Joakim Nordstrom’s snipe, Bruins’ 4-1-0 record can’t hide lack of secondary scoring

Matt Kalman
October 13, 2019 - 1:20 am

It took a goal from Joakim Nordstrom, his first of the season, to extend the Bruins’ lead to 2-0 during a first period Saturday despite the Bruins outshooting New Jersey 15-10.

But we’ve been here before. Just four months ago, while the Bruins were on their way to losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to St. Louis, it was Nordstrom and linemates Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari that combined for 11 points and was the second-most productive Boston forward line after the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak connection.

The Bruins have picked up where they left off, with their first and fourth lines doing the scoring, and their goaltending and defense taking care of the rest. That formula has worked, with the Bruins now 4-1-0 after their 3-0 win against New Jersey.

Whether this blueprint will be sustainable for finishing first in the Atlantic Division, or returning to Game 7 of the Final, or even better not needing to go seven games in a Final remains to be seen.

All we know so far is that always-look-on-the-bright-side coach Bruce Cassidy feels there’s more coming from other sources in terms of secondary offense.

“It’s the offensive part we’ve been working on. A little chemistry up front. You start to see that come around. It was good enough to win the first two games [2-1 at Dallas and 1-0 at Arizona>, barely, but good enough,” Cassidy said after the Devils game. “Now, you’re starting to see a little more up and down the lineup, guys creating. But, I guess, to go to your question, I think we’re full-value for our record, but I do believe that our exits out of our zone have to pick up, we have to be cleaner with our managing the puck, and then some second chances around the net for some of the other lines to get rewarded.

“And I think [David> Krejci’s line did more of that the last two games, unfortunately one got called back [Thursday in Colorado> so not quite, but they’ve been getting better in that area, so it’d be nice to see them get rewarded for their work.”

Time is running short before Cassidy is going to have to consider some major line juggling.

Nordstrom’s goal was the first 5-on-5 goal by a Bruins forward since Danton Heinen and Brett Ritchie scored on opening night. The fourth line of Nordstrom, Kuraly and Chris Wagner, back healthy and skating in Acciari’s Final spot, produced like a second line against the Devils. Nordstrom, Kuraly and Wagner combined for 52 points last season, and Kuraly said Saturday his line wants to “to take it to another level,” but that’s not what they’re being paid to do.

Krejci, on the other hand, needs to give the Bruins more after posting just one assist in five games. Jake DeBrusk’s assist on Bergeron’s power-play goal Saturday was his first point of the season. Karson Kuhlman, the X factor in all this, is still looking for a point as well. Kuhlman has been around the net, he’s won some races down ice to create great chances, but hasn’t finished. After 16 regular season NHL games and eight playoff games, we really don’t know what he’s capable of at this level.

Then there’s the third line, which Saturday featured Charlie Coyle centering Danton Heinen and Brett Ritchie, and one game ago had David Backes skating on right wing instead of Ritchie. Since opening night, they’ve given the Bruins nada.

If facing Devils goalie Cory Schneider and his .891 save percentage can’t cure what ails the Bruins’ middle two lines, it’s hard to picture what will.

Looking too far down the road, general manager Don Sweeney may have to again spend prospects and draft picks to fortify his middle six for a lengthy playoff run. However, that move could have to come earlier than in past seasons if the Bruins’ current formula can’t keep them afloat when the schedule gets rougher or if the goaltending and defense have its own slumps, which it eventually will endure. Or the Bruins might find the answer right on their roster, just in different combinations.

A 4-1-0 record can cover up most deficiencies. Cassidy’s going to have to consider some line juggling soon, or that win-loss record could turn the other direction in a hurry.