BRIGHTON, Mass – The one thing that we’ve seen play out in the three losses to the Maple Leafs in their best-of-seven series is a lack of offensive finish on the chances that they’re getting against the Toronto defense. Boston has launched 162 shot attempts in the last two losses to the Maple Leafs both home and on the road, and they’ve managed to score just four goals despite clearly holding the advantage in terms of puck possession, chances and vulcanized rubber tossed at the opposing net.
Most concerning of all, the Bruins top line players in Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak all looked visibly frustrated by the third period of Monday night’s Game 6 loss, and really look like they’re beginning to be at a loss at how to beat Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen. It still remains to be seen if Andersen is going to be able to continue the hot goaltender act in a winner-take-all Game 7 situation, or if that the frustration for Boston’s elite players will spill over into an elimination game for both teams.
But one thing that should be strongly considered given all those recent factors would be inserting 21-year-old Ryan Donato into the lineup for the Bruins. Donato had five goals and nine points in 12 games for the Bruins at the end of the season after signing out of Harvard University and was excellent on the power play while working with the top unit during Rick Nash’s injury absence in those final weeks. Now the secondary scoring has essentially dried up for the B’s behind their top line, the weight of the entire offense has begun to burden the top line and the Bruins power play is 1-for-9 in their last four games after bounding out of the gate red hot to start the series.
Donato has the natural goal-scoring ability, the shot and release and the good hockey IQ to create offense in pretty rapid fashion, and has always been a possibility for the Black and Gold if the offense got a little too static during the postseason. Donato played in one game where he had a couple of shots and some decent time working things out in the offensive zone, but he also showed he’s got some things to learn in terms of board battles and defensive zone work.
There’s also the fact the Bruins seem much more comfortable with Donato at left wing than they do with him manning his off-wing on the right side.
That’s the dilemma for Bruce Cassidy when it comes to mulling an insertion of Donato into the lineup to act as an offensive jumper cable of sorts. Clearly, they’ve mulled it over and given the idea it’s due diligence in discussions, but it doesn’t sound like the Bruins are going to drop the youngster into Wednesday night’s Game 7 scenario.
“We’ve considered [playing Donato] certainly,” said Cassidy. “He played a game early [in the series] and he was okay. He wasn’t bad and he wasn’t great. He was somewhere in between. Nothing is set in stone as far as [Game 7] goes. There is something to be said for going with the players that have got you this far, and Danton Heinen is one of those players.
“Danton has played right wing, and that’s where Donato in our minds is really strictly a left winger. That’s where the juggling would come in if we were going to use Ryan. It was Wingels last night with good playoff experience on the road, and I thought he did a good job. Ryan is in consideration, but we’re going to try and play the best 12 forwards and see how they fit to win a hockey game [on Wednesday].
This humble hockey writer’s view: It probably would have been a better idea to give Donato at right wing a shot in Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre rather than trying to pass Tommy Wingels off as a second line winger. If the move didn’t work out in Boston’s favor then at least there was still Game 7 to fall back on, but that’s in the rearview mirror. Cassidy needs to decide between going with the tried and true formula of what got the Bruins to this point in the first place while showing unshakable faith, or mixing things up in a tacit acknowledgment that something needs to change after Boston’s two losses in a row in the series headed into Game 7.
It’s not an easy choice and so much of winning a Game 7 situation is avoiding the kind of rookie mistakes that Donato could easily fall victim to if he was in the lineup for Boston, but it also feels a little tight and a tad conservative for Cassidy to decide that the super-talented young Donato doesn’t have enough upside to push into the lineup.
It might just come down to this: If you have a choice of which Bruin should have the puck in a key scoring chance during the game, would be it Tommy Wingels, Danton Heinen or Ryan Donato. All due respect to both Wingels and Heinen, but it’s the electric Donato amid some healthy offensive totals he had no trouble scoring when given regular playing time in March and April.