Through four games of the first-round series against the Capitals, the Bruins have tucked only seven pucks behind 22-year-old hotshot Braden Holtby. It is no wonder, then, that Boston coach Claude Julien took a sledgehammer to his lineup.
For practice Friday at TD Garden, the Bruins changed all four lines. The objective: to squeeze any kind of offensive life out of an attack that has brought knives to a gun fight.
“That’s part of trying to find solutions. Simple as that,’’ explained Julien. “You’ve got to mix up guys. We’re not getting the results that we’d like to. You try and make changes that will maybe help spark that part of our game.’’
Milan Lucic (0-0-0) and David Krejci (0-0-0), first-liners in name only this series, hit the ice alongside former No. 3 right wing Brian Rolston.
Patrice Bergeron centered the second line between regular fourth-liner Daniel Paille and Rich Peverley.
Tyler Seguin (0-0-0) was dropped to the third line alongside Benoit Pouliot and Chris Kelly. Jordan Caron, a healthy scratch for the first four games, was the fourth forward on the line.
Brad Marchand (0-0-0) practiced in Paille’s usual spot on the fourth line alongside Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.
The message was clear: More is expected.
“We’re not pointing fingers at one guy,’’ Julien said. “As a team, we’ve got to be better. There’s a lot of guys that can be better. When your top scorers aren’t scoring, there’s no doubt the attention goes their way. We certainly want them to produce. That’s what has to happen. We’ve got to be able to elevate our game. Some of those guys have to find their game. They’re all aware of that.’’
The Bruins’ offensive soft spots have popped up throughout the lineup. The No. 3 line of Kelly, Pouliot, and Rolston punched in three goals in the first three games. They didn’t have much offensive presence in Game 4. The Campbell-Paille-Thornton fourth line scuffled early while showing improvement as the series has progressed.
The primary culprits, however, have been the forwards most expected to score.
During the regular season, Seguin (29-38-67) was the team’s leading scorer. Marchand had 28 goals, second-most behind Seguin. Krejci submitted a 23-39-62 line. Lucic (26-35-61) was just a point behind Krejci.
In this series, the four have zero points. Bergeron, the team’s second-leading scorer in the regular season (22-42-64), has a lone postseason assist.
“In the playoffs, it’s never out of the question to see lineup changes,’’ said Marchand. “We’ve just got to go with it. It’s a short series. You have to give it your best every game. If it’s not working, you have to shake things up. That’s all that’s been happening.’’
Washington has featured a pack-it-in defensive formation similar to what Montreal and Tampa Bay featured against the Bruins last year. They’ve emphasized the front of the net, with top pairing Karl Alzner and John Carlson being just as stingy as counterparts Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. In Game 4, Washington’s third line of Jay Beagle, Matt Hendricks, and Troy Brouwer matched up against Bergeron to help eliminate the center as a scoring threat.
As good as the Capitals have been defensively, the Bruins are looking inward at their ham-handed ways around the net. Holtby has been excellent at making the first save. When he’s coughed up rebounds, the Capitals have swiftly swept pucks away. The Bruins have not applied any stretches of wave-after-wave heat to make Holtby scramble to stop follow-up bids.
To that end, the Bruins spent the majority of Friday’s practice practicing five-on-five, in-zone battle drills. They emphasized cycling efficiently, winning puck battles in the danger areas, and getting pucks and people to the net.
Julien watched over the practice, barking at Pouliot after one shift.
“Nobody around you,’’ Julien told Pouliot. “Take it to the [expletive] net.’’
The Bruins don’t have the high-end, game-breaking talent of other clubs. During the regular season, they spread out their offense. Six forwards scored 20 or more goals.
Their absence of sharpshooters has underscored the waning battle level they’ve exhibited in their quest to turn loose pucks into goals.
“Have you seen many guys beating guys one-on-one? Maybe in the Pittsburgh series,’’ Rolston said with a laugh. “You don’t beat guys one-on-one in this game. You have to fight for goals. Plain and simple. That’s a straightforward thing. That’s what we’ve got to do better at.’’
The Bruins are hopeful that Lucic and Krejci, offensive difference-makers when they’re clicking, can discover any bit of rhythm. They will most likely draw Alzner and Carlson in Game 5.
Paille and Peverley flanking Bergeron give the second line outside speed. Peverley leads the offense with two goals in the last two games. They could serve as a matchup line against Alex Ovechkin.
By dropping Seguin to the third line, Julien is hoping to give his second-year right wing a better matchup. That line could see shifts against Washington’s third defensive pairing of John Erskine and Dennis Wideman.
On the fourth line, Marchand was back with his linemates from early last season. The hard-working, north-south identities of Campbell and Thornton could be contagious for Marchand, who has displayed neither snarl nor touch.
“We played really well together last year,’’ Marchand said. “Hopefully we can bring that intensity. We were pretty offensive last year, too. Hopefully we can bring that as well.’’