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.
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