Patrice Bergeron

How Bruce Cassidy could shake up lines to give struggling Bruins a jolt

How Bruce Cassidy could shake up lines to give struggling Bruins a jolt

Hard times have arrived for the Bruins, at least temporarily.

Boston has lost two regulation games in a row for the first time all season and three games in a row for just the second time all season while falling into complacency with a massive 11-point lead in the Atlantic Division over the next closest team in Florida.

Since dropping eight goals against the Canadiens in an embarrassing blowout win at the Bell Centre a couple of weeks ago, the offense has also slowed down for the Bruins with 16 goals scored over the last seven games. Some of it was about Patrice Bergeron being out of the lineup with a lower body injury, but some of it might also be the team literally crying out for some changes among the forward group combinations.

Now with Bergeron back after scoring a goal against the Senators on Monday night, Bruce Cassidy can actually fool around with his tried and true combinations.

With that in mind, here’s a modest proposal for some line combinations that might just work for the Black and Gold with it feeling like things have gotten a little stale over the last week as ennui seems to have struck with a Bruins team not getting pushed by anybody right now:

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Anders Bjork

This is perhaps Boston’s best chance to mix and match their forward lines while looking to get some diversity in their scoring attack during 5-on-5 play. Bjork brings the same kind of skating speed and youthful exuberance that David Pastrnak already brings to this line, and it seems that now Bjork understands the doggedness and two-way responsibilities he’ll need to pay attention to in order to stay at the NHL level.

Best of all, playing with Marchand and Bergeron could give Bjork more scoring opportunities and really boost his confidence to turn into the goal-scoring source he was projected to be when he first signed with the Bruins. The trick would be switching Bjork from left wing to his off-wing on the right side where he’s had challenges in the past, but it seems like he’s better-equipped to deal with it now that he’s healthy and a couple of years into his NHL career.

Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-David Pastrnak

There are Bruins fans everywhere clamoring for Krejci and Pastrnak to play together given their natural, Czech-born chemistry and some of the success that they have had in the past. Sliding Pastrnak down to the B’s second line would really make each of Boston’s top two lines formidable in their own right, and make them much more difficult to defend while not being quite as top-heavy as they are with the Perfection Line.

The one concern in the past has been that Pastrnak doesn’t score at quite the same rate when he’s away from Bergeron and Marchand, and that DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak can probably be exploited a bit defensively. That’s part of the reason Danton Heinen is with them right now given his attention to detail playing a strong two-way game. But Krejci and Pastrnak can be fun to watch and could bring some pizzazz to the second line.

Danton Heinen-Charlie Coyle-David Backes 

This would be a return to the third-line glory years of a couple of seasons ago when Heinen and Backes were the two wings and Riley Nash was the center who seemed to bring the best out of them. This line certainly wouldn’t be the fastest given that Coyle is the best skater of the three, but it would be offensively viable with all three forwards capable of scoring 15-plus goals in a season.

Also, the massive size of both 6-foot-3, 220-pound Coyle and 6-foot-3, 215-pound Backes would give the Bruins' third line a heavy, thumping style of play that could wear down other teams while playing the puck possession game. They wouldn’t be all that dynamic, but it could be a really effective third line if the top two forward lines are based on speed and skill.

Chris Wagner-Sean Kuraly-Brett Ritchie

Certainly an argument could be made for Joakim Nordstrom to be here and really he’s done nothing to get taken out of the lineup. But this humble hockey writer’s opinion is that the fourth line isn’t playing with the same jam and physicality as consistently as they did last season, and that is a big-time need on this Bruins team this season.

So this combo could be a big, heavy and punishing group capable of both playing against other teams' top lines and bringing energy, thump, or whatever is needed for a group that is going through the motions right now. A lot of it comes down to Ritchie, though, who needs to play to his size and strength more often if it’s all going to work. Otherwise the Bruins might as well just go with Nordstrom and utilize Ritchie as their extra forward until the light bulb goes off for him.

Bonus line combo: Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Charlie Coyle

This isn’t likely to be a line combo you’ll see much unless injuries hit, but shifting the big, strong Coyle to the wing and bringing his power forward game to the top line could be a great match.

Certainly Coyle might not be the shoot-first presence that one is usually looking for at the right wing spot alongside Bergeron and Marchand, but the one consistent way to frustrate that line is for a big defensive corps to wear them down physically while pushing them away from the net. It’s what the Tampa defense did successfully in the playoffs a couple of years ago and it’s what St. Louis was able to do against them in the Stanley Cup Final last season.

