Matthew Poitras set for top-six promotion as Bruins reshuffle lineup


“When he gets on the ice, he’s a heck of a player and he definitely shows that he belongs here.”

Matthew Poitras #51 of the Boston Bruins skates against the Chicago Blackhawks in his first NHL game during the third period of the Bruins home opener at TD Garden on October 11, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Blackhawks 3-1.
Matthew Poitras has posted a point in his first two games with the Bruins. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Bruins have passed multiple tests during their 2-0-0 start to the 2023 season.

Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman have stopped 53 of the 56 shots that have come their way against Chicago and Nashville. Boston’s top offensive conduit in David Pastrnak has lit the lamp three times already, while Boston’s power play has cashed in on 25 percent of its chances.

Boston’s penalty kill has negated all 10 of its opponents’ looks on the man advantage.

But with just two 5v5 goals scored in two games, Jim Montgomery believes that Boston’s forward corps is due for a reshuffle.

The Bruins’ bench boss unveiled its reworked lineup during Monday’s practice, with a bruising fourth-line combination of Milan Lucic, Johnny Beecher, and Jakub Lauko standing as the lone intact grouping during the 40-minute session at Warrior Ice Arena.

“I haven’t seen a lot of offensive five-on-five generation,” Montgomery explained following practice. “Again, small sample size, but I trust my eye behind the bench and when I follow it up and I see it on video, I just want to try something else to get a spark.”

Boston’s forward groupings ahead of the team’s upcoming four-game road trip were:

Jake DeBrusk — Pavel Zacha — David Pastrnak
Brad Marchand — Matthew Poitras — Morgan Geekie
James van Riemsdyk — Charlie Coyle — Trent Frederic
Milan Lucic – Johnny Beecher — Jakub Lauko

Amid an overhauled landscape for Boston’s forwards, the most noteworthy tweak for Montgomery involves the elevation of rookie Matthew Poitras into a top-six role next to Brad Marchand.

Poitras still has seven more games to prove to the Bruins that he has what it takes to stick up in the NHL full-time. But Montgomery acknowledged that it was not a given that Boston was going to hand Poitras top-six reps during this extended trial, just to see if he’s better suited next to a proven playmaker like Marchand.

Monday’s promotion was a direct result of the impressive sample size that both the rookie and winger Morgan Geekie showcased on a third line last week. Boston has held a 30-12 advantage in shot attempts during the 17:31 of 5v5 ice time that the duo of Poitras and Geekie have logged together.

Poitras, who recorded his first NHL point with a secondary helper on Trent Frederic’s season-opening tally against the Blackhawks on Oct. 11, has impressed his new linemate with his ability to fight through the added physicality present in the pro ranks.

“He dogs the puck. He’s not timid at all and goes to the hard areas,” Marchand said 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.

“As he continues to get older and stronger, that will even benefit him more and more. So I’m excited to see his potential and where he goes in his career, but he’s got a lot of great attributes.”

Stapling a poised playmaker like Poitras next to an elite talent like Marchand will allow the 19-year-old pivot to further showcase his strengths in a featured area of the lineup. But Montgomery’s other lineup moves should also open up avenues for Boston’s top weapons up front to gain more O-zone reps. 

A hefty third line of Coyle (6-foot-3, 218 pounds), Frederic (6-foot-3, 220 pounds), and van Riemsdyk (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) already have the means to play “keep away” with the puck in the offensive zone.

But Coyle and Frederic established themselves as Boston’s most dependable defensive stoppers up front in 2022-23. 

During the 649:43 of 5v5 ice time where Coyle and Frederic skated together last season, the Bruins outscored teams, 35-18, and held a 154-116 edge in high-danger scoring chances. And that’s with the pair only having 42.9 percent of their faceoffs at 5v5 play set in the offensive zone.

“They’re both really good five-on-five below the tops players,” Montgomery said of Coyle and Frederic. “They’re both good defensively as well. 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.

“And I think a guy like van Riemsdyk really helps them connect the dots there because he likes going to the net front. Charlie likes to possess it. And Freddie does a good job of getting open as the F3 and shooting it.”

If Coyle and Frederic can continue to prove to Montgomery that they can handle daunting defensive assignments, it will allow Boston to dole out more O-zone starts to both Poitras’ line and a high-octane scoring grouping of David Pastrnak,  Pavel Zacha, and Jake DeBrusk.

DeBrusk’s wheels, return to his natural spot at left wing, and knack for planting himself near the netfront should further benefit a line with some proven scoring talent in Pastrnak and Zacha.

But if Boston really wants to consistently land punches at 5v5 play, Poitras will need his promising preseason chemistry with Marchand to carry over to the regular-season slate.

“When he gets on the ice, he’s a heck of a player and he definitely shows that he belongs here,” Marchand said of Poitras. “So the biggest thing will be consistency and showing up every night. He’s done that so far.”