For a team in transition, the Boston Bruins will have time to bond and acquaint themselves with one another during their four-game trip on the West Coast.
The Bruins begin their three-game-in-four-night trek through California on Thursday in San Jose. They’ll then turn their attention to So. Cal for their freeway stops in Los Angeles (Saturday) and Anaheim (Sunday) before closing out their swing in Chicago on Oct. 24.
Jim Montgomery’s squad sits at 2-0 in the young season, but plenty of work remains, especially with their early 5v5 scoring struggles. Between that and Montgomery’s lineup tweaks, here are four things to watch for the Bruins’ first road trip of the season.
Matthew Poitras and his first top-six assignment
Poitras passed his training camp audition after earning a well-deserved spot on the opening night lineup. And if his first two NHL tilts are any indication, Poitras may very well become a long-term fixture in Boston.
The Bruins have an impending decision on Poitras before his 10th career game. Because he’s not eligible for a Providence assignment, GM Don Sweeney would have to send their 2022 second-round selection back to juniors if they don’t envision him staying around after his ninth game.
Poitras picked up where he left off from the preseason. Playing in a third-line role with Morgan Geekie and Trent Frederic for the first two games, the 19-year-old showcased poise, quickness and a stout playmaking skillset.
With the Bruins searching for more 5v5 scoring, Montgomery promoted Poitras to a top-six role at Monday’s practice. Barring any last-minute developments, Poitras will slot in the middle of Geekie and Brad Marchand on Thursday night in San Jose.
“He dogs the puck. He’s not timid at all and goes to the hard areas,” Marchand told reporters of Poitras. “If he loses it, he has a second or third effort to get it back. And that’s typically what makes players really good in this game is when they don’t make it the first time, they’re able to get it back and make it the second or third time.”
Even with his early spark, the Bruins may have envisioned a slower ascension to a first or second-line role for the 5-foot-11 Poitras. But Poitras’s development is a welcoming sign for a transitional Boston bunch.
Jake DeBrusk moves back to his strong side wing.
The 2015 first-round pick moved to his off-wing late in the 2021-22 campaign. Amid consistency issues and his rocky relationship with former coach Bruce Cassidy, DeBrusk found a groove upon moving into a top-line role with the dynamic duo of Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
Montgomery kept DeBrusk in the top-line right-wing spot throughout his first season behind the bench. Now DeBrusk finds himself back on his strong side wing following Montgomery’s latest line shuffling.
Come Thursday, the Edmonton native will skate alongside the dynamic pair of Czech playmakers in Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak. Between their speed, shot selection, and offensive creativity, the DeBrusk-Zacha-Pastrnak trio could provide a needed 5v5 scoring spark.
“Putting [DeBrusk] with [Zacha and Pastrnak], I think, gives us a real good rush line that has a lot of speed and a lot of creativity to it,” Montgomery said to the press following Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
In the final season of his two-year deal, DeBrusk entered the season hoping to secure a long-term contract. He’s showcased growth and versatility after his trade request became public nearly two years ago. He’ll have a chance to raise his stock when he returns to his natural left-wing spot.
Charlie Coyle’s reunion with Trent Frederic
The Weymouth native provided some needed stability in the top six during the first four games of Boston’s first-round series with the Panthers.
After gelling with Marchand and DeBrusk amid higher stakes, the Bruins hoped Coyle would pick up where he left off in an extended role. The trio didn’t struggle per se during the first two games, generating a 15-14 edge in shot attempts in 14:47 of 5v5 time on ice. But the line generated fewer quality looks around the net than Boston’s other three trios.
With Marchand moving with Poitras and Geekie and DeBrusk moving over with Pastrnak and Zacha, Montgomery opted to reunite Coyle and Frederic on the third line. The two witnessed a rotating cast on the left side a year ago. Yet, the revolving door didn’t prevent Coyle and Frederic from delivering timely secondary scoring during Boston’s record-breaking regular season.
Be it against opposing third lines or one of the top two trios, Montgomery lined up Coyle and Frederic in favorable matchups.
“They’re both really good five-on-five below the top players. They’re both good defensively as well,” Montgomery said to the media of Coyle and Frederic. “So if I want to, I can match them up against another team’s best offensive line. But most importantly, the O-zone time that they play well together.”
James van Riemsdyk will move to the left of Coyle and Frederic. Between Frederic’s shooting skills, van Riemsdyk’s net-front drive and Coyle’s puck-possession traits, the Bruins could possess a formidable third line if Montgomery gives the three an extended run together.
The search for consistency on the power play
In a small sample size, the Bruins showcased a little Jekyll and Hyde on the power play.
Neither power play unit generated many quality looks in Boston’s opening-night matchup against the Blackhawks. But on a night where the Bruins delivered a dynamite performance on the penalty kill, their other special teams unit was equally impressive, with van Riemsdyk notching a pair of power play markers in the 3-2 victory over the Predators.
“He’s known for an outstanding net-front [presence] his whole career. He scored a lot of goals on the PP…I remember him from Philly where he’s around the net,” Pastrnak said of van Riemsdyk. “He’s great there. He makes really good for how tall he is and how big a stick he is. He makes a lot of plays around the net…”
The Bruins used a handful of players in the net-front role on the top power-play unit last season. But van Riemsdyk’s track record with the Flyers and Maple Leafs made him the ideal candidate to take over those duties on the top unit.
Still, the transitional Bruins will likely encounter their share of ups and downs with their top unit, at least to start the season. They’ll always have a setup for Pastrnak’s blast from the face-off dot but will search for a secondary look similar to that of Patrice Bergeron’s one-timer from the bumper.
The Bruins will focus on improving their 5v5 scoring over the next four games. But the power play will want to provide some more complementary offense following their 2-for-5 night against Nashville.
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