Bruins

Hopefully, B's fans enjoy what watching they're seeing: the NHL's best line

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Hopefully, B's fans enjoy what watching they're seeing: the NHL's best line

BOSTON – There have been a number of features to the Bruins snapping off 13 wins in their last 17 games headed into the three-day Christmas break. 

Disciplined, consistent defense and superb goaltending have both been staples, and good health has been a key for a Black and Gold group that doubled as the walking wounded during the first few months of the season. But another undeniable factor for this Bruins team’s uprising has been the development of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak into the NHL’s best line as a double threat at both the offensive and defensive end of the ice. 

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Tampa can have Nikita Kucherov and Steve Stamkos, and the Oilers can make an argument for whoever is playing with Connor McDavid on any given day. But the NHL's best trio has been wearing Black and Gold, and they've dominated everyone up-and-down for more than a month together. 

“We have a little bit of everything. Pasta [David Pastrnak] obviously has a ton a skill and makes a lot of good plays and Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] is so good defensively he creates a ton of turnovers and then he’s unreal offensively too and creates opportunities and he can score goals from anywhere,” said Marchand, who is on pace for 43 goals and 91 points this season as he seems to keep setting and then re-setting his career highs every single season. “We just handle the puck. I think that’s our biggest asset – we recover a lot of pucks and get a lot of second opportunities when teams are cheating so I think that’s probably the biggest thing.”

They showed their offensive wares again on Saturday afternoon with Bergeron and Marchand providing all the goal-scoring in a 3-1 victory over the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden, and once their high-powered, puck-dominant trio didn’t get scored upon. In fact Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak haven’t had any even-strength goals scored on them in 19 games together since Bruce Cassidy formed the power line together out of necessity due to injuries. 

Now Cassidy wouldn’t dream of taking them apart as they routinely lead the way offensively, they show the highest of responsibility defensively and the rest of the Bruins forwards have figured out ways to support them when opponents focus all their energies on neutralizing Boston’s top line. The rest of the Bruins group doesn’t envy opponents that have to find any weaknesses within the BPD line because they simply aren’t there right now. 

“I’m glad they’re on our team. That’s a matchup I wouldn’t want to play against. They’re all so skilled, and they all think the game very well. They’re always in the right position, they’re always making plays happen,” said rookie D-man Charlie McAvoy. “I think their hockey IQs is what allows them to have the success they have. Bergy as a center man, he’s always in the middle. He’s always that kind of safety valve, when he’s out there I’m confident we’re going to be alright and we’re going to be playing in their zone. 

“They get good possession when they get set up in the O zone so it makes our lives easier having a line like that and they came through again tonight with some big goals and just like every night they’re huge for us.”

The offense is what you might expect with Pastrnak, Bergeron and Marchand combining for 40 percent of the Bruins’ goal-scoring output with 40 of the 101 goals scored for the B’s this season, and both Pastrnak and Marchand on pace for 40 plus goals this season. On Saturday it was Marchand that notched a power play goal in the first period, and then Bergeron provided the game-winner and the insurance with a pair of goals in the third period showed a couple of different things. 

The first was the pure chemistry between Marchand and Bergeron that’s been almost seven years in the making, and saw Marchand feed a perfect dish to No. 37 that he could step into for a blistering one-timer past Jimmy Howard. Then Cassidy and the B’s coaching staff showed a new wrinkle late in the game protecting a one-goal lead as they put David Backes out with Bergeron and Marchand to lock things down. 

That’s exactly what they did with Bergeron getting the empty net goal that iced the game, and the BPD line getting all the credit for a month plus of dominant work that’s shown them to be unstoppable by any metrics one might want to use. They dominate puck possession, they simply don’t give up goals to whomever they’re matched up against, and Marchand and Pastrnak are on track for career years with Bergeron “slacking” to a pace of just 27 goals and 64 points this season. 

There’s a long way to go and it remains to be seen if Cassidy can keep his top intact as the season keeps rolling along, but it’s going to be awfully difficult to bust up a forward trio that nobody seems to have any answers for this year. 

“We have three really good players. Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] is about as good a 200-foot player as there is in the league. He can obviously score goals but defensively – I knew he was good coming to the team -- but when you watch him on a nightly basis, he’s always in the right spot,” said David Backes. “He never is out of position and he’s always hard on the puck when it’s around him. From that, Marchy gets to open up his offensive side of things. Pasta [David Pastrnak] does the same thing and Pasta is certainly a very special offensive talent. March [Brad Marchand] just as well.

“Marchy maybe helps a little more on the defensive side of things but they’re a pretty special combination when they are together. They play power play together so they get a lot of that commonality. They get the consistency and they produce. We love having that. I don’t know what you do as a game plan to shut them down, and hope someone is going to beat you with somebody else. They are also a matchup line that’ll play against another team’s best line but they’ll get the better of that matchup. That’s a nightmare I think for coaches.”

It’s obviously a nightmare for opposing coaches this season given their offensive and defensive feats of strength. But it’s been a perfect development for a Bruins that now know they can rely every single night on the BPD line dominating when they’re on the ice, and have no reason to shy away from the most feared and respected forward trio across the 31 teams in the NHL. 

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Bruins call up Peter Cehlarik, could give him look on Krejci line

Bruins call up Peter Cehlarik, could give him look on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – After a night where Bruce Cassidy was mixing and matching forwards to try and find something workable on the second and third lines, the Bruins will turn to another young option on the wing. The Bruins called up Slovakian winger Peter Cehlarik on Tuesday and the big winger practiced with David Krejci and David Pastrnak while Brad Marchand (maintenance), Patrice Bergeron (maintenance), Jake DeBrusk (lower body) and Chris Wagner (under the weather) were missing from the practice ice at Warrior Ice Arena.

