Keeping Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak together a tempting option for Bruins
While top-line left winger Brad Marchand was out serving a three-game suspension, the Bruins seem to have stumbled into some effective new line combinations. With the success that the Bruins’ top six forwards have had in their new arrangement, the dilemma Boston faces now is how to reshuffle the lineup when Marchand returns.
While together against Detroit, Nashville and Tampa Bay, the top-line combination of Taylor Hall, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak excelled. And the new-look second line of Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith found a way to produce in both games in which they were together.
Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco, who has taken over the primary coaching duties with Bruce Cassidy in COVID protocol, wouldn't say for sure how the Bruins’ first two lines would be configured now that Marchand will be inserted back into the lineup for the Bruins' Wednesday night game in Vancouver.
"Well Brad, you know he’s coming back next game and we’ll have to meet and talk about the lines with Butch [Cassidy] and see where we want to go," Sacco said. "But as far as Taylor goes, hopefully he can just continue to pick up where he left off with whoever he’s playing with.
"He [Hall] can play like that regardless of who he’s playing with. And he just has to keep that mindset."
The Bruins had a 1-1-1 record in the absence of Marchand, but have been playing better hockey than that outcome would suggest.
Pros and cons of returning to Bruins’ usual top-six configuration
The obvious and most likely scenario for the Bruins in their game Wednesday against the Canucks would be to return Marchand to left wing on the first line alongside Bergeron and Pastrnak. That option comes with some obvious pros, but also a couple cons as it relates to the usual second-liners.
For argument's sake, let's start with the cons:
Con 1: It splits up a Hall-Pastrnak combo that has shown promise
Putting Hall with Bergeron and Pastrnak clearly elevated Hall’s play. He found chemistry in particular with Pastrnak, whom he set up for that line’s one goal while Marchand was out.
Looking at the analytics for their stretch together, Natural Stat Trick has the trio at 3.57 expected goals for in their 44 five-on-five minutes and just 1.24 against, even though in actuality they only found the scoresheet once, on a power-play goal by Pastrnak against Detroit. They out-attempted opponents 70-36 when on the ice. Notably, Pastrnak also rang the post on several occasions in that stretch.
“I think we've played well and controlled play,” Hall said about his line. “We weren't able to produce but those are great players. I'm relishing the opportunity.”
Con 2: It splits up a Haula-Coyle combo that has clicked
The reintroduction of Marchand to the Bruins’ lineup will cause a ripple effect with the newly formed lines the team has put together and had success with over the three games. The second line of Erik Haula, Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith will need to be broken up in some way, despite that combination bringing out the best play we've seen from Haula this season.
Haula had just a goal and two assists through his first 18 games (a 0.17 point-per-game average), but he's now recorded two assists in the last two games while alongside Coyle and Smith.
Haula made a creative pass to set up a goal by Brandon Carlo in Nashville, and sent another impressive pass through the crease for a Coyle back-door goal against Tampa Bay.
The stats also bare out that the Haula-Coyle-Smith combination was effective at creating quality chances. In the trio's 25 five-on-five minutes together, they created eight high-danger chances compared to just one surrendered to their opponents. The Bruins also had a 33-16 advantage in shot attempts when they were on the ice.
Commenting on Haula ramping up his play, Sacco said, “He’s playing better, there's no question. I think it shows in his game. He’s around the net, he’s on pucks, he’s competing, and so like we said, his game is heading in the right direction.”
Coyle also spoke about his previous experience playing with Haula in Minnesota: “I was trying to think back actually. We might have saw a few shifts together, but I played with him on his team enough to know how he is as a player, his tendencies and all of that. He’s got great speed, so it’s nice when it clicks right away when you find new linemates and you get rewarded.
“We’ll see what happens when Brad gets back,” Coyle finished.
Pro: The “perfection line” can get back to work
The pros for returning to the usual lines are fairly obvious. It keeps an already proven and effective top line together, one that has arguably been the best in the NHL over the last several years. If Hall can keep up his recent first-line level of play on the second line -- and that would be the challenge to him -- this is still the team's best option.
There is also the possibility of keeping Hall and Pastrnak together with Bergeron and putting Marchand on the second line, but given that the Bruins haven't split up Marchand and Bergeron in a decade, that seems highly unlikely.
For more line talk, including a more creative (though admittedly unlikely) possibility and a look at what happens next with Jake DeBrusk, check out the latest episode of The Skate Podcast, which you can listen to at the top of this post or by clicking here .