May 6, 2013

Bruins need third line to jell in a hurry

By Jesse Connolly

Rich Peverley, seen here battling with Joffrey Lupul, did not have a shot on goal in Boston's Game 2 loss to Toronto. (Getty Images)

If you had to tell the tale of the Boston Bruins’ offensive efforts through two playoff games, the most fitting introduction would be as follows: I’ve got some good news, and I’ve got some bad news.

After an arduous season plagued by lengthy individual slumps, the line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton is playing its best hockey at just the right time. Horton, revered for his clutch playoff performance in 2011 but absent from the 2012 postseason due to a concussion, has two goals so far. Lucic, this season’s whipping boy, has three assists. Their Czech pivot has 1-3-4 totals to lead the way.

On another positive note, half of Boston’s goals have come from their band of blueliners. Wade Redden was the surprise star of Game 1 with a goal and an assist. Johnny Boychuk tallied in each of the first two tilts against Toronto. His last goal prior to that was way back on opening night in January against the New York Rangers.

Unfortunately, this is the part in the story where we leave the land of sunshine and rainbows, and dive head first into some murky waters.

The  B’s have yet to get a goal from a forward outside of the Krejci line. Those 10 individuals (counting Kaspars Daugavins, who was replaced by Rich Peverley in the lineup for Game 2) have combined for a whopping three points, all via assists (Brad Marchand, Greg Campbell, Dan Paille).

That trend will have to end ASAP if the Bruins hope to avoid returning to Boston for Friday night’s Game 5 facing a deficit in the series.

 The ever-consistent trio of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin, to their credit, has had chances. The three forwards have 30 shots on goal thus far, with No. 19 accounting for half of them. But the other seven forwards that have seen action in the series have put just 13 pucks on Leafs goalie James Reimer.

While the fourth line deserves a bit of a reprieve, given their general expectations and limited ice time, that leaves the third line – one of the Bruins’ key strengths in the past and especially during their Cup run – as the group most worthy of the label of underachievers.

Many will jump to blame Jaromir Jagr for doing squat early on in the series, but given how his linemates fared during the regular season, it’s hard to expect that line as a whole to produce at even strength. Chris Kelly buried just three goals in 34 games, one of which came on the man advantage. Peverley had six tallies, with two coming on the power-play, in 47 tilts. They combined for a minus-17 rating on the year.

So what’s the solution?

Well, at 41, no one can expect Jagr to be able to create everything on his own at this point without support. The future Hall of Famer still has a fairly lethal shot and is a gifted playmaker/puck-possessor, but it seems pretty obvious that those skills are all for not if Peverley – zero shots on net in Game 2 after being a healthy scratch – and Kelly aren’t playing up to snuff in the offensive zone alongside him.

“To his defense, it’s important to have some cohesion with your linemates and stuff like that, and our first two lines have been pretty, I guess, been together for a long time,” Claude Julien said when asked about Jagr’s lacking production. “They’re playing well, they’re generating stuff, so right now it’s about trying to build some chemistry with some players and we keep trying to find players to complement him a little bit.”

One possible way of making the pieces fit together better would be trying Horton on that third line. His willingness to go to the net thus far in the playoffs could be better suited for the styles of Peverley and Kelly than Jagr’s game is. However, messing with what’s working – the Krejci line – is probably something Julien doesn’t want to risk.

So how do the Bruins get Jagr involved?

For starters, some more power-play time would do wonders. The B’s had just one power-play opportunity in Game 2, which was negated almost instantaneously by a Brad Marchand penalty, leaving Jagr with just nine seconds of ice time on the man advantage. If the Bruins can do a better job of drawing penalties, it’ll behoove them and No. 68 greatly.

But ultimately, Boston needs Jagr’s two linemates to snap out of their season-long funks. While it’s not a full-fledge pipedream, expecting them to rediscover their form from the previous two seasons is probably overly-wishful thinking at this point.

Nevertheless, even by their 2013 standards, Kelly and Peverley have to do more going forward. While one can point to the countless chances the Bergeron line has failed to cash in on, at least the opportunities have been there. Logic dictates that, eventually, they’re going to get on the score sheet.

At the rate Boston’s third line is going, they could wind up being one of the prime culprits for an early exit if a major turnaround doesn’t happen soon.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