Bruins Notebook: A new-look third line (in more ways than one) emerging as option
It’s been just two training camp skates for the Boston Bruins, and they’ll be the first to tell that nothing is set in stone, but a potential third line has taken shape for the club with Erik Haula between Jake DeBrusk and Nick Foligno.
This line is entirely new beyond the fact that we haven’t seen Haula and Foligno on the ice yet, too. An extended look at this line will be our first time seeing DeBrusk, who will be moved back to his natural left wing this year, working with a left-shot center after spending the majority of his career with David Krejci and Charlie Coyle. Even last year’s lineup shuffling saw DeBrusk play with another pair of right-shot centers in Patrice Bergeron and Curtis Lazar. But the lefty-lefty connection goes beyond left wing and center, too, as moving Foligno to the right would put the 33-year-old on his off wing and give the line three lefty shots.
It’s not totally unheard of, but it’s also not common.
The B’s tried this kind of trio briefly last year with Sean Kuraly between Nick Ritchie and DeBrusk, but that was a quick look that didn’t translate into a real line. Before that, the closest brush with a consistent all-lefty line probably dates back to 2013-14 with Chris Kelly playing with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson/Reilly Smith. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy jumped into the wayback machine and brought up an even better, more successful version of the concept.
“Krejci, Wheeler, Ryder did a pretty good job here a number of years ago [and they were] all righties,” Cassidy recalled. “If you’re smart enough you’ll figure out each other’s strengths. That’s kind of how that should play out if they become a line that’s going to have success. They’ll just sort of have to read off each other.”
This line is a bit more chaotic (by design) than the Wheeler-Krejci-Ryder combination that terrorized teams in 2008-09, but it features a dangerous mix with the speed factors of both DeBrusk and Haula, as well Foligno’s ability to generate second- and third-chance opportunities with his dirty work between the circles and in front of the net. There’s also a definite nastiness factor from all three when they’re feeling their game, and this 0-to-100 build for all three may be exactly what they need.
“We all have skill, we’ve all scored some goals in this league,” Haula said. “We also take pride in our own end. Just trying to be an all-around good line, 200-foot line. We’ve got some skill to put the puck in the net as well and that’s our goal. It’s been fun the first couple days. I feel like we have a little bit of chemistry.”
But going back to those challenges and what the line will have to figure out, it seems that a lot of the work will come back to Foligno and how he sets the tone for the grouping as a left shot playing the right wing.
“They would have to sort out passing angles and receiving passes forehand, backhand. Usually the guy on the off side has to sort that out,” Cassidy said of a DeBrusk-Haula-Foligno line. “To me, it’s more about puck support [and] where are you, shooting off the pass when you’re the same stick. So some of that stuff, it will be Nick mostly if he ends up over there on the right, figuring out how to get pucks.”
“I just think it’s how you complement each other,” Foligno said of the three-lefty look. “So as much as it’s three left shots, it’s just the way you play in the zone. Are you able to make cut backs, give-and-gos, and certain plays. I think sometimes the predictability too, of knowing that you if you pass to a certain side it’s always going to be on the guy’s forehand. So as you learn each other, I don’t think it really matters what hand you are. And if a guy’s comfortable being on his backhand on the off wing, it just makes your line that much more dangerous. So I don’t really get caught up in that. I think it’s just more are you playing the way you need to play as a line to help the team win? I think that’s all we’re going to try to do if we’re a line together.”
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.