing Coyle with a pair of speedy linemates. Yet, that would’ve taken out a heavier presence in Ritchie on the heels of a tight-checking Game 4 tilt. The Kuhlman/DeBrusk swap provides a little more balance for the third line ahead of Game 5.
Yet, one wonders if the struggling fourth line should’ve received a boost from Trent Frederic. Sure, asking a young player to enter the lineup in a crucial game with no prior postseason experience isn’t ideal. And surely, Frederic’s offensive traits haven’t fully developed at the NHL level.
The Bruins enter their second straight tilt without Kevan Miller or Brandon Carlo manning the right side of the blue-line. The veteran pair skated on their own after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. Adding Frederic in place of Wagner or even Kuraly on the fourth line would’ve provided another physical specimen up front as Cassidy and the coaching staff wait on Miller or Carlo to return — perhaps as soon as Game 6 in Long Island on Wednesday night.
But after a trio of solid efforts to start the series, the Bruins aren’t overthinking things following a frustrating Game 4 outing. They hope that Kuhlman’s return plays a role — be it supportive or a more significant one — in a pivotal Game 5 victory.
“We’re not changing our game. We felt that we played well in three out of the four games. The other game we were in it in the third period. So if we can take care of some details, who knows how that one ends up,” Cassidy said. “So we’re not going to analyze Game 4 and tear down what we did in the first three games. We’re going to try and park some of those things and expect to have more energy back home and get back to the level we need to. And that’s it. That’s the message, and I think our guys understand that.”
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