Bruce Cassidy’s lineup decisions costing Bruins but he has time to correct them

Matt Kalman
June 07, 2019 - 4:48 pm

“We've changed lines all year to try to get guys going. The problem with that this time of year is you're so far down the line, the other lines have their chemistry, especially our bottom two lines. We used to pull guys, throw them a little carrot, some extra minutes, some extra responsibility. Usually Krejci is going to get the puck to people. We thought about that, but now you're kind of messing with the chemistry of other lines. We got to be careful with that.” -- Bruce Cassidy on Tuesday when asked about if he’d juggle his lines to get David Krejci going.

Coach Bruce Cassidy on Thursday went scorched Earth during the press conference after the Bruins’ 2-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. He eviscerated the officiating as “egregious,” not just in the game but in the playoffs as a whole.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, just two days after the above italicized statement, Cassidy also went scorched Earth on his lineup during the game and clearly knocked things so far out of whack the Bruins couldn’t score the equalizer in a game they needed to have in order to avoid a series deficit. Now they’re down 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Sunday.

If you don’t believe Cassidy used some cockamamie forwards lines in Game 5, here are three players you don’t here mentioned together often: Jake DeBrusk, Sean Kuraly, Danton Heinen. That was a line for a couple shifts over the final 40 minutes when the Bruins were trailing 1-0 after Ryan O’Reilly’s goal 55 seconds into the second period.

By the end of the night we saw Charlie Coyle move up to play right wing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, we saw Marcus Johansson play with David Krejci and DeBrusk. We saw at least one shift of Kuraly centering Marchand and Johansson.

The Bruins outshot the Blues 17-8 in the first period using mostly their conventional lines with spot duty for a few wings because Boston dressed just 11 forwards. They didn’t score, so Cassidy dipped into his bag of tweaks in the second period of the biggest game of the year to put together lines that had never played together this season. He took Krejci, who’s seemingly played with 50 right wings in the past five years, removed his usual right wing [David Backes] from the lineup and then seemingly gave him 50 right wings during the game.

He broke up his best line – Johansson-Coyle-Heinen – and reduced the ice time of one of its players.

Cassidy didn’t quite take the necessary care in the face of some of the lines’ chemistry he talked about in the quote at the top of this piece.

Heinen, who has quietly been a solid piece of his line played just 8:18. Johansson, by far the Bruins’ best forward in this series, played just the six-most amount of 5-on-5 ice time among Boston forwards (13:31) and just two seconds more than Joakim Nordstrom. Some of the extra ice time for Nordstrom and Kuraly came from playing against the Blues’ top line defensively, but whatever happened to trusting all the lines regardless of the matchup? What happened to trying to make the opponents’ best players play defense against hot offensive players on your side?

“The regret is we didn’t win. So going from Danton on down the line, obviously I didn’t push the right buttons, we didn’t generate enough offense to win the game,” Cassidy said Friday before leaving for ST. Louis. “So that’s way that I’ll look at it, I don’t look at one individual. That [Coyle] line was good, part of the thinking was also the players are good. Charlie Coyle going up with Bergy and Marsh, gives them a different look. JoJo’s played with Krejci, so that was just a product of trying to get the right guys out there and hopefully it worked out, it didn’t. So we’ll have to look at it again for Game 6.”

Noel Acciari’s injury also impacted Cassidy’s forward usage, but in times of trouble he should’ve reverted to what got him here rather than pushing every button imaginable. Johansson and Coyle have been solid because they’ve played together so well. Putting them on separate lines was obviously going to neutralize them, especially playing with top-six players that haven’t pulled their weight.

Now some of the line juggling was also affected by the decision to go with seven defensemen in the first place, which was a whole other problem, if not an all-out gaffe. One can understand the Bruins’ fears about Zdeno Chara playing through his facial injury and wanting to have themselves covered. One has to wonder if what Chara, in his current state, brings to the Bruins is more valuable than the alternative, which is having a full corps of forwards available, playing the top defensemen more minutes, and trusting Clifton and Kampfer to spot in where necessary and depending game situations.

Jay Bouwmeester played 29:08 for St. Louis and Alex Pietrangelo played 27:55. If Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo has to play that much, so be it. They have all summer to rest up.

It’s tough to measure inspiration and toughness, but Chara doesn’t seem able to bring anything else in right now. The lineup disruption just isn’t worth the luxury of seven defensemen. You could even argue Chara should’ve sat out Game 5.

It’s too late to take Chara out of the lineup now that the Bruins are one win from elimination. But it’s not too late to go back to 12 forwards and six defensemen and play a Cassidy-style game, where the four lines roll without too much concern for matchups, and all four lines play aggressively in the offensive zone with a shoot-first mentality and the creativity that comes from having played together for months.

Cassidy has made the proper corrections in the past when he’s pressed the wrong buttons in prior games. His best players are playing poorly enough on their own without him panicking and mixing and matching them every other shift. Although they’ve done little to earn his faith recently, Cassidy has to believe in his forwards to get the job done the way they have pretty much all year until the past five games.

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