By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy addressed the struggles of his fourth line Wednesday, scratching Tim Schaller in favor of Tommy Wingels. That move did not make any sort of a real difference in a 4-1 loss in Game 3.
And Cassidy instead found a new line likely worth a tweak or two before Friday night's borderline must-win Game 4 showdown, as his third line with Riley Nash between Danton Heinen and David Backes contributed absolutely nothing. Bringing their total contributions through the first 180 minutes of this series up to... absolutely nothing.
After the loss, Cassidy could no longer hide from the line's woes.
"I am concerned," Cassidy, who by the third period was trying different winger combinations on the line, admitted. "And we’ve got some guys that weren’t dressed tonight that have played well for this team. So, we’ll have that conversation tomorrow. I think it’s easier to do the next morning than immediately after the game. Some guys have had a tough time that we need – whether they stay in or not. If they stay in, obviously, they need to be better."
Truthfully speaking, it'd be hard for the line to be any worse.
In the first three games of this series, the Heinen-Nash-Backes trio has skated 17:39 of five-on-five time together. In that almost 18-minute sample, the Bruins have been outshot 16-to-4, out-chanced 9-to-3, and outscored 1-0. (The last figure is downright incredible and 100 percent on Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, who has posted a .938 on-ice save percentage while this trio has been drowning in their own zone.) This is a massive change from the trio's obvious regular season success, which saw them roll with a 56.5 Corsi-For percentage, and outscored opponents 14-11.
But if we're being honest, this line no longer even passes the eye test.
For all his leadership and intangibles brought to the Boston locker room, Backes' so-slow-it's-almost-in-reverse skating game honestly looks like he celebrated his 54th birthday earlier this week, not his 34th. This was something that I previously thought was just noticeable because the Black and Gold were going against the ultra-speedy Maple Leafs in round one. But it almost seems worse against the Lightning and their pace-pushing defense corps.
Nash, meanwhile, does not look like he's yet 100 percent after dealing with a late-season ear laceration that also brought about some concussion-like symptoms. And Heinen, brought back to life with his Game 7 goal against the Maple Leafs last week, seems to have returned into his shell, with just one shot on goal in this series.
"I don’t think we have a goal in this series, so it’s been one of those things where it’s just kind of a battle right now," Nash said of his line. "You have to keep trying to do the right things. I don’t think we’re getting the chances that we had late in the season. So I think it starts there, you start getting a little more chances, a little more zone time and you know, once one goes in for you and you start to feel a little bit better about yourself and your confidence grows."
With the Bruins officially trailing in a series for the first time this spring, though, simply waiting for this line to regain their confidence is a luxury that Cassidy may no longer be able to afford against an opponent of this caliber.
"A lot of discussion [Tuesday] – the question centered around secondary scoring. That matters, but, if you’re not bringing that, we’ve talked about this. You don’t have your A-game, so to speak, bring your B-game," Cassidy offered. "Well, you’ve got to defend better, and that’s where my issue lies. You need to bring something else to the table, and then eventually the scoring will come, or if you’re a guy that’s scored in this league. I believe that.
"I think that’s where, fundamentally, we’re missing out on some of the players we rely on."
To the point where it would be downright shocking if Cassidy tries to rely on this same combo of players in Game 4.