Bruins

Bruins' third line making them a dangerous team

Bruins' third line making them a dangerous team

BOSTON – Boston’s top trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is deservedly getting the lion’s share of the credit due to their dominant work since coming together as a “super line”, but those three forwards can’t do it all. Most nights, they will hold one of the other team’s best forward lines in check and they'll do plenty of offensive damage with Marchand and Pastrnak on pace for 40-goal seasons.

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Still, the Bruins need diversification in their scoring up front if they’re going to be anywhere near as good as they aim to be. That’s why the recent surge from their third line of Danton Heinen, Riley Nash and David Backes has been an extremely important development. The 5-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at TD Garden served as Exhibit A of that.

The trio combined for four of the five goals for the Black and Gold against a ragged Senators bunch. The third line continued to exhibit its willingness to play the 200-foot game while lightening the load for Boston’s top forwards. With David Krejci still out with an upper-body issue, that’s been a huge development for a Bruins team rolling on most cylinders with 14 wins in their past 18 games.  

“We’re going to try to get [the Nash Line] against one of the scoring lines for the other team. Usually, [Patrice Bergeron] will get one of those matchups. If Krech [David Krejci] is in there, we don’t mind using him," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "He has been in the league a long time – just he has the younger wingers, so the more 200-foot guys

with [David] Backes and [Danton] Heinen – that’s why they were put together,” said Cassidy. “So, they’ll probably see some skill [matched up against them]. If the other team is really looking for a matchup, we might just put them against their checking line to negate it because we think Bergy can outplay any line in the league. We just feel that way.

“Balanced scoring, secondary scoring...it’s something we were searching for. Nash’s line has chipped in on I think on a fairly regular basis. [Ryan] Spooner’s group certainly has the ability to do it. You saw that with Anders [Bjork] tonight, found his legs. It’s a big plus for us, takes a lot of load off of those [top] guys. They’re going to want to score every night; it’s how they play. I think they had drive tonight – Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron’s] line – it just didn’t go in for them, or maybe one too many passes or however you want to analyze it. For us to be able to [score without goals from the Bergeron Line] is a good sign.”

In the win over the Senators, it was Nash who stood out most with a pair of second-period goals against the Senators team that ended the Bruins season last year in the first round of the playoffs. Some will remember that the bottom-six center took it pretty hard after his retaliation penalty led to an overtime home playoff loss for the Bruins.

It might not have completely removed the sting, but Nash scored twice to help the Bruins pull away in a game they never trailed. The first score was a breakaway goal off an Erik Karlsson turnover and the second was a nasty little dangle drive to the net where he slid the puck under Craig Anderson.

With the three-point game, Nash now has two goals and seven points in 11 games in December and is on pace for a very strong 10 goals and 36 points on the season. That’s a step up from last season and a sign that Nash is responding to a little more responsibility on his plate. 

“It seems to be every year it kind of comes in bunches, so you know, now I get two [against Ottawa]. Hopefully, I can keep that rolling and feel good and maybe shoot the puck a little bit more,” said Nash. “I think my linemates played great. They’re both tremendous. [They have] very good shots, so you know, it’s just give and take for our line for contributing, and I think that’s more important than anything.

“Anytime we can kind of give [the Bergeron Line] some support, and you know, not put the pressure on them. I know coming in that they probably want to score a goal or two every game, but some nights it’s not going to happen. And having Krech [David Krejci] out, I think that also puts a little bit of onus on the second and third line. Everybody as the bottom nine is kind of banded together in helping out.”

Clearly, Backes also has been very good since coming back from diverticulitis and has been close to a point-per-game player in December with five goals and 10 points in 12 games as a big-bodied finisher around the net. He’s skating and moving around better than at any point in his first season in Boston and is playing the best hockey of his Bruins career at a time when they really need him.

Then there’s Heinen, who is coming into his own with offensive playmaking and a 200-foot game that makes him just another well-rounded weapon. He crashed backdoor for the game-winning goal on Wednesday night while connecting with Ryan Spooner on the between-lines score  and has been a point-per-game player this month with five goals and 12 points in 12 December games.

Oh, by the way, Heinen has also busted into the NHL’s top five for rookie scoring.

Only Mathew Barzal, Clayton Keller and Brock Boeser have more points than Heinen among NHL first-year players. His nine goals and 24 points in 31 games projects to 23 goals and 60 points for a full season. Clearly, there is a lot of deserved hype with Charlie McAvoy in his rookie season, but the Heinen, 22, has helped elevate the games of Backes and Nash as third-line partners. That’s quite an impact from a rookie who wasn’t getting hyped quite like Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork in camp.

The development of the B’s third line into an impactful offensive and defensive force has helped the Bruins elevate their game over the last month. That’s exactly what the hockey doctor ordered for Boston.  

“You need guys to step up on different nights,” said Zdeno Chara. “You can’t be always relying on the same guys to score goals, you know? So obviously [the win over Ottawa] was a night for our secondary scoring guys, and they did a great job.”

The challenge now for Heinen, Nash and Backes will be to keep building on the promise they’ve shown in December and to keep providing scoring depth that is making the Black and Gold awfully tough to beat right now. 

Jarome Iginla practices with P-Bruins

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Mark Divver

Jarome Iginla practices with P-Bruins

Jarome Iginla skated with the Providence Bruins in the AHL team's practice on Tuesday, according to the Providence Journal.

