By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
For the first time since Mar. 10 in Philadelphia, it's a Boston Bruins gameday.
Gotta admit, that felt weird to write. But finally, after three phases, the Bruins are back and ready to resume their quest for a 2020 redemption tour. But before things get going with a round-robin tournament for postseason seeding, the Bruins and Blue Jackets will drop the puck in a Thursday exhibition head-to-head within the "secure zone" of Toronto.
But based on what he's seen so far, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy knows better than to treat the Black and Gold's lineup like it's an exhibition.
"What I've seen from the [other exhibition] games is the pace is very, very high," Cassidy offered. "Guys have their legs, they're flying around. Execution's a little bit off, managing the puck is always a challenge your first few games to get back to playing safer hockey when there's no play to be made, as opposed to open-ice shinny type stuff."
Beginning at the top of the roster, David Pastrnak looks likely to suit up after back-to-back practices following a pair of self-quarantines that took him out of all but one skate during Phase 3 training camp at Warrior Ice Arena.
Pastrnak, the co-winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer, will be paired with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in his usual RW-1 spot, and will look to take that first stride back to being that dominant force he was during the 2018 postseason. Now, his 2019 playoff run wasn't exactly terrible (nine goals and 19 points in 24 games), but it's obvious that No. 88's re-broken thumb limited him. And with deadline additions Ondej Kase and Nick Ritchie still out of action for the Bruins, the pressure remains squarely on that top line to drive the bus for Boston's offense productivity.
This trio has played as if that pressure is on them, too. And I mean that in a good way, really, as they were looking like the walking embodiment of the idea of a 'revenge tour' more than anybody else when the B's entered the pause.
Things get awfully interesting behind that star-powered first line, too.
On line two, the Bruins will begin the night with Jack Studnicka riding to the right of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. The Bruins have stressed to Studnicka, who was the P-Bruins' leading scorer in 2019-20, that decisions will have to be made quicker at this level, and that a shot on goal can often be more effective than an extra pass. The Blue Jackets' defense corps (an average height of almost 6-foot-3) will certainly challenge Studnicka's awareness of both his time and space.
But it's a line that certainly intrigues Cassidy heading into this one.
"I think Jack has a little bit more upside offensively right now," Cassidy said. "That's the reasoning for giving him an opportunity. We've never seen it. Good chance for a test run with that line."
On line three, the Bruins will attach Anders Bjork back to Charlie Coyle's hip in an effort to redevelop the chemistry the duo had rolling midway through the regular season. The Bruins iced the Bjork-Coyle combo for over 383 five-on-five minutes in 2019-20, and outscored opponents 16-14 and outshot them 191-162 over that stretch. High-motor forward Sean Kuraly will be the third man on that line, too, as Cassidy & Co. are looking to build that line out as a strong puck-possession grouping that can wear the opposition down. And when these players and this line is rolling in this realm, you're essentially talking about body-blows that set up the knockout punch often delivered by way of the first line or a power-play opportunity.
Bjork and Studnicka will not be the team's only options on the right, however, as Karson Kuhlman will also dress as the team's extra forward. (The NHL is allowing teams to dress an extra forward and extra defenseman in these exhibition tilts.)
Cassidy is no stranger to line-tinkering, too, so you can expect things to be put in a blender at some point.
One question that really intrigues me entering play: Does Bjork get a run with Bergeron and Marchand? I know it's often considered treason to live in Massachusetts and suggest breaking up 'The Pefection Line,' but if it allows the Bruins to have a more balanced attack, it should be on the table. And given the uncertainty of this postseason -- a failed or delayed test could leave you down a player -- the Bruins should basically try every option they can before these games begin to count.
On the backend, Jeremy Lauzon will get the first crack to stick as the right-side partner to Matt Grzelcyk. Lauzon was playing the best hockey of his pro career entering the break, and was becoming a formidable d-zone threat, and was utilized as Boston's second-best left-side defender behind Zdeno Chara.
In net, the Bruins will have Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak split the duties in net.
Here's the complete lineup the Bruins are expected to ice tonight...
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Jack Studnicka
Sean Kuraly - Charlie Coyle - Anders Bjork
Joakim Nordstrom - Par Lindholm - Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Jeremy Lauzon
You can listen to tonight's game (and every Bruins game) on 98.5 The Sports Hub.