David Pastrnak has been moved to Boston’s second forward line and will skate with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Boston Herald

The Bruins will begin 2022 with some rather seismic changes to their forward group.

In the last practice of 2021 at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday in preparation for the Bruins’ re-entry Saturday matinee against the Buffalo Sabres, Coach Bruce Cassidy finally did what he’d been toying with for a while: He broke up the top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, moving Craig Smith to Bergeron’s right wing and dropping Pastrnak to the second line with Taylor Hall and new center Erik Haula. Charlie Coyle, just out of the COVID protocol, skated on a third line Jake DeBrusk and Nick Foligno. Trent Frederic, Tomas Nosek and Curtis Lazar rounded out the forward lines.

How long the units stay together will no doubt depend on whether they can somehow ignite an offense that has been anemic for most of the first 26 games of the season. But it has become increasingly clear that, despite GM Don Sweeney’s spending spree in the offseason, the Bruins are not deep enough to afford the luxury of such a top heavy first line.

As the Bruins end their two-plus week, COVID-induced hibernation, they were ranked 24th in goals (2.69 per game). They are 30th in 5-on-5 goals with 43. Granted, the Bruins have played the fewest games, but it’s still not where they want to be.

In his Zoom meeting with reporters, Cassidy said, with the forward group healthy really for the first time this year, that now was a good opportunity to try something different. And though he gave the usual caveat that he can always go back to the old lines if things didn’t work, he’s hoping that this can energize his offense.

“Some of it is just about getting guys going,” said Cassidy. “I don’t want to call this the second half, but a bit of a re-set. There are some players we moved around and hopefully it helps their games to be with a different duo. We’ll see how it plays out, knowing that we can always go back to what we counted on before. But like everyone else, we’re trying to build scoring throughout the lineup. Maybe this will get some guys jump-started.”

A source of production that needs to be tapped is Hall. While he’s had a lot more chances lately, his last 5-on-5 goal was the second game of the season. He and Pastrnak, the most snake-bitten of the Bruins, have gotten shifts together here and there and, while the pairing has looked promising, it hasn’t cashed in. Meanwhile, Haula (1-4-5 in 25 games) has had a disappointing season and has now been presented with an excellent opportunity to salvage it.

“(Hall and Pastrnak) both play at high-end speed, they make plays at high-end speed, so they can keep up with one another,” said Cassidy. “They’re both very good off the rush. Pasta’s built his cycle game. He’s had to, playing with Bergy and March and teams defend him differently over the years, where they’re not going to give him the odd-man rush. Taylor’s still a work in progress. He’s got to learn to play in tight areas, off the shot, etc. That’s where I guess those guys are going to have to bear down and not be a one-and-done line. With Haula in the middle, Bergy gets to the front of the net when he’s playing with those high-end wingers and then get out when need be so that he can get back to his own end, so that will be the challenge for Haula, obviously. But again, Hall and Coyle didn’t work out as well as we’d like. It doesn’t mean we’re going to abandon it for good. But it’s still early in the season and we need to try a few other things along the way.”

That has bumped Coyle out of the top six, though his play this year has not been deserving of a demotion. He’s fourth in scoring among Bruin forwards (7-7-14) but has just not meshed well with Hall.

“The Coyle-DeBrusk partnership at times has been good over the years, so we’re looking at that as well,” said Cassidy. “Charlie’s been really good for us, so maybe back at his natural third line will give us even more balance. We won’t know till we get playing, but that’s a little bit of how we’re thinking.”

The changes could also have a ripple effect to the back end, explained Brandon Carlo.

“I think there’s definitely more opportunity in the offensive zone. When I go out and I’m on the ice with Bergy, March and Pasta on the first line, I definitely recognize it and see ‘Hey, I have to get the puck to these guys and try to make plays happen in the offensive zone,’” said Carlo, who is paired right now with Mike Reilly. “I think if you spread those guys out to create more of that throughout the lineup, you’re going to be looking to create more offense throughout the entire game.”

With the way the Bruins offense had been going, anything is worth a try.

CARLO AND COYLE were the 10th and 11th Bruin players to test out of COVID protocol, which means all those players who have dealt with the virus are now on a 90-day testing holiday.

“For myself personally, I’m pumped that for the next little while here I don’t have to test or do anything like that, that I have certain immunities for it,” said Carlo, who reported he had just mild symptoms. “It’s nice for the guys who have gotten it to be able to move forward and focus on the hockey season, because that’s what we wanted to do all along. A good chunk of us got it. We’ll see if we have another flare-up but, yeah, I definitely think we can put together some situations here with all the guys who’ve gotten it to play a fair game and go out and compete.”

THE BRUINS WILL officially retire Willie O’Ree’s No. 22 in a pregame ceremony prior a game against the Carolina Hurricanes on Jan. 18. It was on that date in 1958 that O’Ree became the first Black player to compete in the NHL in a game against the Montreal Canadiens.

The ceremony will start 6:30 p.m., with the TD Garden doors opening at 5 p.m.


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