The Boston Bruins are making a few interesting lineup changes Sunday night as they try to get back on track and beat a struggling Vancouver Canucks team at TD Garden.
Boston has lost two of its last three games and secondary scoring continues to be a weak spot. One of the reasons for that lack of scoring depth has been the inconsistent play of third-line forwards Jake DeBrusk and Erik Haula.
DeBrusk has scored only one goal in his last 13 games. What's worse is he's tallied one or fewer shots in seven of those matchups. That's nowhere near good enough for a former first-round draft pick who averaged 20.6 goals over his first three NHL seasons.
Haula, who was signed by the Bruins as a free agent over the summer, has been even less effective offensively with three points (one goal, two assists) in 17 games.
Both DeBrusk and Haula will be healthy scratches when the B's host the Canucks.
What's behind the decision to bench DeBrusk? Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy explained Sunday morning.
“I think what happens with Jake and what we’ve seen over the last few years is, like when the production is there you’re getting more second effort, they kind of go hand in hand,” Cassidy told reporters. “When it’s not there, we lose a little bit of that. That’s been the ask of him for a number of years now -- no drop off on this side of the ledger just because the production isn’t there.”
"Any 20-goal scorer still only scores once every four games if they’re playing every game, more or less, so you still need the other things. A little bit more of an ask there on second effort away from the puck, working to keep it out of your net, etc. We understand certain guys can be physical when they’re not scoring or bringing something, and for him, it’s foot speed, and I’d like to see that every night. I’d like to see him impact the game with his foot speed every night in some way shape or form, whether it’s the forecheck, attacking the net, the penalty kill, whatever the case may be.
“So, that’s where we’re at, and we’re starting to see that drop off again, so it’s a reminder, ‘Hey, bring us the effort and hopefully the production happens, but we need that.'”
The Bruins likely will have a third line of Nick Foligno at left wing with Trent Frederic at center and Karson Kuhlman at right wing against the Canucks. Frederic and Kuhlman aren't dynamic offensive players, but you won't have to worry about their effort level or physicality.
Sunday's game is a good spot for Cassidy to tinker with the lineup and maybe try some unusual line combos. The Canucks have the fourth-worst record in the league with only two wins in their last 10 games. They're an opponent the Bruins should beat fairly easily.
That said, the Bruins still need to find a way to maximize DeBrusk's scoring production. He's too talented to go long stretches without finding the back of the net. The B's don't have a ton of options in the AHL to add offense to the NHL roster. They need veterans like DeBrusk to give them more goals.