It’s difficult not to feel a little better about the Boston Bruins after a weekend where so many of their weak spots turned into strengths in back-to-back wins over the Sabres and Red Wings.
Nearly every Boston Bruins forward that’s struggled over the first few months cashed in offensively and the B’s played with some edge and attitude punctuated by a Sunday afternoon 5-1 win over the Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena that put Boston back into a playoff spot. The Bruins also posted nine even-strength goals and hopped both the Habs and the Sens in the NHL 5-on-5 scoring category, in the aforementioned two victories to address a 5-on-5 issue that’s dogged them all season.
It all was sparked by Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy’s decision to shake up the forward lines and break up the Perfection Line trio by dropping David Pastrnak to the second line with Taylor Hall. Craig Smith (one goal, two points, a plus-3 and five shots on net in the two wins) has been a hard-driving, second-effort catalyst with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and Hall (a goal, two points and eight shots on net) both perked up in their games, and it clearly energized Erik Haula centering a pair of elite wingers in Hall and Pastrnak.
“I felt like my game was headed towards the right direction before all this stuff happened, and I thought my game elevated when I got put on the wing a little bit. I feel like it’s been trending towards what I expect for myself,” said Haula, who could have easily had two goals after hitting a post on a breakaway in Sunday’s win as well. “To get an opportunity to play with [Hall and Pastrnak] is exciting.”
The Haula snipe late in the Sunday afternoon win over Detroit was as good as he’s looked since signing with the Bruins as a free agent over the summer.
Snipe City, USA pic.twitter.com/EThTrLvdS2
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) January 2, 2022
“When you split up [the Perfection Line], the one thing I’d say is that there might be a little more oxygen in the room for the secondary guys,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “At times how we deploy them, they get a lot of O-zone draws and they deserve them because they score on them and help us win. There’s a little bit of an onus on the rest of the group to learn from them what they do well, not necessarily try to be them but replicate some of the things that they do well.
“It’s always a battle. The good teams find a way to get the next few [lines] to fall into place [after the top line]. Obviously, it falls on the coach to give them opportunities and minutes to also produce, so I’d say it’s a shared responsibility between coach to divvy up minutes and players to play well whoever they are out there with. Then you get results where everybody feels good. That’s the end goal. You’d like every line to score. It doesn’t always work out that way, but we’ve had a good couple of days. The thing will be down the road when it doesn’t go our way, how are they going to respond? We’ll see, but right now we’re going to enjoy it and get ready for New Jersey.”
Clearly, a part of the calculus from the weekend is that the Boston Bruins kicked around some lesser lights in Buffalo and Detroit. But they also were playing a Red Wings team that was above them in the playoff stands and clearly was looking to protect their spot when Boston headed to Hockeytown on Sunday. The Sunday win had good intensity where Brad Marchand certainly looked like he was playing to win, among other things, with an early fight vs. Vlaidslav Namestnokiv and then a little payback punishment afterward.
— Spoked Z (@SpokedZ) January 2, 2022
But things like Nick Foligno breaking through for his first goal on Saturday, Haula elevating his play this weekend and even guys like Trent Frederic and Thomas Nosek kicking in some offense can’t be ignored. There’s been plenty of criticism about the B’s free agent signings from last summer not working out over the first few months, so credit where it’s due when pretty much all of them come through just as things are about to get very difficult for the Black and Gold.
“I don’t judge myself on goals, I feel like if I play the right way they will come,” said Foligno. “It’s the other part of the game. I like to make sure I’m responsible defensively, I’m physical, I’m helping our team in those little moments that usually win games, and you’re trusted to be put out in situations to help that. So, that’s where I judge myself, but it’s always nice to score goals and I definitely want to continue doing that for this club.”
“To be honest, I used this break to reset my mind. It’s like a new season for me, it feels like, in a lot of way. There was an adjustment period of getting used to guys. I felt like now I’m almost coming into my second year a bit, a little more comfortable with what I can bring, and knowing that if I go to the areas I need to go to, to score goals, that’s going to happen.”
It goes beyond the new guys, though, as Jake DeBrusk created the scoring chance for Foligno’s rebound backhander in the Saturday win over the Sabres. DeBrusk used skating speed and tenacity to bust through the Sabres defense before taking the puck straight to the net and had other scoring chances among his six shots on net in the two wins.
It may be that DeBrusk isn’t around that much longer as his elevated play will clearly have interested NHL suitors stepping up their efforts to trade for him. But it shows a Boston Bruins group that’s beginning to learn each other, gel and become the best version of themselves that they can be even if it’s different than what Bruins fans are used to in the past.
It remains to be seen just how good this Boston Bruins hockey club can be, but there has to be a bit more optimism back in a playoff spot after correcting some of the repeated mistakes from the first half of the year.