By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
A second straight day of scrimmaging — and one that featured Brad Marchand in his normal spot next to captain Patrice Bergeron after he sat out Thursday’s session — helped paint what feels like a complete picture of the 18-skater roster the Bruins will dress when their 2021 season gets underway next week.
Up front, the Bruins had Paul Carey, not Jack Studnicka, skate to the right of Bergeron and Marchand. That was an off-the-board move, sure, and came after Bruce Cassidy admitted that he didn’t notice Studnicka too much in Thursday’s scrimmage. But it was a move that’s not worth reading into, according to Cassidy, as Friday’s session at Warrior Ice Arena was focused on special teams work. That put Bergeron and Marchand, two pillars of the B’s top power-play unit which will begin the year without David Pastrnak (and with Torey Krug off to St. Louis), in white jerseys while Studnicka donned a black jersey and got in some penalty-kill work.
The latter appears to be something of potential appeal to the Bruins, too.
“We feel if [Studnicka]’s in our lineup that he might have a better opportunity to get his extra minutes on the penalty kill,” Cassidy said. “He did that very well in Providence last year, scoring seven shorties.”
Based on everything we’ve seen, this top-line right wing spot seems destined to go to Studnicka out of the gate. He’s the only one who has consistently practice with both Bergeron and Marchand. If the Bruins were going to make a change there, they probably would’ve done with someone other than Paul Carey (he’s skated with other depth options all camp long), and would’ve done it by now given the truncated schedule they’re facing.
Boston’s middle six forward grouping also seems locked into place. You’ll have Jake DeBrusk and Ondrej Kase on either side of David Krejci on the B’s second line, while Charlie Coyle will skate between Nick Ritchie and Craig Smith on the Black and Gold’s third line. This version of the Krejci Line had a solid series against the Carolina Hurricanes in the Toronto bubble last postseason (and has generated shots on goal at a pretty strong clip this postseason), while this new-look Coyle line has been a constant since camp began on Monday.
“It can be a big line, a line with pace, a line that’s hard to play against with some physicality,” Cassidy said of the Ritchie-Coyle-Smith line. “Right now, we like what we’ve seen from all three of them. Smith’s scored in this league, so that’s the other thing we can expect to get down the road as well. So, some consistent production out of that third line is what we’re anticipating and they haven’t shown me any different up to this point.”
“They’ve been unbelievable,” Smith said of his new linemates. “They’re two big bodies out there that can hang onto the puck, get in, and win battles. Especially with having Chuck in the middle there.”
“We’ve been had some good chemistry, so hopefully we can keep that coming in games,” said Ritchie.
On the B’s fourth line, Anders Bjork seems like the favorite to skate with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner. Bjork had yet another strong effort Friday, at one pointing hounding the Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk pairing into a D-zone turnover and shot on goal. Bjork’s prior experience in the penalty kill certainly seems to give him a leg-up over Trent Frederic, who has emerged as Bjork’s top competition for that spot.
On the backend, the Bruins flipped Jakub Zboril and Jeremy Lauzon for Friday’s session, which left Lauzon with Kevan Miller and Zboril to Charlie McAvoy’s left. This, again, isn’t worth reading into, as Cassidy views Zboril as more of a factor on the power play whereas Lauzon is more of a shorthanded presence for the Bruins.
The one pairing that the Bruins kept the same, however, was the Carlo and Grzelcyk duo, which has certainly looked to be the Bruins’ best through the first five days of on-ice action.
“[Grzelcyk] sees the ice so well, I feel like we can mesh well in the same way that Torey and I did,” Carlo said of his new pairing partner. “I feel like he’s giving me the puck a bit and putting some responsibility upon my shoulders. I can see us working really well together. I feel very comfortable out there with him. I feel like I understand the positioning where he’s gonna be, and same thing vice versa.”
The 33-year-old Miller’s strong camp continued Friday, too, with the right-shot looking like the favorite as the Black and Gold’s right-side presence on their third pairing over Connor Clifton, per Cassidy.
“Kevan has the upper hand in terms of experience, he has that bite that we lost with Zee, so Kevan can give us some of that,” Cassidy said. “We’re real happy about his progression this week. It’s been three practices and two scrimmages, and he looks great. Obviously his body is recovering well and handling it well, so that’s step one for him and if he can do that, then he has the upper hand on Clifton.”
On special teams, the Bruins are stacking their top power-play unit with their three best centers, with Bergeron and Coyle up front with Marchand, and Krejci on the blue line with Grzelcyk. Without Pastrnak’s one-time blast there as an option, this grouping’s movement may be the key. It sure looked it Friday, too, as both Marchand and Coyle were able to rotate in and out and generate strong opportunities at the front of the net.
Their second unit featured a similar look out of the gate, as McAvoy was the unit’s lone defenseman, while DeBrusk, Smith, Ritchie, and Kase joined him. (Kase, for the most part, skated on the blue line.) The Bruins did give us a peek at a two-defenseman look on their second unit, which was a staple of the unit a year ago, as Zboril at one point took Kase’s spot. The Bruins view Zboril’s heavy shot as a potential threat on the man advantage.
It was enough to paint what feels like a nearly complete picture ahead of Thursday’s opener against the Devils.
Based on what we've seen, in drills and through scrimmages, this seems like the projected lineup. (Subject to change, obviously.) pic.twitter.com/DWzrUOhFWF— Ty Anderson (@_TyAnderson) January 8, 2021
Bruins know ‘anything can happen’ with COVID and hockey season colliding
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is already messing with the 2021 NHL season.
On Friday, it was announced that the Columbus Blue Jackets were holding multiple players out of practice due to COVID-19 protocols. It was enough for the team to cancel their second session of the afternoon, too. And in Dallas, it was announced that six players and two staff members had contract the coronavirus, which has forced the Stars to open their season no earlier than Jan. 19 (they were scheduled to open the season on Jan. 13).
It’s something the MLB, NFL, and NBA have already gone through.
And it’s something that the Bruins know could come their way this season.
“Anything could happen,” said Cassidy. “It’s gonna be different. You just gotta be extra careful for the, I don’t know, it could be as many as six months unless there’s a vaccine situation that allows you to open up a little. But for us, that’s the message to the guys: it’s a little bit of self discipline.”
Other tidbits and happenings
– The B’s had a bit of overheating at today’s scrimmage with Brad Marchand and Chris Wagner getting into it in front of the white team’s bench. The two had to be separated by the referees, and it was Marchand’s helmet that went flying towards center ice. Speaking after practice, Cassidy talked about how he liked the intensity, and that he knows his team is ready for what awaits them.
– Who was happiest about Craig Smith signing with the Bruins? According to the man himself, his father.
“He was super fired up,” Smith, who spent the first nine years of his career with the Nashville Predators, said with a smile. “It’s such a historic program and there’s so many great players who have come through here. You can see all the banners. It’s a pretty impressive setup here. It’s been really cool.
“This community really supports the team and it’s something else to be here.”
– Today was also Oskar Steen’s first day of on-ice activities with his teammates. The 5-foot-9 forward missed the first four days of on-ice sessions due to quarantine. Steen scored 12 goals and 15 points in 16 games for Bjorkloven IF (Sweden) before reporting to the United States, and is likely to report to Providence when their season gets underway early next month as currently planned. The No. 165 overall pick from the 2016 draft, Steen put up seven goals and 23 points in 60 AHL games last year.