By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins’ hot start under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy may not last, but the coaching change has certainly delivered a nice early payoff.
The Bruins are off to a 3-0 start with Cassidy behind the bench, notching wins over the Sharks, Canucks, and Canadiens by a combined score of 14-6. Offensively, the team has quickened the pace and opened up its creativity. The difference in the offensive end has been striking – especially with the aggressiveness from the Bruins’ defensemen.
In just three games under Cassidy, Bruins defensemen have scored a combined four goals. They had scored five goals in their previous eight. There have been several plays by Bruins defensemen that would have given former head coach Claude Julien a heart attack on the spot, but the team’s newfound aggression has worked well so far with some eye-popping offensive efforts that you never thought you’d see from a Bruins blue liner.
Take Zdeno Chara’s goal on Sunday night in the Bruins’ 4-0 win over the Canadiens. Seeing Chara carry the puck down low into the slot at all, let alone to dangle around a defender and fire the puck home – shorthanded, mind you – is like witnessing the Abominable Snowman.
It was a wonder how Chara would fit in this new system – if he can keep doing stuff like this, he’ll fit in just fine:
Colin Miller is among the Bruins defensemen you’d expect to benefit from Cassidy loosening the reins and letting him try to make more plays with the puck on his stick. He showed some deft skating and puck-handling ability against the Sharks on Thursday but was unable to make the score sheet.
On Saturday against the Canucks, the team’s aggressive forechecking paid off when Miller pinched in on a backward pass from Jimmy Hayes and unloaded a one-timer to pot his fourth goal of the season – and his first in eight games since Jan. 5.
Kevan Miller, meanwhile, will never mistake you for Al Iafrate. But even he got in on the action when he hustled up to join a rush with Jimmy Hayes and Ryan Spooner, who fed a wide-open Miller for a wrist shot that snuck past the goalie. It was just Miller’s second goal of the season.
But we haven’t even gotten to the most eye-popping offensive play made by a Bruins defensemen in the first three games under Cassidy. Watch below as Adam McQuaid sneaks way down low to take a cross-ice feed from Peter Cehlarik and rip a one-timer past the Canadiens’ Carey Price to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead. Not the most dazzling play in the world, until you realize it was made by Adam McQuaid.
You simply never would have seen Bruins defensemen even attempt to make plays like these under Julien. That’s not to say that Cassidy’s offensive system is better, but it’s certainly different. Wildly different.
The Bruins’ aggressiveness on offense will undoubtedly burn them badly at the other end at some point. Cassidy himself admitted as much after the Bruins beat the Sharks. It will likely happen at some point on the team’s four-game road trip coming out of their bye week when they travel to San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Dallas. That will be when the team comes down from the initial sugar-rush and realizes that they still need to play well in all three zones, not just on offense.
Chara was happy to make a play and score, but he still realizes that the Bruins will need to keep things under better control in their own end and generally play better according to the situation.
“We have to be able to do both [offense and defense],” Chara told reporters after the win on Sunday night. “At times, the situation presents for offensive guys more and at [other] times for guys who are more known for the defensive part of the game.”
The Bruins’ defensive game under Cassidy needs some work as they try to complement their new offensive system. But when they’re on the attack, Cassidy’s Bruins look like a team that had gotten stale and were freed from their shackles. Again, it’s not a knock on Julien’s coaching that the Bruins offense wasn’t working as well as it could have been. It’s just that this particular Bruins team needed a shake-up in the offensive department, and the most effective way to jolt the team was to change the system. The Bruins’ steady, controlled offensive attack had appeared to lull them to sleep, and Cassidy’s new wide-open offense has appeared to wake them up.
If he wants to, Julien will end up coaching another team by the start of next season. It will likely be a team in need of Julien’s structure and consistency. But the Bruins were in a spot where they needed the opposite; they needed to loosen up. There’s no guarantee that they can keep winning the way they are playing right now under Cassidy, especially the defensemen – but three games in, the difference has been noticeable and the results have been spotless.
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.