BRIGHTON, Mass – The Boston Bruins have clearly been underwhelmed by their forward production outside the Perfection Line, and they are finally taking some dramatic steps to shake things up with their forward group.
It remains to be seen for how long these radical changes may take hold, but David Pastrnak has been dropped to the second line wing with Taylor Hall while Charlie Coyle has been bumped down to the normal No. 3 center position he’s held with the Bruins in past years. It’s clear the Bruins are trying to spark more offense from Hall, who looked his best this season with the B’s when he was playing in place of a suspended Brad Marchand alongside Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak.
In truth, though, it’s about trying to spark Hall, Erik Haula and Nick Foligno as nearly every forward outside of Marchand and Bergeron has disappointed to some point over the first three months of the season. There’s still serious doubt with this humble hockey writer that Haula is a good option at center given some of the defensive shortcomings we’ve already seen this season, and he seemed to be playing better at the wing recently.
But sometimes a different look is all that’s needed to spark a slumping group and the B’s hope that’s the case this weekend in back-to-back games against the Sabres and Detroit Red Wings.
“We decided to take a look at this knowing there are some pieces that could slide back pretty easily [if it doesn’t work],” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “I talked to Coyle this morning about the need to get some reps [after missing the week due to COVID protocol]. Pastrnak is one we’ve done in the past and Haula is somebody that’s been playing center all [at practice]. Some of it is just about getting some guys going.
“I don’t want to call this the second half, but there are some players moved around and hopefully it helps their games to be with a different duo knowing that you can always go back. We’re like everybody else in that we’re trying to build scoring throughout our lineup and hopefully this will get some guys jump-started.”
With 56 games remaining in the regular season, the bottom line with the Black and Gold is that Haula (one goal), Foligno (zero goals), Hall (three 5-on-5 goals) lead a group of underachievers that have led the B’s to a 24th ranking in overall offense (2.69 goals per game) and the fourth-fewest even strength goals (70 in 26 games) ahead of only the Blackhawks, Coyotes and Islanders this season. There’s nowhere to go but up for the Black and Gold, so why wouldn’t the coaching staff shake up a group that’s stumbled through the first half of the year without much net drive, sustained offensive pressure or real chemistry outside of the usual suspects.
Here are the new looks for the Boston Bruins forward group as they ready for Saturday afternoon’s matinee against the Buffalo Sabres: