(Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP Photos)

By: Tom Calautti | Follow me on Twitter @TCalauttis and Linktree

In a lot of ways, I envy Jim Montgomery, but when it comes to putting together a lineup every night for the 2023-34 iteration of the Bruins, I don’t envy him. Boston’s head coach has spent most of the first part of the regular season mixing and matching his lines, trying everything he can to find an offensive spark. The results have been okay thus far, but that doesn’t mean he’s done tinkering.

The big news coming out of Bruins practice yesterday was that rookie center Matt Poitras will be attending the World Junior Championship as a member of Team Canada. In addition, first-line center Pavel Zacha and top defenseman Charlie McAvoy were back at practice, indicating they may be available for tonight’s game against the Minnesota Wild.

For Bruins fans, it was a day of debating the merits of the Poitras decision. For Montgomery, it was another opportunity to juggle the lines:

This lineup sports trios both familiar and new, indicating that Boston’s coach is still searching for the best possible combinations for his team.


This line makes sense on paper; combine your two best wingers with your best all-around center, and you have a perfect line, but the analytics tell a different story. The Zacha line has been on the ice for just over 126 minutes, and their metrics don’t favor keeping them together. Of the 43 lines that have skated together for 126 five-on-five minutes, this line ranks:

  • 40th in expected goals;
  • 38th in expected goals for; and
  • 43rd in expected goals against per 60.

The fact of the matter is this line doesn’t get the job done on offense or defense. They aren’t scoring at an acceptable rate, and their defensive metrics aren’t good enough to justify keeping them together. Zacha and Pastrnak have shown great chemistry since the former’s arrival to Boston, so the obvious move here is to slide Marchand down in the lineup and find a more complimentary piece for what’s left of the Czech line.


Although this line breaks up the dynamic duo of Trent Frederic and Charlie Coyle, I don’t dislike it. Heinen and Debrusk had obvious chemistry during training camp when they skated with Georgii Merkulov, and Charlie Coyle has experience skating with both in the past (129 minutes with Heinen in the 2018-19 playoffs and 83 minutes with Debrusk in 2021-22).

The key to this line is what has hampered the Bruins all season: Can Jake Debrusk start scoring? Heinen averages almost a point per game, and Coyle is tied with David Pastrnak for the team lead in even-strength assists with 11. Debrusk has good metrics and, in my opinion, just hasn’t had any shooting luck. This line could help him, but I think there’s a better option.

Van Riemsdyk-Geekie-Frederic

This is the only line Montgomery trotted out in practice today that I’m actually okay with. In 27 minutes of ice time, this trio has outshot teams 22-13, out-chanced them 24-15, and has 17 high-danger chances for to only three against. Frederic and Van Riemsdyk have succeeded with almost every center they’ve skated with (goals with Coyle, Poitras, and Geekie), and Morgan Geekie is finally healthy.

What’s important to remember is that Poitras will be away for the duration of the WJC, so for the first time all season, Morgan Geekie can focus on playing center without looking over his shoulder. He has four points in his last four games and held his own playing top-six minutes against the Devils, Islanders, and Rangers. I believe Frederic and Van Riemsdyk could make any center look good, but the numbers show that their game can elevate even further with Geekie in the middle.

What I Would Do

If I was the one behind Boston’s bench and was in Jim Montgomery’s position, this is how I would roll out the top nine:



Van Riemsdyk-Geekie-Frederic

In just under 25 minutes of ice time together last season, the trio of Brad Marchand, Charlie Coyle, and Jake Debrusk out-chanced teams 15 to eight and had seven high-danger chances for to only three against. The trio also skated together in games three and four of last year’s first-round playoff series against Florida, which were the games Boston looked its best.

Heinen-Zacha-Pastrnak is a bit of an unknown commodity. The three haven’t skated together much this season, but each has been productive in their own right. Heinen has been much stronger on the puck in his return to Boston, and he provides Pastrnak and Zacha with a below-the-goal line presence that can win 50/50 pucks and also chip in offensively when given the chance. Heinen provides a defensive boost to the first line, and he can make plays like the one below that will lead to a more consistent attack from the Black and Gold.


This all changes when Poitras returns to the lineup, and Jim Montgomery goes back to playing linemate matchmaker. But for now, the team’s head coach has decided that these are his lines going forward. We’ll see how the Bruins fair against Minnesota, but whether they win or lose, four things are clear to me: break up the current first line, reunite Marchand and Debrusk, keep Morgan Geekie at center, and please let your skaters finish a game with the same linemates they started with.