ST. LOUIS – No healthy player has logged less ice time for the Boston Bruins in each of the first four games of the Stanley Cup final than David Backes, so it stands to reason he would be the logical candidate to come out of the lineup if the Bruins are forced into going with seven defensemen and 11 forwards for Game 5.
With reports that Zdeno Chara has a broken jaw that requires surgery, it’s a near certainty he won’t be available, likely for the rest of the series. Matt Grzelcyk, who was knocked out of Game 3 with an illegal hit and has a probable concussion, might not be available either, leading Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to speculate that Boston might go with seven defensemen. That would have a domino effect on the lineup that might actually benefit the Bruins.
Because with only 11 forwards, players will be mixing and matching and double shifting with other lines, which means there will be a shake-up on a second line that has been a major disappointment in this series. That line usually starts games with David Krejci at center, Jake DeBrusk on the left side and Backes on the right, a group that has been shockingly ineffective in the final. The three have combined for just two assists – both by DeBrusk and both on the power play – and a total of just 24 shot attempts. In Game 4, the three had just five shot attempts, none by Krejci.
When a line is getting good looks and making things happen around the net, coaches generally are not too concerned when the goals don’t come because a breakout is often just around the corner. But the Bruins' second line is creating almost nothing. Cassidy acknowledged the secondary scoring has to come from someone other than third-line center Charlie Coyle.
“They’ve got to change the way they’re playing,” Cassidy said. “It hasn’t worked so far to generate offense.One thing if you generate offense night after night, doesn’t go in, but we don’t see that from that line yet. We did talk about it (after Game 4). We’re going to have to revisit it, sell some different ideas of how they can generate offense.”
One option for Cassidy would be to give top-line right winger David Pastrnak some extra work by throwing him out with that line, something that has worked in the past. Cassidy is naturally disinclined to start juggling his third and fourth lines because they’ve actually supplied the Bruins with most of their secondary offense. In fact, they’ve provided much of the primary non-power play offense in the series. “The problem with that this time of year is you’re so far down the line, the other lines have their chemistry, especially our bottom two lines,” Cassidy said. “We used to pull guys, throw them a little carrot, some extra minutes, some extra responsibility. Usually Krejci is going to get the puck to people. We thought about that, but now you’re kind of messing with the chemistry of other lines. We’ve got to be careful with that.”
Cassidy remarked that the Blues had a lot of success in Game 4 because their forwards got to the net for second chances. That requires players to use their speed and play with relentlessness, something that seems to be missing from that unit at the moment. “I think it’s pretty simple with Jake, he has to play more on the inside right now,” Cassidy said. “Use his speed, get inside. That’s when he starts to get going. He’s that type of kid that when he scores one, he’s streaky. When he gets that one, he may take off.” Clearly, though, Cassidy is more concerned about Krejci, who had zero shot attempts in Game 4. “Typically, ‘Krej’ is very receptive, but he still likes to play his way,” Cassidy said. “We’re going to have to be halfway on that, then go from there.”
For his part, Krejci acknowledged that his line’s lack of production in Game 4 was unacceptable and he claimed the effort is there, but they are not playing together very well. He also said there have been discussions about how to get things going. "Talk is cheap at this time of the year, so...,” he said. “We just got to look at ourselves in the mirror and do the things that we talk about doing.”
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