Kalman: Surprisingly Effective Third Line Running On Cassidy’s Confidence

By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) – Two guys who might have had the toughest time of any Bruins players finding success under former coach Claude Julien have been empowered by new coach Bruce Cassidy.

And left wing Frank Vatrano is just along for the ride.

Cassidy kept the line of Vatrano with center Ryan Spooner and right wing Jimmy Hayes, two forwards who took up residence in Julien’s doghouse from time to time, for his second game as coach and it paid off in a major way in a 4-3 win against the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden on Saturday.

Vatrano matched his career high with three points (one goal, two assists), and Spooner and Hayes each had one assist.

“I think we just did our jobs and created a lot of energy,” Vatrano said. “I think Jimmy did a good job of going to the net tonight and Spoons made his plays when he needed to make his plays and I think it was an all-around — even with the D that were out there with us — I think it was an all-around effort for the guys who were on the ice. And I think the biggest thing was we just competed all night.”

A Vatrano-Spooner-Hayes line looked on paper like one that would’ve given Julien a rash because of the lack of a defensive presence. Actually, though, Julien used that combination nine games last season. Clearly he wasn’t impressed because he didn’t use it this year. Instead Julien made Hayes a healthy scratch for eight of the coach’s final 12 games and shifted Spooner between wing and center on a weekly basis.

Of course, there are both sides to every story and it’s not like Hayes had many performances for Julien like the one he had Saturday. Hayes pressured defenseman Ben Hutton into a giveaway and then, after a pass from Vatrano, withstood a hip check from defenseman Nikita Tryamkin while setting up Colin Miller for a rocket one-timer that gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead early in the third period.

Hayes, Spooner and Vatrano all played a role in Kevan Miller’s earlier goal, with Vatrano making an outlet pass to Spooner, and then Spooner setting up Miller while Hayes drove the net and distracted the defense.

Interim head coach Bruce Cassidy looks on during the first period against the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden on February 11, 2017. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Interim head coach Bruce Cassidy looks on during the first period against the Vancouver Canucks at TD Garden on February 11, 2017. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

“These are things we’ve asked and we’re going to ask that line to do on a regular basis and that should help them create offense,” Cassidy said after he improved to 2-0-0 as Bruins coach. “That was a great reward for them, I thought defensively they were solid for the most part, we’ll look at it a little closer but there was no apprehension calling their name out and throwing them out on the ice tonight and that will only ingratiate themselves with their teammates, with the coaching staff, when they can contribute offensively, solid defensively, play a 200-foot game.”

Imagine what this Bruins team could accomplish with a third line that could contribute at both ends for 10-to-12 minutes a night.

A few months ago it might not have been difficult to picture Vatrano and Spooner as part of that line, but Hayes was another story. To put it bluntly, Hayes’ stint with his hometown team has been a failure. He has scored two goals in 42 games. Cassidy said that putting Hayes with Spooner and Vatrano was about getting the lumbering forward to skate more and create more havoc around the net in front of a shooter (Vatrano) and a playmaker (Spooner). Hayes sees this opportunity as a fresh start.

“For myself I’ve got to continue to keep up with that pace, drive net and be a big guy on the line,” he said.

Of course defensive issues could creep up against more talented and deeper opponents. Cassidy seems ready to give them a shot and they’re thriving on the confidence the coach is showing.

“I think we’re just going out there and playing hockey. We’re not worrying about pucks ending up in our net,” Vatrano said. “We’re just more worried about competing hard night in and night out. Obviously there’s going to be some breakdowns defensively. Obviously for us if there’s breakdowns we’ve just got to expect that one of our teammates is going to be there for us. I think we’ve been doing that the past two games. We can’t just go out there worrying about things. We’re just trying to play hockey.”

The third line hemmed the Canucks in their own end a couple times Saturday without getting a goal. Those are the type of shifts that will really make them a valuable line and prevent the puck from ending up in Boston’s net.

“I think it’s just having confidence,” Hayes said. “You get stuck in the defensive zone, you just have to have confidence in yourself that you can play against guys, just stick to the simple things, get pucks out, be harder on pucks.

“If you can play with the puck down in their end, I think Torey [Krug] said before, sometimes the best defense is people’s offense.”

Right now the Bruins’ best third line is one with confidence from the coach and two guys with a new lease on life.

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.

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