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Bruins Brief: Nick Holden, Brian Gionta To Make Debuts Against Penguins

The Bruins will be undermanned as they take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night at TD Garden. But it's also going to be a big opportunity for a pair of new acquisitions to show the team what they can do.

Rick Nash and Tommy Wingels have already made their presence felt as Bruins, especially after the B's beat the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime on Tuesday. But defenseman Nick Holden and veteran winger Brian Gionta have yet to crack the lineup since coming to Boston. That will change on Thursday, as head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed they will both be in the lineup.

The morning rushes at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton featured some re-tooled lines, including Gionta swapped in for struggling rookie Danton Heinen. Head coach Bruce Cassidy talked about Heinen's recent slump after the win on Tuesday, explaining why he switched him out for Brad Marchand at one point in the game.

"Well, looks like Danton is fighting it a bit right now," Cassidy told reporters after the game on Tuesday. "We’ve talked about some of our younger guys, peaks and valleys, and he’s in one of those ruts that we’re trying to help him through yet still win hockey games. Send your message, try to play Brad [Marchand] a little more to get him going.

"So, at the end of the day, those are coaches’ decisions, and you hope the player is better off for it in the long run. Sometimes they work; sometimes they don’t. We’ll always keep talking to Danton. He’s a good, solid player for us, but right now, he is slogging his way through this time of the year. We need to get his energy level up. Some of that might be less playing time, etc. There’s different avenues, and tonight, that’s one of them we chose."

So Heinen will be a healthy scratch on Thursday, with Gionta slotting in as the right wing with Tommy Wingels and David Backes. In addition, Riley Nash will again center the top line between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

On The Blue Line...

There's also been some interesting lineup-shuffling on the Bruins defense. While Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy remain the top pairing, Kevan Miller moved up to the second pair with Torey Krug in Thursday's practice. Holden and Brandon Carlo comprised the third pairing.

Matt Grzelcyk will be scratched on Thursday in favor of Holden. But his demotion is ostensibly because of Carlo's recent struggles, not necessarily his own. Carlo has been brutal in his own end lately, resulting in a minus-6 rating in his past six games. He was on the ice for all three Hurricanes goals on Tuesday.

On at least two of the 'Canes goals, you could directly blame Carlo's own coverage mistakes. He had an opportunity to clear Brock McGinn away from the front of the net, but instead turned back up toward the point. He left McGinn wide open in front of Tuukka Rask.

And on Sebastian Aho's goal to put the Hurricanes up 3-1, Carlo drifted way out of position as he focused too much on covering Teuvo Teravainen and Derek Ryan on the rush. Again, a wide-open chance for the 'Canes, and Aho finished it.

So if any defenseman has played himself out of the lineup, it's Carlo. But Cassidy isn't quite ready to take him completely off the ice just yet. Perhaps some reduced ice time and easier matchups on the third pairing will help break Carlo out of his recent funk.

Cassidy told reporters that Grzelcyk is battling a minor injury as well, so there was at least some incentive to give him the night off. It will be interesting to see how Carlo responds to his own demotion.

On The Penguins...

-- Pittsburgh was just as active as Boston at the NHL trade deadline. They made one of the bigger moves, acquiring center Derick Brassard in a big, complicated three-teal deal with the Ottawa Senators and Vegas Golden Knights. They subtracted veteran defenseman Ian Cole and forward Ryan Reaves from the NHL roster as part of the trade. So they present perhaps the league's best top-3 center group with Brassard, Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin.

-- Penguins starting goaltender Matt Murray is out indefinitely after suffering a concussion on Monday. Pens broadcaster Josh Getzoff tweeted on Thursday that Casey DeSmith was the first goalie off the ice, indicating that the Rochester, N.H. native will start against the B's.

-- It will be intriguing to find out how Cassidy decides to match his lines up against the Penguins. It will almost certainly depend on the center matchups. Logically, you'd think the Riley Nash-centered top line would get Crosby, while the David Krejci line would get Brassard. That means David Backes would draw Malkin, who has scored 6 goals and 7 assists in his last seven games.

-- Promising young forward Zach Aston-Reese is also out for the Penguins as he battles an upper-body injury. The 23-year-old made his NHL debut on Feb. 3 after playing most of the season with the Pens' AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Aston-Reese, a Hobey Baker finalist in 2017 after a successful four-year career at Northeastern, scored six points in his first 10 NHL games.

-- By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].