By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy’s decision to make up for the injury-depleted forward corps by reuniting David Pastrnak with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on an uber-line had its merits.
But after two games it’s time to abandon the plan and attempt to create two lines that can be a threat to score.
Pastrnak scored twice in the Bruins’ 3-2 to Washington at TD Garden on Saturday. Only one of the goals came 5-on-5, and the scoring chances by the top line weren’t nearly as abundant as they needed to be to justify putting together a first line followed by three lines that have a strategy of “crash the net and pray for a bounce.”
The top line looked better than it did in the 2-1 win against Vegas on Thursday, but this early-season standings points are just too crucial to hope you can get two or three goals from one line every night when there’s no way to count on getting anything from the other lines.
Cassidy’s explanation after the morning skate Saturday about wanting Pastrnak to play with a center he’s familiar with while David Krejci is out and on a line that could make up for his defensive deficiencies made some sense. But at the same time the Capitals had to be savoring the notion of playing the Bruins while worrying about playing tight defense against just one line.
Pastrnak was re-signed to a six-year, $40 million contract to be a superstar that can drive a line, even though he plays the wing. He’s always wanted to be that type of player and he should be granted the opportunity and he’s open to trying it.
“I play with whoever coach puts me with,” Pastrnak told CBS Boston just before the Bruins dressing room was closed to the media. “Right now I’m with Bergy. I think I’m the kind of player, I can get used to anybody, whoever it is, whatever style the centerman is going to play. I think I can, I can play with anybody, I don’t have a problem with that. I think we have good centermen, even though right now we are down a lot, we are in a tough position, but it’s not an excuse. But how I said for me, I’m not mad or anything if I play with other centermen, I think I can play with anyone. And obviously it takes time. If I would play with some new guy, it’s not going to be perfect the first game.”
Funny Pastrnak should mention the time it takes to forge chemistry. Cassidy mentioned that as well Saturday morning, but that won’t happen unless Cassidy starts the clock on a new line and gives Pastrnak a different center. He may have plenty of time because Krejci hasn’t skated in two weeks and there’s no telling how long he’ll be out. If Cassidy is waiting for Ryan Spooner’s return from injury in the next couple weeks, then the coach doesn’t remember all the times Spooner has failed to seize the No. 2 center spot when given opportunities in the past.
To create a more formidable second line, you start by putting Pastrnak, who had some chemistry with left wing Jake DeBrusk early in the season, with the rookie. Then if you’re going to decide on a center from players currently on the roster, you have Riley Nash, Sean Kuraly, Austin Czarnik or even Jordan Szwarz. With DeBrusk on the line for bulk, any of the center would do because the edict to them would be: get the puck to Pastrnak and drive the net or be the third man high with DeBrusk doing the dirty work.
Had the Bruins not made a couple of defensive mistakes that led to Washington goals, the lack imbalanced lineup might not have stood out as such a glaring issue. But the Bruins’ fine play over the final 40 minutes did more than keep them within striking distance of the Capitals, it also proved how inept the lineup is at finishing with three energy lines following Bergeron’s unit on the depth chart.
Hoping hard work and grit can manufacture a goal might be fine for one line, or even two, but not three. Braden Holtby had no problem with it for the Capitals and few NHL goaltenders the Bruins are going to face in the weeks ahead will find the Bruins’ lineup challenging as it’s currently constituted.
Cassidy has had success during his tenure with the Bruins putting his line combinations in the blender, and this is no time to remain patient. It’s time for him to plug Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen into the Bergeron line and give Pastrnak the keys to a second line. That’s what the Bruins are paying the 21-year-old for and it’s the only way the Bruins can put some fear in the opposition while they’re ravaged by injuries up front.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.