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Bruins’ right wings have been inconsistent

Brett Connolly has not done enough with his opportunity to play on the Bruins’ top line.TOM MIHALEK/ASSOCIATED PRESS/FILE 2016

As Brett Connolly drifted toward the right circle, he saw what should have been a gimme goal. From a bad angle, Connolly thudded his wrist shot into a down-and-out Robin Lehner instead of into the net.

David Pastrnak received an in-transition pass from David Krejci, fired a shot on goal, and snapped the puck off the right post.

Jimmy Hayes, also after a good rush by his line, swooped in front of the Buffalo net for a point-blank scoring chance. Lehner held his ground and turned back Hayes.

Had any of the right wings’ sniffs gone in, the Bruins might not have needed good fortune — a liberal penalty shot awarded to Brad Marchand — to squeeze out a 2-1 overtime win on Saturday night over the Sabres.


“Maybe if we score on two of those really top-notch opportunities, we’re sitting here and we didn’t even go into overtime,” said coach Claude Julien.

As the right wings’ chances turned into nothing, the Bruins’ pro scouting staff, in town for pre-trade deadline meetings, watched everything from the Garden’s ninth floor. The flickering presence on the right side was nothing new for the scouts to see. It’s been a soft spot for the Bruins all season — one they might have to address before Feb. 29.

Of the three right wings, Hayes has made the most of his 13:42 of average ice time. In 50 games, Hayes has 11 goals and 12 assists. During five-on-five play, according to www.war-on-ice.com, Hayes has a team-leading 44 high-danger scoring chances, indicating he’s had in-tight opportunities to put pucks in nets. That’s a good thing. The Dorchester native is effective at getting to the front of the net, especially off the rush.

The trouble with Hayes is a switch that regularly flicks into the wrong position. Hayes is flying on some shifts. But when he’s stationary, his game goes quiet. He falls a step behind the play, slips out of position defensively, and chases the game. Consistency is a quality that’s been elusive for the 26-year-old.


Julien has a better idea of what to expect from Connolly than Hayes. The ex-Lightning has been Julien’s preferred sidecar for top-liners Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Connolly has a lunchpail approach that serves him well on the walls, down low, and in front of the net. He keeps up with his talented linemates.

Anybody who plays with Marchand and Bergeron will get chances to score. Despite playing against top lines, Marchand and Bergeron regularly transform defensive situations into opportunities the other way. They are that good at covering opponents, stripping pucks, and forcing turnovers.

In that way, Connolly (7-9—16) has not done enough with his opportunity. A puck he should have lifted over Lehner in Saturday’s second period landed in the goalie’s gut.

“It’s one of those things that happens quick,” Connolly said. “If I could go back, I’d obviously try to get it up a little bit more. I just put it into him, but it happens fast. I had a few tips on net, so I was happy with the last few games I played. It’s coming. I’ve had a lot of chances in the last few games. It’s a matter of bearing down and scoring on those chances. If I can keep doing that, I’ll be fine.”


Of the three, Pastrnak played the most complete game against the Sabres. In the first period, his forecheck helped set up the Bruins’ only regulation goal.

When Cody Franson wheeled around the net and looked for options up the ice, Pastrnak and Loui Eriksson closed on the puck-carrying defenseman. Because of their pressure, Franson rushed an up-the-gut pass onto Krejci’s stick. Pastrnak then went into offensive motion. After receiving Krejci’s pass, Pastrnak spotted Eriksson open backdoor. Instead of trying a shot on net, Pastrnak winged a cross-ice dish. Eriksson had time to finish his taxes before tucking the puck past Lehner.

Pastrnak did more than assist on Eriksson’s goal. He played mature, professional, dependable hockey away from the puck for the entire night. In previous games, Julien has given Landon Ferraro some of Pastrnak’s third-period shifts. Against the Sabres, Pastrnak gained enough of Julien’s trust to earn 14:36 of ice time, the most he’d seen in eight games.

“There’s nights where he’s really good, and I thought tonight was a game where he was really good, and I felt very confident putting him in late in a game,” Julien said. “It’s part of the development of a young guy.”

Pastrnak’s potential makes him one of the more promising right wings in the league. But he is only 19, fighting his way through injuries and inconsistency as a second-year pro. A teenager plus two right wings with histories of going quiet at the same time is not an assuring package for any coach.


The Bruins have other options. Seth Griffith and Frank Vatrano are pushing for promotions. But neither has experienced an NHL playoff push. Improving the right side is a priority.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.