BOSTON — It hasn’t been a breakout season for Charlie Coyle in his first full year with the Bruins. But it feels like he’s hitting his stride at exactly the right time.
Coyle became the third Bruins player outside the celebrated "Perfection Line" to hit double-digits in goals, when he scored a pair in Boston’s 4-2 win over the Arizona Coyotes Saturday at TD Garden.
Coyle now has three goals and four points in the three games since coach Bruce Cassidy put him with Sean Kuraly and Anders Bjork on the third line. The results are impossible to ignore. Kuraly and Bjork's speed lets Coyle stretch opposing defenses. That in turn opens up space for the big-bodied center to play the dominating puck possession game in the offensive zone.
It also means that Danton Heinen has been relegated to the bench, and Kuraly may no longer be anchoring the fourth line. But those are small prices to pay if it finally gives the B’s third line an identity.
Cassidy couldn’t help but rave about Coyle’s game following the win. In some ways, it’s the dominant level of play that the Bruins have been waiting for from the mild-mannered Weymouth kid all year long.
“I have to tell you, [Coyle] was really driving that line. I thought he was exceptional with the puck," Cassidy said. "Now, with Kuraly on the left, it’s a little bit different flavor than maybe a Danton Heinen. Bjorkie [Anders Bjork] has added some speed on the right side as well, so you have some guys who can really hunt pucks.
"[Coyle] hangs on to it as much as he can, puts it to an area that those guys can track it down for him, but he also knows they’re younger guys, so [he has to] drive the line. I like that Charlie does that. I hope that’s his response that he wants to be the leader of that line. Typically, centers are, but in this case, that’s what we’ve asked, because it’s been young guys [on his line] for the most part.
“I like his game that way when he’s playing, he’s really hard to play against, and I think he knows it, so it’s just a matter of getting it out of him every night and see where it leads.”
Coyle was holding onto the puck and carrying defenders at times in Saturday’s win, and finished off a slick backhanded pass from Charlie McAvoy for Boston’s opening goal in the second period. He capped his great day by launching an empty-net goal from all the way back in his own defensive zone with less than a minute to go.
Certainly he’s feeling more confident in his own offensive game, with some production to show for it. But it’s also about clicking with the north/south Kuraly and the speedy Bjork that’s winning matchups against opponents.
It’s tough to argue with the results. Coyle has three goals and four points in their three games together. Kuraly has a goal, two points and 10 shots on net, while Bjork has two points and a plus-3 rating as well.
“I don’t ever want to feel too comfortable. I’m always going to be pushing for more," Coyle said. "It can help confidence-wise, but I just want to play the right way for the team. It’s the kind of things we talk about: Being a big body, protecting the puck and being a force up the middle. That’s what this team needs from me, so I’m just playing that consistently. It’s been feeling pretty good. Bjork and I have been together for a bit and we talk a lot, and Sean is a pretty easy guy to read off. He’s a straight-line guy and he’s got the speed too.
“I like playing with those guys that can go like that. And he works. He’s just a dog out there and he’s relentless. I think we play that way and battle first it opens things up for us and we seem to be getting rewarded in the last couple of games. We want to keep building on it.”
It’s been a season-long exercise to find Coyle consistently effective wingers on his third line, but the Bruins may have found that winning combo over the last few games. It’s still a small sample size. But there’s no reason to change anything right now, given how well Kuraly, Coyle and Bjork have been working together over the last few games.