3 takeaways as Bruins remain undefeated with 3-1 win over Sharks
It took all of two games for Charlie Coyle to get slotted from his new post in Boston’s top-six unit to his usual perch in the middle of the team’s third line.
Such a lineup shift wasn’t an indictment on Coyle’s own body of work. Rather, it was a resulting domino effect from Matthew Poitras’ strong start in the NHL ranks, with Jim Montgomery and Boston’s top brass eager to see how the 19-year-old would fare next to a proven playmaker in Brad Marchand.
It remains to be seen if Poitras will remain in that spot, especially after a quiet performance against the Sharks on Thursday evening (12:18 TOI, 0 shots on goal).
But regardless of Poitras’ place in the lineup — and whether or not he sticks in the NHL ranks after his ongoing nine-game trial run — one thing is starting to become abundantly clear.
As the Bruins continue to search for cohesion and chemistry among their reworked forward corps, Montgomery and his staff need to keep Coyle in his usual spot at 3C, especially if he’s got Trent Frederic stapled next to him.
On a night where Montgomery was far from pleased with his team’s details, he heaped plenty of praise on a reworked third line of Coyle, Frederic and James van Riemsdyk for their efforts in Boston’s 3-1 win at SAP Center.
“I thought (Coyle’s line) had a tremendous impact,” Montgomery said postgame. “I thought Charlie was dominant, and I thought that his two linemates owned the middle, and in front of the net and in the middle of the ice. So, I thought that second goal really, it’s an exclamation mark on what I think that line can be.”
Montgomery hoped that his latest roster reshuffle would give him a third line capable of both possessing the puck in the offensive zone and mucking up the opposition’s attack down the other end of the ice.
Such was the case on Thursday night.
With Coyle (6-foot-3, 218 pounds), Frederic (6-foot-3, 220 pounds), and van Riemsdyk (6-foot-3, 208 pounds) out on the ice together, the Sharks struggled to corral a forward trio wreaking havoc at the netfront.
van Riemsdyk’s third tally in three games followed a formula that this line should adhere to for however long they remain together — with Coyle playing keep-away with the biscuit and cycling in the offensive zone, and both Frederic and van Riemsdyk parked in Grade-A ice.
“He’s definitely a horse in the offensive zone with a puck like that,” van Riemsdyk said of Coyle’s game. “He draws the extra guy to him, so there’s lots of open ice out there and that’s kind of what happened on the goal. I think he had a lot of eyes on him, and we were able to find some soft ice and get a couple extra whacks at it.”
Despite having just 25 percent of their face offs set in the offensive zone on Thursday, a van Riemsdyk – Coyle – Frederic grouping firmly tilted the ice in Boston’s favor whenever they hopped over the boards.
Not only did their defensive deployments open up more offensive-zone starts for both Poitras and Pavel Zacha’s lines, but Boston still held a 10-2 edge in shots on goal during the Coyle line’s 10:21 of 5v5 ice time.
It was a stellar two-way showing from Coyle back on the third line — a result that’s been far from an outlier whenever he’s skated alongside Frederic.
Frederic may not have the wheels of a Taylor Hall, nor does he possess the high-end skill found by top-six wingers like Marchand or Jake DeBrusk. But Frederic’s own puck-possession traits, size and defensive game have proven to be a perfect fit next to Coyle.
Last season, the duo of Coyle and Frederic helped turn Boston’s third line into a two-way buzzsaw — capable of both easing the workload for Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, while also landing punches in the offensive zone.
During the 649 minutes of 5v5 ice time where Coyle and Frederic skated together in 2022-23, the Bruins outscored teams, 35-18, and held a 154-116 edge in high-danger scoring chances.
As for the 420 minutes of 5v5 reps when Coyle skated without Frederic?
Boston only outscored opponents, 16-14, and saw opponents hold a 94-75 advantage in high-danger scoring chances.
Montgomery and Co. still have plenty of work to do when it comes to finding out where the puzzle pieces fit on an overhauled forward grouping. Some of that will hinge on Poitras’ ability to bounce back from Thursday’s sleepy showing.
But regardless of where the pieces fall in the next few weeks, Boston does have some clarity in one area of the roster.
The Bruins have a dynamic duo entrenched on its third line. And they shouldn’t split them up any time soon.
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