The Boston Bruins are undoubtedly much improved after the NHL trade deadline.
The Black and Gold appear more balanced, they’ve addressed the gaping holes on their roster and at their best they look to be a deep, well-rounded hockey club that’s going to be a handful for anybody in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But they are far from a perfect team even at this point, and their third line struggles are a pretty clear indicator there are still improvements and tweaks to be made. It’s to the point that Bruce Cassidy was tinkering with his bottom-6 forward lines in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at PPG Paints Arena in order to find some kind of productive spark.
Struggling Charlie Coyle moved over to the wing, Curtis Lazar was bumped up to third line center and Nick Ritchie was dropped to the fourth line as Cassidy looked for some kind of bottom-6 foothold. Unfortunately, those adjustments forced the Boston Bruins to break up a fourth line that has been solidly effective, if not overly productive, since Lazar was brought on board as the fourth line pivot a couple of weeks ago.
“[It’s] a lack of production from a number of guys down there for an extended period of time,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy of the mid-game changes made to the bottom two forward lines. “You expect more from some [of them]. Quite frankly, I think they’re all capable of a little bit more offensively. Some of their roles aren’t necessarily [offensive], but they could certainly create a little bit more.
“So, you move some pieces around. If you’re not going to score, then you need to keep the puck out of your net. We had a shift there where it came down to that type of game and we knew that. We talked about that at the end of the second period. One play makes a difference in that type of game. They made it; we didn’t. We didn’t defend it and there you have it. We just have guys that aren’t producing down there, so you move them around and see if you can spark them another way. I still think it falls on a lot of those players to work a lot harder to attack the net. [They need] a little more will to get inside to do what it takes to score in this league. We’ll address it [at practice] and keep preaching those points and hopefully we’ll get the desired result.”
It’s pretty clear the biggest targets for Cassidy’s criticism are third line center Charlie Coyle and right winger Jake DeBrusk, who have the talent to be 20-goal scorers at the NHL level.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Coyle hasn’t scored a goal in 27 games and has struggled to impact the game at the offensive end, is a minus player this season and would be on pace for nine goals and 26 points over the course of an 82-game season. The big-bodied center went through a stretch where he was impacting Boston Bruins scoring by screening goalies even if the points weren’t flowing, but that hasn’t been the case as much lately either for him.
Ritchie scored in back-to-back games recently but went 10 games without a point and has points in just three games during an extremely busy month while being stuck with a minus-5 rating in April as well.
DeBrusk has a goal and four points in 13 games during the month of April and only has four games this month where he’s had more than two shots on net.
On the fourth line, Chris Wagner has a point in 12 games during the month of April and Kuraly has two points in 14 games with a minus-4 rating. Lazar has a couple points in his eight games with the Bruins and has at least brought a little more danger to the B’s energy line since his arrival.
Their head coach sent out a message following Sunday afternoon’s loss that it’s time for the bottom-6 to collectively find a way to get things going. It starts with paying the price to get to the front of the net where guys like Coyle and DeBrusk could find some of their missing offense.
“Some of those bottom-6 guys need to at least have some games where they are close [to scoring],” said Cassidy. “I didn’t think that was the case [on Sunday]. Ritchie has been moved around a little bit and he’s the sole one that’s found the score sheet on a somewhat consistent basis, but those are the guys that we’re going to have to rely on. They’re going to need to look within themselves to see how they can create a little more.”
There aren’t a ton of options for replacements on the third line now that the trade deadline has come and gone, but at the very least a player like Trent Frederic has shown a fighting willingness to get inside to the net. The 23-year-old hasn’t played since April 6 after getting felled by an illness that’s kept him out of the top-12 forwards for the last three weeks but does possess some of the qualities that Cassidy is calling for right now.
It remains a mystery as to why he hasn’t at least been given a look as other players to generate much offensively or energy-wise, but clearly, he’s not the only mystery with proven guys like Coyle and DeBrusk struggling right now as well. The hope is that proven playoff performers like Coyle and DeBrusk will step it up a notch when the postseason begins, but there isn’t a lot of current evidence to go on that it’s going to magically happen.