BOSTON (CBS) – Here are some facts and predictions from the depths of my brain now that Bruce Cassidy has been head coach of the Bruins for two days:
*The Bruins’ offense has perked up after a dismal first four months with 20 goals in the past five games, three of which were wins. But Brad Marchand has scored six goals, and Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak have each scored three in that span. Cassidy knows that in order to get the Bruins into the postseason, he’s going to have to find some secondary scoring. And he has a theory of how to squeeze that out of the Bruins.
“I’ve always told players, everybody in the room is capable of scoring goals even though you may not be labeled a goal scorer,” Cassidy said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Wednesday. “And that’s the kind of the mentality we want to have throughout the lineup.”
Before you hit your head and ask ‘why didn’t Claude Julien think of telling everyone to try to score?’ there’s more to Cassidy’s philosophy. He wants the defensemen to support the puck more and be more aggressive keeping the puck alive in the offensive zone in concert with the support forward. But there’s also a level of freedom he plans to give his forwards to not always make the easy play, which sometimes can be easy to defend.
“We’re working with a little bit more of trust your skills, use your skills to separate down low in the O zone to create something for yourself, especially against teams that play man-to-man,” Cassidy said.
The Bruins lead the NHL in shots on net per game and shot-attempt percentage but are in the bottom third in scoring. Some of their ineptitude has been bad luck proven by low shooting percentages. But, as Mike Kelly of TSN recently pointed out on Twitter, a larger percentage of the Bruins’ shots are coming from areas outside the danger areas near the net. Cassidy has obviously seen the data.
“You hope that it results in some more chances here and there, some anxiety in front of the other team’s net. And that’s what we’d like to create, a little more anxiety,” he said.
*Prediction: We won’t see Ryan Spooner on the wing again in a Bruins uniform. Although Cassidy said the line combinations are fluid leading up to his first game as head coach on Thursday, and the lines were different for each of his first two practices, Spooner was at center in both sessions. Cassidy said he hasn’t given up on Spooner as a wing, and even used a comparison to Johnny Gaudreau. But Spooner’s never been enthusiastic about playing anything but center. The Bruins need to see if he can succeed at his natural center position or trade him because it’s doubtful he’ll ever cut it as a wing in a Boston uniform.
*Prediction: Skating coach Kim Brandvold was on the ice for practice and worked with a quintet of players on some turning and accelerating after the formal session. I’d expect to see more of this going forward. More teams are integrating skills coaches at the NHL level. There were murmurs Julien was averse to adding one. With the Bruins’ youth movement just starting out, the Bruins might need to focus more on skills, especially skating.
“Players tend to gravitate towards him to work on little skills — skating, puck handling,” Cassidy said. “And I think it’s good after practice. … To have a guy after practice, for a player to get a little 1-on-1, I think it’s great, especially the younger guys.”
*Through two practices we’ve seen Cassidy pair David Krejci with Pastrnak. It has to be tough to break up the best line in the NHL but seeing Krejci and David Backes try to play together has been like watching someone shovel snow with a fork. If Pastrnak can get Krejci going and the Bergeron/Marchand combo can make Backes serviceable again, Cassidy can try to ride that top six to the playoffs. And if that leaves Frank Vatrano on a third line, well maybe the Bruins will get more balance.
*Cassidy acknowledged the Bruins’ defensive troubles of late. They’ve allowed 20 goals in the past five games that they’ve scored 20. Obviously they need to get back to the structure in the defensive zone but maybe some of these offensive tweaks will allow them to possess the puck more and worry about defending less. Or maybe they’ll have to win a few 5-4 or 6-5 games because they need points no matter how they get them and no one is going to grade the quality of their wins when mid-April rolls around.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets.