While it’s quite impressive to see that the Boston Bruins have received a bevy of contributions from their bottom-six forward group, the unfortunate fact of the matter is that without consistent production from their top players, they may not make it out of this first round.
In an effort to help his team break out of the offensive slump that’s engulfed them throughout their series with the seventh seeded Washington Capitals, Bruins’ bench boss Claude Julien opted to give his forward units a complete makeover in advance of Saturday’s game five at the TD Garden. Based on lines from Friday’s practice, the new trios look like this:
The most obvious and surprising change there is Brad Marchand’s demotion back to the Merlot line, where he spent the entire first half of last year’s regular season. After watching Thursday’s 2-1 defeat at the Verizon Center, it was clear as to who was playing well and who had some areas to improve upon, which likely played a large part in Julien’s decision to alter his lines.
A popular question amongst the Twitter-sphere on Friday was as to if Jordan Caron would be making his playoff debut on Saturday. And if so, whose spot in the lineup would he take? Many suggested it to be sophomore sensation Tyler Seguin. While I would agree that the B’s could use the added grittiness and net-front presence that Caron can provide, I wouldn’t agree with the notion that number nineteen should be sat down. Seguin’s absence from the score sheet has been a major detriment to Boston’s postseason success but he did show signs of improvement during game four, creating opportunities for both he and his linemates.
As referenced above, the Boston third line has been unquestionably the team’s most consistent trio of the series, picking up three of the Bruins’ seven playoff goals. However, beyond that, the B’s haven’t received much else in the way of offense from any of their forward corps.
Contrast In Performance From The Top-Six Brings Teams To Equal Footing
Rich Peverley’s two tallies – one in game 3 and one in game 4 – account for the only two goals scored by Boston forwards currently skating on one of the top two lines during their conference quarterfinal series against Washington.
There is no denying the fact that the absence of 2011 playoff hero Nathan Horton is a huge factor in the struggles of the B’s top-six. Number eighteen provides the Bruins with a constant physical presence and one of the deadliest wrist shots on the team as well as the chemistry he creates with both Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
Despite this, there truly is no explanation behind the complete lack of offensive production from Boston’s superstars. The top line (for most of the year) of Patrice Bergeron, Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand accounted for nearly 30% of the Bruins’ goals (79 of 269) during the regular season, the most of any Boston trio by a significant margin. On line two, Peverley (who missed a large portion of the season with an MCL injury) Krejci and Lucic combined for sixty goals and 165 total points. Much to the displeasure of hockey fans in the Hub, only Peverley (2 Goals) and Bergeron (1 Assist) have been able to find the score sheet this series. The other four? Zero goals, zero assists, a combined -2 rating and 36 shots on goal.
On the other side of the ice, the Washington forwards have perfectly fit to a tee the definition of "top-six forwards", ranking 1-6 in points scored for the Caps during this postseason. NHL mega-star Alexander Ovechkin and gritty power forward Brooks Laich lead the way with four points (1G/3A each) whilst Marcus Johansson and Nicklas Backstrom have a goal and an assist each in the series. Former-Chicago Blackhawk Troy Brouwer has also picked up a goal and game four hero Alex Semin has tickled the twine twice in four games.
The stark contrast in production levels from the top-six from each of these teams is what’s made this series has tight as it’s been. Boston hasn’t been able to capitalize on their distinct advantage both between the pipes and on the defensive end.
While I still firmly believe that the B’s will be able to bounce back on Saturday and emerge from this offensive malaise, if they’re not, they could be polishing off the golf clubs a lot sooner than they’d hoped.