For stretches of the Bruins’ first two games in the playoffs, three of the four lines have shown offensive life.
Nathan Horton has a two-game goal-scoring streak. The line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin sustained heavy pressure on goaltender James Reimer in Game 1. The fourth line crashed and banged and willed its presence onto the Maple Leafs in the 4-1 Game 1 win.
Meanwhile, the No. 3 line has submitted an offensive flat line.
Through two games, the four forwards who have seen third-line duty (Chris Kelly, Jaromir Jagr, Rich Peverley, and Kaspars Daugavins) have failed to record a point. They have combined for only eight of the Bruins’ 81 shots.
The third line has dulled any pace the other three units have generated. It is the line that is causing the Bruins the greatest worry heading into Game 3 Monday night in Toronto. In Sunday’s practice at TD Garden, Jagr skated with Peverley and Kelly.
The Bruins rely on four-line rhythm. They roll out unit after unit to be defensively responsible, speedy in the neutral zone, and heavy in the offensive zone with the forecheck. The third line has fulfilled none of those obligations.
It is a disappointing rate of non-production, especially for Jagr. The Bruins acquired the right wing from Dallas to upgrade their third line and power play.
With Dallas, Jagr scored 14 goals and 12 assists in 34 games, mostly while seeing top-line duty alongside Jamie Benn. Jagr scored six goals on the power play.
Jagr has a 0-0—0 line this series. The Bruins were on the power play for a mere nine seconds in Game 2. Jagr is the right-side half-wall man on the No. 1 unit.
According to Bruins coach Claude Julien, Jagr is still recovering from flu-like symptoms that floored him for the final two regular-season games.
“He battled a pretty tough flu there a week ago,” Julien said. “I know that he’s not feeling 100 percent yet. We’re certainly counting on him. The other part too is that he’s been great for us on the power play. But we only had [nine] seconds last night. So he’s not able to show too, too much with [nine] seconds of power-play time. That’s one of his strengths as well.”
Jagr’s health is not the biggest concern. The Bruins have yet to find linemates that mesh with Jagr’s game.
“I think for myself, I’ve just got to play my game, use my speed, and take pucks to the net,” said Peverley, who got his first crack in Game 2 after being scratched in Game 1. “That’s when I’m at my best. If I’m doing that, hopefully everything else will work with the other guys.”
When Jagr is rolling, the right wing prefers to handle the puck. He can turn, jam his backside into a defenseman, and post up. Jagr uses his strength, size, and reach to protect the puck. He then can turn to shoot pucks or distribute to his linemates.
In Game 2, starting shifts with the puck wasn’t a problem. Peverley won 10 of 12 faceoffs. Kelly went 6 for 9. But the Bruins couldn’t turn shift-starting puck possession into offensive-zone time.
“I thought we did win a lot of draws and we were getting some chances off the draws,” Peverley said. “That’s what you want to do. I think we could be better offensively. That’s the goal the next game.”
Jagr doesn’t require a playmaker to get him the puck. He can manage it on his own.
Instead, Jagr needs some finishers to tuck home the rebounds he creates or bury his passes. Last season in Philadelphia, Scott Hartnell (37 goals) and Claude Giroux (28 goals) racked up numbers partly because of Jagr’s playmaking.
The Bruins don’t have similar goal-scoring hands among their bottom-six forwards. Peverley scored six goals in the regular season. Kelly had three regular-season goals.
The solution would be to give Jagr some shifts with the top-six group. But the power line of Horton, David Krejci, and Milan Lucic has been the most consistent offensive unit through the first two games. The Bruins have no plans on busting up the line.
In Game 1, Horton scored his goal by parking himself in front and tipping Wade Redden’s shot past Reimer. In Game 2, the big wingers barreled toward the net to create their goal. Horton’s middle drive put him in the right spot to have Lucic’s rebound glance off his right skate and into the net.
“Yes it is,” Julien said when asked if such aggressive play should serve as a model for other lines. “I’ll leave it at that. Yes it is.”
The Bruins use the Bergeron line as a matchup threesome. In Game 2, the forwards saw plenty of shifts against James van Riemsdyk, Mikhail Grabovski, and Nikolai Kulemin. Jagr does not have the speed nor the defensive acumen to serve as a matchup wing.
“Our first two lines have been together for quite a long time and they’re playing well,” Julien said. “They’re generating stuff. Now it’s about trying to build some chemistry with some players. We keep trying to find players to complement him a little bit.”
The other option would be to give Jagr some speed and net drive. In Game 2, Jagr took several shifts with Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille. The hard-nosed forwards are willing to enter the dirty areas and position themselves for rebounds that Jagr could generate. However, that would break up the fourth line, which was one of the difference-making units in Game 1.
It will be up to Jagr to be better. His linemates, whether Kelly and Peverley or anyone else, will have to fall in behind Jagr. There is no other choice.