The Boston Bruins have the most standings points among U.S.-based NHL teams.
That doesn’t mean coach Bruce Cassidy is satisfied with his team’s play, and that’s why earlier this week he unveiled a practice lineup that featured Jake DeBrusk on right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak lined up next to David Krejci and Nick Ritchie.
Cassidy explained the move in terms of balancing the lines. It’s obvious he has to get Krejci (no goals, 11 assists) and DeBrusk (no goals, two assists) going for when the schedule gets more cluttered and the Bruins can’t rely on Bergeron, Marchand, and the power play to carry them.
“Who wouldn’t want to play with him? I’m excited … he can do it all on the ice,” Krejci said of Pastrnak. “I’m just going to try to do the best for him offensively and once we get the puck our offensive instincts take over.”
The Bruins are just 20th in the NHL in goals for per game (2.86), and that’s despite a majority of their games being played against Philadelphia (20th in goals allowed per game), Pittsburgh (28th) and Washington (30th). A change is in order.
Krejci and Pastrnak have played together and succeeded in the past, both when Bergeron was injured and when Cassidy sought a spark. The arrangement, though, has always been a fling instead of a long-term relationship — one that Cassidy could hardly be criticized for ending because of the heights the Bruins have reached led by the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak combination.
But this time around this could be Cassidy’s fuller-time answer to the annual problem of balancing his lineup. Adding a top-six wing during this shortened season, with quarantines facing many available players, could be even more difficult for general manager Don Sweeney than in years past. Cassidy could do Sweeney a favor by sticking to his new alignment for longer than a game (or a period, as sometimes is the case with Cassidy) or two.
Of course, the decision could be taken out of Cassidy’s hands. And that’s where Krejci comes in. Now’s the time for the 34-year-old center to make sure that he kindles enough magic with Pastrnak (and Ritchie or any left wing for that matter) so that Cassidy shifts his attention to finding a perfect sidecar for Marchand and Bergeron, and leaves Krejci’s line alone.
“We are both obviously offensive players, but we start good in the D-zone and have pucks on sticks and once he has it, I’ll just be ready to shoot, even from the red line,” an anxious Pastrnak said Tuesday.
Krejci’s never publicly complained about the revolving door that’s been on his right side for the better part of the past decade, and even the hole that was on his left prior to DeBrusk’s emergence as an NHLer. Any center cast in Krejci’s role, from the dawn of the forward pass to now, would be a bit perturbed to never get the chance to create long-term chemistry with two other forwards. That revolving door could stop turning here and now if Krejci makes sure Pastrnak scores at a high clip and that the line doesn’t become a liability at the defensive end.
The Bruins would benefit as a team if Ritchie-Krejci-Pastrnak becomes line 1B to the 1A of Bergeron’s line the way individually Krejci has been a solid 1B center to Bergeron’s 1A. But there’s also a personal benefit for Krejci is he can make this work. After all, he’s an unrestricted free agent this offseason and if he wants to be able to make anything close to his current $7.25 million on his next contract, there’s no better wing on the Bruins than Pastrnak to help him prove how productive he could be beyond 2021.
Based on their lineup and organizational depth, the Bruins now more than ever are probably realizing it’s in their best interest to get Krejci signed before he becomes a UFA. Charlie Coyle might not have the goods to be a No. 2 center, Jack Studnicka probably needs more experience and Johnny Beecher, once he gets out of college, might not even be a center.
The flat cap might make that decision for the Bruins. Krejci might find riches elsewhere. If he wants to up his price and increase the number of suitors, he’ll make sure that through Game 56 and beyond he and Pastrnak are attached at the hip.
No one wants to see Krejci leave. But if this the last hurrah for the player that ranks eighth on the Bruins’ all-time list in points (696) and assists (489), is destroying opponents alongside Pastrnak all the way to another Stanley Cup championship, it’d be a heck of a way to go out.