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Sunday hockey notes

What do the Bruins need to make a Stanley Cup run? More secondary scoring should be primary goal

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy's top line is producing, but after that the team lacks scoring punch.Jim Rassol/Associated Press

Jake DeBrusk hit the scoresheet and Jeremy Swayman made a boatload of saves in a shutout. Things looked great for the Bruins in Nashville on Thursday night.

But secondary scoring and goaltending have to this point been the weaker areas for an otherwise strong team. Addressing one will be more straightforward than the other, but both are need-to-fix areas if the Bruins are to make another run this spring.

Entering the weekend, the Bruins were 12-8-0. That they haven’t lit up the league is no surprise. Returning after their loss in Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, they were first place in the league on Dec. 1, and won the Presidents’ Trophy in that shortened season. They were seething after that Cup Final. They had that edge.

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The 2021-22 edition has a pair of new goalies and unfamiliar names up and down the lineup. Creating energy has been a challenge, team-wide, despite the best efforts of Brad Marchand. Things haven’t clicked for the hot-and-cold Bruins: They’ve had one three-game winning streak, over a trio of the East’s weaker teams (New Jersey, Montreal, and Philadelphia).

A quarter of the way through, Boston has regulation losses to Florida, Carolina, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary, and the Rangers, all within the top 10 of the league standings. Another top-10 squad, Tampa Bay, was in town Saturday night.

Maybe DeBrusk’s snap shot strike against the Predators would cause the Bruins fans who booed him at TD Garden this past week to embrace him. Regardless, general manager Don Sweeney is trying to trade the frustrated winger, who wants out of town for reasons he has yet to specify.

Offense is the need. The Bruins’ shooting percentage at five on five (5.86) was the worst in the league. Some of that is luck — they hit three posts and a crossbar against Nashville — but entering the weekend, Nick Foligno, Curtis Lazar, and Trent Frederic had zero goals, and Erik Haula had one. They thought they’d be upgrading on Nick Ritchie (zero goals in 24 games in Toronto), not keeping it status quo.

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The Bruins need more secondary scoring from guys like Nick Foligno.Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

Any takers for DeBrusk will hope for production in line with his 27-goal sophomore season, and expect the cost will be commensurate with what he’s done lately (28 goals in his last 125 games, and pockmocks of healthy scratches).

A quarter of the way through this season, DeBrusk (4-3—7) has become a fringe player in Bruce Cassidy’s lineup. DeBrusk’s spot in the rotation this past week was guaranteed only because Marchand was suspended, Anton Blidh was injured, and Providence was on COVID lockdown, no one in or out. Good for DeBrusk for playing through it, to help his situation and the team’s, but the die has been cast.

Some other team, perhaps, can resurrect his game. TSN reported at least a dozen teams have checked in on DeBrusk.

One club that may be lurking: the Sharks, who entered the weekend in a wild-card spot (13-9-1) and have a delicate dance to perform. Longtime fixture Tomas Hertl, who would be an ideal second-line center in Boston, has been iffy on a long-term contract extension. GM Doug Wilson can’t let him walk, but he’ll also risk alienating the other core players if he deals him. Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Logan Couture, and Timo Meier have endured a tough few seasons, and they’re playing above expectations. Make a run or add assets?

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If Hertl sees a future in Boston, skating alongside close friend David Pastrnak, maybe he would approve a trade. Hertl has a three-team “yes” list, according to CapFriendly. His expiring deal costs $5.625 million, $2 million of which is in signing bonuses.

Hertl would bump Charlie Coyle down to the third line, where he excelled in that 2019 run, and in theory give the Bruins three attacking lines. If Hertl, 28, wanted to stay in Boston long term (and that probably wouldn’t hurt the summer 2023 negotiations with Pastrnak), would the Bruins be interested in dealing top center prospect Jack Studnicka, who hasn’t broken through?

While we’re on the Sharks: The Bruins are proud of their strong internal culture, but it seems highly unlikely they’d want to bring on the Evander Kane reclamation project, even if Wilson will eat half of Kane’s $7 million salary. That’s been on the table for months, and no one has stepped up yet.

Colleague Kevin Paul Dupont suggested in these pages last week that the Ducks could be willing to move center Adam Henrique. He doesn’t quite have the production to match his price tag ($5.825 million through 2024), but Sweeney and that organization struck a pair of deals some 22 months ago.

The Bruins could use someone like J.T. Miller (right) to further bolster their scoring depth.Chris Tanouye/Getty

As for the teams on TSN’s list, the flatlining Canucks are looking to the future. The Bruins sure could use J.T. Miller, who was a beast in the 2020 bubble (18 points in 17 games), when Vancouver made a surprise run. He’s a middle-six buzzsaw who can play left wing or center. Miller has two years left at $5.25 million, a deal he signed with Tampa Bay in June 2018. His salary drops from $6 million to $4.5 million next season.

