Bruins

Hopefully, B's fans enjoy what watching they're seeing: the NHL's best line

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Hopefully, B's fans enjoy what watching they're seeing: the NHL's best line

BOSTON – There have been a number of features to the Bruins snapping off 13 wins in their last 17 games headed into the three-day Christmas break. 

Disciplined, consistent defense and superb goaltending have both been staples, and good health has been a key for a Black and Gold group that doubled as the walking wounded during the first few months of the season. But another undeniable factor for this Bruins team’s uprising has been the development of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak into the NHL’s best line as a double threat at both the offensive and defensive end of the ice. 

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Tampa can have Nikita Kucherov and Steve Stamkos, and the Oilers can make an argument for whoever is playing with Connor McDavid on any given day. But the NHL's best trio has been wearing Black and Gold, and they've dominated everyone up-and-down for more than a month together. 

“We have a little bit of everything. Pasta [David Pastrnak] obviously has a ton a skill and makes a lot of good plays and Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] is so good defensively he creates a ton of turnovers and then he’s unreal offensively too and creates opportunities and he can score goals from anywhere,” said Marchand, who is on pace for 43 goals and 91 points this season as he seems to keep setting and then re-setting his career highs every single season. “We just handle the puck. I think that’s our biggest asset – we recover a lot of pucks and get a lot of second opportunities when teams are cheating so I think that’s probably the biggest thing.”

They showed their offensive wares again on Saturday afternoon with Bergeron and Marchand providing all the goal-scoring in a 3-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden, and once their high-powered, puck-dominant trio didn’t get scored upon. In fact Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak haven’t had any even-strength goals scored on them in 19 games together since Bruce Cassidy formed the power line together out of necessity due to injuries. 

Now Cassidy wouldn’t dream of taking them apart as they routinely lead the way offensively, they show the highest of responsibility defensively and the rest of the Bruins forwards have figured out ways to support them when opponents focus all their energies on neutralizing Boston’s top line. The rest of the Bruins group doesn’t envy opponents that have to find any weaknesses within the BPD line because they simply aren’t there right now. 

“I’m glad they’re on our team. That’s a matchup I wouldn’t want to play against. They’re all so skilled, and they all think the game very well. They’re always in the right position, they’re always making plays happen,” said rookie D-man Charlie McAvoy. “I think their hockey IQs is what allows them to have the success they have. Bergy as a center man, he’s always in the middle. He’s always that kind of safety valve, when he’s out there I’m confident we’re going to be alright and we’re going to be playing in their zone. 

“They get good possession when they get set up in the O zone so it makes our lives easier having a line like that and they came through again tonight with some big goals and just like every night they’re huge for us.”

The offense is what you might expect with Pastrnak, Bergeron and Marchand combining for 40 percent of the Bruins’ goal-scoring output with 40 of the 101 goals scored for the B’s this season, and both Pastrnak and Marchand on pace for 40 plus goals this season. On Saturday it was Marchand that notched a power play goal in the first period, and then Bergeron provided the game-winner and the insurance with a pair of goals in the third period showed a couple of different things. 

The first was the pure chemistry between Marchand and Bergeron that’s been almost seven years in the making, and saw Marchand feed a perfect dish to No. 37 that he could step into for a blistering one-timer past Jimmy Howard. Then Cassidy and the B’s coaching staff showed a new wrinkle late in the game protecting a one-goal lead as they put David Backes out with Bergeron and Marchand to lock things down. 

That’s exactly what they did with Bergeron getting the empty net goal that iced the game, and the BPD line getting all the credit for a month plus of dominant work that’s shown them to be unstoppable by any metrics one might want to use. They dominate puck possession, they simply don’t give up goals to whomever they’re matched up against, and Marchand and Pastrnak are on track for career years with Bergeron “slacking” to a pace of just 27 goals and 64 points this season. 

There’s a long way to go and it remains to be seen if Cassidy can keep his top intact as the season keeps rolling along, but it’s going to be awfully difficult to bust up a forward trio that nobody seems to have any answers for this year. 

“We have three really good players. Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] is about as good a 200-foot player as there is in the league. He can obviously score goals but defensively – I knew he was good coming to the team -- but when you watch him on a nightly basis, he’s always in the right spot,” said David Backes. “He never is out of position and he’s always hard on the puck when it’s around him. From that, Marchy gets to open up his offensive side of things. Pasta [David Pastrnak] does the same thing and Pasta is certainly a very special offensive talent. March [Brad Marchand] just as well.

“Marchy maybe helps a little more on the defensive side of things but they’re a pretty special combination when they are together. They play power play together so they get a lot of that commonality. They get the consistency and they produce. We love having that. I don’t know what you do as a game plan to shut them down, and hope someone is going to beat you with somebody else. They are also a matchup line that’ll play against another team’s best line but they’ll get the better of that matchup. That’s a nightmare I think for coaches.”

