How Bruce Cassidy’s tinkering kept Bruins’ point streak alive

Matt Kalman
March 10, 2019 - 12:15 am

It was laugh-out-loud funny to see David Krejci centering bottom-six stalwart Joakim Nordstrom and journeyman Lee Stempniak, making his NHL season debut, during the Bruins’ morning skate and at the start of their game with Ottawa on Saturday.

Krejci's had a revolving door of wingers for years and it seemed like this new pair was one you wouldn't have predicted in a million years.

By the third period at TD Garden, coach Bruce Cassidy wasn’t laughing and the Bruins’ point streak was hanging by a thread against the 30th-place Senators.

But then Cassidy, the dark horse Jack Adams candidate, put his lines in the blender the way he has so many times in his two-plus years behind Boston’s bench. It turned out to be a stroke of genius that he put Chris Wagner on the Bruins’ top line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, as Wagner scored the tying goal on a tip-in at 8:47 of the third period.

And then Cassidy’s meddling paid off with the ultimate prize, a 3-2 win, when Danton Heinen’s shot was tipped by Krejci, who was centering Heinen and David Backes after the coach’s jumbling.

“I just … a few guys I didn’t think were competing hard enough offensively with the puck to get inside. You get behind a goal then sometimes the guys, rolling them out there, keeping in them in the game, shortening your bench is the way to go,” Cassidy said after the Bruins extended their point streak to 19 games (15-0-4), the second-longest such streak in franchise history.

“Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Tonight I’m not going to say that was the reason why we scored goals. But that’s the reason why we did cut it down a bit. We want to be able to use four lines every night, play again [Sunday], sometimes there’s ways to send messages and sometimes they get them, sometimes they don’t.”

Stempniak, inconsistent rookie Peter Cehlarik and snake-bit veteran Charlie Coyle were the odd-men out with Cassidy’s bench shortened. But this latest victory after a lineup shakeup was as much a credit to general manager Don Sweeney as it was to Cassidy. Even a Bruins lineup missing David Pastrnak, Marcus Johansson and Jake DeBrusk up front has the type of versatility that allows Cassidy to mix and match how he sees fit over the course of a game.

In the Bruins’ dramatic win against Florida on Thursday, Cassidy mixed up three of his lines in the second period and then returned a couple to their original state for the third. Against Ottawa he waited until the third period to switch up the lines and bench a few players.

Wagner was the biggest benefactor, getting to play with the Bruins’ top two weapons. Cassidy hopes Wagner’s success, coming on the heels of strong play from Heinen in that spot, serves as a carrot to other Bruins forwards to possibly earn the reward of playing with Marchand and Bergeron.

“Who doesn’t want to play with those two? I’d put my stuff on and go out and play with them if I could,” Cassidy said. “So who knows tomorrow, what any guy on the bench is thinking: ‘hey if I’m going, maybe coach will move me up there and get rewarded.’ So there’s a little bit of that too involved, to give them motivation.”

Getting production out of whoever plays with Bergeron and Marchand is the easiest part. Finding wings to play with Krejci, especially without DeBrusk healthy, is one of the coach’s biggest challenges. He found the right pair in the third period Saturday.

The only thing certain about Cassidy’s lines looking ahead, though, is that he’ll continue to tinker game to game and in games because that’s what he does and that’s what’s worked for him since he was granted the keys to the head coach’s office.

Related: Kalman: Let’s set the record straight on David Backes, Bruce Cassidy and fighting

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