The 23-year-old Cehlarik has been on a scoring tear with the Providence Bruins, and has put together a solid season with 10 goals and 29 points in 37 AHL games while pushing for another look at the NHL level. Cehlarik had a strong training camp before falling short of making the big club while other young wingers like Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato ended up breaking camp with the team.

After switching all of those young wingers around looking for a permanent top-6 winger for the Krejci line and giving David Backes a chance over the last few games, now it’s going to be Cehlarik’s turn after waiting a half-season for it.

“The Cehlarik [move] is just a tweak of a guy playing really well in Providence that could fill that spot with Krejci,” said Bruce Cassidy, who pointed out puck management as the biggest area he’s needed to work on during his past call-ups with the Bruins. “So we’ll probably look at that, but other than that we don’t want to blow everything up [with our line combinations].”

Cehlarik has a total of a goal and four points in 17 NHL games with the Bruins over the last few years, and seems to be well aware that now is the time for him if he’s going to carve out a niche for himself in Boston. He’s expected to start aside Krejci on the second line, and that should give him a chance to succeed if he’s going to in his third stint with the B’s in three seasons.

“You work your way back, and think about what you need to do to get back up here. I’m good to go now and I’m ready to go. There are things you need to do in order to stick around, you know?” said Cehlarik. “I need to be more consistent and stay healthy, and I think I’m in the right direction. I’m happy and excited to be here.

“Krejci wants to play with the puck and I love that. I love to play in the O-zone with the puck positioning, and trying to make plays. I really enjoyed my first year when we played a couple of games together. But it’s a new year and a new chance, and I want to be better than I was before.”

Perhaps the Bruins can strike lighting with Cehlarik, who is a bit of a different profile than Boston’s other young forwards with his 6-foot-2 frame, strong puck possession skills, and size/strength qualities to play a little more of the power forward game. But in all likelihood this is just the Bruins running through another organizational option before they need to turn outside the team for a trade solution to what’s been a roster issue for the last couple of seasons.  

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Bruins may target Blues' Brayden Schenn or Vladimir Tarasenko in trade

Bruins may target Blues' Brayden Schenn or Vladimir Tarasenko in trade

BOSTON -- Perhaps some of it was because the Bruins will be hosting their team at TD Garden on Thursday night. Perhaps some of it was about their scouting the Montreal Canadiens.

But whatever the reason, the St. Louis Blues had a group of talent evaluators at TD Garden Monday night for the Bruins-Canadiens game – vice president of hockey operations Dave Taylor, assistant general manager and director of amateur scouting Billy Armstrong, and pro scout Kevin McDonald –- while the Bruins scouting staff has spent the last few days meeting in Boston as well.

Certainly the Blues -- second-to-last in the Western Conference and certain to be sellers at the trade deadline -- could be looking at both Bruins and Habs players, since both Boston and Montreal are jockeying for playoff position in the Eastern Conference. St. Louis is expected to make a number of veterans available ahead of the deadline, and several hockey sources say forward Brayden Schenn is someone who interests the Bruins. But perhaps the B's are aiming even higher, with Vladimir Tarasenko rumored to be available.

Schenn would undoubtedly be a versatile, rugged fit for the Bruins as a center coming off a career-high 28 goals and 70 points last season. He’s also a hard-nosed type who could add size, strength and versatility to Boston’s forward group.

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Tarasenko, on the other hand, would be a home run for any NHL team. He hasn’t scored fewer than 33 goals or 66 points in any of the last four seasons and would be the kind of game-breaker who could transform Boston’s second line into a bona-fide weapon. He'd immediately make the Bruins a much more serious contender.

It was apparent once again in Monday night’s loss that the B’s still are in need of another top-6 offensive forward. Despite Bruce Cassidy mixing and matching players on the second and third lines, the team still managed to scrape up only two goals on 43 shots.

The coach admitted after the loss he’s trying to find some high-performing forwards to pair with a motivated David Krejci, who has scored goals in three straight games and is poised for a big second half if the Bruins can provide him with wingers who'll finish off plays.

“I think [Krejci] has played really good hockey for us this year, whoever’s been on his wings, so you don’t want to lose him if, say, his linemates aren’t going well,” said Cassidy. “So we mix someone else in there. Then you get behind and you think, well, maybe you have to use [a] more offensive-minded [player], say [Ryan] Donato, who’s scored some goals, who . . . when [he] gets a chance can bury it.

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“It’s a bit of the thought process in there. And then if we feel like a guy’s just not committed, then that’s a message usually to a younger guy.”

Both Schenn and Tarasenko are signed beyond this season and thus would cost far more in trade assets than a rental. It remains to be seen what St. Louis would be looking for, beyond perhaps a first-round pick and B's prospect (and St. Louis native) Trent Frederic. It would make sense that either Torey Krug or Matt Grzelcyk could be available, as Urho Vaakanainen doesn’t appear too far away from regular duty in the NHL after a promising performance for Team Finland at the World Junior tournament.

We'll see if Bruins GM Don Sweeney changes course a little bit this season and gets aggressive with an early deal ahead of the rush at the deadline. But the big Blues presence is a sign they’re at least taking a closer look at an awfully big, and needed, upgrade.

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