It’s obviously a nightmare for opposing coaches this season given their offensive and defensive feats of strength. But it’s been a perfect development for a Bruins that now know they can rely every single night on the BPD line dominating when they’re on the ice, and have no reason to shy away from the most feared and respected forward trio across the 31 teams in the NHL. 

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Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

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Talking points: David Pastrnak bust out of slump in OT win over Flames

GOLD STAR: David Pastrnak busted out of a mini-slump with a nice performance as he scored the B’s first goal of the game, and made a nice play picking up a loose puck off the side boards before curling to the net and beating David Rittich down low. Pastrnak finished with a team-high four shots on net, blocked a whopping three shots and generally played a committed, intense 18:38 of ice time after showing some quirks in his game over the last three or four weeks. Pastrnak still has just two goals in his last 12 games after Monday afternoon’s lamp-lighter, so the Bruins could use their 21-year-old right winger going on a scoring binge now that he’s broken through.

BLACK EYE: It was a pretty well-played game on both sides, so there aren’t a lot of easy, ready-made candidates, so Michael Frolik gets it by process of elimination. Frolik was stripped of the puck along the side boards by Patrice Bergeron, and that kicked a loose puck out to David Pastrnak for his successful scoring curl to the net. Frolik finished with a couple of shots on net, had a couple of giveaways in his 17:19 of ice time and wasn’t much of a factor for the Flames in a game where one mistake turned out to make a huge difference. All that being said, it was mostly a well-played game for both sides with Frolik’s early miscue playing a major role. 

TURNING POINT: Clearly it was about Tuukka Rask holding strong in the third period and overtime after he’d been just okay over the last week, and he did that with a good effort in the third period (12 saves) and a superhuman effort in overtime (five saves) when he stoned Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk prior to Brad Marchand’s game-winner. The overtime session was extremely impressive for Rask as he stood tall with a very important result on the line in terms of the defense/goaltending earning a good result after some subpar performances lately. Without Rask standing on his head, the Bruins don’t get the two points at the other end near the end of the overtime session. 

HONORABLE MENTION: With Pastrnak nailing down top honors after breaking his slump, Brad Marchand gets the honorable mention by “just” ripping home the game-winner in overtime on a breakaway. Marchand made his typical forehand-to-backhand maneuver and picked a spot on the five-hole through the leg pads of David Rittich, who was otherwise outstanding for the Flames in a tight game for Calgary. Marchand finished with the goal and a plus-2 rating, and finished with seven shot attempts in a whopping 21:38 of ice time. Both Marchand and Pastrnak had been pretty quiet as of late as the physical intensity has ramped up on them lately, but they responded well by powering the offense against Calgary.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 9 – With Monday afternoon’s OT game-winner, left winger Brad Marchand now stands second all-time behind Dit Clapper and Glen Murray for the most overtime winners in Bruins franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You just stay patient and hope that the puck hits you, and it did.” –a matter-of-fact Tuukka Rask to reporters in Calgary on the overtime session where Rask did more than that in stopping five shots prior to Brad Marchand’s overtime game-winner.  

Morning Skate: Devante Smith-Pelly speaks out on racist taunts

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Morning Skate: Devante Smith-Pelly speaks out on racist taunts

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while Canada seems to be celebrating a number of different holidays including “Family Day” in Alberta.  

 

*Devante Smith-Pelly spoke out on Sunday a day after being the target of ignorant, ugly chants at the Capitals/Blackhawks game while he served out a penalty in the visiting penalty box. As I said over the weekend, I hope the Blackhawks fans that were chanting at him don’t ever come back to watch an NHL game of any kind. Hockey doesn’t want their hate and ignorance. The fact it happened during Black History month and the month where the NHL really pushes their “Hockey is For Everyone” mantra just makes it even more deplorable. 

 

*Interesting take here on why things were so rough between Team USA and Team Russia in their Olympic matchup last weekend. The thinking is that it’s Russia’s attempts to establish dominance and reignite a rivalry that was highest during the Cold War. It’s also partly about Team USA sending an inferior team to play the Russians this time around as well. If the USA was allowed to bring their best, this wouldn’t be happening.  

 

*St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong is not in the mood for pricey rental players that would be bolting as soon as free agency hits. 

 

*An aging Henrik Lundqvist is at the heart of a New York Rangers team that really isn’t going anywhere right now. 

 

*It sounds like the losing is beginning to get to Henrik Zetterberg out in Detroit, who is in the middle of a long season to nowhere with the Red Wings. 

 

*Fantasy hockey owners are beginning to bail out on Milan Lucic, which can’t be a good sign for the struggling Edmonton Oiler. 

 

*For something completely different: There are a whole lot of Easter eggs in the new Black Panther movie. 

 

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