Bruins

Behind the B's surge: Offensive explosion

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Behind the B's surge: Offensive explosion

With the bye week upon us, we present a five part series breaking down Boston’s 17-3-3 run over the last two months, and how the Black and Gold have gone about making the surge from Atlantic Division bottom dweller to legit playoff contender. Today we look at the Bruins offensive explosion over their extended successful run.

Judging by the raw overall numbers, the Bruins have been a good, above-average offensive team this season. They’re sixth in the NHL scoring 3.2 goals per game and rank 11th in power play success rate, and have consistently been no worse than average during even their lowest points this season.

But they have completely exploded in the 11-game point streak that led into the five day bye week while outscoring opponents by a 46-19 margin over that course, and have blown out the Hurricanes, Islanders, Blue Jackets and the Senators a couple of times during that span.

So what’s been the key to the Black and Gold lighting the lamp with impunity over the last month worth of games?

BEHIND THE B's SURGE

It’s about two different things that are essentially working in tandem that has recently made the Bruins pretty darn close to unstoppable for other teams.

One is the sheer dominance of their stacked top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, who caught fire again right before the bye week with Bergeron’s four-goal outburst in their squashing of the Carolina Hurricanes. Marchand and Pastrnak share the team lead with 17 goals on the season, and the three Bruins forwards lead the team in points while giving teams everything they can handle on a nightly basis.

Marchand is on pace for 39 goals and 91 points this season, Pastrnak is set to nearly match last season’s production with 34 goals and 79 points and Bergeron is on pace for 35 goals and 69 points as “weak link” of the stacked forward trio. Even more impressive the Perfection Line has given up just a single even strength goal in their time together this season, a single goal allowed in a one-sided road win over the Islanders. Bruce Cassidy put that line together while injuries were hitting the Bruins hard in the opening months of the season in order to give them something they could rely on offensively. Now they’ve become so good together playing the 200-foot game that there’s no good reason to try and break them up.

“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. He is never is out of position and he’s always hard on the puck when it’s around him,” said David Backes. “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.”

The real secret behind Boston’s big offensive splash over the last two months has been the scoring depth that’s backed up the B’s top line. Danton Heinen has brought a scoring and playmaking touch to Boston’s third line, and is among the NHL’s top rookie scorers while playing the very same 200-foot game that Bergeron and Co. are working on the top line. The 22-year-old Heinen is joined by a solid two-way center in Riley Nash, and a resurgent David Backes as he plays the best hockey of his Bruins career since returning from his diverticulitis surgery.

Heinen is on  pace for 21 goals and 64 points as a rookie left winger on the third line, and Backes is on pace for 22 goals and 47 points despite missing 17 games in the first half of the season. Even better they stepped up and provided the bulk of the offense in recent weeks when Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak hit a rare slow patch in their production.

“We have talked about it. We need it, different lines contributing. Some nights, they all do it at once,” said Cassidy. “It seems lately we are getting a lot of those five, tonight seven-goal games. You know that is not going to continue forever, but good for them. I don’t think they’re cheating or it’s dumb luck. They are playing the right way.”

Add to that a second line of Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and Ryan Spooner that’s beginning to take shape and a fourth line of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari that’s actually influenced some games with their high-effort and blue collar approach, and the Bruins have a forward group where Bruce Cassidy can roll his four lines. This has allowed the B’s head coach to selectively limit the amount of ice time thrown on the shoulders of Bergeron and Marchand, and it makes it much more difficult for opponents to key on one particular group in efforts to shut down the Bruins.

“I think our goal-scoring has come around, and a lot of that has to do with us being healthy for one of the few times this year. In the last few weeks we’ve had our full lineup out there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “You’re starting to see us be a harder team to check and match up against because we’ve got a lot of different lines scoring. The first part of it is to keep the puck out of the net and do the right things defensively, and then the rest seems to take care of itself for us.”

At least that’s the plan on most nights when all things are equal for a B’s team that’s done a very good job of playing front-runner over the last couple of months. If they keep scoring at their current rate up and down the lineup, that trend isn’t going to be changing anytime soon for them either. 

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Morning Skate: Isles may not let Tavares get away

Morning Skate: Isles may not let Tavares get away

Here are all the links from around the hockey world and what I’m reading while wishing happy trails to Hanley Ramirez.

*It sounds like the New York Islanders are strongly in the game for retaining John Tavares after bringing Lou Lamoriello into the hockey operations fold. They will be joining a number of other teams including the Maple Leafs, Buffalo Sabres and others. Do I expect the Bruins to be in the running for Tavares? Not unless they could find a taker for David Krejci. I don’t see that as a very likely scenario this offseason, just as I didn’t see it as a very likely scenario the past couple of years as well. Krejci’s got a big cap hit, he’s well past 30 when teams tend to steer clear of expensive players and he’s logged some heavy miles in his time with the Bruins. Those are the not the kind of players that teams are looking for even with his excellent playoff credentials and a distinct lack of frontline centers around the league.

*The Golden Knights vs. the Washington Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final is a win-win for hockey fans looking for a good series, says the Hockey News.

*This may be the first and last time that FOH (Friend of Haggs) Greg Wyshynski gets a return tweet from Satan, Miroslav Satan that is.

