Bruce Cassidy

Taking a shot at what the Bruins opening night roster might look like

Taking a shot at what the Bruins opening night roster might look like

BRIGHTON, Mass. - With the Bruins training camp finally on the same continent and the team together for the first time, things are beginning to feel a lot more like an NHL training camp.

It certainly felt that way on Friday when Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy addressed the Boston media for the first time and then again on Saturday when Brad Marchand, Tuukka Rask and David Pastrnak were back working out at Warrior Ice Arena. So now is the time to get real about competition for open spots on the NHL roster and to start prognosticating which lines and pairings will be rolled out Oct. 3 on opening night in Washington.

To this point, Cassidy said that nobody has played their way off the NHL roster four games into the preseason and that sets up an interesting battlefield for candidates in the final four exhibition games starting tonight vs. the Detroit Red Wings.

“The veteran guys won’t play on Saturday and there’s quite a few that won’t play on Monday either, so we’re looking at a week together with a couple of home preseason games to maybe look at our lineup a little bit more,” said Cassidy. “So, Monday we’ll get another look and then we’ll decide how we’re shaping up here. By then you’re hoping that now we’re looking at where [Sean] Kuraly fits in, and hopefully [Bergeron] is ready to go by then. Who is Krejci’s linemate going to be on the right side? So now we’re looking at one of the guys that’s here and whether they’ll fit in with him. It could go down to the wire for one or two spots, but Monday is a big day for some of those guys.”

One of the biggest questions facing this roster is whether to keep Bergeron, Pastrnak and Marchand together on the top line, or whether it’s better to slide Pastrnak in with Krejci to make two offensively dangerous forward lines. Much of it depends on the performance of the younger candidates on the wing, and thus far, Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato have performed well while vying for one of those right-wing spots.

Then there’s the third-line center vacancy left by the departure of Riley Nash. That's potentially up for competition among a number of players including Chris Wagner, Kuraly, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Trent Frederic and Jack Studnicka. Studnicka fared well centering Marchand and Pastrnak in China, and both Frederic and JFK had their moments centering potential NHL forward lines overseas as well. To this point, the Bruins kiddie corps has all done exceedingly well and that’s something that has all of them still standing as viable candidates.

“I think Donato was good in Game One. Game Two he made some plays and had some turnovers...the usual stuff that we work on with the young guys, but I love his initiative. He’s a guy that loves to make things happen,” said Cassidy. “JFK had pockets of really good shifts, and other teams he was tentative where we had to remind him it’s a 60-minute game. But again they are young guys. Frederic was very good on the kill with Backes, who has been his partner. He scored a goal, so offensively they all chipped in.

“Jack [Studnicka] had a little penalty trouble. I’m not sure he deserved all of them, but he’s learning that hands and sticks have to stay off the body. But again he’s 19 years old. Urho Vaakanainen played one game and he was pretty efficient. He’s a pretty smooth player as well.”

As lineups get more veteran-laden and the intensity ramps up in final four preseason games, here’s a first glance at what the Bruins roster might look like Oct. 3 against the Capitals:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak
DeBrusk-Krejci-Donato
Heinen-JFK-Backes
Wagner-Kuraly-Acciari

Chara-McAvoy
Krug-Carlo
Moore-Miller

Rask
Halak

The toughest omission is obviously Matt Grzelcyk on the back end after a strong rookie campaign, but the bottom line with Boston’s defensemen is that there’s going to be a good player sitting every night. Up front, Anders Bjork is the biggest name kept off, but his shoulder injury has put him behind Donato and Heinen, who have played very well in the preseason.

The biggest feature is keeping together Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak and that just comes down to maintaining an advantage that the Bruins will have over just about every team with a trio that can dominate at both ends of the ice. It would be easier to find a right winger that can make things go on the second line than recreating the magic of the Perfection Line using different forwards, so there’s a strong argument to be made for keeping the top group together for the long haul.  

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Talking Points: Bruins continue unbeaten in the preseason

Talking Points: Bruins continue unbeaten in the preseason

GOLD STAR: Jake DeBrusk was all over the place in this game. He scored both of the goals ahead of Kevan Miller’s empty-netter late in the third period and was involved all over the ice while showing some pretty good chemistry with fellow young gun Ryan Donato. It was Donato who connected with DeBrusk for a nifty pass on the winger’s first goal and the two created several offensive chances throughout the game. Perhaps best of all, DeBrusk fought through some kind of stomach bug that kept him out for half of the second period and then scored the game-winner after returning in the third. Nobody would have faulted DeBrusk if he didn’t come back for the third period of a preseason game, but he was almost instantly rewarded for his consistently strong commitment to the B’s. It’s early, but DeBrusk could be in line for some big things this season.

BLACK EYE: The entire team simply wasn’t good in the second period as Calgary dominated play against the Bruins, and controlled things pretty much from beginning to end. It actually looked like the B’s were going to get out of it thanks to some good work by Tuukka Rask, but then their bill came due at the end of the second period after a fruitless power play possession. The Bruins lost track of Sean Monahan coming out of the penalty box, and he was in all alone on a breakaway in the final seconds where he flipped one past a flopping Tuukka Rask trying to make a double-pad stack save. It left things tied 1-1 after 40 minutes of play and gave the Bruins their just desserts for not playing well at all in the middle 20 minutes.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins were closely clinging to a 2-1 lead for nearly all of the third period, and didn’t get their breathing room until Kevan Miller went with a rink-length empty net bid in the final minute of the third period. Once Miller put the finishing touches on the empty net score, the Bruins were in victory mode, going 2-0 on their trip to China in a pair of exhibition games against the Flames. Now, the Bruins get to spend the next day coming back to Boston and will get a couple more additional days off through the weekend to rest before going full bore with their entire team next week.

