Last year, yours truly wrote that Charlie Coyle was going to be the Bruins’ x-factor going into the 2020 playoffs; I mostly based this on his excellent play during last season and during the previous year’s playoffs.
This year, I’m picking...surprise, surprise, Charlie Coyle as the Bruins’ x-factor going into the 2021 playoffs.
Before getting into my reasoning, let’s clarify what I mean by x-factor: in this case, I’m referring to a player who unexpectedly has a huge impact on the success of a team in a game, series, or playoffs. The key word here is “unexpectedly,” which I use to rule out superstar players like Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, or Tuukka Rask, as we all expect these players to significantly impact the Bruins’ success.
For me, an x-factor is a guy who has always been there, but rises to the occasion at the right time with a surprising display of excellence.
(Think Brad Marchand or Michael Ryder in 2011 or Coyle himself in 2019, if you’re looking for examples.)
Last season, Coyle had the chance to be that guy for the Bruins in the playoffs, as the team needed him to solidify the third line and provide much needed depth scoring for a team that was the epitome of a one-line team. Unfortunately for Coyle and the Bruins, it was not to be; however, that’s not to say the blame for the Bruins’ playoff flame-out should be on Coyle, as he chipped in with 5 points in 13 games to go with along with some excellent puck possession numbers.
The problem was the inability for Coyle to find chemistry with his revolving door of wingers. The short bubble run for Boston saw Coyle play with Nick Ritchie, Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly, Karson Kuhlman, Jack Studnicka, and even Ondrej Kase for a brief time.
Fast forward one shortened season later, and although Coyle has struggled this season, he finds himself in a position (if healthy) to be the x-factor for Boston this post-season.
Here are 2 reasons why:
1 - Coyle has the potential to wear defensemen down
During the playoffs, the importance of size, physicality, and the ability to wear down opponents go up ten-fold. While Coyle hasn’t used his physical attributes to their full potential this season, we’ve seen in the past that he’s capable of dominant performances when he performs to his physical potential.
We saw several examples of this during the 2019 playoffs, when Coyle was an absolute beast in helping the Bruins reach the Cup Final.
Not only did Coyle contribute 9 goals and 7 assists in 24 games, but he also threw 54 hits and helped his line of Danton Heinen and Marcus Johansson regularly establish long stretches of offensive zone time. If Coyle can protect the puck with his large frame and underrated stick-handling against the Capitals, he has the chance to help wear down a Washington defense which currently consists of a #1 defender who’s been nursing an injury (John Carlson), Justin Schultz (who’s had injury problems his whole career), and an aging giant in Zdeno Chara.
If the potential line of Ritchie, Kuraly, and Coyle can play a heavy game against the Caps (and any other team in these playoffs), they could become a major factor as a seven-game series wears on.
Coyle can provide the depth scoring the Bruins will need
No team wins the Stanley Cup without depth scoring.
We saw this last year with the Lightning, with their third line scoring 13 goals during their run to the Cup, and in 2019 with the Blues, whose third and fourth lines combined for 21 goals. If Coyle plays as he’s capable of playing, the Bruins’ third line will be a legitimate offensive threat.
We were beginning to see this happen prior to Coyle’s injury, with him, Kuraly, and Ritchie finding a bit of offensive chemistry. But what many fans would ideally like to see is a spark igniting between Coyle and DeBrusk, should they end up playing together. Both have had excellent postseasons in the past, so getting those two to peak together at the right time would be huge for Boston.
In addition, a stable third line anchored by Coyle would also mean the fourth line could remain more consistent every night as well, with Bruce Cassidy feeling less pressure to juggle his bottom six.
With the exception of maybe DeBrusk, there’s no Bruins player who has more potential to elevate his game from his mundane level of the regular season than Coyle.
By all measures, Coyle’s 2021 season has been a disappointment; now, the playoffs offer Coyle a chance to redeem himself. The big question is whether or not he’ll seize that chance. The Bruins have been playing so pretty great hockey since the deadline even without Coyle playing at his best, but imagine how good they can be if Coyle brings his ‘A’ game?
That, along with the reasons above, is why Coyle will be the key to a successful postseason run for the Bruins.