Iginla doesn't want to retire yet. But he's not necessarily going to get a shot in Boston. The Bruins aren't interested in signing the 40-year-old winger, but instead wanted to do him a favor, a source told the Providence Journal.

"I'd love to still play," Iginla told the Providence Journal. "This is kind of the first step, getting out here and seeing how it is. … I wanted to see if I can still go. I don't have any deals at this point."

Iginla has had a prolific career with 525 goals and 570 assists (1,095 points). During his 2016-17 season, he spent time with the Colorado Avalanche and the Los Angeles Kings. He played in 80 games, and finished with 14 goals, 13 assists and a minus-30 rating.

Bruins' defense, goaltending enjoys mini-breakthrough against Flames

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USA TODAY Sports Photo

Bruins' defense, goaltending enjoys mini-breakthrough against Flames

Here’s what we learned in the Bruins 2-1 overtime win over the Calgary Flames at the Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday afternoon.

1)      Once again the Bruins were challenged and provided the perfect response. After giving up 15 goals in their previous four games and getting blown out by Vancouver last weekend, the Bruins recognized their defensive game had slipped in all zones. Their defensive layers had disappeared up and down the ice, the fore-check had gone missing and the D-zone coverage was leaving big holes in the slot and in front of the net. The Bruins weren’t working particularly hard, they were making some pretty elementary mistakes and they were allowing opponents to gain way too much speed and momentum entering their zone. All of that changed against Calgary after a spirited practice on Sunday, and the Bruins allowed just four shots on net in the first period against the Flames. They went on to allow just a single goal in the game, and kept grinding until they took a 2-1 win in OT. Hand-in-hand with the B’s defense responding was the Bruins goaltending situation responding to the challenge as well. Tuukka Rask hadn’t been particularly good in recent losses to the Buffalo Sabres and Canucks over the last week, and he wasn’t getting the support in front of him either. That added up to a lot of goals allowed and getting yanked in the Canucks loss amid some poor rebound control. Rask was locked in from beginning to end on Monday afternoon, and made five show-stopping saves in OT prior to Brad Marchand’s breakaway game-winner. What’s impressive is that it took just one bad loss for the B’s to totally snap back into place. There are times when it can take three, four or even five games for a hockey club to shed their bad defensive habits, but the Bruins did it immediately and haven’t lost back-to-back games since November. That is simply amazing at this point, and a testament to the coaching staff and the players. 

2)      In addition to the Bruins defense and goaltending responding, it was impressive to see Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak respond with big goals as well. Neither player was very good in the blowout loss to Vancouver, and Pastrnak had been mired in a bit of a slump with just one goal in his last 11 games headed into Monday afternoon. Both players have been targeted and thumped pretty solidly by opponents just as they were down the stretch last season as well, and they hadn’t really responded in an effective way until Monday. Even into the playoffs last season, Pastrnak really struggled to respond to some of the elevated intensity and physicality that he saw. Pastrnak scored in the first period on a nifty play aided by a Patrice Bergeron active stick against the side boards, and he enjoyed a number of scoring chances against the Flames. Marchand had seven shot attempts that culminated with his breakaway in overtime for the game-winner, and he was also engaged and physical throughout while both he and Matthew Tkachuk tried to “out-punk” each other on the ice. With a Bruins team that’s going to need their top line to produce regularly for them as the games get tighter, Monday’s mini-breakthrough was an important sign that Marchand and Pastrnak are ready to fight through some of the resistance thrown their way.

3)       Monday’s win also saw the Bruins once again drop the gloves to defend one of their teammates. On Saturday night it was Brandon Carlo sticking up for David Pastrnak, and on Monday afternoon it was Adam McQuaid dropping Garnet Hathaway after he took a shot at Charlie McAvoy right in front of the Bruins bench while practically inviting No. 54 to get involved. The Bruins will need to continue to bring their immediate reaction to borderline hits and opponents taking runs at their players, and that starts with McQuaid and trickles down through the rest of the lineup. Team toughness, they call it.

Plus

*Brad Marchand finished up with the sweet, little backhanded five-hole goal on the breakaway in overtime, and played an excellent overall game with seven shot attempts and plenty of active, engaged play all over the ice in 20 plus minutes of action. 

*Tuukka Rask stopped 28-of-29 shots against Calgary and was solid throughout the game. But he was amazing in the overtime session when he was turning away Grade-A chances from Johnny Gaudreau and Sam Bennett at one end while making five stops overall in the extra session. That little stand-on-his-head routine bought the B’s enough time for Marchand’s game-winner at the other end, and he certainly carried the Bruins to the extra OT point this time around. 

*Four shots on net and an eye-catching three blocked shots for David Pastrnak in 18:38 of ice time, including the game’s first goal in the first period when he curled to the net and beat Dave Rittich low with a shot. 

Minus

*Michael Frolik finished as a minus player for the Flames, and had the turnover to Patrice Bergeron in the first period that led directly to David Pastrnak’s goal. It was a pretty well-played game, so those little mistakes really stood out for either side. 

*Two giveaways and a minus-1 in 22:49 of ice time for Dougie Hamilton, who pretty much had a nothing game in a reminder to Bruins fans that they upgraded when they made Charlie McAvoy their No. 1 defenseman of the future. 

*No shots on net in 12:54 of ice time for Jake DeBrusk, who didn’t seem to have the same jump to his game on Monday that he did last weekend in Vancouver. He may have been saving it for Edmonton, where he grew up and certainly wants to put on a show on Tuesday night.