Taylor Hall’s arrival from Buffalo brought a much-needed dynamic on the Bruins’ second line with David Krejci and Craig Smith. With that, Boston now has an efficient second trio to complement the dynamic top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and a struggling but highly-skilled David Pastrnak.
If only the Bruins’ bottom-six didn’t find themselves in catchup mode.
It hasn’t been all bad with Boston’s third and fourth lines. Nick Ritchie found his scoring touch again in a third-line role with Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle. Curtis Lazar provided versatility and energy to the fourth line.
The other four forwards on the third and fourth lines — Coyle, DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner — haven’t provided the same consistency.
Hoping to find a spark in the middle of Sunday’s matinee against the Pittsburgh Penguins, coach Bruce Cassidy changed things up with his bottom-six, moving Lazar with Coyle and DeBrusk on the third line and switching Kuraly from wing to center on the fourth line with Ritchie and Wagner.
Boston’s bottom-six fired 11 of the team’s 30 shots on net on Sunday. But they rarely went to the dirty areas to generate secondary scoring chances and mostly settled for one-and-dones upon entry into the attacking zone.
“We have guys that are not producing down there, so move them around and see if you can spark them another way — so that was the reasoning,” Cassidy said of his bottom-six following Sunday’s 1-0 loss in Pittsburgh. “But I still feel it falls on a lot of those players to work a lot harder to attack the net, and [show] a little more will to get inside and do what it takes to score in this league. But we’ll address that tomorrow and keep preaching those points and hopefully get the desired result.”
The in-game adjustment didn’t provide the spark Cassidy hoped for. This forced Cassidy’s hand into a lineup change for Tuesday’s tilt with the Penguins.
Trent Frederic will replace DeBrusk in Boston’s last regular-season matchup against Sidney Crosby and company. Given their struggles, Cassidy could’ve sat Wagner, Coyle and/or Kuraly. But DeBrusk’s lingering consistency issues led him back to healthy scratch status for the second time this season.
“We just need a higher compete level,” Cassidy said of DeBrusk’s effort as of late. “It’s not about individual stats.”
Cassidy is correct. The third and fourth lines don’t necessarily need to light the lamp to make an impact. But they need to find other means of making contributions, including aggressive puck pursuits, assisting in the transition game, adding a healthy dose of physicality along the boards, and creating traffic in front of the net.
The bottom-six will find themselves with more scoring opportunities through the little things that don’t find their way on the stat sheet. And perhaps it will lead to consistent scoring as Coyle and the rest of the bottom-six fight through their slumps.
“I think everyone goes through them,” Coyle said of his lengthy offensive dry spell. “I think the thing I found out is you have to make sure you’re bringing something…Maybe you’re getting chances — and maybe it’s going in and maybe it’s not — but you got to bring something to the table and help your team win. I think when you go back to those basics — when you’re not scoring — that’s what you have to do. I have to make sure I’m reliable defensively, I’m in on the forecheck, being a big body out there, creating space, move my feet…and those are all things I can be better at too.”
For the first time in recent memory, the Bruins have two formidable scoring lines. Having a healthy bottom-six will only increase their chances toward a deep playoff run.
Perhaps Fredric’s return to the lineup will help that cause as the B’s attempt to hold off the Rangers for the East’s final playoff spot and hope to improve their positioning before the second season commences.
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