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A potential complication: Amid the turmoil in Vancouver, would GM Jim Benning have permission from ownership to make a major trade?

New Canadiens boss Jeff Gorton has the leeway, but is still assessing his roster, and Bruins-Habs trades are rare as comets. The Flames have to be kicking themselves for not selling higher on center Sean Monahan (UFA 2023), who has had a pair of down seasons after scoring at a 30-goal, 66-point pace the previous six.

The Blues, who have enjoyed a bounce-back from good soldier Vladimir Tarasenko (19 points in 23 games after requesting a trade), could move their top sniper. Tarasenko’s recent run of shoulder injuries is concerning, affecting his availability and production (seven goals in 34 games the two previous seasons). He would have to waive his no-trade clause, and his $7.5 million cap hit would be tough to swallow.

Would the Rangers be interested in a swap of discontented, left-shot wingers who wear No. 74? Vitali Kravtsov is on loan to KHL Chelyabinsk after refusing his September assignment to the AHL.

The Coyotes? Pending UFA Phil Kessel wouldn’t move the needle here, but RFA-to-be Lawson Crouse (6 feet 4 inches, 220 pounds) might be a physical presence. He has a respectable 5-5—10 line in 23 games, making $1.533 million against the cap.

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Such a low-cost addition would give Sweeney room for Tuukka Rask.

“We have not hidden from that fact that if he indeed is healthy and wants to play,” Sweeney said, “he’s likely to be part of our group.”

The sides aren’t talking contracts yet, and Rask isn’t talking publicly. As he works out at Warrior Ice Arena — participating in goalie drills with Bruins assistant Bob Essensa, Swayman and Linus Ullmark — Rask has politely declined to chat.

“Tuukka is feeling better day by day,” his agent, Markus Lehto, wrote in an e-mail. “He will give more interviews once he is back in action.”

If he returns as the Rask of old, he would help. As of Wednesday, the Bruins had the fourth-worst save percentage (.908) at five on five, according to Natural Stat Trick. They rose six spots in the rankings (.915) after Swayman posted a 42-save shutout in Nashville.

Their expected goals against per 60 minutes (1.86) was by far the lowest in the league. What that means: they were not allowing a lot of quality or volume of shots — and good thing, because for the most part, they weren’t getting the saves.

Rask’s return, surely for short money and term, would allow the Bruins to exercise the two-way clause in the 23-year-old Swayman’s entry-level contract. Sounds unfair, but he’s got a long career ahead. He would return next year, in tandem with Ullmark (signed through ‘25).

Or, Swayman could be a Black Ace during a deep playoff run, if the Bruins address that pesky, persistent need for more offensive production.

REAL EYE-OPENERS

Some notables in early going

Even without the company of Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl is lighting it up for the Oilers this season.Steph Chambers/Getty

Handing out a few quarter-mark superlatives:

Hottest hand: Leon Draisaitl, Oilers. Twenty goals and 40 points in his first 20 games, in a league where the average team save percentage is .907, is astounding. The last player to put up 20 and 20 in his first 20 was Mario Lemieux in 1992. The league-average save percentage that season was .883. The other players in league history to hit 20-20 in 20 — Bernie Nicholls (1988, when Lemieux did it again); Mike Bossy and Wayne Gretzky (both 1984); and Phil Esposito (1973) — were lighting lamps in eras when the save percentage was .877, .873, and .895.

Can’t even call it a Connor McDavid bump, either. Rather than skating with No. 97, Draisaitl has played most of his five-on-five minutes with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Kailer Yamamoto.

Best line: As of Wednesday, no three forwards had a better Corsi percentage than Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. But Calgary’s top line had better results. At five on five, Johnny Gaudreau was on the ice for 20 goals and two against. Matthew Tkachuk (16-2) and Elias Lindholm (19-3) were right behind him at the top of the league. That was despite starting about 52 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone, compared with more than 73 percent for Boston’s top line. The Flames’ top trio is a handful.

Best goalie: Writers don’t vote on the Vezina, but it would be a mistake not to lead that conversation with the Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin. According to Clear Sight Analytics, the 25-year-old led the NHL in goals against differential — we’ll explain — through the quarter mark of the season.

Per CSA, Shesterkin’s number of expected goals against subtracted from actual goals against was 16.22, ahead of Jack Campbell (15.24) and Jacob Markstrom (14.73).

He’s feeling it, too. When asked what it was like to hear the “Igor, Igor” chants at Madison Square Garden lately, Shesterkin said, “The most important thing is not crying right then and there.”

Best rant: Brady Tkachuk didn’t hold back after Kings irritant Brendan (Son of Claude) Lemieux bit him during a scrap. According to the Ottawa captain, Lemieux is “gutless,” a “bad guy,” “a bad player,” a “complete brick head,” and “no other team wants him.” Tkachuk added, “He’s going to keep begging to be in the NHL, but no other team is going to want him. He’s an absolute joke.”

