Thursday morning in Vegas began with a meeting between the Boston coaching staff and the Black and Gold’s new, encouraging third line with Charlie Coyle between Trent Frederic and Craig Smith.
The line, which has gotten off a strong start but was ultimately responsible for the mistake that accelerated the B’s downfall in Anaheim on Tuesday night, was going to be given a chance to bounce back. The Bruins have been happy with their overall body of work, and didn’t want to punish them for one bad mistake, but instead wanted to reinforce an attacking mindset.
They got that and then some, as Smith accounted for three of Boston’s five goals, while Frederic dished out as a career-best three helpers in a 5-2 victory.
For Smith, who had just two goals in his last 296 minutes and change entering Thursday’s head-to-head with the Golden Knights, the turnaround was only a matter of time. So long as he kept shooting. But for Frederic, the offensive outburst is what the Bruins hope — and want — to be a sign of things to come.
“He’s feeding off the other two. What he needs to figure out is how can he generate offense for himself,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Frederic after Thursday’s win. “I think Charlie Coyle understands how he’s gonna generate offense. He’s a puck possession guy, right, and he attacks. Craig Smith knows he’s a volume shooter. Freddy has to figure [that] out.”
It’s clear that the Bruins have wanted Frederic to be more of a hockey player than an antagonistic goof this season. They’ve alluded to it at various points when discussing Frederic’s play, and it makes sense given Frederic’s first-round pick status and age. It’s a little bit early to embrace the idea being a fourth-line irritant and nothing more.
“He’ll bring the physicality, we know that. But he’s learning to possess pucks better with that group, so they’re spending time in the o-zone,” Cassidy said. “Freddy has a really good shot, and I don’t think that people notice that,” Cassidy said. “His release is excellent. [Thursday], even though he got three assists, he shot off the rush a couple times, which was great. His decision making coming into the zone, or once he had the puck on his stick in a dangerous situation, was better.”
And with increased time in the offensive zone, the Bruins want to make sure that Frederic is playing to his strengths.
“We’ve encouraged him to play as much as he can on his forehand,” Cassidy offered. “And by that, I mean there’s not that many guys who can make backhand plays all over the ice. There’s [Sidney] Crosby, there’s [Patrice] Bergeron, there’s some guys out there, but in general [there’s not a lot who can]. That’s what we’re trying to preach to him.
“And that usually involves putting something to the net on your forehand.”
This kind of grinding line is what the Bruins had in mind when they started the 2020-21 season and put Nick Ritchie next to Coyle and Smith. The fit never quite took off, however, and Ritchie’s foot-speed issues proved to make him a suboptimal fit with Coyle when the pace and intensity of the games ramped up. Frederic’s fit with Coyle and Smith, however, seems to be a more natural one in terms of it pace and possession abilities, and it’s a combination that the Bruins hope to keep together.
Now, much of that may depend on what happens with the Jake DeBrusk situation, but the potential of keeping Smith in a third-line role, and allowing the Bruins to roll four lines at all times is something Cassidy would welcome given its throwback vibe.
“It takes me back to the  playoffs,” said Cassidy. “[After] the Coyle and [Marcus Johansson] trades years ago, we had three lines going offensively, and our fourth line was built to kill penalties and give us energy. We have that.
“And now, if that line can generate, we become dangerous.”
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 5-2 win over the Golden Knights…