When it comes to the 2021 season, no button seems to be off limits for Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy.
This was especially true on Tuesday night, too, as the Bruins straight-up abandoned rookie goaltender Jeremy Swayman in the middle frame of his NHL debut, with 25 second-period shots allowed. It was enough to downright infuriate Cassidy, and send a callout to some pine-riding members of his roster following the 4-2 victory.
“Shortened the bench a little for the guys that were willing to check, manage pucks, and play the right way to help our goaltender,” Cassidy said of the switch that led to a stronger third-period effort. “And it worked out for us.
“The guys that have NHL talent need to provide NHL effort with that talent in the checking game and managing pucks. And guys that aren’t quite at the same level of NHL talent have to work on their NHL execution and make good reads and decisions. So, we asked for a little more from each category the player falls into and I thought we got it [in the third].”
Ir wasn’t hard to see who Cassidy was singling out with those comments.
After they were on the ice for Philadelphia’s first goal of the night, the Bruins’ second line took a seat. In fact, no member of the Black and Gold’s second line — this latest version featuring David Krejci between David Pastrnak and Nick Ritchie — logged more than Pastrnak’s 2:56 in the third period of play. A minute and 11 seconds of that came on the power play, too, and no member of this line logged more than two even-strength minutes in the final period.
Isolate it by the third period and every single Bruins player logged about a full minute more than any member of line two.
Pastrnak’s 14:09 was his lowest ice-time total of the season, and by 63 seconds. Same for Krejci (by 39 seconds) if you exclude his injury-shortened game against the Devils earlier this season. And Ritchie’s 12:52 by the night’s end was his lowest total since playing under 12 minutes in Boston’s Opening Night victory in New Jersey.
This wasn’t the first time that Ritchie’s been lost in the shuffle or taken out of the rotation (though it’s definitely one of the first times it’s happened this season), but Krejci and Pastrnak? Now that’s a rarity for Cassidy.
Their loss was Chris Wagner’s gain, too, as Wagner was on the ice with the game on the line to help preserve the win.
“[Wagner] deserved to play in that situation. He had been doing a good job for us throughout the game and obviously has killed penalties and done that well,” Cassidy, who has had Wagner in his doghouse for almost a full month now, said. “Willing to block a shot, do what it takes to keep the puck out of the net. So I was happy for him to and I’m sure he felt better contributing a little more in those circumstances. Protecting a lead is where he can help us.”
On the backend, Jakub Zboril first two shifts of the second period ended with pucks in the back of the Boston net, and with Zboril doing little to prevent that from happening. Hell, his tumble on the sequence that basically opened the door for Jakub Voracek should’ve been enough to earn Zboril an assist. From there, Zboril logged just one more second-period shift, and another seven in the third period for a defense-low 12:34 of play by the final horn.
Jeremy Lauzon, meanwhile, finished with a season-high 24:09. Keep in mind that Lauzon was sat as one of the Bruins’ healthy scratches just two games ago. But the Bruins needed someone to step up — not just for Zboril’s struggles, but in the absence of both Brandon Carlo and then Charlie McAvoy — and Cassidy trusted Lauzon to be that guy.
Lauzon rewarded his coach with the shorthanded rush that created Brad Marchand’s game-winning goal, and was part of the monstrous, clock-eating 2:05 shift that paved the way for Patrice Begeron’s empty-net dagger.
What’s interesting about this is that Cassidy has effectively run out of sacred cows.
In addition to his countless postgame callouts, Cassidy effectively took his second-longest tenured leader, the defending Rocket Richard winner, and the team’s top redemption story forward out of the mix on Tuesday. And that move, as well as the finish to this contest, proved that this stretch run is looking like one that’ll be decided by nightly performance.
Cassidy knows that the Bergeron and Marchand combo will drag the B’s kicking and screaming to where they wanna go, just like they did in this one. But the pieces around them to help finish the job? That’s up for the other 16 skaters dressed.
That’s one hell of a button to push.