By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
It's not too early to be honest with these Bruins: They're a team still powered by a superhuman first line, devastatingly effective power play, and all-world goaltending. Everything after that seems to be a guessing game. And unless you're reading this as a completely (and unnecessarily) paranoid soul, acknowledging this doesn't invalid their accomplishments or imply that they're not one of the best teams in the league. Their record speaks for itself.
It's just that this is their reality.
And that's perfectly fine. For now, anyway.
I mean, just look at where the Bruins are right now. Coming off a potential Cup Hangover, Bruce Cassidy's squad has grabbed 11 out of a possible 14 points out of the gate by way of a 5-1-1 record. They've done this while getting 14 of their 19 goals from their top line, and with the team having more than a couple of forwards who are not pulling their weight in the scoring department. Their power play has hummed at 38.1 percent (second-best percentage in the NHL), and the Jaroslav Halak-Tuukka Rask tandem has posted a league-best .944 save percentage through their first 425 minutes of the season.
And the formula, again, is familiar: Through the first seven games of last year, Boston's first line Ghidorah had accounted for 16 of the team's 26 goals while their power play clicked for the 10th-best mark in the NHL. The only difference between this year and last year at this point? Rask has been on point from the jump, allowing the B's to stick with a true rotation.
Sustainability is the name of game, though, and not even Cassidy could dodge that when speaking after Thursday's loss.
"Our record is pretty good without [secondary scoring], but I don’t think it’s sustainable," admitted Cassidy.
But these strengths will certainly test that notion.
Back together for yet another season, teams have been completely incapable of slowing down The Bergeron Line. Even after a quiet postseason that many thought would expose some leaks in their "perfection," this trio has remained a buzzsaw. They've done a bulk of their damage on the power play, but this line's freakish ability to hit tape-to-tape passes to one another without looking most of the time has defenses spinning out of the gate once again. Rarely has a pairing looked capable of stopping 'em.
The Black and Gold's power play, meanwhile, has been a strength for years. In fact, since Cassidy took over in Feb. 2017, the Bruins have posted the league's second-best power-play percentage, at 25.5 percent. The Bruins have also drawn the ninth-most power-play opportunities over that stretch, meaning that this group is pretty much always going to get their chances. This first unit is off to a fiery start, too, with six goals on 18 shots in over 17 minutes of power-play time together.
And then there's the great equalizer: Goaltending. While nobody should expect Rask and Halak to post a combined .944 from here to the finish line (Tim Thomas couldn't even do that during his legitimately unbelievable 2011 run), Cassidy's Boston tenure has been blessed by never having two cold goaltenders. When Rask started slow in 2017, Anton Khudobin was there to carry the Bruins. When Rask started slow and had a personal leave of absence in 2018, Halak played the role perfectly. And when Halak went through his expected low-lows later in the year, Rask was there to pick him up with a hot run of his own. If this holds, and if the Boston defense can limit the assault these guys have faced so far, you can expect more of the same.
Nine times out of 10, this team is going to be able to mask their other issues because of these strengths. This is especially true in the regular season, where consecutive head-to-heads with the same team are rare (the Bruins have just three this year).
You should also assume that Jake DeBrusk, who is most definitely dealing with some sort of curse, is not going to be this cold for the entirety of the season. And that David Krejci is going to eventually be healthy enough to be a factor.
In terms of what the Bruins need for when things are no longer fine, though, it really is the same old song and dance.
Over five years since Jarome Iginla left town for long-term financial security with the Avalanche, this Bruins team still needs a viable right wing to plug into their top six (namely next to Krejci). The revolving door of Karson Kuhlman and Brett Ritchie -- while not a question of effort in the least -- hasn't yielded the results the Bruins expected. Anders Bjork, a point-per-game player in the AHL through the first 14 days of the 2019-20 season, remains in Providence, and the Bruins plan to keep him on that left side. Bringing his punch to the NHL would likely move Danton Heinen to the right and into the top six. Cassidy has thrown Heinen into a top-six role in the past (he did it on Thursday), but he's never viewed it as a long-term fix.
The odds suggest that another deadline addition awaits the Bruins; Don Sweeney has added Marcus Johansson, Rick Nash, Ryan Donato, and Drew Stafford for additional scoring help on the wing since Cassidy took over in 2017.
On line three, Charlie Coyle needs to return as the high-scoring, game-changing threat he was throughout the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. With just one assist through the first seven games of the year (and in a contract year), the Bruins need Playoff Coyle to go into takeover mode to survive those nights where the five-on-five scoring up top appears limited. You know he's capable, and the foundation of a strong puck-possession game is enough to inspire confidence.
And yes, at some point, the Bruins are going to have to seriously entertain the idea of breaking up their first line. This was something that earned you dagger eyes in 2018 -- and still might, depending on who you talk to -- but it's an exercise that's about balance as much as it's planning for a doomsday. Such as the moment when these strengths don't allow you to break even and threaten the very foundation of your Cup aspirations (like it did last spring). Perhaps now is not the time with Krejci on the shelf, but it's something that remains in the back of Cassidy's mind as a to-do at some point in 2019-20.
But for now -- and until push comes to shove, really -- whistling past the graveyard works just fine.
So long as the points get banked away at the rate that's routinely made you forget about this roster's shortcomings.
Loose pucks: Cassidy was asked an interesting question this week: Could he see a team going with a goaltender rotation in the postseason? On the surface, this seems like insanity. But Cassidy did say that he expects to see it happen sometime soon. I mean, if it works in the regular season, why not in the postseason? I started going into the butterfly in my mind thinking of the last team that went with an intentional rotation in the crease in the postseason and admittedly came up empty with recent examples. Closest I got: The Hasek-Osgood tandem for the Red Wings back in the day and Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray in 2017. But even those were injury-related to a degree...Am I crazy for wondering if the Bruins would go all-in on a trade deadline home run for Taylor Hall if the Devils fail to turn their season around? Hall, a pending UFA at the year's end, is almost certainly not going to re-sign with the Devils if they do not appear to be a formidable threat, and the Bruins' interest in Hall dates back to the 2010 NHL Draft. It would take an absolute haul, but I wonder if the Bruins learned from not pulling the trigger on a gamble like Mark Stone last year given what he could've done in the playoffs. This core ain't getting any younger...On a line with so many moving pieces, Sean Kuraly has emerged as the nucleus of Boston's fourth line. This line takes on so many different identities over the course of an 82-game season, and I felt compelled to ask him what the biggest difference is when the line features Joakim Nordstrom compared to a player such as David Backes. His answer: Nordstrom brings tremendous speed and creates havoc as the first forward on the attack, while Backes is the ultimate communicator whose smarts dictate how he moves around the ice. Their goal remains the same no matter the configuration: "We don't want [the opposition] to feel good about themselves."