By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Boston Bruins will open the year with two question marks up front, as both Brad Marchand and Craig Smith will be game-time decisions, according to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy.
That’s one expected ‘GTD’ with Marchand and one that seemingly popped out of nowhere in the case of Smith.
“Lower-body,” Cassidy said when asked for the specifics of the 31-year-old Smith’s ailment. “He tweaked something earlier this week. Didn’t feel great waking up this morning.”
Marchand, meanwhile, is dealing with some general soreness relating to the sports hernia repair surgery. The expectation is that Marchand will indeed play, and that comes from Marchand himself.
“We’re here and I’m ready to go,” the 32-year-old Marchand said Thursday. “It’s more just trying to manage soreness from coming back. It’s one thing to skate by yourself, but that level [of skating with other guys] is so much higher, so much harder.”
With David Pastrnak on the shelf to begin the year, Marchand will resume his role as Boston’s top threat on the wing, and skate with Patrice Bergeron and Jack Studnicka on a Two-Thirds Perfection Line. Studnicka, regarded by most as Boston’s top prospect, has been a constant with the Bergeron and Marchand duo throughout training camp, and has looked the part as an NHL-ready option.
Studnicka steps into the mix after leading the P-Bruins in both goals (23) and points (49) last year, and after a four-game postseason run from inside the Toronto bubble last summer. Studnicka made an impression during that bubble showing, too, as a center-turned-wing that generated energy and chances on his shifts.
“He’s a very talented kid,” Marchand said of Studnicka last week. “I’m looking forward to seeing what we can do and watching him take that next step. That’s what we need: we need young guys to come in and perform and be big parts of this group, and he’s one of those guys that’s gonna do it for us.”
If Marchand cannot go, however, the play would involve moving Anders Bjork from the fourth line to the first line. And if it’s Smith who cannot go, the move would be to put Bjork on the right side of the B’s third line combination with Nick Ritchie and Charlie Coyle.
Either scenario would involve Trent Frederic stepping into action in their place, and though that may not come tonight, Cassidy admitted that he has Frederic ‘penciled in’ to play at some point in the immediate future.
On the backend, the first game of the post-Zdeno Chara (and Torey Krug) era will see Jeremy Lauzon skate in Chara’s spot opposite Charlie McAvoy, while Matt Grzelcyk gets the call next to Brandon Carlo. That will leave the Bruins with a third pairing with Kevan Miller playing in his first game since Apr. 4, 2019, and acting as the ‘big brother’ to 2015 first-round pick and two-game veteran Jakub Zboril.
The Bruins will turn to Tuukka Rask in net for his first start of the season.
In a contract year, Rask finished second in Vezina Trophy voting last season by way of a 26-8-6 record and .929 save percentage in 41 games. The belief is that Rask is back to being Rask after taking care of the family emergency that took him out of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Devils will counter with Mackenzie Blackwood. Thrown back into the starter’s role after Corey Crawford’s sudden retirement during training camp, the 6-foot-4 Blackwood enters 2021 after compiling a 22-14-8 record and .915 save percentage in 47 appearances last season.
The Bruins went 2-0-1 against the Devils in 2019-20, and have grabbed wins in 11 of their 15 meetings with the Devils since the start of the 2015-16 season.
Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Jack Studnicka
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Ondrej Kase
Nick Ritchie – Charlie Coyle – Craig Smith
Anders Bjork – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner
Jeremy Lauzon – Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk – Brandon Carlo
Jakub Zboril – Kevan Miller