By: Jesse Cook (Sports Editor)
Contributing to 114 of the team’s 183 goals, the Boston Bruins look vitally dependent on their first line. Left winger David Pastrnak (Danton Heinen during Pastrnak’s 6-game injury hiatus), center Patrice Bergeron (David Krejci during Bergeron’s 16-game injury hiatus), and right winger Brad Marchand have combined to score 83 goals and acquire 104 assists.
Junior Taylor Kim said that no team can function at its best when its first line is pulling the same weight the Bruins’ first line is. Kim said, “Having the first line carry the team is never a good way to run any team. Teams need to be able to score and prevent scoring with each line they throw out there, in other words, they need depth.”
She said that seeing the Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand line play well is exciting, however depth makes a good team great. She said, “For the Bruins, it’s great when the first line gets out there and is scoring goals, but when there is that imbalance, the team as a whole is affected. There should be more talent and skill spread out along the lines, but you also need the lines to work well together. If a lineup is forced in order to help spread the team out, that also can have a negative impact.”
24 of the Bruins’ 183 goals came entirely from the first line (meaning the goal and both assists came from first liners) and 30 of the first line’s 104 assists came from two members of the first line (meaning that both assists on a goal came from first liners).
Kim continued that the skill difference between the first and latter three lines is likely to be the main culprit for the blatant difference. She said, “Not everyone can make moves like David Pasternak, not everyone is as fast as Brad Marchand.”
With the Tampa Bay Lightning, the top team in the National Hockey League, in the Atlantic Division, Kim said that the Bruins do not hold up when it comes to skill. She said, “I think that a lot of the Bruins issues are actually related to a lack of speed and skill relative to their competition. With teams like Tampa, you need lines that can keep up. And this once again brings back how any team needs depth. Tampa has good depth which is why they are currently are No.1.”
Senior Chris Anchan said that the first line should be carrying the team like this. He said, “If this system works it’s fine… I’m not sure on how other teams’ goal-breakdown looks, but our stars should be expected to carry the team. Bergeron and Marchand should be pulling more than their weight when we need them to.”
He said that the first line is where the leaders play and that their skill should translate into better play from the bottom three lines. He said, “Every player has a role to play on the team and if that role is getting the puck to our stars, it doesn’t matter who is scoring points. In the end, we just want to put up numbers and we have to play to our strengths. If getting the puck to our first line puts up points, then do it. Hopefully their expertise will trickle down to the lower guys.”
Guidance Counselor Ms. Tanya Keeney said that the team has very little depth and this could be dangerous. She said, “A team is dead in the water when you don’t have depth… I think the Bruins are in trouble.”
She said that the team is too reliant on their first line and that one mishap with one lead player could destroy their season. She said, “I think they are an injury away from having a lost season.”
With Pastrnak out with a thumb injury for reportedly another two weeks, Keeney said that someone on the other lines has to step up and be a leader. She said, “When I see thumb surgery, I always imagine that being a lingering injury that could ruin a career, to be honest; I don’t think that’s minor surgery on the thumb and the ligament, but no, I think it’s related because I don’t see a team that’s gelling well, I don’t see them with a leader that’s going to get them motivated enough to come up and make up for a lost player.”
Now, Heinen has been able to step up in place of Pastrnak, and the Bruins have played some of their best hockey in recent weeks. They have acquired at least one point in every game since their January 19 regulation loss to the New York Rangers.
With the intensity of their 4-1 win over the San Jose Sharks Tuesday night, the idea of an enforcer returns to peoples’ minds. Veteran forward David Backes threw punches with forward Micheal Haley, veteran defenseman (and team captain) Zdeno Chara went one round with forward Evander Kane, and young forward Chris Wagner dropped the gloves with forward Barclay Goodrow.
Keeney said the team needs an enforcer to light a fire under the team and motivate everyone. She said, “I think the Bruins are in trouble mainly because of team dynamics, the lack of a great enforcer on those lines—I still go back to those successful years where this was actually a team where they enjoyed playing together, I’m not sure I’m seeing that with this Bruins’ squad.”
While these players, Backes, Chara, and Wagner, are not, by definition, enforcers, Keeney said that while there are fewer and fewer enforcers, she does not think it is a dying role on a team. She said, “Enforcers know who they want to play with, finesse players want a big man at center, so I think that there is a formula that works. I do not think the enforcer is a dying position, I hope not, anyway.”
She said that the Bruins, despite having hit a nice point streak, are in a precarious spot. She said, “I think not only when you have a first line that’s scoring, seems to me, like half their goals, no, it’s not healthy, in that you’re over-reliant on that line. It’s a matter of what’s happening to your other lines when it’s not feeling like they’re gelling, I think it’s a recipe for disaster.”
Kim said that while Boston has issues, mainly because they rely on their first line too much, she still has an optimistic vision for this season’s outcome. She said, “I think a lot of the issues are stemming from the lack of depth on the team, but I still think that they’ve been playing well enough to have a chance at the playoffs.”
Anchan said that the Bruins’ offense has been strong, despite losing the team’s lead point-getter, Pastrnak. He said, “So far with Pastrnak out we’ve been alright… I could see a deep Bruins’ playoff push (if we can get over the Capitals, that is)… I think our main concern should be goaltending rather than point scoring. Other than that, I’m confident in the B’s.”
Kim said that the team is clearly making an effort to even out the scoring throughout all four lines, but they still need to focus on defense first. She said, “I definitely think that the Bruins have a chance in making it to the playoffs if they continue to pull their weight. I know that the team realized they have a heavy first line and in practices, they have been trying different lineups like Pasternak with David Krejci. I also think another issue for the Bruins is that they don’t have solid D that can skate. Chara, while I love the guy, he’s not the same skater he used to be. Hockey isn’t all about offense—the defense plays a large role too, and if there are D-men who can’t skate (perhaps on top of having some unbalanced offensive lines), the chances for fast breaks and goals on behalf of the other team are very likely.”
She said that the biggest problem plaguing the team, however, is that their team dynamic is suffering. She said, “For the bruins, it’s great when the first line gets out there and is scoring goals, but when there is that imbalance, the team as a whole is affected.”
Last season, the Bruins looked primed to win the Stanley Cup, but they lost in the Eastern Conference Semifinals because the Lightning shut down their first line. The Bruins won Game 1 of that series 6-2, with at least one member of the first line contributing to every single goal. The Bruins lost the next four, scoring only seven total goals more, with at least one member of the first line contributing to every single goal.