By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is at again.
With Thursday’s Game 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs looming over the club, Cassidy certainly admitted to his tinkering with his forward lines in Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
That tinkering saw the Patrice Bergeron line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak stay together, while Karson Kuhlman moved back into his spot with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci on the B’s second line. That created a third line trio with Charlie Coyle between Marcus Johansson (on the left) and Danton Heinen (on the right), and a fourth line featuring Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari, and Chris Wagner. David Backes, meanwhile, was the $6 million odd man out.
“You can do the math on that a little bit in terms of how we’re gonna at least start,” Cassidy said. “13 healthy forwards for 12 spots. We gotta figure out what’s the best line of attack.”
In the case of Kuhlman, it appears that the injury to Sean Kuraly (the Bruins expect that he could return in the middle of this series) has put an added emphasis on finding additional speed in this lineup. Especially when the Bruins are skating down a man against a Toronto squad that iced the league’s eighth-best power play unit in the regular season.
“I liked Kuhlman up with Krejci in the games he’s played,” Cassidy noted. “He adds speed, gives us a penalty kill factor that, with Kuraly out, is gonna be important against Toronto. We gotta make a determination: is he in our out?”
“I think [Kuhlman] knows what his strengths are, and he tries to play to those, which again, coaches appreciate,” said B’s general manager Don Sweeney. “When you have the ability to plug a player in, and he doesn’t change regardless of the situation, I think that’s a benefit for all parties. And I think that’s what Karson’s done. He’s played in all different roles and up and down the lineup, but he’s handled himself really well, and he’s earned the opportunity to be here and be in the mix.”
On the third line, it’s worth noting that the Johansson-Coyle-Heinen combination has played just 10 and a half minutes together this season. But the trio was impressive in that small sample, as they outshot the opposition 7-2.
It will be interesting to see if Cassidy flips these players at some point, though, as Heinen has often done his best work on the left side, while Johansson has extensive experience playing on the right side throughout his NHL career.
It’s all, again, left the 34-year-old Backes without a home for Game 1.
For Cassidy, sitting Backes has little to do with his play, but rather the expectation that the Leafs are going to come at the Bruins with their speed and skill to try and stretch them out in the defensive zone and/or draw power-play opportunities.
Given the steamboat-like skating game of Backes, it’s hard to argue there’s a worse matchup for No. 42, all things considered.
But his situation — as well as that for the other 12 forwards in town — could change in the blink of an eye.
“That could change in a hurry from Game 1 to 2 if we don’t like what we see,” Cassidy acknowledged. “We’ve done that all year. Whatever forward is out, I wouldn’t assume that it’s gonna stay that way.
“We’ll see how the series goes.”
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.