Coaches thrive on sure things, predictables, and nothing during Bruce Cassidy’s tenure as the Bruins’ coach has been more money than the top line of Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak. They were taking shape as the Black-and-Gold’s goal-and-assist ATM even before Cassidy took over as bench boss in February 2017.
The Primo Trio combined for 260 points last season, paced by Marchand’s 100-point career high. They’re now on pace for 359 points, delivering typically against the oppositions’ best checkers, in large part because the opposition doesn’t have to worry much about checking anyone else sporting that big Spoked-B on the front of the sweater.
More than 2½ years into Cassidy’s tenure, 63-37-88 remains the password to the money machine, but it’s obvious that it’s time now for the coach to switch banks. That was true even before the likes of Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk finally provided some desperately-needed pop with one goal apiece in Saturday night’s 4-3 OT loss in Toronto.
Time for a change. If not now, when? Especially with Pastrnak, with a league-high nine goals as of Sunday morning, looking as if he could produce with the likes of Bruce Shoebottom or Al “Beef” Stewart dishing him the biscuit.
Fine, keep that No. 1 power play intact, with Torey Krug the point support for a front four of DeBrusk, Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak, but bump Pastrnak over to Charlie Coyle’s line at even strength, and let’s see if a DeBrusk-Coyle-Pastrnak No. 2 combo can be a legit, consistent threat.
Coyle, skittering along at 0-2—2 after an MVP preseason, looks like a guy whose best option off the wing did something crazy and packed up and headed off to Buffalo for, like, $4.5 million a year (Marcus Johansson, 4-3—7 in nine games).
As for first line right wing here, granted, no one on the current roster jumps out as Pasta’s replacement. Which is to say no one’s likely to deliver nine goals over these next eight games, or perhaps the remaining 74 games of the regular season for that matter.
Keep in mind, headed into Tuesday night’s Causeway Street return bout with the speedy Leafs, all Boston forwards not named Marchand, Bergeron, or Pastrnak have scored but five goals in 2019-20.
Quick audit No. 1: Boston’s 11 other forwards have amassed a collective 983:22 time on ice over eight games. For a total five goals. Amazing that a handful of ’em haven’t been assessed five-minute majors for loitering or indigence.
And that, folks, is the point. In terms of predictables, one goal every 196 playing minutes from the “secondaries” ain’t cuttin’ it.
The Bruins (5-1-2) have survived quite well thus far on 63-37-88, two goalies (superb work by Tuukka Rask and Jaro Halak), solid defense, proficient special teams, and the astute game-planning that has been a Black-and-Gold hallmark since Cassidy’s ascension to the top job.
It’s also true they have survived quite well despite the fact the main predictable after the first line is that there is nothing there for offense. As presently constituted, especially with David Krejci (0-1—1 in five games) sidelined, they don’t have it,.
Quick audit No. 2: Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak have connected on 15 of their 72 shots, for a 20.8 scoring percentage. The 11 other forwards: 5 for 118, 4.24 percent. A dropoff is to be expected. But not a drop out of sight.
“Our record is pretty good without it,” Cassidy said Thursday night when sizing up the dearth of scoring beyond his top line, “but I don’t think it’s sustainable.”
It’s not. We’ve seen it. We have the audited numbers. Enough.
Of course, Marchand and Bergeron are better with Pastrnak, but they’re capable of putting up points without him, as we saw here last season when their right winger exited for five weeks upon tearing up a thumb in a slip-and-fall on the way home from a team-sponsored function in February.
On the current roster, Heinen, Karson Kuhlman, Brett Ritchie, or perhaps even Chris Wagner would be viable candidates to try over there. Then there’s Anders Bjork, who opened the 2017-18 season at that very spot, No. 1 RW with Marchand and Bergeron, before his inexperience began to show and a shoulder blew out.
Bjork (3-5—8 through seven games) has been the top scoring threat thus far at AHL Providence, albeit playing on left wing, his natural position. He has shown in flashes that he can play the right side, but putting him there likely isn’t positioning him best to thrive at the next level. After two NHL seasons cut short by shoulder surgery, it’s essential to provide the ex-Notre Dame whiz kid with his best chance to succeed.
The Bruins are on home ice now for five of the next six games. With the ability to call his shots on line matchups in those five games, it’s the perfect opportunity now for Cassidy to see if he can tease out more production up and down the order.
Maybe it’s Bjork, maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s Ritchie or Kuhlman or Wagner. Maybe it’s not. The only thing that is certain, a 100 percent predictable, is that there will be no finding out unless Cassidy tries something different.
Until then, what he has here is a one-line offense, a team destined to go shopping again in the hit-or-miss market that is the February trade deadline.
In 2018, Rick Nash was the answer, until he wasn’t. Last February, it was the combined likes of Coyle and Johansson, who spun some gold of their own away from the second line.
GM Don Sweeney, in hopes of bolstering second-line pop, the last two trade deadlines has surrendered five draft picks (Round 1, Round 2, a pair in Round 4, and Round 7), and dished away prospect Ryan Donato, for the likes of Nash (retired), Johansson (see: Buffalo), and Coyle.
Time to see what Pastrnak can do on a different line. Look for answers now rather than in February, when asking prices run high and time is running out.