GLENDALE, Ariz. — Given how Jaroslav Halak’s night was going, it appeared unlikely that any shooter was going to crack him, even one as expert as Phil Kessel.
But a minute into the second period, there was Kessel, loading up in the high slot, straight away toward goal, after slipping past Brandon Carlo. If a rebound came, Clayton Keller was alone at the left post, ready to pounce. With Sean Kuraly charging him head-on, Kessel might have slipped a pass through for a tap-in. No team wants to give up those kind of chances.
Par Lindholm snuck up and put the safety on Kessel’s rifle, keeping intact the Bruins’ one-goal lead.
After they won by the same margin, Lindholm drew praise from someone who has made a good living doing the same, and more.
“He’s a very smart player,” said Patrice Bergeron, whose four Selke Trophies are proof of his defensive acumen. “I think he understands the game pretty well. He’s in position most of the time and makes the play, the smart play. He’s been great for us so far. I think he’s been playing really smart hockey and making some great plays that don’t go unnoticed by us.”
Those stick lifts have Lindholm sticking in the Bruins’ lineup for now, but a long-term spot will be difficult to earn. Coach Bruce Cassidy could soon have a plethora of options for his fourth line: Lindholm, who signed a two-year, $1.7 million deal on July 1; returning left winger Joakim Nordstorm, center Sean Kuraly and right wing Chris Wagner, plus veteran David Backes. This is all before any prospects push from Providence.
Nordstrom (undisclosed injury apparently suffered in camp) is practicing with the team, and could be game-ready before the end of this season-opening road trip. The Bruins hit Vegas on Tuesday and Colorado on Thursday.
If available, Nordstrom could return to his usual left wing slot. Lindholm plays left wing and center, like Kuraly. He filled in for the injured David Krejci in the season opener in Dallas. Lindholm, Kuraly and Nordstrom are left shots. Wagner and Backes are righties.
Saturday night, Cassidy praised Lindholm for his defense on Kessel — “He doesn’t quit. His work ethic’s outstanding” — but these lineup machinations were clearly top of mind.
“We’re trying to find the best fit,” Cassidy continued. “I think Kuraly’s a better centerman than wing. I’d say the same about Lindholm. So we’ve got a problem. I’ve got to change them up, what line they’re on, yet they all play a similar style with Wagner or Backes, whoever happens to be in there. So that’s something we’re going to have to consider. But his effort’s there, his details are good.”
If Lindholm, who two years ago produced an 18-29—47 line in 49 games in Sweden’s top division, captures some of that offensive form, it would surely help his case. He scored one goal with 12 assists in 65 games last year. He has yet to land a shot as a Bruin, missing the net on one attempt Thursday in Dallas.
Top line not up to par
The Bruins’ top line feels it is doing a shoddy imitation of itself, at least how Brad Marchand tells it.
“It’s early in the year, we’re a little rusty,” said Marchand, who scored Boston’s only goal in Saturday’s 1-0 win in Arizona. “We have to be better than what we’ve been. All the way around, it wasn’t our best game.
“We won, at the end of that day, that’s all that matters this time of year. We have to continue to improve. We were a little bit better, but we still weren’t very good.”
Marchand, Bergeron and David Pastrak generated seven scoring chances and nine shots together at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick. Against Dallas, they generated eight. Through two games, they have produced a shade over half of the Bruins’ scoring chances.
But high-danger shot attempts was a more barren category: one each in Dallas and Arizona. Maybe that’s why Marchand was unimpressed.
“I don’t think we generated that much,” he said. “We got a couple bounces. A shot found its way in. I don’t think we generated really as much as what we have in the past and what we can.”
It was good enough for Cassidy.
“They were our best forward line,” he said, though that wasn’t saying much. Asked for his view of how the other three lines produced chances, Cassidy was blunt.
“They didn’t,” he said. “They’ve got some work to do in that area. [Charlie] Coyle was really good the other night doing it. Tonight they were quieter. Kuraly a little bit as it went along, they started to find their game, but still they’ve got to work to get inside and get their 2-for-1s. That’s where it starts with them. Krech [Krejci], a couple outside drives but I thought he was rusty with the puck because he hasn’t played. We expected that. Hopefully he’s better Tuesday.”
Ritchie shut out on shots
Brett Ritchie, who scored against his old club in Dallas, did not get off a shot attempt in 10:34 of ice time in Arizona. He did land five hits, most on the team. Remains to be seen if Cassidy will call on Backes in Vegas . . . Kessel, riding the right flank of Arizona’s No. 1 line with center Derek Stepan and left wing Keller, landed five shots in 18:47. Keller was the only skater to match him (five shots in 19:11). Keller might have had a sixth — and the tying goal — in the final minute of the second, but Charlie McAvoy made him fire a blank. His ex-BU teammate trailed and waited until Keller went to his forehand, then picked him clean . . . The Bruins return to practice Monday in Las Vegas.
Follow Matt Porter on Twitter at @mattyports