(Editor’s note: This post was written prior to Thursday night’s game against the Sabres, so adjust your stats/takes accordingly. Obviously the third line scored, so Chris The Fortune Teller continues his hot streak.)
As a Bruins fan. it’s hard to find a lot to complain about at the moment.
The Bruins’ first line has been reunited and they’ve looked awesome. David Krejci finally seems to have legitimate wingers in Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, and the second line looks dangerous night in and night out.
The fourth line, with the addition of Curtis Lazar, has been rejuvenated and has been creating havoc in opponents’ d-zones as a good checking line is prone to do.
In addition, it seems like injured players are slowing getting healthy again, with the recent returns of Tuukka Rask and Matt Grzelcyk.
All of these positive trends have the Bruins are winning again and poised to climb the standings in the East Division down the stretch. Simply put, the Bruins are looking far more like the Bruins we’ve come to love and expect to see over the last decade or so.
If there’s one glaring weakness for this team at the moment, it would have to be the play of Boston’s third line, AKA the Charlie Coyle Line, currently composed of Jake DeBrusk, Nick Ritchie, and the aforementioned Coyle.
Offensively, the struggles of Coyle and DeBrusk this season have been well documented. Both are struggling mightily this year and are both on pace for career-worst numbers.
For Coyle, you could easily claim a lack of consistent wingers has played a role in his down season; however, if you take a closer look at Coyle’s individual numbers, you can see a fair bit of blame lies solely on Coyle’s shoulders.
Coyle has not scored a goal in 24 games and his hits, shots, and blocks are all below his career average. More on Coyle can be seen here in a previous article posted back in February.
For DeBrusk, he’s had opportunities to succeed on all three of Boston’s top-three lines at various points this season, but nothing seems to be clicking for the 24-year-old winger.
DeBrusk has just nine points in 31 games this season, including zero in the Bruins’ last 5 games.
Finally, although Nick Ritchie was a pleasant surprise on the Bruins’ power play early on and has made his physical presence known in the East Division this season, he is currently on a ten-game pointless streak and his even-strength play has been detrimental to the team in recent games.
Given this info, it comes as no surprise that these three players, since they’ve been put together five games ago, have struggled as a line.
The line has yet to produce any goals, and in the last two games the Bruins’ third line has produced just five scoring chances, while opponents have had 13 scoring chances.
You could expect lines on the Capitals to possibly outplay Coyle’s line, but the Sabres, a team that resembles an AHL squad, should not be dominating any of Boston’s lines.
Unfortunately, through the first two periods of Thursday’s game, the Sabres out-chanced the Coyle line 7 - 0.
So what should the Bruins do to fix their 3rd line?
Option 1: Do nothing
If there has been one constant this year with the Bruins’ bottom-nine forwards, it’s that there has been no consistency in who plays with who. With the addition of Hall and Lazar, Boston’s lines seems to finally be settling into place, including the third line.
Chemistry between players often takes time to come together, so the Bruins may be wise to let the trio of DeBrusk, Coyle, and Ritchie get to know each other.
When speaking about Ritchie’s recent scoring slump and the third line’s struggles, Bruce Cassidy noted “they’re still getting to know one another” and added “I think all three of them have had some tough luck around the net, so hopefully it breaks for them, but they’ve just got to keep finding their game.”
The other obvious reason to leave the line alone would be not wanting to disturb the other three lines, which have been very productive over the last five games.
Option 2: Mix up the third and fourth lines
Since the arrival of Lazar, the Bruins’ fourth line has played its best hockey of the year.
Lazar brings energy, intensity, speed, and underrated skill to Boston’s checking line. In addition, numerous shots of Lazar on the bench suggest he brings an infectious attitude that helps to lighten up the mood of his linemates.
While moving Lazar off this line may hinder the performance from the fourth line, he could just be what the third line needs.
Lazar’s ability to forecheck could combine with his speed, tenacity, and sound defensive skills to help the third line find its mojo.
Additionally, he has the ability to play on the wing with Charlie Coyle or could to center the line, moving Coyle over to the wing (which would be a pretty drastic solution).
Moving Lazar up to the third line would most likely mean Ritchie would slide down to the fourth line with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner.
Option 3: Scratch either DeBrusk, Coyle, or Ritchie
While it’s unlikely Coyle will be scratched in the near future, DeBrusk or Ritchie could find themselves watching the game from the 9th Floor of TD Garden if things don’t start improving for their line.
Previously, when Jake DeBrusk has been scratched for a short period of time, he seems to come back with renewed passion and energy, so him missing a game or two might not be the worst idea.
The Bruins have some options to replace DeBrusk or Ritchie, but those options may not produce the results Boston is looking for.
For example, they could look to Trent Frederic, who’s now healthy, to try to inject some energy into the third line, but he’s struggled offensively as well.
They could also call on Karson Kuhlman to bring more speed to Boston’s lineup, but he only has two points in 15 appearances this year.
Or, the B’s could promote a player from the Providence Bruins, maybe a Zach Senyshyn or Oskar Steen, to give them another crack at the NHL.
Both have had opportunities thus far with the big squad, but neither has made much of those call-ups to date.
As stated off the top, the Bruins are currently playing well and have so much going right for them.
On any team, it’s hard to expect all four lines to be at their best every night.
However, the third line needs to have at least a few nights where the trio is truly “on,” especially when the Bruins’ top players are having an off night.
This is especially true come playoff time, when having a deep lineup often leads to post-season success.
Thankfully for the Bruins, there are still 10+ games to sort out the situation with the third line.
However, it’d be best to figure it out sooner rather than later.