Are Bruins making a tactical error going with 'fastest lineup' vs. speedy Maple Leafs?

Are Bruins making a tactical error going with 'fastest lineup' vs. speedy Maple Leafs?

BRIGHTON, Mass – In an interesting twist, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t making any secrets about the strategy for his team headed into Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

It’s already been there when you read between the lines with big, physical players David Backes and Connor Clifton appearing to be healthy scratches while faster players Karson Kuhlman and Steve Kampfer looking as if they’ll be in the lineup. It’s an interesting decision given that the choices of speed and skill would seem to be playing right into the strengths of a Toronto Maple Leafs team hoping to play run-and-fun hockey.

Still, that’s where Cassidy appears to be going at the start of the series.

“We’re going to try and dress our fastest lineup,” said Cassidy. “I just feel that the series is going to start that way, and then as you get into it I feel that the teams will get that early energy out [of their system] and settle in. That’s kind of the plan for Game 1 anyway.

“[The speed] is up and down their lineup. [Auston Matthews] is No. 1, and Mitch Marner is No. 2. There’s [Kasperi] Kapanen and [William] Nylander. All of their lines have players that want to attack with time and space. Our MO all year has been to try and eliminate that with the best players in the league that can take advantage of those situations.”

Clearly, there is some question as to what the 34-year-old Backes can give at this point in his career with a league that’s speeding up, but he’s also the kind of experienced, physical player that could elevate his play over a short period of time.

The real question is whether a decision to play with greater speed, and perhaps less physicality without Backes or Clifton, is going to backfire on the Bruins, and instead give Toronto’s best players exactly what they want. Certainly, there are still some big, strong Bruins in the lineup with Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo still in there. Fourth-line bangers Chris Wagner and Noel Acciari will bring their hard-hitting style as well.

But part of Boston’s success against Toronto last spring was their embrace of a physical style against the younger Leafs, who largely didn’t want to get into it with the Black and Gold. Normally a hockey team wants to seize control of the pace and style of play in a playoff series and dictate terms whenever they can. Cassidy admitted as much when asked about it on Tuesday morning.

“I think last year what I got after the fact [from the Toronto series] is that they got dragged into a bit of our game with the physical part. They wanted to play with pace and play to their strengths. I think every team goes into every series and wants to play to their strengths, but it doesn’t always work out that way. That’s why there’s a winner and a loser,” said Cassidy. “But for us, we’re comfortable in the skating game and I think we’ve proven that. When the battle level goes up, I think our guys are willing to accept that kind of game. The guys are almost like ‘game on, let’s go’ and trade some hits to see where it leads them.

“Obviously we want to be physical when we can, but if we chase hits in this series that aren’t there then we’re going to be digging our puck out a lot. We’re going to be relying on our goaltender to bail us out, or we’re going to be giving up odd-man rushes and digging the puck out of the back of our net. I think the guys understand that they can’t let the emotion and the physicality part of it overtake us. We want them to be uncomfortable and we want their D to double-check over their shoulder and be a little hesitant [when retrieving pucks].”

Certainly, the Bruins have shown in their 107-point regular season that they are comfortable playing the speed game and they gave Toronto all the offense it could handle in the series last spring as the top line truly dominated the series. Still, it’s a legitimate question to ask at the outset of the series if the Bruins are making a tactical error going with speed over physicality in Game 1 on Thursday.

Is it really necessary to change things up from the norm when the Bruins edged out the Leafs in seven games last spring, and then took three of four games from them in the regular season this year as well?

Certainly, adjustments will be made throughout the series and the Bruins can quickly reverse course if things don’t work out for them in Game 1 on their home ice. But it’s an interesting, somewhat counterintuitive, choice that Cassidy is making to match Toronto’s blazing speed with Boston’s own version of the speed attack at the outset of the series. 

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Who are the top 10 right wings in the NHL right now?

Who are the top 10 right wings in the NHL right now?

With another two-goal effort against the Devils Tuesday night, David Pastrnak upped his league-leading total to 19 this season — in just 21 games.

That's a 74-goal pace, a total that no player has reached since the 1992-93 season (Alexander Mogilny, Teemu Selanne).

Even if Pastrnak doesn't maintain this ridiculous pace, a 50-goal season seems all but assured, assuming he stays healthy.

But has the 23-year-old established himself as the best right wing in the game, or does he still slot in behind established talent like Patrick Kane or last season's Hart Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov?

Joe Haggerty is kicking off a series of positional rankings by stacking up the best right wings in the NHL.

Click here for Haggerty's Top 10 right wings.>>>>>

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Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Devils

Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Devils

GOLD STAR: Matt Grzelcyk kicked off the scoring for the Bruins and finished with the first two-goal game of his NHL career in the win over the Devils. Grzelcyk had the two goals along with a plus-2 rating in 19:16 of ice time while showing exactly what he can do offensively with Torey Krug out of the lineup. The second score in the third period was a highlight-reel goal as he faked out PK Subban at the offensive blue line and then rocketed a shot under the crossbar past Mackenzie Blackwood to ice things for the Black and Gold. Grzelcyk finished with three shots on net, a hit and a blocked shot in the biggest offensive game of his career.

BLACK EYE: PK Subban looked bad against the B's. Subban finished with a minus-2, took a lazy tripping penalty in the third period that led to David Pastrnak’s insurance power-play goal and then got completely posterized by Grzelcyk on a third-period goal where he dangled right around the New Jersey D-man. Subban didn’t do much of anything at the offensive end either aside from one shot in the slot area that Tuukka Rask made a pretty routine save on. It all underscores just how much Subban’s skills have apparently eroded due to either age or injuries because he sure isn’t the same guy that he was in his younger years in Montreal.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins had a solid 2-1 lead after the first 40 minutes, but they had given up a goal late in the second period that ate away at their momentum a little bit. So, it was important for them to come out guns blazing in the third and that is exactly what they did while blowing the Devils out of the water. The Bruins scored three goals and took advantage of some sloppy mistakes from the Devils to pull away in a game that felt a lot closer than it ultimately ended up being on the scoreboard. Certainly, seeing the B’s pull away from teams in the third is a much more welcome sight than the third-period implosion we saw against Florida a week ago.  

HONORABLE MENTION: David Krejci was excellent sliding in as the top center between Brad Marchand and Pastrnak, just as he was last season when Patrice Bergeron also missed time with an injury. Krejci got the secondary assist with a great backhanded pass on Grzelcyk’s first-period goal and then he set up Pastrnak for his first-period score as well. Krejci finished with a couple of assists, a plus-3 rating and 7-for-14 on face-offs in 15:49 of ice time. Krejci is again showing exactly what he could do if he was ever centered between a pair of elite offensive wingers instead of the carousel of right wings the Bruins have provided him the past couple seasons.

BY THE NUMBERS: 19 – the number of goals for Pastrnak this season after another two-goal outburst. That leads the NHL. There have only been seven games this season for the Bruins where he hasn’t scored a goal.  

QUOTE TO NOTE:  “I don’t think we made one mistake in the third [period]. We just played winning hockey in the third.” –David Pastrnak, to NESN on the B’s pulling away from the Devils in the final 20 minutes.

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