*Things continue to speed up in Pittsburgh as trade rumors are swirling with Phil Kessel in what looks like it’s going to be a turbulent end to his run with the Penguins. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems like Mr. Kessel has worn out his welcome at just about every stop along the way in his NHL tour over the last 10 plus years.

*Interesting profile on NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who continues to tailor his entire life around running the National Hockey League and guiding it to its highest popularity and business levels in league history.

*For something completely different: It’s a little surprising here as the Red Sox and Hanley Ramirez are parting ways with the DH getting designated for assignment by the Sox.

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A look at Bruins in free agency: Rick Nash

A look at Bruins in free agency: Rick Nash

By all accounts, the trade for power forward Rick Nash at the deadline should have worked out splendidly for the Bruins.

Nash, 33, is a proven NHL goal-scorer, a skilled big body. He fit the profile of previous Bruins Milan Lucic, Jarome Iginla and Nathan Horton, who achieved big-time success with David Krejci in the past. Nash certainly looked as if he was going to be an impact player for the Black and Gold when he posted a couple of goals and a whopping 23 shots on net in his first four games after getting traded from the New York Rangers for Ryan Spooner, a 2018 first-round pick and Ryan Lindgren among other assets.

But the production slackened as the games rolled on, and Nash eventually was dinged up with a concussion that ended his regular season. The big right winger returned for the playoffs and even had a two-goal game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the second round, but Nash couldn’t consistently provide offensive punch on Boston’s second line. 

In that respect, Nash’s three goals and five points, along with his minus-7 rating in 12 playoff games, were a pretty big disappointment given the assets surrendered to acquire him. The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was brought in to help avoid situations like the four consecutive playoff losses to the Lightning, where the Bruins couldn’t muster any even strength offense up front from their forward group.

Rather than label Nash a disappointment, however, the Bruins looked at his playoff performance as one that was irreparably harmed by a concussion right in the middle of everything. Clearly, it would have been difficult for any player to hit the ground running right at the start of the playoffs, and Riley Nash suffered from the same kind of issue when he jumped into the postseason after his own concussion issues as well.

“It’s unfortunate that [Nash] got banged up near the end of the season there, and it really took him a while to get back. I don’t think he was himself. He said that during the exit meetings that he wasn’t quite himself. It’s disappointing because we felt we had a guy that was really going to help our secondary scoring and that line and help David [Krejci] get going in some offensive situations,” said Bruins team president Cam Neely. “You could see the big body and how he protects the puck, and how good he is in the corners and along the walls. But he just wasn’t quite himself after coming back from that [concussion] injury.

“As Don [Sweeney] mentioned, we’re going to look at every UFA that we have, and RFA, and come to conclusions on whether or not it makes sense for us to move forward with those players.”

While the Bruins may not have ruled out any of their looming free agents with July 1 still more than a month away, it seems like a long shot for Nash to come back to the Bruins based on his age, performance and cost to retain him. Certainly, the player said all the right things while packing up his stuff on breakup day with the team. Nash was an unassuming, pleasant presence following the trade.

Nothing has changed from the simple, basic truth that the Bruins could desperately use a player like Nash when he’s still at his best.

“It was disappointing with having a concussion, and having some effects during it, and only playing a certain amount of games. Then coming back for the playoffs,” said Nash. “But everything was positive. The organization was great. The guys were awesome...So, it was a great chapter here and hopefully, it can continue.

“I would love to [return], for sure. They’ve got a special group here and a lot of talent. It’s a great place to play.”

Clearly, Nash will be looking at a healthy pay cut from the $7.8 million cap hit and $8.2 million in actual salary he was paid in the 2017-18 season. He’s not the same dominant power forward-type he was in his prime years with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Rangers and is coming off 21 goals and 34 points along with a minus-12 in 60 games for the Blueshirts and Bruins. He still flashes the power puck possession, strong two-way game and occasional offense of his youth, but it sure looks like his ability to finish is fading.

If the Bruins could sign a player like Nash for a year or two in the $3-4 million per season range then it might be worth their while. He still appears good for at least 20 goals worth of big-bodied, power forward play. There may some level of interest in retaining Nash simply based on the large amount that Sweeney paid for the player at the deadline and the hope that he can still be what they envisioned him to be last spring.

But let’s be honest here.

What the Bruins really need is a young, better version of Nash on the upswing or at the very least is still in the prime of his career as they look for offensive impact on their second line. There are free-agent options such as James van Riemsdyk who will be much costlier while bringing a similar power forward skill set and there will undoubtedly be trade options such as the Gabriel Landeskog-types that the Bruins have flirted with in the past. Still, that will require the B’s surrendering more assets in trade after forking over their first-round pick, Spooner and a blue-chip prospect in Lindgren for what amounted to six goals and 11 points in 23 games from Nash.

That is not a lot of bang for the Black and Gold buck when it’s all settled.

If it were up to this humble hockey writer, it should be time to cut their losses on Nash while already holding an aging, overpriced power forward type in David Backes. Instead, the Bruins should focus on a younger, perhaps underrated commodity as Horton was when the Bruins traded for him as an underperforming Florida Panthers winger prior to the 2010-11 Cup-winning season.

The Bruins still need an explosive, big body as a goal-scoring bookend for Krejci on the second line, but there’s really no need to prolong the Rick Nash chapter given the underwhelming returns after his three-month stint with the team.

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