Bruins third line still looking for chemistry, offense in the early going

Bruins third line still looking for chemistry, offense in the early going

BOSTON – It’s only four games into the regular season for the Bruins, and the year is so fresh that they’re only now playing their first game on home ice Saturday night at TD Garden against the New Jersey Devils.

But it’s not too early for the Bruins to start looking at some of the troubling trends of the young 2019-20 regular season, and address them while they’re also winning hockey games. It was an unmitigated success on the road to start the season with a 3-1-0 record after swinging through Dallas, Arizona, Vegas and Colorado on the West Coast, but some of that success is not going to be sustainable if they don’t improve.

Take, for instance, the third line.

To this point the Bruins have tried Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle together as a constant third line “pair”, and they’ve installed Brett Ritchie and David Backes among others as the right wing in an admittedly small sample size. The results have been inconsistent, particularly when considering the kind of advantageous matchups that their third line should get against other team’s bottom D-pairings and bottom-6 lines.

That’s something Bruce Cassidy would like to see improvement on as the Black and Gold get into the season.

“[Heinen] has got to develop some chemistry with Charlie, for one thing. It’s a pair we’re really trying to work on while moving around the right wingers,” said Cassidy. “[Heinen] hasn’t a lot of production, but he’s not alone on that line. In the Dallas game they generated the most, but there hasn’t been as much since then.

“I’m encouraging them to play their game. We do need balanced scoring if we’re going to be successful. Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak have obviously taken over the last few games and we need them to lead the way. But we want others to pitch in. [David] Krejci’s line has been pitching in and they obviously had the goals called back against Colorado. But that’s where Danton and Charlie can pitch in 5-on-5. They’re probably going to get a lot of favorable match-ups now that we’re here at home, so let’s make sure we get them going.”

Coyle has just one assist in the first four games, and has managed just one shot on net in three of the four games with a much better six-shot effort against Vegas mixed in as well. Since scoring a power play goal on opening night against Dallas Heinen has just two shots on net, and zero points, in his last three games. As a line during 5-on-5 play, the third line really hasn’t done much aside from the Brett Ritchie goal scored right out of the starting gate in the first game against the Stars.

Perhaps with that in mind, Ritchie will be back in the lineup bringing his power forward game to the third line on Saturday night against the Devils. Certainly, the B’s third line guys realize they need to step up a little more offensively and provide some secondary offense behind a team that’s once again relying too much on their top line players in the early going.

“Whoever I’m playing with we need to make the most of it. When you get a practice or two in then you need to get some reps in that way so you can build some chemistry,” said Coyle. “That always helps, but that isn’t always the case when you’re on the road. You just need to talk a lot on and off the ice whoever you’re with just do the little things. I think that’s the best way to go about it.

“I think the more we get more games under our belt together we’ll get down tendencies, and we’ll gel a little bit more together. It starts with getting those chances, getting to the right spots and doing the right things. When you create those chances that’s when they start going in. But you’ve got to keep at it. When you’re not getting those chances it means you’re going away from your game. You just want to make sure you’re doing the right things, playing the right way and just working.”

For a guy like Coyle that looked so strong, and so locked in, during training camp, the slow start has to be considered disappointing. But there’s still plenty of time just four games in to turn things around and build on last spring’s impressive playoff performance, and this fall’s training camp when he was Boston’s best player beginning to end.

It all starts with the home opener on Thursday night for the third line with the Coyle, Heinen and Ritchie trio that looked so good on opening night in Dallas.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.

Bruins trade target Tyler Toffoli dealt to Canucks

File photo

Bruins trade target Tyler Toffoli dealt to Canucks

If the Boston Bruins are planning on making a big move before the NHL trade deadline on Feb. 24, their options are dwindling.

One of their rumored trade targets, Tyler Toffoli, was dealt by the Los Angeles Kings to the Vancouver Canucks on Monday, according to TSN's Darren Dreger.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

Ex-Bruin Tim Schaller is headed to L.A. in the deal along with prospect Tyler Madden and a second-round pick, per TSN's Bob McKenzie.

Back in January, it was reported by Sportsnet NHL insider Elliotte Friedman the Bruins "could do a deal for Toffoli almost at any time" and "have that in their hip pocket." Now, Boston is forced to look in another direction. New York Rangers winger Chris Kreider is another player linked to the B's in trade rumors.

Toffoli, who had spent all of his eight-year career with the Kings, has 18 goals and 16 assists in 58 games this season.

The Bruins will see Toffoli and the Canucks on Saturday when they face off in Vancouver.

All things considered, the Bruins are in a pretty good cap situation

All things considered, the Bruins are in a pretty good cap situation

Ahead of the 2020 NHL trade deadline, the Bruins have ample cap space to make a deal without requiring much in the way of roster gymnastics.

The Bruins hold roughly $3.1 million in salary cap space according to the invaluable, and that’s with a full roster utilizing all 23 spots along with a couple B’s players currently on long-term injured reserve as well.

Some of that is thanks to the $2.5 million cap hit for the injured Kevan Miller that’s never been on the Bruins books at any point this season. And some of that is thanks to the Bruins burying David Backes’ contract in the AHL more than a month ago.

LIVE stream the Celtics all season and get the latest news and analysis on all of your teams from NBC Sports Boston by downloading the My Teams App.

What it means is that the Bruins can make a decent deadline deal without being forced to dump salary, and would only be pushed into making moves to free up cap space if it were for an impact player with a substantial cap hit in the $5 plus million range.

The Bruins’ cap situation gives the Bruins some room to work while also boasting a roster that’s put up the most points in the NHL midway through the month of February.

That’s a pretty darn good situation to be in for Sweeney and Co. at the deadline coming off a Stanley Cup Final-worthy season.

For example, the Bruins were interested in Blake Coleman’s services prior to the New Jersey forward getting dealt to the Tampa Bay Lightning and it would have required zero in cap-clearing moves to bring the speedy, feisty Coleman into the fold. That’s part of the reason the Bruins had a keen interest in Coleman in the first place as a low-cost option for the next couple of seasons.

Miller (fractured kneecap) has been skating on his own for weeks, but isn’t close to returning with legitimate question marks as to whether or not he’ll ever be healthy enough to play this season. That gives the Bruins cap space to play with ahead of next week’s trade deadline and potentially allows them to go over the cap if Miller were to somehow be healthy enough to return just ahead of Boston’s playoff run.  

There is, after all, no salary cap in the Stanley Cup playoffs and a crafty salary cap manager can use that to their advantage over the final few months of the season if the timing of an injured player’s return works out perfectly.

If the Bruins were to bring in a player like Chris Kreider or Tyler Toffoli (both in the $4.6 million range), for instance, they’d need to clear about $1.5 million in cap space ahead of the deal. The Bruins could achieve that by shipping depth guys like Anton Blidh and Jeremy Lauzon to the minors provided everybody else was healthy.

If it’s a more expensive cap acquisition like Mike Hoffman or Wayne Simmonds, then the Bruins would be forced to deal away a roster player with bottom-pairing defenseman John Moore as the most likely candidate to be shipped out of town.

The 29-year-old Moore ($2.75 million cap hit) has toggled between bottom-pairing defenseman and healthy scratch when he hasn’t been injured in his first two seasons with the Bruins. And the Black and Gold have cheaper in-house alternatives in Lauzon and Connor Clifton.

It’s never prudent for a team like the Bruins with Stanley Cup aspirations to trade away defensemen depth down the stretch. But they might not have a choice if they’re forced to go with Plan C or Plan D when the hours start counting down to next Monday’s trade deadline.