Bruce Cassidy needs to get his team going in order to prevent having their backs against the wall as they did for two games straight in the first round versus the Toronto Maple Leafs. Yesterday, the Bruins tweeted their practice lines, and to the surprise (and even dismay) of many, right wing David Pastrnak was playing on the third line alongside trade deadline acquisitions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. Pastrnak’s playoff stats may not quite show it, but anyone who has watched even a period of Boston Bruins hockey this postseason can tell as plain as day that Pastrnak is seriously struggling to play at the level we are all used to seeing from him.
Since the beginning of the playoffs, Pastrnak has been turning the puck over constantly, taking weak shots, and totally missing the mark when passing. Even worse, he has passed the puck instead of taking shots on many scoring opportunities While this has been a problem through the Bruins’ top six, Pastrnak has looked to be struggling more than most. In fact, his travails have led many people to assume he is concealing some sort of upper body injury, as his skating appears to be fine. This gluten-free Pasta is not getting it done, and the Bruins’ coaching staff must address the issues with his game.
Pastrnak has notched three goals and assisted on four for a total of seven points in nine playoff games. That’s a respectable number, but it’s not what the team or its fans have come to expect from Pasta. Typically, when the Bruins need a big goal, Head Coach Bruins Cassidy can put his top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Pastrnak on the ice and have a reasonably good chance to get the goal he needs out of them. The problem this postseason is that all three of them are struggling, and it’s been brutal to watch.
With Pastrnak skating on the third line instead of the first, two-way wing Danton Heinen will be skating in his place with Bergeron and Marchand. Some fans are wondering what playing on the third line will do for a guy who is having trouble finding his game, and the answer typically is that it will get him back to basics and help him simplify his game. If a scorer is having trouble putting the biscuit in the basket, then he needs to at least be playing strongly otherwise, and at the moment, Pastrnak is not. Playing with Coyle and Johansson will likely give Pastrnak a chance to do so.
This should not be looked at as a punishment in any way — coaches need to move players around the lineup when things aren’t working — and the top line isn’t working right now, so here we are. If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got, right? As a fan base, we cannot complain about a coach’s unwillingness to change his lineup or move players from line to line (this was a gripe often heard about former Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien), and then complain about where those players end up at the same time. That’s a total double standard, so let’s give this a chance.
Another thing to consider here is that if Pastrnak plays on the third line and things aren’t clicking, Cassidy can always move him back to skate alongside one of the centers he’s used to, whether that center be Patrice Bergeron, or David Krejci. This is not permanent, nor is it a punishment. Cassidy has to make changes to his lines, or he’s cutting off his nose to spite his face. He cannot worry about players’ and fans’ feelings during a playoff run. Furthermore, Pastrnak will still be playing on the power play (and scored during a power play drill in practice), so the Bruins are still going to rely on him offensively. Third line duty will hopefully help him get his groove back, though.
Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson will likely benefit from having such a speedy, skilled wing on their line, as well. With Coyle’s defensively responsible grinding game, and Johansson’s silky-soft hands, putting the three together could turn out to be a match made in heaven. It will also make the lineup deeper and give the Bruins a more balanced attack, especially since that leaves energetic rookie Karson Kuhlman playing right wing on the second line, with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci, who are not producing to their standards lately, either.
If the Bruins come out of the tunnel flying like they didn’t during game one, and Pastrnak can settle his nerves a bit and get back to basics, the Bruins can absolutely win game three against the Blue Jackets in hostile territory… even if there’s a cannon involved. Of course, if the Bruins don’t want to hear the cannon, they could always shut Columbus out. Hopefully these line changes help the offense get moving again tonight.