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HONORABLE MENTION: Another young player impressing in the early going is Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, the rookie center vying for the third-line center position. JFK played a strong two-way game and looked good in a top-six role in both games in China and made a really strong play to set up Jake DeBrusk’s game-winner. JFK moved aggressively on the forecheck, took the puck away from Calgary goaltender Mike Smith, and then fed a quick pass to DeBrusk cutting to the front for a wide-open bid at the doorstep. DeBrusk cashed in on the game-winner and JFK finished with three assists in the two games against Calgary overseas. Both JFK and Trent Frederic have looked good in a competition for third-line center.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4-0-0 – the Bruins record in the preseason thus far as they’ve outscored their opponents by a 12-7 margin. They may never lose in the preseason again.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's grown as a player...lots of pace to his game, finish in tight. He showed a lot of that the second half of last year. Good growth." –Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to reporters in China talking about the progress of Jake DeBrusk after his two-goal game.

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Breaking up is hard to do, but could it help Bruins' offense?

Breaking up is hard to do, but could it help Bruins' offense?

In what could be a season-long search for an answer to the question, the Bruins kick off training camp with a decision on their hands about their top forward line that was the NHL’s best pretty much all last season.

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak formed the “Perfection Line” and all three scored 30-plus goals while playing dominant two-way hockey all season, to the point where it was months into the season before opponents scored an even-strength goal against them. They were equally devastating in the Stanley Cup playoffs when Pastrnak’s six-point game against Toronto broke one of Wayne Gretzky’s scoring records, and the trio accounted for 16 goals and 53 points in just two rounds of playoff action.

So, the Bruins know they have something pretty darn magical when they lump those three forwards together. It gives the Black and Gold something that is going to strike fear deep in the hearts of even the best defensive opponents.

All that being said, the Bruins clearly also became way too one-dimensional offensively in the second round against a pretty solid Tampa Bay Lightning defensive unit. If the B’s top line or their power play didn’t score for them, then they weren’t getting much done offensively in the five games it took to get eliminated.

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So now Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is left with the question of whether it’s better to keep his dynamic top line united, or whether sliding Pastrnak to a second-line spot with David Krejci might help diversify the offense up front. There are good arguments to going with either choice, and Cassidy seemed to be doing mental gymnastics with the calculations while talking about it at last week’s Bruins Foundation golf tournament.

“It’s an easy switch whatever we decide. We’ve done it in-game, in-period, in the first 10 minutes of a game or in the third period,” said Cassidy. “It isn’t a difficult switch at all. [Pastrnak] has played with both Bergeron and Krejci, so moving somebody up [to the top line] becomes the question. We played Danton Heinen there last year when Marchand was hurt, we used [Anders] Bjork there at the beginning of last year and the other guy that we haven’t used that could go up there is [Ryan] Donato even though he’s a left winger.

“We’ve gone through Plans A, B and C as far as who would be the best fit, but to me, it’s about who takes the ball and runs with it. It won’t be a difficult decision to do it in terms of making the switch.”

What Cassidy wasn’t really saying is that the Bruins could also mix things up dependent on matchups throughout the regular season. If it’s a team the B’s feel like they could handle, they could simply roll with that top line and watch them roll up big numbers against forwards, D-men and goalies that simply can’t hang with them. Against the better, deeper teams in the league that they’re likely to see in the playoffs, that’s where the Bruins could spread out the offense up front and drop Pastrnak into a "Wild and Crazy Guys Line" with Krejci as they might in the postseason.

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Essentially, it will come down to one of the young guys stepping up and claiming the right wing spot alongside Marchand and Bergeron, which is a tougher assignment than it might seem at first blush. What they want to avoid is a situation like a couple of years ago when they forced Brett Connolly onto the line with Bergeron and Marchand, and it got to a point where they weren’t even looking to pass the puck to Connolly amid some major offensive struggles.

    Marchand certainly sounded like a guy that wasn’t worried about it, but one who also enjoyed his time rolling other teams last season with No. 37 and No. 88.

    Really when it comes down to it, who wouldn’t enjoy being pretty close to unstoppable?

    “Obviously the way that we play together we’re very comfortable. But we’re going to do whatever is best for the team. If we end up splitting up and we’re winning games then that’s all that really matters,” said Marchand. “We’ll play it out. We’ll feel it out. I’m sure there’s going to be some kids that are playing for spots and may fit in well too, so that’s what camp is. The start of the year is always a ‘feel out’ process. We didn’t start together last year and we ended up working together. I’m sure there will be times when we’re not together and there will be some kids inserted in there, and I’m sure there will be times when we are together. So we’ll play it by ear.”

    Clearly, it’s a fluid situation with the Perfection Line and just how much it will be featured, particularly early in the season when the Bruins are trying out some new things. Ideally, the Bruins will find combos that make both top forward lines dangerously productive throughout the season. But it’s hard to imagine Cassidy and Co. going away from such a proven force of goal-scoring nature when it gets to late-season crunch time and the Bruins are badly in need of a goal or two.

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