Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Why Colby Cave’s line will be vital to Bruins’ chances in Pittsburgh

Matt Kalman
December 13, 2018 - 3:49 pm

Patrice Bergeron has resumed skating but he’s not close to returning to the Bruins’ lineup for a practice, let alone a game.

So the Bruins head into Pittsburgh for Friday night’s game with David Krejci centering their No. 1 line and a lot of question marks down the middle the rest of the way down the lineup.

That’s not conducive to slowing down the Penguins, who are struggling this season but still boast one of the most potent 1-2 punches at center with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. On Nov. 23 in Boston the Bruins limited the Penguins to a Malkin power-play goal and escaped with a 2-1 overtime win. But that was when coach Bruce Cassidy could control the matchups. On the road, he’s going to have to avoid exposing the “College Line” of Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Danton Heinen to either Crosby or Malkin’s lines.

Cassidy said Thursday after practice that he’s going to start the game with that line together and hope they prove that they belong. Let’s face it, though, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan has to be salivating over the notion the can send one of his top two lines out against that line, which has been playing well offensively but is still a liability without the puck (LINK).

That’s why when Krejci’s line isn’t available for a faceoff in the defensive zone or neutral zone, Cassidy’s going to have to lean heavily on the line of Colby Cave centering Joakim Nordstrom and David Backes. That line oozes responsibility and experience with the veteran wings flanking the rookie center.

Cave’s NHL season debut came against the Penguins and he wasn’t matched up against the Penguins’ best much but he feels like he learned a thing or two that night. Ideally his line will possess the puck and make Pittsburgh’s top players defend, but that’s a hefty ask. More likely Cave’s line is going to have to rely on its intelligence, structure and physicality to support the defensemen against lines centered by two of the elite centers in the world.

“I think you just got to go at it with a more of a tactical way of looking at it,” Cave said. “You can’t be lunging at them or kind of fishing for pucks, you’ve got to maybe take a step back if you can, just kind of read the play first and obviously if there’s a chance to close you have to finish them.”

Cassidy will try to finagle the matchups to the Bruins’ advantage as much as he can, but when he can’t and Forsbacka Karlsson’s line gets stuck out against Crosby or Malkin’s line the coach’s expectations may be modest.

“[Friday] might be one of those nights where they have to keep their head above water, do their job, maybe the next night they’ll have a more advantageous matchup. But that’s the way it is for them,” Cassidy said.

Injury ward

Bergeron and Zdeno Chara skated before practice for around 50 minutes. Neither is close to playing but they could join the Bruins for practices as early as next week, Cassidy said. ...

Jake DeBrusk is feeling better but is in the concussion protocol. ...

 Kevan Miller practiced with the Bruins for the first time since he left the lineup with a throat injury. He wore a non-contact sweater. ...

Sean Kuraly missed practice to have a procedure done on his broken nose. He’s still probable to play against the Penguins.

Lauzon in limbo

Rookie Jeremy Lauzon is the odd-man out in the defense corps right now and Cassidy that’s not ideal for the 21-year-old second-year pro. If Lauzon doesn’t get into a game soon with Boston the Bruins will have to consider getting him some playing time with Providence (AHL).

Related: How Bruins pick Studnicka is faring early at Team Canada WJC camp