Anderson: In an East arms race, Bruins successfully kept pace

Ty Anderson
February 26, 2018 - 11:38 pm

Kevin Hoffman/USA Today Sports

With the deadline officially passed and pre-playoff roster finagling set, the Bruins should ask themselves one question: Are they better this week than they were a week ago?

And don’t overthink this, because the answer is obvious.

Break it down by position, starting at the top.

Is Rick Nash a better option for the right side of Boston’s second line than Ryan Spooner? Yes. One thousand times out of one thousand. And this is coming from somebody that’s praised Spooner’s willingness to change his game into a more wing-friendly style.

Nash is a natural winger, and at 6-foot-4, fits the bill of what the Bruins have always preferred on Krejci’s wing. He’s good from in front of the net, he’s great when given space to shoot (he’ll get a ton of that on Boston’s second line), and his shot can still beat goaltenders from almost anywhere. You saw glimpses of that in Sunday’s loss to Buffalo, as Nash was able to fire five of his nine shot attempts on net, while the Black and Gold dominated from a possession standpoint with the Krejci-Nash combination together. Don't discount Jake DeBrusk's ability to do the same for that line, too, giving Krejci two legitimate scoring threats with the ability to generate quality chances in a variety of ways. Oh, what a dream. 

For all your concerns about Nash’s lack of postseason production (Nash ranks 23rd among forwards in playoff points since 2013 despite playing the 12th-most games), it’s fairly obvious that Bruce Cassidy is more likely to trust Nash in crunch-time than trust Spooner. His recent usage of Spooner in close games confirmed that before April, and the Bruins are better off for recognizing that while they still could.

Nick Holden, acquired from the Rangers for spare parts last week, is a better eighth defenseman option than Paul Postma. This is honestly not even a debate. Holden, while miscast as a top-pairing defenseman for the Rangers, has been a constant in an NHL lineup over the last five months and had career-highs across the board a season ago. Postma, meanwhile, had been a healthy scratch in 32 straight contests, and played just seven games since Nov. 4, playing more than 10 minutes in just one of those games.

You can apply the same thought process to Nash over Spooner here, too, as you’ll take the guy that’s played, even if misused, over the guy the coach doesn’t want to play.

The energetic Tommy Wingels has the game that will be a perfect fill-in fourth-line fit (better than Frank Vatrano, at the very least), and veteran free agent addition Brian Gionta is a better ‘break glass in case of emergency’ player than Matt Beleskey would have been.

For a Bruins team determined to add without significantly messing with the chemistry they believed has been a key element in their rise to the top of the league, they did just that.

“I think we’re going to need everybody between now and the end of the line if we get to where we want to go,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said at his post-deadline conference Monday. “Those are coaches’ decisions. We talk about that stuff all the time – on a daily basis depending on how the team is performing. Times, there are players that show up on the injury list that may need a night off, or you prepare for what you don’t even know is coming. But, they’re all good players that we think can help us.”

There’s no doubt the East has broken down into an arms race; Pittsburgh addressed their one weakness with the addition of Derick Brassard. The Lightning addressed theirs with a trade for Ryan McDonagh. The East still very much runs through these two teams, we’d all agree, but the Bruins do present them with the closest thing to a threat.

“I can’t do anything about any other team but this one.. What they did or didn’t do, I’m aware of the marketplace and how we are trying to improve our team, how they try to improve their team,” Sweeney said of his competition bolstering their respective groups. “Everybody is jockeying, and there is a timeline, so we went in our direction, they went in theirs, and I’m sure they feel good about it as we do about ours.”

The Bruins will need Nash to keep up with the scoring of the Penguins (Pittsburgh now has three legit lines you can trust in the postseason), and they’ll need Nash to get through some of the bigger bodies the Lightning possess on their backend. Down the depth chart, Wingels can jump into a third- or fourth-line role in the event of injuries/inconsistencies without forcing the Bruins to completely change that line’s established strengths. And Holden can be played for more than nine minutes a night.

In other words, they kept pace with those above them.

And are undoubtedly better than they were a week ago for it.