There were myriad questions facing the Bruins at the closure of their Stanley Cup playoff run in the second round against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Some were about the overall roster and some were about players who either did or didn’t rise to the occasion in the postseason. Still, there are deeper, fundamental issues as well after watching just how top-heavy the Bruins offense was, particularly when their even strength offense went completely dark against Tampa Bay in the second round.
It begs the question, should the Bruins keep their dominant top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak together moving forward, or bust it up in the interest of balancing the offense a little more up front?
Clearly, it’s a bit counterintuitive given that Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak were the best forward line in the NHL this season and rang up 16 goals and 53 points in 12 postseason games against Toronto and Tampa Bay after operating as a dominant two-way force in the regular season.
In the losses, however, that top line was held to four goals, 11 points and a combined minus-23 in seven playoff games, with all the offense that they did provide coming in the Tampa Bay series. That’s too much all-or-nothing from the top players when teams need to battle tooth and nail in the playoffs and way too much nothing from everybody else in the second round.
Some of it was about injuries, ranging from Jake DeBrusk, to Rick Nash, to Riley Nash and David Backes, who were all banged up, but some of it was that something that needs to change up front. The Bruins forwards were far too easily neutralized by a big, strong and physical Tampa Bay defensive group. It's something that needs to be addressed for next season and beyond.
Certainly, Marchand and Bergeron would stay together as a duo regardless of what happens, but it was eye-opening to watch that Bruins top line get shut down in the postseason losses and then to watch the sheer inability of anybody else among the forwards to step up. Couple that with the chemistry that Pastrnak has shown with fellow Czech David Krejci in the past, and did again when the two played together in the World Championships earlier this spring, and there’s a very compelling argument to remove Pastrnak from the top line.
The question is how deeply the Bruins are going to investigate breaking up the Black and Gold Beatles so to speak, and if that is the answer for Boston’s second line next season rather than searching outside the organization for a Rick Nash replacement.
“It’s a prolific line, it’s very difficult to stop, and the chemistry that they have created [is special]. We had three people at the World Championships come back and said ‘Boy, [David] Krejci and [David] Pastrnak played really well together’...so those things filter back to the coaches,” said GM Don Sweeney. “We know that that’s an option for us. Whether or not it’s a player from the outside, whether that’s Rick Nash, or whether it’s somebody that goes up and plays, I think Bruce [Cassidy] is excited about sort of the younger forwards and the options that he has to try some of those things.
“I don’t think anything is set in stone. It’s certainly a coach’s decision, but we’ll have some conversations. We feel that our top six – I think Rick Nash from a size and puck protection standpoint -- gave us something that was maybe missing in that regard, so we’re cognizant of it. We’re just trying to field the best, most competitive team that we can. Anders Bjork started [with Marchand and Bergeron] this year, and a lot of teams have worked in sets of two, you know, to keep combinations of two together. Does that mean that Krejci and Pastrnak become a combination of two, or is it now Jake DeBrusk and Krejci become a combination of two? These are things we’re kind of going through.”
In a perfect world, the Bruins would keep their top line intact for next season and continue to ride it all the way to dominant performances against opponents who can’t stop them and can’t score against them either. Still, part of the problem is that they need to find somebody that can bring the best out of Krejci. That’s something that Rick Nash was never able to do at any point when the two were together at the end of last season.
Instead, it might have to be the explosive, 22-year-old Pastrnak who gets dropped to the second line to highlight the best of what’s still left in Krejci’s playmaking and bring balance back to the attack. Perhaps the Bruins can even tailor their forward group to whatever team they’re playing: Load up on the top line against the weaker defensive teams that simply don’t have the wherewithal to stop them and then spread things out a little bit against teams Tampa and Toronto, where balanced scoring is more of a must-have.
The Bruins can always plug in a young player (Bjork, Danton Heinen or Ryan Donato) with Marchand and Bergeron in most scenarios. That would actually be ideal from a player development standpoint, and could bring out the best in a talented young player ready to burst on the NHL scene offensively.
The good news is this: The Bruins have as many options up front as they have questions about the makeup of their top-six and they still have three explosive offensive forces in Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak, who each scored 30 goals last season. That’s a pretty damn good place to start and much better than most of the other NHL teams will be working with this fall when they put their forward combos together in camp.