By: Mike Sullivan | Follow me on twitter: @_MikeSullivan
Injuries are bound to happen during an 82-game schedule in the national hockey league. Unfortunately, the Boston Bruins had to deal with three critical injuries to start the season. Matt Grzelcyck, Brad Marchand, and Charlie McAvoy. For those counting, that’s a first-line elite winger in Brad Marchand, a first-pairing Norris Trophy-competing defenseman in Charlie McAvoy, and a top-four defenseman in Matt Grzelcyck. Not an easy task to replace any of those players, but the team has still managed to set a franchise record for the best start to the season at seven wins, one loss, and zero overtime/shootout losses.
Luckily for Boston, the injuries seem to be healing faster than many expected. For Marchand and McAvoy, they weren’t expected to be infused into the lineup until post-Thanksgiving. That estimation was shattered when Matt Grzelcyck came to play against the Anaheim Ducks on October 20th. To everyone’s surprise, Brad Marchand played his first game on October 27th against the Detroit Red Wings. About a month ahead of schedule. Now we wait on McAvoy.
I want to take this time to predict the Boston Bruins’ complete offensive and defensive lines when fully healthy. Goaltenders remain the same in Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.
Offensively, this team is deep. It’s tough to justify sliding any one player out of the lineup because every man on this roster has so far earned a spot on this team.
The first line should remain Marchand-Bergeron-DeBrusk. Allowing distribution of offensive production between your top two lines specifically.
With Jake DeBrusk on the first-line wing spot, that leaves the second line to be Hall-Krejci-Pastrnak. Having Pastrnak on the second line distributes offense and allows the Bruins to maximize their scoring threats. Combined, these three have 29 points through eight games.
The third line is still an offensive threat with Charlie Coyle and Pavel Zacha, with goal-scoring production from guys such as AJ Greer and the occasional gritty goal from Trent Frederic. Ideally, I want to see a line of Zacha-Coylee-Greer, but Greer needs to prove that his defensive game is as reliable as his aggressiveness.
That leaves the fourth line. I believe the Bruins will move Craig Smith to free up cap space for McAvoy when he returns from LTIR. Now, I would love nothing more than to see McLaughlin play on that fourth line, but Chris Wagner is also an option for Boston. Since I love chaos and an underdog story, I pick Mclaughlin. My ideal fourth line would be Foligno-Nosek_McLaughlin. Tomas Nosek may not fill the stat sheet, and he may leave you scratching your head more often than not, but he’s highly reliable on the penalty kill, and that’s extremely valuable.
Defensively when McAvoy comes back, I would like to see the first pairing of Grzelcyck-McAvoy. I love these two together, and I would rather spread Lindholm to the second pair to spread the spoils of this defensive core.
The second pair, in my eyes, should be Lindholm-Carlo. Two big men who can protect the ice in the defensive zone, lead breakouts, and even hold down the offensive zone. You do have to be weary of Carlo’s injury history.
The third pairing should be Forbort-Clifton. These two have been phenomenal this year, and both are making a solid case to remain in the lineup. Derek Forbort is playing some of the best defensive hockey we’ve seen from him in a Bruin uniform. The shot-blocking clinic he put on in the playoffs last season carried its way over into this season. Connor Clifton, by the way, is sending a message with some massive hits that even leave Jim Montgomery impressed.
One of this team’s strengths is its depth. They survived a six-win, one-loss start to the season without Marchand, McAvoy, and Grzelcyck, and now that they’re getting closer to a total return to the lineup Jim Montgomery has some tough decisions to make. Definitely a problem but a good one at that.