Prior to the Boston Bruins COVID-19 shutdown on Dec. 18 and then the league’s shut down a few days later, the Black and Gold were stuck in medoricity. They were struggling to barely stay relevant in the Eastern Conference standings. Something needed to change before they found themselves in too big of a hole to dig out of.
When the Bruins returned to their practice facility, Warrior Ice Arena, after Christmas, coach Bruce Cassidy had most of his roster together for the first time in a long time. The former Jack Adams Award winner for the 2019-20 season decided to shake things up with his lines and through the first six games, things have gone well. How well? Boston has won five of six games, collected 10 points in the standings, and is looking like a different team.
Cassidy’s Moves Provide More Offense and Confidence
When Cassidy moved David Pastrnak down to the second line and bumped Craig Smith up to the top line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, it was not a punishment to Pastrnak. It was a move intended to put a better player on the second line with Taylor Hall. Cassidy even went so far as to move Erik Haula up between Hall and Pastrnak and send Charlie Coyle to the third line, where he seems like a better fit.
Since the changes, the Bruins offense has taken off. They have scored 28 goals, with 24 being scored at even strength. That’s right, 24 goals at even strength. When was the last time you could say that about this Bruins team or any in the last couple of seasons in that time frame? Their power play has struggled with just four goals, two in Monday’s 7-3 win over the Washington Capitals, and has been so bad that they have dropped down and are barely in the top 10 in the NHL.
What is even more impressive with the changes it has brought about secondary scoring from not only the second line, but the bottom six as well. Youngster Oskar Steen has stamped his spot in the bottom six with his play since the break, which included his first career goal against the New Jersey Devils on Jan. 4. Anton Blidh, inserted into the lineup scored a goal in a 5-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Jan. 8, off a nice individual effort and puck battle win from Steen.
Consider some of the other names that have found the back of the net since the changes. Nick Foligno scored his first goal as a Bruin on Jan. 1 against the Buffalo Sabres, then one day later, Tomas Nosek and Trent Frederic scored against the Detroit Red Wings. Haula, Smith, and Hall each have two goals since the break, while Curtis Lazar, Coyle, and blueliners Matt Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo, and Charlie McAvoy have also scored. Players the Bruins expect a lot from like Pastrnak and Marchand continue to produce as each has five goals since the calendar turned.
Not only is production coming the 12 forwards, but also the defensemen. This is also all happening as Cassidy deals with injuries and more players being sent into the league’s COVID-19 protocols. This type of production is not something that you would have seen before the break.
Bruins Being Resilient and Playing Through Adversity During Stretch
Since the break, the Bruins have been a resilient team. In their first game against the Sabres, they trailed 3-1 entering the third period, but goals from Hall and Foligno sent the game into overtime, where Coyle won it in the first minute. The biggest two examples of them being resilient happened in their recently completed road trip.
Against the Lightning, the Bruins jumped out to a 4-0 lead through two periods, but like champions always do, Tampa Bay battled back in the third period. Ondrej Palat scored just 24 seconds into the final period, before Brayden Point cut the deficit in half midway through the period at 4-2. With the Lightning applying all kinds of pressure, it would have been easy for goalie Linus Ullmark and his teammates to wilt under the pressure, but instead, they dug deep, got a key penalty kill, and an empty-net goal from Brad Marchand to seal an impressive 5-2 win.
“We can’t look too deep into it because it is only two points,” said Marchand. “But I think it shows – there were some question marks early in the year about the teams we were beating and the teams we weren’t beating, and obviously Tampa’s one of the top teams in the league.
“So it feels good. This is a big win for a group and it’s another game that we can continue to build on.”
Build on it they did and they did it in a big way. Two nights later, once again facing adversity, they respond well to it. Two Connor Sheary goals in the first 12:24 of the game gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead. The Bruins responded with two power-play goals in the last 1:26 of the period from Pastrnak and Marchand, before a four-goal second-period explosion gave them a commanding 6-2 lead. They closed the game with seven goals in the final two-plus periods against the powerful Capitals.
On a road trip where the Bruins would have been happy taking two out of a possible four points against the Atlantic Division leader and two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay and Metropolitan Division co-leader Washington, the new-look Bruins swept both games in regulation in impressive fashion.
Bruins Need to Keep It Going
The Bruins still have 50 games remaining in the 2021-22 season, so there is a lot of time left. They are four points ahead of the Red Wings for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they have been playing much better hockey since the break. They are being resilient, playing with confidence, and fighting through any adversity thrown at them on a daily basis, whether it’s an injury or another player being placed in COVID-19 protocols.
Cassidy has pushed the right buttons since the break, but make no mistake about it, they still have plenty of work to do and also have roster additions needed through a trade if they are going to be a serious contender come the postseason. For now, they look like a different team than they did before the New Year and a lot of it has to do with Cassidy’s moving around of the forward lines, which has instilled a ton of confidence throughout the roster.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.