It’s been 3 games of this playoff series against the Caps, and already I think I’ve seen what I need to regarding the ever present concern of depth scoring.
Simply put, the fourth line of this team, currently comprised of Curtis Lazar, Sean Kuraly, and Chris Wagner cannot continue to play like this if the Bruins have any interest in winning this series.
Now in the interest of fairness, I fully believe that due to the inherently chaotic nature of this sport that this line could very easily be the best one playing during Game 4 on Friday, but after the last three games, I have come to the conclusion that the Boston Bruins simply cannot chance it anymore. Their play has been simply unacceptable for the kind of team the Bruins are facing and the kind of effort they are giving.
Over the past three games, Lazar, Kuraly, and Wagner have played 30:30, 31:24, 28:24 minutes of even strength hockey respectively. In that time, they are:
- The worst forwards in CF%, FF%, and xGF% on the team in a walk. They have let 73 unblocked shots go through them compared to their combined, piddling 42 unblocked attempts for. The next worst forward is Nick Ritchie, who may not performing consistently this playoffs, but is performing much better than they are.
- Understandably from point one, not a single one of these three forwards have found a way to generate a single high-danger chance over their combined TOI.
- “Proud” owners of the worst faceoff % on the team on the team. Defensemen have better faceoff percentages on this team and they don’t even take faceoffs and have not needed to.
And you know what? If you’ve have the players like Taylor Hall and Craig Smith and David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy and the like? You can probably get away with playing players like this. Most of the time anyway. You can absolutely have a shut down line that’s physical, that’s capable of softening up some of the bigger depth guys so that they’re exhausted when the bigger guns hit the ice. You can absolutely have that kind of thing for ten minutes a night.
Against this Washington Capitals team that’s throwing wave after wave at you? Putting them on your PK? Making them play Carl Hagelin and Garnet Hathaway and Nic Dowd? This just isn’t working And sure, you’ve taken the last couple of games and in moderately convincing fashion, but do fourth liners need to have roughly the same average shift length as Taylor Hall or Brad Marchand when they’re playing like this? Especially given how well comparatively that Washington’s depth has been playing?
They need to get a handle on their play, or Boston is going to pay for it down the stretch.
So, what do you do?
Well, hopefully the thing you can do is start to actually shorten your bench if they’re gonna continue playing like this. But Bruce Cassidy is a firm believer in using all four lines for the most part, so it’s hard to say any version of the fourth line will be benched barring an absolutely catastrophic series of shifts.
So the real answer, is thatthe cycle guys in and out. And while hesitance is understandable and honestly I don’t begrudge it at all, my one major question to any hesitance is simple: These three players are already dragging their cans on the floor anyway. The Bruins are creating less offense and spending more time backchecking with these three guys on the ice than any other combo of 2+ players outside of maybe the Kevan Miller - Lauzon experiment...
...How bad could any of the Taxi Squad actually be?
Even if it’s just to wake up even one of these players? Even if it’s just for a game? Because the alternative is them getting hemmed in their own zone or going into the offensive zone to immediately turn it into a potential breakout time after time after time like they have been over the course of this series. It’s exceptionally frustrating to see this line degrade like this.
Before the playoffs began, I made the suggestion that the fourth line should be in constant flux: nobody should be comfortable because they were not playing especially well at the time, but part of me believed in playoff magic enough to think they could maybe begin to play better. But I also know that the playoffs just reveal who you are; you cannot hide from what the playoffs reveal you to be. And if they decide you’re not playing well enough?
Well, it may be time for a call to get your act together.