Biggest letdown: The Flyers should be celebrating the return to form of Carter Hart (.919 save percentage) and more unexpectedly, Martin Jones (.921). Ace goaltending in Philadelphia. Who knew? And yet, the club was second to last in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers’ offensive and defensive metrics are some of the worst in the league.

If they were granted one wish, it should be for a workable power play. Philadelphia was 4 for 53 over its last 17 games. In that stretch, the Flyers scored more than three goals in a game one time. Meanwhile, Jakub Voracek is off to a fine start in Columbus, leading the league in primary assists (15) as of Thursday, seven on the power play (third). Cam Atkinson, who came to Philly in exchange, had zero power-play points.

Best rookie crop: Lucas Raymond, Moritz Seider, and Alex Nedeljkovic make the Red Wings a bit more watchable. Raymond had a freshman-best 10-12—22 in 24 games entering the weekend, ahead of Anaheim’s Trevor Zegras and Toronto’s Michael Bunting (each 6-11—17). Seider looks like Brandon Carlo with high-level offensive skills. Nedeljkovic, ditched by Carolina, has been a great fit in Motown.

ETC.

It’s no longer

enemy territory

Jeff Gorton, who came from Melrose and Bridgewater State and started his career in the Bruins’ public relations department in 1992, is adjusting to his new post as the Canadiens’ head of hockey operations.

“Being from Boston, the Canadiens broke my heart a lot of times,” said Gorton, whose brief tenure as the Bruins’ interim GM (2006) was impactful. “1979 comes to mind.”

The ghosts at the Le Centre Bell (how many are there? Uh, too many) will be happy to know that Gorton is trying to learn French. That doesn’t mean he’ll be fluent.

“Thirty years ago, I wanted to be great at golf and I still stink,” he cracked.

So it goes. Gorton isn’t promising instant success in Montreal, where a bleu, blanc, et rouge jersey was thrown on the ice after the Canadiens were pounded by the Avalanche on Thursday. It was their 17th regulation loss in 25 games. As he did in New York, Gorton said, he’ll let fans know if they’re going full rebuild.

Revamping the player development and analytic models are on his radar. His first order of business: hiring a French-speaking GM “who will have a say,” Gorton said. He left open the possibility of someone with a strong personality, which could mean the return of mercurial favorite son Patrick Roy.

Loose pucks

Bruins prospect Fabian Lysell is already putting up great numbers in the Western Hockey League.Bruce Bennett/Getty

Whether it’s Hamilton a decade ago, or Houston today, the relocation of the Arizona Coyotes is a topic that won’t go away. Forbes, citing a source in the banking industry, reported that the team is once again up for sale, with interest from the fourth-largest US city. The Coyotes will be wandering the desert next season if they don’t find a new rink, the City of Glendale no longer interested in hosting them at Gila River Arena. The Toyota Center, where the NBA’s Rockets play, is NHL-ready now. When hospitality magnate Tilman Fertitta bought the Rockets in 2017, he said he’d have hockey in Houston “tomorrow” if he could . . . The Bruins hoped Fabian Lysell would light up the Western Hockey League. His eight goals and 22 points through 18 games — second on the Vancouver Giants in scoring, and second among first-year WHL players — are evidence he’s checking that box . . . Welcome home: The Islanders entered the weekend 0-8-1 in their last nine, with zero wins in sparkling new UBS Arena . . . Best wishes to referee Marc Joannette, who broke his fibula when he was tripped during Tuesday’s Red Wings-Bruins game . . . Bruins assistant trainer Dustin Stuck is taking an elevated role, as longtime fixture Don DelNegro takes a lighter schedule. Stuck, 29, worked for AHL Providence the last four seasons . . . TSN reported the Blackhawks filed a motion to dismiss Kyle Beach’s negligence lawsuit on the grounds that the statute of limitations expired before the sexually assaulted player’s case was filed in court. Disgraceful . . . COVID has led to an EBUG sighting. During a game in Tampa, St. Louis called on local 23-year-old Kyle Konin to back up Ville Husso, after goalie Jordan Binnington hit the COVID list and the Blues didn’t have the cap space for a call-up (remember, no taxi squads this season). Konin, from West Kingston, R.I., played juniors with the New Hampshire Avalanche and Vermont Lumberjacks before spending a semester at Grand Valley State . . . Nice pickup by the first-place Boston Pride, who signed defender Kali Flanagan after two seasons in the PWHPA. Flanagan, 26, won Olympic gold in PyeongChang with Pride coach Paul Mara, and became the second Olympian in the PHF; Pride forward Evelina Raselli won bronze with Switzerland in 2014. Flanagan, a Boston College alum from Burlington, joins a loaded Pride blue line that includes two-time PHF defender of the year Kaleigh Fratkin and Amanda Boulier, who leads the league in scoring from the back end.


Matt Porter can be reached at matthew.porter@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.