Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Dec 16, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) battles for the puck in front of Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) during the second period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Boston Bruins are 4-1-0 since the trade deadline, but have yet to get a potential preview of a playoff matchup or playoff-caliber opponent; that changes Thursday night, when the Bruins take on the New York Rangers at TD Garden.

Head coach Jim Montgomery has made a number of tweaks to the Bruins’ lineup in recent days, partially out of necessity, but also because that’s classic Montgomery. The man can’t help himself. But in the case of the past two games, he may have found a few interesting combinations that work for the team.

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The Bruins’ new-look lineup was a big part of the discussion on the latest Sports Hub Underground podcast with me and Ty Anderson, which you can listen to in the above player. New additions, whether via trade, free agency, or the minors, have reshaped the team on the margins.

So far, the result is a team that’s better than the sum of its parts, even more so than in the previous calendar year.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 25: Barclay Goodrow #21 of the New York Rangers and Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins battle at Madison Square Garden on November 25, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 25: Barclay Goodrow #21 of the New York Rangers and Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins battle at Madison Square Garden on November 25, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Jim Montgomery confirmed after morning skate Thursday that the Bruins’ lineup will remain the same against the Rangers. So, let the test begin.

Here’s a closer look at the recent changes, as the Bruins get ready for the Rangers…

  • Forwards

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - MARCH 19: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his hat trick against the Ottawa Senators with teammate Danton Heinen #43 during the third period at the TD Garden on March 19, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – MARCH 19: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his hat trick against the Ottawa Senators with teammate Danton Heinen #43 during the third period at the TD Garden on March 19, 2024 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)

    Danton Heinen, the ultimate Swiss Army knife, slotted into the Bruins’ second line alongside Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak on Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators. There’s little reason to break that line up after their last game together.

    The line produced the Bruins’ best shot attempt rate (62.5%) at 5-on-5 against Ottawa, via Natural Stat Trick. Heinen had the fourth-best on-ice shot attempt rate on the team at five-on-five, as well (56.3%).

    Playing with Pastrnak will certainly help, as it did Tuesday night. But Heinen continues to prove that, while he won’t make a massive impact by himself, he can meld with just about any forward combination on the team.

  • Heinen assisted on the third of Pastrnak’s three goals on Tuesday night, so the move certainly paid off for Montgomery for one night. Against the Rangers’ solid depth of two-way forwards, it’ll be interesting to see how effective the Heinen-Zacha-Pastrnak trio can be at the offensive end.

    In the bottom-six, James van Riemsdyk has been squeezed out of the lineup, but it remains to be seen if that really costs the team. That’s because newcomer Justin Brazeau is producing at beyond an acceptable rate as a fourth-line right wing. Brazeau potted two goals on Tuesday night, showing strong hands around the net-front in the process.

    The most recent fourth line of Johnny Beecher, Jesper Boqvist, and Brazeau has shown chemistry and versatility. Beecher has brought some much-needed faceoff effectiveness to the table (70.6% win rate in the last three games), while Boqvist and Brazeau combined for three goals on Tuesday.

    Brazeau is projected to be on the Bruins’ second power play unit Thursday night. That could be the area where he’ll need to continue providing value in order to keep supplanting van Riemsdyk for that net-front role.

  • Defense

    Mar 16, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Danton Heinen (43) is congratulated by defenseman Andrew Peeke (52) after scoring a goal during the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 16, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Danton Heinen (43) is congratulated by defenseman Andrew Peeke (52) after scoring a goal during the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    It’s been an impressive first three games for Andrew Peeke on the Bruins’ blue line, especially considering how much the region seemed to hate the trade. For now, can we stop worrying about a goddamn third-round pick in goddamn 2027 (will the sun NOT eat us alive by then?), and focus on the here & now?

    In the here & now, Peeke looks capable of solidifying himself as the Bruins’ third right defenseman. In the span of Peeke’s first three games with the Bruins from March 14-19, here’s where he ranked among defensemen with at least 40 minutes of ice time at five-on-five…

    – 7th in unblocked shot attempts allowed per 60 minutes (31.2)
    – 12th in shots against per 60 (22.1)
    – 11th in blocked shots per 60 (7.98)

  • Peeke looks like what he promised to be, even coming out of a bad situation in Columbus where he struggled to crack the lineup. He’s Derek Forbort with better skating ability. And you’d be hard-pressed to find an offensive play by Forbort like the one Peeke made on Beecher’s recent goal against the Flyers (see above).

    The Bruins are sticking with Peeke and Kevin Shattenkirk to his left on Thursday night against the Rangers. They’ll have a stiffer test in defending against a much deeper forward group in New York, and it’ll be a challenge for Shattenkirk to log three assists again.

    But so far, so good for a maligned-but-still-has-untapped-potential player in Peeke.

  • Goaltending

    Dec 16, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) makes a save during the second period against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Dec 16, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins goaltender Jeremy Swayman (1) makes a save during the second period against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Despite all the changes at forward and defense, the biggest test will come in goal. Jeremy Swayman is set to start Thursday night against the Rangers, and it comes at a time that the goaltender will look to rebound from a rough couple of outings.

    Swayman is 1-1 in his last two starts with an .820 save percentage, barely holding on for a win over the Flyers last time out. In the two starts prior to that, Swayman ripped off a .968 in a 2-0 burst over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Before THAT, Swayman allowed at least three goals in five straight starts.

    MORE: Bruins top Senators behind Pastrnak hat trick, Ullmark’s 30 saves

    He was stronger in his last game against the Rangers on Dec. 16, in which he stopped 32-of-34 (.941) en route to an overtime loss. But consistency is the question for Swayman, who is 11-5-4 with a .908 save percentage so far in 2024.

    If he wants the net in the playoffs, he’ll need to prove he can elevate against a strong opponent, and one they could feasibly end up seeing in the summer.

    Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Check out all of Matt’s content.

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