BOSTON – Don’t look now, but it seems like the Bruins are starting to find some answers for a third line that’s confounded them all season.
It’s too easy to call them the Kid Line and probably too on the nose to come up with some moniker centered around 22-year-old Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson’s “JFK” nickname, but it sure looks like 23-year-old Danton Heinen, JFK and 22-year-old Anders Bjork are finally gelling as a young, fast and aggressive third line. They kicked in a 5-on-5 goal and had some really promising, energetic shifts in Boston’s 4-1 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Sunday night, and showed how good the Bruins can be if they can start to get a little more consistency from all of their forward lines.
The caveat is clearly that it’s only been two games and JFK still has a long way to go as a bona fide NHL center, but in an important development the last few games are probably the best that both Heinen and Bjork have looked all season.
“I thought [Heinen, JFK and Bjork] had a good weekend. Obviously, they got a goal. It helps when you’re young. Before here you’re used to getting on the score sheet, so you get frustrated if you don’t. They got rewarded [and] it was a good goal,” said Bruce Cassidy. “They did it the right way, started in D-zone, they played it, they won a puck, got it behind their D, won a foot race and got it to the front of the net. So it wasn’t lucky. It wasn’t a fluke. It was the right way to do things, and they got rewarded for it.
“Hopefully that reminds them how they need to play. Then after that a few more pucks find them. They win some pucks down low. They’re attacking the net. I thought our fourth line was outstanding too, the [Sean] Kuraly line, so you get your bottom-6 really chipping in and that’s what it’s going to take for us to win on a consistent basis. I think we’re aware of that. Our top line is good. Our second line’s coming around. The power play generally produces, but at the end of the day you need balanced scoring to do it every night and we’re starting to see that the last three games. I think we’ve been much better in that area.”
In the last few minutes of the first period in a scoreless game, Heinen got the puck out of the defensive zone and kick started a give-and-go play with Bjork where a lead chip pass to space took full advantage of the right winger’s blinding speed. Bjork got behind the Vegas ‘D’ and then slipped a pass to a wide open Heinen in front of the net for the easy goal to get Boston on the board. It was Heinen’s second goal in the last three games, and the first real tangible signs that one of the B’s best rookies from last season was starting to get his game on track.
Really, it showed exactly what the kids are capable of when the confidence, skill, and youthful exuberance are all working together properly in tandem.
“I think it starts with us playing hard and especially attacking on the fore-check. I think JFK plays so well defensively and so does Heino [Danton Heinen] too. I think we have been solid there and, obviously we can improve a little bit,” said Bjork. “But that’s helped our transition game, which has helped us get in on the forecheck. That’s where we’ve created opportunities just by attacking and screening hard. Yeah, it’s been good. Hopefully we can continue that.”
The real key to unlocking the third line’s potential might just be Forsbacka Karlsson, who brings more speed, more skill and an ability to be the responsible two-way defender when Heinen and Bjork speed out in the transition game. JFK didn’t get on the board in his first two games, but he nearly set up Heinen for a goal on a beautiful wheeling cross-ice pass in his season debut and has adopted more of an attack mentality himself after being a little too passive in past experiences with the big club.
It’s even an improvement on training camp when both JFK and Trent Frederic weren’t quite ready to win the third line center gig, and that left the Bruins juggling David Backes, Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and others as ill-fitting stopgap options until one of the kids was ready.
Well, it looks like JFK is finally ready to run the third line administration for the Black and Gold.
“Maybe [it’s] just time. Maybe [it’s] just expectations for us were high. I would guess that six weeks or whatever it is that he’s been down there after a full year, I would guess he’s hungry to be here and stay,” said Cassidy. “It’s kind of, what does the second go-around say? He had a quick indoctrination here against Washington a couple years ago, one game, and then goes down there and doesn’t play a lot with the big club and then preseason doesn’t work out.
“I think at some point the switch has to go off, okay this is what I need to do. I think he’s doing what we’re asking him to do, and he’s playing to his strengths. He’s still got a ways to go [and the] puck battles could be better, but I like the progress I’ve seen out of him. He seems to be a much more engaged player and that’s all we’re asking: be engaged every night. We’ll walk you through the rest, and hopefully you’re good enough to stay here.”
For now it looks more than good enough on the new-look third line, and that’s a great development for the Bruins. Now it’s up to the three kids to keep the energy and production up consistently, and provide the B’s with something they’ve been missing all season.
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