Five Keys To Getting The Bruins’ First Line Back On Track
BOSTON (CBS) - Secondary scoring is supposed to be just that — secondary.
Through three games against the Canadiens, the Bruins’ lack of primary scoring has led to two losses, and if not for magnificent second-line play in Game 2, they could be down three games to none.
Statistics say the first line hasn’t been bad, but statistics can be deceiving.
David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla have combined for five points in these three contests. Not quite first-line material, but it doesn’t speak to the anemia the Bruins’ first line is actually suffering from when they take their regular shift.
What their stats don’t show you is that two of these five points came on an empty-net goal in Game 2.
Two more came on Iginla’s goal Tuesday night with an extra attacker on the ice.
The one point at even strength? It came in Game 1 in the midst of a line change. Torey Krug got the goal, and it was assisted by Lucic and Patrice Bergeron.
That means the line of Lucic-Krejci-Iginla hasn’t registered a point during a regular shift.
In five-on-five play, the first line has been mired in mediocrity. Their lack of chemistry is nothing short of puzzling, and seems indicative of a line that’s been put together a week ago, not of a trio that has been playing together since September.
In a development that should come as no surprise to Bruins fans, Bergeron is saving their necks offensively, despite frequently being used as a tool in defensive matchups. In the Game 2 comeback, his line was a factor in all three consecutive goals that brought them from trailing 3-1 to leading 4-3.
The Bruins can’t rely on their shutdown forward alone for offense when he is not put in a scoring role on most of his shifts.
Speaking of No. 37, the Krejci line isn’t playing against Selke-level competition. In Game 3 they played the most shifts against a line centered by Lars Eller, with a winger in Rene Bourque whose apathy earned him weeks in the press box this season, and Brian Gionta who is listed at a towering 5-foot-7.
Defensively their matchups have been split between the Habs’ first two defensive pairings. There’s no shutdown pairing of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook that is coming out every time they’re on the ice. Simply put, there are no excuses to be made.
The Keys To Turning This Around?
1. SHOTS ON GOAL
Once or twice in each of the first three games, Krejci has sent a silky feed to Lucic in the slot, and the power forward simply hasn’t been able to hit the net. He needs to loosen his grip on the stick and just hit the cage.
Krejci always has a pass-first mentality, but some of the looks he’s giving up right now are getting flat-out frustrating. Since Game 1, the first-line center has registered a lone shot in each of the last two contests. He needs to throw more pucks toward the net and generate rebounds for his talented wingers.
The first-line’s forecheck against Detroit in the first round was instrumental in their success. How many times was Brendan Smith pummeled behind his own net? For whatever reason, they’ve slowed down against Montreal. Prevailing logic is that they don’t want to be penalized, but none of these three forwards have been given a single penalty thus far.
Increasing the forecheck is a win-win here, as it leads to turnovers and at the same time wears down defensemen. P.K. Subban is way too comfortable right now, so putting a body on him in his own end sure as heck can’t hurt. Subban is elusive, but it can be done.
3. NET-FRONT PRESENCE
Carey Price is a technically sound goalie. That being said, things are quite a bit more difficult for him when he can’t see the puck. The Habs don’t have a defenseman in their top-four who is capable of moving the big-bodied Lucic or Iginla off Price’s doorstep, and the Bruins need to capitalize on this.
Offensively, this is as gifted a defensive corps as the Bruins have had in years. Guys like Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton have lethal wrist shots from the point. They have the ability to take advantage of shooting through a screen at a temporarily blinded Price.
4. PHYSICALITY ALL OVER THE ICE
The Bruins are a bigger, tougher team than Montreal. They may be vilified for it north of the border, but they need to take advantage of it. They can push the Habs around and physically intimidate them without crossing the line.
The first line needs some more grit in their game. They could use more of this:
There is no way Brendan Gallagher enjoys playing against Lucic when he’s using his body like this.
Heck, they could even use more of this:
If they aren’t scoring goals, the first line still needs to make themselves as unpleasant as possible to play against. They’re at their best when they’re flying around bullying people.
The inability of NHL officials to make the correct calls is killing skilled players league-wide. There’s always more clutching and grabbing in playoff hockey, but it’s even more rampant than normal this season. Look across the NHL and you’ll see that gifted players like Sidney Crosby and Marian Hossa have been mostly unable to score goals.
That’s had its effect on the Bruins as well, and Krejci has been visibly frustrated by it.
Even quick fourth line (now third line) players like Daniel Paille are being victimized by it. I mean, in what world is this not a holding penalty?
The poor officiating has opened the door for guys like Douglas Murray — who can’t even skate — to make impact plays like this one in an NHL playoff game.
The Bruins are by no means out of this series, but if they’re going to mount a comeback, their first line is going to have to regain their regular-season form.
Christopher Mason is an intern at 98.5 The SportsHub.