By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
In just three full games together this season, the Bruins’ new first line with David Krejci between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak has been nothing short of faaaaantastic.
Together for 43:13 over that three-game sample, the 63-46-88 combination has controlled possession at 54.43 percent, out-chanced opponents 23-16, and most importantly outscored ’em 5-0. They’ve directly factored in the game-winning goal in two of their three games — all wins, of course — for the Bruins, too.
It’s prompted a ton of talk in regards to what the Bruins should do with this line upon Patrice Bergeron’s eventual return to the lineup, especially as Bergeron’s re-evaluation continues to sneak up on all of us (he’s started skating on his own).
Some say Bergeron needs to go right back between Marchand and Pastrnak to reunite the league’s best line. Other think this sample is proof that Krejci can still be a dominant center in today’s NHL when given legitimate linemates and not asked to ‘babysit’ a player to stardom, and that it’s now Bergeron’s turn to create chemistry with new talents and lift some of the Black and Gold’s younger wingers to a new level needed to make it out of the second round this spring.
But reinventing the wheel really isn’t necessary here, to be honest.
When we’ve gone over the B’s issues this year, it always seems to come back to their lack of scoring depth.
They’re often a one-line team at their best, and even though the Bruins have received a slight bump from Danton Heinen (two goals in three games) and Ryan Donato (two goals and four points in seven games since his call-up from Providence), it’s still an issue. Especially if the Bruins are going to find themselves in a seven-game series that features Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (a player the Bruins still try to protect on a nightly basis) centering their third line and no obvious “second line.”
Keeping Krejci with Marchand and Pastrnak upon Bergeron’s return doesn’t really do anything to change this perception of the Bruins as a one-line team.
I mean, first off, why would you ask Bergeron to develop chemistry with two completely new wingers? Doesn’t that just put you in the same situation you’ve put Krejci since for the large majority of the season, if not a little bit worse, even considering that Krejci’s revolving door of linemates came while also having a constant (Jake DeBrusk) on that line while Bergeron’s would come with, uh, none? (Sources with direct knowledge of the situation have confirmed to 98.5 The Sports Hub that one is still greater than zero, by the way, so please give us the credit we rightfully deserve right now.)
Don’t forget that Bergeron is constantly asked to go against a team’s No. 1 center and/or line on any given night, too, which makes that a poor fit for two young guns without much d-zone experience (like Anders Bjork and/or Donato). It’s a role that Heinen could probably succeed in, sure, but the returns on Heinen as a top-sixer have been hit-or-miss this year.
It’s just tough to see the tangible value in doing that to the center with the most weight on his shoulders on a shift-by-shift basis. It’s even tougher to see Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy not doing his patented flip-switch-dip tinkering with that kind of forward grouping construct upon the first defensive-zone faceoff in a tight game, too.
That kind of ultra-touchy personnel management benefits nobody in their pursuit of chemistry.
So, how about going with the idea that’s made the most sense from the start: Keeping the Bergeron-Machand pair intact and figuring out the right side with a player to be named later and moving Pastrnak down with the DeBrusk-Krejci pair?
I know, I know. Breaking up the best line in hockey seems borderline treasonous when the Bruins struggle to score goals as is, and this line has down nothing to warrant breaking them up. But the Bruins need balance. And if it’s not coming from the outside by way of a trade, why continue to beat your head off a wall by forcing Joakim Nordstrom into a second-line role for the 18th time and thinking this time will be different? I mean, at this point, it seems as if Cassidy has shuffled almost everything he can up front with the exception the first line when the Bruins have been at 100 percent this season.
In other words, meet in the middle (down the middle) with two things you know work: That’s giving Krejci two proven wingers that can score goals from all over the ice, and letting Bergeron-Marchand ‘mentor’ another young winger into goals and an improved hockey sense. There’s no shortage of wingers the Bruins could stick with the latter combination, by the way.
With Krejci, you know he’s going to look for the pass. “He’s pass first player, pass second player, third, and then he shoots,” Pastrnak said after Tuesday’s victory over the Coyotes. That’d make him a natural fit for the Marchand-Pastrnak combination, sure, but so much of what Marchand does is based on drawing defenders (defenders being the key there) his way and then dishing off to his center for an easier goal. That’s what has made him and Bergeron such a successful one-two punch, and I’m not sure that success is matched with Krejci as Marchand’s full-time center. Aligning Krejci with two wingers that are as comfortable blasting one-timers (Pastrnak) as they are redirecting a net-front look (DeBrusk) recreates that element of unpredictability that made Krejci one of the game’s premier playmakers, too.
I also think we have a tendency to undersell just how the Bergeron-Marchand combination can change a player’s fortunes. Over the last six seasons, five different wingers have been given at least 200 five-on-five minutes with Boston’s most dynamic one-two threat. That group includes David Backes, Brett Connolly, Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, and Pastrnak. No combination has posted a Corsi-For percentage under 55 percent, and all five have a positive goal differential (yes, even the Connolly line).
If the Bruins want to fast-track a Bjork, Donato, or even Heinen, this is the way to do it. And if they can’t hack it there, it tells you infinitely more about that player’s worth (at least for this win-now franchise) than hiding them with sheltered minutes ever will. It’s also worth mentioning that Bjork, who currently skates for the P-Bruins after a sluggish start, looked solid in his 2017 preseason showing with that duo, too, and that it’s downright strange that it has not been revisited since then. Add in the speed element many of those young players possess and it becomes a near no-brainer for depth purposes.
It’s also easier to simply reunite the original Perfection Line of 63-37-88 when needed than to basically reinvent two lines by swapping two pivots that play an incredibly different style in terms of their pace and shot selection.
Then again, with this team’s luck, perhaps it’s best to wait for both players to be in the lineup before we truly make our heads explode with galaxy-brain possibilities.