The Bruins stood atop the NHL Wednesday morning with a robust .786 points percentage (10-2-2), one of only two teams — along with the Panthers (9-2-2) — to have lost but twice in regulation this season.
Yet, with the first quarter of the 56-game skate-a-thon in the books and a playoff spot all but reserved, the Bruins will rearrange some of their parts Thursday night with the Devils in town for a 7:08 faceoff (NESN, 98.5 Sports Hub).
In an attempt to balance out his top two scoring lines, coach Bruce Cassidy will start Game No. 15 with Jake DeBrusk riding right wing on the No. 1 line, while David Pastrnak, without a goal in four straight games and only seven shots on net, will reunite with fellow Czech center David Krejci (zero goals/14 games) on the No. 2 line.
In the back end, where the injured Matt Grzelcyk and Jakub Zboril again were unable to practice Wednesday, John Moore and Connor Clifton will merge into the six-pack. Moore will partner with Brandon Carlo (the lone Boston defenseman to score two goals) and Clifton will fill out the third pairing with Kevan Miller.
The moves up front likely means Cassidy will get another look at a third line, centered by Charlie Coyle, with freshman Trent Frederic on left wing and free-agent signee Craig Smith on the right. That’s how they skated in Wednesday’s workout, with Cassidy reserving the option to flip Frederic to fourth-line duty, thus moving Anders Bjork to Coyle’s left side.
It’s still early enough to get a feel for how the jigsaw pieces fit, and it’s all the easier to tinker when sitting No. 1 in the East Division.
“Freddy’s a big body, and we were hoping to build a line like that,” said Cassidy, referring to the 6-foot-2-inch, 205-pound Frederic. “Some injuries forced us to take a different path, and now we’re getting closer to full health … so we’ll move it back and forth.”
The lone injury up front remains Ondrej Kase, who was penciled in to be Krejci’s right winger this season. Kase was dinged in the second game of the season, hit by the Devils’ Miles Wood, and likely suffered a concussion. He has yet to return to practice and only this week began to skate on his own, under the watch of skills coach Kim Brandvold.
A recent DeBrusk injury, in part, forced Cassidy to pull apart the Frederic-Coyle-Smith trio. For all his willingness and spunk, Frederic has but one assist in his 14 games, leaving Cassidy still in “Finding Freddy” mode when forming his lines.
“I also like Freddy sometimes learning the game down on that fourth line,” said Cassidy, who typically keeps Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner together on that crash-and-bang unit. “You’re playing against good players, a little more of a defensive role … we’re trying to get him to be the best player he can be, trust him in all situations, till he finds his offensive game.”
Bauer unveils Willie O’Ree skates
None of the flashy new skates has landed yet in the Bruins dressing room, but Bauer on Wednesday unveiled a stylish set of blades to honor ex-Bruins winger Willie O’Ree.
The skates, which feature O’Ree’s portrait, number (22) and words (“All I needed was the opportunity”), pay tribute to O’Ree as the first Black player to play in the NHL. The skates also include the date of his NHL debut (Jan. 18, 1958), the night he stepped on Montreal Forum ice as a Bruins callup from the Quebec Aces.
In the next few days, upward of a dozen NHL players will have received the skates and will wear them in warm-ups and possibly game action. They’ll then be auctioned off, along with T-shirts, with all proceeds to benefit the Black Girls Hockey Club, a non-profit organization dedicated to uniting Black women in the hockey community.
Willie O’Ree is a hockey icon and hero who blazed a trail for future generations.— BAUER Hockey (@BauerHockey) February 17, 2021
To honor the profound impact Willie made and continues to have on our sport, we partnered with @Simmonds17, @JTBrown23, Designer Terry Smith and NHL Agent Eustace King to create custom skates. pic.twitter.com/LrT3jsPN1F
Forwards Patrick Kane (Chicago) and William Nylander (Toronto) were among the first NHLers to have the skates shipped to them by Bauer, headquartered in Exeter, N.H. The skates were assembled at a Bauer factory in Blainville, Quebec, some 25 miles northwest of the old Montreal Forum.
A Bauer spokesperson said it had not been determined if any Bruins players would be among the NHLers to receive the “O’Ree” skates.
“That’s great if they have them,” said Miller, only hearing about the skates for the first time on Wednesday. “My understanding is that we’re celebrating Willie next year when we have some fans [inside TD Garden].”
The Bruins announced last month they would retire O’Ree’s No. 22 to the Garden rafters, and initially planned to have the ceremony Thursday with the Devils in town. They then decided to wait and honor O’Ree, now 85, prior to a game on Causeway St. Jan. 18, 2022 (opponent yet unknown, but the Canadiens would be a lead contender).
“It’ll be pretty cool to see how [the skates] came out,” said Coyle.
O’Ree, who grew up in Fredericton, New Brunswick, was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder in 2018. For the better part of a quarter century, he has been the face of the NHL’s diversity task force, much of his work aimed at growing the game in US and Canadian cities, where many minority athletes historically have had limited access to participate in the sport.
Devils back on ice
After not playing since Jan. 31 because of COVID-related issues, the Devils returned to action Tuesday and pinned a 5-2 loss on the Rangers, with Finnish winger Janne Kuokkanen chipping in with three assists … Cassidy said it remains to be seen if the injured Grzelcyk and/or Zboril will accompany the club west for Sunday’s scheduled matchup against the Flyers at the edge of Lake Tahoe. It could depend on whether they skate Thursday and what level of progress they have made in their recovery …Cassidy, in lauding left winger Nick Ritchie, compared the 6-2, 230-pound left winger to one-time fan favorite Milan Lucic, a key member of the 2011 Cup-winning team. “He’s got some Lucic in him,” noted Cassidy. “Looch, when he got a head of steam, was a faster player, but [Ritchie] is working on that part of his game. I think he understands that he has to be in motion more often. That’s part of what we’re trying to get him to buy into, but he certainly has the hands to finish around the front of the net and the willingness to stick his nose in there. So I guess that would be easiest comparable because A) Looch played so long here, and B) there’s just not that many big guys like [Ritchie] any more in the league. The league has gotten faster, quicker, smaller, so some of those guys got phased out. But he still has a lot of value to our team and I think most teams would say that about their bigger-body guys.” … Lucic, 32, as of Wednesday had a line of 4-3—7 in 15 games with the Flames. Ritchie, 25, now stands 5-5—10 in 14 games … Following the game at Tahoe, the Bruins aren’t schedule to play again until Thursday night on Long Island, followed by a pair against the Rangers next Friday and Sunday.