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Haggs: Hall Performance Underscores Bruins Overwhelming Depth

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Perhaps the greatest strength of this season’s Boston Bruins team was also a chronic weakness over the last handful of seasons.

It’s the depth up and down the lineup as the Boston Bruins showed off by slotting Taylor Hall on the third line and watching him score a pair of goals, including the game-winner, in Boston’s 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. Hall put a wonderful high tip on a Brandon Carlo shot from the slot in the opening minutes of the game to put the Bruins on top early in the first period as they’ve built their record up to 13-0-0 this season when they score the first goal.

It’s the kind of blue collar goal that Hall didn’t seem to score too many of prior to arriving in Boston a couple of seasons ago, but has embraced while adjusting to play with different style players on different lines this season.

Then he scored another in the third period when Nick Foligno wheeled behind the net and found Hall open in the slot for the one-time strike less than three minutes into the final frame. It was a tally for the second power play unit that proved to be the game-winner, and also underscored just how lethal the Black and Gold are these days by simply overwhelming teams with their roster depth up and down the lineup.

Honestly, it’s not too many NHL teams that can place a former Hart Trophy winner like Hall as a third line left wing alongside a $5 million plus player like frontline third line center Charlie Coyle. It certainly proved to be too much for a Tampa Bay team that’s conversely seen their depth sapped by salary cap complications over the last few seasons.

“It was the season after he was MVP that I first coached in the league [and] you could tell he was an elite player,” said Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. “Coming here, I was excited to work with him because he is older now, as far as where he is, his maturity in his game. And what’s important to him now is winning. He wants to win a Cup. He wants to be in a dressing room that values winning, that has that pedigree, and I think it shows in the way he is playing.

“He is very accepting of the fact that I’m using him on the third line and we’re using him on the second power play because that is what’s best for the Boston Bruins. I can’t say enough about his exemplary attitude. He’s still getting 15 minutes a night, and some nights he’s getting 16, 17 depending on special teams.”

It certainly isn’t hurting his numbers as Hall has eight goals and 15 points in 22 games this season and is on pace for 30 goals and 56 points while mostly skating on the second line with David Krejci and David Pastrnak. Hall struggled a bit when paired with Coyle at times last season, but knowledge accrued from that experience has helped both players gel together this time around.

“I think just games and playing with [Coyle] and seeing him…I think we’re working on our dialogue on the bench [on] what he sees, what I see [and] areas that we can contribute and get better at,” said Hall. “[Coyle] is such a good hockey player. He’s so strong and he’s really good in his own end. Just more games. I think after last year, if I ever got on a line with him again, I had a better idea of what I needed to do and how I needed to play, and I think the line’s been really good.”

It’s a bit of a different mindset skating with other big bodies like Coyle and Trent Frederic on the third line, and Hall showed he was making that adjustment getting around the net-front while also handling the puck a little bit more playing with those other two power forwards.

“I think we have a little bit more latitude to make more plays East-West in the O-zone,” said Hall. “Not as much of a shot-quantity team, more of a shot-quality team. It took a few games, personally, for me to get out of the habits [under former coach Bruce Cassidy] of pucks to the net, shoot from everywhere, never a bad play to put it on net. Where I think Monty, he’s made a few adjustments in our game where some shots are bad shots, and we want to control pucks.

“I’ve gotten a lot better at that. I feel more comfortable with that. And as we get going, you’re seeing a lotta guys, their skill sets coming out in different ways, and I think I’m one of them.”

Clearly, the shot quality over shot quantity mindset is an adjustment under the new coaching staff as is the stress of importance for every player up and down the lineup. That kind of teamwide approach makes it easier for an established NHL star like Hall to accept a third line role, however long or short the time it lasts for, and gets everybody to embrace the importance of the role they currently hold on the hockey club.

It’s a big part of the 19-3-0 record that the Boston Bruins hold while setting the pace for the rest of the NHL, and it’s something that isn’t likely to change this season after Montgomery has made a practice of starting different lines through different portions of the schedule this season. Whether it’s seeing in plain sight how valuable Derek Forbort is to the penalty kill while he was out with injury or witnessing the value of a guy like Hall as slides back and forth in different roles among the forward group while continuing to be an impact player, it feels like every player on the Boston Bruins roster has had a few moments to shine already this season.

Whether it’s up front with stud forwards like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Hall or a back end led by twin No. 1 defenseman in Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm, other NHL teams are having a tough time matching up to the Boston Bruins and it’s showing in the results.

That’s the sign of a great hockey team and Hall’s two-goal performance against a Tampa Bay team that’s coming off three straight Stanley Cup Final appearances was just another piece of the mounting evidence that the Boston Bruins are exactly that this season.

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