Bruce Cassidy sensed a need for change after the Boston Bruins returned to the ice following their COVID-19 pause.
As per usual, the sixth-year Boston bench boss discussed specific lineup changes with his coaching staff following a 16-day layover between games. But in this particular instance, he turned to his potent top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak for advice ahead of the New Years Day matinee with the Buffalo Sabres.
A thinner COVID protocol list allowed Cassidy to adjust his lineup accordingly. And he received an endorsement from his potent top trio with one caveat: moving Pastrnak to the second line with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula.
The domino effect continued with Craig Smith moving up to the top line with Marchand and Bergeron. The bottom-six fell into place with Jake DeBrusk, Charlie Coyle and Nick Foligno forming the third line and Curtis Lazar, Tomas Nosek and Trent Frederic rounding out the fourth trio.
“I’ll be honest: I met with Bergy, March and Pasta for a sort of pow-wow. They have a great pulse of the room,” Cassidy said of his discussions with his three top offensive producers. “Obviously [assistant coaches] Joe [Sacco] and Kels [Chris Kelly] do in dealing with the forwards, but this was more of just me with those three [Bergeron, Pastrnak and Marchand] to get some feedback from them.”
It was an ideal time for a shakeup. The Bruins had a favorable three-game slate coming out of their COVID pause against a lowly Sabres bunch, an improved but still rebuilding Detroit Red Wings squad and a shorthanded New Jersey Devils club during a four-day stretch.
Through the in-game adversity, the Bruins potted 14 goals in the trio of tilts. Thirteen different players lit the lamp, including Oskar Steen, who filled in on the third line for DeBrusk after the Edmonton native entered COVID protocol. Only fourth-liner Trent Frederic found the net twice in that stretch.
Even more astonishing? The Bruins only had a pair of goals from the potent broken-up trio of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak. The former didn’t hit the scoresheet, while the latter finally ended his goal drought — dating back to Nov. 30 — with a second-effort tally Tuesday night.
“It’s great when it works. As a coach, sometimes you think, ‘What the hell was I thinking? I should’ve done it a month ago, right?’ Cassidy said.
“We’ve been playing pretty well. Every line has been contributing. It’s great to see that up and down the lineup. When everyone kind of gets rewarded, it helps everyone’s confidence and it helps everyone as a whole,” added Coyle, who netted the overtime winner against the Sabres. “And that’s what you need. You need a good solid team with all four lines going and rolling. And when they’re contributing and playing well and finding their chemistry together — even if they haven’t played a whole lot [beforehand] maybe — that’s great to see.
The Bruins didn’t face the stiffest competition over the last week. Yet, every bit of momentum matters during another COVID-plagued season.
They haven’t fully escaped the COVID protocol wrath, with Tomas Nosek joining DeBrusk and Karson Kuhlman and four staff members on Wednesday. Yet, unlike their last game before the break, where they trotted out 17 players in Long Island, the Bruins have a healthy complement of players to work with.
Cassidy’s squad has a busier but more fluid schedule to establish more chemistry with one another after a relatively sparse slate at the beginning of the season. The recent offensive production from the four new lines couldn’t have come at a better time.
“We started the year healthy and never got really back to it. [The changes] did get pushed down the road a little bit and I thought the break was not a bad time to do it,” Cassidy said. “We had a reset. I thought everyone had good energy coming out of it, so hey, let’s have a discussion with the players that are being moved and explain why and talk to them about the benefits for the team and see how it plays out.”
The Bruins responded well to the changes, obviously. The changes so far have proved beneficial throughout the lineup.
The reset allowed Hall and Pastrnak a chance to read each other’s dynamic puck traits off the rush. It allowed Coyle to showcase his versatility with a hard skating and outspoken Foligno while gaining chemistry with DeBrusk and Steen in third-line duty. It allowed Smith to break out of his own early-season rut in a promotion with Marchand and Bergeron. And it also provided the fourth line of Lazar, Nosek, Frederic — and at times Steen — to showcase other elements of play beyond their blue-collar work ethic.
“I don’t think it was one particular guy. I think it was the team. We need to score more; we need to generate more [offense] and finish more,” Cassidy said. “Sometimes moving things around helps, and sometimes it doesn’t. In this particular case, we’re getting some good results now, and we’ll see how it sustains itself going forward and if it’s the best model.”
The line changes provided immediate results. But can they sustain this effort beyond this three-game run against teams outside of the playoff picture? They’ll have a better idea on that front during a more difficult three-game stretch against the Minnesota Wild, Washington Capitals and two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning.
“The guys in the bottom of the lineup and the guys that weren’t scoring in the top of the lineup got jump-started here,” Cassidy said. “Let’s see how it translates against some of the elite teams on the ice here.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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