Fresh off a pair of embarrassing back-to-back losses to the Islanders and Rangers, Bruce Cassidy attempted to send a message with his notable lineup changes during Sunday’s matinee at Madison Square Garden.
John Moore, Chris Wagner and Anders Bjork all watched the game above rinkside. Steven Kampfer replaced John Moore on the back-end in his season debut. Gregg McKegg played his first game as a Bruin, centering the fourth line. Karson Kuhlman joined McKegg and Sean Kuraly on said trio.
Cassidy needed all 20 guys to buy back into their philosophy of being tough to play against. He echoed that sentiment in his pregame Zoom conference.
“I need to see us play much more to our identity and start feeling good about our game,” the fifth-year Boston bench boss said. “Usually, when we do that, we win because we have a lot of good players.”
The Bruins returned to their roots. They came out flying, jumping out to an early lead on a highlight-reel tally by Charlie Coyle 6:41 in.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) February 28, 2021
Coyle and company didn’t need to come back from behind. The Bruins extended the lead and never looked back. They blocked shots, won one-on-one battles and sustained a fluid rhythm in all three zones en route to the 4-1 victory.
Here’s what we learned from Boston’s bounce-back triumph over the Broadway Blueshirts.
Secondary scoring follows in leaders footstep
In certain junctures, the Bruins turn to their leaders when they’re mired in a slump. The top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak didn’t light the lamp yet left their mark with a spirited opening shift highlighted by Marchand and Bergeron’s hit on Ryan Lindgren.
“That’s how we wanted to come out with a couple of big hits,” forward Trent Frederic said on the trickle-down effect from the first shift. “Those guys always set the tone. They’re leaders, and we just have to follow and follow their lead.”
The opening shift resonated throughout Boston’s roster. The secondary scoring unit then carried the offense.
An assertive Coyle scored twice, including his third-period empty-netter. Boston’s blue-line found a groove in the transition game and kept a good flow in the attacking end, highlighted by Connor Clifton’s assist on Frederic’s late first-period tally and Charlie McAvoy’s second-period one-timer.
— NHL (@NHL) February 28, 2021
Three of Boston’s four tallies were at even-strength, two at 5v5 and a 4v4 marker. All four goals came outside of the top line. Now they hope to find consistency in both departments as the calendar turns to March.
Fredric adding an offensive element
The Bruins drafted Frederic with one of their two first-round selections in 2016 hoping he’d eventually provide scoring depth. Little did they know that Fredric’s fists would become a significant asset after departing the University of Wisconsin following his sophomore campaign in 2017-18.
Frederic’s physical prowess and spirited fighting style made him a fan favorite in the early part of the 2021 campaign. His offensive element is slowly coming along after notching his second goal in the last four games on Sunday.
Unlike his first career tally in Lake Tahoe — a shot from the right faceoff circle — Frederic found himself parked in front of the net looking for a gritty goal. He found himself in the right place at the right time after tipping Clifton’s shot to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead with 1:46 remaining in the opening frame.
Trent Frederic tips Connor Clifton's shot home for his second career goal.
2-0 Bruins. pic.twitter.com/wTNqPLHfrc
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) February 28, 2021
“He’s starting to annoy people. He’s a big body who can back it up,” Cassidy said of the 6-foot-2, 203 lb. Frederic. “We’re seeing some growth in his game. He’s getting some points; he’s around the puck a lot more; he’s shooting more…so it’s a good thing for our team.”
Frederic hasn’t shied away from contact since beginning his professional hockey career in the AHL. He hasn’t crossed the proverbial fine line during his three seasons between Providence and Boston. His emerging scoring touch and personality may keep him at the NHL level.
Jack Studnicka belongs in the middle
The Bruins knew they have something in Studnicka. The second-round selection in 2017 blossomed up the prospect ranks during his sensational junior hockey career. He came to Providence last year in his natural center position, leading to a stellar opening season.
With a crowded depth chart down the middle, Cassidy positioned Studnicka at wing during the playoff bubble in Toronto. He continued using him in that role heading into the 2021 campaign.
Studnicka didn’t look out of place as a winger. His speed and skillset provided a relatively smooth transition. An early-season injury set him back a tad before returning to Providence for a stint. He returned to Boston after David Krejci sustained a lower-body injury following Boston’s 4-1 loss to New Jersey on Feb. 18.
Studnicka found himself back at center in Krejci’s absence. On Sunday, the speedy forward from Windsor, Ontario, created a handful of quality scoring chances, nearly lighting the lamp on a couple of occasions.
He has a different comfort level skating down the middle than he does at wing. Studnicka’s versatility at a young age gives Cassidy some flexibility. He’ll be a fixture on the top-six down the road. Even so, the Bruins may want to give Studnicka an extended look at center even when Krejci returns.
Adjusting to NHL life isn’t easy. The two-way responsibilities at center take time to master at the highest level of hockey. The Bruins have experienced guys ahead of Studnicka down the middle in Bergeron, Krejci, Coyle and Sean Kuraly. That alone could prompt Cassidy to keep Studnicka at wing this season.
But Studnicka showed he can handle those responsibilities at center through this four-game stretch. Keeping him at his natural spot will benefit the Bruins in the long-term. But, one has to wonder if keeping him in the middle is the right thing to do now.
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