Coyle would make it a lot more difficult to push around the other two parts of the Perfection Line, and that could be a successful look against bigger D-men personnel. It would require Par Lindholm to be inserted into the lineup (and Backes or Ritchie scratched) as the third-line center, but that’s entirely doable based on Boston’s forward depth.

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Talking Points: Patrice Bergeron the only bright spot in brutal Bruins loss

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Talking Points: Patrice Bergeron the only bright spot in brutal Bruins loss

GOLD STAR: Anthony Duclair toiled with the Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets after some solid initial success in the desert with a 20-goal season on his resume, but it feels like the 24-year-old is enjoying a second life with the Ottawa Senators.

Duclair finished with a pair of goals and three points against the Bruins on Monday night and was making things happen pretty much every time he was on the ice. Duclair finished with two goals, three points, a plus-3 rating, six shots on net and five giveaways in his 16-plus minutes of ice time. Duclair’s first goal of the night gave the Senators a 2-0 lead and essentially put the Bruins deep in the hole before he iced things at the very end with an empty netter.

BLACK EYE: Torey Krug finished a minus-3 with just a single shot on net, and it could have been even worse if he hadn’t jumped off the ice just before Ottawa scored the first goal of the game in the first period. As it was, Krug had five shot attempts that were either blocked or missed their target and didn’t have enough offensively to help push along the Bruins power play when they really needed to do their damage.

Later on in the game Krug had some defensive issues as well and was among a number of Bruins players that finished with some pretty rough plus/minus numbers including Jake DeBrusk (minus-4), David Krejci (minus-3) and Brett Ritchie (minus-2).

TURNING POINT: The Bruins got a goal from Patrice Bergeron toward the end of the first period to halve Ottawa’s lead and went into the first intermission with a decent chance at winning the game. But then the Bruins came out and gave up a goal in the first two minutes of the second period and essentially let things slip through their fingers at that point. It was a botched play from Tuukka Rask, who attempted to play a puck behind the Boston net and just threw the puck to Vladislav Namestnikov, who set up Chris Tierney for the eventual game-winning goal.

It typified the gift goals that the Bruins gave them on the evening and made it clear it wasn’t going to be their night.

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrice Bergeron missed the previous seven games with a lower-body injury and returned to be one of the best players on the ice for either team. Certainly, he was the best player on the ice for the Bruins after scoring a first period goal that got the Bruins in the game.

Bergeron finished with six shots on net, 10 shot attempts and 16-of-25 face-off wins to go along with a blocked shot in 21:43 of ice time. It would appear that Bergeron didn’t have any ill effects from the injury and was fully ready to take on a regular, intense workload after coming back from the injury. The only good news of the night was how good Bergeron looked in his return from injury.

BY THE NUMBERS: 38 – the number of saves for Anders Nilsson, who was a massive factor for the Senators shutting down the Boston power play when it really mattered and holding the Bruins to just two goals on 40 shots.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He’s a true hero...he inspired us all with everything he did...we're going to miss him dearly." –Torey Krug to reporters on the passing of Bruins fan and ALS awareness advocate Pete Frates, who courageously inspired so many during his fight with ALS before succumbing to it this week.

HAGGERTY: Is complacency the only thing that can derail Bruins?>>>

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NHL Highlights: Bruins suffer second straight regulation loss vs. lowly Senators

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NHL Highlights: Bruins suffer second straight regulation loss vs. lowly Senators

FINAL SCORE: Senators 5, Bruins 2

IN BRIEF: The Bruins put forth a subpar effort against the Senators, sleepwalking through most of the game en route to a second straight loss. The silver lining for the team was that Patrice Bergeron scored in his first game back after missing seven straight games with an injury.

BOX SCORE

BRUINS RECORD: 20-5-6 (46 points)

HIGHLIGHTS

ANISIMOV OPENS THE OTTAWA SCORING QUICKLY

B'S ALLOW EASY GOAL TO ANTHONY DUCLAIR

BERGERON CUTS THE LEAD IN HALF OFF FEED FROM PASTRNAK

BRUINS ALLOW ANOTHER MIND-BOGGLING GOAL

PAGEAU'S EMPTY-NET GOAL PUTS THINGS SEEMINGLY OUT OF REACH

JAKE DEBRUSK'S LATE GOAL

UP NEXT:
@ Washington Capitals, 7 p.m., NBC Sports Network

HAGGERTY: Is complacency the only thing that can derail Bruins?>>>

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