(Photo Credit: John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

By: Jason Cooke | Follow me on Twitter / X @cookejournalism

If you turned on a Boston Bruins game between 2011 and 2023, you’d witness the unmistakable bond between Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. A Stanley Cup, hundreds of goals, and countless life-long memories later for the duo and fans alike, Marchand’s first-line center role was back on the market. Bergeron announced his retirement from his 19-year National Hockey League career, and Marchand had to say farewell to his linemate.

And for the first half of the 2023-24 season, it was unsure who would fill that void between Marchand. Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery placed Pavel Zacha in the slot, partnering Marchand with David Pastrnak. Marchand even played some time with newcomer Matt Poitras. However, one player in particular has appeared to stick more than the other: Charlie Coyle. In Boston’s last eight games that featured a line pairing with Marchand in Coyle, the tandem has produced a whopping 18 points. But for Marchand, the transition was far from seamless.

“I knew it would be really different,” said Marchand. “I kind of expected it to take time. I was kind of hoping we’d build chemistry immediately and it felt like it was a little tough because we were kind of bouncing around with different lines at different times. It was a little tougher than expected to find that chemistry.”

Marchand’s season has had its ups and downs, including an eight-game goal drought in November. He responded with five goals in the subsequent three contests before going another four goals without a tally. The 35-year-old has still managed to post a 21-23-44 line with Boston this season, which is good for second-most points on the club behind Pastrnak. It’s safe to say the acclimation with Coyle as his new centerman has paid dividends in Marchand’s stat sheet.

“I think just time,” Marchand said of the adjustment. “You need games, you need practices together. I think both of us are different players than what we’re used to playing with. We just needed time to build that chemistry in practice. We haven’t had a ton of it, especially lately, but the more you play together, the more you interact and communicate, the better it gets. We’re starting to feel much better together out there.”

Coyle and Marchand’s respective play styles are night and day. Marchand, known for his tenacious habits and offensive flare, varies drastically from a brand of hockey from Coyle that consists of 200-foot play. However, there’s one common denominator between the two, and that would be puck protection. While Coyle has made a career out of his puck-handling skills, Marchand is right behind him in that category. The result? Danger in the offensive zone.

“Charlie is blessed with size and strength and great skating ability,” Montgomery said. “That goes hand in hand, but also there’s a willingness. You got to be willing to hang on to pucks. And it’s not easy, you’re going to take more slashes, you’re going to take more hits.”

Coyle has exploded this season for Boston, posting 17-21-38 through his first 46 games with the Black and Gold, who is on pace to shatter his career-high 56 points in the 2016-17 season. Coyle has recorded eight points in his last five games, including three straight multi-point performances. Before he knew it, Coyle was Boston’s patented first-line center, and he couldn’t help but soak it in.

“I feel very lucky to be here (and) to play in the NHL first and foremost,” Coyle told BNG’s Tom Calautti. “But to play for your home team. That’s what you dream about. So I think I’ve settled in, I’ve been here for a few years now so I’m just trying to play the best I can for the team. You try to take advantage of the opportunities that are there for you and I just want to come in every night and contribute and be the best player I can.”

While it’s unsure if Marchand and Coyle on the first line will be a mainstay for the remainder of the season, it sure looks that way right now. As Marchand and Coyle have caught fire, it’s no surprise the Bruins are surging, sitting atop the Eastern Conference as winners in their last five. However, Montgomery has experimented with different combinations all season long–so nothing is ever truly set in stone.